Influence & Insight | April 2018
Leadership 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.
Work Without Walls | Book Review
"Daydreaming in the grocery line can actually be more productive than checking email. Seemingly idle times like that are often the very moments when we have mental breakthroughs." (p. 38)
In Academy Leadership's Creating a Motivational Climate workshops, Hackman & Oldman's job design research is cited. Maura Nevel Thomas goes further, offering the contemporary leader a practical guide for an effective workplace both today and tomorrow in Work Without Walls.
Thomas dispels common myths many of us were conditioned to believe are characteristics of a productive knowledge worker (p. xii):
• Being available for work 24/7/365
• Maximum face time in the office
• Working on vacation
• "I can sleep when I'm dead" attitude
• Busyness as a "badge of honor"
Rather, Thomas reminds us the individual productivity of a knowledge worker is based on the extent to which that person makes progress on his or her significant results in any time frame (p. xiii). This requires knowing what our High Payoff Activities (HPAs) are as we discovered during Setting Leadership Priorities workshops or via sustained deliberate practice.
This review explores and discusses an effective leader's responses to the crumbling walls between work time and personal time -- and between work spaces and personal spaces (p. ix).
Like Schwarz, Thomas identifies energy management via the term Holistic Well-Being, intersecting (p. 2) both Employee Wellness and Employee Engagement, and calling out calm, happy, and energized as the three states of mind that most achieve effectiveness and performance.
Similar to Energy Management workshop participants auditing hourly energy levels with corresponding activities, Thomas cites Dr. Travis Bradberry (p. 3): "Highly successful people don't skip meals, sleep, or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and breaks as opportunities to recharge in order to get even more done." What gets in the way of good energy management? Self-evaluations frequently inform us that daily distractions or "fire drills" are often the cause. Thomas instructs us that attention management is the antidote to distraction (p. 6). It's a worthy term we should use in coaching sessions. Imagine asking how well one has managed their attention toward high payoff corporate goals. Not many business leaders do this today. Thomas calls out Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey, and Arianna Huffington as executives who intentionally and strategically incorporate mindfulness into their business strategy (p. 7).
Is yours a stressful work environment, leading to burnout and high turnover? Burnout is more intense than stress, and often the results are more dire. According to psychiatrist Dr. Harry Levinson, the symptoms of burnout include chronic fatigue, anger at those making demands, self-criticism for putting up with the demands, cynicism, negativity, irritability, a sense of being besieged, and hair-trigger display of emotions (p. 11). It's not surprising many organizations are incorporating wellness centers, gyms and the like as a countermeasure.
Distractions | Email
In numerous Setting Leadership Priorities workshops, distractions such as email overload frequently dominate discussions and shared stories. Technology is not the only culprit. Research has shown that employees in open offices experience reduced attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, concentration, and motivation (p. 22).
Thomas recommends providing comprehensive productivity training rather than time management training (pp. 26-28). A Personal Leadership Philosophy can be of great help, especially if aligned with company goals.
Look at the typical work day (p. 39) and how much time email captures. One quick tip is to review messages between tasks rather than during them (p. 41). A deliberate action is required as there seems to be no end to daily email volume. Bottom
line: Make a conscious decision about both how often you will review email and how much time in your day you will leave available for email processing (p. 42).
Thomas suggests a knowledge management approach may be more useful. Consider taking advantage of group communications tools such as Slack or HipChat which are designed to take important information out of personal inboxes and storing it instead in a corporate resource that anyone can access (p. 45). More generally, as leaders, we must set the example and dispel productivity misperceptions:
Being connected in off-hours during busy times is the sign of a
high-performer. Never disconnecting is a sign of
a workaholic. And there is a difference. (p. 47)
Recall a leader's responsibility is creation of a motivational environment. Gaia Grant author of Who Killed Creativity and How Can We Get It Back? writes (p. 51): "Creative thinking requires a relaxed state, the ability to think through options at a slow pace and the openness to explore different alternatives without fear." To what degree do we as leaders foster such surroundings? Or facilitate meetings?
