Team-Based Leader Development: Why together is better…

Team-Based Leader Development

Educating executives, managers, supervisors and other leaders remains a major concern for companies eager to keep their organizations afloat or even thriving in a challenging economic environment. Frankly, the limiting factor for most organizations continues to be leadership.

Leader development is not a new concept.  It continues, however, to be practiced in ways that – at best – do little to develop successful leaders and – at worst – damage functional relationships by allowing learning to exist in silos and independent “vacuums.”

The problem is not content. Adequate topical content is a dime-a-dozen and represents time-tested applications and concepts that have not changed much in a couple of millennia. Any of several firms create and publish reasonably valid content.

The principal challenge around effective development is relevancy. The content mentioned above is generic and must be made relevant for a specific functional or hierarchical group, within a specific organization. Then, when properly facilitated, we can at least hope to successfully develop a group of leaders.

The biggest issue, though, in effectively developing a group, team, gaggle, or flock of leaders is making sure they all learn the same things, the same way, and in the same context. Further, they should be able to test relevant applications and concepts together, for best learning and application.

Enter Team-Based Leader Development.

Now, I’m not speaking of team-building, per se, nor am I talking about campfires, challenge/ropes courses, falling-backward trust exercises, or other hardly-effective methods of development.

Those have value in team-bonding, but not real team development. And no, bonding and development are not the same things… in fact, it’s not actually a team just because you call it a team. See our article on The First rule of the Leadership Team.

I’m simply talking about developing a team or group of leaders at the same time, together. At our firm, we see more and more organizations wanting – needing – content specific for their groups; you just can’t get there when sending people out to some public session or seminar trying to be all things to all people.

You need your leaders developed together, learning applications and concepts relevant to your organization. By using team-based leader development, all leaders of a particular level or function learn these things at the same time, in the same room, using each other as learning tools.

The advantages of this approach should be obvious, and include demonstrated successes in:

  1. Improving communication flow within the team and out to the organization. This can occur naturally, and in a less stressful, facilitated environment. Conversations like this…
  • …benefit the organization, by providing calm discussions among leaders of similar hierarchical or functional levels, about just about anything important occurring in the organization today, and
  • …benefit the specific leaders involved, as they not only are discussing new learnings and applications, but they now have the opportunity to discuss things not normally discussed.

For example, without a safer venue, how many mid or senior-level managers would ask a peer “Hey, John, what’s the best way for me to resolve a conflict in my department?”  Or “Say, Susan, I’m having some issues in driving empowerment to my hourly employees – any suggestions?”

I’m guessing those conversations/questions, in the midst of our brutally hectic workdays, would be damned rare.

  1. Fostering mutual accountability for behaviors and results. One of the biggest advantages in having all these leaders in one location discussing the same things is that accountabilities can become institutionalized. It’s one thing to make a casual mention in the hallway; another thing altogether to commit to a group today, then speak with them a month or so later about your progress.

Also, this close-in work environment creates team ground rules that foster cohesion; if we agree in a group that behind-the-back caucusing is not something we’ll do, then having those back-stabbing conversations later just doesn’t feel right. Further, open communications in a facilitated setting inevitably translate to more open conversations in the open workplace.

  1. Faster assimilation, shared accountabilities, and increased understanding. This is the financial “why?” answered. Homogeneous participants learn faster, and the learning is more relevant. Therefore, an organization’s return on those development dollars is quicker, and the skills are more appropriate for the organization’s needs.

Understanding is accelerated; participants can discuss/explain with each other on various points and concepts, making sure that the meaning is the same for all, and that more realize how they can actually be used for leader success.

Participants in team-based development are able to identify their primary strengths quicker, and better understand how building on those contributes to higher levels of personal satisfaction and team success.

In short, all win. And the organization is better for it, all the time.

For additional insight, see the incredibly old-but-still-relevant Houston Business Journal’s feature article, Many companies now leaning toward team-oriented training.

(If link above doesn’t work, you can download pdf version at https://triangleperformance.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/HBJ-4-24-09.pdf.)

Your Job Title is Meaningless! … and it isn’t who you are

Your Job Title is Meaningless

2023’s first leadership newsflash: You aren’t what you do!

And if that doesn’t surprise you, how about this: Your job title isn’t what you do, either.

Have you ever talked to someone who was a little too proud of their job title? Like “I’m the SENIOR Vice President for Beverage Dissemination” is supposed to impress someone. I hate guys like that.

Job titles are a lot like the letters after a name in a signature block. They’re only important to people who are impressed by them. Otherwise, they’re largely meaningless, especially to the people who work for and with you.

