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#WorkTrends Recap: The Leadership Gap

According to this week’s guest, one of the most sought-after leadership coaches in the world, Lolly Daskal, being successful as a leader takes persistence and patience—and the investment of a lot of time and energy. It, also, takes the willingness to get up day after day, putting in long hours and hard work, navigating the roadblocks, as well as the detours as they come. But during the journey and in the end, it’s so worth it!

This week, Lolly and #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro discussed what Lolly has identified as the essential elements every great leader needs to align with and practice every day.

Among her many accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored her with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World.

Here are a few key points that Lolly shared with the community:

  • Trust is the foundation of leadership
  • Make your leadership vision on purpose and make it meaningful
  • The best leaders inspire other leaders.
  • Being consistent with your leadership brand is important.

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here: http://bit.ly/2psizhD

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). On April 19, Meghan will be joined by marketing expert Mark Schaefer to discuss developing your personal brand.

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us anytime on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: The Leadership Gap

According to this week’s guest, one of the most sought-after leadership coaches in the world, Lolly Daskal, being successful as a leader takes persistence and patience—and the investment of a lot of time and energy. It, also, takes the willingness to get up day after day, putting in long hours and hard work, navigating the roadblocks, as well as the detours as they come. But during the journey and in the end, it’s so worth it!

On Wednesday, April 12 at 1pm ET, Lolly and #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro will be discussing what Lolly has identified as the essential elements every great leader needs to align with and practice every day.

Among her many accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored her with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World.

After decades of coaching executives all around the world, she knows what she is talking about and this is one chat you don’t want to miss.

The Leadership Gap

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Join Lolly and Meghan on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Apr 12 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What factors keep leaders from excelling? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: How can leaders better identify with the people who follow them? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3: How can people learn to become effective leaders? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community any time. See you there!

Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!

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Does Vision Make a Great Leader?

Many describe a great leader as one who has vision.

A leader who is able effortlessly to conceptualize what strategy and direction is required to meet the competitive and economic challenges of the day.

A leader who can integrate the various pieces of a complicated business puzzle in their mind and create a strategy of what has to be done to achieve success.

There is no question that visioning is an important ingredient of leadership, but it isn’t the characteristic that distinguishes the good leader from the bloody brilliant one.

It’s not what the leader THINKS that guides the organization through tumultuous times to survive and thrive, because thoughts and “brave ideas” are mere postulations of what SHOULD be done.

It’s what the leader DOES that is the deciding factor in whether or not the organization performs at it’s highest level.

The natural ability to execute will always in my view take the top position at the leadership table over visioning and ideation.

Does the leader who is remarkable in the skills of execution require an incredibly insightful vision to succeed?

Nirvana is leader who is both creative and possesses the execution DNA strand.

Breakaway businesses are created amidst this perfect storm. Leaders are, however, rarely good at both.

But success CAN be achieved without amazing visioning. A mediocre plan flawlessly executed can produce far more positive results than an ambitious plan poorly executed. That’s a fact.

So why all the fuss over the power of visioning in creating remarkable leaders?

“The vision” is definitely more sexy than the dirty, messy and inelegant task of getting stuff done in the trenches fighting internal politics and aggressive competitors that’s for sure.

And leadership pundits seem to be able to wrap their heads around ideation skills far more easily than trying to formularize the synchronized “pick and shovel” activities necessary to mobilize imperfect and biased human beings to deliver results.

The truth is (take it from someone who has been there) it is far easier to apply cognitive skills to the art of leadership than the practical operational skills necessary to transform the helium-filled plan into reality.

The application of cognition is orderly; leading implementation is anything but.

If you’re a leader looking to enhance your effectiveness, don’t fuss with getting more productivity from your mind, “get dirty” with your employees who are up to their asses in mud…

Photo Credit: perzonseo Flickr via Compfight cc

Grandma’s Christmas Gift to Leaders

As we all know, Christmas is a hectic time of year. The calendar is jammed with work and social events, the pocketbook is stretched and the need to fulfill family dreams is overwhelming.

It is a time of year when stress levels reach a tipping point for many.

And yet Grandma always pulls it off. She gets it done with flawless precision year after year.

