Monday, September 29, 2014

It won't make any difference because...

It all starts with the leader!  ~anonymous person talking on the phone while on the sidewalk

"They want to have an off-site retreat with leadership, but it won't make any difference because it all starts with the leader."  This is what I heard today from a passerby talking on her phone while I was walking back to the office from a breakfast meeting. I didn't mean to overhear, but she was talking rather loudly and I could certainly sense her frustration.  Based on her comment (and tone) I drew the conclusion that this leader isn't aware of the impact they are having on their leadership team.

Her astute observation reminded me of something I read recently on 

The National Advisory Council of a prestigious west coast business school was asked what single quality they thought would be most valuable for their graduates to acquire as they graduatedThe answer was self-awareness. 
For us, the most important element of self-awareness, especially for those who lead organizations, is a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.

I've come across a number of definitions of self-awareness, but this definition seemed so obvious that I had overlooked it.  And it reflects the frustration of the young woman this morning who seemed quite aggravated that the "leader" she was referring to does not have a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.  And, she's right; an off-site retreat probably isn't going to change that a whole lot.

Authors Bolman and Deal describe it like this in How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. "One of the most basic and pervasive causes of leadership failure is interpersonal blindness.  Many leaders simply don't know their impact on other people.  Even worse, they don't know that they don't know.  They assume that other people see them pretty much the way they see themselves, then they blame others when things go wrong."

How do we know if we need to work on our self-awareness?  Here's something I've tried with leadership teams and I now use it as one barometer for self-awareness.  I challenge them for the next week, or two, to look for situations where their interaction with someone could benefit from them leaning in to the other person's strengths.  Said another way, observe your own behavior and the impact you have on another person.  Then alter your behavior so the other person realizes a greater benefit from having had contact with you this week.  Then I send them off.  Those who struggle to find any scenarios where they could have changed their behavior for another’s benefit are those who may need to work on their self-awareness.

If you, as the leader, aren't self-aware (the single most valuable quality for a leader), all of the off-site retreats you can pack into your schedule aren't going to change your team's effectiveness.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

What's the key to unlocking potential?

The way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.  ~Michael K. Simpson, author of Unlocking Potential

Have you ever wondered why there are pockets of an organization that really excel and then others that just seem to struggle or feel stuck?  Both extremes seem to have the same basic knowledge or skills so what's created the chasm of performance between the two?  Two things that get overlooked or simply under-valued: behavior and attitude

Every organization contains pockets of great performing teams, but interestingly, no discernible difference exists in the basic know-how of the good performers versus the great performers.  The key differentiators boil down to two things great performers have been coached to do:  execute well and concentrate on reducing inconsistency in bad behavior. 
The best predictor of future performance is mostly determined by past performance.  Identify the existing islands or pockets of excellence within an organization.  To leverage top performance, leaders should find out what the top performers or high-performing teams are doing to produce high-quality results.  Leaders must not only capture their strategies but uncover the key competencies, the new and better behaviors, and the attitudes of those who are fully engaged.  Using examples and stories of what excellence looks like can inspire and educate others. 
Ask team members how they can improve their strategic performance, and then provide feedback and support.  Establish an environment in which leaders are trained to coach individuals and teams in ways that build upon their strengths and passions.  If an individual or a team is stuck, talk about the problems, give appropriate feedback, and address options and opportunities, rather than allow the issues to fly under the radar.  The way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."  We could modify that slightly and say, "Be the change you want to see in your organization."  If pockets of an organization have differing behaviors and attitudes, I would venture to say that at least 90% of the time those pockets are modeling their leader.  The person leading a department, division, team, or entire organization, can't coach toward one type of attitude and behavior and then model another.   Well, they can, it's just not going to have the outcome they were hoping to achieve.

By all means, I agree with Simpson, that the way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.  However, I might add one more tweak.  I would suggest the way forward is to name it, reframe it, model it, and provide support to improve it.

What issues are flying under the radar at your organization?  What needs to be named so you can begin the way forward and unlock potential?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be competitive or achieve success?

Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.  ~Vince Lombardi

This week I heard a story on NPR that did, and didn't, surprise me.  It was a follow-up to the now infamous and wildly successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  As the story reported, it's been 75 years since baseball great Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the disease.  But there is still no cure or even hopeful treatment, only experimental trials. 

The story reported, one of the possible reasons why there still remains little hope for those with this disease is the "hypercompetitive" nature of the research field.  "Many excellent grant proposals get turned down, simply because there's not enough money to go around.  So scientists are tempted to oversell weak results.  Getting a grant requires that you have an exciting story to tell, that you have preliminary data and you have published.  In the rush, to be perfectly honest, to get a wonderful story out on the street in a journal, and preferably with some publicity to match, scientists can cut corners."

While listening to this interview I also learned that scientists tend to keep their failures to themselves.  If a study doesn't prove successful, it's not worthy of publication or of sharing with the broader research field.  That means instead of systematically ruling out what doesn't work; we may very well keep researching and trying the same unsuccessful experiments over and over.  Because staying individually competitive has taken precedence over collective success for the field to find a cure or treatment for ALS.

I wasn't surprised by this because a number of years ago I did some work for a leading research scientist for HIV/AIDS and heard a similar story.  Data wasn't being shared or collected on a massive basis in order to more quickly rule out what wasn't working; hence, making the process for success slow and cumbersome.

