My Cheese has Wheels!!

My Cheese Has Wheels!

Sometimes change is just a little too “in your face.” We need to help people get past — and accept — change. Spencer Johnson’s book is a great metaphor.

And remember — there’s only two types of people who really like change:

  1. The person controlling the change (obviously), and
  2. The person who personally benefits from the change.

All others need to be sold. So sell ’em. And don’t forget…

Be Brazen.

Top 10 Client Lessons from 2019

Another year in the books (or the cloud, or wherever we store history these days). In 2019, we worked with executives in healthcare, technology, contact centers, financial services, higher education and more, and we’ve helped them become better leaders who developed more leaders. Along the way, we had the privilege to help their organizations grow, transform and improve, and in doing so, we saw some noteworthy trends we thought we’d share with you. If any of these sound familiar, learn vicariously from the collective and use this as a catalyst for improvement.

We’re all people first. Relationships before processes. Relationships instead of processes. It’s intuitive that employees do better when change is their idea; we’ve learned that the same thing holds true for the consultant-client relationship. More shut-up, more listen.

Leadership is a contact sport. We’re all busy with a host of really important organizational and administrative tasks, but if you’re in a leadership position, leading is your primary job and not an additional duty. It’s not that idiotic term “soft-skill” if it’s the one you need to do your basic job. You can keep busy staying in your office, but you can’t develop authentic, trusting relationships with those you lead from there. Don’t let busyness become an excuse for half-hearted leadership.  

Even the best need help. Michael Jordan had a coach. Tiger Woods had a coach (back when he was good; now… who knows? ???? ). Tom Brady and LeBron James have coaches. Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai have coaches — even Oprah Winfrey has one. 40% of Fortune 500 CEOs fail within 18 months; 82% of them because of relationships. This isn’t a push for our executive coaching services; it’s a reminder (from our clients) that even those we consider superstars “need someone.” They need help to grow, develop, and continue their superstar status. Leading at the top is hard stuff, and having someone to advise and counsel — and just listen sometimes — is crucial.

Leadership development isn’t an event; it’s a process. If your leadership development program is solely an HR-led, one-and-done training seminar, you’re doing it wrong. It’s just not effective. Top leadership support for development is essential, and only individuals at the highest organizational levels can create a climate that encourages a continuous learning environment.

Often, you have to choose sides. Leadership—and consulting—has risks. In this profession, too many try to be all things to all people, tripping over non-committal PC verbiage. We must stop. Sometimes we have to tell the CEO that the SVP of Operations has the better plan to consider. It’s what’s best for the client that must always drive our actions, advice and counsel.

We can do two things at once. No, no one is advocating individual multi-tasking, but organizational multi-tasking is a must. We simply cannot focus on just one strategy, direction or objective. We must have the leadership bandwidth to move multiple objectives forward while still dealing with the occasional organizational fire.

Process cannot overcome culture. There is no single 12-page Guide to Leadership; if there were, I’d have written it, become a kazillionaire with my own island and you wouldn’t be invited. If an outfit’s culture is not conducive to, say, empowered decision-making, then for Pete’s sake don’t allow some outside consultant to teach or coach on empowerment or high-level delegation. Work on the culture first, then use leadership “pull” instead of consultant “push” to marshal through necessary objectives and behavior changes.

Talk’s cheap; meaningful conversations are priceless. Most senior leadership teams declare themselves to be great communicators… and they’re usually not. Not with each other or their employees. Think about the conversations you have around the conference room table. Are they about hard things, or are they guarded to ensure everyone “gets along?” Trust is never built hiding behind the thin veneer of playing nice; it requires authentic and meaningful conversations. Collaboration and deference look a lot alike. They aren’t.

Don’t stop doing what works. We saw this so many times in 2019 that we felt compelled to remind you. If you’ve changed a process (or put a new one into place) to correct a problem, don’t quit following it when the problem goes away. That’s like stopping your blood pressure medicine because your blood pressure isn’t high anymore. It’s hard enough to implement a new process and get it to stick; having to do it twice is self-induced suffering.

Check your ego at the door. When leaders let their ego influence decisions, they become deaf to the messages their behavior conveys, and blind to how others perceive those messages. Ego is the major culprit behind leaders who won’t admit they might have been wrong or refuse to show vulnerability. When the little green monster keeps us from making good objective decisions, we lose trust not only from those affected but also from those who watched – and don’t even think no one was watching.  

