I am always troubled by leaders who can’t handle different points of view than their own. No leader has all the answers, nor should they be expected to. As you grow an organization, you will find you need to rely on people more not less. Weak leaders want to employ “yes” men or women. They […]
As I’ve covered many times in previous blogs it becomes less and less and about you working harder or having all the answers and more about you diligently asking the right questions and letting others guide you. You need to become an expert question asker and never miss an opportunity to interact with all employees in this manner. There are seven question that when asked on a regular basis will encourage your people and ultimately the company as a whole to learn and grow:
Leadership Thought #488 – 22 Questions You Should Ask Someone Before You Put Them in A Management Position
Through the years I have witnessed many unsuccessful management promotions and equally bad managerial hires. Often, the outcome would have been obvious if the employer had taken some time to ask a few basic questions during the screening process: What is your personal definition of management? Why do you want to manage other people? Have […]
Beware of people who have style but lack substance… In life we often come across overly charming people, who always know what to say and how to say it. I am always a bit skeptical when an individual has too much polish. We all know the type, those candidates who interview extremely well but disappoint later. […]
The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them. They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort. Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well. While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves. This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.
When you sit back and reflect on Thanksgiving there is much to learn from the events that led to its creation. It is quite a testament to the power of the human spirit and our individual and collective capacity to accomplish great things especially when we work together. When life is stripped down to its bare necessities you learn alot about your fellow human beings. While sadly, some people use survival as a rationale for poor behavior, history seems to vindicate that most of us try to do the right things even under the most adverse circumstances. I’d like to offer a few observations about the genesis of the holiday:
When you own your business it is your sandbox. You get to decide who plays in it and what happens inside. Just remember that these decisions also have consequences. As an advisor to my clients, my role is to get them to appreciate this fact. I’ve often watched people make decisions that I don’t agree with. Sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong about what happens next. My track record is usually pretty good but far from perfect. I just want to make sure that these decisions are somewhat informed and well thought out. I am fine with being pleasantly surprised by good results that I didn’t foresee or anticipate. I learn from these situations as well – never underestimate the resolve and creativity of a committed leader. Most importantly, I strive to ensure that these decisions are aligned with the outcomes the client is aspiring to achieve. Success can be defined in many different ways and unless there is a moral or ethical component, it is not my role to judge.
Far too many organizations are dependent upon far too few people to be successful. I often ask my clients, “What happens to your business if something happens to you?” The answers more often than mot are less than satisfactory. One of the key jobs of a leader is to mitigate risk and one of the biggest risks you have in any company is people risk – starting at the top. It may feed your ego to be critically important to your company but it is no way to build an enduring successful organization.
As a New York Yankee fan, I must admit to not being all that excited about the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt when it came out. The story is about the exploits of Billy Beane as General Manager of The Oakland A’s when he literally transformed his approach to running a baseball team. When it got nominated for an Academy Award I thought maybe I should see it one day, but didn’t rush out to but it. I finally saw it last week and was blown away. I guess at this point I should pretty much trust anything Aaron Sorkin is involved with. Not only is the movie well written, directed, and acted, it also has many important lessons that are applicable to my work with business leaders. It was almost as if they had a leadership/management expert on the writing team. I’d like to highlight the following takeaways:
Leadership is about people. The best leaders intuitively understand this reality and surround themselves with the best people possible. You can only ever accomplish so much alone. Achieving anything of significance usually requires leveraging the skills, talents and relationships of others. You need to be less worried about being the smartest person in the room and more focused on the collective intelligence of your organization. Over time, your own IQ end up being the average IQ of the ten people you spend the most time with.
I’ve met many business owners through the years who admit that if something happened to them the business would have a hard time continuing operations for any period of time. This always makes me nervous. Leadership isn’t about building dependency upon any one person. It is about getting a group of people working interdependently towards a common goal. Of course it’s much harder to do this when you are relatively small, but as you begin to grow and add staff, you should be constantly thinking about building operational redundancy and minimizing personnel/performance risk.
