Magnetic Leadership

June 2, 2017

For companies to thrive they need great leadership. So how do we define great leadership and what are the behavioral traits of a great leader?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote about what he called Level 5 Executive leaders who build enduring greatness through the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. He describes these Level 5 leaders as both modest and willful, humble and fearless.

“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well,” writes Collins. “At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

What the business world needs more than ever now are Level 5 leaders. It needs men and women who understand how to attract and grow talented employees. Their focus should be on people before products and profits. Customers and shareholders will be satisfied only when employees are fully engaged and optimally performing.

In Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s book The Magnetic Leader: How Irresistible Leaders Attract Employees, Customers, and Profits, she defines seven irresistible traits of magnetic leaders. These are authenticity, selflessness, strong communication, charisma, transparency, vision and resilience. Matuson also provides important questions to ask yourself in order to strengthen these traits.

Authenticity requires admitting you don’t know everything, being truthful and sharing your backstory. To increase your authenticity, ask yourself:

  • Do I bring my whole self to work or do I leave parts at home?
  • What have I done within the last week to build trust?
  • How often do I share my backstory with employees and prospective candidates?

Selflessness requires the humility to focus on another’s success. Strive to be more of a servant leader and ask yourself:

  • Are people following me because of what I can do for them or are they doing so because of what I can do to them?
  • Do I take more than I give?
  • What have I done today to put others before myself?

Strong Communication means focusing as much on the way you say something as you do with the words you choose. Consistent communication is directly connected to higher employee engagement. And strive to become a better listener. Ask yourself:

  • Am I fully present when people speak?
  • Is my communication clear or is it a bit cloudy?
  • How often have I reached out to team members in person, on the phone or via e-mail or Skype this week?

Charisma means as a leader you are able to influence and inspire others. It is often defined by those who exude confidence and express positivity. Ask yourself:

  • Do I genuinely like being around people?
  • Do I express my ideas in a way that exudes confidence or do I radiate self-doubt?
  • Do I expect people will do their personal best or do I believe most people will merely look to get by?

Transparency is linked to candor and this requires trusting others as the only way to build and sustain relationships. To increase your transparency, ask yourself:

  • How often do I filter what I tell people?
  • How frequently do I shield information from others for my own benefit?
  • Am I being transparent or a bit murky?

Vision is about seeing the bigger picture and then painting it for others to see. In order to assess where you are on vision, ask yourself:

  • Am I focused on everyday tasks or long-term outcomes?
  • How often do I take time out of my day or week to think about the future?
  • Who in the organization has potential that is not being realized and what can I do to help unleash that potential?

Resilience is about the ability to carry on in spite of a hopeless situation. It is about the grit that enables one to get back up after falling down. To further build this resilience, ask yourself:

  • Do I take responsibility for my failures or do I place the blame elsewhere?
  • Do I pick myself up quickly after a failure and move forward?
  • Do I play it safe to avoid failure or do I take risks so I can grow?

Often it is the questions that matter most. The best questions can help us to understand and grow. Asking and answering honestly to the questions above can help determine how you measure up in order to assess your own magnetic leadership.

In the conclusion of her book, Matuson describes management as a destination while leadership as a journey. She writes that “the way you choose to lead matters more than your intentions, and that every day is a new opportunity to lead in a way that is memorable for the right reasons.”

Great leadership embraces the notion of continuous learning and growth. To be a magnetic leader, seek to become more of who you are and embrace these seven traits.

Telling the Truth to Yourself & Your Boss

July 29, 2016

Sometimes the most difficult part of being fully present and connected in the workplace requires simply speaking the truth: to yourself and to others.

Because we are often reluctant to be emotionally vulnerable by expressing our thoughts, wants and feelings in the workplace, we sacrifice our ability to fully connect and be most productive. This authenticity requires that we tell the truth, even when it is easier to stay silent.

Truth telling is currently in short supply throughout our society, but perhaps most destructively in our workplace. It takes courage and is essential to becoming a strong leader.

