Leadership Story | Leaders Cross Generations

While facilitating a Leadership Excellence Course this week, we separated attendees into three generations during a motivation workshop:

Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964
Generation X born between 1965 and 1977
Generation Y born between 1977 and 2000

Baby boomer group perceptions of Gen Y included:

Sense of entitlement, digitally connected all the time, did not pay their dues, sought equality and lacked loyalty. Interestingly, impressions also included:

They are full of energy and innovation, have new perspectives and like change - all the time.

Gen Y perceptions of boomers included:

Stern, rigid, unwelcoming, direct, challenged by adaptability, and tech averse. Additional Gen Y observations:

Boomers are natural mentors, experienced, and loyal.

One of the key takeaways from the workshop is that we often get caught up with negative perceptions of others and forget that all generations wish to be treated well as any good leader should.

At the end of the course, one of the Gen Y attendees described it:

“This program is great for understanding and developing what leadership really looks like. As someone who was younger in the class, it provided me with great real world experience that was discussed in a group and collaborative setting. I found the structure and pace of the class was easy to follow but never became overwhelming…”

Indeed, this Gen Y attendee demonstrated what was just captured in the motivation workshop: Energetic, thirsty to learn and collaborate, and ready to make positive changes in a rapidly changing business environment. Very energizing comments. We should keep this in mind when indulging our perceptions.

Good leaders see the best in others. Leaders Cross Generations.

Leadership Story | Coaching is the Heart of Leadership

Have you ever left a business due to lousy service? Of course you have. How about afterward? Did the business, upon realizing you no longer wished to be a customer - magically seem have unlimited resources, processes and procedures available to regain your loyalty as a customer?

This past week such thoughts are on mind. A colleague who I’ve had the privilege to coach, on and off over the years, shared with me that he has been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, yes a dreaded P-I-P. What happened? What’s really been going on? Has there really been good communication, especially feedback, occurring?

Recall the three types of feedback are: Appreciation, evaluation and coaching - from Douglas Stone and Sheila Sheen’s wonderful book Thanks for the Feedback. In our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses, we repeatedly observe that evaluation and coaching are often mixed up, and that, sadly, real coaching rarely occurs in the workplace.

We discussed the Performance Improvement Plan. It stated that necessary coaching and feedback - notice they are listed separately - will be offered. The plan also stated that my colleague is ultimately responsible for improving and meeting the objectives of the plan. How interesting. Lots of process. Lots of procedures. Lots of evaluation. I asked my colleague if he is coached by his supervisor with any regularity. What do you think the answer was? 

You’re probably not surprised the answer was “no.” Perhaps coaching is only done within this organization when something is not working correctly. Imagine a sports team operating that way. The players compete with no coach. Only after it’s obvious the team is not winning, does the organization introduce what may even loosely be called coaching. Further discussions also indicate a good bit of turnover within this group, including people who quit rather than submit to a Performance Improvement Plan. Again, how interesting. Additional  review seemed to indicate the supervisor really wants someone who will devote the majority of their time managing people and projects. Plenty of evaluation. Not so much leading. It’s unfortunate that my colleague appears to work for a manager/supervisor, and maybe not so much a leader. Unfortunate, but typical.

Leaders take responsibility for their individual team members. Leaders coach. Coaching is the Heart of Leadership.

Coaching Story | Leaders Align Actions and Values

On the first day of a Leadership Excellence Course, we share the first draft of our Personal Leadership Philosophy. By the end of the course, we have a working draft of the document to share with others and to help hold ourselves accountable. On day three of an Advanced Leadership Course, we explore our organization’s Core Values, defining them and attributing Normative Behavioral Statements to each listed value. Overlap between our individual philosophy and organizational values creates alignment, usually our most significant challenge - aligning our actions and our values. Most organizations simply put up posters listing values, with so-called leaders’ actions often displaying quite the opposite. Sound familiar?

These ideas came up twice in the past week. A client in a coaching session shared that their their organization has an amazing culture, and the client is nervous their amazing culture may be diminished, or worse, lost, as the result of rapid growth this calendar year. At about the same time, S. Chris Edmonds, a fellow “leadership traveler,” shared a copy of his book “the culture engine.” Great timing.

You see, Edmonds’ combines the idea of a leadership philosophy with organizational core values. He calls it an Organizational Constitution. It’s a very attractive and powerful construct. Just as actually creating alignment by demonstrating our values through actions, Edmonds’ process requires that an Organizational Constitution must be lived, should anticipate resistance, and requires gathering formal feedback on valued behaviors. This includes hiring based on values, just as Tony Hseih of Zappos learned.

