Wisdom of Peter Drucker

June 18, 2022

Nobody embodies my philosophy of leadership more than the late great management consultant Peter Drucker. And his notion of “serving the common good” distinguishes him from the “greed is good” mantra that guided so many companies in the previous century.

According to Drucker’s theory, business leaders need to embrace the “spirit of performance” by displaying high levels of moral and ethical integrity in their actions. These actions should be focused on results, empowering employees, going beyond financial obligations to shareholders, and ultimately serving the common good. He focused on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Although this may seem idealistic and perhaps Pollyannish today, Drucker’s theory should serve as a north star where business leaders should aim if they want to be successful in the long run. I deliberately provide this caveat because all too many leaders are focused narrowly on the current share price and the next quarterly earnings call. This is often because they are measured far too strictly by these short-term financial results above and beyond all else.

The man largely credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” back in 1959, Drucker stated that “knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” He wasn’t just speaking of leaders, but all knowledge workers.

If we take away only one thing from formal education, we should embrace the idea of lifelong learning. Be it high school, college, or graduate school, it’s vital to continually seek out new information, especially when it challenges our current thinking. Confirmation bias is easily achieved by tuning into our favorite media echo chamber, social media group or a simple Google search. What’s hard is seriously considering alternative perspectives and staying open to different ideas.

My favorite and most often repeated Druckerism is “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Leadership is about continually questioning and confirming whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do. Peter Drucker once wrote that the leader of the past knew how to tell, but the leader of the future will know how to ask. The further you rise into leadership, the more important are the questions you raise.

With regard to decision making and influence, Drucker stated the following:

  1. Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.
  2. If we need to influence someone in order to make a positive difference, that person is our customer and we are the salesperson.
  3. Our customer does not need to buy; we need to sell.
  4. When we are trying to sell, our personal definition of what value is far less important than our customer’s definition of value.
  5. We should focus on the areas where we can actually make a positive difference. Sell what we can sell and change what we can change. Let go of what we cannot sell or change.

In my work as an executive coach, these five ideas are especially relevant for many of my clients to embrace if they want to increase their effectiveness as a leader.

The idea of “serving the common good” may have been disregarded by many organizations, but it is now embraced by companies who don’t see shareholder value at the expense of all the other stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and customers. Increasing shareholder value can be coupled with increasing stakeholder value.

Even the famous free market economist Milton Freidman, who wrote the New York Times Magazine article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” that shaped business practice for the past 50 years, would question many of the disreputable behavior of companies today. This is because Freidman also wrote about the “respect for ethical custom,” which doesn’t get much attention. By this he meant that if theft against the shareholder is wrong, then so is theft for the shareholder. Such theft could be in the form of companies abusing their power or depleting collectively owned resources (air quality, water quality, communities, etc.) without compensating owners.

Clearly companies who embrace serving the common good as a corporate value are much more likely to attract Millennials and Gen Zers, who are looking for their careers to be more than simply creating wealth for shareholders. The same is true for customers who, when faced with a choice, will choose brands that exemplify who they are and what they value.

Peter Drucker’s wisdom is embraced by leaders who will be successful going forward. And that’s good for their companies, employees, customers, communities, and the environment.

Threshold of an Opportunity

June 3, 2022

The fractured discourse in society over race, abortion, guns, politics, public health, and many other things threatens the fabric of what makes this country so great. We used to respectfully disagree and continue to be united as citizens. Now we are dangerously polarized. Where once we could compromise, now there is only me or you, win or lose.

E Pluribus Unum translates as “out of many, one.” This is emblazed across the scroll clenched in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States and originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation. Today there are Red states and Blue states.

We are in a liminal space: between what is and what is to come. The word liminal translates from the Latin word “limi,” which means threshold. Our society may be leaving one way of life behind and transitioning to something altogether different.

Businesses are facing a liminal space too. How do they entice employees to return to the workplace? The great resignation has morphed into workers demanding more control over when and where they do the work. Leaders are challenged to find a way.

“A leader’s primary role is to create the future,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “Our vision for the future should never be an extension of the present or a return to the past. Normal is the realm of a manager who sees his or her role as controlling what is. The leader, by contrast, doesn’t want to control—she seeks to release the potential of her people and her organization. There is nothing normal about a preferred future. Without the liminal space, escaping normalcy is unlikely, and so is a better tomorrow.”

It is important for leaders to see this liminal space as an opportunity. Reflect on the changing times and the abundance of possibilities for those who embrace rather than resist it. Create a vision for the future. Release the potential of your people and of the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a recognition that a change in the workplace is necessary. Consider the rise of union organization, demand for accountability on climate change, #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.

Many corporations may have to: shift from overly rewarding CEOs and shareholders at the expense of employees and customers; challenge the assumption that the reason for all white males on the leadership team and boardrooms is because there aren’t qualified woman and people of color; provide a ROWE (Results Only Work Ethic) environment where only the work results are measured and not the time in an office cubicle.

Look at this liminal space not simply as a time to address problems but to embrace the opportunities.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” wrote Peter Drucker, author of The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.”

At this threshold between what was and what will be, leaders must courageously embrace what is possible and move forward. This liminal space is the launching pad for transforming the old ways of working to meet the new challenges of today. Our future depends on it.

Is LinkedIn My Last Refuge?

May 14, 2022

As a small business owner, I’ve used social media to promote my services, demonstrate my expertise, and attract new clients. This is done primarily via blog posts, which I repurpose as articles on LinkedIn. Though I’ve used Facebook and Twitter, these sites proved less valuable for connecting with clients and now conflict with my values.

Elon Musk, in his on-again off-again decision to purchase Twitter, has caused confusion and dramatic swings in its stock price. This should not be surprising given the chaotic behavior we’ve come to expect from the mercurial Musk. I’ll soon close my account on Twitter because it is becoming embroiled in spreading misinformation detrimental to our society and potentially catastrophic in leading to further destruction of our democracy.

Three years ago, I removed myself from Facebook when it became clear CEO Mark Zuckerberg would take no responsibility for the rampant misinformation regarding presidential campaigns and COVID-19. Profits directly tied to false information spreading virally are just too enticing to take significant steps to curtail it. I believe Facebook has dramatically failed in its mission to give “people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

When I studied journalism as an undergraduate back in the early 1980s, I learned that the so-called fourth estate was vital to the health and well-being of our democracy. (I’m not suggesting social media is in any way a news organization, but many people seem to be treating it as such.) Back then, news reporting was respected because it was based on verifiable facts and as close to objective as possible with some notable exceptions. Fake news was relegated to the tabloids and people knew not to take seriously unverified information.

Obviously, a lot has changed since then and conspiracy theories and blatantly false information now dominate one major political party’s discourse. When someone seeks to confirm their bias, it’s easy to find cable news channels, talk radio hosts and websites that supply exactly what they’re looking for. Have we reached a post-truth era where verisimilitude matters most?

Fact finding and verification take time and money, and when we no longer financially support organizations providing that, we will be subject to those who profit from our ignorance. Many so-called news organizations choose to serve up opinion as fact and do not keep their audience informed, but merely seek to capture eyeballs and clicks for profit and power. 

Accountability is becoming all too rare and when corrupt politicians and white-collar criminals are not punished for breaking the law, this lack of accountability only permeates more deeply into society. Shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre was once deemed not protected by the First Amendment. Today, you can tweet or post just about anything—no matter how destructive—while facing few if any repercussions. Elon Musk believes banning someone for the equivalent of shouting “fire” when there is no fire impinges on free speech.

