Choose Your Imaginings

Love Anne Lamott, (Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books on writing.) This quote on faith and intention is from her latest Help, Thanks, Wow.

“Some of the stuff we imagine engages and connects and calls for the very best in us to come out. Other imaginings disengage us, and shut us down. My understanding is that you get to choose which of your thoughts to go with.”

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Poor Company Leadership: 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes

Thought I’d share a quick guest post I did for the  OI Partners blog.  OI Partners is a global talent management company helping individuals develop their careers through personalized, one-on-one attention and employers improve the performance of their employees and organizations.  They wanted to know what I’d list as the 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes.  Here’s what I said:

There are many ways leaders can blow it. To me, it’s most discouraging when they trip over things involving interpersonal insensitivity, ignorance or laziness. These gaffes bruise an employee’s sense of loyalty which can have a big ripple effect because:

“Employees rated their relationship with their immediate supervisor as more important to their job satisfaction than benefits and compensation.”

Source: 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: A Research Report by SHRM

With that in mind, here’s my list of the Top 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes:

1)    Avoid Difficult Conversations – This one is a double whammy. First, by not stepping up to awkward situations or performance concerns, the supervisor doesn’t allow the employee to address the issue. Second, the resulting disruptions create drag on other employees and weaken their faith in the boss’ leadership.

2)    Pride Themselves on a “Hands Off” Management Style – When there’s friction between employees it can be messy. A leader whose go-to strategy is “letting you figure out how to play nicely in the sand box” is basically abdicating responsibility. The leader is ensuring continued distraction and frustration for the team. A good leader sees the issue, considers a range of interventions, and selects one based on the situation. They may choose “hands off,” but it’s not the only tool in their box. This slip is a close cousin to Avoiding Difficult Conversations.

3)    Err on the Side of Less Communication – Despite the email deluge, it’s surprising how often employees feel out of the loop. Leaders sometimes shift position but fail to update those that weren’t in the last, pivotal conversation. They may feel so overwhelmed by the ‘to do’s” of a big initiative that they skimp on the communications that would keep everyone up to speed. Employees can feel left out, exert effort in the wrong direction, and/or think the leader is hiding something.

4)    Don’t Hold Others Accountable – How often have you worked like crazy to meet your part of a deadline just to have others miss theirs without consequence? How does it feel when this happens over and over? It’s a sure recipe for frustration, resentment, second-guessing, and loss of respect for leadership.

5)    Don’t Hold Themselves Accountable – This leadership pitfall holds all the snakes of number four, but magnified tenfold. The implication is “I don’t have to play by the rules I set for you.” Who wants to work for someone conveying that sense of arrogance?

For some supervisors, these issues are simply blind spots that can be shored up with leadership executive coaching that heightens awareness and generates more effective strategies. For others, the roots of these bad behaviors may be a bit more knotty. It would be advantageous to engage in a robust executive development program that, in addition to raising awareness, untangles motivations, highlights perceptions and their impact, defines the leader’s more desired impact, and creates an action plan for working through this shift.

Which of the above have you wrestled with? I’d love to hear about changes you made and the resulting impact.

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Ever Hear “You’re Too…?” (intense, emotional, hard-driving, idealistic, etc.)

Ouch! This feedback strikes at a gut level. It may be surprising that what you consider normal is perceived by others as extreme. This disconnect occurs when your unique qualities manifest with more intensity than that of the average person. The irony is that you feel criticized for something fundamental to your success! People with this “too” intensity hear things like:

  • You’re too much of a perfectionist; you can’t expect us to keep up.
  • You’re too goal-oriented; you only care about results, not people.
  • You’re too busy; you never have time for friends or family.

Ignoring these perceptions can restrict your career options, as well as personal relationships. The challenge is pausing long enough to recognize your current impact and identify your desired one.

Take Chris for example, who earned a critical role based on superb attention to detail, great intelligence and unparalleled dedication. This intensity, however, yielded an unanticipated result. Chris’ “efficient” directness was perceived as condescending, and colleagues worried about getting on Chris’ “bad side.” People said Chris was too task-oriented and too fast-paced. There was also significant personal impact. As the workday grew longer and longer, there was less attention to family, individual rejuvenation and personal health, which was suffering.

