Seven Terrific Ways a Leader Can Make the Right Choice

How does a leader pick the right person when all candidates appear to be equally qualified?

This is a common question posed to leaders; but it’s one that has no answer.

The question is flawed; it’s based on an incorrect assumption.

No two individuals are “equally qualified”; no two people possess identical capabilities in terms of creating value for the organization.

The question assumes identical academic achievements in the same discipline (never happens); equal experience (never happens), equal skills (never happens) and equal potential (never happens).

If a leader can’t choose because they are unable to see the the differences in individuals, they’re failing in their role. If they do not have the insight necessary to break down common stereotypes in people, they are unlikely to be able to develop amazingly successful teams.

For those leaders who have difficulty seeing the differences in people these are the necessary actions to take.

1. Let yourself go. You are likely to make bad people decisions and rob your organization of growth value. Own up to your deficiency and leave.

2. Ask better questions of the candidates, questions that probe their DNA. If they have a history of Greek dancing ask why it matters and how they would apply the skill to the position they are applying for.

You can’t discover differences if you don’t probe how their skills and experience could be transferred to your organization.

3. Insist that they ask you the top 3 questions on their mind as a candidate. This will not only tell you what they think is important, it will also help in developing an attribute profile on each of them. In addition their questions will provide fuel for follow up questions to expose more what makes them tick.

4. Test their understanding of your company. Ask tough questions on your products and services, main competitors, strategic partnerships and financial performance to see if they have done their homework.

Truly committed candidates will expose themselves.

5. Ask them “If you were to be hit by a bus and killed (heaven forbid) what would you be remembered for?” – one word answer. What THEY think is their redeeming value is critical information to your organization in terms of the recruiting attributes being targeted.

6. Have more than one person engaged in the interview. It could be a peer but it could also be a high potential junior level manager who would gain from the experience of sitting in. Another perspective on the candidate is useful; questions from others produce different insights on individuals.

7. Ask them what they learned from their Grandmother. Grandmothers have life smarts unmatched by most others and represent an amazing source of mentorship.

Discover what your candidates have learned about life that can be traced back to an old soul who has forgotten more about life than most of us will ever know. These insights will be separating factors that will help select the right person for the job and your company.

Recruiting top talent is an incredibly tough job. Don’t make it even more difficult by assuming any two candidates are equally qualified.

Your job as leader is to discover their differences and select the one whose unique attributes exactly match the needs of the organization.

If you don’t see the inequality between candidates, look closer; dig deeper.

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You don’t Have to be Charismatic to be a Remarkable Leader 

Most people think of leaders as being charismatic. These are individuals who are constantly in front of the troops. Shouting encouragement and cheering them on.

The “out front” leader plays an important role in an organization, but there is another type of leader who lurks behind the scenes that deserves special mention because they are actually more effective than the “testosterone leader.”

This is the behind-the-scenes leader who sees their raison d’être to create an environment for people to achieve remarkable things and to personally flourish. They place the priority on determining what people need to do their jobs and responding accordingly.

Seven Tasks that Make the Behind-the-Scenes Leader Remarkable

  1. Cleaning up the messes. Things constantly go wrong in any organization. They always have and they always will because of unexpected events or because of unintended human or technology glitches. The behind-the-scenes leader makes it a priority to fix things FAST rather than spend a whole lot of time finding blame. They realize that strategic progress is made only if normal activity can return to normal state as soon as possible.
  2. Bashing barriers. Removing obstacles that prevent people from effectively performing their role is important for your employees and company’s success. Rules, procedure, and policies can get in the way of people doing their jobs and it is critical they be cleaned up quickly. This cleansing process is a vital enabler to organizational performance and is a top priority of this “quiet” leader.
  3. Telling stories. Motivation is stimulated through telling a story that paints a picture of what success looks like in the trenches. It’s all very well to explain in formal terms what is expected but it is quite another to describe what success looks like in qualitative terms using rich language, visuals, and examples with employees acting out the script. This leader uses the power of the story to move people rather than relying solely on traditional motivation methods to achieve the end.
  4. Preparing the environmentEnsuring a comfortable state of readinessso that people are “leaning in” to what is expected of them without distractions. If workplace details are not attended to they appear as irritants to people; performance suffers. This leader treats favourable hygiene factors the basis for success.
  5. Recognizing performance. Catching people “doing things right” and coaching others when expected behaviour is not demonstrated. The behind-the-scenes leader spends a copious amount of time walking about the workplace, observing what people are doing, assessing what they see relative to the strategy of the organization and intervening either to applaud an employee or coaching them to do things differently.