I often meet business owners/leaders who think they have it all figured out. Whenever this happens a red flag goes up for me right away. The best leaders I know are in a constant learning mode. They are very aware of what they don’t know and need to learn. They soak up information like a sponge and are energized by new thoughts and ideas. Leaders who are unwilling to admit their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge are eventually confronted with the very reality they are ignoring. It may take time, but it always happens. It’s even worse if they are completely unaware of where they fall short and end up getting blindsided. In leadership positions, ignorance is not bliss.
When in doubt ask good questions and leverage the knowledge and experience of other people. There are few things less attractive about a leader than someone who acts like they know the answer when they don’t. Confidence can be a good attribute but hubris is not. People ultimately see through your words and pick up pretty quickly if you simply make it up as you go along. More importantly, those around you who do have the answers lose respect for you and begin to question everything you say.
Admitting you don’t know enough about something to make a good decision is a sign of wisdom. Being open to alternative points of view and challenging you own conceits is the pathway to professional maturity. Listening without judgment is a prerequisite for effective leadership. Arguing for the sake of arguing or being unyielding in your positions is sign of emotional immaturity and intellectual bravado. This doesn’t mean that you don’t remain steadfast to core principles or have some non-negotiables, but if everything fits this description, then you are nothing more than a roadblock to success and progress.
We’ve all met people who seem to argue for the sake of arguing and we also know how we typically feel about them. Some people just have to have to find flaws in everything and/or disagree to be disagreeable. Just like the parable of “the boy who cried wolf” if you are find fault with everything, then it begins to diminish how seriously people take your opinions as a whole. It’s one thing to have a different point of view. It’s quite another to always default to having a different perspective. There’s a fine line to being objectively critical and becoming a crank.
High performing businesses often resemble their sports counterparts. Starting at the top, there is predictability to their concentration and effort. Nothing is taken for granted. People know what is expected of them and they do it on a daily basis. Crises are few are far between. Business units don’t beat themselves and are quick to notice and leverage performance advantages. Individuals are self-motivated and do not require external stimuli. Winning is an expectation not a surprise or the result of an imbalance of effort. With all truly great teams, victory is a foregone conclusion.
Leaders have to be careful about becoming too close to their employees. It is easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s personal life especially if you’ve know someone for a long time. There is a big difference between being a friend and being an employer or boss. The nature of the employer-employee realtionship is transactional – people are paid to do a job. Without the exchange of time for money the relationship probably wouldn’t exist. Moreover, it is much more difficult to hold a friend accountable or if necessary fire them.
In my experience, the best leaders are comfortable in multiple and diverse work and social settings. They are able to adjust their style to meet the needs of their audience or conform to the group dynamics. They understand that a leader without a receptive audience is handcuffed in his/her ability to turn a vision into reality. People tend to connect with others that they feel they can relate to. All conversations are a search for some level of common ground. The quicker you get there the sooner you can focus on the purpose of the discussion.
When you teach leadership at a graduate level (which I do part time) it’s easy to be an optimist. You get to see the vibrancy and drive in people. These are individuals who are proactively investing their money and time to better themselves and create a more hopeful future. Some students automatically rise to the top while others shine in different ways depending upon the assignments/discussions. If you are paying close enough attention, it does support the management philosophy that every individual has a strength to share and will step up if they are properly motivated and given the opportunity to do so. No one at this level wants to fail. It’s important to remember this reality as the instructor.
Leadership can be a delicate balancing act. You want to push your people to achieve high performance and exceed what they thought was possible, while also appreciating that you hire employees and people show up with all of their human needs for understanding and support. If you push too hard they resent you and find you harsh and uncaring. If you don’t push hard enough then you enable mediocrity and stunt their growth. It’s not always easy to know where the line exists.
In organizations as in democracies the inability to foster constructive conflict is a troubling development. To grow and get better, there needs to be disagreement about how to best do things and find new answers to old problems.