"Be willing to forgo your need for approval, in exchange for staying the course and achieving the right mission."
When we get distracted by the expectations or demands of people who want their agenda to be satisfied at the expense of a greater goal, we slip quickly into the murky waters of potentially abdicating our responsibilities of leadership.
There will be people who treat you with a manipulative disrespect. Don't expend your time or mental focus in attempting to get on their good side. Their good side is a facade - a pit in which they will throw all your good intentions. Politely hold to the direction you know is right and move on.
I have experienced a few unpleasant encounters with whiners, manipulators and passive aggressive controllers during my tenure as a leader. Most of them chose to leave the organization (some quietly, some with fanfare) because they didn't get their way. Was I saddened by the departures and results of the conflict? Yes, in some cases. And no, a couple of times I was truly relieved and excited to see that their departure created a morale boost for everyone who remained. Looking back on those times, I realize that not once did I feel compelled to go after them or attempt to meet their demands. The good of the whole outweighed my personal need to be in "good graces" with the grumpy!
Leadership is not about being popular, it is about being purposeful.
When you’re traveling, conversations with interesting people happen. And those conversations lead to real-time issues and challenges. For me those conversations are market research. It gives me an inside peek at what most people wouldn’t say in their place of business; and in turn, sparks my thought process on how to help leaders work through those challenges.
However, one conversation really stumped me. I felt badly for the young manager seated next to me on the plane as he expressed his frustration. I sat there thinking, “Why would an owner of a business do something so foolish?” If you had been seated with us, this is what you would have heard the young man saying: (the specifics have been slightly changed and there will be no names as a courtesy)
“The company is 8 years old and we’ve had some great success. In fact, we outgrew our first location because the very first customers were so thrilled with our services they kept coming back and bringing their friends. The word got out and we almost tripled our clientele and revenues in the first two years. I was there in the beginning and he (the owner) promoted me to manager as we began to take on new staff.”
“The momentum was really exciting and every week offered a new challenge as we kept growing. But in the last 2 years, we started experiencing some embarrassing customer service issues because we couldn’t meet the expectations and the growth didn’t just level off, we’ve started to lose good customers. I think that’s when I noticed two big problems. First, the owner wouldn’t listen to some of the ideas our staff and leaders were offering to help improve our services. Secondly, whenever any of us would ask him what vision he had for the next phase of the business - he’d just say we’d find out when we got there.”
My seat mate shrugged his shoulders and continued.
“My best staff members have quietly left the company over the last couple of years. And that’s not the worst of it!
“He finally has a plan and it’s a disaster. He has decided that the core of our business - the very essence of what our customers need and buy - is no longer “sexy” and he’s eliminating those services one by one, replacing them with products that very few people want. What’s frustrating is that customers and staff members don't get it! It’s not what they’ve signed up for and they have no say. We’re just dismissed with an attitude of ‘you’ll eventually understand and agree, or you’ll leave because it’s not for you - and that’s o.k.’”
My travel companion wrapped it up with a perfect metaphor:
“It’s about as crazy as an ice-cream shop owner capturing a large market share of local business and happy customers; then deciding after 8 years of success that they want to turn it into a Spinach Salad Only Restaurant. No more ice cream, just spinach. And their expectation is that all the ice-cream customers are going to be happy with the changes! It’s going to fail. Instead of trying to convert the ice-cream shop, it would be better to sell it as is, get out of the way and spin off into a new venture.”
He stopped talking. Looked at me and asked, “So what do you think?”
I smiled and said, “It’s impressive that you’ve stayed with it this long. Sadly, your assessment sounds like it is right on target. I’m guessing you’ve already updated your resume’. Without knowing all the details, it sounds like you could go open an ice cream shop and do very well. I think I’d buy ice-cream from you any day!”
How would you have answered that young leader?
Here are a couple of questions that maybe we should be thinking about:
Are we listening to our best people and giving consideration to their insights and concerns?
Do you have a vision for your company and can you express it in a way that still excites your team members?
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. It was an important meeting. That is what everyone understood based on the email they received the day before.
“Stop everything. Reschedule any meetings that may conflict. It is vital that you are present at a team meeting tomorrow at 2 pm. We will meet in the conference room and start promptly. Late arrivers will be noticed.”
