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Posts tagged ‘leadership’

7 questions that’ll make you a better coach & leader (review of The Coaching Habit)

This review first ran in the May 18th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

coaching haibtThe Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Box of Crayons Press

$16.95

I’m a good advisor but a pretty lousy coach.

Confusing these roles is how I get myself into trouble and annoy the people I try to help.

It’s an occupational hazard. After working in public relations for 25 years, I’m very much in what author Michael Bungy Stainer calls the advice-giver / expert / answer-it / solve-it / fix-it mode.

This mode doesn’t translate well to coaching.

It’s why I give answers to questions you haven’t asked and have solutions to what you don’t see as a problem. I’ll preemptively offer to save the day even when you have the situation well in hand.

To become a better coach, I need to talk less and listen more. Instead of having answers and offering up unsolicited advice, I need to start asking smarter questions.

Bungay Stainer, the founder and CEO of a company known for teaching 10-minute coaching to leaders, knows what questions effective coaches should ask.

“The seemingly simple behavior change of giving a little less advice and asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult,” says Bungay Stainer. “You’ve spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it. You’re seen to be ‘adding value’ and you’ve the added bonus of staying in control of the situation.

“On the other hand, when you’re asking questions, you might feel less certain about whether you’re being useful, the conversation can feel slower and you might feel like you’ve somewhat lost control of the conversation (and indeed you have. That’s called ‘empowering’).”

Bungay Stainer says the essence of coaching is helping others and unlocking their potential. It’s also the key to avoiding overdependence.  When you train people to become excessively reliant on you for answers, you disempower them and frustrate yourself. You become swamped with work, turning yourself into a bottleneck while everyone around you loses momentum and motivation.

“The more you help your people, the more they seem to need your help. The more they need your help, the more time you spend helping them.”

So instead of having all the answers, stick to asking one or more of the following seven questions:

What’s on your mind? Bungay Stainer calls this the kickstart question. It’s an almost fail-safe way to start any conversation with someone who’s asking for help. “It’s a question that says let’s talk about the thing that matters most.”

And what else? This is the AWE question and it’s the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities. “With seemingly no effort, it creates more – more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities – out of thin air.”

What’s the real challenge here for you? Asking the focus question will save you from wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem. “When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is that what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual question.”

What do you want? This is foundation question. “Recognizing the need gives you a better understanding of how you might best address the want.”

How can I help? This is the lazy question which forces your colleague to make a direct and clear request and prevents you from immediately leaping into action.

If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to? This is the strategic question. It’s been said that the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. “A ‘yes’ is nothing without the ‘no’ that gives it boundaries and form.”

What was most useful for you? This learning question should close out your conversations. “Not only do you help people to see and then embed the learning from the conversation, but by your finishing on a ‘this was useful’ note, people are going to remember the experience more favourably than they otherwise might.”

With each of his seven questions, Bungay Stainer also offers a master class in how to make effective coaching a habit. His book is a great resource for those of us looking to switch off our advisor mode, quit playing the all-knowing sage and superhero and do a far better job of helping the people around us find the answers to their questions and realize their full potential.

adice

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

 

 

Don’t ignore your job’s expiration date (Review of Whitney Johnson’s Build an ‘A’ Team

a teamThis review first ran in the April 20th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Build An “A” Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve

By Whitney JohnsonWhitney Johnson

Harvard Business Review Press

$36.50

Every job has an expiration date.

We ignore it at our peril. Yes, the living is easy once we’ve scaled our learning curves and we’ve settled into our comfort zone.

We’re fully competent but at risk of becoming bored out of our minds and completely disengaged.

We can convince ourselves that mailing it in and coasting to retirement is doable. But the people we work with and for aren’t so easily fooled.

So if you’re wondering whether a change would do you good, the answer is an empathetic yes (and I speak from experience).

We need to disrupt ourselves before the disruption is done to us.

According to Whitney Johnson, a CEO advisor and author of Build An ‘A’ Team, we should start looking for a new challenge around the four-year mark in our jobs.

For the first six months in a new role, we’re learning the ropes. It can be a steep, frustrating, exhausting and disorienting climb.