“A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being,” wrote Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Don’t Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life. The Mappiness Project found that of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks last in how much happiness it brings.

As much as I want to continue to promote my business and the services I offer, I will now only distribute my blog posts (as articles) via LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn continues to be a professional forum where most people post things and write articles that have some relevance to the people running and employed by businesses and organizations. My blog posts will also always be available on my website. Call me Meta-averse, but I will no longer use social media sites that run counter to my values.

“The mission of LinkedIn is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” I suspect this could be corrupted similar to Facebook and Twitter. I’ve certainly seen posts expressing purely political perspectives or rants that clearly don’t belong on this site. Many people have gently reminded those posting them that such missives don’t belong here.

For now, I see LinkedIn as my last refuge for promoting my business and it seems the ideal place for me connect with others on a professional basis. I hope you will continue to follow me on LinkedIn, even if I am no longer available on other social media platforms.

Effective Communication Takes Two

April 26, 2022

In my work as an executive coach, one of the most common goals my clients choose to work on is to become a better communicator. This is usually not about public speaking, presentations or even writing better emails. It’s about learning to actively listen, interacting back-and-forth and understanding it’s not about what you say, but what others hear.

Ironically, the plethora of tools created to help us communicate has not increased effective communication. In fact, I would argue it has gotten much worse. Look no further than the negative impacts of social media.

Effective communication requires back and forth exchange, otherwise it’s just talking at people. Sending and receiving messages requires active participation on both sides to enable accurate understanding. This is especially important in the workplace to ensure the results management wants is what employees can deliver.

“We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate,” writes management consultant and author Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship. The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely is it that the subordinate will mis-hear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.”

This back and forth is all too often missing and leads to managers upset when they repeatedly tell their direct reports what they want, yet the employee fails to deliver. Perhaps it’s less about telling and more about asking.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of doing the right things rather than simply doing things right. When those on the front lines (closest to the problem or opportunity) are consulted on what’s the right thing to do, leaders are likely to make better decisions. This involves two-way communication that balances listening with speaking.   

Drucker suggests effective executives should ask their knowledge workers the following:

  • What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?
  • What do you want to tell me regarding this organization?
  • Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit?
  • Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind?
  • What do you want to know from me about the organization?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” writes Drucker. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This advice should be followed by all executives as an organization can only be as effective as its people.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Ensure that your communication includes active listening, back-and-forth interaction, and that what you say is what they hear. Then it won’t be an illusion.

Role Clarity in Leadership

April 14, 2022

The leader of an organization has many responsibilities, but perhaps the most important is ensuring that the right people are in the right roles to carry out the needs of the organization so it can thrive. This role clarity cannot be overemphasized.

“Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” This quote is attributed to the great organizational consultant and author Warren G. Bennis. It is ultimately about leadership doing the right things, but also making a distinction between managing a process and leading people.

Managers are those who carry out right things. If they are asked to do the wrong things, then it really doesn’t matter if they do them right or not. The best organizations recognize that when a manager pushes back on doing what is perceived as the wrong things, it’s not necessarily a sign of insubordination. It can signal misunderstanding, insufficient communication or a lack of confidence in a leader.  

Leaders need not only do the right things, but they also need to ensure that their people are clear in their understanding and responsibility to execute these things in the right way. This means fully knowing why these are the right things. Unless the leader is in a command-and-control situation like the military, it is necessary to bring people along to ensure they fully believe you are doing the right things.

Getting this clarity regarding the role every person plays is vital, and this is especially important when leading teams.

“If you are the leader, you can decide the role you want to play and the role you want your team to play,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “But you need to decide.”

Miller distinguishes between what he suggests are a leader’s role versus a leadership team’s role.

Leader’s Role                                      Leadership Team’s Role
Provide vision                                     Communicate vision
Establish values                                  Enforce the core values
Set goals                                              Manage the day-to-day activities
Endorse core strategies                      Identify and solve problems
Provide resources                               Lift and maintain engagement
Provide encouragement                     Train and equip team members
Invest in leaders                                  Develop next generation leaders
Establish boundaries                          Provide accountability
Clarify roles                                         Improve performance

As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure there is clarity in the roles. If not, this impacts performance, and will undermine every leadership initiative.

“Don’t miss the big idea here—regardless of who does what, be clear and explicit,” says Miller. “The absence of role clarity is not a team failure—it is a leadership failure.”

Get clarity regarding your role and the role of your people in order to ensure your organization thrives.

Regards for Regrets

March 29, 2022

Do you have regrets? Perhaps your immediate reaction might be no, but—if you’re completely honest with yourself—you probably regret at least some things you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s part of being human and having free will.  

Like all emotions, regret can be extremely helpful if we are able to learn what it reveals to us. There is wisdom when we reflect on what this regret means on a deeper level.

Regret can occur when you believe your past action or behavior, if changed, may have produced a better outcome. We all have regrets about something at some point in our lives and it’s best not to deny feeling it. Regret can often be closely associated with feeling guilt or shame and can then be expressed to others in an apology.

According to Daniel H. Pink, author of The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, there are three options for responding to regret. Acknowledge that 1) feeling is for ignoring, which results in delusion; 2) feeling is for feeling, which results in despair; or 3) feeling is for thinking, which results in better decisions, improved performance, and deeper meaning.  

This third option is all about emotional intelligence and welcoming the information derived from your feelings without dismissing or getting overwhelmed by them. It means recognizing and responding to what you’re feeling in a way that helps you navigate your life, particularly when regret surfaces.

Pink says the deep structure of regret can be about the human need for stability, growth, goodness, or love. For example:

If you find yourself saying things like “if only I’d done the work,” this is likely a foundation regret that reveals your need for stability. Or when you find yourself thinking “if only I’d taken the risk,” this is about boldness where you are perhaps concerned about growth. When you think “if only I’d done the right thing,” this is likely a moral issue where you are concerned with goodness. And when you think “if only I’d reached out,” this is very likely a connection issue where you are missing the love that passed you by.  

To learn what regret is telling you, it helps to write about it or talk about it with others. Pink suggests that you relive and relieve regret to reduce some of the burden and begin to make sense of it.

“Writing about regret or revealing a regret to another person moves the experience from the realm of emotion into the realm of cognition,” says Pink. “Instead of those unpleasant feelings fluttering around uncontrollably, language helps us capture them in our net, pin them down, and begin analyzing them.”

This ability to analyze your regret means you can learn what the feeling is trying to tell you. Perhaps you need to apologize to someone who you’ve offended. Or maybe you need to reach out to someone with whom you’ve lost touch. You could act now to relieve your regret and likely unburden you with the weight you may be carrying as a result.

Other regrets such as not choosing a different career path may be difficult to reconcile, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned from what you’re feeling. You could certainly choose to look at it differently. That is, you may believe that a different career path would have been better, but how do you know? Rather than ruminate on what might have been, maybe you could celebrate all that you have, which may not have been possible with another career.  

So often it is only after the passage of time that we can see the thread that connects the events and people in our lives. If you embrace the feeling of regret and learn what it can teach, you are more likely to regard it as meaningful and move it from a debilitating feeling into meaningful action.

Zelenskyy’s Virtual Executive Presence

March 14, 2022

Throughout the past two years many of us have been challenged to demonstrate effective executive presence while working remotely. But how do you convey leadership prowess when you’re not physically in the same room?

Perhaps Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has most recently provided a great example of how to do this effectively—even while his life is being threatened and his country devastated by the Russian invasion.