Vacation | Rest | Recharge
One of the most noticeable differences between U.S. work environments and our overseas counterparts is how vacation is viewed. A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for the U.S. Travel Association shows that huge majorities of American workers say paid time off (p. 58):
• Helps them relax and recharge (90 per cent)
• Offer the opportunity to do what they enjoy (88 per cent)
• Makes them happier (85 per cent)
• Improves their concentration and productivity (66 percent)
• Results in greater satisfaction at work (61 per cent)
If we consider vacation time as people recharging and re-energizing rather than fewer billable hours, the research suggests a much more positive and productive work environment will result. Consider the opposite. Arianna Huffington, only after collapsing from exhaustion, realized that mindfulness and taking care of your well-being are critical measures of success (p. 63).
This mindset is also consistent with a leadership development ethos. Full Contact (A Colorado technology company) documents in their blog:
If people know they will be disconnecting and going off the grid for an extended period of time, they might actually keep that in mind as they help build the company. For example:
• They might empower direct reports to make more decisions.
• They might be less likely to create a special script that ... only lives on their machine.
• They might document their code a bit better.
• They might contribute to the company Wiki and share knowledge (p. 67).
Office | Work | Improvement
Thomas has learned through research that the open office (about 70 per cent of workspaces) impairs cognitive function due to the noise and constant interruptions (p. 73). Interestingly, while visiting a client (Front Burner Brands), distractions from an open layout were mitigated with white noise generators, greatly improving productivity. Many other communication and productivity methods are also implemented there.
If, as leaders, we keep in mind that the products of knowledge work are creativity, communication, and decisions, none of which thrive in noisy, shared workspaces where interruptions abound (p. 77), we can seek creative solutions to open physical workplaces. Chances are, we only need to ask what will help most.
Are you the type who believes subordinates must be constantly monitored? Thomas suggest managers who have the outdated bias that employees must be supervised in order to be productive should have a skill update (p. 100). Again, much of this is mindset. Part of that challenge is leaving behind notions about what constitutes productivity -- such as constant availability, face time at the office, and even a certain pride in working at a relentless pace (p. 107).
As leaders, continuous vigilance for distractions is required. Professor Gloria Mark and the University of California, Irvine has conducted research that shows the costs of distractions (pp. 109 - 110).
A great antidote: create a culture with intention. Think of Jim Collins' references to alignment. These steps can help (pp. 112 -113):
• Identify misalignment between your culture and your stated beliefs.
• Set policies and best practices
• Get the word out and model the behaviors you want to see
• Equip workers with the skills they need to succeed in the world of work without walls
An additional benefit: What might be less obvious is that these same issues that influence productivity also influence happiness (p. 117).
Thomas asks us to include #workwithoutwalls and/or @mnthomas or otherwise tag her to stay connected and share. She also includes a great section on "Access Economy" Companies, plus further reading and terrific apps, tools, and other resources in appendices at end of book.
Note: Maura Nevel Thomas generously provided a copy of her book for review.
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.
• 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.
Influence & Insight | March 2018
Leadership Story | Leaders Make Time
It’s pop quiz time again. What are the four most dangerous words in a leader’s vocabulary?
“I don’t have time.”
Let’s do a quick self-evaluation: When is the last time you said that to yourself, or, even worse, when was the last time you told that to someone you are responsible for? What are we really telling someone when we communicate that, directly or indirectly?
I don’t have time to listen to you, to coach you, or to take an interest in your life. Gee, why do we have a turnover problem in the company?
I don’t have time to slow down, breath, and express daily gratitude. Gee, maybe that’s why I’m taking all these over the counter pills and ignoring annual medical checkups.
I don’t have time for training and development of anyone on my team, nor myself. Gee, nobody seems engaged around here and we don’t really know or care about each other.
