Category Archives: Leadership

In The Turn

3 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills and Make a Bigger Impact

Paint Brushes

Do you remember a game from your childhood where you started with an unrecognizable collection of dots on a page, drew a line between them in just the right way, and an image emerged?

Connect-the-dots may be a simple pastime from your youth, but it’s also a metaphor for one of the most powerful capabilities of all successful leaders: strategic thinking.

Stop and think about a time you faced a situation where things were unfamiliar, disorganized, even chaotic. By carefully connecting the dots in all the right places – between people, ideas and resources – you created clarity and opportunity. Your strategic thinking skills carried the day.

Making meaningful connections that allow you to make smart moves is a beautiful thing, especially when it leads to “Eureka!” moments like finding the perfect solution to a pressing problem or developing a creative approach to a new initiative.

Why we don’t think more strategically

One of my coaching clients recently told me that connecting the dots was one of her greatest strengths. Her face lit up as she talked about an interesting new trend she had observed and how she enjoys tackling challenges that seem to stump others.

Then, with a deep sigh, she explained her most daunting leadership dilemma: Not having enough time to think like this.

“I’m too much in the weeds,” she told me, leaving precious little time to think about bigger issues and opportunities.

It’s not just lack of time. Leaders face many other challenges when it comes to thinking strategically:

  • Constant distractions such as meetings, phone calls and unexpected problems that you feel you must respond to.
  • Reasoning and analytical skills that have gotten a little rusty, making it that much harder to come up with solid solutions.
  • Lack of information or adequate resources to help fully understand the landscape when making critical decisions.

You can have a bigger impact

You don’t want to shirk your day-to-day responsibilities, of course, but you want to be more than a tactician. Most leaders want to be strategic thinkers and trusted advisors. Holding this kind of sway gets you invited to the table to work on the big stuff. As a result, your impact on your team, your organization and your industry can be far greater.

Strategic leaders know what matters most and focus on delivering high value. In a practical sense, they have the ability to:

  • See across the total enterprise and thinking collaboratively, not just about one team or business unit.
  • Focus on problems that have the greatest impact on key business goals and initiatives.
  • Spot important trends and know which ones will impact the organization.
  • Understand the competitive landscape and develop a strong positioning that attracts the best customers.
  • Envision where the business needs to go in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Develop plans to lead the organization into the future.

 How to think more strategically

To lead at this level, let’s start with some learnings from neuroscience research and how you can optimize your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain responsible for working through complex issues. Then we’ll take a closer look at some ways you can broaden your perspective and challenge status-quo thinking.

  1. Optimize Your Brain

It’s virtually impossible to think strategically when you multitask. Distractions such as email, phone calls, and visitors require us to shift gears too frequently to allow us to peel back the many layers of a challenge. To counter these distractions, find at least one two-hour block a week when you can work on a single pressing item without interruption. Literally, schedule it on your calendar.

When possible, especially on bigger projects, it’s best to leave your office. You will make more connections and have more of those coveted “Eureka!” moments when you can put yourself in a stress-free environment, not bound by time or place. Where is your “happy place” — a favorite room in your house, a cabin on the lake, a quiet spot in your local library? Go there when you need to think deeply.

You also will have more success solving difficult problems by putting yourself in a positive state of mind. Carol Dweck’s TED talk on how students overcome challenges underscores the value of a positive mindset. As you approach situations where you need to think strategically, remind yourself an answer is within reach.

Another way to optimize your mental performance is by engaging in creative, stimulating activities outside of work such as hobbies or working out. This puts your prefrontal cortex into a high-performing state often referred to as “flow.” This is because your brain releases just the right amount of adrenaline and dopamine – not too much, not too little. During these times, the brain often works subconsciously on solving problems. Be sure to make regular time in your life for hobbies and “flow” so you can encourage these connections to happen and allow new ideas to surface.

  1. Broaden Your Perspective

If you keep listening to the same things or talking with the same people, you’ll find it much more difficult to be strategic when it comes to tackling your organization’s bigger issues. Remember, new thinking comes when you connect the dots in new ways.

Start by thinking about the information you access now. How can you broaden your perspective by mixing it up, adding new resources or meeting new people? Here are some things to consider.

Resources — Look at the blogs, e-newsletters, research reports, websites and other things you read to ensure you have a blend of:

  • General business news locally, nationally and internationally.
  • Political, social and economic trends.
  • Industry-specific information.
  • Leadership advice, tools and techniques to develop yourself and those you lead.
  • Creative inspiration – poetry, novels, humor pieces, or anything that sparks a few “wows” and “cools” in your heart and mind.

Insights — Subscribe to an insights service that can provide trends about the attitudes and behaviors of your customers and stakeholder groups, as well as thoughtful analysis about the future of your industry.

Conferences – Rethink the conferences you are attending. Consider swapping out for – or adding — something outside your normal that offers:

  • Speakers on innovation.
  • Futurists who can give you a better sense of how business and society are evolving.
  • Case studies on new business models.
  • Best practices on leading through change.

Competitors — Pick three competitors to benchmark and do a deep dive on what’s working. Study their websites; get on their email distribution list; download and study their whitepapers. Don’t copy what they do. Instead, look at the unique way they solved a problem or acted opportunistically. What do you observe? What lessons can you learn from their approach? How could this inform your thinking?

Other industries — You can learn a great deal from other sectors. Join a local or regional business group that includes leaders from outside your industry. By broadening your network, you’ll gain fresh perspectives on business challenges others are facing and addressing in different ways. Consider joining a national peer-to-peer organization such as Young Presidents’ Organization, Women Presidents’ Organization or Vistage that offers advisory boards, business research and speakers.

  1. Challenge Your Thinking

In addition to looking outward, take stock of some critical internal business issues. Following are a few areas to take a closer look at, along with some questions to ask yourself and your team.

Products and services

  • How is the marketplace changing? What market forces are impacting your industry?
  • Where are customers/clients shifting their spending? How does this impact your product/service mix? What plans do you have for new product/service development?
  • What are your clients’ biggest pain points? How do you know? How are you addressing these opportunities?
  • Do you have the types of clients you want? If not, who do you want? Do you have a cultivation strategy in place to attract those types of clients?

Positioning

  • What is your company the best at? Are you in your “sweet spot?”
  • Are you positioning yourselves optimally in the marketplace?
  • Do you have differentiating products/services that set you apart from the competition?
  • Are you investing in staying at the forefront of your area of expertise?
  • Is your current branding reflective of the company you are evolving to become?

Revenue

  • What business could you lose in two years? What would you replace that with and are you cultivating that now? (Plan B clients)
  • Do you have a client dependency issue?
  • Can you diversify revenue through new types of products/services/markets?
  • Are you on firm financial footing (revenue growth and profitability)? What goals should you set and metrics should you track to stay closer to your finances?

Talent

  • What talent will you need to carry you into the future? What jobs do you need to create that you don’t have now?
  • How will your talent mix need to change? Specialist vs generalist? Strategic vs tactical? AI vs humans?
  • What succession plans need to be in place for key positions?
  • How does your employee turnover compare to the industry? Are you investing appropriately in retention strategies? If not, what needs to change?

