Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't Forget Your Middle-Layer Employees

As a leader, your focus may gravitate toward your lower level employees and your higher level employees on your team.

But, don't forget your middle-layer employees who appreciate your attention and coaching, and your training and opportunities for new challenges.

Often these employees are more eager to learn and to tackle new projects because they have the drive to move up and to learn new skills. And they recognize they have a shorter path to achieve advancement.

So, develop your middle layer employees. It's a win-win situation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Leadership Test

One of my favorite books about leadership is The Leadership Test by Timothy R. Clark.  You can read it in an hour and its message will guide you through your entire career.

Here are some important points from the book that are particularly powerful:
  • Leadership is the process of influencing volunteers to accomplish good things.
  • The spectrum of influence ranges from manipulation to persuasion to coercion.
  • Only persuasion is leadership.  Manipulation exploits.  Coercion controls.  Neither manipulation nor coercion can produce lasting results or consistent good results.
  • Leadership is based on the influence-through-persuasion at the front end, combined with accountability at the back end.
Clark further points out that:
  • Leaders qualify themselves based on the manner of their influence and the nature of their intent.
If you haven't read this gem of a book, pick up at copy today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Goal Without A Plan Is Just A Wish

"A goal without a plan is just a wish," is something Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said a long time ago.  But, goals and plans were top of mind this past weekend. 

When 2013 started, I set a goal of running in 30 5K races during the year.  Because of good weather on most weekends, minimal injury setbacks, and a lot of races to select from in the Kansas City area each weekend, I reached my goal in October of that year.

I would not have reached my goal without also having a plan in place of how I would train, schedule runs, and adjust for setbacks and unforeseen challenges.

Also last year,, my then 49-year-old sister-in-law set a goal to run her first-ever 10K race.  She embarked on an even more specific plan by following a strict, time-tested, eight-week training plan to take her from couch to fully prepared to run her first 10K.  She reached her goal and then ran a second 10K a few weeks afterward.  I am so proud of her.

The same day I finished my 30th 5K race, a proud fellow racer shared with me that he had just completed his first-ever 5K, having spent the past year losing 40 pounds and setting a goal to complete a 5K by the fall of 2013.  He was on cloud nine, and rightly so.

These three experiences reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's wise statement about the importance of plans to reach goals.

Too often, businesses don't have clearly defined goals and even less often specific plans to reach those goals.

When you set a goal for your business, be sure it is:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-related
Share that goal with your employees, so they understand all of the five attributes of the goal.

And then for your plan (sometimes called "program"), keep these tips in mind:
  • Realistically assess the obstacles and resources involved and then create a strategy for navigating that reality.  For me this year, that meant adjusting my race schedule this summer to accommodate a nagging hamstring injury.
  • Plan for more than just willpower.  Instead, plan by taking into consideration your business environment, your employees' schedules and workload, and everyone's accountability so that all these factors will work together to support you to achieve your goal.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Business Transformation Only Happens When Employees Equate Change With Deep Personal Growth

David Shaner's compelling, The Seven Arts of Change, shows business leaders that transforming a business only happens when each employee equates organizational change with the process of deep personal growth.

"The bottom line is that, despite how technological and automated organizations have become, at their core they remain a collection of human energies that are merely being applied in an organized environment," explains Shaner.  "Resurrecting and guiding that human core of your organization is the secret to leading and sustaining change," he adds.

Shaner pulls from his vast professional and personal experiences, including having been a member of the Olympic Valley USA Ski Team and a former Harvard University teacher, to lay out a seven-part "spiritual guide" for change:
  1. The Art of Preparation (Assessment)
  2. The Art of Compassion (Participation)
  3. The Art of Responsibility (Accountability)
  4. The Art of Relaxation (Clarity, Focus, Visibility)
  5. The Art of Conscious Action (Execution)
  6. The Art of Working Naturally (Sustainability)
  7. The Art of Service (Generosity)
Even if you don't fully appreciate his blending of Western business savvy with Eastern philosophy, the 184-page book, readable in an afternoon, is pertinent and timely.  Most important, he teaches business leaders and nonprofit executive directors why they need to change the way they lead change.

