How unfortunate that our popular ideas of what a good leader should be are so often grandiose. Through current media, television, and movies, we expect perfection; a leader is strong, fearless and flawless. If we believe that myth, they should be superheroes, royalty and saviors all rolled into one.
So we become disappointed when our leaders are only human after all. Could it be that we expect too much? If you consider some recent examples of leaders who’ve fallen from grace, you might find that they made very human mistakes; the kind we all make. That isn’t an excuse for bad behaviors; it’s simply a reality that nobody is perfect.
In the end, the best leaders are very human. Like most of us, they don’t see themselves in some grandiose, bigger than life way. They know that it’s the little things that will make a difference in their leadership, and they work on getting better at them every day.
The little things might, at first glance, seem simple, but they aren’t easy. A few that come to mind:
Putting others first: Servant leadership – serving others – isn’t a new idea, but it is something whose time has come and the best leaders strive for. When tough decisions need to be made, the best leaders always consider the impact on others before thinking of themselves. When temptation calls, good leaders, like good human beings, call on their internal strengths and ask themselves what the impact of following their whims might be on others, and then they decide their impulse isn’t worth it.
Saying thank you: “Thank you” is a very small phrase, but when said with sincerity it can mean a lot. Surprisingly, it’s a big motivator for people, too, as it acknowledges a job well done, implicitly asking the recipient to continue on course. There can never be enough heartfelt thank you’s in our organizations, and the best leaders know that, striving to make sure it’s part of their everyday conversations.
Appreciating people: It’s all too easy to get caught up in what someone is doing wrong, or what they could do more of. The best leaders are always aware of what people do well, and are present to what they are capable of, while seeing the potential they have within them to do more in the future.
Taking the high road: When silly disagreements arise or when gossip abounds, the best leaders take the high road and choose to go their own way without getting caught up in the seduction of joining in. Although they may be displeased with a particular stance their organization is taking on something, they don’t complain or broadcast their displeasure. Instead, they quietly find a way to deal with it.
Being kind: People have all kinds of things going on in their lives. They have bad things happen, and there is emotional pain that can play itself out in ways that aren’t pretty. Truly strong leaders find a way to be kind even when others aren’t. They don’t fall into the trap of treating others poorly because they are experiencing poor treatment; they know a kind word is their best defense.
Staying calm: Our organizations are pressure cookers of stress. The best leaders stay calm despite what’s going on around them. When it becomes easy to yell, scream, or demand, they can put the stressful situation into perspective and see that going ballistic isn’t worth it. They know they are models of the kind of demeanor they want to see in their organizations. They model calm demeanor for all to follow.
Listening: Listening is a small thing with big impact. When a leader puts down their cell phone and turns to look the person they’re speaking to in the eye without distractions, they’ve created a powerful connection that’s all too rare in our fast paced world. These powerful connections are what make leadership possible.
Brave, courageous, bigger than life leaders are fascinating. But it’s the small every day acts that make a leader great.
Reprinted with permission from SmartBlog on Leadership
Today is the start of International Coaching week. This is the week designated by the International Coach Federation for professional coaches worldwide to host events that promote the proven power of coaching. This post is my own tribute to the week, a shameless promotion of the profession I joined more than a decade ago.
When I first started coaching, there were times that I would cringe at the promotion of my profession. At that time, a few well-known coaches had promoted our work as something mythical, magical, a cure for everything and a way to BECOME AN OVERNIGHT BILLIONAIRE! (yikes).
I’m here to tell you that getting coached isn’t any of those things, and it isn’t always easy. A professional coach will help you to uncover your strengths and expose your weaknesses. When you are coached you do the heavy lifting with your coach as a guide. Being coached can be some of the hardest work you’ll do, requiring a lot of courage, humility, and vulnerability.
I know you’re successful. So why bother?
Even the best leaders have untapped potential, room to grow, things to get better at. Take a look at your last 360 or ask your manager and some of the people you work with what they think your opportunities for improvement are (if they haven’t already told you), and you have a start toward learning about what developmental opportunities exist for you. This just might be the time to hire a coach.