It’s not by serendipity that she delivers the “Christmas product” so magnificently, offering joy to those around her, and strengthening the family bond. Grandma’s consistency is borne from the innate skills she possesses to produce a remarkable experience that is cherished and remembered by all who touch it.

“Christmas Grandma” is a leader pure and simple who has mastered the art of creating masterful memories in the face of pandemonium.

Leaders can learn these six lessons from her.

  1. Purposeful multi tasking is necessary in a “Code Black” environment; when the time available is woefully short of the demands made on you. She has learned that a sequential approach may be neat and tidy but it doesn’t accomplish what is needed in the precious time available.
  1. Be busy but always with the end goal in mind. Her eye is always on the end game: to deliver an amazing experience for every family member. Run if you have to, but be sure you are heading in your chosen direction.
  1. A back up plan is necessary for successful execution. Her “Plan B list” is always ready when friends or family change their mind on a gift suggestion or when stores run out of the gift she wants. Your goal is in jeopardy if Plan A is all you have because it never works out the way you originally intended.
  1. Delegate non-critical tasks. Her personal fingerprints are all over the essentials necessary to deliver a memorable experience; they NEVER get handed off to anyone else. But the work that is not mission critical goes to others under her watchful eye. She demands regular progress reports and that action be taken to remedy anything that is off track.
  1. Exploit yourself. Endure the pain necessary to meet your goal. Exhaustion seems to light her fire to deliver Christmas. It’s unacceptable to complain how tough and stressful it is; the only thing that matters is the result.
  1. Conduct research on the run. Look for gift clues constantly; don’t delay until the season is upon you. Grandma is always in the “continuous family learning” mode to gather a continuous stream of wishes and to avoid having to binge buy at the last moment.

Grandma doesn’t need a scholarly understanding of event marketing or the theory of leadership.

Her pedigree is defined by the results she consistently achieves; architecting and delivering emotional experiences which are fondly remembered in glowing terms by all around her.

That is the mark of a remarkable leader.

Photo Credit: Cassidy Jade Flickr via Compfight cc

10 Tips on How To Empower and Engage Your Employees

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Stephen R. Covey

The “my way of the highway” leadership style is no longer effective. Yes men and women who simply follow rules, policies, and procedures are not the kinds of employees who will produce results and generate growth. As a business owner or manager, you know that the more engaged and empowered your employees are, the more likely they are to feel a sense of ownership in your company. That sense of ownership leads employees to be innovative, customer service oriented, problem solvers who take pride in their work.

Of course, empowerment and engagement doesn’t just happen. It takes good leadership techniques to ensure that the people working under you feel as if they are free to make decisions and take actions with autonomy. Here are ten tips that you can use to increase engagement and empowerment among your underlings.

  1. Give Them Opportunities to Demonstrate And Strengthen Their Leadership Skills

In order for empowerment to be successful, it has to be accompanied by confidence. You can’t simply tell your employees that they have the power and autonomy to act in the best interests of the company and its customers. They need to find and develop confidence in their own leadership and decision making skills. As the leader, you can do this by finding ways in which employees at all levels can lead and make decisions. Eventually, you won’t need to direct them to take the lead.

  1. Tell Them

Make sure that the language that you use doesn’t contradict your goal of creating a culture of engagement and empowerment. If you are used to using an authoritarian leadership style that might reflect in the words that you use. Be mindful of the tone and words that you use when addressing your team. Your words should tell them that you are sincere about the work environment that you want to provide and remember that “Employees engage with employers and brands when they‘re treated as humans worthy of respect.” Meghan Biro

  1. Provide Regular State of The Company Updates

In order to act in the best interests of the company, employees need to be kept engaged with regular and candid updates on the current state of things, along with your vision of the future. This includes acknowledging areas of concern and struggle. Your team needs to know where things are going wrong in order to find ways to be proactive and improve areas of weakness. These regular updates will also keep everybody on the same page.

  1. Encourage And Enable Personal Development

The more support you give your employees regarding their pursuit of their career goals and skill development, the more that they will trust that you have their best interests in mind. One way to do this is to give them the time and resources to spend on personal development.