When you did those connect-the-dots visuals back in the day, it probably didn’t take long for you to begin seeing the pattern – bird, cowboy, doctor, frog, flower… It’s not always that easy or that clear for a leader. But seeing the patterns and creating a strategy for the future is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

So, optimize your brain, broaden your perspective, and challenge your thinking. Then see what emerges.


Leading a Team to Breakthrough Performance

Let’s face it. Being an effective leader today is complex and challenging. Regardless of the industry you’re in, or the size of your team, you face issues and uncertainty that make leadership more difficult than ever before.

If you’re tired of struggling to be all the leader you want to be, I invite you to join me next month for a new online leadership experience called “Leading a Team to Breakthrough Performance.”

This is a mini-course I’ve designed specifically for high-performing leaders who are looking for specific tools, techniques and approaches to help them lead their teams to new heights while becoming better leaders themselves.

I’m offering this for four weeks starting July 10, so it’s perfectly timed to give you the mid-year boost you need to jump-start yourself and your team for the rest of the year.

Find out more here. I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

Team Mind-Reading: How You Can Acquire the Ultimate Leadership Superpower

“I wonder what she’s thinking…”  How many times have you thought that before or after talking with one of your team members?  Wouldn’t it be great if you really knew?

Mind-reading is a leadership superpower most of us would like to have. We’d all love to know what’s going on inside someone’s head. Through conversation, observation and interaction, you can get some clues. But sometimes you can end up pretty far off, too.

That lack of clarity makes your job as a leader even harder. You’re surprised when someone reacts negatively to your words or misinterprets your actions.  You’re frustrated when your team doesn’t seem inspired by the goals you set and doesn’t get on board. Sometimes you leave a conversation where plenty was said, but little seems to have been understood.

Why it helps to know what others are thinking

Your ability to connect with and understand others is critically important to your leadership effectiveness.  You have many things you want and need to share with those you lead including vision, values, goals and performance expectations, among countless other business-related topics.

Likewise, you want to understand what your team is thinking. You’d like to know:

  • What motivates each person?
  • What are their fears and triggers?
  • What obstacles are holding them back?
  • How do they make choices?
  • Why are they behaving in certain ways?
  • What do they really think about you and the organization?

Armed with this kind of insight, you can lead far more powerfully because you can say and do the things that will resonate most with your team.

With advanced neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (think MRI that measures blood flow in the brain), we’re learning many new things about how and why the brain directs our thinking, behavior, emotional response and decision-making.  More and more, it is becoming possible for scientists to identify thoughts and feelings by watching different parts of the brain light up on a computer screen.

Absent an fMRI in your office, how can you become more adept at knowing what makes someone tick?

It’s not as hard as you might imagine.  There are some powerful leadership tools and techniques you can employ to become a more capable mind-reader – and, in turn, a far better leader.

I’ve got three to share with you today.

 

1. Create safety in conversations

It’s human nature to protect ourselves. Whether it’s a saber-tooth tiger jumping out of the bushes or someone who we think is out to get us, threats of all kinds cause us to react defensively.  This fight/flight/freeze instinct is an automatic response controlled by our limbic system that triggers a physical reaction to threats — our heart races, our breathing gets shallow, and our muscles tighten.

We also have an emotional reaction to threats, especially social threats such as feeling left out or losing our sense of control. When we are triggered we can become angry, fearful or simply go silent.

You can help to minimize someone’s defensive responses by creating a sense of safety when you are with them. This is particularly important in weighty conversations, where the goal is to have honest, forthright and productive dialogue.

In the book “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, the authors explain the importance of first creating a sense of safety between two individuals before having a significant conversation.  You can accomplish this by establishing a common purpose to focus on and demonstrating mutual respect.  In so doing, you enable others to feel less threatened and more willing to fully engage in difficult but meaningful discussion.

What’s the result?  When people feel safe, they can say anything. The more others share with you, the more you can discover what they are thinking.  And vice versa.  Which paves the way for smoother resolution of conflicts and greater alignment around common goals.

2. Discover what triggers them

All of us have motives for the decisions we make and the actions we take. The problem is, we often don’t openly share what drives us. This creates a sense of confusion and challenge for leaders who are trying to navigate interactions with many different types of people in the workplace.

Figuring out what motivates others is very useful. This knowledge enables you to engage them more effectively and see with greater accuracy how situations should and could unfold.

Interestingly, our motivations are often the flip side of something that challenges us – a trigger that causes us to react negatively.

In his book, “Your Brain at Work,” David Rock outlines five social triggers research has identified as the most common reasons people get upset:

  • Status – feeling less than or better than others
  • Certainty – ability to predict outcomes
  • Autonomy – sense of control
  • Relatedness – in-group or out-of-group
  • Fairness – perception of fair exchange

Think about the individuals on your team. What are their likely triggers?  How have they responded in the past to different situations? Then think through what you can do to mitigate a negative response.

For example, imagine you have to tell someone their budget’s been cut. If certainty is important to them, you should provide information about other resources they can turn to that would help create a greater sense of certainty. If autonomy is important to them, give them some time and space to think through different options for how they can overcome the challenge, and give them some authority to move forward in a new way.

By thinking through what triggers others, you can better anticipate what their thoughts and feelings will be and navigate your interactions with them.

3. Ask them

This one seems so simple, but we often don’t ask what other people are thinking because we are unwilling to take the time to do so. Or we assume we already know.

Stop guessing what someone wants, and ask them.

This is especially important when trying to make decisions about how best to develop your team members and prepare them to take on more.  Ask yourself: “Do I really know what this person’s career goals are? Do I have a clear sense of their strengths and weaknesses, and know where they’d like to improve?”

You can learn what others are thinking by asking prompting questions that encourage them to share their ideas with you. Set aside time in your one-on-one meetings to ask questions like: “How do you feel you are progressing toward your career goals?” Or “What are some areas you’d like to get stronger in if given the chance?”

By asking – and actively listening – you can gain a clear understanding of what your team members want and need. You can determine who might be best suited to take on a new responsibility and how to empower them to own it. When you know what their goals are, you can give someone a stretch assignment that will allow them to grow in an area they would like to develop.

By asking, you can learn what they’re thinking and be in a better position to meet their needs and with just the right fit at the right time.

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.


Upcoming free webinar: “Mastering the Art of Delegation”

If you’d like to learn more about how to make deeper connections with others, to know what motivates them and how you can work more effectively with them, I invite you to stay tuned for my free webinar “Mastering the Art of Delegation” coming up this month.

In this one-hour live session, I will go deep on the specific steps you can take to empower, equip and enable others – and it all starts with how well you can know what others are thinking. I look forward to sharing more with you soon! Be the first to know about the details when you sign up for my online content and Journey Mindset Guide.