Some of my favorite parts of the book are:
  • Most leaders miss the fact that every employee possesses a latent willingness to change. Leaders often ignore the fact that personal progress is one of our strongest human desires.  Your job as the leader is to connect the new business need with an opportunity for personal progress.
  • Organizations that evidence compassion listen to each other in order to understand and connect to more effective outcomes, not in order to place blame or assert their own way of doing things.  Listening is the root of collaboration, root-cause analysis, and effective teamwork. It is also the single greatest source of establishing unity from top to bottom and bottom to top.
  • Regardless of the conditions surrounding your change, your employees will perform to the peak of their ability if they are driven from a collective inner strength brought on by clarity of purpose, focus of requirements, and visibility of progress.
  • Your employees' daily actions must be consciously meaningful to both the business initiative as well as to them personally.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

4 Ways To Run A Better Meeting

Research shows that unfortunately, many workplace meetings are not nearly as productive as they could be.

To help ensure the meetings you host are productive, lead them by:

  1. Observing nonverbal feedback and encouraging everyone to participate.
  2. Summarizing group consensus after each point.
  3. Reminding the group who is responsible for taking care of each follow-up action.
  4. Encouraging team-building, networking and problem-solving among your meeting participants.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Try These "Best Companies" Programs To Attract And Retain Employees

Here are some of the things the companies often ranked as "best companies" by leading industry magazines do to attract and retain employees.  Many of these programs and activities take little to no investment.  But, they all can only happen when there's strong leadership at the company's helm.

Try some of these in your workplace this year:
  • Mentoring programs, especially for new employees
  • Volunteer opportunities/days
  • Lunches with the CEO or president
  • On-site wellness fairs
  • Pep rallies
  • Telecommuting programs
  • Summer picnics for employees and their families
  • Retention bonuses
  • Lending libraries
  • Unlimited sick days
  • Employee team sports after hours, such as bowling and baseball
  • On-site child care services
  • Awarding vacation time in exchange for community volunteering time
  • Employee pot-luck breakfasts
  • Monthly birthday parties
  • On-site fitness equipment
  • Frequent town hall meetings with upper management
  • Subsidized gym memberships
  • Leadership development programs
  • Time given to employees to spend on work related items outside their job description
  • Employee Blogging programs
  • Suggestion boxes
  • Milk and cookie socials
  • Computer classes to prepare employees for higher-paying positions
  • Sabbatical programs

Friday, August 22, 2014

7 Ways To Achieve Business Success

When you start reading Mark Thompson’s and Brian Tracy’s latest book called, Now…Build a Great Business!, you may feel like you are reading 200 pages of Blog posts, but the bite-sized approach to providing tools, practical steps and ideas, rather than theory, is precisely the authors’ intended approach.

The book thoroughly explains the seven keys for how to achieve business success:
1.  Become a great leader
2.  Develop a great business plan
3.  Surround yourself with great people
4.  Offer a great product or service
5.  Design a great marketing plan
6.  Perfect a great sales process
7.  Create a great customer experience

You’ll find a checklist at the end of each step (each chapter) where you can write down your action plan for applying what you’ve learned.

Particularly interesting is the chapter on strategic planning, where the authors recommend you should ask yourself these important questions before you act to create or reinvent the direction of your organization:

•  Where are you now? What is your current situation?
•  How did you get to where you are today?
•  Where do you want to go from here?
•  How do you get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future?
•  What obstacles will you have to overcome? What problems will you have to solve?
•  What additional knowledge, skills, or resources will you require to achieve your strategic objectives?

When it comes time to surround yourself with great people, Thompson and Tracy remind us that great people are:

•  Good team players.
•  More concerned with what’s right rather than who’s right.
•  Intensely results oriented.

And, great people accept high levels of responsibility for the outcomes required of them, and consider their company a great place to work.