First and foremost, Zelenskyy has led with values and demonstrates courage, vision and inspiration to Ukrainians and people around the world. Becoming famous by first acting as a fictional president in “Servant of the People,” perhaps the war has verified his ability to truly embody the notion of a servant to others.

Clearly, before becoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood how to communicate effectively as he rose from comedian to commander by capturing more than 70% of the vote. This effective wartime president has been able to gather worldwide sympathy as well as support for him and the Ukrainian people.

Whether President Putin may have simply underestimated the Ukrainian people’s resolve or President Zelenskyy has effectively held back a quick and decisive victory is still unclear. Regardless, the Ukrainian president is certainly effective in demonstrating his leadership.

Here are some examples how President Zelenskyy demonstrates executive presence:

  • Leads with values – speaks of freedom and independence for the Ukrainian people.
  • Speaks in terms of “we, the people of Ukraine” rather than “I alone can fix it” language.
  • Knows his medium: capitalizes on social media to effectively communicate his message.
  • Takes his own video selfies using not only words, but visuals of him wearing fatigues, sitting with his troops, and using backgrounds effectively.
  • Targets message to his audience: speaks Russian to Russian citizens, speaks English as necessary, and channels Winston Churchill in House of Commons speech: “we will fight in the fields, in the forests, in the streets . . .”
  • Demonstrates courage: When offered a safe way out, says “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”

When it comes to conveying leadership presence in less precarious and dangerous positions, perhaps there are some lessons to learn from Zelenskyy. Running an organization or any team of people requires showing up in a way that demonstrates you as a leader. This is about how you are perceived by others.

As I described in a previous blog post titled Building Trust & Connection via Zoom, it’s important to show you value others, carefully communicate, confidently collaborate and trust totally. Beyond the importance of digital body language, demonstrating executive presence in a virtual environment means:

  • Actively listen and take careful note of participants’ body language, focused attention, and whether they are engaged in the way you want.
  • Ensure that you remain fully engaged and are not distracted by multi-tasking.
  • Facilitate discussions to make everyone feel included and valued. Build on ideas, summarize information, and appoint actions to be taken.
  • Watch your tone of voice to ensure it is appropriate given the subject matter and the people involved, especially as this carries more weight without being in the same room.
  • Dress appropriately and groom yourself as if you were in the office. This falls under the category of “look the part of a leader.”
  • Use positive language and recognize that you may have to work harder to convey warmth due to the digital distance.

When you do these things effectively, you will show up in a way that others perceive as that of a leader. Since you can’t demonstrate how you physically carry yourself when you walk into a conference room, do all you can to accentuate the medium you are confined to. This is about how you look, how you speak, how you listen, how you participate.

Don’t disregard the importance of optimizing the medium you find yourself to bring out your best self. You’ll not only act like a leader but look the part as well.

Body Language in a Virtual World

February 28, 2022

With a return to the workplace, now’s a good time to reflect on the communication challenges we faced while working remotely. You were likely frustrated by the difficulty in exclusively communicating via Slack, Zoom or Teams, email, and texting. These alternative forms are certainly not going away, so it’s time to improve your digital body language.

Communication technologies provide many benefits, yet not being face-to-face in the same room, we lose the opportunity to send and receive messages most effectively.

While we’ve relied on body language to understand each other for centuries, the technology that has enabled alternative forms of communicating hasn’t replicated the nuance of being face-to-face. As a result, we need to strengthen our digital body language.

According to Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance, this can be simply responding promptly to a text, showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comments, using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting or many other things.

Dhawan says when trying to communicate most effectively, trust, engagement, excitement, and urgency all play a role. Keep the following suggestions in mind.

Traditional Body LanguageDigital Body Language
Establish Trust
Keep your palms open; uncross your arms and legs; smile and nod.Use language that is direct with clear subject lines; end emails with a friendly gesture; never bcc anyone without warning; mirror the sender’s use of emojis and/or informal punctuation.
Show Engagement
Lean in with your body as another person is talking; uncross your arms and legs; smile, nod, and make direct eye contact.  Prioritize timely responses; send responses that answer all questions or statements in the previous message (not just one or two); send a simple “Got it!” or “Received” if the message doesn’t merit a longer response; don’t use the mute button as a license to multitask; use positive emojis like thumbs-up or smile.
Demonstrate Excitement
Speak quickly; raise your voice; express yourself physically by jumping up and down or tapping your fingers on your desk.  Use exclamation points and capitalizations; prioritize quick response times; send multiple messages in a row without getting a response first; use positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs-up, high fives).  
Show Urgency
Raise your voice; speak quickly; point your finger (or make any other exaggerated gesture).  Use all caps paired with direct language or sentences that end in multiple exclamation marks; opt for a phone call or a meeting over a digital message; skip greetings; use formal closings, Reply All, or cc to direct attention; issue the same message on multiple digital channels simultaneously.

Working remotely is not going away so it’s important to strengthen your digital body language. Recognize the limitations in communicating without being face-to-face and shift the way you show up. Insert the beneficial elements of body language in the way you communicate in the virtual world.

Say Yes to Office Politics

February 14, 2022

Early in my career I worked for a rapidly growing mid-size company and experienced negative aspects of office politics firsthand. I saw men and women who regularly interrupted others, elbowed their way into interactions with senior leaders, pushed themselves into important discussions, and generally got promoted more quickly than the rest of us.

I convinced myself that I’d rather let my work speak for itself and while these people were playing office politics to get promoted more quickly, I’m better than that. I assumed there could be no integrity in office politics and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually I came to understand that being politically savvy is essential to rising into leadership positions and integrity is what separates those who are truly politically skilled. While those who are disingenuous may fool some people in the workplace, the art of being politically or organizationally savvy requires the authentic use of political skills.   

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, politically skilled leaders are masters at:

  • Social astuteness
  • Interpersonal influence
  • Networking ability
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Managing up
  • Apparent sincerity

Being politically savvy means you can maintain a positive image while driving your individual, team, and organization’s performance.

In a white paper titled Using Political Skill to Maximize and Leverage Work Relationships, the Center for Creative Leadership identified four distinct practices leaders can use to demonstrate political skill:

  • Social Awareness – This has to do with an ability to observe others well enough to understand their behaviors and motives.
  • Interpersonal Influence – The ability to influence and engage with others is paramount to successful leadership.  
  • Networking – Building one’s own team is merely a beginning as reaching across the organization is required to strengthen one’s political skillset.
  • Sincerity – This where integrity comes in and the ability to be open, honest, and genuine with others is the difference in those who are sincere and those who are not.

Navigating office politics is about being authentic and understanding that there will be ambiguity in work relationships. Both are required to build alliances, which is what provides you with political skills you need to succeed.

It’s vital to manage up well. This is not only about your boss but also other senior leaders who are gatekeepers for your career growth. These are the people who need to see you demonstrating all your political savvy skills.

Rejecting office politics means you won’t rise into senior leadership. Make peace with office politics and recognize that although it may in fact be a game, it’s a game you need to learn to play it well.

Don’t reject office politics because some people don’t play fair. While any game can include unfair players, engaging in office politics and playing with integrity, enables you to grow your leadership and advance your career. Say yes to office politics.

Strong (Empathetic) Leadership

January 27, 2022

Empathy is often difficult to discern by simply reading a resume, but most of us know it when it’s present and perhaps more so when it’s missing. When it comes to leadership, empathy is an essential quality.

Tensions over Ukraine have been escalating and a recent poll by Yahoo News/YouGov indicates that 62% of Americans who identify as Republicans say they believe Russian President Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Biden. The numbers rise to 71% of those who identify Fox News as their primary news source.