Leaders share their leadership philosophy. Leaders live their leadership philosophy. Then they go further. Leaders Align Actions and Values.

Leadership Story | Leaders Walk the Talk

A common question after facilitating a Leadership Excellence Course is: “How do I know when I’m actually living my leadership philosophy?” Good question. One of the best indicators is when we make a tough decision, an uncomfortable decision, and realize - often after the fact - that something violated our leadership philosophy.

Over the past month an informal coaching session formed with a LinkedIn connection in London. Let’s call the connection Alex. Alex is interviewing with a hiring Senior Vice President in Naples, Florida for a new position, and is nervous. Why the apprehension? Because Alex left a job - left a place, with a very  toxic culture - before securing a new engagement. And the hole in the resumé is now visible to everyone, including the Senior Vice President.

Rather than try to hide this unplanned departure, rather than reacting defensively to questions about the resignation, we established Alex should share, and further should volunteer that this decision was based on Alex’s leadership philosophy.  In this case: A toxic work culture was a non-negotiable - a deal-breaker. Alex could not stay because the environment was incompatible with personal core values.

And that’s exactly what Alex did. Alex shared the decision-making process with the Senior Vice President. What do you think happened? Let’s pause:

What would you do as the hiring manager?
Would you have stayed longer than Alex in the toxic environment?

Turns out the Senior Vice President understood the decision and appreciated Alex putting it front and center rather than hide from it. Looks like a good outcome so far.

Part of the reason we write a personal leadership philosophy is to guide our decision-making process, especially when under stress. Recall one part of a leadership philosophy is declaring our non-negotiables. It’s also a way to hold ourselves accountable rather that avoid inevitable conflicts. Leaders make decisions based on their leadership philosophy. Leaders live it. Leaders Walk the Talk.

Episode 16 - Interview with “Pacing for Growth” author Dr. Alison Eyring

Are you a marathoner or triathlete? In Episode 16, we meet Dr. Alison Eyring, author of Pacing for Growth - Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success -  who has run marathons and is currently training for a triathlon. Dr. Eyring is a growth expert, organizational psychologist and CEO of Organisation Solutions in Singapore which combines her 25+ years advising the “Fortune and FTSE 500” and some of the most innovative high-growth companies on earth with what she has learned from training for ultra-marathons. She applies endurance training concepts like finding the right pace, pushing yourself to your maximum capacity building capabilities for the future, and conserving energy to lead business growth. Dr. Eyring has a lifelong passion for helping others reach their ultimate potential.

Leadership Story | Leaders Persuade

Ever notice how some of the greatest lessons are found by looking to the past? As what we may call a purpose-driven economy expands, and the global competition for talent likewise increases, the importance of communication skills in leaders becomes paramount. Leaders must be able to communicate well with different constituencies, from the board room to customers, and perhaps most of all, to the individuals and teams they directly lead. 

In Carmine Gallo’s new book, Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, he describes President Kennedy’s ability to persuade audiences that a person could set foot on the moon by the end of the ’60s decade. Kennedy didn’t convince us with facts alone, he made us feel. He combined what Aristotle called pathos and logos: emotion and logic. When we read Kim Scott’s current bestseller Radical Candor, she likewise shares with us that a good leader explains why, rather than rely on pure authority. Scott also cites the three classic steps of persuasion: pathos, logos, and ethos representing emotion, logic and credibility. A timeless lesson from Aristotle, and more important today than ever before.

The best leaders are lifetime learners. They look ahead and they learn from the past. The best leaders communicate. Leaders Persuade.

Episode 15 - Interview with “Crash” author Carla Moore

Ever have a life-changing event? In Episode 15, we meet Carla Moore, author of Crash - Leading Through the Wreckage -  who has. An empowering and proven leader, Carla currently serves as Vice President of Sales Strategy and Education for Home Box Office (HBO) in New York. She began her career with HBO as an entry-level sales trainer 20 years ago and worked her way up, working in multiple departments. Carla is an active public speaker, delivering conference keynotes and facilitating workshops on a variety of subjects, including her passion – activating personal power. She has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and other outlets and has also served as a panelist at leadership summits and career management events. Carla is an active member in the media industry, currently sits on the national board of National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC.), and holds an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Business.

Leadership Story | Leaders Understand Team Members Personally

We’ve learned through authors such as Mark Crowley that engagement in the workplace has been flat for about thirty years. Maybe old habits don’t die at all. Maybe we just need a fresh way of looking at things. In Kim Scott’s refreshing book Radical Candor, she challenges the classical Nine-Box Matrix Talent Model, developed by McKinsey, which positions individuals into a box based on potential and performance. Scott’s a deep thinker, and found she didn’t like using the word potential, because she doesn’t think there is any such thing as a low-potential human being. It says a lot about her.