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In The Turn

Leadership Under Pressure: How to Show Courage, Cunning and Character When It Really Matters

This is Part Two in a series based on my recent trip to India. Part One shared stories of our adventures looking for tigers and the powerful leadership lessons I learned while on safari. Now, I’d like to take you deep into the ancient palaces of the maharajas and maharanis, where we discovered secrets of royalty who walked these rooms centuries ago.

As always, I found inspiration for modern leadership – this time from the lives of these great men and women who demonstrated great courage, cunning and character in life-and-death situations. I hope you learn as much from them as I did.

The morning breeze felt good as it blew in gently from the windows where I stood. I could see through the wood-carved screens to the lake just outside the palace walls. The water sparkled in the sunshine. Shade trees dotted the water’s edge and covered the hillside beyond.

I leaned against the cool marble walls, looked around the upper room of this tower, and marveled. While the setting of the City Palace in Udaipur is breath-taking, the interiors of this majestic building are simply spectacular.

India, the world’s sixth-largest economy and the fastest-growing outside of China, has a history rich with colorful figures, dynasties and periods of turmoil as well as prosperity. As we walked the halls, I couldn’t help being swept up by the stories our guide told us of the men and women who lived in palaces like this one.

What would life have been like to lead a kingdom during that time? What secrets did these walls hold? What leadership lessons can we learn?

A Maharaja to remember

One of the most celebrated leaders was Chhatrapati Shivaji, a legendary maharaja who founded the Maratha kingdom in the 17th century and who displayed at least three important characteristics leaders need today: Courage, cunning, and character.

Shivaji’s reign is noted for many things. He was a champion of religious tolerance, the “Father of the Indian Navy,” and a supporter of women’s rights.

He was also a skilled leader in battle, demonstrating courage time and again by fighting fiercely against attackers and protecting the people who lived in his kingdom. He earned the nickname “mountain rat” because of his knowledge of the mountainous countryside and his ingenuity in triumphing over enemies in difficult terrain.

We heard several stories about Shivaji, but perhaps my favorite occurred during his struggle against a Mughal emperor named Aurangzeb. This is a conflict that waged for many years. At one point, Shivaji and his men captured several forts, and things finally came to a head. The emperor couldn’t tolerate losing more ground. So he sent a huge army to attack Shivaji and his band of men, forcing a peace treaty.

Shivaji agreed to meet with Aurangzeb in Agra, which is the home of the Taj Mahal and a major city in the state of what is known today as Rajasthan. Aurangzeb assured him he would be treated like royalty when he arrived.

A daring escape

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Shivaji and his son, who accompanied him to Agra, were at first ignored by the Mughal; then quickly placed under house arrest and threatened with execution.

Shivaji was furious when he realized he had been tricked. Their lives were in danger now – as was his entire kingdom.

While stuck in captivity, Shivaji began to think – how could he overcome this turn of events and escape? Calling upon his ingenuity, the clever leader thought of a plan and put it into motion.

Shivaji sent word to his captors that he had become ill and asked for doctors to treat him. After three days, he insisted he had been cured and ask for sweets to be distributed to doctors and needy people in the land as a way of showing his gratitude. Huge quantities of special treats were prepared and carried out from the palace grounds in large bamboo baskets.

At first, guards carefully inspected each basket before allowing it to leave. As the days wore on, however, they became lax. Shivaji knew this was his chance.

In a thrilling escape, he and his son hid in the baskets and were carried to freedom under the very noses of the guards who were supposed to be watching them!

Once outside, they disguised themselves as beggars, shaving their very recognizable beards and mustaches, exchanging their clothing, and putting ashes on their faces. They escaped through the countryside and returned to their kingdom.

Shivaji was welcomed back as a hero. Once back in power, he focused all his efforts on restoring his kingdom, instituting reforms and establishing stability in the region. He eventually was coronated as a king, and he ruled for many years until his death.

Leadership lessons

The legendary Maharaja never lived in the City Palace of Udaipur. But his story is larger than life, and I thought about it throughout our trip. I’m struck by three leadership lessons we can take from his example.

Lesson 1: Courage is a constant

While one could argue that Shivaji was a little blood-thirsty, he is not unlike many other warrior kings in history who succeeded largely through constant courage and a willingness to fight. He stood up to his enemies and refused to let them defeat him.

He also earned the respect of his soldiers by demonstrating his battle skills and fighting side-by-side with them in the trenches. As a result, they remained loyal and willingly followed him into battle.

Have you ever felt you were “under siege” as a leader, fighting for your team, your values, your point of view or a cause you passionately believed in? Whether we like it or not, such battles are simply a part of leadership.

It requires courage to rise to these occasions, especially when everything inside you wants to head for the hills. Here are a few things to remember that will help increase your courage in the heat of battle.

  •  Stand your ground – Instead of shrinking back, stand up, plant your feet and take up some space. This increases your confidence by altering your neurochemicals – increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol. Neuroscience research has shown that when we have higher levels of testosterone, we are more persistent in the face of failure, better negotiators and more willing to take risks.

One of the most popular TED talks (more than 42 million views) features psychologist Amy Cuddy explaining why “power posing” might be useful to build courage. Her research suggests there is an increase in testosterone when we strike a confident pose. She’s not suggesting we stand defiantly when we’re leading others, although there might be times when we need a strong posture. More often, power posing is part of our preparation. “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes,” says Cuddy.

  • Show grace under fireBrené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, has noted that the root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. “In one of its earliest forms,” Brown writes, “the word courage meant, ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”

This type of courage allows us to own our actions rather than casting blame, to be outspoken about our beliefs, and to demonstrate confidence and poise even when we’re under extreme stress or pressure. It’s a self-confidence that comes from knowing and demonstrating our hearts.

  • Remember who you are – Too often we are consumed with the business and the busyness of our daily work. But it’s important to step back periodically and remind yourself why you’ve chosen to lead. What drives you? What are your values? What do you want your legacy to be? When you are clear about these things, it helps crystallize in your mind who you are as a leader and why you are willing to fight for things that matter to you.

Lesson 2: Cunning comes from clear thinking

Many times, it isn’t sheer force of will that carries the day. It’s how we use our wits. Like Shivaji, we may need to devise a clever way out of a pickle. So, we need to optimize our thinking skills and be prepared to use them when the pressure is on.

Here are two tips to help you think clearly when you need it most.

  • Manage your emotions – An important fact to know about your brain: Your limbic system, which regulates your emotions, and your prefrontal cortex, which controls complex thinking, both require plenty of glucose and oxygen. As a result, they cannot operate optimally at the same time. This explains why you’re thinking is often significantly impaired when you’re in a heightened emotional state, and you find yourself at a loss for words.

Effective leaders know how to dial back their emotional responses so they can clear their heads to think. You can improve your ability to do this by practicing mindfulness, which is remaining present and aware of your thoughts and feelings instead of escaping into your mind when the going gets tough. As you learn to inhibit negative narratives in your head, you can be more objective and perceive situations realistically. Practicing meditation regularly also improves your ability to focus.