Mark Thompson is an entrepreneur who sold his last company for $100 million and today coaches executives on how to lead growth companies. Brian Tracy speaks throughout the country about the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. I thank them for sending me a copy of their book. It’s a worthwhile read.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How To Make Your Email Communication More Effective

Author Joseph McCormack offers these six tips for ways of making your written communication shorter and more appealing:
  1. Deliver a strong title or subject line that's your invitation.
  2. Limit your email to the original window.
  3. Make sure there is white space and balance throughout the text.
  4. Call out key ideas by calling them out in bold type.
  5. Start each bullet point with a strong word or catchy phrase.
  6. Trim the fluff -- anything that's unnecessary, leaving a consumable and concise size communication
You can learn more helpful tips in his new book, Brief:  Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Make It A Habit To Ask Your Employees These 6 Questions

As explained in John Baldoni's, book, Lead With Purpose, Marshall Goldsmith suggests all leaders make it a habit to regularly ask their employees these six questions:

  1. Where do you think we should be going?
  2. Where do you think you and your part of the business should be going?
  3. What do you think you're doing well?
  4. If you were the leader, what ideas would you have for you?
  5. How can I help?
  6. What suggestions or ideas do you have for me?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Three Pillars Of Executive Presence

After two years of research, forty focus groups and a national survey, author Sylvia Ann Hewlett contends the three pillars of Executive Presence are:

  • How you act (gravitas)
  • How you speak (communication)
  • How you look (appearance)
All three work together to help you telegraph (signal) to others that you have what it takes and that you're star material.  

"One thing to note at the start is that these pillars are not equally important--not by a long shot," explains Hewlett.  "Gravitas is the core characteristic."

And according to the senior leaders that Hewlett researched the top aspects of  gravitas are:
  1. Confidence and "grace under fire"
  2. Decisiveness and "showing teeth"
  3. Integrity and "speaking truth to power"
  4. Emotional intelligence
  5. Reputation and standing/"pedigree"
  6. Vision/charisma
In her new book, Executive Presence, she teaches how to act, communicate and look your best while avoiding the most common blunders in each of these three categories.

Hewlett is also a big believer in the power and value of having a sponsor, and explains that sponsors are not mentors.

"Sponsors are powerful leaders who see potential in you and, provided you give them 110 percent, will go out on a limb to make things happen for you.  Because sponsors have a vested interest in how you turn out (your reputation now being linked with their own), they will give you the kind of feedback that mentors can't or won't," says Hewlett.

Hewlett is the founding president of the Center for Talent Innovation.  Her book, Forget a Mentor: Find a Sponsor, was named one of the ten best business books of 2013 and won the Axiom Book Award.

Thanks HapperCollinsPublishers for sending me a copy of Executive Presence.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How To Understand Cultural Differences To Drive Business Success

"The way we are conditioned to see the world in our own culture seems so completely obvious and commonplace that it is difficult to imagine that another culture might do things differently, "says author Erin Meyer.  "It is only when you start to identify what is typical in your culture, but different from others, that you can begin to open a dialogue of sharing, learning, and ultimately understanding."

And, that's why Meyer wrote her new book, The Culture Map.

It's a fascinating read.  And, one that should be required reading for any leader doing business globally or leading a culturally diverse workforce.

Meyer explains in her book that there are eight scales (the Culture Map), each of which represents one key area that leaders must be aware of, showing how cultures vary along a spectrum from one extreme to its opposite.  The eight scales are:

  1. Communicating:  low-context vs. high-context
  2. Evaluating:  direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  3. Persuading:  principles-first vs. applications-first
  4. Lending:  egalitarian vs.hierarchical
  5. Deciding:  consensual vs. top-down
  6. Trusting:  task-based vs. relationship-based
  7. Disagreeing:  confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  8. Scheduling:  linear-time vs. flexible-time
"The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work," explains Meyer.  "So whether we are aware of it or not, subtle differences in communication patterns and the complex variations in what is considered good business or common sense from one country to another have a tremendous impact on how we understand one another, and ultimately on how we get the job done."

For example, when employees around the world are asked by Meyer to respond to the statement, "It is important for a manager to have at hand precise answers to most of the questions that subordinates may raise about their work," far fewer employees in Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK believe this to be true...versus employees in Spain, Italy and Portugal who more readily agree with this statement.