But then we hit a tipping point around the six-month mark. We reach peak productivity in what Johnson calls the sweet spot middle.

After four years in most jobs, we’ve reached the peak of our learning curves. We’ve mastered pretty much every task. We’re competent and confident. We can work on autopilot.

As a leader, it’s tempting to ignore expiration dates with highly skilled and experienced veterans who are well into their mastery phase. They require minimal adult supervision and there are few if any surprises.

You may also prefer to hire only new recruits who’ve already done whatever job you need doing and who’ll bring years or decades of experience to your team.

But your high performers will eventually turn into bored and restless low performers.  Some will be self-aware enough to pull themselves out of their comfort zones and look for new challenges.

“Nearly every human being is on the lookout for growth opportunities. If a person can’t grow with a company, they will grow away from it.”

Losing institutional memory when a veteran employee leaves an organization hurts. This is why it’s critical for managers to preemptively offer up new challenges or move high performers into new roles and onto new teams, where there’ll be new responsibilities and new learning curves.

Johnson says the most productive and innovative teams have an optimal mix of employees, with 15 per cent starting out on their learning curves, 70 per cent in the sweet spot middle and the remaining 15 per cent in the mastery phase and willing to take on a mentorship role.

“One of the most powerful ways that managers can foster innovation in their teams and engagement in their people is to keep them moving to new learning curves before they get bored,” says Johnson.

She recommends a three-step process for leaders who need a new game plan for anyone at the top of their learning curve. Applaud their achievements. Identify a new learning curve. And then deliver on helping them make a successful jump.

“Taking charge around the who, what, when, where and how of these leaps is critical. Should your people proactively lobby for a jump to a new curve when they reach the top? Yes. But remember, it’s a lot harder for them to come to you and say ‘I’m at the top of my curve, I need to try something new’ than you think it is. The boss holds most of the cards in this situation, and an employee may feel that asking to jump is tantamount to asking for a push into unemployment.”

As a leader, you hold the power and have a choice to make. “Is the top of the curve a place where people decide to leave because they know there’s nothing more? Is it a spot where they outlive their usefulness and become organizational deadweight? Or, is it the launching pad for even greater effectiveness?”

Don’t put off having conversations about what’s next for team members who’ve maxed out on their current learning curves. Pretending there isn’t an expiration date with their jobs is a failure of leadership. They’ll either start mailing it in or start sending out resumes.

“You can leave them in place and watch them suffer a gradual, even precipitous decline in productivity; you can watch them abruptly depart for a warmer professional climate. Or you can find a new learning curve for them to climb.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

How leaders can engage employees (review of Alive at Work)

alive at workThis review first ran in the Nov. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do

By Daniel Cable

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

Here’s a lesson for any leader who’s looking to leave a legacy.

Write down the names of your maternal and paternal grandparents. No checking Ancestry.com or calling your family’s resident genealogist.

Now write the names of your great-grandparents.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t name everyone. Lots of us draw blanks as we work our way down the family tree.

“And that’s the legacy for us: our own family isn’t going to remember our names in two generations,” says Daniel Cable, author of Alive at Work.

“Lots of leaders spend time thinking about their legacy but really all we have are the positive effects that we can have on each other today. As leaders, we have a chance to make life more meaningful, and more worth living, for the people we lead.”

engageSo how exactly do you make that happen? Focus on firing up the seeker system that’s hardwired into our brains, says Cable.  “Our seeking systems create the natural impulse to explore our worlds, learn about our environments, and extract meaning from our circumstances. When we follow the urges of our seeking system, it releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – and that makes us want to explore more.”

When our seeker system’s up and running, we’re excited. We’re learning new things. Our world feels like a better place to live. We’re more creative and productive. We perform better, we’re happier overall and we’re alive at work.

“Our evolutionary tendency to disengage from tedious activities isn’t a bug in our mental makeup – it’s a feature,” says Cable. “It’s our body’s way of telling us that were designed to do better things, to keep exploring and learning.”

Bad things happen when we’re locked into tedious work and unable to explore and learn. Our seeker system shuts down. Work turns into a grinding and frustrating commute to the weekend. As neuroscience pioneer Jaak Panksepp puts it, “when the seeking systems are not active, human aspirations remain frozen in an endless winter of discontent.”