It’s the little things that add up to delivering either amazing results or falling short; this leader gets it.

  1. Clarifying roles in execution. The individual’s role in executing the organization’s strategic game plan is put under the magnifying glass by this leader. Specifically, what THEY need to do in their position to support synergistic implementation of strategy is spelled out in detailed granular fashion. In addition, performance criteria are provided to every employee so they know exactly what is expected of them.

This leader knows that if direct line of sight isn’t provided between the organization’s strategic game plan and the role of each employee, execution fails and expected results are not achieved.

  1. Playing Dick Tracy. This leader is on a mission to get to know people on a more personal level; to learn their wants and desires. They understand the power of a personal connection with people in terms of fostering trust and a willingness to strive higher levels of performance. And they don’t forget what they learn about people.

They keep a mental file on what they discover to inform them on future decisions affecting the assignment of people to key projects.

Standout leaders do not have to shine in the spotlight. They don’t have to be on stage performing so that everyone will see them and pass on their disingenuous adulation.

They quietly focus on taking care of the little things that make their teams perform remarkably.

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One Simple Thing Every Successful Leader Has

I have never espoused that there is a silver bullet for leadership; that there is one single trait or attribute that distinguishes a remarkable leader from others.

Rather I have ascribed standout leadership to many little things that are practiced with relentless passion and consistency.

That said, I do believe that to be a member of the leader herd, and qualify to be considered a standout leader, you must posses a particular trait.

You must make the move from “it” to “them” – from thinking about the job simply as one of creating vision and values to realizing that the job is all about satisfying the wants and desires of humans.

From “that” to “her”or “him”.

Am I over simplifying the dichotomy?

Not really.

Check out the writings on leadership and discover that the pundits promulgate leadership roles like creating vision and values, allocating resources, task delegation, strategic planning, communications, performance management and on and on it goes.

These are “its”.

They are inanimate subjects reeking with an intellectual aroma.

They are subjects that some believe you must master if you are to claim the tag of leader.

I agree that a leader needs to have access to the expertise in these areas and know enough about each of them to know when they are being hoodwinked, but I would NOT agree they need to have a granular understanding of them.

There is another area, however, they DO need to understand intimately.

To get into the leader herd a person must forsake the “its” and be an expert on “them” – human beings.

If you can’t pass the human being test, you should not be allowed to enter the gates to the leader herd.

Here are 7 ways to spot a “them” person:

  1. They have a following of devout, loyal and maniacal fans.
  2. They say “we” a lot. It’s a natural expression when they describe what gets accomplished. “Them” get the praise and the accolades for doing amazing things. The leader is content to stay in the shadows quietly enjoying the moment.
  3. They ask “What can I do to help?”as they walk around the workplace, seeking opportunities to make peoples’ jobs easier – removing internal roadblocks and bashing barriers are priorities.
  4. They use the telephone over email and texts to communicate with others. Body language is hard to read over electronic media; they like the personal touch to accurately read “them”.
  5. Their FEELINGS dominate their intellectual filter. “What is right for others” is the beacon that attracts most of their attention.
  6. They know names. You can’t be a “them” leader without knowing the names of people in your tribe. And they make a special effort to know something special about each of them.
  7. They explain things in simple terms, knowing that spectacular performance requires employees to completely understand what their role is in executing strategy. They leave complex language and big words to the “its” to lose themselves in.

“Them” people have THE key trait to be a successful leader; “it” people are stuck on concepts and principles and will never separate them from their peers.

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How Memorable Leaders Create Their Legacy 

I see most leaders at the finishing line of their career or tenure looking back over their journey to think about what they accomplished; what they will be remembered for.

Politicians are famous for this. They reflect on the programs, policies and legislation their administration introduced and hope something will resonate with historians and be remembered by their constituents.

CEO’s like to think about the strategic move they made that created an order of magnitude increase in shareholder value or that significantly changed the competitive landscape for their organization.

This is a traditional view of determining a leader’s legacy; it assesses their past achievements and concludes which were noteworthy enough to be remembered.

Memorable leaders don’t look back to determine what their legacy might be, they look forward and plan what they WANT it to be.