Like Chris, you may wrestle with this internal tug of war. On one side stand the “too” qualities that you have come to rely on. Staring back is your unintended, limiting impact. So how do you integrate this feedback while remaining true to yourself? You may even wonder “Why bother? Things have gone okay so far.”

Work through the following five steps to find out. After all, “okay so far” just doesn’t cut it for the intense, passionate “too-something” person.

 1. Take Inventory

Find some blank paper and uninterrupted time. Record your responses to the following:

  • List five influential people in your life right now. They would say I am “too ____________.”
  • In what other ways are you “too” something?

2. Look at Your Present Impact

It’s not often that we genuinely assess how our way of moving through life affects those around us and, ultimately, ourselves. Go beyond the quick, obvious answer and search for the most honest response.

  • How does being “too” something help you succeed?
  • How does it get in the way?

These observations offer the “You Are Here” point on the journey to creating your most desired impact.

3. Define Your Desired Impact

What does “impact” mean to you? Consider the ripple effect of everything you do, say, don’t do or don’t say. Think in terms of your effect on others, your environment and yourself. The results may be expected and hoped for, or unanticipated and undesirable. The following questions will help clarify what you want to generate from here forward.

  • How would you like to be described by your peers? Superiors? Subordinates?
  • Ideally, what would your family/friends say is special about you?
  • When will you be successful?
  • What legacy would be most satisfying?

4. Discover the Gaps

Notice the space between your current and desired impact. In this step, you will outline some possible strategies for narrowing that gap. For the moment, ignore practicalities and shake off any sense of “rules.” Let all sorts of ideas mingle on the same page. What possibilities emerge when you consider:

  • What are the easy options?
  • How could I challenge myself?
  • What strategies would the five most influential people in my life offer? (To crank it up a notch, go ask them!)
  • What could I start today?

You now have a list of possible options. Among them is the potential for sharing your talents more effectively. Don’t squelch your “too” talent; just use it with greater awareness and precision.

5. Bridge the Gap

Review your list from Step 4. Ask “Which option(s) would be most effective?” Pick a few that you are willing to commit to. To help you succeed, address the following:

  • When will you begin?
  • How will you evaluate this strategy?
  • Who can support your efforts?
  • What is your truest motivation for persevering?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable?

Through this process, you will boost your self-awareness and sense of personal leadership. Chris dramatically shifted peer perceptions, created a richer life outside of work and addressed serious health issues. By calibrating your style, you will find greater ease in your interactions and more support for your vision.

(Originally published September 2004 but still relevant!)

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Use a Big Mop and Get Every Drop

One of the little people in my life once confessed to having done something at school that wasn’t so nice. She felt terrible about the mess she’d made but didn’t know what to do.

I told her that relationship messes weren’t much different from other types of messes, like when you spill milk.  You have to clean them up.  If ignored, things get stinky.

spilled milk

I asked her:

  • Who was directly affected by what you did?
  • What do you need to do/say to clean it up?
  • When will you do that?

Just having a plan helped her feel better and she was looking forward to following through the next day. She thought we were done.  Addressing only the main spill, however, still leaves lots of little sticky spatters on the edge.

She now needed to consider:

  • Who else was affected?
  • How so?
  • How can you make things right with these people too?

We’re so used to spinning reality to make ourselves/products look good that this raw self-honesty and acceptance of fault can feel very uncomfortable at first.  For my little friend it was more cleaning up than she’d expected, but worth the effort.  Relationships are mended and trust is restored – leaving no residual awkwardness or resentment.

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More on the benefit of going for it…

As follow up on my last post,  Ian Heller – energetic creative marketing buddy,  forwarded a McKinsey Quarterly article highlighting how 3 top execs approach strategic decision making.

Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy talks about how ‘timeliness trumps perfection’:

“Decisions have shelf lives, so you really need to put tight timeframes on your process. I would so much rather live with the outcome of making a few bad decisions than miss a boatload of good ones. Some of it flies in the face of good process and just requires good gut. So when trying to take bias out of decision making, you need to be really cautious not to take instinct, courage, and gut out as well.”

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