Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sustainable Leadership

To help you achieve sustainable success as a leader who puts people first, here are five ways to earn respect from your employees:
  1. Consistently Strong Work Ethic; Set The Standard
Actions are stronger than words, and this is personified by the respected leader. Great leaders despise false promises and people that create lots of unnecessary noise to get attention. There are many leaders that play the part on the outside, but have very little substance on the inside. Respected leaders are those who consistently prove through their work ethic that they are reliable and trustworthy on the inside and out.

These leaders set the tone and are great role models. The tangible and measureable results of their consistent work ethic influence new best practices and cultivate innovation. Ultimately, their leadership defines the performance culture for the organization. They set the standard and leave behind an indelible impact.
  1. Not  Afraid to Take Risks; Admit Wrong Doing
Respected leaders are those who are not afraid to take risks. They are bold enough to change the conversation and seamlessly challenge the status quo for the betterment of the organization and their competitive advantage. They can anticipate when a paradigm shift is in order and are courageous enough to act on it.

The other side of this admirable quality is the ability to admit wrong doing. Respected leaders do not hesitate to make the most difficult decisions and will put themselves out on the frontline to lead by example. They gravitate towards what many view as a “leap of faith” and willingly accept the challenge – knowing very well that the odds may not be in their favor given the personalities and inherent obstacles that surround them.
  1. Sponsor High-Potential Employees; Serve Others Rightly
Respected leaders think about making others better. They don’t leach, they lead. They are mindful of those that give a 100% effort to their responsibilities. Respected leaders find ways to discover the best in people and enable their full potential. When they detect high-potential talent they impart upon them their wisdom and provide a path for long-term success.

Leaders that “sponsor” their employees put their own reputation at risk for the betterment of the individuals they are serving. This is an admirable quality and one that is highly respected amongst a leader’s peers. For example, my career was shaped and defined by one of my bosses in the early stages of my professional development. He witnessed my raw talent and saw that it needed refinement. He wasn’t afraid to take risks and exposed me to environments in the workplace that were too advanced for my experience to-date.

This challenged me to make decisions, and tested my ability to think and use my instincts. He lifted me up and guided me rightly each time I failed along the way. My boss taught me all of his tricks and trusted me to use them in ways that represented my personality, natural style and approach. Others noticed and didn’t always think that I was worthy of his sponsorship, but in the end I proved the doubters wrong and eventually became their supervisor.

  1. Powerful Executive Presence; Long-Lasting Impact
The most respected leaders are the most authentic people. Their executive presence is genuine and true. They make those around them feel that they matter and they welcome constructive dialogue regardless of hierarchy or rank. Respected leaders trust themselves enough to live their personal brand and serve as powerful role models to others. Their presence creates long-lasting impact that leaves a positive mark on the organization and the people they serve.
Respected leaders are passionate, impact-driven people. Their presence is felt when they walk into the room; their reputation and their track-record precede them.
  1. Have Their Employees’ Backs; Deflect Their Own Recognition
Too many leaders are recognition addicts and want all of the credit. They spend too much time breaking-down rather than building-up their teams. They don’t take the time to genuinely learn about other’s needs. Leadership is ultimately about knowing the people you serve and giving them the guidance, inspiration and navigational tools to make their lives better and enable more opportunities.

Leaders earn respect when they reward and recognize their employees and colleagues. They take the time to appreciate and understand the unique ways they each think, act and innovate – and are always on the lookout to enable their talent. They are trusted, admired and respected because they make it more about the advancement of others, rather than themselves. They share the harvest of the momentum they build with others.

Earning respect is a journey and requires leaders to focus on how they can “deliver beyond what is expected” of their role and responsibilities. It’s about always being on the look-out for ways to step up your game and being mindful of ways to make the workplace better and the organization and its people more competitive and relevant.

What will you do as a leader today that you haven’t done in the past to be more respected?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Making Mistakes: The 6 A's

Great leaders allow their people the freedom to make mistakes. But good employees are those who when mistakes are made 1. Learn from them, 2. Own them, 3. Fix them, and 4. Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again.