Being competitive or achieving success is not always a mutually exclusive choice, but sometimes it is.  I frequently hear leaders say they believe their organization benefits from internal competition.  Maybe that's true, but maybe it's not.  If it means staff are individually withholding their failures or are overselling weak results, then I'd have to ask if that's really helping or hindering the organization's overall collective success?

Maybe this perspective especially caught my attention because I know someone who recently passed away due to ALS.  It made me wonder, if we could get over our own individual competiveness and really focus on collective success in the field of ALS, could that have made a difference for her?

What's more important to you, to be competitive or achieve success?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to garner extraordinary buy-in!

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.  ~African proverb

Now and then I experience something personally that I just have to blog about, and this is one of those instances.  Sunday, the extraordinary happened.  Way back in 1978, my church, along with three other churches, invested in a mixed-income housing project across the street.  It was important to these churches to provide affordable and mixed-income housing options in what was then a neighborhood close to Cabrini Green.  This property is now being re-developed and the churches sold their portion to the developers (with the requirement that it would include even more affordable housing options) and we received our portion of that sale, which was $1.6 million!  But wait, that isn't the extraordinary.

So, here's a medium-sized congregation (~300) with an annual budget of less than $1 million who now has $1.6 million in cash.  How do we determine the best way to use these funds?  The leadership wanted everyone to truly participate in this process and for it not to end up being a decision made by a few on behalf of the entire congregation.  They also felt that it was important, as a church, to tithe the first 10%, or if you do the math, $160,000.  What does it look like for a church to tithe $160,000?  Well, this is how we did it.       

Here's the extraordinary…on Sunday, it was announced that we would all have a part in determining where that first $160,000 would go by giving each of us (yes, everyone) a check for $500.  We would each then determine where to give our $500 and simultaneously join one of a dozen or so groups to begin the discernment process for the remaining $1.4 million.  The checks were distributed at a catered lunch following the service.  Not surprising, one of our most well-attended lunches in quite some time. 

I’m sharing this extraordinary story because it’s a remarkable example of how leaders can garner buy-in. 

Numerous research studies have been conducted that conclude that when people have input in a decision as opposed to being told what to do, they are 5X more likely to follow through.  For example, in one study two groups of people were given a lottery ticket.  One group was given their lottery numbers; the other group was able to choose their own numbers.  Then, both groups were asked to sell back their lottery tickets.  Keep in mind, the group who could select their own lottery numbers had a lesser chance of winning because their numbers could be duplicated.  However, the researchers had to pay this group 5X the other group to get their lottery tickets back.  Because they got to choose their own numbers, they were 5X more invested in the process.

As leaders, many times we become impatient and want to make all the decisions.  We don’t want to wait for buy-in.  It's true, many times what a group of people decide might be the very same decision the leader would have made much faster.  However, we're being short-sighted if we think the impact and momentum we can gain from collective buy-in isn't worth the wait.

Over the coming months, I'll return to my church story and provide updates on our progress.  We'll see if our intentional effort to go together will enable us to truly go far.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Little League Leadership

Celebrate the incremental achievements, not just the final results.  This communicates progress, inspires others, and reinforces successful, repeatable behavior.  ~Gary Burnison, The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership

In the midst of heightened security alerts, continued violence, and gruesome massacres, last week the city of Chicago was given a reason to celebrate.   Jackie Robinson West, a little league team from the south side became the National Little League Champions and lost the World title in the finals to South Korea.  The south side of Chicago has been in the news almost exclusively for the violence that continues to plague that part of the city.  That made this Little League National Championship even more worthy of a celebration.

These 11 and 12-year-old boys played their hearts out but had no idea how their victories were impacting an entire city.  When they arrived home and entered the airport they were greeted with thunderous applause and cheers.  Then there was the parade ending at Millennium Park with 10,000 fans supporting these boys who were honored by the Mayor.  That was followed by appearances at a Cubs game and a Sox game.  In between there were numerous TV interviews and next weekend I believe the entire team is off to Disney World for continued celebration.      

As the adults nearly forced their exuberance onto these youngsters, when the boys were interviewed and asked what they looked forward to most, the typical response was "sleep."  These boys were exhausted; but it was clear, the city wanted and needed a celebration.  I would even go far as to say the city was desperate for a reason to celebrate.

Several years ago when I began a program to become a certified coach, I thought the practice of beginning every training session with the opportunity for anyone to share any recent victories or reason to celebrate was sort of a waste of time.  But, I soon realized that we don't do nearly enough celebrating.  We focus on what's bad, wrong, not working, causing us frustration, etc. and take far too little notice of what is worthy of celebrating.  So now I've actually incorporated the practice of beginning with celebrating whenever I do leadership training.

I'm not arguing that we ignore the negative or problems that need to be solved.  But I am suggesting that we find ways to tip the scales a bit more on the celebrating side of the equation.  Dwight Frindt, co-author of Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership for Today's World says, "Acknowledgment and celebration are essential to fueling passion, making people feel valid and valuable, and giving the team a real sense of progress that makes it all worthwhile."

In honor of Labor Day (and Jackie Robinson West), let's all find a way to celebrate our labor this week.