There are many ways leaders can be good leaders but for me, this is the most basic. Good leaders have their employees’ backs. Although I am certain I have been on the receiving end of such acts many times in my career, there is one time that sticks out above the rest.  A time when I worked for a leader who not only knew the theory of leadership but how to put it into practice every single day.

I had been tasked with completing two deliverables in time for the next management meeting. For various (and undoubtedly very good!) reasons, by the time the next meeting rolled around I had only finished one of them.

I knew my boss’ boss would be asking for an update in front of all of my peers and I was mortified that I had fallen short. I called my boss prior to our meeting and explained the situation. He reassured me and told me he would take care of it.

After the preliminary niceties were done, the Director called on me. Literally before I could open my mouth, Barry jumped in and said: “Moyra will update us on project A but I’ve asked her to do some further work on project B and follow up at the next meeting”.

My sense of relief  was immediate and my gratitude was heartfelt. I have never forgotten the feeling of security I was left with knowing that no matter what, I could count on him. In that moment, Barry was assured of my loyalty.

Although the following example falls into my definition of a bad leadership practice, I  do feel the need to qualify this example.  I happen to know the person in question to be a good and caring person. She has been a second level manager for more than a decade and she does have many leadership qualities. Sadly though, this particular trait is so pervasive that it overshadows her strengths and  has resulted in many employees leaving her team and much frustration for those who have stayed.

“Joanne” is to put it simply, very high strung. Her office is stacked to the rafters with piles of papers, binders and boxes. Her way of being is to speak quickly. She takes on more tasks than she is able to complete in a day and as a result, works well into the night, every night. Everything about her surroundings and the ways she shows up screams chaos.

The result for her team you ask? They are exhausted. Irritated. Resentful. They don’t often get time with her and when they do, she is visibly distracted.

Her lack of self awareness (and sadly apparent lack of feedback from her boss and her direct reports) has meant it appears she has no idea of the effect of her behaviour, choices and actions on those around her.

Good leaders set the tone and create a climate for their employees. Employees want and need to feel like their boss is calm and in control. Of course, even great leaders are allowed an off day. But that needs to be the exception, not the rule.

So what does ugly look like? Well, Kouzes and Posner have articulated “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” and the first of these is Model the Way. The surest way to demotivate employees is to have a boss whose modus operandi is do as I say, not as I do.

A client told me about a CEO she once reported to. In her organization, everyone was required to wear a pass and security staff at each entrance were instructed to verify them. It mattered not that you could have worked there five years and walked in and out twice a day and be greeted by name by the security person. Everyone had to show their pass.

This new CEO had been with the organization for about six months when one day, he attempted to enter the building without showing his pass. When requested to show it, he blew a gasket and uttered those now famous words: “Don’t you know who I am?”

The impact of those six little words were far-reaching. The story spread the organization like wildfire as this man’s true colours began to shine through. When he left the organization 18 months later, nine people showed up at his goodbye party.

What does your daily leadership practice look like?  A few moments of reflection and taking stock at the end of each day will go a long way in ensuring you have more good than bad and ugly moments!

 

 

 

 

 

Much had been written about leadership. Not so much has been written about followership.  (Case in point, the word followership comes up on my screen underlined in red!)

As much as the word hasn’t made it into the online dictionary nor the everyday lexicon, it is a concept that is slowly coming to the fore. As a testament to its legitimacy,  it is mentioned in Wikipedia and is defined as: “a  role held by certain individuals in an organization, team, or group. Specifically, it is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader. Followership is the reciprocal social process of leadership.”

So inextricably linked are they that logically, you can’t be a leader if no one is following you. And since being a leader and being a follower is not a mutually exclusive proposition I would say that the best leaders also know when, and more importantly how, to be great followers.

I seem to be on a ‘simplicity kick’ of late and this clever You Tube video satisfies my need for learning something new in less than three minutes!  And on a side note, it makes me smile every single time I watch it. 🙂  Take a look for yourself.

Have you ever been  inspired, moved or excited by someone with a great idea? Did you put your hand up. jump up and actively follow this “lone nut” and give credence and credibility to the individual and the notion? If so, congratulations on being willing to put yourself out there! If not, what’s stopping you?

With thanks to @VinceMolinaro of Knightsbridge for causing me to laugh uproariously when I read this an hour or so ago!