Scott has been successful at top companies such as Google and Apple — very competitive and very successful organizations. So it’s not a big surprise that for the first twenty years of her career, it NEVER occurred to her that some people didn’t want the next, bigger job. She talked with Scott Forstall, who built the iOS team working directly for Steve Jobs, and he proposed using the word “growth” instead of “potential.” It’s brilliant. 

Recall in our Energize2Lead (E2L) workshops we learn than 75% of people are wired completely differently that ourselves. We also learn that there may be deep, instinctive parts of our personalities that are largely hidden. Scott realized the same thing. She tells us:

“The most important thing you can do for your team collectively is to understand what growth trajectory each person wants to be on at a given time and whether that matches the needs and opportunities of the team. To do that, you are going to have to get to know each of your direct reports at a personal level. It’s also going to require you to have some of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have. Sometimes, you’ll even have to fire people.”

That’s Radical Candor. Leadership is hard. Building a team is hard. Leaders Understand Team Members Personally.

Coaching Story | Leaders Ask Active and Engaging Questions

It’s refreshing when a professional reaches out and asks for help during a period of career growth - for executive coaching. Since this has happened quite a bit this month, Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter’s terrific coaching book, Triggers, came to mind. You may have heard of Marshall before, he’s a really good coach and he’s been doing it at a very high level for decades.

Powerful and lasting growth usually requires objective evaluation and structured coaching. Notice that evaluation and coaching are different forms of feedback. A common example of objective evaluation is a 360 review with inputs from different groups such as peers, direct reports, supervisors, in addition to ourselves.

Triggers was written in part, because we all have many internal triggers that hold us back, especially when receiving feedback. So, how can we think, in a general sense, about how to overcome all of these internal switches we usually aren’t aware of?

Chapters Nine and Ten, The Power of Active Questions & The Engaging Questions, form the heart of Triggers, with numerous engaging coaching stories.  Goldsmith reflects when people are asked passive questions; they almost invariably provide “environmental” answers, often allowing a diversion from needed accountability. As a remedy, four magic moves are mentioned, which trigger decent behavior in others: Apologizing, Asking for help, Optimism, and asking active questions. Active questions can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and the better we know someone, the better questions we may ask. Here’s an example: 

“Tell me something important to you that would allow me
to help you become more successful and happier?”

Now let’s introduce Goldsmith’s six engaging questions:

Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
Did I do my best to find meaning today?
Did I do my best to be happy today?
Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Notice that each of these questions challenge us, daily, to do good, or to be choinque. They trigger good behavior. We can call this self coaching. 

Good leaders coach others, and themselves. Leaders ask active and engaging questions.

Coaching Story | Super Leaders Deeply Know Their Team

Retention. Talent pipeline. We keep hearing these HR terms. In the past couple weeks, a military commander reached out wishing to improve low reenlistment numbers for first term airmen, a federal bankruptcy court shared plans for a 12-month regional leadership development program for junior team members and a local CEO seeking executive coaching connected on LinkedIn. What’s going on?

In Dr. Sydney Finkelstein’s meticulously researched masterwork, Superbosses, subtitled How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, he explains that superbosses fall into three distinct patterns: Iconoclasts, who care about their work and their passion, such as Miles Davis, and are often artistic. Next are the Glorious Bastards, who care solely about winning, and know they need the best people to win, such as Larry Ellison, who has spawned a breadth of talent in Silicon Valley. Last, are the Nurturers, or activist bosses, who consistently guide and teach their protégées, such as Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

It seems each of these three recent events may be describing a need for a more nurturing environment. Finkelstein recognized that all superbosses deeply know their team members, in stark contract to clueless, distanced bosses - think Undercover Boss. We may have been conditioned, especially if we are baby boomers, to simply trust our position of authority, or rank as adequate for performance — leaving development and growth to perhaps a different department. Quite the opposite, superbosses disdain anything that may create physical or emotional distance from those in their charge. What superbosses give protégés, then, is something quite rare in professional life, an opportunity to rebrand themselves, or the ultimate alignment of one’s traits and abilities with not just a job, but also a lifetime path. 

Leaders are ultimately coaches. Leaders nurture. Super Leaders Deeply Know Their Team.