The Culture Map is filled with engaging, real-life stories and anecdotes from around the world.  It's based on years of extensive research by Meyer, who is a professor at INSEAD and the program director for INSEAD's Managing Global Virtual Teams program.

What you learn from the book will be useful to you when your work on a team, email a colleague, participate on a conference call, communicate on the phone with an international customer, or travel to a foreign country.

Thanks to the book's publisher for sending me a copy of the book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Classical Wisdom For Modern Leaders

Mark your calendars now to check out the November 2014 release of, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership:  Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders.

You'll step back in time to learn philosophies of the past and how to apply them today.

Authors M. A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas offer a fresh approach to becoming a great leader by learning from antiquity's great thinkers, such as Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus, and others.

Each chapter in the book is devoted to one philosophy of leadership that equate to ten simple rules:

  1. Know Thyself
  2. Office Shows the Person
  3. Nurture Community at the Workplace
  4. Do Not Waste Energy on things You Cannot Change
  5. Always Embrace the Truth
  6. Live Life by a Higher Code
  7. Always Evaluate Information with a Critical Eye
  8. Never Underestimate the Power of Personal Integrity
  9. Character is Destiny
You'll learn how to take each idea and apply it to the challenges of the modern workplace.

According to the authors, the key distinguishing features of an authentic leader is traceable to a philosophically informed worldview and that the ancient classical tradition is a rich and valuable source of such insights.

Thanks to AMACOM, the book's publisher, for sending me an advance copy of the book.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

4 Ways To Make Your Executive Coaching Experience A Success

If you are a leader already engaging with an executive coach, or contemplating engaging one, here are four ways to make your coaching experience a success, as reported in a relatively recent issue of Fortune magazine:
  1. Find the right match. Find someone to push and challenge you. To encourage you and to hold you accountable. Be sure the person you engage with is a person you can trust and can talk to easily.
  2. Be aware of your company's expectations. If your boss hired the coach to work with you, make sure your boss, and your boss's boss, share their expectations and hoped-for outcomes with you. Then, make sure your coach knows that those things belong at the top of your goals list.
  3. Get your money's worth. Work with your coach on issues or questions that have a direct correlation to success in your job.
  4. Be sure your coach sees you in action. Allow your coach to observe you interacting with your peers or direct reports. This also gives your colleagues a sense that you're seen as valuable and promotable. And, it shows them that you're working on improving yourself.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Mission Versus A Vision

Here's a good definition of the difference between a mission and a vision by leadership book authors George Bradt, Jayme A. Check and Jorge Pedraza:
  • Mission - A mission guides what people do every day. It informs what roles need to exist in the organization.
  • Vision - A vision is the picture of future success. It helps define areas where the organization needs to be best in class and helps keep everyone aware of the essence of the company.

5 Traits Of An Effective Leader

I was recently asked, "What five most important traits must a leader have to be effective?"  I could reply fairly quickly, but I did take a moment to remember that when I asked a similar question in a LinkedIn group discussion, group members offered up nearly 100 different adjectives to describe an effective leader.

But, for me, I contend the five most important traits are:
  1. Good communicator. That means effectively communicating timely and consistent messages during good and bad times. And, knowing how and when to be a good listener. Communicating is critical. Employees must hear from their leaders. And, hearing from their leaders in person versus e-mail and written memos is even more effective.
  2. Being a servant leader. Put your employees and your company first. A top manager who makes decisions that are self-serving will lack followers and will bring the company down.
  3. Adaptable. Today, more than ever, a leader needs to adapt. That means adapting to competitive and industry situations. It also means being willing to change your decisions if new information or circumstances warrant the change.
  4. Decisive. Leaders who aren’t decisive and who can’t make a decision will spin their organization into a frozen state where employees are unmotivated, wasting time, and discouraged.
  5. Motivating. Smart, decisive, engaging, tough yet fair, personable and encouraging leaders are motivating. These leaders motivate employees to deliver their best for their leaders and for their company.
What is your list of five traits?