Although some might say this is a crude expression, I think it is a great brass tacks, where the rubber meets the road type of question that should provoke a hell of a lot of thought in any leader.  In my experience, I would venture to say that anyone who bothers to give more than a passing thought to this is already a good leader.  Typically, they are the ones who subscribe to the mantra “the more one knows, the more one doesn’t know”.  (Sadly, it is often those who most need to ask themselves such a question who don’t!)   It goes without saying that a certain degree of confidence and self assured-ness is necessary in order to willingly seek out and recognize developmental gaps and subsequent areas of focus.

No matter on what rung of the management ladder you find yourself, you can only grow as a leader if you are open to doing so.  After all, it was a rather iconic spokesman in the form of J.F. Kennedy who said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.

I can see Molinaro’s question forming the basis of an insightful exercise in self reflection and leading to many more sub questions providing valuable intel to those willing to “accept this mission”.

What  is a good leader?   Who says I am one?  Who would say I’m not?  When am I a better leader?  Why is it important to me to be a better leader? What will it cost me if I’m not?  What will it cost my organization?  Where can I get help to be a better leader?  What do I need to start doing? Stop doing? Do more of?  What do I admire about your predecessor?  What do I resent?

leadership

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, I suspect it could  get you going on a path of reflective reckoning.  Except for one small problem.

How many leaders take the time (and take we must since there is no making time) to give themselves the gift of pause?  To actually begin a process that definitely involves thinking first  and talking second.  Talking to our direct reports. peers, bosses and clients via a 360 instrument, to our mentors, coaches and other trusted advisors and maybe even our self!

Although there are few leaders I have worked with who would argue taking time to think about their own leadership practices is a bad thing, most would admit they don’t even do it on an ad hoc basis much less systematically.   For those who do, this habit pays dividends.

Since we know that a habit takes 21 days to become embedded, what specific steps have my successful clients taken?

  • They block off time in their weekly schedule to think and treat it as they would a meeting with their CEO or DG.  They don’t short change themselves by cancelling ‘them self’.
  • Some leave their office and even their building and walk while they think.  This is scientifically proven to double the benefits!
  • Many journal.  Imagine having written documentation to look back on and learn from time and time again…priceless.
  • They schedule dedicated conversations with trusted advisors.
  • They set aside three hours a month to participate as a member of an action learning set (more on that next week).

So tell me, as a leader, what do you do take the time to continually ‘sharpen your saw’?

Of all the levels of management I have worked with over the years, I most enjoy working with emerging/aspiring leaders.  Their willingness to learn and their enthusiasm is contagious and fuels my own spirit and passion.

Aspiring leaders have many questions of course and the single most often asked question I hear is “how do I get to be a leader from my job as a (fill in the blank with any job title that is non-management)?

Leadership and being a positional leader are not necessarily the same.  As much as we hope that all leaders display leadership qualities and behaviours, we know that is sadly not true. And by the same token, many employees (a.k.a. individual contributors) display sound and proven leadership skills.  Sometimes these abilities seem inate, other times they are displayed by design.

Some have said that leaders are born and not made.  I am of the belief that with the willingness to reflect on and assess one’s presence, practice and performance, anyone who wants to can mindfully learn to lead.

Following are 10 tips from Suzanne Lucas of Inc. that aspiring leaders (and current leaders for that matter!) could learn from.

(1) Communicate clearly

Leaders don’t grumble behind closed doors when things don’t go their way. They don’t say yes when they really want to say no. They say what they mean and do so in a way that people understand. This is not advocating rudeness, but it is advocating dropping passive-aggressive behavior.

(2)Learn Flexibility

There’s rarely just one “right” way to do something.  If you are going to insist that things be done a certain way, you’re headed down the micromanager path, and that’s not what leadership is about. Ask yourself, “Is this the wrong way to do it, or is it just different from the way I would do it”?

(3) Don’t be a doormat

Leaders stand up for themselves, politely. Jerks stand up for themselves rudely. If somebody interrupts you in a meeting, simply say, “I’m sorry, can I finish?” If your slimy co-worker tries to dump her work on you say, “That won’t be possible.” Does this mean you never do a favor? Absolutely not. You do do favors, but you do so because you are nice or because it benefits you and the company, not because you can’t say no.

