5 Leader Lessons from a Labrador

Dear Springboard:

I’ve been in my new job for several months now.  There are many things I love about it – more responsibility, being a part of the executive leadership team, and a little more respect around the office. All of that is great.  

I was prepared for a steep learning curve at the beginning but am finding it is non-stop.  I’m constantly dealing with new situations, new information, and new strategies.  It’s exhausting.

Sign me, 

Getting Worn Out

 

Dear Getting Worn Out:

We live in a world where the pace of change keeps accelerating and a mantra for survival is adapt or die.

I find applying what I have heard or read the best way to really learn and have it stick.

Here are five recent observations from watching our Labrador that are reminders that have reinforced learning in a fun way.

Onboarding

When we adopted Tally last year, she was a 9-year-old adult English Labrador and she moved from a kennel in the country into apartment living in downtown Chicago.

While there were a few adjustments in the beginning, she adapted extremely well.

She got used to the city traffic, riding an elevator, and letting us know when she wanted to go out.

I am reminded of the importance of successful onboarding.  She adapted to new routines and integrated into a new environment.

Plus, she demonstrated the competency that trips up executives onboarding into new companies more than any other factor and that is fitting into a new culture. Much can be accommodated once that’s in place.

She demonstrated the importance of emotional intelligence and learning agility.

Delegating and Engagement

While Tally is sometimes a little sluggish and just plods along, she often likes to grab the leash in her mouth and lead the way.

When she has the leash, she picks up the pace, lifts up her head and is clearly very proud of herself.

It reminds me of the importance of delegating.

When I coach managers like you who have been promoted to bigger jobs, a common need is to shift gears for the new role and this usually involves being intentional about delegating.

To be effective, a leader must let go of managing the details and trust others to get things done. It boosts employee engagement and frees up time you need for other responsibilities.

Delegating is empowering and energizing for them and essential for you. 

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Power & Influence

The Web is full of videos of cats blocking a dog’s path or commandeering a dog’s bed — all to the dog’s consternation.  Weighing in at 80 pounds, Tally clearly has the upper hand over our 12-pound declawed cat, Gertie, but Tally doesn’t believe it.

Tally needs to recognize her power, feel more confident and assert herself (to the feline bully).

Too often I hear clients voice self-limiting beliefs and their discomfort over how these beliefs hold them back.

I want these clients to know that when we let the inner voice of doubt take over, we give up choice and it keeps us small.

The opportunity is to begin with modest steps and to build confidence.

To overcome fear, we must move beyond our comfort zone.

It gets easier after that . . . . first step.

The invitation is to start now.  

Being Present

My number one rule for myself is showing up.  Nothing much can happen until I do.

Tally is very present and especially so in the kitchen. She gets the occasional nibbles of strawberries and a cashew or two just because she’s there.

It brings to mind the bedrock advice:  suit up and show up.

Networking

This is a happy dog with a wagging tail. It brings to mind the power and simplicity of a smile and hello.

Recently, a woman looked at me expressionless and (I’m embarrassed to admit) I thought to myself “What’s her problem?”

Then, with a whisper of inspiration, I ventured forth with a smile and a simple hello to her.

What did I get back?

Her face brightened and relaxed, she smiled and we started a pleasant conversation.

What we send out, we get back.

Hang in there, GWO. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

The 7 Steps of Storytelling for Leaders

Dear Springboard:

Now that I’m in this bigger job, my boss is telling me to start talking up my team and shine the light on them and not on me.

It doesn’t feel right. I’m a hard driver and I’ve earned what I have every step of the way.  I’ve always made sure people know about my accomplishments. It’s gotten me noticed and visibility matters.  It’s what’s worked and gotten me this far.

Sure, I’m a little bit of a self-promoter. But, if I don’t do it for myself, who will?

Sign me,

Dubious

 

Dear Dubious:

Everyone is the hero in their own story.

The challenge for you is to shift your attention to your staff – the people who are critical to your success.

Your situation brings to mind the hero’s journey and the key role of the guide.  In his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out the story structure of the hero’s journey, the outline that nearly all our books and movies follow.  Campbell studied cultures around the world and found a commonality to the local lore.