1.       Learn from them:  Good employees recognize that they have, in fact, made an honest mistake.  They do not get defensive about it, rather they are willing to look objectively at their mistake, recognize what they did wrong, and understand why their choice or actions were the wrong thing to do.

2.       Own them:  Good employees take accountability for their mistakes. They admit them readily.  They don’t make excuses for their mistake, rather they acknowledge that yes, they made a mistake and they express openly what lesson they have learned from that mistake. They go on to express steps 3 and 4 below.

3.       Fix them: Good employees do what it takes to rectify their wrongs. They are willing to do whatever they can to fix the problem and make it right. Certainly there are times when the damage is done and recompense cannot be made, but good employees do their very best to repair whatever damage has been done to the best of their ability. They always establish a timeline with follow up for when the problem will be fixed and make sure that progress is communicated throughout the process so everyone feels the urgency and care with which they are correcting the problem.

4.       Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again: This is the most critical step in the learning process. When a mistake has clearly been made, the most important thing anyone can do is figure out what safety nets and roadblocks can be carefully established to ensure that this same mistake will never take place again. Document this step so the lessons learned and the safeguards setup can always go beyond you. Do everything in your power to help others learn from your mistake so they don’t have to experience them on their own to gain the lesson you’ve learned.

The steps to correcting mistakes apply to any area of life. Whether it’s business life or home life or personal life, the principles of apologizing remain the same. Good employees make a lot of mistakes, and truly great employees are those have mastered the art of apologizing for those mistakes:

Great People Practice The Six A’s of a Proper Apology:

•Admit - I made a mistake.
•Apologize - I am sorry for making the mistake.
•Acknowledge - I recognize where I went wrong that caused my mistake to occur.
•Attest - I plan to do the following to fix the mistake on this specific timeline.
•Assure - I will put these protections in place to ensure the same mistake will not happen again.
•Abstain – Never repeat that same mistake twice.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Better Presentations

When delivering presentations to a general audience, senior management in your company, or even a venture capitalist, a successful presentation isn't about the PowerPoint slides you create, it’s about much more than that.  These nine points will help you deliver a powerful presentation:

1. Establish Your Credibility Right Up Front

Let’s face it; your audience is more likely to listen to what you have to say if they know you are credible. And it’s not about a lengthy intro with your career highlights. Instead, whether giving a public presentation or an internal presentation, start your presentation by establishing credibility before you give them information.

You can use a short story about your background related to the topic, share an experience that shaped the presentation or conclusion, or even reveal the legwork or other references that support your information and is directly related to what you are about to tell them.

Make a point about establishing credibility, don’t just hope it happens.

2. Include a Goal Early in the Presentation

If your audience knows the purpose or goal of the presentation from the start, they are more likely to relate what you have to say with that purpose as you present your material. This makes it easier at the end to get the action you want, whether it’s funding, approval to proceed with an initiative, to change their minds, or simply get agreement and understanding.

It will also help you shape your presentation by focusing you on that goal rather than straying from the primary purpose.

3. Use Supporting Material Liberally

Even if you establish your credibility, you also need to establish the credibility of what you say during your presentation. Instead of just presenting the material, accompany it with information that supports it and gives it credibility. You don’t have to include it in your slides, but make sure it is in your speaking notes.

For instance, you can tell a story, give statistics, reference research, or even provide quotes from well-respected figures that support your message. And don’t be shy about addressing credibility. You can even say “you may be skeptical about this, but …” or “I know this is surprising, but …”

4. Begin Separate Ideas with Powerful Quotations or Images

For more impact, introduce each separate topic or idea with a relevant quotation or full-screen image that evokes the topic instead of using a stock title slide. Add a word or two about the topic if you have to, or simply say it out loud and let the quote or image support it.

This gives your topic more impact since a strong quote or image will stick in their minds as they listen to the related material. It also breaks up the presentation, particularly if you have no choice but to include dry material like sales graphs or bullet points in your PowerPoint presentation.