That discontent is reflected in ugly Gallup poll results that show the majority of us are disengaged and not contributing to our fullest potential at work. The lack of employee engagement isn’t a motivational problem, says Cable. It’s biological.

Organizations are failing employees by smothering their seeker systems with policies, procedures and processes. The rituals of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound) and the fixed distribution of performance ratings fire up our fear systems and distract us from learning, taking risks and solving problems with new approaches.  Fear is kryptonite to our seeking systems, says Cable.

“Even though we may say we want employee creativity and innovation, we place even greater value on exploiting existing ideas and processes that are tried and true.”

It takes humble leaders to restart our seeker systems, says Cable. We need more leaders who’ll express feelings of uncertainty and humility, share their own developmental journeys and spend more time observing, listening and actively encouraging their teams to play to their strengths, experiment, explore and rediscover a sense of purpose with their work.

Being humble won’t just benefit the people you lead. “Finding ways to trigger employees’ seeking systems will do more than increase the enthusiasm, motivation, and innovation capabilities of your team,”says Cable. “By improving people’s lives, your own work as a leader will become more meaningful, activating your own seeking system.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

The 3 types of leaders who make us quit (and the 2 who inspire us to stay)

great placeThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Great Place to Work For All

By Michael Bush

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

$25.95

You may want to see what’s being said about your organization on Glassdoor.

It’s a website that combines job postings with reviews from current and former employees. They rate your organization on work-life balance, culture and values, career opportunities, compensation and benefits and senior management. They also leave  comments on the pros and cons of working for you.

When the reviews are bad, lousy leaders are invariably to blame.

These leaders dwell at the bottom of five levels identified by the Great Places to Work research team. The team pulled data from hundreds of companies and 75,000 employees.

“A great place to work for all must have great managers for all,” says Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work. “When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation and revenue growth.”

But when they’re clueless, cruel and confidence killers, they’re unintentional leaders. They’re often star performers who got put into leadership roles despite underwhelming or non-existent interpersonal skills. “These are leaders who don’t seem conscious of the impact they have on others, so their behavior can hurt the people they work with and the organization,” says Bush. “Employees reporting to an unintentional leader might feel like passengers on a bus whose driver doesn’t have a destination in mind and doesn’t tell the passengers what’s going on.”

While we join organizations, we quit unintentional leaders and two other lackluster types.

quit

Hit and miss leaders run hot and cold and don’t always step up. Life is good if you’re one of the leader’s favourites and it’s like your worst day of high school if you’re on the outside looking in. “They don’t actively hurt an organization but neither are they actively supporting their team or performing their duties to the extent the organization needs.”

Transactional leaders get the job done and nothing more. “They are mainly concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list or hitting key performance indicators and consequently are not as forward-thinking or charismatic as leaders at higher levels.” These by-the-book leaders value getting things done over talking to people which leaves them with few, if any, personal connections. These leaders will have no idea and zero interest in learning what you do outside of work. You should get paid time and a half whenever you try to engage in small talk with a transactional leader who has all the warmth and personality of a bag of ice.

Good leaders are consistent, inclusive and sincere. They’re easy to talk to, understanding and fair. Employees will stick with the organization if they work for a good leader. If there’s a downside to good leaders, Bush says it’s their tendency to believe the ultimate responsibility for reaching goals lies with them and not their team. “Leaders at this level must abandon any ego attached to being the boss, and subsume their own interests in the service of helping others shine.”

The gold standard are what Bush calls “for all” leaders. These are those rare dream bosses who get the absolute most out of their teams and inspire loyalty and full engagement. No one leaves their teams and everyone wants to join. They prefer to lead from behind so the people who report to them will shine and do their best work. “For all leaders make everyone feel welcome and treated fairly and establish a strong sense of collaboration within teams as well as through different areas of the organization. They stand out for their ability to reduce politicking and favouritism to nearly imperceptible levels, perhaps because they do a great job of getting feedback from everyone and involving them in decisions.”