THEY, not the historians or external observers and analysts, control their outcome.

How do “the crazy ones” create their own legacy?

  1. They have a long term strategic view of where they want to go in the time they believe they have available.

They focus on a single issue that they believe represents the tipping point for their organization; that will make the difference between mediocrity and greatness.

  1. They avoid looking at short term tactics which, at best, define a more reactive approach that produces hit and miss results. Unforgettable memories are not created by tacticians who flit from here to there.
  1. They think about HOW they achieve results not just the result delivered. Often an amazing result is overshadowed (and eludes notice and mention) by a disruptive leadership style that offends an audience.

A legacy is always a double edged sword: the achievement coupled with the behaviors enveloping it. Separate one from the other and the legacy disappears.

  1. They are relentless in the pursuit of their goal; they are not dissuaded by opposition or setbacks.

When progress is impeded, they “take the punch” and continue with the tenacity and perseverance required to get their plan back on track.

  1. They gather followers; people that believe in and care about what they are trying to achieve.

Legacies are never realized by a single person; the leader supplies the vision but its achievement takes the “blood sweat and tears” of many others who are willing  to throw their emotional energy behind it and see it to its conclusion.

  1. They are incredibly adept at tweaking the execution of their plan to respond to unforeseen events along the way, without disrupting the end game they pursue.

Their eye is always on the ultimate destination even though the journey to get there may require a number of alternate paths.

Remarkable leaders predetermine their own legacy; they look forward to create it rather than back to observe it.

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Leadership Is About Emotion

Make a list of the 5 leaders you most admire. They can be from business, social media, politics, technology, the sciences, any field. Now ask yourself why you admire them. The chances are high that your admiration is based on more than their accomplishments, impressive as those may be. I’ll bet that everyone on your list reaches you on an emotional level.

This ability to reach people in a way that transcends the intellectual and rational is the mark of a great leader. They all have it. They inspire us. It’s a simple as that. And when we’re inspired we tap into our best selves and deliver amazing work.

So, can this ability to touch and inspire people be learned? No and yes. The truth is that not everyone can lead, and there is no substitute for natural talent. Honestly, I’m more convinced of this now – I’m in reality about the world of work and employee engagement. But for those who fall somewhat short of being a natural born star (which is pretty much MANY of us), leadership skills can be acquired, honed and perfected. And when this happens your chances of engaging your talent increases from the time they walk into your culture. 

Let’s Take A Look At Tools That Allow For Talent To Shine:

Emotional intelligence. Great leaders understand empathy, and have the ability to read people’s (sometimes unconscious, often unstated) needs and desires. This allows them to speak to these needs and, when at all possible, to fulfill them. When people feel they are understood and empathized something, they respond PERIOD and a bond is formed.

Continuous learning. Show me a know-it-all and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t have a clue about being human. Curiosity and an insatiable desire to always do better is the mark of a great leader. They are rarely satisfied with the status quo, and welcome new knowledge and fresh (even if challenging) input. It’s all about investing in yourself.

Contextualize. Great leaders respond to each challenge with a fresh eye. They know that what worked in one situation may be useless in another. Before you act, make sure you understand the specifics of the situation and tailor your actions accordingly.

Let Go. Too many people think leadership is about control. In fact, great leaders inspire and then get out of the way. They know that talented people don’t need or want hovering managers. Leadership is about influence, guidance, and support, not control. Look for ways to do your job and then get out of the way so that people can do theirs.

Honesty.  Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about a so-called leader losing credibility because he or she was dishonest. Often this is because of pressure to try and “measure up” and it’s not coming from a place of being real – often this relates to fear of not being accepted for your true self. We live in age of extraordinary transparency, which is reason enough to always be true to your core – your mission will be revealed, your motivations will show by your behaviors. But it goes way beyond this. It’s an issue that sets an example and elevates an organization. If you have a reputation for honesty, it will be a lot easier to deliver bad news and face tough challenges. Are you inspiring people from your heart? 

Kindness and respect. Nice leaders (people) don’t finish last. They finish first again and again. Ignorance and arrogance are leadership killers. They’re also a mark of insecurity. Treating everyone with a basic level respect is an absolute must trait of leadership. And kindness is the gift that keeps on giving back. Of course, there will be people who prove they don’t deserve respect and they must be dealt with. But that job will be made much easier, and will have far less impact on your organization, if you have a reputation for kindness, honesty and respect.