(4) Help Other

Leaders bring others along with them and share credit for work well done. Leaders don’t look for opportunities to step on others, but rather look for opportunities to help others succeed. Remember, a leader is someone who demonstrates desirable characteristics

(5) Take Responsibility for Your Mistake

We all make mistakes. Own your mistakes. When someone points out an error, don’t start throwing blame, simply say, “Thanks for letting me know. Let me fix that.” Additionally, when things start going south, ask for help rather than panicking and trying to fix everything on your own. That usually makes it worse

(6) Listen to Others’ Ideas

You may be bursting with ideas and can’t wait until it’s your turn on the stage, but take time to listen to others. Other people have great ideas as well, and a true leader acknowledges that good things can come from many sources. Don’t cut people off. Do solicit ideas. You may be surprised at what you learn

(7) Take Risks

Lots of times, people think leaders have led charmed lives where everything went well. This is rarely, if ever, the case. Failure is an integral part of success. When you can acknowledge that the risks are real but the potential payoff is enough to counteract that, you’re demonstrating leadership. If you jump blindly, that’s stupid. But if you evaluate the situation and take a calculated risk anyway, that’s leadership

(8) Remember to Network

Networking isn’t just about finding jobs, it’s about connecting with people. As you learn how to interact with people, you’ll learn which interactions are effective and which are ineffective. As you help others with their career, you’re demonstrating your ability to lead and guide. And when you show up as someone willing to help others, amazingly enough, others will show up to help you! 

(9) Develop a Thick Skin

Illegal and immoral discrimination happens.  Accept that it does happen and just determine not to let terrible people get you down.  If someone treats you poorly, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that it was based on some immutable characteristic.  Instead, evaluate if what they said or did was justified.  If it was, change your behavior. If it wasn’t, don’t let it bother you. Now, in an egregious situation, absolutely report it, but let most things roll off your back

(10) Don’t Ask for Special Treatment

All that stuff you learned about being inherently special? False . You’re not.  I’m not.  No one is.  So stop asking for special treatment and exceptions to rules.  Now, can you become special by working harder and smarter than everyone else?  You’ll get special treatment when you deserve it.  That isn’t to say you can’t ask for what you want especially when you display  extra behavior. That’s not special treatment—that’s something you earn by being awesome.

From: www.themuse.com

  

 

Today I read a two frame comic that was at once slightly humourous and somewhat sad.

A small herd made up of two deer and a moose say to an another moose: “Brian, the herd has discussed it and because you are sick, we’re cutting you from the herd and leaving you to the wolves.”  Brian’s response: “C’mon guys, it’s just the sniffles”.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have given it a second thought except that this week, I heard stories of two friends being thrown to the wolves by their employers.

In the first situation, my friend has been with the same company for more than 25 years. During his tenure, he has taken no more than the average couple of days here and there because of sickness.  Last week he had surgery and the doctor (remember this salient point for later) told him he would be off work 4-6 weeks.  During his first week off (salient point number 2), he received four, yes four, calls from his employer asking when he would be back on “modified” duties.  In response to the reminder that his doctor had said 4-6 weeks, he was told: “Well, Bob had the same surgery and was back in two weeks”!  Apparently administrators with no medical qualifications are now deemed competent to override an MD’s instructions.  And apparently 25 years of loyal service means nothing.

In the second situation, my friend had been working, as a temp worker,  for her employer for five months.  After being felled by the devastating flu that everyone in this city either has or is recovering from, she was away from work for a week.  Every day she called in and every day she was told by her manager to take it easy and get well.  On the very day she advised her boss she would be back the next day, she got a call from the employment agency telling her she had been terminated due to absenteeism.  To add insult to injury, or in this case, craziness to the unbelievable, just before Christmas at a gathering of some 250 people, the local highest ranking company official had presented her with an award of recognition for accomplishing some amazing task in a ridiculously short amount of time.  He even said that what had taken him a year to do, she did in just three months!

So what the hell is going on? I know, I know  there are two sides to every story.  And I also know that as a loyal friend, I am bound to easily see my friends’ versions of events.  Precisely because I have known these people for more than 20 years though,  I think I have a pretty good take on their work ethic and histories.

And as much as I know that two examples,  anecdotal at that, do not a trend make, I am going to opine there are far too many situations of people being afraid to be away from work for fear of losing their jobs.  While public health agencies are advocating staying home to reduce the transmission of illness and doctors are dispensing medical advice based presumably on their knowledge and expertise, organizations are tacitly or directly sending the message that even legitimate absences will be challenged .

