Posts Tagged ‘tips’

4 Ways to Set Your People Free

September 19, 2011 7 comments

Freedom Leadership

I was 21 years old the first time I handed my passport to an armed guard at a checkpoint and entered what the UN calls an Occupied Territory. It was the summer of ’95 and I was driving into the Gaza Strip.

Over the next few weeks, oppression and I became good friends.

Old Kahlid, after treating me to lunch in his house made from scrap and rubble, showed me the deed for his home in Tel Aviv—a document that meant nothing the day the soldiers came and forced him out. Yet he still clings to it.

8-year-old Mohammed, a bright, young soccer player, reminded me of myself at his age. Except, of course, I had just completed my engineering degree and was 6,000 miles from home while he was prohibited from studying engineering or traveling more than 30 miles from where he was born.

Last week I shared my 3 core values as a leader, the first of which is Freedom. I believe it’s my job to free people & organizations to be their best. My experiences in Gaza kindled my hatred of oppression as well as my passion for helping set others free.

What I’ve learned since then: You don’t have to go to Gaza to find oppressed people. They’re everywhere. Sometimes the oppression is on the surface, other times the shackles are deep inside.

Here are 4 types of freedom you can fight for in those you lead. As you go down the list, the oppression grows stronger, but the potential freedom grows more powerful as well.

1. Physical Freedom. Are your followers free to work where, when and how they want? Do they have a degree of autonomy that corresponds to their abilities and responsibility?

2. Intellectual Freedom. Do your constituents have permission to think outside the conventional way of doing things? Are you encouraging them to stretch themselves mentally?

3. Emotional Freedom. Are those you lead comfortable telling you how they really feel? Are they operating free of fear, listening to their intuition, and managing their emotions well?

4. Spiritual Freedom. Do they see and believe the truth about themselves, their leaders, and their organization—or are they bound up by lies? Do they have hope? Can they see a better future?

We were made to be free. And the more you free someone, the more alive they become. Which, by the way, is exactly what our organization needs!

Have you ever been set free by a leader? How do you set your people free?

How to Prepare for Poor Communication

August 23, 2011 1 comment

Leader Development

Last week I visited the Pea Ridge National Military Park where 26,000 soldiers fought to decide the fate of Missouri during the Civil War. The park is the most intact Civil War Battlefield in the country—if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’ve toured quite a few battlefields and I’m amazed at how many times poor communication is cited as one of the contributing factors to a defeat. Pea Ridge is no exception.

Usually, I respond with a renewed appreciation for the importance of good communication, but last week I gleaned a new insight from this reoccurring theme.

I realized that poor communication is inevitable—in spite of all of the books, blogs, and classes. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the power of communicating well as a leader. I’m just saying that even when you’ve done everything you can, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and missed messages will still plague your projects.

So, if some degree of poor communication is unavoidable, how do you prepare for it? Here are five ways to create a team that can operate effectively in the fog of war:

1. Start with Clarity. The inevitability of poor communication is no excuse for poor communication on your part. Just as in a game of telephone—where you know your original message will be mangled along the way—your best bet is to start with clear and simple statements. Do everything in your power to help others understand; make it difficult for them to go astray.

2. Train your People. The purpose of training is to give people the skills they need to act independently with confidence. As part of your training, practice performing in an environment where communication is garbled or non-existent. If your people learn to perform in an environment of simulated ambiguity, they’ll be much better prepared for the real world.

3. Foster Initiative. It isn’t enough to give people confidence in their own abilities, you must also give them permission to use them. You must encourage and reward their choice to act on their own. Only then will your people be effective in situations where orders are unclear and rapid decisions are required.

4. Encourage Positive Assumptions. In organizations where people are well-trained and initiative is cultivated, people know what to expect from their counterparts. Encouraging your team to assume positive intent with each other can serve to quickly mitigate any negative emotions ignited by unclear or incomplete communications.

5. Decentralize your Execution. Finally, after issuing clear guidance, equipping your people, encouraging initiative and reinforcing positive intent, you can release central control of operations and delegate decision-making down to the lowest level. This creates an agile and responsive organization that can quickly outmaneuver the competition to gain the advantage.

How do you prepare for poor communication?