  1. Back Them up When They Use The Power You Give Them

If you pull the rug out from underneath employees when they act with autonomy, you will struggle to ever get them to believe your rhetoric on empowerment again. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can never step in and intervene if you believe a course of action is a mistake or redirect an employee who has overestimated the extent of their empowerment. It just means that care must be taken to ensure that the employee understands that the intervening action was taken in their and the company’s best interests.

  1. Reward Successful Results And Recognize Good Efforts

When employees show initiative and take action to solve problems, keep customers happy, improve processes, or create growth, your recognition is what will encourage them to do the same in the future. When their efforts really make a difference, rewarding them is an appropriate action to take.

  1. Give Them Space

Just like authoritarian language can undermine your message of empowerment, so can hovering and micromanaging. Give your team members space to do what they do best, and trust them to bring you in when you are needed.

  1. Review And Revise Policies That Could be Hindering Empowerment

If your written policies don’t reflect your goal of creating a more empowered workforce, your employees may be in an uncomfortable situation. It’s difficult to heed verbal encouragement to act with autonomy, when written policy is full of mandatory procedures and admonishments to follow chains of command.

  1. Help Them Pursue Career Tracks That Reflect Their Talents

It’s fairly easy to make employees who are doing well feel empowered, but what about employees who are struggling to find their footing. It is often these employees who need the most mentoring to make them feel empowered and engaged, while still directing them to improve their performance. In many cases, a lack of good performance is the result of an employee being placed in a position that doesn’t allow them to use their talents, and they feel stuck. Encourage employees to take on roles and responsibilities that reflect their skills, even if that means transferring to another area, or changing path they joined your company to pursue.

  1. Create an Environment Where The Possibility of Failure Doesn’t Create Fear

When people are given power to make decisions without checking in with their supervisors or running to a policy manual, great things happen. Sense of ownership increases, performance improves, and customers are happier. Unfortunately, another side effect of this is that people are going to make mistakes, and their efforts will occasionally result in failure. Failure in itself is painful enough for employees, make sure that you communicate that failure as the result of sincere effort isn’t going to be met with harsh criticism or penalty.

 

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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.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 post was first published on Forbes on 12/15/13

Commit To Building New Leadership Habits

What is it you want to accomplish in 2015? What steps and actions will you take to achieve your goals?

Chances are your first thought was about improving your direct work product, productivity or domain skills rather than improving your competencies as a manager. However, if your goals include a career and performance leap, improving your leadership skills may be the decisive factor in your success.

Most managers and executives work hard, but hard work isn’t the same as leading the way. Harvard Business Review, McKinsey and Gallup cite how managers spend their time as the root cause of many terrible employee statistics – too much time is spent on low-level tasks like getting and reporting facts and not enough is spent communicating goals, holding people accountable, and providing coaching and feedback.

A giant career and performance leap requires a real leap in leadership and management practices because achieving truly remarkable results requires a team of people wholly aligned and committed to ambitious shared goals coupled with management discipline to drive transparency and high-velocity execution.

Assess Your Current Management Practices

Well-understood goals and metrics, clarity on the specific actions required to achieve those goals, progress accountability and feedback and reward practices are the hallmarks of good management. Assess your current management practices with these questions:

  1. When was the last time you communicated goals to the team, and how frequently did you communicate them in 2014?
  2. When was the last time you communicated specific feedback to each member of the team, and how frequently did you in 2014?
  3. What are your top priorities and strategic initiatives for the first half of the year? How well can you articulate them yourself?
  4. What are your top 10 deliverables in the next 30 days?
  5. How long does it take you to get execution status from team members on goals and how frequently do you get it?

How would your team members answer similar questions? Do you know what their career aspirations are, and how your feedback helps them achieve those goals? How effective are the managers and leaders on your team?

People can’t achieve goals they don’t understand or care about, can’t get motivated when they don’t feel appreciated, won’t follow through if no one is accountable, and can’t improve without feedback.

Resolve to Manage Better To Achieve More

Building new management competencies and leading your team to remarkable achievements means developing new habits and practices.

The framework and infographic below can help you create new habits that will you accomplish more in 2015.

Baseline: Establish systems of transparency on goals, priorities, committed actions, and progress to plan to create accountability and the capacity for better leadership.