My first experience with this was as a young lieutenant when I was appointed as the Resources Augmentation Duty Officer. I guess they figured if I could say it, I could be it, and very few people knew what the job entailed. What I did was plan for and tell people how to protect planes and people in case of a disaster – including nuclear. And I was damned good at telling people what to do.

My job title wasn’t what I did… and what I did wasn’t who I was.

Years ago, I worked with the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict and Interoperable Capabilities (PDASD SO/LIC & IC for short). Try putting that on a business card. I’m not sure even he knew what he was supposed to do, except whatever the ASD SP/LIC & IC told him to do.

My point is this: Leaders don’t need a fancy job title to lead. They don’t need to be the Chief anything or the Vice President of anything to be a positive influence on, give a shit about, and help others succeed.

And their role in the organization is less important than who they are.

Good leaders know who they are – what their purpose is, what they believe in, and what they stand for… and what they won’t stand for. And none of that should be focused on self. They may not fully realize it at the time, but when a leader believes in people and cares more for the success of others than their own, everyone around them can tell.

Case in point: When I was the commander of a flying squadron, my purpose was to do everything in my power to help my teams deliver exceptional service to our clients. That was the measure of our success. I believed in them and their abilities and my confidence in them showed. They knew what I expected of them and what I wouldn’t tolerate. And it created an environment in which they were wildly successful (and made me look good in the process as an added bonus).

See, I knew the title wasn’t what I was supposed to do, and what I did reflected who I was.

At a time when job titles were so important to my peers, the sign on my door said simply “Kevin.” People didn’t come to me to be commanded; they came to me to be led.

Enough about me. How about you?

Does your desire for the next higher job title interfere with how you’re leading your team? Does your team know that you care about them and their success more than you care about yours? Does what’s important to you reflect in what’s important to them… and vice versa?

It’s a new year, so how about we start off with a new job title. If being a good leader is important to you in 2023, dare to be just Kevin. Or Bill or Julia or Ginny or Todd. Know who you are and dare to be yourself.

Or this year will be just like the last and the one before that.

How about it?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Just listen to me and stop trying to solve my problem!

There’s an old adage that goes: If you’re always solving other people’s problems, you will always be solving other people’s problems. That’s a serious issue for me, and I struggle to stop babysitting other people’s monkeys as part of my own circus. It’s a hard habit to break when you’ve been raised to be a problem solver.

Good leaders tend to be good problem solvers… which is probably why they’re in a leadership role in the first place. Those who are always complaining to their boss about their problems don’t usually climb very high on the ladder of the success.

Great leaders teach others how to solve their own problems. But first we have to learn how to listen.

While raising two beautiful, smart, and successful daughters, I learned (and relearned many times) the hard lesson that sometimes they just wanted me to listen for understanding and not listen to solve.

It’s the same in leadership.

If we haven’t learned how to just listen without trying to solve, we’re robbing our team of opportunities to grow and improve. And we’re certainly not empowering them. In short, we’re hindering their success.

I like to watch people stumble upon a solution while they’re just describing a problem to me. I’ve certainly done it, and I remember the sense of accomplishment and burst in self-confidence that came from it. That burst of confidence can lead to increased performance and better problem-solving skills – just what we’re looking to develop in our teams.

And it’s directly related to increasing empowerment in our future leaders.

Well, you ask, how do we know when they’re struggling with a problem they’re capable of solving themselves? We should know because we’ve been having regular conversations with them, listening for clues they’ve run into a hurdle. Great leaders have enough emotional intelligence to be in tune with their team and can tell when something’s wrong.

If we just can’t discern if they’re looking for a solution after listening for a few minutes, ask them. No, really, ask them if it’s a ‘listen and solve’ or ‘just a listen’. It’s taken me     quite a while (decades, if you ask my girls) to intuitively know which it is, but we get better at being able to tell the difference the more we practice listening for understanding.

Then comes the active listen skills, which I’m certain we’ve all mastered:

  • Pay attention! Ignore the phone, don’t look at the computer and if we have space, we should get out from behind the desk and sit without a physical barrier between us.
  • Show that you’re listening. And I’m talking about non-verbals here, but here’s a warning: non-verbal cues can be easily misunderstood! Case in point: when I’m talking with my wife, I nod when I agree with her; she nods in understanding without regard to whether she agrees. No wonder I’m wrong so often. It’s the same in the office, so we have to be careful about interpreting – and misinterpreting – the nonverbals we’re seeing. Clarify if needed but don’t end the conversation without a clear understanding of the next step(s).
  • When the opportunity presents itself, don’t offer a solution! Now’s our chance to ask Do you want my advice? Or how about Do you want me to help you brainstorm a solution? Make it clear we’re not going to do it for them or tell them how to do it, but we will provide the encouragement they need to come up with a solution by themselves.
  • Don’t offer the solution Have I mentioned that before? Action-oriented leaders tend to listen until they’ve devised a solution. We grow impatient when the speaker doesn’t get straight to the point, especially when the best solution (ours) is so obvious. The trouble with that is there’s a good chance the problem we just solved in our minds was misdiagnosed to begin with, and we jumped to the wrong conclusion. We wouldn’t know it, of course, because we were only listening to solve.