While this may be explained primarily due to the extreme partisan nature and political divide in the United States, it may also have something to do with our collective notion of how we define strong leadership.

How do you define a strong leader?

In business, according to job site Indeed, strong leaders share these characteristics:

  • Self-awareness
  • Vision
  • Perspective
  • Support
  • Coaching
  • Results
  • Passion
  • Accountability

In government, according to govloop, strong leadership includes these qualities:

  • Learning agility
  • Integrity
  • Fearlessness
  • Technology Savvy
  • Flexible
  • Great Motivator
  • Change Embracer
  • Visionary
  • Strong Communicator
  • Collaborator
  • Accessible

When it comes to governing leadership, I came across article by Mark Funkhouser, the former publisher of Governing magazine. He contends communication and courage are the most important leadership qualities for any government leader.

“I’m not talking simply about making speeches or giving direction, but about listening and speaking in ways that make others feel heard, understood and valued,” writes Funkhouser. “It starts with learning.” 

And when it comes to courage: “Leaders take on the problems of others and are willing to risk ridicule, derision and the loss of position or reputation to overcome those problems. It is this test of moral courage that separates real leaders from those who merely hold positions of authority. People have to know that you care about them. They have to have hope that if they stick together and stick with you, their circumstances will get better. And they have to believe in the mission—not only that you are competent, but also that you have a plan and the plan is going to work.”

Funkhouser’s perspective and many in the lists of characteristics and qualities mentioned above are elements of empathy, or the ability to connect with others by being aware of, sensitive to and understanding of what they are feeling or experiencing.

According to Helen Riess, author of The Empathy Effect, leadership is all about emotions.

“We often cite intelligence, instincts, and expertise when describing someone we consider to be a great leader, but great leaders are exquisitely attuned to others’ emotions and are experts at regulating their own,” writes Riess. “The truly great leaders among us have a combination of keen emotional attunement made possible through shared neural circuitry and quick, decisive, and creative minds that find opportunities and figure out how to execute a plan—which may explain why great leaders are hard to find.”

Perhaps it’s easier to be viewed as a “strong leader” in countries governed by those who don’t have to worry about a free and fair election every four years and a limit of two presidential terms. American leaders have limitations on what they can do and maybe that’s what contributes to making the United States such a great country.  

Until we decide that we’d rather have an authoritarian leader like President Putin, perhaps we should reconsider how we define strong leadership with regards to our president.

Personal Accountability & Social Responsibility

January 10, 2022

Do you feel your life and career are within your control? Do you accept accountability for your actions and your inactions? Are you doing your part to better your workplace and community in which you work and live? Or do you feel that you’re a victim without agency, and complain about how bad things are while failing to take responsibility?

It’s all too easy to make snarky comments on social media then stand back and complain about how the world is going to hell. Harder is when you take responsibility for yourself, and actively get involved to be part of a solution. This is when you are more likely to bring about change and feel better about your life.

Many people refuse to take responsibility for their own situation and/or take part in helping to improve our communities. Both are important and necessary and it’s not about which side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Personal Accountability

In the workplace, this means doing your job. Say what you will do and do what you say you will do. Assume positive intent. Respond rather than react. Remember that you are entitled to your feelings, and you are responsible for your behavior.  

To be personally accountable means to get your vaccines and booster shot. It means wearing a mask and practice social distancing to protect yourself. This is not a political decision. It’s a health decision and it can be one with life-or-death consequences. Choose to read and listen to factual information from reliable sources rather than mere opinions from unreliable ones.

Social Responsibility

In the workplace, social responsibility is about encouraging trust, respect, and collaboration. Innovation and efficiency will not happen without these, and you can’t operate independently from others.

Like it or not, your freedom is not about doing whatever you want wherever you want. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there’s no valid reason to do so. Wear a mask to protect your family, friends, neighbors, and the surrounding community. Public health is about all of us, and it requires each of us doing our part. This doesn’t diminish your freedom. In fact, it helps ensure it.

Tufts political science professor, Eitan Hersh, in his 2020 book Politics is for Power, wrote that many Americans participate in “political hobbyism” as a national pastime.  

“A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” Hersh writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”

For Hersh, real political work is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage.

Action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. I encounter so many who complain about their lives: at work, at home, with politicians, and with the state of our government. They so often complain via social media where “likes,” memes, snarky comments, and trolling is all too easy and has become all too socially acceptable.  

In the past two months alone, I’ve encountered several people who complained to me about different situations that I am directly helping to resolve and asked for their commitment to join me to help fix. In every case they either declined or simply went silent on me.

Be the Change You Want to See

I know it’s not easy for people to find the time and energy to devote to a cause outside of paying rent and putting food on the table, but I suspect just about all of us could make time and put forth effort towards improving something in our communities. Whether it’s simply volunteering at your children’s school, a local foodbank, or any number of other valuable organizations, you can make a difference and gain a more optimism in your own life.

Personally, when I reflect on my adult years, I feel my time and energy as a community volunteer, PTSA president, Big Brother, adult literacy tutor, and Braver Angels workshop facilitator, have improved my perspective on life. I feel that I am part of something bigger than myself and this has had a positive impact on both me and on my community.

Just this month I joined an advisory board to help steward a nearby community forest. For too long I found myself complaining about things related to this. After attending a virtual board meeting and found they were looking for new members, I put my name forward and will soon begin helping to balance various constituencies to help solve big and challenging issues.

The fact is you do have enough time. Just become aware of the time you spend on activities that don’t bring you joy or can make you feel worse. By reducing the amount of time spent staring at a screen can free up time. This doesn’t mean working less, but reducing the time spent on social media, streaming movies and series, and especially doom scrolling. Continual rumination is a cause for deep concern and should be a wakeup call.

To feel better about yourself and your community requires that you take control of your time and your energy. It means taking accountability for yourself and responsibility for our shared community. The sooner we all do this, the sooner we will reach the change we wish to see.

Milestone: 300 Blog Posts

December 26, 2021

During the past 12 years, I’ve written and posted articles about leadership, workplace communication, managing employees, executive coaching, organization development and other workplace topics. This blog post marks my 300th since I began writing them in 2009.

From my first post Operational Inefficiencies are Hurting Your Business regarding a trip to Denver that highlighted deficiencies with an airline and car rental company to my most recent Civility in the Workplace, these blog posts are primarily related to what I’m experiencing in my personal and professional life as well as what I’m reading or thinking about. I don’t follow an editorial calendar but instead write about whatever is present in my life at the time.

Though I receive no compensation, there are many benefits for this bi-weekly practice. These include providing potential clients the opportunity to better understand who I am and my expertise. Perhaps more importantly, this encourages my continual learning. (Full disclosure: About half the books I read and reference in these posts are sent free from publishers and publicists hoping I will write something positive.) Every year I read about 25-30 books related to these topics and, by writing about them, feel I am better able to retain the information and pass along to others what I’ve learned.

I wrote about leadership most often as this was tagged 178 times followed by employee engagement (79), organization development (79), workplace communication (75), and lower down was emotional intelligence (39), trust (38), and collaboration (34). The post where I received the most views and comments was Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership written in the summer of 2019. It seemed to strike a chord during and after the Trump presidency.

Over these past 12 years, I see that I frequently discussed the topic of intentionality as well as listening when it comes to effective communication. This was first explored in Turn Signals and Talk Signals where I compared not using turn signals to not being clear in our communication, and in Leader as Listener among others.