I can only imagine what I’ll learn from my clients in 2020.

Be Brazen.

Weaknesses aren’t Kryptonite, they just aren’t strengths…

Not too long ago, I worked with a group of executives for a fast-growing client.

Two things struck me as interesting, and somewhat of a paradox: First, they were all reasonably successful in their jobs (and their jobs were substantially the same, just different geographic regions). Second, they were all incredibly different. Yes, they each had similar core characteristics, such as intelligence and work ethic. In other areas, such as sales, marketing, people management, organizational skills, strategy, planning, and so forth, they were all over the charts.

So what? Well, I’ll tell you “so what.” You hear a lot about understanding your “strengths and weaknesses,” then you’re supposed to work on your weaknesses, right?? Sort of like the big Superdude combating kryptonite, right??

Bunk.

Let’s look at it differently. Let’s assume that succeeding in a position can be done in any of several different ways, using a variety of skills. With that reasoning, you don’t have strengths and weaknesses; you have learned skills and skills you have yet to learn.

Wow!

So, then, we should then simply “learn more skills,” right??

No, no, no…

We should, instead, clearly identify our skills, since we know that we can succeed with them, and work on improving our strengths! That’s right, improve our strengths, since we already know that they work for us. Learning new skills is time consuming, and depending on application, may or may not work for us the way they work for others.

Now, this logic assumes current success, so don’t confuse this with those managers who are clearly unsuccessful, though I would argue this could help them with their improvement also. In other words, as Bum Phillips (retired Houston Oilers coach) would say, “Dance with who brung you.”

Use the skills you have — improve and hone them to a razor’s edge — and continue your increasing levels of success. Over time, identify some additional skills you would like to pick up, and develop a plan to learn them in a reasonable time and fashion.

But don’t break what works…

Be Brazen.

Needing Leaders… The “make” or “buy” decision…

So, do you grow your own leaders from within, or hire someone new with – presumably – the leadership skills you need are unable to find inside your organization?  What do you tell yourself to justify not developing those skills from within your organization?  How about these?  See if any sound familiar…

“I don’t have anyone ready to ‘step-up.’”

“Leadership development is expensive.”

“If I train them, they’ll just leave and join the competition.”

Please.  I’ve heard them all, and many more just like these.  Some are urban myths, some are akin to the business version of “old wives’ tales.”  All are dumb.  Worse, however, is that some are actually damaging to your organization.

For example:

I don’t have anyone ready to step up.  Really??  You have no one on your staff, or available to you, who with proper development, coaching, and mentoring could step into a more responsible role?

My first comment is “not likely.”  If you really believe that, though, here’s some free advice: Whack ’em all and start over.  Simple statistical odds are that some should be ready or capable of becoming ready; if not, our hiring process is so remiss that blowing it up and starting over may be the only option.

It costs too much.  Again with the “really??”  How much does it cost, in revenue, earnings, and your time, to re-tell, re-advise, re-answer, and re-work?  How about the conflicts that apparently only you can resolve? Aren’t you tired of having to make every decision yourself?

What sort of productivity gains are you missing by not having competent and skilled managers and supervisors at all levels of the leadership food chain?

If I train them, they’ll just leave.  So then, your choices seem to be either train someone who may eventually leave, or keeping that person without the necessary, relevant knowledge.  You’re not seriously weighing this, are you?

Why “grow our own” leaders?  In my mind, there are three simple reasons:

  1. It ensures continuity.  Someone who has seen, experienced and “lived” the functional day-to-day may better understand what issues and challenges are significant.  Yes, sometimes we need an outsider to provide some new-blood thinking, but not at the expense of continuity and corporate memory.
  2. It sends a positive message. Advancement opportunities are a big reason that good people stay – including you.  Promoting a deserving candidate trumps and external hire 24×7 in that regard.
  3. They already know, understand, and more importantly fit our culture. Let’s face it —  though valuable, skills are a dime a dozen on the open market.  They just aren’t that difficult to find (including mine and yours).  What’s difficult is finding those skills wrapped up in someone intelligent enough to learn our jobs, and who also fits our current culture.