Oversimplifying, there is a principal character, our hero, whose life is disrupted in such a way as to call the hero forth to conquer a new challenge beyond their current capability.

As our hero ventures forth, uncertain of his abilities and with shaky confidence, he encounters a guide who offers particularly effective advice.  Think Merlin to King Arthur and Yoda to Luke Skywalker.

The guide is an essential character because our hero would not succeed without the guide’s support.

As the story develops, our hero confronts the challenges that must be overcome to triumph.

There is a climactic scene and the hero succeeds (escaping dire consequences of failure), and then our hero returns where he began, transformed by the journey and his success.

Now, if you look for it, you will see this in the movies you watch and books you read.

What does this have to do with your situation?

At a conference last week, I heard Don Miller (author of Building a StoryBrand) give an inspiring talk about how to apply the elements of the hero’s journey story structure for more effective marketing.

Basically, his pitch is that we find a market/prospect (hero); identify a key problem that needs to be solved; be an empathetic and authoritative guide to help; offer a way for the prospect to engage and solve their problem; call the prospect forth to take action; gingerly mention the perils of not doing so; and, end with their problem solved and the hero enhanced as a result of the process.

Miller is quick to point out that for the guide to be successful, the focus stays on the hero. That means the guide should not be singing their own praises.  If that happens, the guide becomes a second hero in the story and is competing with our protagonist.

Miller focused on using the story structure for more effective sales and marketing for a business.

I am proposing that with a slight shift of this mindset, the use of story structure can be effective with employees at work, and people in their personal relationships.

So, here’s a way of looking at the process from a manager’s point of view with their staff in mind:

Locate your character

With what I’m calling the StoryBrand mindset, imagine each direct report as a hero in their own personal story.  

Identify their problem

Think of what they are facing on three levels. What business problem(s) do they need to solve, what emotional issue resolved (increased confidence, sense of accomplishment, honoring specific values) and why does it matter to them enough to persevere? They should know how their efforts fit in the big picture.

Meet them as their guide

Present yourself as a resource to help in whatever way it is needed.  While the focus is not to be on you and your ego, it is necessary to demonstrate empathy and authority for the sake of establishing emotional connection and competence.

Give them a plan

Make sure there is clarity and agreement on goals, roles and expectations.

Call them to action

Challenge them: to reach stretch goals, develop new skills, innovate, to bring out their best selves.

Help them avoid failure

Success matters for its own sake and also because it means your direct reports won’t face the consequences of falling short.

Support them to end in success

Success can take many shapes; whatever it looks like, it should be clear and celebrated when reached.

Dubious, your job description has changed since you were climbing the ladder at lower rungs.

Your job now is to champion your people.

As a leader, get buy in for a vision, point the way, offer guidance, and cheer them on.

Take that spotlight off of you. Ultimately, the light you shine on them will reflect on you.

 

From the Watercooler

The secret to a happy marriage is to wake up every day and think: ‘How can I make my spouse happy.’ ~ Wedding toast by the father of the bride

Your success now

Let Go to Gain Control

Dear Springboard:

I recently got a promotion. I was really excited at first – more money and a better title. It was great. In my old job, I had people reporting to me and now there are people reporting to them. 

It sounds goods but the problem is my workload has exploded. I’m working really late, plus weekends and still missing deadlines. AND, I’m more than a little peeved that when I’m burning the midnight oil, I’m the only one here. The rest of my “team” is long gone.

Sign me,

Overwhelmed

 

Dear Overwhelmed:

First, congratulations on the new job! I’m sure it’s well deserved.

It sounds like a familiar scenario. You’ve taken on more responsibility on top of what you were already handling.

One of the toughest challenges of taking on a bigger role and thriving is the importance of shifting gears.

There are a few dynamics here. First, to keep all your current duties and add new ones is not sustainable.  There is only so much time (and energy) available. Keep in mind that every time we add something new to our plate, we must let go of something else.

Second, what made you successful in your previous job will not work in your new job in the same way. If you stay involved in the day to day operations of your direct reports or their staff, you can’t be available to do what is expected of you in your new role.