Anchor on Mondays: Anchor your week and your actions with your intention to lead your team to great achievement (versus muscle it yourself). Get centered on strategic goals and assess what’s needed to achieve them.

Mission on Tuesdays: Reinforce the goals and metrics that matter for your team. Ensure team activities wholly align with goal achievement through direct engagement and assess goal gaps early in the week.

Coach on Wednesdays: Invest time in enabling your team members to succeed. Rather than asking for status, ask what you can do to help. Listen to the answers and work to provide the help requested.

Execute on Thursdays: Allocate the full day to executing what you need to achieve personally. Guard against diversions on misaligned or reactionary activities (e.g., ignore email missiles!) so you spend a full eight hours accomplishing priority work.

Invest on Fridays: Tune into your team and reflect on your top, mid and bottom performers and their unique needs and contributions. Allocate time to advancing their careers by providing direct feedback, support for training or skill-building programs or opportunities to excel.

Rejuvenate on Saturdays: Don’t work, not even a little. Renew your energy with exercise and enjoyment. Give yourself permission to set work aside for the day to give your mind the day off.

Reflect on Sundays: Bring your inspirations and aspirations consciously to mind on Sunday evening; reconnect with your resolution to drive remarkable achievement. Drop all doubt about your ability to achieve.

The daily themes will help keep you from sliding back into old habits and reacting to what comes at you.

Week by week, habits will align more closely to intentions, the mission will be clearer to the team, the quality of coaching will get better, execution more consistent and your ultimate results will be stellar.

About the Author: Deidre Paknad is currently the CEO of Workboard, Inc. Workboard provides apps for managers and their teams to share goals, action items, status and feedback and to automate status reports and dashboards, and is free for teams.

photo credit: ErinBerzelPhotography-4390 via photopin (license)

#TChat Preview: How To Avoid The Business Leadership Cliff

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT). The #TChat radio portion runs the first 30 minutes from 7-7:30 pm ET, followed by the #TChat Twitter chat from 7:30-8 pm ET.

Last week we talked about employee engagement and the culture control panel, and this week we’re going to talk about the business leadership cliff and how to avoid it.

Even with a continued annual investment in leadership development, leadership overall is falling short in business today. Even worse, enterprises are doing a poor job developing leadership talent and aren’t investing in succession planning, so these issues are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

According to a new global study of more than 5,500 executives and employees across 27 countries, conducted by Oxford Economics and commissioned by SAP SuccessFactors, barely half of the executives surveyed said their companies possess the skills to effectively manage talent, and only 44% have faith that their leaders are capable of driving and effectively managing change.

The good news is that some companies are doing something about developing future leaders, working hard to make them multi-faceted, multi-functional and multi-conversational by giving them the cross-functional training and experience. By developing the talent and skills they need, companies doing this can position themselves to thrive around the 2020 workforce.

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-creator and host Meghan M. Biro as we learn about how steep the leadership cliff is and how we can avoid it with this week’s guest: Mary Haskins, Vice President of Leadership Experience at SAP.

To learn more about the Oxford Economics research for SAP, click here

Related Reading:

Mitchell Levy: The Thought Leadership Funnel

Meghan M. Biro: Listen Up Leaders: We Are All Millennials

Graham Winfrey: 7 Keys To Creating The Best Work Environment (Infographic)

Anita Bruzzese: How Leaders Can Keep A Team Engaged After Telling Them “No”

Lydia Dishman: 7 Inspiring Women On How They’ve Become Better Leaders With Age

Lolly Daskal: Take A Hard Look In The Mirror

We hope you’ll join the #TChat conversation this week and share your questions, opinions and ideas with our guest and the TalentCulture Community.

#TChat Events: How To Avoid The Business Leadership Cliff

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, October 29th — 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT Tune in to the #TChat Radio show with our host, Meghan M. Biro, as she talks with our guest: Mary Haskins.

Tune in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, October 29th — 7:30 pm ET / 4:30 pm PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan and Mary will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: Why do so many companies struggle with leadership development? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: How do generational differences impact delivery and adoption of leadership development? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: What are progressive companies doing to avoid the leadership cliff? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our new TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!

photo credit: Bods via photopincc

On Finding the Leader’s Way

“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle; then I don’t know what is.”