This is not to suggest we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but it does mean we should express—in an appropriate and professional manner—when we feel angry, disappointed or treated unfairly. We should be fully honest with ourselves and others in service of improving all our workplace relationships.

In The Courage Solution: The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team, author Mindy Mackenzie offers a formula on how to courageously speak the truth in the workplace. She offers practical steps that require vulnerability and courage to improve your impact on the job and increase your happiness. It basically comes down to the only thing you can reliably change or control in any situation: yourself.

Mackenzie, an HR and organizational development veteran in senior leadership roles at Beam, Inc., Campbell Soup Co., and Wal-Mart, recommends four key areas to focus on beginning with yourself, followed by your boss, peers and team.

The techniques she offers require that you first take ownership and accountability for creating a work life AND personal life you love. This is a life that brings you increased fulfillment, greater sense of purpose, and more joy and energy to every day. It is your responsibility, and cannot be outsourced or provided by someone else. Accepting and owning this is vital.

“Changing the one thing you can change at will—your own habits, ways of thinking, attitudes and behaviors—will begin to positively transform your experience on the job and the results you achieve,” says Mackenzie. “But it’s not easy and will require you to be courageous. It will require you to tell the truth to yourself first. And that can be uncomfortable, but the upside is definitely worth it.”

You also need to lead your boss, which might be the most daunting part of the solution as this may require a mindset you’re not used to having with your boss. Because you likely report to a boss who may be the most instrumental in your advancement, it is very important that you manage this relationship well. And Mackenzie goes a step further in suggesting you lead rather than manage your boss. This leading requires that you:

  • Intensely study your boss to get to know the human being behind the mask. Be curious and establish a dialogue where you can better know how they operate.
  • Understand the company you work for: the business you are in, how the firm makes money, who the end customer is and how what you do fits into the company’s strategy.
  • Get the boss-employee relationship basics right. Always strive to keep your boss informed and when you make a mistake, be sure to own up to it and provide a plan for fixing it.
  • Make a concerted effort to elevate your thinking to an enterprise-wide perspective. Frame your ideas with a focus beyond your own domain, which will make you appear more like a leader and your ideas more likely to be implemented.
  • Get in tune with your boss by knowing exactly what he or she is wrestling with on a weekly basis. By knowing what your boss is working on, you are more likely to be an asset while doing your own work.
  • Provide honest, positive praise and affirmation to your boss. Be on the lookout for behavior or traits you admire and express that to him or her. Like any good relationship, you need to regularly make positive deposits in your relationship bank account.
  • Be smart by preparing your boss for your pushback, challenges and disagreements. Use the LCS (Like, Concern, Suggest) method to frame your differences so your boss can hear them and positively respond to you.

Throughout all of these it is essential that you tell the truth. Without being truthful, you will undermine their effectiveness and may ultimately sabotage the relationship with your boss.

Showing up and telling the truth in the workplace is not easy. It is certainly not common. If you choose to do so, you will stand out in a good way. You will ultimately be respected. And you will become more of a leader.

Successful Behavioral Change Linked to Values

September 23, 2015

Nothing will make people change their behavior—no matter how detrimental—until they can see how it is in conflict with their own value system. That alone motivates us toward successful change.

As a leadership coach working with mid-level managers, directors and C-suite executives, much of my work is helping clients change their behavior in order to become more effective leaders. And changing one’s behavior is hard work.

That’s because our behavior is a part of our identity and we defend it by saying it has worked for us to this point. Why change?

Besides, we don’t have to think about our behavior; we simply react. Therein lies the problem. Instead of reacting, we need to take time to respond.

Reacting is action without thought. Responding is action after thought. Unless you’re on the basketball court with the shot clock running down, you probably have a few moments to contemplate your response before acting. Take this time to contemplate your usual behavior, and then perhaps alter your natural and instinctual way of reacting to respond more appropriately.

But this resistance to change is also deeply rooted in our individual value system.