Episode 14 - Interview with World Series of Poker bracelet winner Annie Duke

Has watching professional poker ever fascinated you? In Episode 14, we meet Annie Duke, author of Thinking in Bets, who has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Annie is also the co-founder of How I Decide, an educational nonprofit that works with urban, disadvantaged communities in the Philadelphia area.

Coaching Story | Great Leaders Practice Deliberately

Has anyone ever said to you that they or their organization embraces “continuous improvement.” It’s a pretty common buzzword, and don’t all of us want to get better at something? How can we think, and more importantly, do, something about that?

In Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s masterwork Peak, they describe a significant term —  deliberate practice — as a combination of purposeful practice and developing mental representations. 

Let’s summarize. Purposeful practice:

• Has well-defined, specific goal
• is focused
• involves feedback
• requires getting out of one’s comfort zone

Now that’s just a start. Deliberate practice also requires development of mental representations, or pre-existing patterns of information - facts, images, rules, relationships and so on - that are held in long-term memory, and are easy to access. The key to deliberate practice is to go beyond our potential, or to make possible things that were not possible before. The way to do this is to learn a new skill which will then trigger a structural change in the brain rather than simply continuing to practice a skill already learned.

Let’s summarize again. Deliberate practice:

• Develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established
• Takes place outside one's comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her abilities
• Involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance
• Requires a person's full attention and conscious action
• Involves feedback and modifications of efforts in response to that feedback
• Both produces and depends on effective mental representations
• Nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically

An effective leader understands both purposeful practice and that the quality and quantity of mental representations are vitally important. Imagine a leader that not only practices deliberately themself, but one that prioritizes developing others through deliberate practice. Good leaders practice purposefully. Great leaders practice deliberately.

Leadership Story | Leaders Make Smart Bets

Have you ever made a decision with incomplete or imperfect information? How did it feel?

Many of us struggle with daily distractions, and the pressure of making decisions with imperfect or incomplete information. In Annie Duke’s amazing new book, Thinking in Bets, Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All The Facts, she informs us that is the normal state in poker, where over the course of a single hand of poker, one could be involved in up to twenty decisions. And each hand ends with a concrete result: Win money or lose money. 

Do you ever examine your decision-making process after a favorable outcome, or a business win? Many of us examine our decisions when the outcome isn’t favorable, or after a business proposal loss. Duke shares a poker player term for our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome: “resulting.” It’s one of the worst habits for a poker player, and it’s one of the worst habits for a responsible leader. Life is a lot like poker.

When we don't review or assess our decisions, our minds are likely to create blind spots, such as hindsight bias, or the tendency, after an outcome is known, to see the outcome as having been inevitable.

It’s always a good idea to examine our decision-making process, especially when there’s been a good outcome. That’s why the military uses After Action Reviews. The best leaders do this. The best leaders accept uncertainty. Leaders make smart bets.

Coaching Story | Great Leaders are Rare

During a recent coaching session, a client mentioned employee turnover issues within their organization, in particular with newer, younger hires.  Among the factors brought up for the recent departures was low pay. I paused and asked how frequently coaching occurred between supervisors and subordinates. A culture check if you will. Let’s just say it got really quiet for a bit. You see, there’s often a significant disconnect between what we believe about people leaving an organization, and what really happened.

In Kelly and Robby Riggs’ eye-opening book, Counter Mentor Leadership, they cite:

89 percent of managers believe employees leave their jobs for more money; and
88 percent of employees reported they left for reasons other than money.

Many old-school manager types believe focusing on results only is all that matters - the proverbial bottom line. Matthew Lieberman has some pretty interesting findings in his article “Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?” Great question. His findings:

If a leader was considered strong in social skills, the person was seen as a great leader 12 percent of the time. Okay. What about that bottom line?
If a leader was perceived to be strong in focusing on results, the number increased to… 14 percent of the time. That’s all. Just two percent more.
For leaders who were strong in both results and social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a strong leader skyrocketed to 72%.

Pop quiz time: What percentage of leaders rate high on results focus and social skills? Take a guess.

Less than one percent. That’s why Kelly and Robby Riggs conclude Leadership is Freaking Hard. And they are right. Great leaders are unicorns. They focus on results. They focus on people. Great leaders are rare.

Episode 13 - Interview with “Violent Leadership” author Wesley Middleton

Are you a CPA, attorney, or a partner in a professional services firm? Choinquecast thirteen showcases Wesley Middleton’s personal and professional journey in his book Violent Leadership. Unsatisfied with the practice and lifestyle found within the usual managerial-styled CPA firm, Middleton has pioneered a different kind of firm, a twenty-first century CPA firm, MRZ Financial, based on a leadership model suitable for any professional services group.