The Power of Listening

July 27, 2011 9 comments

listen leadershipHave you ever had someone really listen to you? I mean stop what they’re doing, drop everything, and listen…to you? Remember how that made you feel?

I’ve asked that question to hundreds of people and I’m amazed at the responses I get. Here are just a few:

valued important trusted free
strong alive cared for empowered
confident brave smart meaningful

Wow. Imagine if you could create those effects in the people you’re trying to lead. Impossible? Beyond your capability? Hardly.

Every human being has the power to engender these emotions in others. Every human being can listen. It’s not always easy—there are thousands of things vying for your attention—but the ability is there. Here are a couple fundamental things you can do to become a better listener:

1. See. Before you can listen to someone you have to know they’re there. Not just their physical form as you walk by them, but the full weight of who they are and what they’re going through and what they have to offer. The first step to listening is truly seeing the people around you.

Try This: Instead of thinking of your day as a series of tasks you need to complete (as you probably already have), reframe your day by planning it out by the people you will encounter—family members, friends, bus drivers, waiters, bosses, clients, etc. Then spend the rest of your day looking for them.

2. Focus. At any given moment, your default focus is zeroed in on one person: Yourself. Nothing wrong with that, it just is. But if you’re going to lead others effectively, you must transfer your focus to others. Unless you feel safe with someone or find them fascinating, you must consciously choose to shift your focus to the other person.

Try This: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes as they speak, imagine the world from their perspective, hang on each word like they were the most important person in the world. Banish any hint of self while you listen—don’t worry about your point of view, your opinion or what you’re going to say next. Focus on experiencing what they’re sharing.

Listening is one of the easiest and most difficult things we can do. However, I can’t think of anything that has a more profound effect on people.

Have you ever had someone truly listen to you? How did it make you feel?

How to Neutralize your Bias

July 22, 2011 1 comment

leading awarenessYesterday we began a conversation about John Adair’s Action-centered leadership model which states that, as a leader, you have three core responsibilities:

  • Achieve your Task
  • Build your Team
  • Develop your Individuals

I said I had two insights to share that I believe will help you use Adair’s model to become a more successful leader. The first was that the three areas are interrelated. The second is:

You have a bias toward one area

Depending on your personality and preferences, you’ll naturally gravitate toward one circle more than others. We all have a default.

For example, I know I have a tendency to focus on the needs of individuals over anything else. However, others are so concerned with their task, they lose sight of team and individual needs. Still others (like Michael Scott from The Office) are so preoccupied with team building they don’t seem to care about individuals and rarely focus on the task at hand.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a default. Problems only arise when you don’t realize or acknowledge your personal preference and as a result you begin to neglect other circles.

Once you realize which of these three circles is “downhill” for you, you can leverage that information to become a more balanced leader. Develop and implement measures to ensure you don’t get tunnel vision. Here are a few ideas:

  • Begin projects, meetings, and reviews with your least preferred circle—you’ll always find the time and energy to work on what you prefer.
  • Find, appoint, and authorize a watchdog (someone who prefers a circle you don’t) to sound an alarm when you begin to neglect your less-preferred circles.
  • Create an accountability system whereby you review the three circles at the end of each day or week to assess how you’re leading in each area.

Which circle do you prefer to work in? How do you ensure a balanced approach?

How to Keep your Organization Flying High

July 21, 2011 4 comments

adair 3 circles

John Adair developed Action-centered leadership over forty years ago while teaching at Sandhurst. His theory—one of the simplest and most memorable—states that as a leader, you have three core responsibilities:

  • Achieve your Task
  • Build your Team
  • Develop your Individuals

The theory has passed the test of time and sure enough, if you succeed in each of these areas, you’ll no doubt succeed as a leader. However, I’d offer two insights that I believe will make success much more probable. I’ll cover one today and one tomorrow. The first is:

The 3 areas are interrelated

Managing these three areas is like flying a helicopter. To move a helicopter you nudge the cyclic control in the direction you want to go. This causes the rotor disc to tilt in that direction and the aircraft follows. Pretty simple, right?

Not so fast. You see, the thrust that is now moving the helicopter was siphoned off the thrust that was keeping the helicopter up in the air—so to keep from falling you must pull up on the collective control, increasing the main rotor’s power. Increasing power, however, increases the torque on the fuselage, causing the aircraft to spin—so you must add a little left pedal to raise the output of the tail rotor.

