Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Try a Little Tenderness

When will the economy improve? How long can senior staff members maintain their relevance? Is this new generation of workers willing to put the work in? Is our strategy consistently adapting with the market? Do our customers value our partnership? Is our technology up to snuff?

There is so much to ponder in this day and age. It keeps us up at night and throws us out of our slumber every morning. With so much on our minds our organizational cultures are at risk.

Projection is human nature. When our boss yells at us, we go find someone to yell at. Does the hot potato blame game help anyone perform any better?

I sat with a CEO of a prominent company a few weeks back. I made an effort to diagnose his organizational weaknesses  for the sake of devising a solution for his pain. No chance...his guard was up, his position was prominent, and he didn't get to his power seat by admitting fault. After talking at me for a few minutes he looked up from with I-phone and said "anything else" - as if I had gotten a word in edgewise.

Here are a few reasons why organizational cultures are broken:
1. Leaders assume that they are the only reason for organizational success
2. Silos are created to hide mistakes
3. Practices do not improve because vulnerability is viewed as a sign of weakness

The Truth Hurts
A manager once told me, "what got you here isn't going to keep you here". The statement was poorly worded but that doesn't mean it is untrue. Regardless of our title, finding holes in our ability is never pleasant. Sometimes we dismiss our accuser, other times we nod in approval and then go punch our steering wheel in frustration. Neither works.

We get upset when our weaknesses are exposed but it doesn't have to be that way. Strengths can be built out of presumed weakness with 2 simple tactics:
1. Focus on strengths
2. Encourage performance empowerment

There are people who are simply not fast runners. No matter how much they run, they do not get any faster. Better to know this on the front end, and concentrate on what you are good at, as opposed to setting your sights on becoming an Olympic sprinter.

Performance assessment is a personal attack. No one enjoys hearing what they are doing wrong. The process of picking apart weaknesses only makes contributors weaker. If there are holes in someones skill set they need to hear how they can improve through their stronger characteristics. You cannot point out a problem without proposing a solution.

While You Were Doing Other Things
Our goals are set and we are laser focused in achieving them. As such, we march through every day with great intent. How often do we look up and re-assess?

If we live by the ethos that "no news is good news" our communication channels are off-line.

Too often organizational leaders assume things are going well because no one is telling them differently. This could be because employees are afraid to admit their faults or to ask for additional resources. Success by the numbers eliminates the human element. When we stop interacting to gain insight from all corners of the organization, people remain in their corners.

Transparency is a vital component to success. Teams need to be willing to share their strengths and weakness and to allow for collaborative guidance. We cannot pretend everything is perfect and perform imperfectly.

Things to Keep to Yourself
A team member once came to me with a list of things he was not doing well. This act of vulnerability was driven by an intent to improve. Admittedly, my reaction was that this person was in big trouble!

Self-Assessment is the most important assessment. No one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you do. You are relieved when people see the good in you and pissed off when the weakness you know you possess are pointed out by others.

You cannot pretend the bad things will go away. You cannot ignore areas that need improvement but you do not have to be a sprinter to be on the team....the world needs shot putters too!

We know that which we do well and where we need help. No one needs to remind us of such. Action trumps reaction. Take control before your control is taken from you!

In Summation:
a. Assess Your Own Performance (Daily)
b. Let Your Strengths Lead
c. Find Ways to Improve (without being a slave to your weaknesses)

Don't Forget to Remember!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Leadership 101

I have been privileged to teach classes on building leaders as well as writing for the world's elite Leadership blog.

My approach to leadership consulting is fairly straight forward:
1. You need not a title to lead
2. In challenging yourself you inspire those around you to lead
3. Don't be an a-hole

Let's do a quick exploration of the aforementioned Leadership Pillars, shall we?

Lead Without a Title
My father was a an executive leader for an F100 company. Those of you who read this blog know I always strive to emulate my pops. As such, I took on leadership roles as the Wrestling Team Captain and Fraternity President. (for the record, I was also class president in Mrs. Johnson's 4th/5th grade combo class at Viejo Elementary).

I have frequently discussed the extension of rungs on the ladder as you progress from school to professional life. In high school and college alike, you exist on 4 year scale. Thus, moving up the leadership ladder is an expedited process creating expectations of immediate responsibility enhancement as you achieve your goals. The professional scale is 30 years. So, young professionals who are used to progressing every year get frustrated when they achieve their goals for 5 years straight without promotion. This is the premise for the unfair stereotype that Gen Y is impatient.

With the extended escalation scale in mind, over-achievers are forced to be patient. This is a difficult adjustment to accept.

Instead of waiting for a title to be assigned to you, you can simply assume a leadership role. All you have to do is:
1. Perform well
2. Offer to help without being asked
3. Pursue success for reasons that enhance your personal character
4. Be a beacon of positivity for everyone to be inspired by

Lead by Example
Have you ever heard the term, "those who can't do, manage"..? This sentiment has come to characterize the broken management system that exists in a lot of organizations. I believe strongly in promoting from within, but I also do not believe that it is mandatory. Tenure is not a right to escalation, you should earn your stripes every day.

It is important to be a leader who knows the importance of rolling up your sleeves. Everyone respects executives who have been there and done it. Everyone appreciates senior staff members who are not above embracing the simplest concepts of the job. Abuse of tenure is the quickest route to commoditizing your human effort. Learn something new every day and share what you have learned.

The Death of Micro-Management
Movies like Swimming with Sharks and The Devil Wears Prada made the argument that to earn a spot one must pay their dues. These films are a lesson in exactly how not to set career expectations.

There was a time when leaders could insult their employees into producing results. That time is over. Do you think the "challenging economy" will prohibit employees from leaving your company? If you do, you are wrong! The films mentioned above offered a larger lesson: we reap what we sew.