“Back in the day”, loyalty was an esteemed quality.  Today, sadly, not so much.  Companies have bemoaned a lack of employee loyalty for many years now.  My response is, are you kidding me?  In my parents time, employees were inspired to give the very best of themselves, what in motivational theory jargon is called discretionary effort.  In return, organizations responded in kind.  When companies talked about employees as “family”, it really was true.   The resulting symbiotic relationship was the ultimate win-win for both. But we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy…

If I sound hardened or jaded, I am not completely so.  In my own career, I have been fortunate to work for some caring organizations and more particularly caring bosses to whom I was very loyal and had that loyalty returned in spades whether in terms of opportunities for training, flexible work hours, autonomy or the ability to respond to home life issues when they “creep” into the work day as they occasionally and invariably will do.

So although I can’t say I  have personally experienced such a lack of compassion in the workplace, my sense of justice is offended on behalf of my friends.   As much as I hate to be negative, I really don’t think that loyalty will ever return to the workplace.  If anyone sees things differently, I would happily love to be convinced!!  Do you think loyalty in the workplace is dead?

 

 

 

One of the best parts of Christmas for me is that after wonderful family time, there is wonderful alone time.  And the best part of alone time is reading the new books which are  invariably under the tree because my husband knows me so well!  He has quite the knack for choosing books I love, even when they are not ones I would necessarily have picked up on my own.

Such was the case again this year. I have just finished the third and last book of my haul and it was the best of them all.  Beautifully entitled “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself”, I didn’t even need to crack the spine before seeing, in my mind’s eye, a field full of white balloons tethered to a railroad tie fence and then cut loose to float freely into the firmament.

Given the dawning of the new year,  it is hard for me (previously self identified self help book fan) to read a book subtitled ‘ the journey beyond yourself’  without setting a goal or two!  🙂

After thoroughly enjoying this read, the first lesson I will work on this year is to practice avoiding extremes in all areas of my life.

Imagine a continuum.  Polar opposites. Good, bad.  Hard, soft.  Yin, yang.  As we go through life, our behaviours often seem to lurch from one side to the other: couch potato to gym rat; hermit to party animal; miser to big spender.

In popular lingo, we talk a lot about striving to be centered, balanced, grounded.   In the Tao te Ching, Lao-tzu discusses this most difficult-to-achieve notion and proffers what he called the Tao (pronounced dow) meaning “the Way”.

Science says if you pull a pendulum one way, it will swing back just that far the other way.  When the pendulum finally and invariably comes to rest, it will come back to the middle, to the place where there is no energy pushing it in either direction.  The forces quietly balance.  This is the Tao.  It isn’t a thing to hold on to, nor can it be seen.  It’s like the eye of a hurricane; hollow and empty.  As life forces swirl around it, it remains unaffected .  A pendulum can only spend a brief moment at a time in its outermost positions.  But as it comes to rest in the middle, it can remain there forever.

Energy, like time, is finite.  We have 24 hours in a day and we have to choose where to expend our daily allotment.  How much energy have I wasted by focusing too much on the extremities?  And the more extreme it is, the more it becomes a full time project and the more it saps our energy.  As the author Micheal Singer says: ” When you spend your energy trying to maintain the extremes, nothing goes forward.  You get stuck in a rut.  The more extreme you are, the less forward motion there is.  You carve a groove and you get stuck in it.  Then there’s no energy moving you into the Tao; it’s all being spent serving the extremes”.

The power of the Tao is the energy that used to be spent swinging sideways gets pulled into the centre.  By drawing on this concentration of energy, you will be able to accomplish tasks more effortlessly.  You won’t be wasting energy on thoughts about opposites.  Your focus will be on the here and now.  By not following the extremes, your “pool” of energy is always accessible to you.

As with everything that requires mindfulness and practice to become accomplished, I have no delusions that this will be a slam dunk for me. But I am intrigued enough to see how and if I can make this work for me and inspired by the belief that my life will be enriched when I accomplish this.

 

 

 

 

I have recently begun working with a new crop of emerging leaders on a two year leadership development program.  Emerging leaders are my favourite ‘subset’ of the management group.  After I completed the requirements for my Certified Executive Coach certification, I was of course asked if I would now move ‘up’ the ranks to coaching Executives.