Collaboration. People’s jobs and careers are integral to their lives. The more your organization can make them a partner, the more they will deliver amazing results. This means, to the greatest extent possible, communicating your organization’s strategies, goals and challenges. This builds buy-in, and again is a mark of respect. People won’t be blindsided (which is a workplace culture killer) by setbacks if they’re in the loop. 

Partner with your people. As I said above, people’s careers are a big part of their lives. That seems like a no-brainer, but leaders should have it front and center at all times. Find out what your employees’ career goals are and then do everything you can to help them reach them. Even if it means they will eventually leave your organization. You will gain happy, productive employees who will work with passion and commitment, and tout your company far and wide. This an opportunity to brand your greatness.

Leadership is both an art and a science. These tools are guidelines, not rigid rules. Everyone has to develop his or her own individual leadership style. Make these tools a part of your arsenal and use them well as you strive to reach people on an emotional level. Be Human. This Matters.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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7 Characteristics Of A Social Leader

Okay, it’s time to come clean: Besides HR and Talent Management – I’m obsessed with social media, community, leadership and continuous learning. And I have been for years. I feel like the world is catching up with what for three years I’ve (obsessively, publicly, passionately) and many others who are champions of social community and learning have been saying – this innovation is a game changer for the world of work.

The full implications and scope of social media and community learning are still unfolding, but let’s look at 7 ways leaders can use it to build a cohesive, charged-up, firing-on-all-gigabytes culture.

1) Communicate. Social media is one of the most effective communication tools in recent history. It turns your entire organization (and beyond) into the town square – also known as an online social community. And even though it’s all enabled through technology, there’s an intimacy to online communication; everyone is participating on their own device so there’s a sense of being spoken to, and speaking, directly. Change initiatives can be broadcast (and monitored) with ease; glitches and roadblocks are spotted and correctly far more quickly. And not only leaders can communicate more effectively. Employees are given a voice and often feel more engaged when this tool is used effectively. You do not have to be an extrovert – all personalities are invited. You just have to be willing to take the leap.

2) Collaborate. This one is off the charts. By now many of us have been involved in social media chats, blogging riffs, G+ Hangouts and webcasts where things just take off. Somebody posts an idea, a video, a photographs, an article – and people start commenting, one thought bouncing off the next, people are riffing, free associating, inspiration and creativity is unleashed and then – pow! – something innovative, amazing, and actionable is right there in front of us. Leaders that encourage and enable this kind of employee engagement and cross-pollination in every nook and cranny of their organizations win points in the social enterprise.

3) Educate. Social media is an awesome learning and community building tool. It turns an organization and social enterprise into a global classroom. Everything from a prosaic process change that has to be learned by rote, to a guest lecture from one of the world’s most brilliant minds, can be broadcast to the desktop and mobile devices of every employee. It’s also an unparalleled arena for questions to be asked and answered delivered. Remember the best college course you ever took, the one that left you high with inspiration, juice and fire in your belly? You can now recreate that in your organization and your community.

4) Engage. With social media every employee (and leader) can engage on a new, highly personalized level. This is an amazing morale builder. Just to know that you can voice your concerns, seek and offer help, and be part of a community, effects a deep change in attitude. When people are engaged, they feel respected and valued. And when that happens, they dig deeper, give more, and are just plain happier. And that’s a beautiful thing, both because it’s the right way to live, and because happy employees deliver amazing results.

5) Monitor. Social media allows leaders to keep in touch of what’s happening in close to real time. Successes are revealed more quickly, and resources can be added to parlay or sustain the gains. Setbacks are easier to spot, and losses can be cut, adjustments made, or reinforcements sent in. Social media creates a central nervous system that is sensitive, responsive and revealing. Social media has a rhythm and a pulse, and leaders must learn how to respond to the rhythm and check the pulse. When they do, they discover they have a whole new set of eyes and ears.

6) Maximize. Social media usage is evolving at a rapid pace. And so is the definition of social media itself. Both are growing evermore exciting, varied and sophisticated. YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, G+ are handing leaders and employees new tools that take the value of social media to new levels. Think employee-generated tutorials and videos. And who says Brandon in shipping’s amazing attitude won’t inspire Christine in the boardroom? Brainstorm with your smartest and savviest and most-plugged in employees on ways to ride this cresting wave.