How do you know if you’re ready to work with a coach? It might be the time when:
You’re willing to take responsibility for what you can do, within the complex system you’re a part of, to make a difference. Don’t hire a coach if you just want someone to vent to (although small amounts of venting are okay). Hire a coach when you’re ready to change yourself, and therefore change the world around you (remember the popular slogan “Be the change you want to see in the world”?). If you’re driven to be the best, coaching can help.
You’re prepared to take a hard look at yourself through your own eyes and the eyes of others. This requires deep humility and a willingness to accept what others see even if you don’t agree with it. When you have an executive coach, you’ll be assessed in a number of different ways. Feedback obtained from your stakeholders is sometimes hard to hear, but you must hear it, take it to heart, and decide if there is anything you want to do about it. A coach will help you to filter the feedback and focus on what’s really important for you to move forward.
You’re ready – and able – to do the work on yourself to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but we’re talking about that untapped potential in you. The best results will come when you’re willing to be courageous and step out of your comfort zone to try new things. You also have to be able to make regular meetings with your coach, but more importantly, you’ll have fieldwork to do between meetings too. Expect coaching to take up some of your precious time, but if you “do the work”, it will be well worth it.
Once you’re ready to take that step, see your HR or Talent Management professional or ask your colleagues for a referral. If you work hard, you will realize some of the benefits of making the investment in working with a professional coach.
I had the privilege of speaking to a seasoned leaders’ stakeholders recently in an effort to get their candid feedback about him. I was captivated by how many indicated that they appreciated his “open door”. As I listened to their stories and their feedback, I found they weren’t just referring to that thing that hangs on the wall between his office and whatever is outside of it.
Leaders who have an open door focus on having the kind of dialog and relationships with others that make people comfortable in their presence. They recognize that they are responsible for setting the tone. Not only is the door to their office open, they also have an:
Open heart with which to welcome and understand others. This means that conversations are easy and flowing, with the leader’s attention placed on others and an attitude of “Lets see what I can learn from this person” and “How might I understand their point of view on a deeper level?”
Open mind that is curious and non-judgmental. An open mind encourages others to say exactly what they need to say, and to bring forward new, and sometimes crazy ideas that just might have a grain of reality and truth to them. Leaders with an open mind tend to know the things that are important for their success (or detract from it) because others are willing to tell them.
Open eyes that help them to see clearly. Leaders with open minds don’t deceive themselves about their value or their power. They can clearly see how they impact their organizations and are always aware of how their presence influences others or shuts them out.
Open ears with which to listen deeply. The leaders with open ears listen beyond the words that are said; they are alert to nuances, including what is not said. They notice when it’s time to surface hidden elephants and when the attempt to do so isn’t worth it.
Keeping your door open requires your full presence, eye contact, and body language that says “I’m here, and I’m listening to you”. Think about it. Do you need to make the effort to open your door wider?
Sunday was mother’s day and father’s day is not far off. Although these holidays are meant as reminders to celebrate our own mothers and fathers, I think they are also reminders for all busy leaders for the importance of spending time with those you love.
The time was the early eighties, when women were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. Many of us were struggling with the choices we made to have a career and a family even though we’d come a long way, baby and could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. It was a period when we made excuses for not spending enough time with those we loved by convincing ourselves that “quality time” (no matter how miniscule in terms of minutes, hours or days) was enough.
The speaker, a well-known and ground breaking civic leader, was speaking to the hearts of a room full of women who were wondering if having it all was a good thing. She was reminding us to remember the importance of what really matters. She said: “When you’re in the twilight of your life, you’ll never wish you’d spent more time at your job. But you might wish you’d spent more time with your family.” She could just as well have been speaking today to any organizational leaders of any gender.
Her words made a huge impression on me as I was starting my own family and working at a large company. This company was not that different from those today. It would take anything I chose to give to it without apology for leaving behind what was most important to me – my family.
Although I continued working full time in demanding positions, I made career sacrifices in order to be with my family. I recognized that I might pay a price for that, but it was a conscious choice. Although I may have sacrificed my career to a degree, I was satisfied at work. More importantly, I had amazing, happy children; great friends; and no regrets about how I spent my time.