—From The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

At first, it was simply the gathering of everyday natural things that pleased her: leaves, flowers, sticks and rocks.

These pleasing things, found in her front yard and back, as well as other parks around town, down by the sea, up in the mountains, and other realms of her ever-expanding world, were gathered with awe and handled with care. They were then stored in small plastic buckets outside on the front porch, on the back porch, in and around the house, and inside the cup holders of her car seats.

She studied them endlessly, held up high and down low, then up close and far away, smelled and rubbed, sometimes even licked and tasted. All the while, reverent questions arose of origin and type, of utility and relationships, her mind revolving around magnificent worlds within worlds, a gravity grounded yet flinging her into orbit to watch the universe birth anew, over and over and over again.

Patterns emerged on paper and across the kitchen table, the living room floor, the sofa, her bedroom floor and elsewhere. Some are more abstract than others, mazes and puzzles that only she knows the solutions to, ready to share with her parents, her sister, her teachers and classmates.

Regardless of what career may come for my eldest daughter, she’ll hopefully be college educated and working for a company where her colleagues share knowledge, collaborate with one another and spark innovative ideas, products and solutions. A company that invests in her continuous development, strengthening her skills and competencies.

Maybe she will be a scientist, or an engineer, or a captain of industry, looking for patterns and puzzles to solve in “pleasing things” and more, for those fleeting moments making the world a better place, searching for the magical visions within that will help transcend the unlikely.

And if the statistics hold steady, the pool of qualified women leaders is growing. That according to Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. That’s good news for both my daughters.

But whether you’re a woman or a man, the ability to “finding the leader’s way” in the world of work (and life) against all odds, or less dramatically, one little learning step at a time, is no easy task. Authentic leadership comes from continuous learning that embraces trust without judgment and the belief in everyday small miracles.

Unfortunately the world of work today continues to struggle for leadership. According to Bersin by Deloitte:

Leadership will be a big challenge in 2014. Executives are struggling with leadership gaps at all levels—from first-line supervision through top leadership (more than 60 percent of all companies cite “leadership gaps” as their top business challenge). This year, baby boomers will begin to retire in large volumes; one oil company told me that they expect to lose 30 percent of their workforce in the next three years.

So what to do? Finding the leader’s way today includes these two things:

  1. Encourage Learning. We are all lifelong learners and potential leaders, and from the earliest memories of awe and exploration to everyday “finding our ways” in the world of work (and again life), learning and leadership development should be part of every company’s talent strategy. This ensures that employees are given the learning opportunities they need to develop their leadership skills, and that the organization itself will have the leaders it needs for the future.
  2. Encourage Authenticity. Authentic leadership is all about developing yourself first in a manner that helps others see the complete you, exclusive of any organization’s help. This includes all your strengths, imperfections and accomplishments. We all crave authenticity and you have to be real in order to be heard. The most effective leaders today create dialogue and skillfully use indicators of their humanity. Great leadership is all about partnering and relationships, and the key to building productive teams is to be a little more unfiltered, personal and authentic.

Learning and being authentic are what it’s all about. This includes being willing to spread out our everyday “pleasing things,” looking for patterns and puzzles to solve, for those fleeting moments making the world a better place, searching for the magical visions within that will help transcend the unlikely while finding the leader’s way.

We can get there, girls. You are the small miracles.

Photo courtesy of Kevin W. Grossman.

Psst! Leaders, Are You Really Listening?

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

Verb: To give one’s attention to a sound.
Synonym: hear, pay attention, be attentive, concentrate on hearing, lend an ear to, and to be all ears.

We all understand the mechanics of listening. But too often today, when we have the opportunity to listen, we’re content with just passively letting sound waves travel through our ears. That’s called hearing. Listening is something entirely different. It’s essential for leaders to pay attention when others around us have something to say. Why? Because developing better listening skills is the key to developing a better company.

Lack of Listening Puts Organizations at Risk

Because leaders live in the ‘time is money’ zone, information gathering tends to focus on immediate requirements:

I need an answer! Give me a snapshot, infographic or sound-byte. GO, GO, GO!

However, when input actually arrives, how authentic are you about listening? Do you pretend to care, just for the sake of getting at what you think you need? Or are you receiving, absorbing and processing the entire message?