Priorities lead to clarity. Share your priorities. Learn to say no to the many distractions we encounter daily. Leaders make time.
Conscious Communications | Book Review
The choices that you make will shape your life forever (p.85).
Mary Shores' introspective personal journey mirrors the adult learning model, particularly self-evaluation, reflection, observation, and identifying what she learned to do differently utilizing an action plan. On pages 197-199, an action plan exercise form allows summary capture of all the numerous exercises thoughtfully inserted throughout the work.
Like an awakened participant in an Academy Leadership Excellence Course, Shores has learned the power of journaling: "I truly believe the intimacy of writing to yourself is the best way to examine your own thoughts and actions" (p. 2).
Derived from her experience as a young company president, Conscious Communications is a simple yet powerful process that consists of eliminating negative language, using words that work, and focusing on what you really want (p. 4). Or put another way, Conscious Communications a model application of Shores' Personal Leadership Philosophy. The significance of this practice is backed up by many neuroscientists [who] have determined that most of our thoughts on any given day are the exact same as the day before (p. 5).
Many of us score poorly when evaluating how we use our time, especially when we have not established our genuine High Payoff Activities (HPAs). Shores' applies a similar 80/20 rule called Will this cleanse me or clog me? (p. 6), enabling the required focus necessary for improved outcomes based on actively changing our thoughts.
Five type of expressions (p. 7): Self-talk, spoken words, affirmations, goals and gratitude form the heart of Conscious Communications, with emphasis on gratitude - implying we have voluntarily made a choice to focus on the good we have (p. 8).
Getting Started | Cleanse or Clog
Conscious Communication is not possible without first identifying our own cleansing activities. Several favorites from Shores list include (pp. 118 - 123):
• Exercising Frequently consuming over-the counter pills
• Exceeding expectations Having a consistently negative attitude
• Honoring the other Failing to acknowledge efforts to improve or
person's dreams or goals change
• Writing in your journal Sacrificing your need to have personal time
• Knowing and living Engaging in gossip or lashon hara
in your purpose
These habits may take time to form. Health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally found that establishing a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, but generally takes 66 days to fully form (p. 28). Shores' cleansing habits fostered deep questions:
I asked myself questions about my purpose, about where I was
supposed to be, what I should do, and where I should go (p. 15).
Learning to Know Yourself
Shores learned that when we begin choosing to see life through our own personal [leadership] philosophy (p. 16), we then truly begin to know ourselves. Positive and powerful experiences are then likely to occur. An example is seeing the connection between our brain and our environment -- experiencing a synchronicity -- or, according to Carl Jung, a meaningful coincidence (pp. 20-21). Even Harvard Medical School has published studies on gratitude, and in 2011 reported that "gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness" (p. 29).
We can change our personal story. As in Crucial Conversations , Shores asks us to re-create our stories, avoiding feeling stuck in our own victimhood (p. 37), via three steps (p. 44):
• Stop hitting the play button on your repetitive, tragic stories
• Loosen your grip on the traumatic emotional injuries of your past
• Tell a new story
Are we too late as professional adults to do this? Sharon Begley, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, wrote that the brain retains the capability to change in response to experiences at any age (p. 49). Or, as Shores concludes, when you change your internal beliefs to align with your conscious desires, you will begin to value yourself more (p. 55). This is a perfect example of truly living within an individual leadership philosophy.
In an Academy Leadership Setting Leadership Priorities workshop, the word appearance is included in the definition of urgent. It sure seems that many things we initially believe are urgent, are actually not. Perhaps this is because the most fascinating part of the fight-or-flight system is that it cannot determine whether a threat is real or perceived (p. 60). Developing a habit of detecting false urgency and curtailing reaction to such events is a critical energy saver. Additionally, Shores offers tips to keep one's nervous system balanced (pp. 63-64):
• Control your sensory input
• Do things to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system
• Avoid talking on your cell phone on the way home
• Surround yourself with positivity
• Properly nourish your body
• Get a full night's sleep
• Adopt a vitamin regimen
• Do your research
Holistic physical health is key. In his 2011 study, gastroenterologist and UCLA professor Dr. Emeran Mayer stated that the gut-brain connection likely affects motivation, higher cognitive functions, and intuitive decision making (p. 73).