If you treat your employees like commodities this is what will happen:
a. Your top performers will leave the company
b. Your mediocre employees will stay because they have no other options
c. Said mediocre employees will become managers
d. The up-start talent you recruit will leave because they are smarter than their managers
e. Your Company Will Suck!

In summation:
- Everyone is a Leader
- Ask No One to Do what You Cannot
- Kindness Drives Results

Don't Forget to Remember!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Carpe Diem

No one can forget the speech that Professor Keating gave his class of young upstarts in Dead Poets Society. Keating explained to the book weary nerds that success, more than anything, is predicated on seizing opportunity.

On Tuesday evening the MLB All Star Game was played. As with any sporting event, the pundits made predictions about the game. It was assumed that Matt Cain should not be starting the game nor should his 3 teammates. The telephone evangelists on sports talk radio believed that R.A. Dickey should be first to the mound, that Pablo Sandoval did not deserve to play 3rd base, and who the heck is Melky Cabrera?

The All Stars are voted in by the Fans. Here is San Francisco the fans took to social media to spread a viral campaign for the Giant's player nominations. Some were even bold enough to wear Milkman costumes. How is that fair that regular people would have a say in who plays in this important game? There are players more deserving that might be snubbed from playing this the summer classic. These Giants guys cannot be worthy of performing at All Star level simple because their fans are savvy...can they?

Yes, They Can!

Matt Cain pitched 2 scoreless innings, Pablo Sandoval hit a 3 run triple, and Melky Cabrera hit a home run that garnered him the game's Most Valuable Player. They paid homage to their fans effort by seizing the opportunity.

There is nothing unfair about honoring a process through proving you belong to be there.

In this life nothing comes easy and every day the competition gets stronger. We are all simply looking for an opportunity...to land that dream job, to partner with that prominent brand, to have coffee with the cute girl from our philosophy class.

Seize the Day!

Opportunity is a 2 way street. It takes just one person to see the truth in your potential and the stage is set. The person who holds the keys to the kingdom is always looking for the dark horse candidate that will work his/her butt off to prove they are worthy of the opportunity. How can you convince the decision maker that you are the right partner for that million dollar project? How can you find that underdog talent to provide a summer internship?

We talk until we're blue in the face about qualifications, strategy, and statistical proof. The greatest partnerships have been cultivated on the premise of someone realizing potential in someone else. It's the kid who slept in his car in front of a ball park to get a job at the ticketing office, it's the college drop out who sent code to the CEO of Google, it's the unemployed single dad who sold his car to buy a suit for a job interview.

Extraordinary talent is everywhere...software cannot pre-qualify them, hiring a proven candidate would be a safer bet, and they will require greater training. Ask yourself: do you want the person with a hundred options who will seek greener pastures once the road gets a little bumpy OR do you want the person whose been down the road and knows that failure is not an option.

Take a chance on someone, seize the day!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Friday, July 6, 2012

Simplistic Expertise

I have contended in the past that there are no experts. To me, the term seems a finite distinction. As if to suggest that said "expert" knows everything there is to know about a certain subject. In this day and age of constant progression knowledge attainment has no cap. Thus my opposition to the expert title.

In actuality, one might exhibit expertise by presenting a laser focused solution to a problem with swift precision. As noted above, the information is readily accessible. So, you too can pretend to be an expert by practicing this simple 3 step process:
1. Know the extended purpose of your product
2. Research for validation
3. Engage

A Salesperson vs. A Consultant
After a particularly long day, I sat at a bar stool to reflect on my achievements. My moment of introspection was ruined by the loud mouth next to me. He was explaining to two young ladies the art of succeeding in sales using catch phrases, half baked statistics, and a plethora of stereotypes. He was opinionated, sharp tongued, and incredibly inaccurate. The young ladies bought his spiel hook, line, and sinker. They will spend the next 10 years of their career dispelling his bad advise.

Why people hate salespeople:
- They talk without listening
- They speak in terms of product function (not extended purpose)
- They sight personal experience as if it were applicable to everyone

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains in simple terms that people don't buy what you do they buy why you do it. Much like Jim Collins, Sinek's contention is that discounts are transactional but committed purpose is irreplaceable. In essence, the most important function in sales is listening, not talking.

Let's say I sell training software. I could tell you the intricacies of the 5 part model. Or, I could simply prove that I know your need, that I have a solution, and that we are speaking the same language.

Express WHY your product matters not WHAT it does.

WHY it matters to YOU
We underestimate the simplicity of making meaningful connections. You don't lace a pitch into your personal conversations. You would tell a friend directly if you think your company would be a good fit to partner with his/hers. I am unsure of our apprehension to approach every interaction in a similar manner. We tend to believe that we need to exhibit professionalism....to the contrary, your buyer appreciates candor more than anything. The boss has asked the fact finder to investigate based on a few questions. Not necessarily to determine the effective nature of your service but rather to gage if your response seems genuine. People will not partner with someone who answers a yes/no question with a verbose 20 minute diatribe.

People don't buy WHAT you do they buy WHY you do it.

If I am sitting next to you instead of preaching to you, my odds for winning your trust are much simpler. If I live on your block, understand your plight, and am emotionally involved in the cause WE represent...odds are you would trust me to represent your best interest. Instead, we pretend that we can drop in on a helicopter pad, make a speech to concerned citizens, and pretend to know WHY they need what we represent.

The process of expertise is the ability to understand a need, establish trust, and to present a solution without discomfort.

What if you were never uncertain walking into another meeting. All you have to do is:
a. Know why you do what you do
b. Google to find proof
c. Create a You and I relationship to replace Us and Them

Don't Forget to Remember