Let’s say in your old job you were very hands on; you worked alongside your staff, you checked details and ensured that deadlines were met. Now that you have broader responsibility, you cannot be in the weeds like you were before and still be available for your new duties.

What this comes down to is that you need to let go of your old role. Many people find that challenging.

One issue is that some of their identity is enmeshed in the old role.

Another issue is the skills they developed and came to rely on. They say, “You’re telling me to stop doing the things that worked so well and got me this far and start operating in a way that is new and, to me, untested? Do I have that right?” Well, yes.

As an example, now that you have both direct and indirect reports, you need to get out of the weeds (read: out of the way) and let your direct reports manage their staff.

First, by doing this, you will have the bandwidth to start leading: see the bigger picture, communicate a vision and set goals, engage key players (in multiple directions) for buy-in, and set the pace and direction for executing.

How to accomplish all this? The answer is delegation.

This means that instead of having the comfort and control of being hands on, you empower and trust others to do the work. It can be hard to let go when we think we could do it faster or better — OR, faster and better. But, if you hang on, you can’t be available for the requirements of the new role.

I would recommend that you start small and hand over some tasks that are lower risk. You might also target tasks that take a lot of time and don’t require much skill. Repetitive items are also a good choice.

You’ll need to hand over bigger projects, and soon, to get real impact.

You can make a list of activities and score them on a scale of 1 to 5: noting the time alleviated from your schedule; the time involved in training; and whatever specific competencies are needed such as being good with spreadsheets or strong interpersonal skills.

To delegate effectively, we can’t tell just anyone what to do, walk away and expect it to be accomplished as we wish.

It’s important to know the strengths of individual staff members and assign accordingly; give clear instructions and deadlines; provide the necessary tools and resources. It’s a plus to provide context for how the task fits into the bigger picture; it can make something mundane feel less so.

I’m a big believer in checking in along the way to inquire on progress, answer questions and offer encouragement.

Here’s a tip: delegate the outcome you want but not exactly how they need to get there. This is important because the other person might have a better way to accomplish the task. They will feel better about the task being their project and you can sidestep micromanaging.

It helps to anticipate that someone doing a task for the first time or two will take longer. So, prepare to be patient. When they’re finished, thank them and show appreciation. And, if the work is noticed by others, don’t claim credit for yourself, instead recognize the efforts of the people who actually did it.

So, the bottom line: take action and loosen your grip.

That means delegate and let your staff own the work. You’ll have less control over the details and how exactly things get done, and gain control over the bigger picture and setting the agenda — what your new job is really about.

Success is yours if you delegate.

Manage Your Hidden Fears For Greater Success

 

Dear Springboard:

I was running my staff meeting last Monday and it was going fine until we got to “John.”

We went around the table and everybody was prepared with their updates but when it was John’s turn, he was clearly winging it. I was more than a little angry and I really let him have it.

I told him right then and there that he needs to shape up or else. My boss was sitting in for this meeting (which he almost never does) and I wanted my boss to know that I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of sloppy and disrespectful performance. 

Afterward, my second in command pulled me aside and told me that I overacted and based on that overreaction, I was the one who ended up looking like the problem.

How is that possible? He wasn’t prepared and I’m running the show!

Sign me Perplexed.

 

Dear Perplexed:

Years ago, I was out to dinner with a group of friends and “Sally” was being very difficult with the waiter.

I was embarrassed by her and I overacted and in a such a big way that it was I who became the problem. I’d like to think it was because I was extremely hungry (or “hangray”) but there was really no excuse.

As the attention shifted to me, the group completely forgot about her behavior and focused only on my behavior. It was a tough and valuable lesson.

Here’s what I know: whenever I am upset and I take the time to figure out why, it is always about my fear. It may not look like that on the surface but if I’m honest with myself, a layer or two underneath, it’s rooted in fear.

In broad terms, I am afraid of losing something I already have or, of not getting something I want.

My friend Anne took this idea one step further and said imagine a two-column grid like the one below where:

  • Relationships are personal in nature
  • Status is our public image
  • Security is about our financial wellbeing
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Now when I get upset about something, I look inside and try to figure out which of these six buttons is being pushed. It’s usually more than one.