  • See things another way — You can use basic cognitive strategies such as repositioning, which is stepping back to see things from another’s perspective. If you could consult a friend or a mentor on the situation, how might they advise you? Many times, others can help us consider options we might not see for ourselves.

Lesson 3: Character defines your legacy

More than courage and cunning, your character tells the world what kind of leader you are. We read daily of leaders who stumble due to lack of judgment, ethical breaches or outright criminal activity. Even though no one is perfect and we all fall short, it’s disheartening.

We hold leaders to a higher standard and look up to them – as we should. Being in a position of power means you set vision, show the way and make important decisions, many of which impact others as well as yourself.

I was impressed to learn of Shivaji’s commitments to better the quality of life for his people. He was known for his respect and tolerance for different faiths. During a time when women were not treated particularly well, the Maharaja did not tolerate violence or harassment against women. He got in the trenches with his soldiers and fought with them.

He didn’t have to lead this way, but he chose to anyway, and he enjoyed support and stability because of the respect he earned.

  • Leaders of character consider the needs of others — Courage and cunning are part of your character, but the part that most defines your legacy as a leader is your selflessness. Leaders cannot be all about themselves; instead, they keep the interests of others as a top priority. Otherwise, no one will willingly follow them – at least not for long.

Great leaders do not abuse power or take advantage of it for their own gain. They consider the needs of others and show respect for individuals regardless of their standing in society. Their decisions and actions show what they’re made of and what’s in their heart.

Being a leader of character means knowing and living your values. Most of us are pretty good at the first part; it’s the second part that’s so hard! But living them is what really matters. It allows us to earn not just the respect of others, but, most importantly, our own.

During times of great challenge, we are drawn to people who muster a rare combination of courage, cunning and character. Shivaji seems to have brought them all. I hope his legacy inspires you to demonstrate these same qualities in your own leadership journey.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Create a Personal Board of Directors and Accelerate Your Career

The meeting was over, and I returned to my office feeling extremely satisfied with the results. Then I heard a knock on the door and looked up to see a co-worker who had come to gently set me straight.

As it turned out, what I thought had been a successful meeting regarding a major decision instead had left others confused about my thinking and concerned about what was ahead. I thought I had done a great job of communicating and inspiring, only to learn I hadn’t taken the time to provide some much-needed context. In my eagerness to drive the decision, I had left out valuable details to earn buy-in.

We’ve all had situations when our self-awareness gets lost in self-denial, Or in my case, lost in my own POV. Realistic self-assessment is incredibly difficult. We’re either too easy or too hard on ourselves, and neither is good.

  • When we’re too easy, we begin to think our way is the best and only way, and we disregard the diverse views of others. We become overly confident, take chances we shouldn’t and think we’re more effective than we really are.
  • When we’re too hard on ourselves, we question every decision. We’re more hesitant than we should be and don’t trust our instincts enough. We need too much validation, don’t feel worthy of respect and suffer from the imposter syndrome.

Either way, we are not leading at our best and those around us suffer as a result.

The biggest problem: Getting feedback

It takes hard work to strike the right balance and have a fair appraisal of ourselves so we can play to our strengths while continually striving to improve our weaknesses.

The biggest problem is we often don’t get the feedback we need to inform our self-perceptions. It’s challenging for others to tell the truth or share less than flattering observations with us, especially if we’re in a position of power. We often don’t get accurate, honest comments about how our words, actions and intentions are perceived.

One of the best ways to gain regular, meaningful feedback is to put together a personal board of directors – a team of mentors who will tell it like it is when we need to hear it most.

Wendy Davidson, the president of U.S. Specialty Channels for the Kellogg Company, introduced this idea to me several years ago, because she believes her personal board has been invaluable to her highly successful career. I couldn’t agree more.

Benefits of a personal board of directors

Consider some of the countless ways a personal board can advance your career. They can:

  • Offer practical advice about how to tackle new opportunities to increase your chances of getting key decisions right the first time
  • Serve as an informal coach who can provide wisdom about challenging situations or interactions with others
  • Share subject-matter expertise to expand your understanding on a specific topic
  • Point you toward resources and tools that will further your development and learning Introduce you to people to help expand your network
  • Hold you accountable for changing an attitude or behavior impacting your professional performance
  • Offer diverse points of view and different life experiences to challenge your thinking and broaden your view of the world
  • Provide “big picture” perspective about your career as you consider job opportunities or career moves

How to form your board

The concept of a personal board of directors isn’t new, and most leaders I know see it as a great idea. But many never give the time and energy it takes to form and take advantage of such a board. So, how do you actually pull it off? It’s not as hard as it seems, but it does require a bit of thinking and planning. I’ve mapped out a simple process with these three steps to establishing a personal board of directors:

1. Assess your biggest needs

Start by listing of your five biggest challenges/needs — things that are potentially holding you back in your career or impacting your work/life balance. Some examples:

  • Unfamiliar with practical financial principles that impact my strategic thinking abilities
  • Not managing my emotions effectively under pressure
  • Not enough knowledge of front-line operations
  • Working too late in the evenings on a regular basis
  • Feeling confused and overwhelmed by complex decisions

If it helps, turn these challenges into simple “goal statements,” such as:

  • Develop a working knowledge of the most useful financial principles for my role
  • Keep my cool more often when I am facing deadlines

2. Identify prospects

Once you have a better sense of your needs, think about who could help you most. Consider asking people who:

  • Are in a position you aspire to have someday
  • Come from another company in your industry (that you don’t compete with)
  • Come from an entirely different industry
  • Are experts in an area you need to learn more about
  • Can feed your spirit and encourage you to invest in yourself
  • Are willing to be brutally honest to help, not hurt
  • Will always have your best interests at heart

List each prospect’s name, organization, area of expertise, and which one or more of your five goals can they help you with. Make sure you have current contact information for each prospect.

Make as long a list as you like, but an ideal personal board has 3-5 members. You’ll need more prospects since everyone may not be able to help.

3. Make the ask

Once you have your list, take some time to write a short script or a few bullet points to guide your conversation so you can articulate your thinking clearly and succinctly when you call each prospect.

For example, you’ll want to explain why you are forming a personal board of directors, what is involved if someone agrees to join and how each person could help you with one or more of your five opportunities for growth.

Here’s an example of what you could say and why you need to say it:

  • I’ve been evaluating my career, identifying my strengths and my opportunities for growth. I’ve set some specific goals for myself that I believe will further my career. (establishes that you have done your homework)
  • I greatly admire what you have accomplished, particularly ___________ (name something related to one or more of your five areas for growth). This expertise and your career success would be invaluable to me. (explains why you are asking them)
  • I have decided to form a personal board of directors and would love to have you as a part of this team of super mentors for me. (clarifies your plan of action)
  • What that simply means is I would like to connect with you once every few months to ask for your advice or seek your expertise when I know it could make a big impact on me. I would like to treat you to lunch or dinner, or we could arrange to meet by phone/video call, too – whatever is easier for you. (tells them how much time would be involved on their end)
  • I would like your help as I continue on my developmental journey. Would you be willing to be on my personal board of directors? (makes the ask)

Start with your top prospects and work your way through your list, ensuring that you create a board with diverse strengths and expertise. Make notes of the feedback you receive to help shape how you bring your board to life and what their preferences might be for how you engage with them. Even prospects who cannot take the time to join your board now will likely have some advice for you.