Most important, “for all” leaders go beyond the boundaries of business. They use their leadership position and profile to help promote positive societal change, from closing gender pay gaps to championing environmental sustainability and fighting racism. They speak up and take stands on issues that are important to employees, their families and society.

“The new frontier in business is about improving results by developing every ounce of human potential,” says Bush. His book shows how leaders can step up their game to develop that potential, turn their organizations into great places to work and earn top marks from current and former employees.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work

purposeA version of this review first ran in the June 23 edition of The Hamilton SpectatorThe Hamilton Spectator.

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good

By John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen

Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

$25.95

I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.

They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.

Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.

So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.

If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving  homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.

Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit.  Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.

Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.

Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.

To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.

  • How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
  • How will your family be better off?
  • How will the people who work with you be better off?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
  • And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?

“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.

“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”

Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.

“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”

Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good.  A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.

Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.

Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
  • Confusing purpose with a marketing program.  Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
  • Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
  • Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.  “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”

Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.

“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”

To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Review: Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver by Ron Wallace

leadership-lessonsThis review first ran in the Sept. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver: Delivering a Culture of We, Not Me

By Ron Wallace

Berrett-Koehler

$34.95

UPS was having a rough start expanding into Germany.

The company’s sales force was running out of leads.

So everyone was brought together to regroup, recharge and kick around ideas for drumming up new business.

A senior executive joined the conference and was asked to give closing remarks.

Instead of a pep talk, he announced they were staying an extra night.

They had an hour to change out of their dress clothes and meet in front of the hotel. And they had to show up brandishing knives and scissors.

Locals lined the streets as the executive led the UPS parade out of the hotel and into the heart of the village. They wound up in an alley behind a stretch of shops and stores. The executive then rolled up his sleeves and led the team into dumpsters where they pulled out boxes and cut off shipping and receiving labels.

Once they had cut up every box, they marched back to the hotel conference room.

“The fruits of our work were stacks of torn and dirty labels, and our marathon sorting session lasted the rest of the night,” remembered Ron Wallace who was one of two UPS district managers working in Germany at the time. “Soon people began to realize what they had in front of them was gold nuggets. They were leads – solid leads because they were from real shippers and real receivers.”

The dumpster-diving senior executive demonstrated an ability to be creative, one of four key characteristics for effective leadership identified by Wallace in his book Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver.

Along with creativity, leaders need to be great at:

Matching the right person to the right job. “The best leaders execute the selection and assignment process with surgical precision,” says Wallace. They also know when the right person is in the wrong job and have the courage to make the necessary change.

Removing the fog to clearly communicate with the team. Effective leaders state their expectations and then follow up.  “You would be surprised how many leaders just assume their team knows what to do. Assuming anything in a leadership role is a mistake.”

Inspiring others to go higher. “The best leaders are great encouragers, and they inspire their team to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Performance without acknowledgement kills morale. If all you ever do is state expectations and measure performance, be ready to lead a lifeless team.”

Wallace worked at UPS for four decades, getting his start as a part-time driver. He credits the no-nonsense, no-frills company for giving him a PhD in teamwork and leadership.

Wallace worked his way up in the company, becoming president of UPS International and leading more than 60,000 employees working in over 200 countries and territories.

A part-time driver becoming president of international operations is par for the course at UPS with its preference for promoting from within and a founding principle of treating everyone equally. That equal treatment includes giving all staff opportunities for training and development and moving into leadership roles.

“Managers who start with the organization and rise through its ranks are likely to be more committed, aligned and knowledgeable than those brought in laterally from the outside,” says Wallace. “We promote from within to ensure that the company can pass on our legacy and culture seamlessly from one generation to the next.”

Effective leaders work both smarter and harder than anyone else on their team and also stay humble. They’re focused on getting things done through others rather than drawing attention and accolades to themselves.

“It’s okay to enjoy your accomplishments but don’t ever think that your achievements make you better than those around you,” says Wallace. “Nor should you ever think that it was you alone who got you there.”

Even if you’re not keen on taking your team dumpster-diving in downtown Hamilton in search of sales leads, this book is loaded with common sense leadership lessons from a 99-year-old company that delivers 18 million packages and envelopes every day.

@jayrobb reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator, serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.