Seeing what fears are being stirred up and looking at the dynamic with some distance and objectivity helps defuse the charge of an emotional — and fear-driven– reaction.

To apply this thinking to your situation, what buttons do you think the situation with John pushed? And, how did having your boss there influence it?

I would guess at a minimum that John’s lack of preparedness pushed the Status and Security buttons in the Losing column. You reacted strongly because you thought he was making you look bad (Status).  This reaction was intensified by your boss being there.

Because your boss was there, I think your Security button also got pushed. It would be easy to have a thought pattern that goes something like this: If my boss doesn’t think I can manage my staff, especially when he’s present, he might think I can’t meet our goals. Maybe I’m not the right guy for the job. I could lose: a promotion, a raise, a bonus, or maybe even my job.

As all change starts with self-awareness, noticing our emotional reactions is a good place to begin. Self-management is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and a valued competency in the executive suite.

One lesson here is to pause and manage the first fear-based emotional response. (To learn more, click here.)

So, take a step back and see what buttons are being pushed.

The challenge is to just notice and let go.

Death By Meeting, Nevermore!

Harry looked at his watch under the table.

10:27

Only three minutes since he last looked.  Ugh.

Tom droned on.  Kathy interrupted, again.  Jim nodded agreement to. . .what?  We started late.  No one introduced Mary who joined the company only two days ago.

No agenda.  Finance wasn’t there even though the meeting was supposed to be about how finance wanted to change the budget process.  Unprepared, Sally had no new information and that meant no decisions could be made. This meeting was a giant waste of time!

With a flimsy process and little follow through, we would likely be covering the same ground two weeks from now.

Business meetings are notorious, and for many good reasons.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bain & Co estimates that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings.  Other sources estimate time in meetings at 25% to 30%.  Bain’s research says that senior executives spend about two days a week (40%) of their time in meetings with three or more coworkers.  So, as executives rise in the ranks and their time becomes more valuable, they spend more time in meetings.

Meetings represent a sizable chunk of an office worker’s time, no matter what measurements are used.

The reality is that individuals are limited in how much they can cut back on meeting attendance given the very real risk of alienating their colleagues, and especially their boss.

So, how can we improve the meetings that we do have?

At a recent gathering for organizational development professionals, I had the good fortune to hear Dick and Emily Axelrod (luminaries in the OD field) present on a system they have developed to lead meetings that are productive and participants actually find useful and want to attend.

They outlined the merits of their Meeting Canoe, a six-step process that consistently creates good outcomes.

A look at the process and we see why it works:  it’s welcoming, inclusive and connecting, reality-based, rooted in the present with an aspirational eye on an ideal outcome, decisive, and has accountability built in.

As the Axelrods discussed that night and also in their book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This, they recommend the following process:

Welcome people to create an atmosphere conducive to doing the desired work.  We want to create a sense of safety and, with it, openness to sharing and receiving ideas.

Connect people to each other and the task.  This step has two levels.  Building relationships among the participants and, second, connecting the participants to the issue at hand.  Building on the safety, we want to engender trust, the most basic building block of effective teams.

Discover the way things are.  We create a shared view of our current reality. This requires being open to a broad spectrum of input, including divergent views and hearing from the quiet minority.  We want to enable the participants to share their own perspectives and create a common ground of understanding. Next, we help the group resist the temptation to jump to a fix.

Elicit people’s dreams.  Mining the group for ideal outcomes is the yin to the current reality’s yang.  This is a time to loosen our grasp on exacting practicality and have participants imagine possibilities.

Decide on next steps.  Participants make their choices clear, while taking into account the way things are and the articulated ideal outcomes.  Note that the process for how to arrive at decisions should be understood beforehand.  It is particularly toxic for participants who thought they had a vote to be disenfranchised because it emerges they are not aligned with what the meeting leader wants.

Attend to the end.  Bring the meeting to a close by reviewing decisions made, next steps, and who is going to do what by when.

I have adopted this process for meetings myself and recommended it to coaching clients. I am happy to report that it works extremely well for all types ranging from brief interactions to group meetings to longer planning sessions.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

You can’t complain about it if you’re not willing to do something about it.

Success is at hand