7) Enjoy. I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably be shouting it until my final days on earth the way things look now): Great leaders and great employees love what they do. Coming to work is coming to play. Of course, there are days (weeks, months) that are stress fests, tension conventions, hell’s bells, but the more you enjoy what you do, the better you will be at. And social media is a wicked (that’s Boston slang that I rarely use) blast. It connects us, gives us a chance to be our best selves in a public forum, is a stage to express our individuality and sense of humor, and is just a flat-out fabulous work tool if you take a chance on it.

It’s been very gratifying and exciting for me to watch millions of people plug into the electricity of social media and community building. Organizations large and small, profit and non-profit, are utilizing this evolutionary leap in new and exciting ways. How can social media take you to the next level? What are you feeling challenged by? I realize often it’s not easy to know where to begin. Let me know please. I’m always here for a listen.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.

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10 Ways To Be A Stand-Out Leader

It’s not good enough these days to be a great leader, you have to be a stand-out leader.

The challenges facing organizations these days are horrendous. Uncertainty, unpredictability, and randomness all underscore the storm forces that threaten to destroy them.

To thrive and survive the maelstrom requires more than greatness from the individuals entrusted to lead in this type of world.

“Great” doesn’t cut it.

We need leaders that are stand-outs; people who cannot be compared to others because their distinctiveness defies any standard.

Here are 10 practical and proven attributes of the stand-out leader that I have discovered:

The stand-out leader:

  1. Creates discontinuity in the organization to create opportunities for competitive advantage and growth. They are not content with managing the momentum of the business. They cause interventions that force people to challenge the status quo and think differently. They don’t wait for a reason to change; they “force” change and make it integral to the organization’s DNA.
  1. Does not tolerate sameness. They ask “how can we be different?” rather than “how can we copy the best in class?” And they accordingly change the conversation throughout the organization. Products, customer processes, strategic alliances, new technology are all created to move out of the competitive herd.

They seek ultimate uniqueness for the organization by creating their “only” statement: “We are the only ones that…”

  1. Loves uncertainty and communicates it to all employees. They recognize that certainty is reserved for the naive and that it is an exceedingly risky proposition. Believing that things will settle down raises unrealistic expectations and places everyone at risk.
  1. Preaches imperfection and encourages it. They understand that perfection doesn’t exist in business and while people covet it, they are standing still. Energies are directed to doing a lot of imperfect stuff as the way to establish and maintain market leadership.
  1. Learns voraciously and continuously. They totally get that what got them here won’t get them to where they need to go. Their value to the organization is based on the new stuff they learn and apply.
  1. Micro-manages the customer moment. They are customer “addicts” and understand that paying attention to the smallest detail is essential to delivering a memorable customer experience. They are actively engaged with designing what customer interactions look like and walk around the workplace coaching and mentoring to ensure that moments are delivered to ‘wow’ customers.
  1. Serves people not commands them to action. They ask “how can I help you?” rather than chirp “do this.” Stand-out leaders bash internal barriers to progress and make it easier for people to get their jobs done. They subordinate themselves to the frontline and don’t delegate the job of improving performance where customer meets company.
  1. Tells amazing stories. They are the consummate story-teller, breathing life into the organization’s strategy by providing examples of successful execution. Their stories are rich with visual language intended to not only excite people on the strategic journey they are on, but also to teach the behaviors expected of each person.
  1. Makes it clear what each person has to do to play an integral role in executing the organization’s strategy. They constantly and passionately communicate the organization’s vision and strategy to capture the hearts as well as the minds of people. They use face-to-face venues to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and clarify where the company is headed.
  1. Is obsessed with execution. They understand that execution equals strategy and that flawlessly executing a “just about right” plan beats a “perfect” plan that can’t be implemented. A leader focused on execution tries their best to anticipate future trends and the changes likely to effect their organization, but they excel at responding to the random and the unexpected. They are a master of “Plan B.” They constantly follow up and monitor the execution of the company’s strategy and take corrective action to get it back on track.

The stand-out leader is not “great;” they are unforgettable, distinctive, outlandish, memorable, mind-blowing and contrarian.

And stand-outs are rare: Steve jobs, Tony Hsieh, Walt Disney, Jerry Garcia and Richard Branson are a few that I would tag.

Do yourself a huge favor. Acknowledge what you need to be great, but set your sights higher to be a stand-out leader. Organizations need you to ‘take their breath away.’

Start now.

Ponder no longer.

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