Your Leadership Style + Your Company Culture – Is There a Disconnect?

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Carrot and stick.  And so goes the age-old debate of how to achieve great business results.  Do you shower your employees with accolades and pats on the back?  Or do you focus on the consequences for under performance?  Is your tone one of optimism and assumed-success?  Or is your temperament such that you lead with a, “if we fail” mentality?

There are as many different leadership styles as there are leaders.  Our styles are born from our life experiences from childhood, up to and including, the role we currently occupy.  How you were raised is as important as how you were managed in the first several years of your career.  Most experts agree that the “formative years” for a child occur in their first 12 years of life.  Likewise, the formative years of someones career is their first 5 years in the workforce.

Human beings are natural-born observers.  We watch.  We absorb.  We learn.  We take what we learn and begin to construct potential outcomes for the scenarios we encounter later in life.  Like, cause-and-effect, we begin to build a mental inventory of outcomes based upon actions and reactions.  We learn how to alter outcomes by changing our actions or behaviors.  Yet we all learn in different ways.  Two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different views or perceptions of that event.  And herein lies the formula for how our leadership styles evolve.

Are you a positive motivator or negative?  How do you know?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you work in your office all day with the door closed?
  2. When was the last time you sent a communication to recognize a team member?
  3. How often do you walk around the office making eye contact, saying hello, and simply engaging people?
  4. How many people on your team do you rate as a top performer, and if so, when was the last time you told them how much you appreciated them?
  5. Are you losing more than 20% of your employees each year?
  6. Do you hold regular team meetings or even informal get-togethers?
  7. Do you consistently meet, or miss, your numbers?

How you answered these questions may be an indication of your style of leadership.  On the other hand it may also be a reflection of the culture within your workplace.  Either way it’s worth your time to evaluate.  Why?  Because there are several reasons to have a true understanding of your personal style and that of the culture in which you work.  If you genuinely want to build lasting value – for your company or your client – the first step has to be the development of relationships.  In the absence of trusting relationships a company will not be able to experience sustained growth, and nor will you.

According to an article published earlier this year by Forbes, the number one reason people left their job was for stability reasons.  People leave when they don’t feel secure.  Insecurity is often the result of a bad manager.  In fact a subsequent article in the Huffington Post Small Business, it cites the number one reason employees quit is “Their boss sucks”.  Micromanagers and poor communicators topped the list of horrible bosses.  The negativity that flowed from these bosses infected the workplace so much so that people run for the doors.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the top 2 causes of stress in the workplace are work overload and people.  The AIS estimates that stress causes American businesses more than $300 billion each year in lost productivity with a major contributor being a negative workplace.  So how can you change it?  First change your behaviors.  Try doing these three things each day:

  1. Walk around the office at least twice a day and say hello to folks.
  2. Work with your door open (if you have an office) when you can.
  3. Look for the good things that are happening and recognize them.

These are all within your control.  If you’re working for a company that has a negative-tone culture you may need to reevaluate what’s most important to you.  Remember, jobs come and go, but your reputation stays with you no matter where you are employed.  Don’t let the dynamics of an organization define who you are and how you act.  If your belief system is in direct conflict with the office culture, you may need to make a change.  Great teams are built by great leaders, and to be a great leader you’ve got to recognize and acknowledge that your people are in fact your biggest asset.   Only by growing your workplace relationships, developing trust, and displaying respect will you be able to develop a high performing team.

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Responsible Leaders Vs. Accountable Leaders. Which would you prefer to follow?

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Who’s responsible?  We’ve all heard that before.   Whether at home or at work, someone is always looking for the person in charge…the one responsible for things.  Who is responsible for this failed project?  Who broke mom’s favorite serving dish?  Who didn’t let the dog out?  Who ordered all these office supplies?  And on, and on, and on.

Whether we’re looking for someone to blame, or someone to recognize and promote, the fact is, we should be looking for the person accountable rather than responsible.  But is there a difference?  You bet there is.