5. Ask Thought-Provoking or Rhetorical Questions

An effective way to convey information is to ask a question first instead of launching into the presentation material. This will get them thinking about the material in the context you want. For instance, you could say “You might wonder why …”; “When I started to look at this issue, I asked myself …”; or “How much longer should we …?”

Be sure to consider your audience and the things they would wonder about, and phrase your questions so you answer those things for them, while at the same time advancing your message and your goals for the presentation.

6. Make Startling Statements

Sometimes the best way to get attention about information you are presenting is to make startling statements. It gets their attention and if you can back it up with your information, you will drive home your point. If necessary, you can pull one fact out and use it, even if it isn't your main point. It is simply a catalyst for your message.

7. Be Prepared for Difficult Questions

Questions may come up during your presentation or even at the Q&A session, so you need to be prepared for the most difficult ones, particularly ones that may derail your presentation or subvert your goal. Since you should know your topic and your audience, you should plan for these kinds of questions.

Consider all the objections the audience might have or questions they may raise about your points and information. Include the most critical ones within your presentation to sideline objections, or be prepared to answer them when they come up. This can be as simple as being able to justify statements or address concerns about an approach from subject matter experts like finance, IT, HR, etc., who may be part of your audience.

8. Have Your Own Questions Ready in Case Nobody Asks One

Regardless of whether you are doing a public presentation or a focused business presentation, you should leave time for questions and answers at the end. If nobody asks a question, be prepared with your own questions that you can then answer. Ease into them by saying something like “I’m usually asked…” or “One thing you might still be wondering about is …”

Of course, your questions should be directly related to getting your message across and achieving your goal, so use them strategically. Even if you get questions, you can still use yours at the end of the Q&A.

9. Have a Second (Short) Closing After the Q&A

Just like an encore or a curtain call, you should include a short closing after the questions. This is the time to summarize (again) and drive home your key messages and points, including your call to action. If you need to, you can prepare a slide for this, but you should be able to do the final closing without a slide to support you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Problem Solving

With as many problems as we are all faced with in our work and life, it seems as if there is never enough time to solve each one without dealing with some adversity along the way.  Problems keep mounting so fast that we find ourselves taking short-cuts to temporarily alleviate the tension points, so we can move onto the next problem. In the process, we fail to solve the core of each problem we are dealt; thus we continuously get caught in the trap of a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find any real resolutions.  Sound familiar?

Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do.  As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems, which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand.  We must be resilient in our quest to create and sustain momentum for the organization and people we serve. But the reality of the workplace finds us dealing with people that complicate matters with their corporate politicking, self-promotion, power-plays and ploys, and envy. Silos, lack of budgets and resources, and many other random acts or circumstances also make it harder for people to be productive.

Competitors equally create problems for us when they unexpectedly convert a long-standing client, establish a new industry relationship, or launch a new product, brand or corporate strategy.   Mergers & acquisitions keep us on our toes and further distract us from solving existing problems by creating new ones.

“All life is problem solving” - Karl Popper. I’ve often contended that the best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath and beyond the problem itself. They see well-beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity.

Leaders who lack this wisdom approach problems with linear vision, thus only seeing the problem that lies directly in front of them and blocking the possibilities that lie within the problem. As such, they never see the totality of what the problem represents; that it can actually serve as an enabler to improve existing best practices, protocols and standard operating procedures for growing and competing in the marketplace. They never realize that, in the end, all problems are the same, just packaged differently.

A leader must never view a problem as a distraction, but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen. Whether you are a leader for a large corporation or a small business owner, here are the four most effective ways to solve problems:

1.  Transparent Communication

Problem solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed. I’ve seen one too many times how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.

Yes, communication is a fundamental necessity. That is why when those involved in the problem would rather not express themselves, fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrong-doing, the problem solving process becomes a treasure hunt. Effective communication towards problem solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions.

Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution.  As fundamental as communication may sound, don’t ever assume that people are comfortable sharing what they really think. This is where a leader must trust herself and her intuition enough to challenge the team until accountability can be fairly enforced and a solution can be reached.

2.  Break Down Silos

Transparent communication requires you to break down silos and enable a boundary-less organization whose culture is focused on the betterment of a healthier whole.   Unnecessary silos invite hidden agendas rather than welcome efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem solving.