In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith wrote: “We obey this natural law: People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

Our values ultimately guide all our actions and they largely determine the decisions we make. Therefore, as a coach, it’s important for me to identify those behaviors that are out of alignment with the leader’s values in order to secure buy-in.

Goldsmith found that the higher one goes in an organization, the more his or her issues are likely to be behavioral.

In fact, he lists more than 20 such behaviors that even the greatest leaders need to stop doing in order to be more effective. These include things like: 5) Starting with NO, BUT, HOWEVER; 9) Withholding information; 16) Not listening; 17) Failing to express gratitude.

These detrimental behaviors often remain hidden because, while they may be obvious to others, they can be a blind spot for the leader. And we have become very adept at seeing only our best selves.

We judge ourselves based on our intentions and we judge others on how they make us feel, according to social psychologist John Wallen. This disconnect from seeing how our behavior impacts others can keep us from being aware of our blind spots.

The blind spot is an area a coach can help uncover and provide a roadmap for how to change. Results from a 360 analysis and other assessment tools enable the leader to gain perspective and challenge his or her previous assumptions. After seeing and accepting the data, he or she must then commit to the behavioral change.

Without this commitment, no measurable improvement is likely to occur. That’s because no one can make us change our behavior unless we want to. And that’s why the direct link must be made to the individual’s own values.

This link to our own sense of who we are and what we represent motivates us to change like nothing else. When a coach points out how the detrimental behavior is in direct conflict with the leader’s own values, it can help fire up the desire and commitment to make the change.

Integrity is a word thrown around a lot in job interviews and on corporate value statements, but to really live with integrity means to act according to the values, beliefs and principals you claim to hold dear.

You cannot behave in a way that is counter to those values, beliefs and principles without the risk of jeopardizing your integrity. Your behavior is therefore a direct reflection of just how much integrity you truly have.

When our behavior undermines our leadership effectiveness, it’s time to see and accept the compromised connection to our values, and commit to change. Only then can we succeed in making real change in our behavior that will lead to a successful outcome.

Leadership Through Emergent Authenticity

January 8, 2015

Leadership requires many traits including integrity, courage, humility and the ability to communicate well. It also requires authenticity.

But being authentic can be tricky as author Herminia Ibarra points out in a recent article titled “The Authenticity Paradox,” in the Harvard Business Review.

As a leader it may be difficult to remain true to who you are when leading an organization that is continually changing and evolving. Or when moving to a new company where your authentic self may not be fully appreciated.

Does your ability to demonstrate vulnerability make you appear weak and ineffectual instead of humble and approachable? Ibarra writes of maintaining the correct mix of distance and closeness in an unfamiliar situation.

Stanford psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld says it is about “managing the tension between your authority and approachability.” She says being authoritative means using your knowledge, experience and expertise over the team’s, while maintaining a measure of distance. On the other hand, being approachable means you emphasize your relationships with people by seeking their input and perspective, while you lead with empathy and warmth. It’s a balance.

Finding an organization whose values are aligned with yours is a good place to begin. However, unless you are one of the founders of the organization, you may not align 100% or remain fully aligned as you advance your career.

In the same way organizations are (or should be) constantly evolving to meet market conditions and accommodating new employees, so too should you evolve as a leader. While keeping up with new knowledge and skills is important, you also need to recognize and accept that your true self should continually grow and adapt given the situation.

Instead of being static in your identity, your true self should continually evolve with your environment in order to be most effective. Not as a chameleon, but as a curious, open-minded, lifelong learner who is willing to listen to other perspectives, try out new behaviors, and evolve as you age.

It is often said that we see others as photographs and we see ourselves as movies. This is because we have a tendency to put people in boxes in order to best understand them. But this only keeps us from really knowing each other. Even though we know and accept that we as individuals are continually changing, we fail to appreciate that so too is everyone else.

This ability to stay true to yourself while evolving means not being too rigid in how you see yourself. For example, in networking situations if you are still describing yourself the way you did ten years ago, you may want to rethink things.

Try out new stories to describe yourself, stop repeating who you were or even how others might describe you, and begin showing who you are now. Get comfortable with the idea that who were yesterday, is not who you are today, nor who you will become tomorrow.