As we work our way out of the Great Recession, we watch organizations demanding more of us as they continue to focus on efficiency. Consider your own well-being and that of your family and friends as you contemplate the choices you make. Are those choices, including those about how you spend your time worth it? Some questions to consider:
What values drive the choices I make around the things that are most important to me?
What adjustments to my lifestyle am I willing to make to honor my deeply held values?
Am I making the choices that sustain me and those who are most important to me?
What would my family and friends say about the choices I make on how I spend my time? (p.s. ask them)
Remember that your organization is always willing to take whatever you give. The lure of that giving is seductive. What choices do you need to make today so that decades from now, you can say you’ve had no regrets about how you spent your time?
You might be first-line supervision or midlevel in your organization, and you might also be a high-potential or high-performing leader. You are an accomplished person who’s worked your way to get where you are by using significant talents.
Yet, as gifted as you might be, sometimes you might feel powerless. The larger organization asks a lot of you. Expectations are high, and you must continually find a way to navigate the politics, bureaucracy and naysayers while staying strong and committed to your work.
Does this sound like you? If so, you might not be fully aware of the times that powerlessness grips you. Watch for these signs in your thoughts and words.
“There is nothing I (we) can do about it”: There is always something you can do, even if it means to consciously choose to not let something get under your skin. What choices can you personally make about how you’ll feel about a situation?
“It’s his (hers, their) fault we’re not able to move ahead”: While there might be some truth here, you might also have a role to play. What can you do even in the face of “their fault”?
“I’m bailing out”: My personal favorite. It’s all too easy to bail and go somewhere else, but consider what it might mean to stay and make a difference by catalyzing and leading important changes.
Remember that there is always something you can do. It might mean changing your mind about the situation, looking at it differently, asking others how they can help or recognizing that you feel powerless and letting go of your need to control something that you can’t.
Take responsibility: Acknowledge that you might be playing a victim role, and take on an attitude of “What can I do?” This question can free you from chains that hold you in place. If you think broadly enough about it, you’ll realize that your personal attitude, filters, emotions or thoughts come into play here. Changing the way you view yourself in relationship to the situation can be freeing.
Enlist the help of others: You don’t need to be alone in this. Ask for help from trusted advisers. Test your assumptions about the situation that’s making you feel powerless by asking others what they think. Don’t be defensive about what you can’t do — instead, listen and consider ideas suggested by trustworthy colleagues. Stay open to seeing things another way, and you might find a way forward.
Let go: This truly is the hidden secret to freedom from feeling powerless, and it’s the hardest for control-oriented leaders to do. Letting go requires deep thinking and (sometimes) a lot of time to feel the liberation of realizing that the thing that’s making you feel helpless is gripping you in an unhealthy way. You might see that the clutch of this thing is overbearing and not worth your energy. Then, you need to decide to let it go and accept whatever outcome that causes.
Leaders who take back their power by choosing to think or act differently about a situation that they feel they can’t control might find that they’ve freed up emotional space to focus on things that are most important to them and their organizations.
You have more power than you might think. You have the power to choose how you view a situation, rather than feel victimized.
Reprinted with permission from SmartBlog on Leadership
This post is meant for the readers of this blog who are coaches or thinking of becoming coaches, whether as a leader/internal coach in a company or as an external coach. Leaders who hire coaches might also be interested. It was inspired by the recent receipt of my own credential, a process that was surprisingly rigorous and years in the making.
I could have decided to proceed differently when I chose to become an executive coach. Some might argue that my years as an executive were enough to prepare me to do this work. Most of my clients would be satisfied with that background alone.
Instead, I chose a path to becoming (what I’ll call) a professional executive coach (emphasis on “professional”). I was interested in standing out from other coaches, and to do it in a way that modeled high standards, professional conduct and a code of ethics.