Organizational silos are the root cause of most workplace problems and are why many of them never get resolved. This is why today’s new workplace must embrace an entrepreneurial spirit where employees can freely navigate and cross-collaborate to connect the problem solving dots; where everyone can be a passionate explorer who knows their own workplace dot and its intersections.  When you know your workplace dot, you have a much greater sense of your sphere of influence. This is almost impossible to gauge when you operate in silos that potentially keep you from having any influence at all.

In a workplace where silos exist,  problem solving is  more difficult  because you are more likely dealing with self-promoters, rather than  team players fostered by a cross functional environment..  When you operate in a siloed environment where everyone wants to be a star, it becomes increasingly difficult to help make anything or anyone better. This is when problem solving becomes a discouraging task.

Breaking down silos allows a leader to more easily engage their employees to get their hands dirty and solve problems together. It becomes less about corporate politicking and more about finding resolutions and making the organization stronger.

3.  Open-minded People

Breaking down silos and communication barriers requires people to be open-minded.  In the end, problem solving is about people working together to make the organization and the people it serves better. Therefore, if you are stuck working with people that are closed-minded, effective problem solving becomes a long and winding road of misery.

There are many people in the workplace that enjoy creating unnecessary chaos so that their inefficiencies are never exposed. These are the types of people (loafers and leeches) that make it difficult for problems to get solved because they slow the process down while trying to make themselves look more important.  Discover the lifters and high-potential leaders within the organization and you will see examples of the benefits of being open-minded and how this eventually leads to more innovation and initiative.

Open-minded people see beyond the obvious details before them and view risk as their best friend. They tackle problems head-on and get on with the business of driving growth and innovation.  Close-minded employees turn things around to make it more about themselves and less about what is required to convert a problem into a new opportunity.

With this explanation in mind, carefully observe the actions of others the next time you are dealt a real problem.

4.  A Solid Foundational Strategy

Without strategy, change is merely substitution, not evolution.  A solid strategy must be implemented in order to solve any problem.  Many leaders attempt to dissect a problem rather than identify the strategy for change that lies within the problem itself.

Effective leaders that are comfortable with problem solving always know how to gather the right people, resources, budget and knowledge from past experiences. They inspire people to lift their game by making the problem solving process highly collaborative; for them, it’s an opportunity to bring people closer together. I’ve always believed that you don’t know the true potential and character of a person until you see the way they solve problems.

Effective leaders connect the dots and map-out a realistic plan of action in advance. They have a strategy that serves as the foundation for how the problem will be approached and managed. They anticipate the unexpected and utilize the strengths of their people to assure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.

Never shoot from the hip when problem solving. Avoid guessing. Take enough time to step back and assess the situation and the opportunities that each problem represents. Make the problem solving process more efficient by recognizing that each problem has its own nuances that may require a distinct strategy towards a viable resolution.

You know that you have great leadership in your organization when problem solving becomes a seamless process that enables the people and the organization to grow and get better.  If problem solving creates chaos, you may have a serious leadership deficiency.

Problem solving is the greatest enabler for growth and opportunity. This is why they say failure serves as the greatest lesson in business and in life.  Be the leader that shows maturity, acts courageously, and requires accountability.  Applying each of these lessons can help you become a master problem solver. Each experience teaches us all new things. Embrace problem solving and the many unseen treasures it represents.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Writing has always been a happy experience for me.  I have only two secret secrets/suggestions.  First, I read constantly whether it be magazines, news articles, or novels.  Second, I have a two-step writing process.  Let me explain.

First, the reading.  Just as you would not expect to be an expert baker or cook without seeing others in their natural habitat, you need to read if you want to be a writer.  In this way, you expand your options, your resources, your ways of getting from point A to point B.

Our era is a visual one.  We all spent huge amounts of time taking information in visually, whether it’s TV, the movies, PowerPoint slides, or the Internet.  Just in my professional lifetime, the pace of the visual information feed has increased enormously.  We’ve learned to speed up our visual inputs and become more sophisticated in the visual genres and styles that we can absorb.