TIP: Don’t fear ‘the ask’

One piece of advice Wendy shared with me is not to be afraid to ask. Many times, we worry that asking for help is a burden to others. Wendy reminded me that looking to others for advice can be a compliment. You’re saying, “You have something that I can learn from, and I’d like you to be a part of my career moving forward.”

Next steps

A few suggestions on next steps:

  • Once you have secured the agreement of and feedback from your board members, send them a thank-you email or hand-written note.
  • Look ahead on your schedule to identify times you can connect with them in person or by phone/video. Make a note to reach out to them several weeks in advance so they can make time to meet.
  • Prepare for each meeting so you can give them an overview of what’s going on in your career. If you have a specific request, let them know the topic in advance so they can think about how to help.
  • Always send a thank-you note any time your board members help you. Let them know the result and the impact they have made.

If you want to take a deeper dive on this topic – to hear the full story about how and why Wendy created her board, and how she used this throughout her career – read Chapter 3 in my book, Leading Through the Turn.

I am proud to say Wendy is on my personal board of directors, and I am on hers. Her impact on my leadership journey has been profound, and it is an honor to help her whenever I can. Imagine how your personal board of directors will impact the trajectory of your career. Don’t be afraid to ask!

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

The Power of the Question: Get Better Results By Saying Less and Asking More

Have you ever had a light-bulb moment? An ah-ha thought? An epiphany?

Those amazing moments often start at the same place: A question. Good leaders have good ideas. But great leaders ask the questions that produce invaluable thinking in others.

Helping others find their own insights

Discovering your own insights is an empowering experience. When you think things through to find answers, it increases your confidence, energizes you as you “see” solutions, and allows you to establish a track record of solving problems and overcoming challenges.

We know through neuroscience research that not only is having an insight incredibly invigorating, but we are much more committed to taking action when we see a solution tied to our ideas.

As leaders, too often we rely on telling rather than asking.  In our eagerness to solve a problem or get something done, we jump straight to saying what we think others need to hear. The only problem is, it’s our thinking and our ideas. And maybe none of theirs.

The best leaders understand this. They don’t give their team all the answers. Instead, they lead by questioning and teach their team how to come up with viable, actionable solutions on their own as much as possible. This is the essence of the coaching style of leadership and a far more rewarding way to lead, both for yourself and others.

Why lead-by-questioning works

Think about a time when a team member hit a roadblock. Your first instinct is to suggest a solution, which is not a bad thing, and, on the surface, seems the most efficient thing to do. But by handing them the solutions, you:

  • Cheat them out of a learning and development opportunity;
  • Miss out on fresh thinking they could bring to the table; and
  • Create added stress and pressure on yourself by trying to be the problem-solver. (NOTE: Some leaders like being the hero, but that’s often not the best use of your time and abilities.)

Instead, by asking the right questions, you can help this team member find a good solution herself. At the same time, she will have the chance to learn from it, she may offer an entirely different idea that works better, and she may also leave your office skipping down the hall.

Not only will she benefit, but you will, too.

  • You build your team into better critical and strategic thinkers and more capable problem-solvers.
  • You free up your time to focus on bigger issues rather than solving problems for others.
  • As your team performs at a higher level, you become a “multiplying leader” – someone who gets exponentially more done by working with and through others rather than relying on your own strengths.
  • People want to work for you because you are an empowering leader, not a controlling one.
  • You foster loyalty because people appreciate that you let them figure things out for themselves.

Asking the right questions

So how can you implement a lead-by-questioning style?  First, you avoid the wrong questions —questions that can be answered with one word (yes or no), that focus on the problem, or that tend to make others defensive.

Would anyone on your team respond positively to questions like this:

  • Why are you behind schedule?
  • What’s the problem with this project?
  • Who isn’t keeping up?
  • Don’t you know any better than that?
  • Wouldn’t you agree … ?
  • How could this have happened?

The best questions empower others by:

  • Getting them to think more deeply about an issue
  • Inspiring them to come up with unique ideas
  • Enabling them to create new connections in their head they couldn’t make before
  • Encouraging them to see potential in any situation
  • Promoting a growth mindset — “we can figure this out” – rather than a fixed mindset – “we’ve done all we can”
  • Helping them focus on the solution, not the problem
  • Encouraging them to trust their own instincts

Some examples of empowering questions include:

  • What options are coming to your mind?
  • What does success look like?
  • How will a solution make our client/customer feel?
  • What gaps do you see in your thinking?
  • What’s your gut instinct here?
  • What will it take to get there?
  • What is a good next step?
  • How do you feel about the resources you have in place?
  • How can I help you from here?

Establishing a lead-by-questioning culture

The more you ask great questions, the more you will foster a culture that values this approach and that others will emulate. Get things rolling by asking your team learning-focused questions during team meetings. For example, after a project has wrapped up, try asking:

  • What was particularly effective about this team?
  • What could be “even better if”?
  • What did we learn from a disappointment? How can we apply that in the future?
  • How could we improve upon our work flow?

Encourage your team to try lead-by-questioning in their circle of influence, too. Share the list of empowering questions above with them. In your one-on-ones, ask them about the types of questions they are asking and how that is changing the results they are getting.

Helping your people think for themselves ultimately helps everyone perform better. They grow and flourish in their roles, and you gain more time and space to focus on big-picture issues. You become an empowering leader whose success is exponential and whose influence is scalable.

Remember – you don’t have to have the answer when you ask the question. Neither do they! But by getting others thinking, good answers will come.

Two great resources on this topic:

What questions have you used that work well? I’d love to hear your ideas and look forward to hearing from you — elise@elisemitchell.com.

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

The Authentic Leader’s Toolkit: 5 Ways to Cultivate Greater Authenticity in Your Daily Leadership

Do you know someone at work who comes across as a fake?  One of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is trying to be something you’re not. Any positive results are almost certainly short-lived. And when it’s carried to an extreme, you can become a destination leader who is focused on someone else’s destination.

Authentic leadership is a powerful – and increasingly more common – style of leadership built on the idea of being who you are, and then striving to become the best you can be.

But how do you bring your best – and whole – self to work?  Let’s take a closer look at what makes someone an authentic leader and how you can cultivate greater authenticity in your daily leadership style.

 

Qualities of Authentic Leaders

When you think about what makes an authentic leader, what qualities come to mind?

Transparency, Great listening skills, Self-awareness, perhaps?

Authentic leadership can be defined in many ways, and it is a style of leadership that has been studied for a number of years. It was first introduced in the 1960s as management theorists were thinking about what makes an authentic company. Then in the early 2000s, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, wrote two books on the subject: Authentic Leadership and Discover Your True North.