Being responsible simply means you’re the person charged with getting something done.  But if you’re accountable you’re the person who ultimately answers for the outcome of the work done.  If the purchase order placed is wrong, the person who placed the order may have been responsible, but their boss is the one accountable for the result produced by the wrong order being placed.  Likewise if your son was responsible for letting the dog out and in the process the dog bites a neighbor, it is you, the parent who is accountable for that action.

Think of the picture above.  The link in this picture, represented by a twist-tie, has the “responsibility” to connect two ends of the chain.  However, this same link will not be held accountable when the chain breaks given that it’s size, strength, and structure are clearly not the same as the other links.  In the end, accountability lies with the person who attempted to take a short-cut and use a weaker link to hold the entire chain together.

Saying you’re responsible simply means you’ll get something done or taken care of.  It does not in any way provide a stated commitment to the quality of your action or work.  However, to say you are accountable means you’re willing to be held liable for any and all outcomes of the work or action you’ve taken.

It’s no wonder that most people are willing to say they are “responsible” individuals, but few are willing to be held accountable.  This is evident in everyday places from families, to companies, to government.  Often times you hear people say, “Well, I’m not the one responsible”.  What they are saying is, they were not the person who was charged with doing the thing that’s being criticized.  Skirting responsibility is actually quite easy and we see these behaviors daily in news reports.  If someone is truly accountable, and they accept total accountability, they in fact are standing up to say “whatever the outcome is you can blame me or congratulate me…I own it either way.”

Strong leaders take accountability for the results of the team they lead…good or bad.  They don’t hide behind someone else’s lapse of responsibility, but instead stand tall and take the high road.  Being accountable energizes and emboldens them to the work at hand.  Those are the leaders people line up to follow.  Those are the difference makers.

4 Simple Ways To Stay Informed

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Unmanageable.  That’s the word that comes to mind when you think about the volume of information flowing 24/7 at break-neck speeds every day.  Your customers, competitors, employees, and partners, are all struggling with the same challenge.  There is simply too much information to get your arms around.  How do you find the time to reign it all in and still be able to do your job…and live your life?  The secret is technology.

The same vehicle that has created this avalanche of information is also the same vehicle that can help you sort, sift, and manage what’s important to you on a daily basis.  By picking up these apps you can customize the topics you find of interest as well as those topics you need to effectively perform your job.

  1. Zite, Flipboard, Pulse.  These are news apps that you can customize with key words or topics that are of interest to you.  Using those words or phrases these apps go out into the web and search for articles that are a match for the topics you created.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses which are mostly in the eye of the beholder.  Zite uses a lot of white space while Flipboard and Pulse fill the pages with big picture blocks.  Zite and Flipboard allow you to integrate your other social networks while Pulse does not.  For content, Zite is king.  It applies great intelligence as it looks for content it “thinks” you may be interested in based upon your profile.
  2. Google Alerts.  You can create alerts which are sent via “Push” to your desktop, laptop or any smart device.  Setting up alerts for “small business”, or “Apple”, result in a push notification any time Google sees those words used in the news on the internet.  You can set alerts for virtually any topic, company, or person you want to follow.
  3. Twitter.  It’s not enough to have a Twitter account.  To maximize Twitter you need to be following the right Twitter users or “Tweeple“.  Of course “right”, depends 100% on you and your interests.  I personally find great value in following:  Forbes, Hubspot, SiriusDecisions, Harvard Biz Review, CMO.com, and American Express’ Open Forum.  Each of these contributors provides great perspective that is relevant to my interests.
  4. LinkedIn.  Today’s conventional thinking suggests that even college students should establish a LinkedIn profile.  Executives should have at least 500 contacts in their network, as well as membership in at least 6 groups.  There is virtually a LinkedIn group for any topic or interest you may have.  Connecting with the right groups and participating in discussions within those groups will help keep you informed while building your credibility as a thought leader.

Lastly, it is important you set a specific time each day dedicated to your personal “information gathering and education” sessions.  Getting in the habit of setting a set time each day for you to monitor the news that is most important to YOU is another way to control the flow of information and help you stay informed easily and effectively.