I believe this increase has come at a price.  We don’t read as much, and we struggle more when we do.  Is it any wonder that writing, then, is difficult for people who have spent thousands of hours learning visual information techniques, but comparatively little time in written word?

You want to write easily, then?  You’ve got to study the craft.  Read daily.  I read about 3 books per week, periodicals, newspapers and oceans of email.  I often talk to people who say that they read one or two books per year at most.

Second, the writing process.  This is essential.  First write, without self-criticism, then edit.  It’s as simple as that and as profound.  If you can’t silence the inner critic, then writing is incredible slow, painful and unrewarding.  You must write first, then fix.  First the creator, then the editor. And don’t be meticulous about your writing.  Just get on with it.  Talk to yourself, and write that down.  The more conversational your prose, the better it usually is.

Write on planes, in waiting rooms, while waiting for paint to dry,  whenever you can.  It’s nice if you can have the luxury of a dedicated writing space, with all your pictures, music, and trinkets around you like little good-luck charms.  But don’t wait for the perfect place or space.  Start writing.  Write anywhere, anytime, on anything.  Write daily.  Write about stuff you care about.  Write about the topic you’ve got going at the moment, but if you suddenly get inspired, write about that.  You can fix it later.  In fact, you should fix it later.  That’s the whole point.  Create first, edit second.

If you’ve crafted a good outline, then writing is just a matter of filling in the buckets. It’s a craft, like building a brick wall or throwing a clay pot.  With practice you get better at it.  If you think about it like the romantic poets talked about it, as a inspired, artistic, creative process, then you’ll never get done. Writing is a dirty lengthy process.

I suspect that you’ll find that some of the stuff you write when inspired is good, and some of it isn’t.  Just as some of the writing you produce when you’re just putting one word in front of another will surprise you with its brilliance  and some other times it won’t.

So get to it, start writing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Leadership Lessons

I thoroughly enjoy re-posting from Forbes authors; here is an article on listening and leadership from Erica Andersen. Enjoy!

I just read a very succinct and useful post here on Forbes about how to support employees who have done something great. The author, Shaun Spearmon,basically advises that you congratulate the ‘record-setting employee’ and then stop talking.  He points out that the additional things leaders tend to throw in at that point, how we can do even better next time, or could have worked even more effectively as a team, etc.  are simply demoralizing, and likely to ruin the moment.

And it got me thinking how often just keeping your mouth closed is the best possible thing you can do as a leader.  For example, I was on a call last week with colleagues: it was our monthly coaching call, facilitated by the practice director of our coaching business, and attended by those of our nine executive coaches who could make it. During the call, there were at least half a dozen times when I started to say something and then stopped myself  and then listened as the point I was going to make was made by someone else, or as the conversation went in a whole new and enriching direction that it wouldn’t have gone if I had spoken up.

I fairly often advise CEOs and other senior leaders not to talk so much, and what I often hear in response is “If I don’t talk, nobody will.” If that’s really accurate (that is, no one speaks up when you’re not talking), what that says to me is that you’ve very effectively trained your folks to wait for you to talk, rather than risking sharing their own opinions.

So here’s my perspective on how to stop talking in a way that will actually encourage and allow your team to step into the space that’s created:

Give people a heads-up.  If your folks aren’t used to being asked for their perspective, give them some lead time to prepare.  Think about it: if meetings have been your bully pulpit, and then you just suddenly stop talking…people are going to be caught off-balance. Most are unlikely to speak up – they’re waiting to see what’s going on. 

 Instead, send out a simple email before the meeting, saying something like, “We’ll be talking about project X during tomorrow’s meeting, and I’d like to hear how you all think it’s going.  If you could come prepared to share your sense of what’s going well and what we could be doing differently, that would be great.”