Every seat was filled, except for one. The new regional director had certainly gotten everyone’s attention with that email. The buzz all morning was curious speculation as to what could be so important. The clock struck 2:00 p.m. and nothing happened. Nothing could happen, because the lady who had called the meeting was not there. There was no advance agenda, so they nervously chatted among themselves. A few talked with each other about a project for a client. Others whispered about their annoyance of “another stupid meeting.” Minutes dragged by.
At 2:13 p.m., the door opened and she flopped into her chair at the head of the table. Without apology, the Director launched into her agenda of how things were going to be “different around here” and the new goals she expected the entire team to achieve. Assignments were given and she droned on as she told each person exactly how they had to do their jobs. Two individuals attempted to ask for some clarification and one offered a suggestion for streamlining a process. She “kindly” listened and then promptly went back to her ideas. No one else spoke for the next hour and a half.
I told this story in a leadership development program one morning and asked the participants the following question:
“What do you think this leader lost during that meeting?”
They answered exactly what went through your mind as well:
and even, Creative Collaboration
Everything about that situation screams “I’m the boss. I don’t value your time, ideas, or talent. But, you had better value mine; because I’m here to be successful and I’m in charge.”
Without question, in that single meeting this leader lost everything mentioned above. However, there is one more thing that she lost. In fact, I believe it is the single greatest loss any leader will suffer when attempting to be “in charge.” And that is the loss of:
Our greatest loss will not be in failing to convince people to do it our way. Our greatest loss will be discovering too late that our best leaders went unnoticed, because we were too busy focused on our plan and not open to our people. The greatest loss will be an exodus of leadership talent. It happens quietly. They will find an environment in which their ideas are welcome and there is opportunity to grow.
Now here is the reality check:
Providing a leadership culture where people can create ideas and take responsibility is a winners strategy for growth in your company. Pushing your leadership agenda, while politely ignoring the potential leaders at your table, is the losers strategy.
THREE INVITATIONS YOU CAN GIVE THAT WILL ENGAGE THE LEADERS ON YOUR TEAM:
Invite them to the conversation. One of the simple realities I train leaders to embrace is that people would rather be invited, than to be told. Give your best people the facts and the vision of where you want to be in the next 12 months, then give them time to think about it.
Invite ideas on how to improve processes or revenues. There is very little downside to bringing good people and their ideas to the table. Give them permission to be a part of the growth strategy. When we don’t permit this kind of engagement, they will only focus on their respective tasks.
Invite ownership. This isn’t just about ideas. It is about goals and strategic alignment. Let them determine their own outcomes. The leaders on your team will naturally set objectives that demand a personal and professional stretch. The followers on the team will play it safe.
Oh - one last thing: Please, START your meetings on time!
Let me know your thoughts. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
Steven Iwersen, CSP - Certified Speaking Professional
When I ask leaders who demonstrate a strong ability to listen what they consider to be the key difference between hearing and listening - the resounding anwer is attention.
"You can hear whatever you want to hear, but when you give someone your attention, that's when you really start to listen."
Asked to consider what the benefits of listening would be to a leader, and the answers reveal an attitude of honest communication and a culture of empowerment. Here are the answers that I receive the most often and I highlighted in the article/video series Leaders Listen.
THE IMMEDIATE LEADERSHIP BENEFITS OF LISTENING:
• Makes the leader approachable
• Ideas are generated.
• Concerns are identified
• Gauges alignment to priorities
• Reveals your blind spots
• Empowers others to problem solve
• Improvement to efficiency and execution
• Time management
• Reduces conflict and stress
• Trust is cultivated and/or measured
What are your employees trying to tell you? Your influence will be greatly enhanced the moment you begin to listen like a leader.
I'd like to give you a special resource that I've created based on the listening behaviors learned from industry and community leaders. There are 5 Key Tips on how to improve your listening skills and a personal development worksheet to help you put it all into practice. Click here for more info and the downloads.
Balancing the demanding schedule of a leader is tough enough:
Emails & Phone Conferences
Production / Service Issues
Communication. That's the big one! The one skill that weaves its way through every other responsibility. And the leader has the extra challenge of keeping the balance between speaking and listening. The speaking part comes easily for most leaders. Especially when you reach a point of confidence in your mission and decisions. The hard part for most leaders is the listening side of communication. And yet, that is the skill that makes the biggest difference in your influence.