Application | Making Conscious Choices
Now we are set up to make better choices. The more [we] use [our] nervous system to make a decision, the more power there will be behind [our] everyday choices (p. 89). Or, think about how our leadership philosophy may inform our decisions, and how aligned and powerful they may become.
Shores advises focus on the now (p. 91):
• What do I really want?
• What do I want right now, and what do I want in the long run?
• Are the two matched up, or in alignment?
Recall, Shores had originally turned to implementing Conscious Communications for two main reasons: 1) because people wouldn't budge to pay their debts, and 2) my staff needed to succeed at their jobs in order to want to do good work and keep coming to the office (p. 131). But the process became much more.
Like Dr. Brené Brown in Daring Greatly, Shores identifies the scarcity myth as an issue. It's natural to want to talk about what's not working, as it doesn't take much imagination (p. 143). This may require a mindset change, especially given our currently selected job or career. Shores found herself asking:
Again, it is all about knowing who we are, sharing who we are, and becoming an authentic person and leader. Shores offers a good list of self-exploration questions on page 153 including "What movies inspire you?" and "What causes do you find yourself drawn to?"
A few more questions to ask yourself (p. 157):
• If I were someone other than who I think I am, who would that be?
• If I could be anyone, who would I be?
• If I were not being others (including society) prescribed, who would I be?
• Am I sacrificing my end-result goals for short-term satisfaction?
• What would I change my name to if I could?
This self-knowledge leads to additional benefits, such as decluttering our minds. Bravo.
When We Live Our Leadership Philosophy
Eventually, Shores awoke to her consciousness, sensing an invisible connective thread (p. 170). It sounds similar to Buckminster Fuller's description of people ultimately as pattern integrities. Likewise, it reminds us of Dr. Larry Arnn's often mentioned assertions that our human capacity for speech sets us apart from other species in so many ways.
• Negative and disempowering affirmations
• Releasing statements
• I am statements
• Asking statements
• Gratitude statements
This allows us to immerse ourselves in the life [we] want to create through deliberately aligned speech (p. 175).
In the end:
Our words are an act of creation (p. 173).
Note: Mary Shores generously provided a copy of her book for review.
Coaching Story | Coaches Share Vision & Purpose
Two recent client exchanges are worth sharing. The first was a visit to Tesla’s Gigafactory site in Nevada, the second a series of conversations with a director at a major health care consortium.
Both on the drive to the Gigafactory site with a client and as a passenger on numerous Uber trips in Reno, discussion about the local area centered on the tectonic transformation occurring in the Reno/Sparks area. Viewing the corporate infrastructure footprint of not just Tesla, but other companies such as Amazon, Apple and Switch makes one think of the vision leading to this transformation.
On the other hand, my discussion with the health care director focused almost exclusively on the process of implementing a single Project Portfolio Management software tool. Interestingly, the director mentioned concerns about internal survey scores and how to compete for talent in the Silicon Valley area. Not a word about improved lives through healthcare or any mention of people.
Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao’s book Scaling Up Excellence came to mind, especially chapter three which focuses on finding the “hot cause,” or overarching purpose that must be driven through an organization. Not just words on a poster in the lobby, but relentlessly demonstrated as the core mission and even better aligned with a one’s Personal Leadership Philosophy.
Think about that. How well and how frequently do you communicate the big picture rather than the immediate project at hand to your team? Coaches share vision and purpose.