Your work history or background may not be enough to become a professional executive coach and sustain a business. Most markets are becoming crowded with coaches competing for work and many coaches who can’t make a living. You need to stand out to compete. Consider the following:
Get trained: Coach-specific training will teach you methodologies that get results. The International Coach Federation, or ICF accredited coach training provides a solid foundation from training organizations that have been vetted. The coaching models used seem simple, but are actually hard to put into practice; learning comes with plenty of practicums and feedback at most of the schools. What you pay for this training will pay you back many times financially, but also in your own personal/professional development.
Get coached: Hire a coach right away to help synthesize your learning, strengthen your confidence in using what you are learning, and get you started in your coaching business if you plan to start one. How can you coach others if you’ve never had the experience of being coached yourself? It was an incredible learning experience for me to work with that first (professional executive) coach, and many coaches (myself included) continue to hire coaches regularly.
Get clients: Most of you can showcase your corporate/business or executive background to land clients. Honestly – clients probably won’t ask you if you took any kind of professional coach training. Besides your background, they’ll care about the connection they make with you as well as your level of professionalism, which coach-specific training can help you with. If you perform in a professional manner, your first clients will provide referrals to more clients, giving you the practice you need to become an even better coach (thus getting more clients).
Continually learn: Corporate and business clients work in very complex organizations, providing lots of opportunities for coaching blunders that can cause problems for you and for them. The profession is changing fast. There is always something new to learn that will help you to get better at assisting your clients. Join your local/regional coaching organization. Read, attend conferences, webinars, seminars, and forums to keep up with changes.
All of these things are important to you as a coach and to the professionalism of the coaching industry. I highly recommend them if you want to be a professional coach with clients that get results. Clients and potential clients will notice your hard work and dedication.
The list above is the start to earning your coaching credential, something that will set you apart from other coaches. We’re noticing that organizations are beginning to ask for coaches with a credential.
I support the stance the International Coach Federation has taken on training and credentialing coaches. If you don’t know what that is, you can find out more here. It matters that coaches represent the highest standards, including becoming trained by institutions that exercise rigor, teach the core coaching competencies, and support a code of ethics. Browse the ICF website for more information.
If you are a coach or thinking of becoming a coach: get trained and get credentialed. I believe the future of executive coaching belongs to those who are professional in the work they do. The steps outlined above are a good way to start.
Patti Stanger is the Millionaire Matchmaker in a reality show who finds love matches for millionaires. She has some important rules and guidelines for them as they meet and date their potential matches. My favorite is her continual admonition at the mixer parties she holds for the millionaires to “stop talking about yourself”. The most successful matches come for those millionaires who are willing to take an interest in the people in the room.
The same is true for leaders. It might sound quaint and old fashioned, but taking an interest in others is one of the most important things you can do. People want to know that you care about them, and taking an interest in them is one way to demonstrate that you believe they matter. When they feel that you care, they’ll reciprocate by being your collaborator and ally.
Even the most driven and goal oriented leaders can learn to take an interest in others in some seemingly simple (but hard to do) ways. The trick is to take the time to do so. Running into someone in the hallway, on a telephone call, or even in your community or neighborhood are some of the opportunities to take an interest in others. If you aren’t rushed and thinking about where you need to be next, you can learn a lot about yourself too.
Slow down and pay attention to those around you. Notice that people are interesting and diverse, providing you with a lot of ways to learn more about them. The people you work with are more than automatons put there for the good of the organization; they have real lives. Take the time to find out more about them.
Listen to others. This means you need to stop talking and shut off the continual chatter in your brain about all the things you have to do that are more important than listening to them. Open up and be curious about other people.
Ask questions to learn more about others. They are interested in talking about themselves, and questions are a great way to encourage them. What are you inquisitive about? Ask respectful questions that show you want to know more.
Remember what you’ve heard and ask them about it next time. If they enjoy doing specific things at work or home, or their spouse is ill, ask them about these things with caring and all of your attention.
Lets face it. The best leaders take an interest in people, making them a top priority. Action, results, and success follow after that.
There are some secret reasons for success – or failure – that nobody tells you about. You might not recognize their absence in yourself until it’s too late. If you’re lucky, an honest manager, colleague or friend might tell you about them.