John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth,contributes an important perspective on this in the SmartBLog on Leadership. He points out an interesting example from the show “Ray Donovan”and how the title character played by actor Liev Schreiber demonstrates the importance of being a quiet leader. "A quiet leader is one who values his own strengths but also has the ability to see the world as others do for one simple reason....Knowing how another thinks is essential to persuasion."
The problem is - we've never been taught HOW to listen and we don't have enough TIME to listen. It is something that we have to learn "on the job" and master while attempting to lead others to a desired outcome. But, what if you had a system - a formula that could help you solve that problem?
In addition to the report, a 5 part video series has been posted to YouTube. Each 4 to 5 minute segment offers practical ideas that will help you implement the strategy. A self-paced study guide is available to help you.
Here is the first of that series. Grab a cup of coffee and let's have a short visit.
Henry: “Steven, I am really concerned about the changes the company is initiating and how the employees in my division are going to react.” (He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and continued.) “I came here 5 years ago and we’ve seen 5 new directors come and go during that time. Every one of those directors had a new idea or plan that we had to embrace, only to see all of our efforts thrown out when the company decided to get a new director.”
Me: “Tell me why you’re concerned about the new initiatives.”
Henry: “Well in the past, every decision that introduced a change in our process was made in secret and handed down at the last moment. No time for questions, buy-in or troubleshooting. The morale takes another hit, there is no trust and the complainers get a little louder.”
That conversation sounds too familiar, doesn’t it? I hear the same thing all over the country as I coach leaders in different industries - manufacturing, high-tech, offices, and non-profits. However, on occasion I hear a different story. There are organizations and leaders that have discovered that having an open dialogue and including people in the early stages of change is a successful strategy.
Sharing important information with the people of your organization will generate five significant outcomes.
It provides a foundation for them to understand the issues and decisions that have to be made.
It minimizes the potential for speculation and misunderstandings.
The “power brokers” in the organization that try to generate fear will have their leverage minimized.
It creates opportunity for meaningful discussions and opportunity for people to offer suggestions/ideas on how to make the transitions successful.
And most importantly, it sends a clear message that they are important enough to be trusted with the information.
Remember: You are not leading change, you are leading people.
A man that I hold in high regard, because of his insights on leadership, gave a presentation at an event I attended. My expectations were high, the experience was disappointedly low.
I discovered that he is a comma communicator. This prolific author and influencer seemed to be incapable of getting to the point. The presentation was plagued by incomplete thoughts and detours of impulsiveness. The repetition of ideas sounded like he was circling around the airport, but couldn’t find the runway to land.
“Maybe it’s just me today and I’m having a hard time listening,” I thought. “Or, he is just having a bad day.”
I ordered the transcript of the program, thinking that if I could read his thoughts I’d have a better understanding. It did help my understanding. It also revealed that he is without question a comma communicator. To be fair, I downloaded two more scripts of different presentations and sadly found the same problem.
What is a comma communicator? A person who speaks in incomplete, rambling sentences often punctuated by multiple commas.
Here is an example from the transcript:
“Well here is a point that I think makes all the difference, and if you think about it carefully, and I’ve been thinking about how this applies to a lot of different areas in my life and our business, because the impact can be a big deal if we don’t consider how important this is, especially if we ignore the current trends that we are facing during the next few months, and that is putting this issue at the top of our agenda.”
What was the point?
When you and I communicate it is imperative that we get to the point. Our listeners want to know what we think. They will get lost and frustrated if we fail to communicate with clarity.
Three specific ideas on how to avoid the trap of a comma induced coma:
Use the period. Communicate your point in one concise sentence. Brevity can improve your credibility.
Edit your illustration/opinion. Support your ideas with a clear example or a confident opinion. The art of editing is removing what is unnecessary or repetitive. Supporting the point clearly and quickly will help people to stay focused on your ideas.
Practice writing daily. Take 10 minutes every day to write a specific thought out into one sentence. The fewer the words the better. The best presentations that I have heard were presented by people who were excellent writers. Their spoken words were influenced by their understanding of sentence structure and language. A great way to improve your presentation skills is to take a writing class.
I do think that the leader I mentioned has some great ideas. I’ll just wait for the book.