In his first book Authentic Leadership, Bill George defined the concept as leaders who had the ability to incorporate certain characteristics into their leadership style:

  • Purpose– Authentic leaders have a deep sense of purpose for their leadership, they really search to understand their focus and what they can uniquely contribute
  • Values – They are true to their core values, they know what they believe in and live up to that consistently in all they say and do
  • Head/heart– Authentic leaders lead with their hearts as well as their heads, they are willing to show some emotion and empathy
  • Relational – They invest in others over time, they are loyal and patient with people, and they strive to do what is right and best for others not just for themselves
  • Self-disciplined, focused on getting results– Authentic leaders work hard and help others stay focused on the most important goals that must be accomplished

As you look at George’s list, how does it sound to you?  I like it, but I also wondered: Does this mean every authentic leader has to be the same?

 

Be Yourself

No, definitely not. That would be the opposite of what being “authentic” means. There are all kinds of leaders, each person has their own style and voice. So we can each strive to attain these qualities George outlines, but we don’t have to exhibit them in the same way.

For example, you may be very passionate and demonstrative in sharing your purpose while others will show this through dedication and hard work.

We all have many different values as leaders. Or we may have a unique sense of purpose for our leadership that is unlike other leaders. That’s good, and again, really illustrates that we can – and should— bring our uniqueness into our leadership.

What can you do to be a more authentic leader?

 

Authentic Leadership Toolkit

Interestingly, George’s second book True North, considered this question of whether there is a cookie-cutter mold for authentic leadership. He and his team interviewed 125 leaders between the ages of 23 and 93 to find out how they were becoming authentic leaders.

While many of them were very different, there were some similar things they did to be uniquely themselves.

Based on their study findings and a few of my own thoughts on authentic leadership, here are a few tools and tips on how you can bring your most authentic self forward in your leadership journey.

 

  1. What’s your story?

You can use your own unique life experiences to inform your style. Your childhood or perhaps a defining event that has shaped who you are today. What if you were applying for a promotion at work and I asked you to tell me about something that happened to you that helped define who you are today – what would you tell me?

It’s important to have a way to share your life story and to have clarity yourself about who you are today because of it.

 

  1. Define your values

Use your personal values to guide your actions and decisions. Have you ever written down your values?  Most people have four or five words that really capture what they believe in.

I encourage you to go through that process if you haven’t already. Find some think time to reflect on this over the next several days, if you can, and jot down a few words.

When you put all the words together, does that capture the essence of what means the most to you?  I think you’ll find this to be a really powerful experience to help define your authenticity as a leader.

 

  1. Listen to your inner voice

It’s critical that you learn to listen for and to your own voice rather just the opinions of others to guide your leadership path. Authentic leaders have a strong internal drive and clarity that can be louder than the voice of others.

I have a friend who was being marginalized at work due to a merger; she decided to do something about it. She became board chair of a major non-profit with some high-profile aspects of it. She also applied for and was accepted into a fellowship program that gave her exposure to other community and business leaders.

These things helped change how she felt about herself and helped her take back her future, regain some control over her own development as a leader. Eventually, this move led her to a very prestigious job as a CFO in a prominent organization.

 

  1. Keep both feet on the ground

Leaders who lose touch with reality and stop listening to honest feedback from others struggle to remain authentic. Instead, you should rely on your trusted advisors, family and friends to help you stay grounded. Let them help you maintain a sense of humility.

They can also help you find some balance between your personal and professional life. Sometimes you lean into family, sometimes into work. Each will let you know when they need you. We should give each other permission to respond in order to keep both parts of our life nurtured and growing.

 

  1. Live a full life

You also need to find time for you – to have a hobby or personal interest, to find a way to maintain your physical, mental and spiritual health. Engaging in the things you love allows you to stay in touch with your true self. Finding joy in our personal passions is essential if you’re going to make it all the way on this leadership journey without burning out.

 

Becoming an authentic leader may require a change on your part, plus some time and effort. But having a learner’s mindset is the key. When you’re willing to learn as you go, you will continue to grow and become the best you can be.

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

Last Crop in Fallsville: A Lesson of Love and Compassion

Like you, I’ve been inspired by the many kindnesses shown to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Neighbor helping neighbor.

But it shouldn’t take a crisis for us to show love and compassion to those around us.

I have a favorite story about a chance encounter years ago when I was learning to ride a motorcycle – and it happened on Labor Day Weekend. It taught me a lesson I’ll never forget about the opportunity we have as leaders to impact others for good every day. Please enjoy…

“By the fall of 2009, I could confidently say I had made the turn toward a journey mindset that brought balance to my destination style of leadership. I wasn’t there—I’m still not there—but I was on a better course.

So when Labor Day weekend rolled around that September, I had no problem rolling away from my work and enjoying a ride on my bike.

Raye and I met his father, a good friend, and another couple just as the sun came up for a beat-the-heat ride through the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Our self-appointed navigator was born and raised in these hills, so we fell in line behind his Harley as we started out from Fayetteville. The general plan—after a pit stop for biscuits and gravy in Huntsville—was a ride through Newton County, a sparsely populated county with winding highways that are quite popular among cyclists.

The first hour or two of our ride took us through small towns, some beautiful rural areas with tree-covered hillsides, sprawling farms, and tiny churches with inspiring signs like, “We use duct tape to fix everything. God used nails.”

By mid-morning, we decided to stop at a bend in the road called Fallsville. The small gravel lot had a lone white building with a single glass door, and three old-timey gas pumps. No credit card swiping here. You’re gonna have to go in, which was our intention anyway. We needed a stretch.

We discovered the only available restroom didn’t require a key—outhouses apparently don’t need that much protection. As we laughed about this, I noticed not far from us an old pickup sitting under a tree. An overall-clad gentleman was perched on the edge of the passenger’s seat with the door standing open.

Sprawling around the truck were piles of plump green-striped watermelons. I didn’t need a cutting to know they’d been picked at the height of their juicy glory. I decided to wander over for a visit, and Gentleman Gene, as I think of him now, broke into a smile at the prospect of a buyer approaching.

“How’s business,” I asked, curious if he had—or if he really expected—to sell any melons that day.

“Picking up,” he said. “They’re beauties, and better than anything you’ve ever tasted.”

Certainly a convincing argument, especially on a hot summer day.

“You raise pretty melons,” I agreed as I looked them over.

He got out of his seat and leaned on the side of the truck. The entire bed was filled with dozens more melons.

“I’m just trying to get whatever I can for them today,” he went on. “They’re not mine. They’re my neighbor’s.”

Gene, as it turned out, was a proud farmer who just couldn’t stand the thought of letting perfectly good watermelons rot in the field. So he had driven to his neighbor’s house that morning and convinced him to let him load up his truck and come to the gas station to try to find a home for as many as possible.

“Why wouldn’t your neighbor bring them himself,” I asked. Seemed like a nice but strange thing to do, hauling off your neighbor’s bounty. Was his neighbor lazy, tired of eating melons, tired of giving them away?

His answer caught me off guard. “He’s just not up to it this year. He’s got cancer pretty bad. He’ll never make another harvest. This is his last crop.”