7 Traits of a Great Boss. Do you have one?

bad-bossIn the movie Horrible Bosses, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis find themselves working for truly horrible people.  The movie, a fictional story, offers some very funny moments as these 3 employees ponder ways to be rid of their bosses.

Let’s face it we’ve all been there.  We’ve all worked for someone less than honorable, less than respectful, or less than human!  Unfortunately these bosses are everywhere.  Finding a great boss is no easy task.   It starts with you having a clear understanding of what attributes or traits your ideal boss would possess.  If your definition is incomplete, or worse, not formed at all, you will find it nearly impossible to end up with a great boss except by a total stroke of luck.

So what makes a great boss great?  Focus on the 7 traits below as you assess your current boss to decide just how great they are…or aren’t.

  1. Intellect.  I’m not talking about their GPA or MBA.  I’m referring to their ability to absorb information, assimilate it, and apply it to the work at hand.  Are they broad thinkers?  Do they have opinions that they can defend or support with data, healthy debate, or other validation points?
  2. Common Sense.  Does your boss make decisions solely based on data or can he augment his decisions by infusing common sense?  Great bosses (leaders) can look at the data at hand but use common sense to make quality decisions.  I suppose the folks at Coca-Cola had data suggesting people wanted a different tasting Coke which in turn led to the launch of “New Coke“.  It was a colossal failure and one that Coca-Cola had to walk back quickly.   Common sense could have save millions in wasted resources.
  3. Intuition.  What is your bosses background?  Have they been around or is this their first rodeo?  Intuition, unlike instinct, is formed through experience and thoughts as opposed to those things that tie back to our DNA over tens of thousands of years.  Intuition suggests an evolution or development.  Great bosses have strong intuition as to their decisions and direction.
  4. Humility.  Who wants to work for a glory hound?  Someone always seeking the attention and limelight.  A boss that operates with arrogance and egotism will always act to ensure their own personal status and self-preservation.  Often times a boss who is not humble creates a work environment that is overly aggressive and can border on hostile.
  5. Vision.  People want to follow a leader.  But people will only follow if they believe in the direction you are heading and embrace that direction.  Great bosses provide their employees with a strong vision as to where they are headed, why, and what it looks like when they get there.  Jonathan Swift said, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
  6. Gracious.  How kind and courteous is your boss?  Does she say good morning when you come in?  Does he thank you for the work you’ve done?  Is she giving of her time when you need help, or do you feel the clock is always ticking?  Great bosses are kind, courteous and generous.  This does not mean they are soft or weak, but fair and gracious.
  7. Humor.  When was the last time you laughed at work?  Better yet, when was the last time you laughed in a meeting at work or just in talking with your boss.  Great bosses have good senses of humor.  They’re not simply jokers or pranksters but possess and overall good sense of humor.  Having the ability to laugh at work is the difference between a productive workforce and one that’s burned out.

If your boss has all 7 of these traits then you have found yourself a pretty great boss.  No one is perfect but it’s those that are still comfortable and confident with their imperfections, skills and critical talents that make for a great boss.

No Promotion, Now What? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions.

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It’s been a grind for months.  You’ve been working 12 – 13 hour days and weekends to prove you can do it and do it well.  All eyes are on you.  The project you’re in charge of is critical to your company’s future success.  It’s a big deal.  You complete the project and sit back ready to be showered with accolades and compliments by your boss and your peers.  Deep down you know this will be your defining moment…your own personal Mozart Concerto.  You wait…wait a bit longer…still longer…and nothing.

Wow!  What happened.  Your finished work was unbelievable.  You peers and other industry partners even commented on your end result.  Your boss seemed pleased along the way but hasn’t shown any real celebratory emotion.  Of course after all, aren’t you expected to deliver high-quality, near-perfect work?  This scenario is not atypical, but in actuality very common.

So what do you do when you hit this wall?  What actions should you take when the work you thought would seal a promotion turns out to do little more than generate a brief passing smile in a hallway at the office?  Do you quit?  Leave?  Complain?  Ask these 4 questions to help you determine your next course of action.