I rarely see these “secret” competencies listed as required competencies for leadership in organizations, but trust me; you need to work on them.
I’ve compiled a partial list of foundational behaviors I’ve heard over the years that leaders need to improve, discovered through interviewing their stakeholders. Before you write them off as not applicable to you, consider that most of these people are high potentials and rated highly on their organization’s leadership competencies. Here they are:
Healthy relationships: A common mistake that leaders make is to hole up in their office and neglect the relationships that will help them to be successful. You have plenty of other things to do, but this is the most important. Make time in your schedule to make the connections that will be mutually beneficial.
Listening: You must go beyond hearing to developing the kind of listening that goes deeper. This kind of listening includes watching body language and observing emotions. If you don’t listen in this way you’ll miss plenty of opportunities to learn and connect to others.
Silence: A cousin to listening, leaders who exhibit strategic silence know when to stay still. They understand the impact of words that can hurt, anger, or create fear. They know that when they say too much, others stop speaking and creativity and inclusion are a lost cause.
Appropriate pace: It’s a difficult thing to match the pace of others. I find some leaders are so driven that they outpace those who follow, leaving them in the dust, confused and dazed. Other leaders may be too slow to make decisions and take action, and we all know what happens if this becomes a repeated pattern.
Patience: Many leaders are intolerant of others who might do things differently or at a pace the leader finds unacceptable. Action oriented leaders may have a tendency to jump to conclusions before things are thought through. The lack of patience can manifest itself as anger or decisions that aren’t fully thought through.
Calm: Remaining calm is a great asset that can be lacking in many leaders in our high pressure, high stress organizations. Leaders who are not calm may show anxiety and an inability to remain still. They might be excitable at the moments when an organization needs calm, spreading anxiety.
Inclusive: There are very few places where a lone wolf leader can be effective. Decisions are complex, and it takes a village of smart people to help make them. Leaders who aren’t inclusive may find that their organizations lack creativity. The people who are most talented may be taking their brilliance elsewhere.
Respect: A deep respect for all people in the organization is the hallmark of a great and enduring leader. Everyone is treated as someone who matters. Dropping the “F” bomb, threatening people’s jobs, or even just ignoring them are quick roads to unemployment line.
Professional: A leader who is professional is one who dresses appropriately, walks the talk, and is loyal to their organization. Professional leaders don’t complain to others about decisions made in the C-suite. Despite how they might feel about certain company guidelines, rules, or bureaucracies, they do what needs to be done.
Reflective: Leaders who spend their days reacting are heading for trouble. Most leaders get more responsibility by taking decisive action, but unless they take some time to reflect on past and future successes and failures they’ll eventually run into trouble. Setting aside thinking time is imperative for success.
Your company’s leadership competencies are great. But they aren’t enough for you to sustain your leadership. What additional secret competencies do you think are important?
Meetings in many organizations have unhealthy hidden agendas, unhealthy conflict and competition, and a rush to action without appropriate dialog. It’s every person for themselves, with those who speak the loudest all too often getting their way while the rest feel like they weren’t heard. Participants leave these meetings depressed, angry, or worse, and their mood spreads throughout the organization.
I hear a lot about how we need to eliminate meetings in the workplace because they are tagged as “unproductive.” Perhaps there are some meetings that are without redeeming value, but rather than outlaw them, what if you found ways to make at least some of them more engaging, interesting and helpful to build the relationships that make your workplace thrive?
What we really need is to have meetings that allow relationships to deepen, where participants help each other to grow and succeed together. These meetings would have listening and respect for all viewpoints as priorities, allowing the best ideas for the greater good of the organization to come forward.
Meetings have the potential to be productive if we’re willing to shift our ideas to a broader definition of productivity. In addition to actionable items, a good meeting could increase trust among the participants, thereby promoting deeper relationships and more post-meeting connections and engagement.
These goals take more effort than simply having an agenda and wanting outcomes (although these are also important!). With some planning, you can have better meetings. Consider these ideas for starters:
Be clear about your intentions. If your intent is to build relationships, cultivate participation, as well as come out with some actionable items, make sure you are clear about this. Consider letting participants know your intent so that you are all pulling together in the same direction.