Last year, I was able to leverage the work I do on this blog by expanding upon a particular topic into a full book. I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in December 2020 and I’m thrilled to see it has found a larger audience.

This month I self-published a collection of my short fiction, something I’ve worked on for more than 20 years. I Remember Clifford and Other Stories is about exploring identity, the loss of a father, finding one’s voice, and feeling and processing emotions, especially around grief.

Here’s an example of something I’ve learned in just putting this post together. It turns out 300 is the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151) as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). Perhaps only my daughter and a few others might find this of interest. Regardless, writing 300 posts feels like a big milestone for me.

I am extremely grateful to my clients and the many authors and thought leaders who continually inspire me. To my regular readers, I truly appreciate your continued interest, and I welcome your comments and feedback. Happy New Year!

Civility in the Workplace

December 7, 2021

Blame it on social media, politicians, cable news or our collective desire for confirmation bias rather than truth and understanding, but incivility seems rampant in our lives.

Civility is about getting along with other people and treating others the way you would want to be treated. It’s about respecting and finding common ground with others despite our differences. So obvious and yet all too rare.

If you’re like me and think incivility and rudeness are on the rise, you would be correct. In fact, in a 2019 poll run by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 93 percent of people across America stated that uncivil behavior was increasing, and 68 percent said this was a major problem. That was before the pandemic and the January 6 insurrection, so things have likely worsened.

The one bright spot is that this has not necessarily been true in the workplace. In fact, over the past decade, people reported fewer rude incidents in the workplace—from 43 percent in 2011 to just 29 percent in 2019. Perhaps we should look forward to going back to the office if only to find some civility in our lives.

Another finding is that Americans continue to identify their place of work as a civility safe zone, with 89% of those who work with others describing their place of employment as very or somewhat civil.

Could it be that it’s too risky to be rude at work as it may cause us to lose opportunities for promotion or even cause for dismissal? Or is it due to a positive shift in attitudes signaling a move from divisive silo mentality to one of cooperation and collaboration?

Regardless, if we’re more likely to practice courteous behavior while at work, maybe returning to the office would be good not only for the organization, but beneficial to our society as well.

From the same research poll, when Americans were asked what actions could be taken to improve civility in our society, 55% said parents should be teaching civility to their children, followed by many workplace actions, including:

  • Warning or taking disciplinary action against people who are uncivil in the workplace (42%)
  • Civility training in the workplace (37%)
  • Employers’ training people how to intervene when others are being treated uncivilly (35%)
  • Employers encouraging employees to report incivility at work (35%)
  • Firing people who are uncivil in the workplace (32%)
  • Employers ensuring they hire civil people (21%)
  • Employers should discourage employees from discussing controversial subjects that could turn uncivil (21%)
  • A coalition of companies that promotes civility in society (18%)

Clearly, the workplace is not only viewed as a safe zone for civility, but also perhaps a template for how to encourage more of it throughout society.

While politicians, social media companies, cable news networks all have a role to play in making our society more civil again, business leaders can encourage civility in the workplace. This will make their workplaces safer, more collegial, collaborative and productive. And that’s good for the company’s bottom line and ultimately good for our society as a whole.

Building Trust & Connection via Zoom

November 17, 2021

Now that many of us have gotten accustomed to working remotely, it’s time to assess whether we’re optimizing our ability to communicate and connect most effectively. Zoom and Teams remain a poor substitute for sitting shoulder to shoulder in a conference room together, but there are certainly ways to strengthen our connection in this digital environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have mandated that more of our communication be done digitally, but it has certainly been moving in that direction for a long time. Consider:

  • We send 306 billion emails every day, with the average person sending 30 and receiving 96 emails daily. Even before the pandemic demanded we work from home, roughly 70 percent of all communication among teams was virtual.
  • The “tone” in our emails is misinterpreted 50 percent of the time, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • A study reported that 25 percent of respondents said they socialize more frequently online than in person.
  • The average person spends nearly 116 minutes every day—that’s about 2 hours—on social media, which over an average lifetime would add up to 5 years and 4 months.

“Communicating what we really mean today requires that we understand today’s signals and cues at a granular level while developing a heightened sensitivity to words, nuance, subtext, humor, and punctuation—things we mostly think of as the field of operations for professional writers,” says author Erica Dhawan in Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance.

According to Dhawan, this digital body language involves responding promptly to a text message; showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comment; writing I completely agree with what you’re saying in the group chat during a Microsoft Teams meeting; using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting.

It used to be when we passed people in office hallways, stairways or parking lots, there was an opportunity to smile, say good morning, and make a brief but important connection that simply conveys I see you. So simple, yet when it’s missing, we are losing something important. This is hard to replace in a virtual environment, but not entirely.

Beyond the words that are spoken, things like eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and tone of voice can greatly impact what is communicated. When reading words, so much can be misinterpreted when there’s not a great deal of care put into context, clarity and intention.   

Author Dhawan proposes “Four Laws of Digital Body Language,” and they are:

  1. Value Visibly – Don’t assume people are okay. Be proactive in explicitly showing you understand their desires and value their participation. When you value visibly, team members show up at work with excitement and drive. They’re motivated to make meaningful contributions and innovations, prompting employee engagement, retention and productivity.
  2. Communicate Carefully – This is about getting to the point while considering context, medium and your audience. When you communicate carefully, teams present a single, united front, get projects done quickly and efficiently, and feel safe bringing up potentially groundbreaking ideas.
  3. Collaborate Confidently – Begins by understanding what other departments do—and establishing clear norms on how they interact with one another. When you collaborate confidently, you create organization-wide alignment on common goals without misunderstandings or petty disagreements, leading to cross-team collaboration, innovation, customer loyalty, and marketing effectiveness.
  4. Trust Totally – Means you have an open team culture, where everyone knows they are listened to, where everyone can always ask one anyone for help, and where everyone can grant favors whose returns may or may not be immediate. When you create high levels of organizational faith, where people tell the truth, keep their word, and deliver on their commitments, in turn creating client/customer sales growth and cost-effectiveness.

If you find the move to remote work has impacted your ability to communicate most effectively, take steps to identify how you can improve your digital body language. Consider adopting alternatives to how you show up. Even in a post-pandemic world, you are likely to benefit from these suggestions as our reliance on communicating digitally is likely to remain.  

Clarity in Communication

November 10, 2021

Communicating well has never been easier yet it appears we are continually falling short. Despite incredible leaps in technology, including a dedicated communication device in the palm of our hands, we struggle to communicate effectively. This is a huge problem for productivity and profitability.

A 2011 survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year in lost productivity because of inadequate communication to and between employees, according to the Holmes Report on “The Cost of Poor Communications.” 

Is this due to the sender or receiver of communication? The answer is an emphatic YES!

The sender can undermine message effectiveness for many reasons, including choosing the wrong medium (texting versus calling), not recognizing the power of non-verbal communication (body posture, tone of voice, etc.), not providing context, and using too few, too many or the incorrect words to clearly convey thoughts. The receiver can fail to carefully listen or read the message due to distraction or lack of focus, choose to make assumptions rather than ask clarifying questions, and respond only partially or not at all.

The most common reason organizations communicate poorly is because they don’t achieve clarity around key messages and stick with them, according to Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The discipline to overcommunicate clarity is one aspect of Lencioni’s Four Discipline Model, which he says is vital for leadership where organizational health is concerned.

True Rumors

“The best way to ensure that a message gets communicated throughout an organization is to spread rumors about it,” writes Lencioni. “Tell true rumors. After decisions are made on a leadership team, have each leader immediately communicate that message to their direct reports.”