Influence & Insight | February 2018
Leadership Story | Leaders Manage Energy
Have you ever wondered why some days are exhausting and some days seem magically energizing? There’s no shortage of management and efficiency books and exercises offering advice how we may manage our time better. However, like the best athletes, the most effective leaders focus on energy levels, not time.
In Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s marvelous book, The Power of Full Engagement, two paradigms are compared. In the old paradigm we:
Life is a marathon
Downtime is wasted time
Rewards fuel performance
The power of positive thinking
Were you brought up that way? Many of us were. By studying top athletes, the authors found a new paradigm, where we now:
Life is a series of sprints
Downtime is productive time
Purpose fuels performance
The power of full engagement
Think of lions in the wild. They spend most of their time resting, until it is time to hunt. Then it’s all out until a successful kill. As leaders we should always focus our energy in a positive way, between relaxed or tranquil states and invigorated or challenged states. We should avoid negative energy, since it is wasted. Think about it. Leaders manage energy.
Live What You Love | Book Review
"Living a purposeful life is about energy. And there's nowhere
better to start than your physical well-being." (p. 350)
Naomi Simson's personal journey & well-referenced book models passion-based or next-generation leadership. Her story offers sharp contrast with a typical, low-energy lifestyle and informs how we may discover what we want to do most leading to a more fulfilling life. This review ties Simson's 4 P's (Passion, Persistence, Positivity and Purpose) to a recommended leadership path.
Identifying personal dreams and goals (both our own and others) is a central part of the Leadership Excellence Course Goal Setting workshop. Simson tells us it might take some exploration to discover (p. 8) our inner spirit. If we're overbooked, or repeatedly chasing shiny things, this won't happen. Simson realized when everything was urgent (pp. 9-10), nothing is important and she missed connecting with her children as a result. Ouch.
We know what it looks like, afterward, when someone has aligned purpose with joy. Simson asks why are entrepreneurs so revered. It's not magic, and it's not just risk taking, it's about becoming real:
"If you're not being real, you're not going to attract the
kinds of people around you who will support your passion." (p. 34).
One of the key ways to build an organization Simson cites is identifying shared values (p. 35), similar to our focus in Core Values Alignment workshops. This approach allowed her to target five ways (p. 63) to well-being (from the New Economics Foundation):
1. Connect to the people around you -- be present.
2. Be active -- go for a walk, play a game.
3. Take notice -- be curious about what goes on around you.
4. Keep learning -- try something new.
5. Give -- do something nice for a friend or a stranger.
• 31 per cent more productive.
• 40 per cent more likely to receive a promotion.
• less absent, with 23 per cent fewer fatigue symptoms.
• up to ten per cent more engaged at work.
• able to sell more -- happy sales people produce 37 per cent greater sales.
Simson hints at her own Personal Leadership Philosophy by asking "Do you know what you stand for? (p. 109). When we do articulate that, it allows for a consistency between both the team and the leaders, in turn, creating trust for the brand (p. 111).
"Resilience and persistence are the game changers.
They give you the strength to live a powerful life instead
of playing small and being plagued by insecurities" (p. 145).
Over time, those we coach and develop will tell others more about us than any other factor. Simson agrees: Being a leader is not about yourself or your profile -- it's about the legacy that you create (p. 135). She wasn't (me neither) always like this (p. 122): "I had always been pushy -- often at the expense of not knowing the impact it was having on the people around."
Guess what? When we are focused on helping others grow, we'll likewise want to improve ourselves. Like Anders Ericsson's definition of deliberate practice, Simson describes Luciano Pavarotti's approach (p. 175) to singing: "I concentrated on doing better than I had the day before and stopped worrying."
Most of us have hang ups we must overcome before living this way. Simson lists Five Famous Fears (p. 178):
• Missing out
Both the entrepreneur and leader feel these insecurities, but move ahead anyway. Or as Simson mentions, whatever you practice is what you become good at (p. 186).