Learn from other leaders and make small adjustments regularly to allow your authentic self to continually evolve and emerge. This doesn’t mean stop holding true to your values, but allow for refinement as you reassess and move throughout your career.

One of the reasons I love jazz is that it seems to perfectly encapsulate a combination of structure and improvisation, a musical form that enables freedom of expression of one’s true authentic self. And a great jazz musician never plays the same composition exactly the same every time.

As a leader it’s essential to continually listen and learn from others. Introspection is important, but it should not be at the exclusion of interacting with others and, ideally, it should come after this interaction.

Look outward, reflect inward, and continually refine how your authentic self contributes to or detracts from your overall effectiveness as a leader. Don’t expect your authentic self to remain still, and let it continually evolve and emerge.

Effective Leadership: The Theory & Practice

November 7, 2014

Are leaders born or made? That appears to be an on-going question, but if you simply search for “leadership” on Amazon, you’ll find 124,676 titles currently available. There are, obviously, things to learn about leadership whether you are born a leader or are becoming one.

And becoming a more effective leader requires both knowing why and how. Leadership theory enables you to understand the why; leadership practice provides the how. Both theory and practice are essential.

Understanding the theory behind effective leadership provides a foundation for deeply knowing your self and your intrinsic motivation.

“Leadership is an uncommon composite of skill, experience, and ripened personal perspectives regarding the nuances and complexities of life,” write M. A. Soupious and Panos Mourdoukoutas in their new book The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders. “Only those men and women who have cultivated a carefully conceived philosophy of life are capable of genuine leadership.”

This book provides ten rules such as “know thyself” and “do not waste energy on things you cannot change” to provide an overall theory for leaders to operate. Using inspiration and guidance from philosophers such as Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus and Antisthenes, the authors contend this classical wisdom can be applied to the modern workplace.

The authors further posit that what distinguishes a real leader from a mere administrator, is “a unique series of perspectives and values.” This means employing methods and approaches reflecting clarity and insight that come from a well-examined life.

The practice of leadership requires a variety of methods and exercises to alter your mindset and behaviors to be more effective.

From the practice side of leadership learning is a book titled The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership by Joelle K. Jay. Here you’ll find helpful exercises for you to develop your inner life in service of improving your overall leadership capacity.

Jay outlines in practical terms how a leader’s inner life impacts his/her outer life:

“Your inner edge is the you behind the scenes: your thoughts and motivations, your aspirations, your plans, your decisions, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, and your way of becoming a success. Your outer edge is the you that you show the world: your words, your actions, and your interactions with the people around you. Your inner and outer edges are intimately related. The way you feel influences the way your act. Your actions affect your results. Your results determine the way you experience life. In order to be effective as a leader and in your life, you need to spend time on both your outer and inner edge.”

Using many examples from her executive coaching practice, Jay provides step-by-step exercises on how to make progress with each of the 10 practices. I think the practice called Find Fulfillment may be the most important, yet is rarely employed.

Finding fulfillment means ensuring your work and values are in synch. This requires deep introspection to be certain that what you do is aligned with who you are.

“When you find fulfillment, you don’t get burned out; you get fired up,” writes the author. “You put your talent to work, but you’re the one who feels rewarded. You experience those moments of greatness. You also get to lead a great life.”

Another practice she points to is All . . . All at Once, which involves putting the other nine practices to work together as one. The practice involves a state of mind where you can combine different ideas and think about them at the same time.

This integrative thinking is the mark of an exceptional leader, according to Roger Martin, dean of the Rotterman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “It is this discipline—not superior strategy or faultless execution—that is a defining characteristic of most exceptional businesses and the people who run them.”

Whether born or made, a leader can become more effective through a combination of theory and practice. Becoming a more effective leader requires knowing your inner self in order to best align with your outer self.

“In order to be a leader,” writes Jay. “. . . you’ve got to bring that learning and self-awareness out to the people you lead.”