Lencioni says this results in “cascading communication” with a structured but interpersonal process of rolling key messages down throughout the organization. The effectiveness of it has to do with the contrast to more formal means of communication.

Three Keys to Cascading Communication:

  1. Message consistency from one leader to another
  2. Timeliness of delivery
  3. Live, real-time and in person communication (not email, but videoconferencing when necessary) – Make it interactive so questions can be asked in the moment

Sending & Receiving

Whether you’re in a leadership role or not, simple things can make a huge difference in the way you communicate as a sender and receiver.

When sending a message:

  • Be Intentional: Ensure the intention behind your message is clear. Provide context, set the appropriate tone, and remain sensitive to your audience.
  • Choose Best Medium: Though you may default to text or email, there are many times and many messages that should demand using the phone or delivered face-to-face.
  • Emoji or No Emoji: Etiquette regarding emojis in business texts is so far unclear. Context is critical as emojis are seen as more casual and can be interpreted inconsistently. On the other hand, they can quickly convey a mood. It’s probably best to use them sparingly.

When receiving a message:

  • Listen/Read Carefully: Seek first to understand, then to be understood as Stephen Covey so eloquently stated in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Be an active listener.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions: Rather than make assumptions, be sure you fully understand the message you read or hear. Assume only that the sender has positive intent until you have proof otherwise.
  • Respond Thoughtfully: Before you respond, ensure you clearly understand what the sender is looking for. Is it agreement, acceptance, approval, etc.? Once you know this, respond in a way that is respectful and kind.

These are obviously only a few things to consider as you seek to improve communication in your role. Keeping these in mind when you send or receive a message will likely improve the clarity in your communication. And that’s good for you and your organization.

Retaining Your Best Employees

October 26, 2021

The best organizations are those that hire and retain the best and brightest employees. Keeping these people engaged and satisfied is essential. If you’re not worried about employee retention, then you must work at a rare company these days. Consider the following:

  • Currently, there are about 8.6 million people unemployed in the U.S. and nearly 10 million job openings.
  • A record 4.3 million people left their jobs in August and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this job quitting trend is showing up in every sector they track.
  • A survey by BamBooHR found that nearly one-third of employees left their job in the first six months of employment: top reasons include poor onboarding, lack of clarity in job duties and expectations, and a less than stellar boss.
  • Recent research by Built In found that the cost of replacing a highly-trained employee or executive can exceed double their annual salary.
  • According to Wills Towers Watson, almost three-quarters of employees who fall in the “high-retention-risk” category are seeking to leave because they see no opportunities in their current organization’s career ladder.

If you’re a leader in your organization, especially in HR, you should find all of this very alarming. Blaming it on millennials who feel no company loyalty is only partially accurate.

Despite what may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there are many things that are entirely within your control. These things will not only help you retain your top talent and save time and money but will likely increase overall employee engagement and productivity.

  • Improve your hiring process to ensure you bring in the right people for the right positions and develop a strong on-boarding process.
  • Ensure that managers have annual or semi-annual conversations with each direct report regarding career growth and opportunities.
  • Offer professional training and development opportunities such as executive coaching to build greater leadership capacity.
  • Provide career advancement pathways beyond managing groups or teams for valuable individual contributors.
  • Offer ample opportunities to take on leadership positions throughout the organization.
  • Ensure those with direct reports are regularly measured on how well they manage and grow their people.  
  • Stop inadvertently encouraging employees to seek out and then provide counteroffers from other companies before offering to pay them what they should be earning.
  • Encourage an environment that expresses gratitude for work well done. This is not limited to bonuses and other material rewards, but specific and heartfelt appreciation delivered publicly (when possible) can be tremendously important in job satisfaction.  

“Most organizations simply assign too much importance to financial compensation and too little to the other side of the equation,” writes Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. “They often do this because they believe that people who leave their organizations are doing so because they want more money.

“This is an understandable mistake because that is what many employees say during exit interviews when they’ve already made up their mind to leave,” continues Lencioni. “However, almost no employees willingly leave an organization where they are getting the levels of gratitude and appreciation that they deserve just to make a little more money, unless, of course, they are so grossly underpaid that they can’t justify staying on the job for the sake of their livelihood.”

As I’ve written previously, simply expressing appreciation to your people can go a long way towards making employees feel valued. It doesn’t overcome an inadequate salary, but it certainly factors in when deciding whether to change jobs.

Provide a warm and welcome on-boarding process, clearly define the role, responsibilities, and expectations, ensure managers are effective at directing and supporting their direct reports, provide career advancement opportunities, and show appreciation regularly. If you’re doing all of this and salaries are commensurate with the positions, you will likely retain your best employees.  

Delivering Quality Feedback

October 14, 2021

To help direct reports improve and grow as leaders, it’s essential to provide quality feedback to best illustrate what they do well and what they do not do so well. When this feedback is behaviorally specific and delivered effectively, direct reports are more likely to receive the message well and take meaningful action.

Most importantly, you should begin with humility. Your recipient will be much more receptive when you connect as human beings first as it demonstrates that you acknowledge and accept that we are all perfectly imperfect.

The Center for Creative Leadership recommends the “situation-behavior-impact” methodology to help leaders be more precise and show up less arrogant when giving feedback. This method focuses on: 1) the situation, 2) the behavior (i.e., what the person did, either good or bad), and 3) the impact. Sticking to this methodology helps you avoid making judgments regarding the person’s intelligence, common sense or other personal attributes. And keeping it based on the events you observe, means you are less likely to sound judgmental or arrogant.

The CCL further recommends follow up inquiry to understand the person’s intent. Rather than assume, ask the person if what you witnessed was their intention. In this way they can potentially see how there may be a disconnect between what they intended and what transpired. This is a way to open the conversation and that’s where learning and potentially corrective action can occur.

Coaching Conversation

This is more of a coaching conversation, and it can help clarify the delta between intent and impact, which can result in a change in behavior. This type of conversation can also serve to increase trust and understanding. Ultimately, by inquiring in this way to understand the intention or motivation behind the action, you will both find it less disciplinary and more instructive.

Providing feedback is often a delicate area, but it need not be. It’s simply a matter of explaining what you observe and the resulting impact. When this impact is detrimental, it’s important to determine if that was the intention. And when the intent is different than the result, you can be helpful in corrective action and ensure there is learning so it doesn’t happen again.

Boss as Thought Partner

September 28, 2021

The relationship between boss and direct report is often fraught with problems stemming from being either too involved or not involved enough. Too much of a micromanager or an absentee manager. In many cases, the ideal between these two extremes is where you as a boss can be viewed as a thought partner.  

Leaders are expected to do many things, and one of the most important is staying in close relationship with direct reports. This means creating and communicating a vision, then coaching direct reports and their teams to accomplish necessary goals and objectives. It means motivating them to bring their best to the job, providing collaborative counsel, and clearing the path for optimal productivity.

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity, says that the best bosses should care personally while challenging directly, which is at the heart of what she calls radical candor. This is about providing guidance and feedback that is both kind and clear as well as specific and sincere.

A thought partner boss is one who models radical candor so that direct reports feel seen and valued and able to collaborate toward shared goals. On the other hand, the boss who shows up as either micromanager or absentee can undermine all of this.

Micromanager

The micromanager boss can be overly focused on what to do and how to do it. While a boss needs to provide a vision, being overly prescriptive on what to do can undermine a direct report’s own contribution. And telling one how to do something can remove their agency, autonomy, and any opportunity for learning.