Simson courageously admits her prior self-centered focus (p. 203): "In my earlier years as a business leader what I lacked was the ability to include others." Now she looks to Jeff Haden's list of what makes a great boss (p. 207):
1. They believe in the unbelievable
2. They see opportunity in instability and uncertainty
3. They wear their emotions on their sleeves
4. They protect others from the bus
5. They've been there, done that ... and still do that
6. They lead by permission, not authority
7. They embrace a larger purpose
8. They take real, not fake risks
At its core, Simson finds that leadership is about positivity, authenticity and connection (p. 232). What kind of environment do we create when leading this way? Let's look at ten traits positive people have in common (pp. 254-257):
• They feel great
• They live longer
• They are healthier
• They keep going
• They are in relationships
• They have deeper conversations
• They look for good
• They spread positivity
• They are productive
• They are lucky
Compare a work (and life) environment with these attributes vs. the typical disengaged organization. This is the result when we align work with passion.
Simson references Oprah Winfrey, perhaps channeling Maslow (p. 298): "The key to realising a dream is to focus not on success but on significance." The following Venn diagram shows the intersection we should seek:
As with Simson, it may take some time to intersect all four areas. But when we do:
"Living your purpose will mean you experience
life at a whole new level. You will thrive,
flourish or excel. Your context will change
and so will your view of the world." (p. 297)
Keep in mind, it is never the business which creates the purpose (p. 313). In her book (p. 330) The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown describes belonging as, 'the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.' First, establish the purpose; Second, start the business; and third (p. 331): "It is important to hire people who are aligned with the company's purpose."
Simson's journey to leadership started with a sense of purpose (p. 364). So can yours. She invites us to contact her via her blog naomisimson.com.
Note: Naomi Simson generously provided a copy of her book for review.
Coaching Story | Coaching Means Connecting
How well do you connect with others? Do your subordinates and team perform as well as you would like? Have you thought about how you might improve your communication skills and raise your game?
Christine Comaford, author of Smart Tribes, mentions five types of communication in her Clarity of Intentions and Energy section — Information sharing, requests, promises, sharing of oneself and debating, decision-making or point proving.
Pop quiz time. Only two of these five types of communication actually drive results. Which two do you think they are? Just two. Hint: It’s not point proving.
According to Comaford, only requests and promises actually drive results. It sounds very simple, but it’s powerfully clarifying.
Ever been in a meeting where only information sharing occurred, a one-way broadcast that never led to anything? We all have. Without specific requests and subsequent promises or commitments, what is there to be accountable for?
Keep in mind requests and promises the next time you compose an email, talk on the phone, attend a meeting, or especially, delegate to a team member. Make it a new habit. Coaching means connecting.
Influence & Insight | January 2018
Leadership Story | Leaders Set Expectations
During the second of three coaching sessions following an Academy Leadership Excellence Course, a client in a highly technical profession critical to national defense shared an uncomfortable decision made since our first coaching call. Turns out the client fired a team member, who was described in our initial discussion as a “challenge employee.” Chances are you may have a similar term for someone at your workplace.
While sharing the history leading to this event, the client revealed that performance issues were allowed to fester. Because substandard performance was tolerated, others team members were eventually asked to backfill work not being completed. Toward the end, the client attempted to highlight the mission critical nature of the work, but in the end it was too little too late.
This is one of many typical situations a Personal Leadership Philosophy is meant to preemptively address. Recall, an effective Personal Leadership Philosophy includes:
What leadership means to each of us
Our personal values
Commitment to receive feedback for our own growth as a leader
This was a powerful coaching session. The client realized expectations were not properly set and agreed-upon at the time of hiring, and ultimately the entire team was affected. While priorities were eventually communicated, recovery was no longer practical. Rather than point fingers or make excuses, the client realized a leadership responsibility had been missed. He is now actively sharing his leadership philosophy, and has already received positive feedback afterward.