We’ve all had moments when we politely smile and nod throughout a dialogue. The speaker may feel heard and validated, but we miss out on potentially valuable information. Or how about those moments when we greet someone in passing with a quick, “Hi. How are you?” and continue moving forward without waiting for a response.

Occasionally, that may happen. But what if it’s a habit? What if others in your organization learn to expect that behavior from you? When people assume their ideas and opinions don’t matter, communication quickly breaks down. This kind of moment isn’t just a missed opportunity for meaningful interaction — it’s a legitimate business issue that puts your organization at risk.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When we’re part of a conversation, but we’re not paying attention, we send the message that we just don’t care. However, our intentions may be quite different. These are the most common reasons why we fail at listening:

  We’re developing a response. Instead of maintaining a clear, open mind when others speak, we quickly start composing our reply or rebuttal. Many smart people tend to jump into that response mode — usually less than 40 words into a dialogue.

  We’re preoccupied by external factors. In today’s multitasking environments, distractions abound. We’re bombarded with noise from things like open floor plans, and a constant barrage of texts, tabs, emails, calls, and calendar notifications.

•  It’s not a good time for the conversation. Have you ever been rushing to prepare for a meeting when someone stopped you in the hallway with a simple “Got a moment?” While it may be tempting to comply, it’s wise to simply schedule the discussion for another time. You’ll stay on track for the meeting, and can focus on the request as time permits.

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

I ask my team questions and invest time in discussions because I’m interested in their answers. Actually, I need those answers. After all, employee feedback is critical for a more engaged, productive, fulfilled workforce.

To foster better understanding, try asking follow-up questions to verify what people intend to convey, and discover how they feel about what they’re saying. This simple gesture will cultivate a culture of openness and camaraderie. Also, we can use tools to streamline the communication process and help us ask smart questions that reveal more about employees.

However, there’s no point asking questions if we only respond with a nod and then move on. If your mind is too cluttered and your day too busy to engage fully, be honest with your team. Assure them that you’ll get back to them when you’re able. And of course, don’t forget to follow up.

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

Still, many leaders struggle with the art of active listening. That’s why it’s important to learn useful techniques and make practice a part of your life.

Deepak Chopra, MD, observes that leaders and followers ideally form a symbiotic relationship. “The greatest leaders are visionaries, but no vision is created in a vacuum. It emerges from the situation at hand.” Effective leadership begins with observation — knowing your audience and understanding the landscape. Even the most eloquent, powerful speech will fall on deaf ears if the speaker doesn’t listen to the pulse of the audience.

It’s never too soon to start practicing this art. Here are 4 easy tips to improve your ability to listen and lead:

1) Repetition. Repeat anything you find interesting. This helps you recall key points after a conversation ends. It’s also a smart technique when you meet someone new. Repeat their name throughout the discussion. This not only solidifies the name in your memory, but also helps build rapport and trust.

2) Read Between the Lines. Pay special attention when a speaker changes tone and volume, pauses, or breaks eye contact. These subtle signals are clues that can reflect emotional highlights or pain points (anger, sadness, happiness). And body language often reveals what words don’t say.

3) Mouth/Eye Coordination. Looking a speaker in the eye establishes a connection and lets them know you’re listening. But don’t hold their gaze too long. Recent research suggests that eye contact is effective only if you already agree with a speaker’s message. Instead, try looking at the speaker’s mouth. That may feel awkward, but this keeps you focused on what they’re saying — and they’ll know it.

4) Reflection. Seal the deal by thinking back to extract meaning. You may be exhilarated by a great conversation — but without a mental debrief, much of it can be forgotten. Reflection is critical in developing the takeaways (and subsequent actions) that make the discussion valuable. Try mentally organizing important points by associating them with a relevant word or two. Then, in the future, you’ll more easily recall the details.

The art of listening is about much more than exchanging facts. Active listening helps those in your company feel validated and connected with you and your organization. Genuine conversations weave their own path. Give them your time and attention. Along the way, you’ll solve problems and generate new ideas that will have a lasting impact on you, your team and your business.

Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome to participate; or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

Leadership + Influence From The Inside Out #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for all the highlights and resource links from this week’s #TChat Events? You’re in luck — they’re right this way at the #TChat Recap: Gut Check: Emotions and Leadership.)