A new appreciation for the melons flooded over me, and their natural beauty just shone. Gorgeous shades of green, smooth round skin, plump centers. Just the way they were at rest on top of each other looked as if someone had carefully placed each one in a certain spot to catch the morning’s light through the trees. I began taking pictures of them.

Gentleman Gene went on to tell me how his neighbor had lived off the land his whole life, reaping what he sowed and scraping together enough along the way to feed and clothe fourteen children. An experienced chef after a fashion, he had taught all the women in the area to make homemade sorghum molasses. Gene grinned, “I think the most he ever made in a year was $1,200. Some of it from his melons.”

No doubt.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of motorcycle engines. I looked past him to our group. They were putting helmets on and folding maps. Time to get going again. I thanked Gene for his story and apologized for not being able to take some melons with me.

“They don’t make saddle bags big enough for melons,” I said. “But I want you to do something for me.” He leaned forward. “Please tell your neighbor you met someone today who thought these were the most beautiful melons she had ever seen. That she took pictures of them and promised to share their beauty with others.”

He laughed. “That will make him smile, and I haven’t seen him smile in a long time.”

As we rode away, I thought about fall, but not with the welcome anticipation I’d felt that morning. Harvest is a time of plenty but it’s also a time of endings. I never used to think about things winding down in life; I was always too wound up. But of course there is a time of harvest that comes for us all. The real question is what are we harvesting?

Gentleman Gene had done his neighbor a favor, but he’d done one for me, too. It may have been the last crop, but it won’t be one that’s forgotten. ”

P.S. You’ll find this story at the end of Chapter 12 in my book “Leading Through the Turn.”

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

3 Ways You Can Find Opportunity in the Midst of Change

Every leader I talk with these days is leading through some kind of change. I suspect you are, too.

Maybe you’re in an industry that’s being disrupted by technology. Maybe you’re leading a team that’s been part of a merger or acquisition. Maybe you’ve been assigned an under-performing team that needs coaching or a complete shake-up. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur leading a team through the uncertainty of the start-up phase.

If you’re dealing with change, this post is for you. And I’ve got three very practical lessons to help you find new opportunities in times of uncertainty.

I’ve drawn these lessons from a conversation I had recently with a good friend of mine who has been knee-deep in change for years. She leads nearly 4,000 employees in 83 offices worldwide, and they are smack in the middle of the digital industry.

My friend is Ruth Stubbs — a fearless leader and an inspiring change agent. I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years about leading through change. She’s a pioneer in digital marketing with more than 25 years of experience in the media industry and today serves as global president of iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency and one of our sister agencies in Dentsu Aegis Network.

Ruth is a wife, mom and endurance athlete. She lives in Singapore and is a tireless champion of female entrepreneurs.

But what really strikes me about Ruth is how she brings a journey mindset to dealing with change. She’s learned to view change as a part of the leader’s journey, and she looks for ways to help her business and her community find new opportunities in the midst of change.

Here are three valuable lessons I took from my conversation with Ruth along with some useful tips that can help you lead more effectively through change.

Lesson #1: Instill Confidence in Your Team Courageous leaders use their passion for the journey and their optimism about reaching the destination to create confidence in others. But change creates uncertainty that often paralyzes people. And once paralysis takes hold, it can become virtually impossible to move a team forward because they cling to what they know instead of having the confidence to reach out for what lies ahead.

You can prevent that by instilling confidence in your team, grounded in a clear vision for a path forward. Here are a few tips for how to build confidence in others:

  • Encourage and praise team members whenever they bring their A game.
  • Celebrate the small wins.
  • Support them when they take a chance.
  • Help the team see progress toward the goal and believe they can get there.

“One of the most important things in my role is to instill confidence in others,” Ruth told me. “When people are confident about the future, there’s less doubt and less paranoia. Change shouldn’t scare you; it should excite you. Sure there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, so you must help everyone see the opportunities that await. And when things fall in place, people draw confidence from that.”

Ruth helps create confidence in others outside of her business, too. While working in Southeast Asia, she learned that many women run businesses from home but lack the confidence to consider themselves merchants. They also can’t get funding or even open a bank account on their own. So they have little hope of growing their businesses.

That’s why she started Female Foundry, an organization that helps fledgling entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I greatly admire this initiative and all Ruth has done to help women entrepreneurs. Female Foundry provides resources and mentoring to promising companies. But, just as importantly, it gives their founders confidence that they can achieve their dreams.

Lesson #2: Collaborate For The Win When leading a team through change, you must have people who are willing to work together to grab hold of emerging opportunities. In Ruth’s case, the iProspect global leadership team aligns on a common vision and business practices so they can be opportunistic and take action at the right time.

That’s hard to do if employees drift into silos and stop communicating or working as one. If your team struggles with collaboration, you’re probably also missing out on new opportunities right in front of you.

You can change that by helping your team collaborate for the win:

  • Show them the benefits of working together and the value of collective thinking.
  • Teach them how to lean into each other’s strengths.
  • Encourage them to offer support when someone else can really use it. These things build trust and reliability in your team.

Like all successful leaders, Ruth values the team and nurtures collaboration whenever possible. When she launched Female Foundry, she didn’t do it alone or even just with the support of iProspect. She sought the involvement of her parent company, venture capitalists, and iProspect’s clients to form a team that’s far more influential together than any of them could be alone.

She brings the same focus on collaboration to her day-to-day work, and believes you must be a learning leader, especially in times of change. “Don’t be too structured in your thinking when you’re looking for new solutions,” said Ruth. “Be open to what the universe can bring and what you can learn from others. I learn something new from my people every day.”

Lesson #3: Champion Others Leadership is not about you and your success. It’s about taking others on a journey to somewhere important. When you champion others, you end up creating champions.

But you can’t do that with a self-focused approach to leadership. You have to develop a giving spirit and a passion for helping others that’s rooted in your own personal belief system.

If you lack this, you need to do some self-reflection and self-discovery. If you’ve already got some passion around giving to others, act on it over and over and over.

“If the world has been good to you,” Ruth pointed out, “you have to pay it back. You have to have a giving spirit. Doing kind things must be at the top of your to-do list.” Giving to others and championing them makes the leadership journey far sweeter.

Ruth, as you might have noticed, is a high-energy, get-it-done leader. She sees challenges and attacks them with confidence, compassion, and action-oriented solutions. Now you know why I am proud to be her colleague and friend. When we lead like Ruth, uncertainty doesn’t stand a chance.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Make the Toughest Calls of Leadership [BONUS]

The buck stops here. How true. President Truman knew it. And all great leaders embrace it. We can (and should) empower others to make decisions whenever possible. But leadership will always involve making the toughest decisions.

Having the authority to make decisions is one of the most rewarding parts of leadership, but actually making the tough calls is seldom easy.

Think about a time when the odds were stacked against you and the risk of failure was high. You didn’t have all the information you needed, yet you had to make a decision. Your team was waiting, and your organization was depending on you to provide direction. What do you do?

