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Mindful Leadership

mindfulness

In a recent Huffington Post article, Harvard’s Bill George discusses the power of mindful leadership.  Mindfulness, according to George, is the practice of self-observation without judgment with a focus on our minds and inner voices. It allows you to center yourself, step away from the distractions of technology, deadlines, daily demands and become more fully present in your daily interactions. Mindful practices include meditation, journaling, jogging alone, and prayer. They are practices that allow you to become focused, more self-aware, and intentional in your actions.

One of my premises in Getting Real is that to be effective in this increasingly more complex world where leadership occurs, you need to be aware of who you are, why you are a leader and to work to understand who your people are and why they are doing what they do. Leaders need to be intentional about their actions and interactions and understand their impact on relationships and results.

About this time last year, I began integrating mindfulness practices into my life. It is an ongoing journey. The biggest challenge I’ve faced is being disciplined and integrating it into my life every day. It’s the same with being a mindful leader. We usually have the best of intentions. We plan on being present. We plan on being intentional with our actions and interactions. Still, we’re not always very good at it. However, if we keep working at it, results are significant. Click here to read about the impact of mindfulness.

If I Were Advising Presidential Candidates

2016 ElectionThe 2016 Primary Elections are well under way. We’ve been inundated with speeches, sound bites, photo ops, small town conversations and big city rallies. Every four years, candidates encourage us to make a change. Unfortunately, many of them go about it the wrong way. If I were advising these candidates, here is the first thing I would tell them. Quit talking about how you are going to stop what the other candidate is doing. Stop telling us how we’re going in the wrong direction. Instead, tell us where you want to help us go. To steal a line from a 1990’s campaign, it’s the vision, stupid.

Whether you’re a politician, executive, nonprofit leader or a leader by action and not title, Rule #1 for leading change is to create a compelling vision. For people to want to make change, they need to fight the brain’s natural inclination to recoil from change. If you want people to accept your challenge, you need to not just talk to their heads. You need to speak to their hearts.

Visions inspire and engage people to take a journey with you to a place that invites them to be something greater than themselves. It’s about taking action, not having a reaction. It engages them to achieve something they cannot do alone but can achieve when they act in concert with you and others. It talks to those things that they value. It is vivid, aspirational and a stretch.

If you’d like a tip sheet on creating a compelling vision for change, email me and type ‘change vision tips’ in the subject line.

Push and Pull

Push and Pull

Over the past year, I’ve been working with an amazing business coach who has been helping me take my thinking to the next level. One of the biggest take-aways for me has been thinking about the balance of push and pull energy.

Push energy is what you do when you are advocating, telling, putting your opinion or expertise out there first. Pull energy is about asking, inquiring, allowing the other person to bring what they need to into the conversation.

Often, the leaders I work with struggle with this balance. Too often, they rely on push energy — focusing on telling others what needs to be done, building and selling a business case, pushing to get a change accepted. Don’t get me wrong. These are things that all need to be done and should be a part of what leaders do. It’s what people look for at certain times from their leaders. But, when we rely too heavily on the push, we are often met with indifference, resistance and compliance rather than engagement, enthusiasm and interest. When we rely too heavily on pull, people can sometimes feel like they don’t get our input or perspective. They are sometimes thinking, ‘just tell me what you want!’

Over the next several days, notice how often you are relying on your push energy to get things done and how often you are using pull energy. Take notice of the balance. If the balance is too much in one direction or the other, how can you shift your behavior to reset the balance?

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance

Compelling Clarity 2016

Compelling Clarity 2012Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP of HR, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization. He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months. I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work. He looked at me and with a shrug said “Edith, its insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world. How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked. He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing.

There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount. But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing? ‘and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

      • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
      • Why are we going in that direction?
      • What will we look like a year from now?
      • What top priorities will get us there? 
      • How will we know we’re successful?
      • Why do I want to be part of this? Why should someone else want to be part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact. Without a sense of where they’re going you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision and gauge the reactions. After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith, it’s…”

What Makes a Great Leader?

great leadersTwo different and interesting takes on leadership jumped out at me recently. They provide completely different views on effective leaderships.

In Praise of the SOB Leader: In this article, Marc Effron discusses research that looks at the impact of execution-related capabilities and people-related capabilities on performance. The execution-related capabilities — things like being persistent, organized, proactive, setting high standards and holding people accountable — have a positive impact. People-related skills like teamwork, listening, etc. do not. My question is, does focusing on the execution-related capabilities really mean that you have to be an SOB or can you display those capabilities in a way that honors the other person.