Does this story sound familiar? It probably does. Remember, our leadership philosophy allows for continuously improving individual, team and organizational performance. Leaders set expectations.
drop the ball | Book Review
"Martin, I've been bringing my clothes to you for nearly two years now.
How come you never told me you guys deliver?"
"You never asked?" (p. 102)
Tiffany Dufu, rather personally, shares with us the ultimate manager/leader struggle in the form of a personal memoir. If you've ever had trouble delegating anything, especially at home, you'll relate to her story.
Dufu recalls: "I had grown up being told I could do anything I put my mind to, and as I got dressed that first morning back, I couldn't imagine I'd have to compromise on anything: career, marriage, raising a family, keeping our home life running smoothly while advancing the cause of women and girls (p. 2)." How many of us have entered the workplace, accepted a promotion or volunteered to do more with that mindset? There's a good chance, as Dufu found out, our idealism may be shattered on day one.
One of the Dufu's observations is that the professional world assumes that every full-time employee has someone else managing his or her home (pp. 4-5). In her case, where this was not happening, she (and in particular many women)
... end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted,
and sick than any previous generation of women (p. 6).
This review highlights key inflection points along Dufu's journey from manager to leader, including several takeaways which comprise her developing leadership philosophy.
Part I | Omnimanager | Omniwoman
Dufu's begins by setting up the environmental circumstances forging her fierce self-reliance: My parents broke a vicious cycle of poverty, substance abuse, and violence in one generation, and in the process, they taught me a fundamental truth: if you want something you've never had before, you'll have to do something you've never done before in order to get it (p. 17). She also relates how fragile this can be, as her parents divorced, and shares her mother's struggles afterward.
Dufu struggled to maintain control of her household -- fueled in part by a reluctance to abdicate responsibility to the one place female authority is unquestioned (p. 59) -- while succeeding as a professional. Recall in our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop self-evaluation, many of our scores plummeted because we likewise overburden ourselves rather than delegate or develop others.
"I don't mean to say that she'll be the one to do everything --
just that she'll make sure that most everything gets done."
Serious self-reflection was in order: "Professionally and publicly, I was an advocate for women's empowerment, but privately I was on Stepford wife (p. 36) autopilot." In our Setting Leadership Priorities workshops, we define effective as doing the right thing and in order of priority. Dufu essentially admits she had not learned to delegate or prioritize. Her problem was that she had fallen into a trap of imaginary delegation (p. 45). It's a great term. Think about what we signal to others when we are perfectionists -- that there is only one correct way to do anything -- who in their right mind will volunteer to help us out?
Dufu candidly defines her perfectionism as Home Control Disease (HCD), and it appears her case was not mild. She shares...
... many women still focus obsessively on everything about it [the home] -- how it's organized, how it's managed, and how the cooking, cleaning and caretaking get done, right down to the smallest detail (p. 53).
Part II | High Payoff Activities (HPAs) | Priorities
For Dufu, candid feedback from her Sage Mentor Margaret Crenshaw was invaluable: "You've got to slow down and prioritize (p. 82). You can't do everything. What do you really want?" This reinforces how essential feedback is and why requesting feedback informs a well-written Leadership Philosophy.
Similar to Dan Pink's correlation between motivation and purpose, Dufu cites Joanna Barsh's (In How Remarkable Women Lead) writing about the critical role that meaning plays in the success of women (p. 83). She and her husband Kojo adopted a different mindset:
... instead of waiting for life to happen to us or for someone to tell us what to do,
our marriage would be its own blueprint (p. 90).
In short, Dufu adopted an active rather than passive mindset. Instead of focusing on being perfectly busy, she now understood what you do is less important than the difference you make (p. 94). She then examined eight items on my [her] original to-do list, and found that only one of them was critical for me [her] to complete myself [herself] in order to accomplish what mattered most to me [her] (p. 96). Bravo!