When we face the most complex and critical decisions as a leader, we need to recognize the fears and emotions that often hold us hostage and then lean into three powerful “must-haves” for great decision-making.

Recognize the Enemy

A wide range of emotions can cloud our judgment and hold us back when we find ourselves in those crossroads moments that we’d often rather avoid but must face as leaders.

Difficult decisions can make us feel:

  • Overwhelmed – A tidal wave can hit when the potential consequences of a decision we face are significant, we are unprepared, or we feel like we are in over our heads.
  • Anxious – Becoming overly stressed often leads to poor decision-making. The more anxiety we feel, the less likely we’ll have a clear enough head to make the best choice possible. Neuroscience shows anxiety suppresses the activity of pre-frontal cortex neurons, which play a pivotal role in cognitive functions such as calculating risk/reward, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Indecisive – We sometimes feel paralyzed by too little or too much information. We might be unclear about which criteria we should use to help us decide. Or we might see multiple solutions that all look good.
  • Cautious – We’re hesitant to share information about a decision with others because we’re not sure things are going to turn out the way we want. We’d rather stay quiet, hedge our bets, and leave people to wonder what we decided and why.
  • Pressured – We feel pressured to decide in a certain way by others who have a stake in our decision.
  • Challenged — Similarly, no matter what we decide we know we’ll experience push-back from those who will disagree with our choice. Perhaps they will even challenge us publicly and inappropriately.

Fear rests at the heart of all these decision-making roadblocks. These fears don’t just make decisions harder than necessary, they cause us to question our instincts, project self-doubt and feel out of control. We’re then more prone to make poor decisions, and we risk losing the respect we’ve earned from others – something no leader wants.

So how do we avoid that?

Lean into the Fundamentals

Great leaders are willing to embrace uncertainty as a part of the journey, but they don’t walk down that road unprepared. They lead with authority and confidence because they know and practice the essential fundamentals that help them overcome their fears and make sound decisions.

Here are three must-haves of decision-making that have helped me deal with my most complex and challenging leadership choices:

  1. Process – Establish a tried-and-true decision-making process to help you make and manage any type of decision, but particularly more complex ones. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. It means you’ll have guideposts and guardrails to move you forward and that you’ll make exceptions by design.
  2. Clarity – Learn to manage emotions that cloud your thoughts during decision-making so you can think clearly and rationally. The process will help with this, but you also need to do the hard work of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This is an area where other trusted leaders can hold you accountable and help you see when your emotions are stifling your common sense.
  3. Consistency – Create patterns in your decision-making that minimize surprises and build trust. Having a standard process and managing your emotions will help you determine in advance how you will handle certain types of decisions so you can create greater consistency in your leadership.

What if you don’t have a process, or you’re looking to improve the one you have? Well, glad you asked.

I’ve created a free download that includes a detailed decision-making process, as well many of the benefits you will enjoy when you have this type of framework in place. Take a look. And here’s to better decision-making in your future.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Be a More Agile Leader and Have Greater Success in Uncertain Times

We live in an increasingly disrupted world. Thanks to powerful forces such as technology, analytics, globalization and social media, nothing stays the same for very long.

Business leaders must constantly evolve their thinking to stay relevant and competitive, and we must become more comfortable leading through constant change. That’s why agile leadership is not only a valuable skill, but also a critical one. Leading with agility will allow your organization to not only survive during uncertainty, but also to thrive.

Learning leaders Agility requires a willingness to learn on the fly. And with the speed of change accelerating, the lessons you learned in business school may no longer apply. You must be a lifelong learner if you’re going to figure out what works now.

What’s expected of you will change dramatically during your career, too, especially as you take on new responsibilities. When I founded my company, we were a small, scrappy startup. Now we’re part of a global enterprise, and my job description has changed pretty significantly.

Deciding to join the bigger firm and taking on a broader role forced me to develop an entirely new skill set. I had to work across cultural and language barriers, build relationships throughout a much larger organization, and reconfigure the way I viewed the big picture. I wasn’t dealing with one small company or region anymore — I had to think across international markets.

That experience taught me the power of agile leadership. Executives who can adapt to new situations will have greater success driving change in real time, diagnosing problems as they emerge, and mobilizing their teams to design effective solutions.

The operative concept here is “in real time.” In the past, we followed a linear path to organizational change. Leaders would identify opportunities, conduct research, build consensus, and then devise plans to implement change. That methodical, time-consuming approach is virtually nonexistent today.

You need an agile mindset supported by a strong working knowledge across the enterprise to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment, which means cultivating expertise in finance, strategic planning, people development and systems. You also have to balance smart risk-taking with a demand for quick results. Perhaps most important, you must act as a visionary, building and leading a team that can fulfill your company’s long-term goals.

Agility in action Being a strong, responsive leader is always important, but periods of upheaval or uncertainty really require you to step up. I’ve learned the most about agility when I’ve had to lead through difficult times. Here are five tactics I recommend to improve your agile leadership capabilities.

1. Fix what’s not working.

Take an honest look at your organization to identify what needs to change. Keep an open mind, and be willing to switch up inefficient processes or outdated systems that aren’t working anymore. Tweak your new business efforts, or revise your marketing plan. Once you know what needs to be fixed, be decisive and act swiftly.

2. Recognize your triggers.

Executive coach Nikki Nemerouf cautions leaders against letting their personal triggers derail their decision-making abilities. This is especially important in agile leadership as uncertainty often diminishes our ability to think clearly.

Take time now to reflect on your hot-button issues and the types of situations that typically rattle you, and then determine a smarter way to respond. The next time something upsetting happens, you’ll handle it better.

Apply the same mentality to your company as well. Evaluate problematic patterns and potential threats that could impact your business, and work out a plan for addressing them before they become serious concerns.

3. Bring in a fresh perspective.

Revisit problems you have been stuck on or have dismissed. Consult colleagues or mentors who can offer fresh takes on the roadblock, and brainstorm creative solutions to recurring issues. And don’t be afraid to challenge convention — that’s how the most innovative ideas are born.

4. Enable collaboration.

Workplaces are becoming less hierarchical, and an agile leader knows how to get the best from her people by enabling greater collaboration. Encourage team members to bring forward new ways of working together. Create different teams to find new solutions, or put more powerful networking tools such as Slack, Trello or Yammer in their hands that create organizations with no boundaries.

Invite people with different perspectives and backgrounds to the conversation. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Agile leaders seek out diverse opinions and are willing to live in the tension between them while they find the best way forward.

5. Embrace uncertainty.

Your team will follow your lead, so you can’t melt down when times get tough. Approach chaotic situations with confidence and determination, and know you can adapt as you learn more about the problem.

Lead your people through complexity by being forthright, decisive and focused, even when that means making the hard calls. Agility is critical as your team looks to you for vision and guidance, especially while changes unfold.

Many of the challenges leaders face today are those for which no clear answers exist. Agile executives are willing to lead through uncertainty, learning as they go and mobilizing their teams to find new solutions that propel the organization toward success.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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