I would not necessarily not work with Executives (with apologies to Sister Mary Catherine for the double negative!) but truth be told, I really do love my emerging leaders.  They are so open to learning, constructive feedback and trying new-to-them leadership and management skills and techniques-what’s not to love?!

There is so much to learn when embarking on the management path that it can seem overwhelming and the question invariably comes up: ” Where do I start? Everything is important”.  In my experience, there are two activities all emerging leaders should start with.

The first is to read what I consider the quintessential book on leadership, ‘It’s Your Ship’ by Michael Abrashoff.  The now retired Commander Abrashoff chronicles how he took the USS Benfold, the worst performing ship in the American naval fleet, to first place within just a couple of years…and as an aside, at the tender age of 36 to boot

When he assumed command, he brought with him a personal philosophy which I can’t help think is likely not shared by many.  He came in believing he didn’t have all the answers.  This humble approach is a precursor to listening.  And listen he did because he asked lots of questions!  He met with each of the 300 sailors on board and asked them three questions: Why did you join the Navy? What do you like to do? What one thing would you change or do differently that would increase efficiency? (For those of you taking notes, look at all those great  “W” words which denote an open question which means lots of information will be forthcoming!)

Whenever I am working with new leaders, I tell the story of the USS Benfold and encourage them to read his book.  (If only I got a royalty for each referral!)  The first person I told this story to was Antoine while he was on assignment in my office. After he moved on six or so months later, I received the best ever email from him.  He told me how in his new assignment he had seven direct reports and almost 200 indirect reports.  Within his first week after he had met with the seven, he started booking meetings with all his indirect reports.  What was the initial reaction of everyone around him? We have never done that here.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear he was spreading the gospel of Abrashoff by introducing not just a ‘technique’ but a new way of being that had the potential to influence the organization’s culture even beyond Antoine’s tenure.  What a legacy for a new leader…or a seasoned one for that matter!

So of course I told the new recruits this story and since they were all eager to read it, we will be holding a peer learning circle to discuss it.  I can’t wait!

The second activity I highly recommend is journaling.  Of course I think it would be great for experienced leaders too and as it is something that requires discipline, far better to get into the habit early.

I suspect when many people hear the term journaling they may think diary and get a visual of a tiny pink book with a lock on it. The grown up version of this is actually a powerful tool that can help one get clarity, identify blind spots, pinpoint new ideas and analyze issues that may be sticking points.

I didn’t really need to be convinced of its merits because I actually enjoy writing -once I get going I mean!  Since this is probably a huge stumbling block for many aspiring journal-lers, here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  • Write fast and don’t worry about spelling and grammar (forgive me again, Sister Mary Catherine!) These musings are  for your eyes only so ignore your inner critic. The purpose isn’t a spot on the New York Best Seller list. It’s for you to reflect and get to know yourself, your defaults and where you want to stretch.
  • Find the tool that works for you and you are more likely to sustain the practice. The medium is the message said Marshall McLuhan so whether your medium is a bound, hardcover journal with inspirational sayings, a Hilroy notebook or typing into a Word document or creating Powerpoint slides, it matters not.
  • Find the best time for you.  I tend to be a before bed writer but some people are much more inspired first thing in the morning…egads!  Whenever it is though, experience has shown me that a routine will likely be very helpful in getting and keeping going.
  • A daily journal really isn’t a laundry list of everything you did, saw or ate that day. (Although Weight Watchers swears by the weight loss benefits of keeping a food journal!) If you aren’t sure where to start,sometimes questions can be great prompts. What did I learn today? What am I most proud of? What do I wish I had a “do-over” on? How about what you are grateful for or what you used to believe? Questions such as these can serve to capture areas of self improvement, help you remember things you forgot you did, and over time, help you see patterns you can learn from on your leadership journey or life journey for that matter.

If those aren’t enough intriguing reasons to get you journaling, then consider that medical research has shown there are actual health benefits to this practice.  Patients with chronic pain and immune issues who spent time journaling actually showed a decrease in their symptoms…who knew?

As for this new gang, I gave them their own journal and recommended they start a leadership learning journal.  Although I won’t be collecting or correcting them, I am hopeful that they will see the benefit for themselves.

I’m honoured to be working with such a great group of leaders…let the learning begin!