Final thing to remember: no one likes anyone telling them how to do something. At least no one I know. The quickest way to shut down communication is to start a sentence with, “Well, you just have to…” It’s also a good way to end up with malicious compliance.

So next time someone says, “Hey boss, I have a problem,” don’t be in a hurry to tell them how to solve it. We’ve probably seen or heard of it before, and we likely know the fix, but we’re not doing them any favors by cutting the learning opportunity short by listening to solve.

I find I still have to practice just listening. Maybe you do, too.

It’s up to you, leaders.

Stupid should hurt… Learn from your business mistakes.

stupid mistakes happen

I was recently involved (as a participant) in a strategic planning event; the facilitator, Alan Pue, was discussing many of the ways that planning — and its subsequent implementation — can go wrong.

In part of that commentary, he mentioned as an example a firm’s inability to adapt to a necessary change in the market, and how that inability adversely affected their performance. Alan wasn’t sympathetic to their plight, nor even empathetic. In fact, he made it clear that the problem was their own doing, and the resultant pain was of their own creation. They did it to themselves, have no one else to blame, and these lessons — though valuable — can be painful.

I agree.

When we act so dumb in business that we can’t get out of our own way, the resultant pain is our own doing. Sort of like touching a hot stove, we hopefully learn that we shouldn’t do that again.

Stupid should hurt.

I Hate Goal Setting

Goals On Dartboard Shows Aspired Objectives And Desired Targets

 

 – it’s not the same as setting goals.

I hate goal setting. The whole business of it.

That’s why I was surprised by a conversation I had with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. Home from her fall semester, she was describing her goals to me – her grad school goals, financial goals, career goals, life goals – and I was amazed. When I asked how she learned about goal setting, she unexpectedly answered, “from you, of course.” I didn’t know I’d passed goal setting to another generation, because (if I hadn’t mentioned it) I hate goal setting.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate setting goals; it’s the only way I know I’m on track to where I want to go. But there’s so much of the institutional process of individual goal setting that is all about process and almost nothing about the accomplishment of what really matters.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Leaders who have vision and can translate it into an executable plan that followers buy into can be the Holy Grail to an organization. On the down side, results can easily be torpedoed by the intermediate level managers who don’t know how to get the people who actually DO work to set performance and developmental goals that support that vision and plan.

I would propose that few leaders have a good grasp on the goals his/her workforce sets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t held accountable for their workforce’s results. It’s past time to get involved.

As 2015 begins, we’re all being encouraged (or required) to set goals for the coming year. We all know what SMART goals are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. I prefer clear, concise, actionable, and tied to organizational performance, but that would require a new acronym (C-CAT would only appeal to a very narrow audience).

The problem is that a step in any direction looks like progress to someone who doesn’t know where they’re going. Most organizations are horrible at getting individuals to understand how what they do contributes to organizational success. That breeds mediocrity at best, and sincerely misdirected efforts at worst.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: For the workforce to actually tie their performance to what leaders expect their organizations to do this year, serious effort is required at every level. Leaders and managers have to get more involved in communicating both how their people can contribute to organizational goals and how they can develop into more productive contributors.

STOP asking them to write nebulous performance goals (like “superior customer support measured by no negative customer comments”) and developmental goals (like “take an online course on how to get along with others”). They can easily meet those goals with no actual benefit to your organizational goals whatsoever.

Jack Welch said that before you’re a leader, success is all about growing yourself; when you become a leader, success is all about growing others. For those of you who think you’re leading, it’s about time you get more interested in helping others set meaningful goals than in setting your own.

It’s up to you.

You have the stick.

Yooo-hoooo… Here I am!!

I didn’t disappear, just fell victim to the “wait until the end of the year to do that” disease.

I did, and it hurt. Traveled 6 out of the last 8 weeks out of the year… and remember, I’m one of those that doesn’t even like to travel. Simply brutal.

Further, with the growth of my business, I’ve been in something of a “hiring” mode, and that’s equally difficult to do — personally — while traveling.

Speaking of hiring… now that the new year is upon us, it’s a great time to do some cleaning up. And I mean the really difficult stuff. Have that performance conversation with the under-performing employee; hire that new sales or marketing pro; stop doing those things that don’t create enterprise value, and focus on those things that do.

I’ll be back soon with something to write home to mom about — thanks for tuning in.