“It’s not personal — it’s strictly business.”
–Mario Puzo “The Godfather

Have you ever heard someone at work echo that classic line to dismiss their ruthless, destructive or self-serving behavior? In the past, that kind of cold-blooded Mafia mindset was all too prevalent in business. But these days it’s losing relevance, as emotional intelligence takes hold.

Although academics continue to debate various “EI” models, the core concept is simple. It’s based on the notion that the more mindful we are of the “human” side of business (in ourselves and others), the more effective our performance will be, and the more likely we’ll influence others’ performance.

While some people resist the term “emotional intelligence,” the concept is gaining traction. Some of the world’s most successful organizations — companies like Google and Microsoft — are actively developing emotional intelligence in their workforce. Why does it matter? And how can it “make” or “break” your professional reputation?

That’s the topic we’re discussing this week at #TChat Events, with EI expert, Steve Gutzler, President of Leadership Quest, a Seattle leadership consultancy, and author of “Emotional Intelligence for Personal Leadership.”

“Sneak Peek” Hangout

To kick-off this week’s discussion, Steve joined me for a G+ Hangout, where he briefly shared some fascinating insights about the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace:

This week’s #TChat Events promise to be helpful for anyone who wants to work more effectively with and through others. So bring your questions and ideas — and let’s talk!

#TChat Events: Emotional Intelligence, Leadership and Influence

#TChat Radio — Wed, Dec 18 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT

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Tune-in to the #TChat Radio show

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Steve Gutzler about why emotional intelligence matters in the workplace, and its connection with influence. Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Dec 18 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and Steve will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where Dr. Nancy Rubin will lead an open chat with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these 5 related questions:

Q1: Why is emotional intelligence so critical for today’s leaders?
Q2: How do emotional “soft skills” complement hard-edge business skills?
Q3: What is emotional hijacking vs. emotional self-management?
Q4: How can business leaders offer productive emotional influence?
Q5: What technologies can foster employee appreciation + emotional commitment?

We look forward to hearing your feedback, as talent-minded professionals, who care about the human side of business.

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So please join us share your questions, ideas and opinions.
We’ll see you on the stream!

Anatomy Of A Leader: Not Just Skin Deep

(Editor’s Note: This week at #TChat Events, the TalentCulture community is looking at what it will take to prepare the next generation of leaders — regardless of current age or organizational rank. We think the following commentary by Dan Newman, author of “The Millennial CEO,” is an ideal backdrop for any discussion about what is at the core of an effective leader. What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments below.)

By definition, leadership is grounded in action and not in title. We may tend to associate leadership with professional titles — such as president or CEO. But of course, simply holding an executive title doesn’t make anyone leader. In reality, the only way to be a leader, is to lead.

Let me explain. During the past few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with some fantastic business leaders. I’ve also met some individuals with great titles who couldn’t even lead a conversation about the weather, let alone a business organization. Yet somehow these people have risen to enviable professional positions. It’s impossible not to wonder — how can that happen?

Enter The “Extroleader”

One of the most interesting leadership trends I have noticed over the past several years is the emergence of the “extroleader.” What is an “extroleader,” you ask?

The term is one that I created. It applies to leaders that operate effectively as the face of an organization to the public — customers, investors and other stakeholders. The anomaly about the “extroleader” is that many of them have no internal leadership skills whatsoever.

So, while they are able to shape public opinion and they give the appearance of success to the outside world, they may not even be able to convince their assistant to schedule a lunch appointment.

Often this type of leader is driven by ego and excessive interest in personal branding, more than by interest in developing the organization and its brand.

This can be a subtle, but deadly nuance for growing organizations.

Here’s what is most interesting about this type of leader. Typically they find a way to the top because they are so capable at driving behavior outside the corporate walls. The world at-large may be enamored of an “extroleader” CEO that looks charismatic. But looks can be deceiving.

Leadership Inside Out

Great leaders are genuinely able to drive the best from everyone around them. Because they’re human, they have deficiencies, but that’s not what sets them apart. What makes them effective is their ability to make others want to be better.