Except in very unique circumstances, developing current staff to assume future leadership roles always, always, benefits the organization in big ways.  Many of you reading this have been promoted into your roles, so you clearly understand the value.  We can – we really can – teach and develop the skills necessary to “grow your own,” so keep that in mind before thinking there’s “greener grass” in a newly hired manager…

A physicist, a preacher and an Iman walk into this bar…

Though that has all the makings of a great joke (appropriate apologies to those easily offended), I just wanted to highlight the diverse uses of today’s topic.

The three characters mentioned above are the most frequent users–or at least, most frequently referenced–of the Principle of Before, also referred to as the Empirical Priority Principle. Seems physicists thrive on making complexity from the simple… but I digress. Defined, The Before Principle “…asserts that within the circle of the world, what comes before determines what comes after without exception.”

Lots of examples for this. Battles before victories. Sweat before gains. Planning before execution. Investment before returns. If you want to win the lottery, you buy a ticket first.

So, let me add Management Consultant to the list of characters above (luckily, consultants are not easily offended). And let me better, more simply define The Before Principle: “You’ve gotta do this first.” And this applies to Leadership in a big way. For example…

Feedback–you’ve got to give it first to others, before others may be willing to give it to you. And I don’t mean just criticism; positive feedback is information provided solely to help someone grow and improve. Are you doing that today? If not, don’t expect to receive valuable feedback for yourself.

Respect–You receive respect from others, above or below you in the organizational food chain, after you first give them that respect. Listen. Show you care about them. Be courteous. Include when appropriate–or even close to appropriate. Give credit where due, and recognition frequently. Show gratitude, always. Keep your promises. Be on time. Respect isn’t tolerance, nor does it mean you like someone. It’s a positive, ongoing behavior acknowledging someone’s abilities, accomplishments and worth. You don’t deserve respect because of your position, you are afforded the opportunity to show respect for others. Don’t screw that up.

Trust–The holy grail of leadership. We need lots of things to be good at leading; we need trust to lead at all. Frequently called “The currency of leadership,” never is the “Investment before returns” more true. You want folks to trust you? Trust them first. My close friend Richard Fagerlin (author of Trustology) likes to say that trust must be given, never earned. I believe that to be true, but I also believe that trust given freely is usually returned. No, I don’t live in a Pollyanna world, and yes, there are some people simply not trustworthy. For those few, we steal from Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify. But we still must trust first.

Empower people to do their jobs. Understand that well-thought mistakes are learning events, not cause for a beating. Focus more on outcomes. Realize that more often than not, employees want to do a good job. Our job, then, is to let them. Get better at saying yes. Don’t expect someone to trust you if you haven’t shown them trust first. Ain’t gonna happen.

So, this Principle of Before may not have its roots in leadership vernacular, but it’s pretty darned pertinent for those wanting to lead. It’s actually the very basis of leadership, when you think about it:

Lead first, then others will follow.

Be Brazen.

Leadership & Control: Symbiotic, not mutually exclusive

When we use control and leadership in the same sentence, our brows start to furrow. We see controlling behavior as an anathema to empowerment–something to be summarily eradicated, not embraced.

Well, yes, sort of.

Controlling behavior in leadership–when used within relationships–is clearly bad. The world doesn’t need more micro-managers, we have plenty. But make the distinction clear: when used within relationships is the qualifier.

Personally controlling the controllable is something altogether different. And no, I’m not simply playing with words. Let me explain…

Relationships notwithstanding, there is a lot going on in a typical manager’s world. Changes, innovations, developing people, idiotic boss demands… the list goes on. Add to that the occasional “he’s touching me!” and we see quickly that the old, tired phrase “control is just an illusion” is neither old nor tired enough. In fact, it’s still pretty damned active.

There are so many things–most things–over which leadership has little or no control, that for those things we can control, we should do so viciously and purposefully. Our own behavior, for example. The feedback I give others… whether I decide to mentor someone or not… how I act/react to challenges–do I show resilience, modeling that behavior for others, or do I run around shrieking and pulling my hair?

We don’t control much in the big scheme of things, but we do control more than we often think. Grab those things you do control, make sure they happen as you want them to, and save the mental and emotional bandwidth for those things where control is simply a distant mirage, making us believe that water is just over the next sand dune.

But that’s just me…