Middleton is also the host of the Violent Leadership podcast, a member of the Royalwood Church band and a team leader of the church’s Men’s Group.

Leadership Story | Leaders Manage Energy

In our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses, self-evaluation scores at the beginning of the Setting Leadership Priorities workshops usually plummet - with distractions and interruptions common culprits. Perhaps never before has the opportunity for distraction been so commonplace. Yet, there are those who are still effective getting things done and those who are effective leaders.

Most of us probably don’t know who psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was, but we ought to. By the way, she was one of the first Russian women to attend a university. She studied memory in relation to complete and incomplete tasks, and found that incomplete tasks are easier to remember than successful ones. This is now known as the Zeigarnik effect. What does that mean for us as leaders?

First, it means that the best way to finish a task is to start it, since the now incomplete task will occupy our minds with little energy required. Until it is done. Maybe that is why we sometimes say “sleep on it,” intuitively knowing the Zeigarnik effect will assist during our slumber.

Second, the best leaders, like the best athletes, are masters of energy management; aligning tasks, their assignment and their completion, minding these effects. The best leaders are Zeigarnik masters. Leaders manage energy.

Episode 12 - Interview with “Counter Mentor Leadership” co-author Kelly Riggs

Choinquecast twelves takes direct aim at generational differences in the workplace as we meet Kelly Riggs who has co-written - with his son Robby - Counter Mentor Leadership, a pathfinding generational work. Kelly is the founder of Business LockerRoom, host of the CounterMentors Show, and a dynamic thought leader in the fields of sales and leadership. He is also a business performance coach who walks the talk: As a business owner, as a national award-winning sales representative and sales manager.

Kelly hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is passionate about supporting children, believing that the good we do for the young yields the greatest payoffs.

Coaching Story | Leaders Create Accountability

In a recent coaching call, a client shared a significant challenge - how to grow a team from 200 to possibly 700 this calendar year - without having the proverbial “wheels come off.” We talked about the importance of front line supervisors who take care of the teams at “the tip of the spear.” The topic of accountability came up.

Recall from our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses that 83% of organizations have accountability issues. Kelly and Robby Riggs concur in Counter Mentor Leadership. They describe accountability struggles as a twofold problem: The BOSS doesn’t know how to create a culture of accountability; then there is an issue, the BOSS doesn’t truly address the issue.

The Riggs’ visualize a useful construct, the Freedom Box. Imagine a rectangular box with four primary boundaries:

• Company values and/or guiding principles.
• Expectations.
• Level of Authority.
• Performance standards and metrics.

Our values, expectations and performance standards can be expressed within our Personal Leadership Philosophy. Our level of authority provides delegation and coaching guidance. Putting this all together, the Freedom Box creates an agreed-upon area of autonomy. Just what we need for a rapidly growing organization, rather than having the wheels fall off. Leaders create accountability.

Episode 11 - Interview with “Disrupt Yourself” author Whitney Johnson

In choinquecast eleven we meet the author of “Disrupt Yourself," Whitney Johnson, who developed her proprietary framework and diagnostics after having founded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen. This framework is complemented by a deep understanding of how executives create and destroy value, having spent nearly a decade as an Institutional Investor ranked equity analyst on Wall Street.

In addition to her work as a speaker and advisor, Whitney is one of Marshall Goldsmith’s original cohort of 25 for the #100 Coaches Project, is a coach for Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, is a Linkedin influencer, and hosts the twice-monthly Disrupt Yourself Podcast.

Coaching Story | Leaders Embrace Feedback

“Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more
than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.”

from Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen’s eye-opening Thanks for the Feedback candidly and systematically breaks down why receiving feedback is so difficult and what we as leaders and our organizations can do about it. Notice the emphasis on receiving feedback rather than offering it. How many times has someone in a senior leadership position asked you for candid feedback about themselves or the organization rather than offering you feedback or telling you something that you “ought to do?”

Does your organization even have a learning culture? Or is it the type organization where a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset prevails.

The authors remind us there are three forms of feedback: Appreciation, evaluation, and coaching. Most of us understand appreciation, but often mix up evaluation with coaching. Years of facilitating leadership courses and executive coaching suggests many people and organizations will claim coaching occurs, but more often than not evaluation is occurring rather than coaching. As a result, performance coaching gets a bad rap. An easy indicator: Who is doing the talking in the coaching session? If you are talking more than 25% of the time, it’s not coaching. It’s not even listening.

Indicating your commitment to receiving feedback in your Personal Leadership Philosophy is a great first step. Welcoming it comes next. Leaders embrace feedback.