For leaders in any organization, the biggest mistake is building a leadership facade that speaks to the outside world, while inside the corporate walls, your army will not fight for you. Because organizational culture is essential to achieving your business vision, you must have all hands on deck. This starts by demonstrating and reinforcing your vision, message and values within your organization.

It requires commitment to an inside-out approach — recognizing that you’ll be paid dividends by earning the respect of your team and closest stakeholders before focusing on external constituents.

A Higher Degree of Leadership Difficulty

Coming up with witty and charming content for the outside eye can be quite easy. Think about how we are often fooled or misled by politicians, athletes and media celebrities as we hang onto their every word, wanting to believe them. It’s much harder to prove yourself, day in and day out, to those with whom you work.

This is because the things you say can’t stand on their own. Others will look to see how closely your words actually match your behavior and your value system. That is critical as your team determines whether or not to follow you.

The more difficult path actually builds a more loyal following. When you prove your vision, mission and values to your team, they will fight to build and protect your organization and its brand. Ultimately, that brand will be built on a stable platform that is far sturdier than the glass house that “extroleadership” creates.

External Leadership IS OKAY!

Having said all of the above, let me clarify one important point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a strong outside-facing leader. In fact, an effective public “face” is an important part of growing any organization.

But here’s the key: Outside leadership must match communication and behavior within the walls of the company. It’s all about consistency.

It isn’t egomaniacal to want to create an impressive organization, if the intent is good. However, when a leader paints a picture that the employees can’t see, trust or respect, the organization will struggle endlessly to reach to its potential.

So, if you’re a leader — or if you aspire to lead — I encourage you to take a close look at the source. Ask yourself honestly: Are you looking outside, first? Or are you starting within?

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

New Years Resolution For The "Over-Thinker"

My personal strategy is doing lots of evaluation on important things throughout the year to gauge what’s working and not working. These regular progress and results checks suggest a range of adjustments to make (along with their potential impacts). Afterward, I decide what to change.

Given this ongoing process, I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions; they seem too point-in-time to be effective. Handed the assignment of doing a December 31st TalentCulture post though, it’s a topic begging to be addressed.

Based on a recent panel discussion I attended of successful entrepreneurs, I think the perfect area for a 2011 New Year’s resolution is my penchant for systematic consideration, thought, and planning in business.

During the breakfast session, four entrepreneurs on the panel shared their strategies for innovation and planning. It was clear from hearing them that careful, systematic consideration about business decisions is WAY overrated.

How OVERRATED you may ask?

Here are some of their comments from my live tweets of the event:

THAT’S how overrated planning is according to these four.  Based on their track records, it’s hard to dispute what works for them.

Listening between the lines, four factors trigger their collective willingness to trade a lot less pondering for much more rapid implementation:

1.  An intuitive understanding of their businesses, customers, and markets

2.  Unwavering confidence in their abilities to sense, execute, succeed, recover (when they don’t succeed) amid opportunities that present themselves

3. A risk-embracing orientation

4. The flexibility start-ups can enjoy over bigger competitors

Looking at the list, I’m good at dissecting business situations, but my planning orientation comes from the need to anticipate multiple potential downsides (counter to #2) and risks (counter to #3) to minimize them. Having spent most of my career in a corporate setting, flexing ample resources is central to most business strategies (counter to #4).

So to challenge myself and develop my weaker skill sets, I’m entering 2011 with a new acronym emblazoned on my brain: BITP.

It stands for “Better Implementing Than Planning.”

Or “Pondering.”

Or both. You decide…RIGHT NOW!

I’m making 2011 the year of “Smart Immediacy” for me. If you’ve also been labeled an “over-thinker” in your career, I’d encourage you to join in.

The focus will be getting much better at quickly perceiving, evaluating, and deciding on opportunities to begin implementing on them much more rapidly and decisively. What will we do to improve?

  • Fully trust ourselves where we’ve already demonstrated success.
  • Limit the time allowed for planning for contingencies almost certain to never happen.
  • Look for opportunities to slice several steps from existing processes.
  • Embrace that decisions once made can be reversed if they don’t pan out as anticipated.

What do you think? Are you up for joining me on this new approach in 2011? Or if this is already your orientation, are you willing to share your guidance and suggestions?

Join in the year of “Smart Immediacy” starting RIGHT NOW!