Consider the space you meet in. You don’t always have a chance to choose where you’ll meet, but meeting space is more important than you might think. Building relationships is easier in a more relaxed area, someplace where participants can relax and “let their hair down.” Outside windows, comfortable chairs, and a round (not rectangular) table — or no table at all — are optional, but they all contribute to making the space informal enough for great conversations and building relationships.
Set explicit guidelines based on your intentions. You might want these ground rules: laptops and devices to be turned off, attentive listening and respect for everyone’s ideas. It only takes a minute or two to ask for agreement and any additions to your meeting guidelines.
Start with a personal question. Start the meeting with a personal question that each person in the room can answer briefly. Even if the people in the room work closely together, you can ask a question that nobody else knows the answer to — thus providing new information for post-meeting conversations among the participants. They may find they have more in common than they thought. Some examples of questions might include, “What are you committed to?”; “What gives you joy?”; “What are your greatest strengths”; or “What new thing have you always wanted to learn?”
Make it interactive. It takes a strong, courageous leader to allow others to do the talking. Let meeting participants know that you are changing the way you show up at meetings from a presenter to a facilitator of conversation. Sure, you’ll still have to do some steering, but shoot for 80% of your time listening and 20% of your time talking. You can do this assigning agenda items to others and by asking some well-placed questions at the meeting to stimulate dialog.
Use smaller discussion groups. If conversation seems stifled, you can pose a question for people to discuss in smaller groups — dyads or triads. This is often a more comfortable way for people to speak up. Give them a few minutes to discuss and then have a whole group conversation about what they discussed in the smaller groups.
Relationships are the bedrock of healthy, successful organizations. Why not use meetings as one way to build the connections between employees?
Oh, and P.S. – most of these suggestions can be adapted to any technology (conference call, web conferencing) that you may use for your meetings, and may be even more important for those venues!
Reprinted with permission from SmartBlog on Leadership .
One of the most common questions I get from the leaders I work with is “Are others (in my company or organization, at my level, in my industry) dealing with the same issues I’m trying to work through?”.
My honest answer to them is “Yes. You are like others in many ways, and the dilemmas, situations and ways of leading can be very similar to other good leaders’”. I love that “yes”. It’s our common dilemmas, our shared passions, and our sameness that draws us together. There is comfort in knowing that others are walking the same path we walk.
However, it is the uniqueness in each person, context, and situation that stimulates our learning. I also love that. No two people and no two situations are exactly the same even if there are commonalities in them. And rather than reject that uniqueness as a difference that might disturb us, we should be seeking it out, turning it over in our thoughts and figuring out what it means.
There are subtle nuances that each person experiences and expresses in their leadership journey based on their own background, mindset and values. These should be source of fascination and curiosity. Although the things we share that are the same may provide us with some security, it’s the true distinctiveness of each person’s experiences and expression that just may provide us with our greatest growth as human beings and as leaders. And that growth won’t happen without some effort on your part:
Reach out: You are very busy trying to achieve something; I understand that. However, you might be leaving something out of your equation for success. When was the last time you had a stimulating, heart to heart conversation with someone who had a unique situation or an effective way of leading that might be very different from yours? Look around you. Who’s doing something that makes you curious? Reach out to them and ask for some time to hear their story.
Ask about what makes you curious: Ask them about what they’re doing that you are curious about. Be open, respectful and interested. Listen well, because this is about your learning. Turn off your “inner judge” and see if their unique ways of handling things might be something you are interested in trying. How might it help you?
If the shoe fits, try it: What have you got to lose? Someone else’s unique approach might work for you, but you won’t know until you try it. Does it feel like something has shifted for you in a good way when you try this new approach? If so, you might want to make it your own, in your own unique way. If not, you’ve still learned something.
There is no one way to lead others. The way someone leads is the result of their distinctive personality, background, beliefs, value systems and the context in which they are leading. There might be a lot to learn from those who have a unique style. Reach out and find out more about their different ways of leading; you just might learn something that can enhance your own way of leading.