The D Word | Live Your HPAs
Dufu tried a delegation experiment - she ignored the mail, allowing it to pile up until husband Kojo took notice. Eventually, and for the first time, he really saw the mail, and felt the desire for it to disappear (p. 116). The takeaway: "Kojo had a threshold for disarray at home -- (p. 117) his tolerance was just way higher than mine."
This led to a series of task requests and commitments (think Christine Comaford's Smart Tribes) leading to a (p. 126) Management Excel List (MEL). The MEL didn't just divide tasks between the couple since they both prioritized making a difference in life. "The most interesting part of our MEL exercise (p. 127) was deciding which X's should go in the No one column." It's a fantastic example of genuinely deciding how to live according to one's HPA's.
Who then to delegate to? Dufu tapped into a blend of personal and professional networks, in a way describing a family contract (pp. 142-149), or in her case a village including five groups of people:
• Family members
• Nonpaid Working Moms
On The Other Side | Leadership
Now managing her HCD, Dufu accepts that in every home, there are leaky faucets: "It's time to take a page from Princess Elsa of Frozen (p. 154) and simply let it go." This new understanding allowed formation of a leadership mindset, and likewise revealed examples of self-limiting behaviors:
• Women become less eager to speak their minds, and their companies are denied their potentially valuable contributions (p. 171).
• Women are concerned that being highly talkative will result in negative consequences (p. 171).
• "Done is better than perfect" (p. 166).
• Gratitude is a particularly powerful form of affirmation because it enables value -- and everyone wants to be valued (p. 175).
Dufu's leadership mindset also applied to home life: The more capable I assumed he [Kojo] was at home, the more energy I was able to direct outside the home, and the less time I wasted worrying about how well the kids were being taken care of when I wasn't there (p. 181). This refreshing perspective contrasts many messages we receive daily as described in Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be. The authors (p. 184) Ross Parke and Armin Brott discuss framing or male stereotypes in the media, and the three messages we need to retire (pp. 189-192):
• "He can't manage the details"
• "He isn't here."
• "He doesn't know what best for our children"
Now in an authentic leader role, Dufu becomes more aware of her energy, rather than managing to-do list. She describes three happiness hurdles (pp. 192-202):
• Break free of guilt
• Respect our boundaries
• Develop Happiness Habits
and four Go-Tos most effective when integrated into our daily routines (p. 225):
• Going to exercise (building your stamina)
• Going to lunch (building your network)
• Going to events (building your visibility)
• Going to sleep (building your renewal)
Notice how Dufu has now integrated leadership, happiness and energy. That's authentic. Instead of striving to meet unrealistic (see Daring Greatly) expectations and hustle for "likes," we can refocus energy on what matters most to us -- as any insecurities we might experience are being spurred by an incomplete picture to begin with (p. 242)."
The final summary:
Loving ourselves as imperfect is
the prerequisite to Dropping the Ball (p. 245).
Note: Tiffany Dufu generously provided a copy of her book for review.
Coaching Story | Leadership Means Connecting
In a recent coaching session following an Academy Leadership Excellence Course, a client in the construction industry shared his action plan progress. One of his documented leadership lessons was: “I have no idea if the people on my team are motivated and need to get to know them better through some motivation assessments that will allow me to understand them better.”
The client then described a particular “sit down session” with a staff member who had been working in the office as a Project Engineer. The Project Engineer had not been very effective in this role working in an administrative setting. So the engineer was moved into a superintendent role working in the field.
The client immediately noticed several things: One, that his new superintendent is a really good speaker. And very intelligent. The client could readily foresee a senior superintendent development path including greatly improving project interviews among other responsibilities. The superintendent told the client “This was the first time anyone ever sat down with me and asked what I wanted to do.”
Ponder that. The now highly effective and motivated superintendent has been in the general contractor business for about 15 years, and perhaps 20-25 years when including prior carpenter work. Imagine what can be done with periodic 90 minute “sit down,” or performance coaching sessions with everyone on your team. Leadership means connecting.