9 Surprising Traits of Truly Phenomenal Bosses: Inc.’s Jeff Haden shares 9 traits that your boss has that aren’t obvious because of what they do but because of what they don’t do. t’s these traits that he argues are what differentiates a truly terrific boss. The traits include things like forgiving and, more importantly, forgetting and allowing people to learn their own lessons.

Take a look at the articles. think you’ll find a couple of really good nuggets in both of them.

Try Evolution Instead of a Resolution

gym-treadmill-people 240x160I went to the gym the other day and saw what you can count on every January — the results of resolutions. Anyone who is a gym regular knows that in January it’s a crowded place. People are there working up a sweat, moving muscles they haven’t moved in a while. It’s a place where people are making resolutions and, sometimes, deciding to break resolutions.

The problem with many resolutions is that they represent a radical departure from what we are currently doing. Rather than talking about resolutions, let’s talk about evolution. The evolution of your business. The evolution of your team. The evolution of your capacity to lead and manage others. We spend so much time talking about radical or transformational change, we forget about the benefits of purposeful, measured change. Spend some time this week thinking about what can evolve in the way you work, in the way your team works, and in the way your business works. What can you adapt to take advantages of the opportunities that are here today? What can you adapt to address the challenges of tomorrow?

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult Employee

Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult EmployeeWe’ve all had times when we’ve had someone on our team who was really difficult to work with. It may have been a style difference. It may have been not seeing eye to eye about how the work should be done. It may have been that he resented you as the new leader of the group. Whatever the reason for the difficulty, the individual made our work day less pleasant and our job as a manager more taxing.

I recently had a client who had several difficult team members. They were long-term members of the team and she was the most recent in a long-line of managers who were only there a short time. In my   opinion, she received some really bad advice about how to handle them. “Ignore them,” the advice-givers said. “Don’t meet with them.” “Communicate through email”. “Focus only on the       rest of the team.” Wrong. All of these tactics did nothing but stoke the flames.

Sometimes, difficult employees can be a bit like the bully on the playground. They look for signs of weakness — like ignoring them or cutting off communication — as signs of managerial weakness. Instead of pulling back, I would suggest engaging more.

    • Diffuse the situation by talking with the person about him or herself. What strengths does he or she have? What areas does the individual want to develop? What does she enjoy about their work? What does he dislike about it? What’s important to her? Is this a job or part of a career? Discuss how you may be able to leverage the person’s strengths or develop areas of weakness. Think about whether things in the job or work environment can be changed.
      Sometimes the difficult employee has never had someone ask those questions.
    • Set clear expectations for behavior and results. Share your vision for how the group will be operating. Let him know you will be holding everyone accountable to those standards and they will be a regular part of your conversations.
    • Value the individual’s experience and knowledge. She may very well have several performance issues but she also probably has valuable knowledge or experience that can be a benefit to the group. Ask for insights and ideas about changes you want to make or how to introduce an idea.
    • Meet regularly. Focus on the work that is being done, issues you can help resolve and moving towards that vision. Hold the individual accountable. Provide specific feedback — both positive and developmental. Cut off whining. If the person begins to complain, move the conversation towards finding solutions.

Time to Prune

fall gardenI was looking at what’s left of my vegetable garden this weekend. Most of the plants are withering.  A few are still producing.  Some of the autumn vegetables are just reaching their peak.  The behaviors and approaches we use as leaders are a bit like my vegetable garden. Some of them used to produce results but now have withered and don’t really work anymore. The conditions have changed and their season is passed.  Others still produce some results but their effectiveness over the long term is questionable. They still seem to be having an impact on helping the team achieve results but the payback is diminishing. A final few behaviors are beginning to produce results. They seem to be moving the team forward and are making an impact.

As you look at your garden of leadership behaviors and approaches, it’s probably time for pruning.  It’s time to determine which ones are not working anymore and pull them out by the roots.  These may be the behaviors that feel very comfortable but comfort and results are two different things.  Prune back the others that are having some impact and see if that pruning helps reshape how you think about and apply those behaviors.  Finally, fertilize and tend to those leadership approaches that are making an impact.  Nurture them and see how they grow.