The (not so) Great Communicator

In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott writes, “The fundamental outcome of most communication is misunderstanding.” That’s never been truer than in today’s multi-generational, multi-cultural workplace. It’s a subject that is as old as the Tower of Babel itself, but a couple of recent miscommunications reminded me that I am not the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan was. (more…)

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You better develop your own leaders… because HR’s not going to do it.

I was reminded (again) this week that just because someone says it’s a priority doesn’t make it so. True across the board: politics, government, military, and from the C-suite on down.

This reminder was about leadership development, of course, because that’s what we do. Do you think development is important in your organization? One quick way to tell: who’s in charge of it?

I’m re-plowing old ground here, since we’ve been over this time and again, but you leaders are wasting time and money on developing your younger leaders if HR is in charge of your leadership development program(s).

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against HR. Some of my best friends are HR professionals. Okay, not really, but there are some that I like and respect a lot.

It’s not that HR doesn’t have a role in your development program(s); it’s just that leaders develop leaders, not personnel, EEO or benefits specialists. I do appreciate when a senior HR leader develops others in his/her organization – if they’re not, they’re doing the organization a disservice – but you can’t develop leaders by telling them what color(s) and letter(s) they are.

If the C-suite doesn’t actively participate in the development of leaders in their organization, don’t count on it happening at any level below that. There is no way to reinforce and hone leadership skills without someone above being part of the effort. How else can a developing leader (and aren’t we all one) take risks without fear of paying for failure with their jobs? How else can they try new skills and measure success without someone who is involved to help them gain clarity about what’s working and what’s not?

You can teach people about supervision (reinforcement) and management (process), but leadership (people) development is a hands-on process that HR can merely facilitate. Don’t try to pin accountability on HR, though; the results are up to you leaders.

We can all wear buttons that tell others that we’re green until we get red under stress. Knowing I’m a type C or A or an STBJ doesn’t actually help anyone know what motivates me or makes me feel appreciated. How will you know if your team feels like they’re doing worthy work if you don’t ask them? HR sure isn’t going to tell you.

This week’s reminder was a CEO lamenting about how his senior directors needed development. Turns out neither he – nor the CxO – was particularly engaged in the last effort. They left it to HR and never considered the coincidence that all the senior directors had the same problems.

Hint: if you have a problem with a direct report, it might be them. If you have the same problem with all your direct reports… well, if everything around you smells like shit, you should check your own shoe.

If you leave developing your team to someone else, you might as well expect them to teach your pig to sing while they’re at it. You won’t be happy with the results in either case.

How about you? Who’s leading your team’s leadership development efforts?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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The Real Meaning of Leadership

— It’s not a title, office or salary…

I originally told this story several years ago, more from a motivate-to-perform angle. As I’m sitting at my desk thinking, it actually distills leadership behavior into a single emotion. Be forewarned, this is a bit sappier than most of my writing (as I daintily blot a single tear)…

How does a leader make us feel? (more…)

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The Trilogy: Responsibility, Accountability, and Leadership

I recently had a conversation with some really smart people around Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Read the book, it’s a good one, discussing how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic almost all the time. If you were expecting me to now give you some detailed book review, you’re about to be disappointed.

As these things often do, we ended up in an extended “bunny trail” conversation around the whole subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and what that really meant from a leadership perspective.

Here’s what we discovered during our lengthy and oft-times pseudo-cerebral discussions:

Responsibility–the easiest part. Responsibility is simply a list of things we do, tasks we perform, jobs we are given. Alan Weiss called this “inputs.” You can be responsible for myriad things, both that you specifically control, and some… well, not so much.

In my world, I’m responsible for coaching, facilitating, consulting, providing proposals, answering emails and calls, responding promptly to clients, etc.

These are all Responsibilities.

Accountability–it’s not the same as “blame,” per se, though there is a certain sect of people who would ascribe such. No, it’s bigger than that, yet infinitely simpler. It’s the outcomes of our responsibilities. It’s the results expected from our inputs.

For me, improved leadership behavior, demonstrably better skills, increased performance of a business, function, or enterprise (that actually follows my consulting or advice!) are all Accountabilities. It’s the results or outcomes of my Responsibilities.

We often confuse these two, yet the differences are both clear and significant. Pay attention to them.

Leadership–heavily influences both Responsibility and Accountability. For instance, we influence–actually determine–what a subordinate’s Responsibilities will be. We tell them what we want them to do, what we expect them to be working on, when to be there, etc. Leaders have, quite literally, 100% control (there’s that word) over employee Responsibilities.

Now Accountability gets a bit fuzzier.

Yes, leadership determines, from a starting level, what results and/or outcomes that an employee will be Accountable for (sorry for the dreaded stranded preposition–couldn’t be helped). But there is also a measure of personal acceptance required for real Accountability to be visible to others–an important component.

An employee can be Accountable “because I said so,” but evidence of that employee actually accepting that Accountability requires a willingness on their part to demonstrate that accountability openly, e.g., “Yes, I did that,” “No, it wasn’t an accident, it was my intent,” “That was my responsibility, and I didn’t do it,” and so on. These demonstrate acceptance of accountability, and that’s something only the individual can do.

Now, leadership clearly influences all of this. Leadership has to make sure that Responsibilities are clear, reasonable, and have value. Leaders must also ensure that an environment exists where accepting Accountability is not necessarily fatal; that demonstrating Accountability is a mark of courage and success, not of weakness and/or failure.

This, of course, is the heavy-lifting part.

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Is your competition a terrorist?

No doubt many of you have been looking toward 2018 lately, adjusting your strategy and plans to make it a(nother) successful year. Whatever methodology you use, researching what the competition is doing is critical. What many organizations miss, however, is how the competition’s leadership is contributing to their success.

I think that’s a blind spot that causes us to underestimate the opposition, brought on by our overconfidence in our own leadership acumen.
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Five Thing My Mentors Modeled For Me

A long time ago, in a land far, far away…

Does anyone else remember when being called a mentor was something special? Back before we started using it in performance evaluations? Before we had to ask, and maybe pay someone to mentor us? Before it was a buzzword?

I certainly do, and I’m thankful for the group of professionals who served as mentors to me during my occasionally tumultuous military career. They were leaders all, and as I’ve mentioned before, leaders develop leaders… that’s their job.

Take, for instance, the, “Kevin, I’m not trying to change who you are, but you don’t have to be you so hard all the time.” (Thanks, Mike.) I might have used that one a time or two as I tried to pay it forward by passing the lessons I learned to those I’ve led and mentored.
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