Invite conversation.  Once people are in the meeting, don’t just clam up and wait for somebody else to start.  That’s like daring people to suddenly behave differently without any help from you. (If you’re somehow trying to prove that no one will talk if you don’t, this is a good way to fulfill that expectation.)  Instead, reiterate your request for input, and then stop talking. At this point you need to be comfortable with a little silence. If you have respectfully invited your folks’ point of view ahead of time about a topic that’s interesting to them and with which they’re familiar, someone will eventually say something, as long as you don’t fill in the gap out of habit or nervousness.

Welcome what they say.  Once people start talking, what you do next can encourage them to continue – or shut them down immediately.  I once coached a CEO who complained about his people not “stepping up with good ideas.”  Shortly after that I observed a meeting he had with his direct reports. I noticed that when someone was brave enough to make a suggestion or venture an opinion, the CEO generally disagreed, dismissed it as impractical, or belittled the person for not having thought through it sufficiently before bringing it up.  Yikes. I was amazed that some people were still trying. 

So: if someone offers a great idea of insight, simply acknowledge it as such – and figure out what to do with it. If someone shares an idea you think isn’t totally great, an excellent technique for not killing the idea (and the person’s motivation) is “LCS” – likes, concerns, and suggestions. Start by saying what you genuinely like about the idea, then note your one or two key concerns, and then offer or ask for suggestions for addressing the concerns.  This approach keeps the idea in play, helps your people think more strategically and logically about the merits and costs of an idea, and – most important – feels deeply collaborative.

Make it happen.  When people see their ideas put into practice, that’s when they really know you value their contributions.  Especially if you give them public credit.

When you’ve made your point, stop.  Even if you do all the things I’ve recommended above, you still may have to teach yourself how to stop talking once you’ve started. I’ve observed that when leaders over-talk, it’s generally for one of four reasons: 1) they’re not clear about what they wanted to say, so they riff, 2) they like the sound of their own voice and/or speaking to a captive audience, 3) they’re nervous about the message, or 4) they think this is what leaders are supposed to do. You’ll notice that all four reasons are internal vs. external, they exist inside your own mind.  So if you’re guilty of running off at the mouth, I’d suggest you do a little self-reflection to find out why you, personally, are talking too much. Then change your self-talk to support changing your behavior.

Listen!!! I can’t stress this enough.  If you’re listening, you’re not talking, and you’re also finding out critical stuff, building relationships, and creating a culture of respect and transparency. If you only do one thing from this post, do this. Real listening is almost magically potent.  If you’re truly listening, getting fully engaged  and interested in what the other person is saying, asking questions for understanding, and restating important points to make sure you’re getting it, people will talk to you. Period.

Do these things, and I suspect you’ll discover that your folks have a lot of great things to say, and that you can often lead better by listening than by talking.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Less Is More

In Public Speaking, Less Is More from Nick Morgan

Less is more.

That’s the single most important public speaking rule of thumb.  When speakers make mistakes, it’s most often because they try to cram too much data into their talks, because they try to make too many points about the subject, or because they try to tell the audience everything they know about the issue at hand.

In delivery, speakers don’t pause enough, typically.  They want to fill that apparently awkward silence with noise, so they keep talking, and add fillers words and “ums” when they should just be quiet.  Pausing allows time for your point to land, for the audience to understand what you’re saying, and for the puzzled to ask questions.

When you’re connecting with an audience, you must connect with them on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one.  That means simplifying and reducing your emotions to the two or three that are most important to the arc of the talk and focusing on those.  Get rid of the extraneous emotions  the nerves, the anxiety, the fight-or-flight worries, the stuff that’s on your mind and instead focus on the one, two, or three emotions that matter the most to the story you’re telling and to the audience.  Take the audience on a simple emotional journey as well as an intellectual one.

I’ve been working with a client on a three-minute speech for a speaking contest, and when we began we were both struggling with how little you can say in three minutes.  But as we worked on refining the point of the talk, and reducing the story to its essential, cutting out all the excess detail, we found that you can say a surprising amount in that time.

It’s about 400 hundred words, and while that doesn’t allow time for much detail, it does allow time for a story arc, a problem and a solution, and a life-changing insight to share with the audience. Many studies show that people don’t remember much of what they hear in speeches.  So less is more.  Less detail, less extraneous emotion, fewer words, more silence.