This micromanager boss is very much hands-on and one who is typically talking too much, listening too little, telling too much, and often hoarding information. If this sounds like you, it may mean you see yourself as above those reporting to you and may signify that you’re overly reliant on managing down.

Absentee

An absentee boss is one who is difficult to track down and often skips 1:1 meetings. This can be especially detrimental as direct reports are missing essential information and guidance to do their jobs. Making oneself unavailable means productivity can slow and/or easily go off-track.  

This type of boss is too hands-off and not talking or listening, uninterested in details, unaware of problems, and can often cause collateral damage. If this sounds familiar, you may think you are simply getting out of the way but are actually creating confusion. And it may signify that you are overly managing upwards.

Thought Partner

The ideal boss is one who is viewed as more as a thought partner to their direct reports, and this is optimal because you provide guidance and direction while engaging in a collaborative relationship.

A thought partner boss is one who is hands-on, talking little and listening a lot. This boss asks relevant questions, responds to problems, offers solutions, removes obstacles, shares knowledge, and works collaboratively to accomplish goals. A thought partner boss is one who works alongside his or her direct reports.

To be a thought partner boss, here are some behaviors you may consider when you interact with your direct reports:

  • Provide each direct report with the support and direction they individually need. They are managed best when they are managed the way they want to be managed.
  • Rather than solve their problems, get curious to understand what they’ve considered so far and offer what you can to help solve these problems together.
  • Demonstrate vulnerability by inviting them to assist you with a challenge you are facing. Give them this opportunity to see things from your perspective.  
  • Use 1:1 meetings to ask important questions. Fred Kofman, author of Conscious Business, suggests: “What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier for you to work with me?”
  • Fight the urge to reject new ideas direct reports may have and instead try to nurture these ideas. Rather than immediately judge the viability of them, seek to gain further clarity and understanding.  

Obviously having a thought partner relationship with your direct reports is not only on you as their boss. It requires both individuals showing up in a way that honors the other person and the perspective they bring. It requires trust and respect. And it requires recognizing that only through true collaboration can the two of you work best together.



Three A’s of Successful Behavioral Change

September 14, 2021

An important part of what I do as an executive coach is help leaders discover what they should keep doing, what they should stop doing and what they should start doing to raise their leadership capacity. And behaviors can be difficult to change without awareness, acceptance, and sustained action.   

When making the transition from manager to leader, there is usually a need to better understand what needs to shift. That’s why my coaching typically begins with a 360 Feedback process to provide necessary insight to both me and my client. Very often the very behaviors that made you successful in managing may need to be tweaked when it comes to leading.

While working as a manager, among other things, you need to manage tasks and direct the work of people doing these tasks. You create and achieve short term goals, manage risk, and generally work within the organizational structure you find yourself in.

To become a leader, you need to make decisions despite ambiguity, engage in areas outside your area of subject matter expertise, build and sustain collaborative relationships with your peers, create and effectively communicate a long-range strategic vision that can move the organization forward. And you don’t manage other people so much as coach them.

Though some people may be able to shift their behaviors seamlessly, many emerging leaders need to raise their awareness of them, accept that they need to be tweaked, and make sustained action to make new behaviors consistent.

Awareness

Behavioral change requires first becoming aware of what needs to shift. This can come about only through effective feedback through candid conversations, effective evaluations or a 360 Feedback report. If these aren’t available to you, ask a trusted colleague for honest feedback. Once you have this awareness, you have taken an important step forward.  

Acceptance

To successfully change requires an acceptance of this awareness. All too often we dismiss what we discover and say: “well, that’s just who I am and it hasn’t held me back, so I guess I don’t need to change.” This is a mistake as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith so eloquently put it in the very title of his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Small “transactional flaws” performed by you against another can lead to negative impressions that hold you back. While these may not have been a problem up to now, it’s critical that you tweak them to grow into an effective leader.

(Sustained) Action

Finally, it’s all about what you choose to do with this information. Tweaking behaviors may not seem so difficult, but just look at the challenges people face with behaviors such as quitting smoking, losing weight, eating right, or sleeping enough and you can see that it takes a lot of effort and willpower. Taking meaningful action is vital and it requires constant attention.  

“Study after study (mine included) has shown that achieving transformative behavior change is more like treating a chronic disease than curing a rash,” writes Katy Milkman in her book How to Change: The science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. “You can’t just slap a little ointment on it and expect it to clear up forever.” She describes obstacles including temptation, forgetfulness, under-confidence, and laziness like symptoms of chronic disease. “They won’t just go away once you’ve started ‘treating’ them. They’re human nature and require constant vigilance.”  

To successfully tweak behaviors and grow your leadership capacity means you keep them top of mind in all your interactions. Though an executive coaching engagement may help you become aware, learn to accept and take action on behavioral change, it is up to you to sustain the change. Remain vigilant by shifting your mindset from one and done to more of a lifestyle approach.

Cultivating Purpose

August 31, 2021

In the early 1960s, while on a tour of NASA, President Kennedy saw a man walking in the hallway with a broom and bucket. The President walked over to him, introduced himself and said, “what do you do here?” The man, who was clearly a janitor, replied, “Sir, I help put a man on the moon.” This was a man with a sense of purpose.  

What about you? Do you feel your life has a clear direction? Do you feel your daily activities are important?

While meaning is about looking back on your life, purpose is about looking forward. Purpose is about guiding you as you make choices in what you do and how you live.

Research has shown that purpose offers direction in life in the same way a compass provides direction when trying to choose the right path. This is essential as having a sense of purpose is sustainable unlike happiness, which is fleeting.

Purpose isn’t something to be found, but something we can only develop from within, and needs to be cultivated, according to Cornell University psychologist Anthony Burrow. He says a sense of purpose is not an objective truth, but more of a subjective experience. You can’t outsource it to someone else.

While you can’t hold your company responsible for you finding or fulfilling your sense of purpose, there are certainly things it can do to help cultivate it in you. But you too have responsibility as well.

Organizations can help foster a sense of purpose by connecting what the employee does to the impact they are having, says futurist and author of The Future of Work, Jacob Morgan, and when the employee shows up with an open mind, ready to contribute and give it their all.

There are physical and cognitive benefits of those with a sense of purpose as you’re more likely to have reduced stress, better coping skills and choosing health-promoting behaviors. And when you’re pursing something that is meaningful to you, it actually can make you more attractive to others. Individuals reporting a sense of purpose in life report being viewed as a more likeable persona.

What if you don’t have a sense of purpose? Burrow suggests three ways to help you to cultivate purpose. These are:

  1. What do you find yourself pursuing whether it’s an activity, passion or hobby? This may be something where you ultimately lose track of time and you do it primarily for intrinsic value. This is a pro-active approach.
  2. An event may happen that causes you to be called into a certain pursuit. Perhaps a family member gets sick, and you pursue something initially to be helpful, but ultimately find it more fulfilling. This is more reactive.
  3. You see someone else who inspires you to follow a certain direction. This is a social learning pathway where you find yourself identifying with someone and cultivate your own purpose by learning from them.

Burrow says when cultivating purpose, it’s not so much a mental exercise, but more typically by actively engaging with the world. It takes some effort, but ultimately will fulfill and sustain you unlike anything else.

When you cultivate purpose and pursue work that aligns with it, you will have greater satisfaction in your career and very likely your entire life.

Workplace Flexibility in Flux

August 15, 2021

As organizations determine the best way to bring employees back into the workplace, it’s clear no one size fits all. Workers have found the virtues and drawbacks of working from home, and many prefer flexibility. Company leaders suspect something has been lost by not being in the office but haven’t been able to fully quantify it.