  1. Why did I expect to be promoted in the first place?  Perhaps you assumed that by delivering an amazing performance you’d somehow get that big title or bigger paycheck.  You may have even believed that your boss would just create a brand new position for you with the big title.  Maybe in a prior conversation your boss alluded to “big things” for those who step up and deliver a solid performance.  If the reason you expected your work to result in a promotion doesn’t contain a “this for that” in your explanation then you yourself have set yourself up for disappointment.  Learning:  If you take on a project, job, initiative that you expect will lead to advancement, be clear with your boss up front about this and get their reaction and their commitment before starting.
  2. What can I do to improve my performance?  This is a tough question to ask.  Most of us believe we’re already doing all the right things.  We sometimes confuse hard work with smart work.  High performers are constantly learning, constantly seeking knowledge, new ideas, perspectives, etc.  Focus always, on improving yourself first.  Personal development should never be weighed against a promotion.  Learning:  Adopt the attitude that you will be the best at your craft regardless of what happens in your work environment.  Even if you don’t get that promotion you can still have confidence in your ability to produce great results. And ultimately those results will be recognized even if by another employer.
  3. Is my boss my advocate?  Does your boss share success or does he take all the glory?  What happens when things go bad?  Are you hung out to dry or is your boss there to absorb a “team loss”?  Does she create situations that allow you to shine and be recognized?  Has he taken the time to introduce you to his boss to create an opportunity for interaction?  Learning:  A boss that lacks confidence or self-esteem will always be a barrier to your progress.  If you find yourself working for a boss that fits this profile…and progression is important to you…you may need to move on.
  4. What do my peers think of me?  This is perhaps the most overlooked area when dealing with promotions or lack of.  Many organizations have implemented performance programs that gather feedback from your peers to include in your annual performance review.  The ever-popular “360” became all the rage in the early 2000’s and still exists today with some variations.  A poor relationship, rapport, or perception of you with your co-workers can kill your career aspirations as quickly as those of a bad boss.  Learning:  Put yourself out there.  Build relationships with your peers as well as those above and below in the organization.  Most companies today place great value on workers who are proficient in influencing, bridge building and negotiating.

Especially in times when the outcome did not match your expectations, self-reflection is critical.  Taking an honest look inside will always help bring perspective to each and every experience you encounter.  Thomas Paine said, “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”  Basically know…it’s okay to talk to yourself.

Take Charge: 5 Critical Steps

Life

Life is a marathon not a sprint, as so many people have said over time.   Most of us start off without a clear picture of what we want to do, where we want to go, or where we’ll end up.   We look around at what others have accomplished and wonder how they did it?  Were they were destined for greatness/  Did they had a guardian angel watching out for them?  Or even better, was success simply in their genes?  I say nay, nay.

William Shakespeare once said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”  While it is easy to blame unforeseen forces for our plight or plunder it takes far more courage to own the direction you have taken and the place in which you arrive.  But how can we make sure we arrive where we want?  How do we know that all our hard work will ultimately generate the pay-off we so desire?   Here are 5 critical things you need to do to take charge of your destiny:

  1. Vision.  Do you really know where you’re headed, and toward what, are you heading?  What is your goal?  Why is it your goal?  A big house, fast car, husband, wife, kids, dogs, cats, world travel, and don’t forget the top job with the big corner office.  Have you done a self-assessment to ask yourself WHY these are your goals?  Learning:  If you don’t know why a goal is important you’ll never reach it.
  2. Preparation.  Assuming you have the correct vision and you know what you’re striving for, the next question is, have you prepared in the best way possible to ensure your arrival or achievement?  Henry David Thoreau said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”  Planning is the most important part of any journey.  Learning:  Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  3. Stamina.  Do you have what it takes?  Are you mentally and physically prepared for YOUR journey?  People underestimate the importance of being in shape both mentally and physically.  But too often I have seen people falter on one  or both of these critical areas.  Learning:  The most effective form of exercise works both you mind and body.
  4. Discipline.  This is often the biggest area of failure in people’s journey to achieve their vision.  They set a clear course.  They laid out the best plan to get there.  They got into shape to start their journey.  And then something happened they didn’t foresee.  This is the stage of the journey that leads people to give up and fall back on the “it’s just destiny” thinking.  The difference between those that give up at this stage versus those that power through is discipline.  Learning:  You’ll know if the vision you have created is authentic and genuine when the amount of discipline you require to move forward lessens…you just want to do it.
  5. Self-Esteem.  What value do you place on yourself?  What’s your opinion of yourself?  Do you feel worthy?  Self-esteem is a necessary ingredient to taking control of your destiny.  It’s not only important to have a goal or vision but you must believe you are worthy of achievement and the “positivity” that comes with a successful accomplishment.  If you struggle with self-esteem take charge and work on improving it and it can absolutely be improved.  Learning:  low self-esteem is NOT a permanent condition unless YOU allow it to be.

Know that all of your life’s results are a direct reflection of the decisions you have made…not others.   Remember the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.  The power “to be” lives within YOUR mind and body.  Be ready, take charge…live YOUR life.

How to gain balance in an unbalanced world

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This week I had the pleasure of attending a key note speech by Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post. This was one of the most impactful speeches I have heard in a long time. Ms. Huffington spoke from the heart, while balancing humor and perspective, keeping the audience engaged and on its toes for an hour.

As a very successful businesswoman, Arianna shared several life lessons that she learned along her journey to success. What made her talk so effective was her ability to cross gender boundaries, and connect how her challenges, in life and business, apply to both men and women.

Here’s what I learned…

Our current pace, attitudes, and outlooks are unsustainable. We are all experiencing a “time famine“. This famine has been created by the pace at which we are living our lives. With the advent of non-stop access to information and communication we are constantly “on”. We rush from appointment to appointment, meeting to meeting, function to function. This famine creates havoc in all aspects of life from business performance to relationships. We constantly feel like we’re behind; running behind.

Our lives have been built upon stress. Recent studies indicate that stress costs American businesses more than $300 billion a year in lost revenue. We sleep with our smartphones on the night stand. We go to bed with our tablets. We eat dinner while monitoring email. Our inability to turn things off has created a culture of burn-out (keep running as hard and fast, for as long as you can, mentality). But a burn-out culture cannot be a culture of creativity. When people feel mentally fatigued creativity levels plummet. When creativity falls, so does production, and ultimately revenue.

So how do we get back on track? How do we reestablish healthier lifestyles? Here are some of Arianna’s suggestions as I heard them:
1. Don’t hold grudges. “Holding grudges is like drinking poison.” This pertains to both work and personal relationships. Let it go. The stress created by a grudge is unsustainable and eventually it will destroy you.
2. Lean back. We often hear people say “lean in”. This is a cool way to say buck up, toughen up, be strong. But, “it’s not just about leaning in, it’s about leaning back.” Take time to recharge. You need to and it helps. Think of how a cats jump. The higher they need to jump the more they lean back before they jump. Think about it.
3. Deal with your inner demons. Be honest with yourself. Take the time to learn how to become more self aware. Check out my earlier blog on self-awareness.
4. Believe that everything is rigged in your favor. Imagine going through life believing that everything that happens to you is a good thing, or for good reason – not bad. Think of the horrible boss you had to deal with only to arrive at the job you love. Or the relationship you broke off only to find your true sole-mate. Remember that you are bigger than what happens to you. “If you contract when something bad happens to you, you have allowed yourself to be made smaller than the event.” There should be nothing that is larger-than-life but you.
5. Sleep. Sleep is a leadership and performance enhancement tool. Your brain needs time to power down and recharge. Do it. Sleep.

And finally, remember, “life doesn’t always make sense as it’s happening, only when you look back.” This is probably the most difficult lesson to adopt, as by nature, we all want to understand our immediate circumstances. So when you find yourself in a situation where things are happening that don’t make sense, stop, breath, and think back to a time when the outcome of an event ended in a positive manner.

Let me know what you think.