Adair’s three areas are just as interrelated as the controls of a helicopter. You can’t mess with any one area without affecting the other two. How you achieve your task has an effect on teamwork, which directly influences each individual. Likewise dealing with an individual or focusing on the team will have positive and negative consequences in the other areas.

Nothing is done in isolation. If you favor one or two areas and don’t account for the effects you’re generating in the neglected area or areas, your organization will spin out of control.

Just as helicopter pilots understand the relationship between their various controls, so leaders must understand the interdependencies of individuals, tasks, and teams. Understanding their relationships will allow you to anticipate needs, make swifter, smarter decisions, and—in the end—keep you from crashing your organization into the ground!

How are you at managing the interdependent needs of the team, the task, and the individual?

7 Tips for Leading Top Performers

June 28, 2011 3 comments

leadership motivation25 years ago the best employees set their sights on the gold watch, a comfortable retirement, maybe a house in Florida.

Things have changed.

In today’s free-agent economy, top performers are building their personal brand, pursuing multiple careers, and choosing great opportunities over company loyalty.

So how do you create a culture where the thought of leaving is laughable? How do you establish an environment where the very best can thrive? Here are seven ways to lead the best of the best:

1. Keep your ego in check. Sometimes, your best performers are better than you. This is a good thing! Don’t let your pride get in the way of serving the best interests of your organization. Find a way to help them release their potential. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.

2. Give them your time. It’s said leaders spend 80% of their time with the bottom 20% of their performers. Well, stop it. Deal with or eliminate the bottom 20%. Regardless, give your top performers the time, attention, recognition, development, and resources they need. Pour your capital into the investments that are working!

3. Let them run. Let them run fast. Give them responsibility, authority, flexibility and autonomy. Listen to their ideas. Establish clear, mutually agreed upon boundaries and then give them the freedom to exceed your expectations.

4. Don’t let them be unevenly yoked. Don’t rely on your top performers to continually pull the weight of slower members of your team. Yes, it’s important that their values and goals are integrated with the rest of the team and yes, they’ll pitch in to help when needed. But don’t make that the rule. Don’t shackle them to people who can’t keep up with them.

5. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t think for a second that just because someone is good that they know they’re good. As long as you’re honest, you can never go wrong giving sincere positive feedback.

6. Talk to them about their dreams. Expect them to want bigger things. Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? Helping them work toward their personal goals will bind them to you and your team all the more.

7. Let them go when it’s time. Protegés get promoted. Kids leave for college. Star players move up to the next league. Don’t hold them back. You’ve got a limited amount of time—use it to develop your top performers into solid leaders. They’ll move on, but their gratitude and loyalty will remain.

Keep these seven tips in mind and you’ll keep your best performers happy—not to mention become a magnet for top talent in your organization, if not your entire industry.

What tips do you have for leading top performers?

Watch Your Words

June 20, 2011 7 comments

leadership communicationYou need to be careful what you say as a leader.

I remember a Beetle Bailey comic strip from years ago that begins with General Halftrack standing atop a cliff watching the sun go down. He remarks to his aide, “What a beautiful sunset. I hope the troops are enjoying it.” His aide immediately runs off. In the final frame, unknown to the General who is still soaking in the view, every soldier on Camp Swampy has been mustered to stand in formation and watch the sunset.

I saw the same thing happen recently in a corporate team. A leader mentioned an idea in passing—just thinking out loud—and it was taken as a directive, so much so that resources were diverted from the team’s main effort to satisfy what turned out to be a fleeting thought.

Many leaders don’t realize the frustration they can cause with a few idle words. Here are three things you can do to prevent well-meaning staff members from going overboard:

1. Communicate clearly what your priorities are. Be overt about it. Tell people specifically what their main effort should be. No one should have to assume or infer anything.

2. Think about how others might misinterpret your words. Put yourself in their shoes, then clarify as necessary. Telling others what you don’t mean is just as useful as telling them what you do mean.

3. Train others to listen for and learn your intent. If they can understand that, then they’ll be armed to take initiative and make smart decisions without you.

Use these three tips wisely and you’ll avoid suffering the resentment of your team over something you never intended in the first place.