Many organizations are choosing to follow CDC guidelines on when to bring employees back, and due to the dramatic rise in the highly contagious Delta variant, timeframes have been pushed out to January 2022 and beyond.

Zoom Fatigue

Some organizations found workers to be more productive at least initially due to fewer interruptions and meetings. Yet our technology (Zoom, Teams, Slack, text messaging and email) found a way to overcome the physical distance and disrupt our re-found ability to focus. Staring at a computer screen is one thing, but using it to effectively communicate, collaborate, or manage others via camera is exhausting and often futile.

As an aside, I find it especially troubling during a video conference, our eyes are not looking into each other’s eyes, but instead looking down because the camera is located not in the middle of the screen but above it. Perhaps it would be great if we were all trained to look at the tiny green light like newscasters, but, of course, we would ultimately miss the reaction of our audience and that would also diminish real connection and effective communication.

While many workers have been able to reallocate the time saved by not commuting, others struggle with a lack of a clear definition between work and personal time. No longer is there a period of transition afforded by the commute. Further, we are challenged with the competing demands of home life (kids, pets, chores, etc.) while remaining focused on our work life.

Full Return

Companies that recently announced post-pandemic policies for a full return to the workplace include Abbott Labs, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Tesla, and Wells Fargo. This suggests they are expecting things to go back to relatively normal again. Most companies, however, plan to offer a hybrid or more work from home opportunities.

Fully Vaxed

Those requiring all employees returning to the workplace to be fully vaccinated include Amtrak, Cisco, CitiGroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Salesforce, Twitter, Tyson Foods, Uber, United Airlines, Walgreens, Walt Disney and Walmart. This is a list that will likely continue to grow, especially since many state and federal offices are now making full vaccination a requirement as well.

And those who refuse to be vaccinated may have to provide proof of a valid health or religious reason and, in many cases, subject themselves to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.  

What can we learn from the past 16 months that can help us improve how productive and engaged we are in our careers? It seems that the pandemic has redefined the workplace and what it means to be “at work.”

In my work as an executive coach, I find I really miss meeting face-to-face with clients. There is no substitution for establishing trust, building rapport, and communicating in the most complete manner than by meeting in the same physical location. But I also know that once we’ve established this trust, rapport and understanding on how we communicate, we can often meet via phone or video conference and make it nearly as effective.

This kind of flexibility will be important going forward. While some jobs won’t allow for any remote work, many should enable some form of a hybrid approach. Giving workers and their managers the flexibility for how and when to work from home can raise productivity and engagement, but it should be done intentionally with measures in place for accountability.

The workplace we return to—physically or virtually—will likely be forever changed, and it’s important to recognize that this crisis can lead to a great opportunity for improving the way we work together.

Anxiety at Work

July 28, 2021

Do you feel anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety is on the rise and blamed on everything from COVID-19 to political instability to economic insecurity to social media to unstable weather conditions due to climate change.

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life. While stress is a response to a threat in a situation, anxiety is a reaction to the stress associated with it.

According to Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States.

Anxiety disorders are more than the simple anxious feeling you might get about an upcoming presentation or other relatively minor situation. Anxiety is a problem when it goes beyond logical worry into a more unreasonable or uncontrollable way when a minor event can be felt as thoroughly embarrassing or seems life-threatening.

Fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, according to Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and author of Unwinding Anxiety. He developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including app-based treatments for smoking, eating disorders and anxiety.

“When my students or patients are suffering under the weight of never-ending anxiety, a stubborn habit, or out-of-control addiction, I encourage them to see if they can envision these experiences as teachers,” writes Brewer. “Teachers help us learn. When we learn something, we feel good (it is rewarding).”

Brewer identified a reward-based learning process that includes first identifying the trigger that leads to a specific behavior, which then results in some type of reward. Analyzing this reward is key to understanding how to change your habit or your control anxiety.

Raising your awareness and staying curious can be vital. Brewer suggests the following: “Instead of asking why something is the way it is, get curious. It doesn’t matter what triggers worry or anxiety, but it does matter how you react to it. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are showing up in their bodies?”

In the workplace, anxiety can prevent you from being your best and—at a minimum—can be disruptive to feeling relaxed and under control in how you go about doing your job. When anxiety becomes a problem at work, it can be associated with any number of types of anxiety. Among Americans, these can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects some 6.8 million, yet only 43% are currently receiving treatment for it. And GAD often co-occurs with major depression.  
  • Panic Disorders affect 6 million and women are more than twice as likely as men to have it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million and can begin as early as age 13.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults and often begins before the age of adulthood.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million and rape is the most likely trigger for PTSD. Some 65% of men and 46% of women who are raped will develop the disease. PTSD and OCD are closely related and many experience them at the same time along with depression.
  • Major Depression Disorder (MDD) impacts more than 16 million adults, is more prevalent in women and the average age for onset is about 33 years old.

If you find your anxiety is impacting you more than it should, it’s important to get the help you need. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and you should seek professional assistance rather than ignore it or go it alone.  You can quickly assess your overall mental health and find resources at Mental Health America.

To be your best at work, you need to look after your health and wellness: physical, emotional, and mental. Pay attention and take action. You deserve it.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

Best Teams: Individual Well-Being & Strong Relationships

June 30, 2021

Now that many companies are seeking to bring employees back to the office at least on occasion, it’s a good time to reevaluate how our teams can be most effective. The best teams are those that value strong relationships and individual well-being.

That’s according to Jen Fisher and Anh Phillips, authors of Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines. In 2020, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report, executives cited, for the first time, both well-being and strong relationships as essential to interdependent, team-based workplaces.

Virtual meetings are a poor substitute for meeting in the same physical location. When your team does meet—either in person or virtually—it’s important to provide psychological safety, ensure everyone’s voice is heard, build and maintain trust, and be respectful.

“Belonging is essential and this is driven by comfort, connection and contribution,” write Fisher and Phillips. “When you look a little deeper, you recognize that all three are the result of healthy relationships with one’s team members.”

Healthy workplace relationships have also been found to reduce stress and illness, and research shows that social connection in the workplace improves employees’ commitment to their work as well as their colleagues.

Vulnerability is Key

Gallup research established four broad types of meaningful moments on teams: !) when you propose a new idea, 2) when you ask for help, 3) when you push back on something and 4) when you ask a personal favor. All these situations leave you vulnerable to rejection in its many forms—from being ignored to outright scorn.

“The way this vulnerability is received will either build the culture or break it and will either help or hinder both the individual’s and the organization’s ability to produce their best performance,” wrote Gallup’s Jake Herway.

The ability to work together effectively begins by simply treating others in the same way you want them to treat you. Be honest and respectful. Assume positive intent. Seek to understand before being understood, as Stephen R. Covey put it.

Use Technology Wisely

As much as various technologies help us to communicate, it’s important to recognize that these are only tools. They can be used effectively or not. While collaborating tools such as Slack may be appropriate some of the time, they are not most of the time. Texting has become more common than phone calls, yet it can undermine clarity in communication. In person, face to face, conversation certainly improves understanding over the back and forth of email messages.

“Work technology makes us more productive, and yet its habituating design leads to overuse and addiction, when we become less productive,” write Fisher and Phillips. “Given these dualities, the path forward to strong relationships and well-being is to become more intentional about what we do and to make a commitment to ground all our behaviors, individually and as teams, in carefully chosen values.”

Bring your teams back and choose to uphold values that encourage well-being and strong relationships. This is good for the individual, the team and the entire organization.