leadership

December 8, 2010

Leadership Lessons of ‘The West Wing’

Many of you will remember that I’m steadily working my way through the 7 seasons of ‘The West Wing’ boxed set. And so far, it’s not difficult to appreciate why so many Americans (and others) would readily take Jed Bartlett as their President.

There are many aspects of Bartlett that are agreeable and none more so than his tremendous leadership of others.

In an example I watched just the other night, one of his senior team takes an incredibly brave step to ask Bartlett personal details of his relationship with his father. Whilst this might seem a step too far in his relationship with ‘Mr President’, Toby Ziegler is performing an ideal, if rather intimate service to his boss.

Initially, Bartlett is rather incensed at Ziegler’s impertinence and then, in the next couple of episodes, we see the true leadership come through, where he responds to the raw edge that Ziegler has exposed. Bartlett sees past his own bruised ego and ‘gets’ the point of Ziegler’s intervention.

In his own way, Bartlett shows Ziegler how much he values the man’s courage to speak up in such a sensitive area – and, incidentally, an area that Bartlett really does need to investigate.

In too many cases, leaders are so engrossed in their own ego that they fail to appreciate that giving feedback to your boss is a tough thing to do.

Bosses very often intimidate, whether they mean to or not.

To have the courage to give feedback is a rare thing in an employee. Even when they do get brave enough, the handling of this feedback has to be very careful indeed, or valuable relationships will stutter and the most likely outcome is that no more feedback will ever be forthcoming.

(Hint – never start to argue or justify your side of it, just thank them and accept the feedback very graciously and ponder on it honestly).

Great leaders – like the fictional character Bartlett that Martin Sheen plays so effectively – value both the very feedback they are given by acting on it constructively, as well as respecting the generosity and courage shown by the employee who has the kindness to offer it.

We see feedback as a one-way street – often interpreted by employees as ‘criticism’ (and negatively as a consequence) – where we dole it out downwards when we lead others (often more for our benefit than theirs).

Where we graciously accept feedback given that is intended to help us ourselves evolve, we make best use of the gift for our own benefits and also show our people that it adds value and is to be appreciated, which, in turn, makes it much more likely for them to value too when they are on the receiving end.

When we accept and look into feedback that seems hard to take, we are being provided with a perception of us that sometimes – often indeed – is just where our blind spot is.

And that’s such a valuable steer for someone to take the time and trouble to share with us.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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December 6, 2010

The Curiosity of Employees

How do children learn? It is, after all, something we all have to do – and the formative years of kids are fascinating to observe.

Children learn be experiencing new things. By having the freedom – whilst being protected by their carers as much as possible from harm – to explore anything and everything in their lives.

Each object, idea and concept is there for the level of study they feel appropriate, simply by being curious.

We let them be that way without demeaning them. We smile at their odd questions and behaviors and enjoy the moment with them.

Over the years of getting older, as we discover our emotional side, we lose the ability to take risks with new things in quite the same way ever again.

It happens to a greater or lesser extent in every single one of us, as we move into middle childhood and then as adults.

Often in the workplace, this can prevent learning and development, at the very least, with the possibilities to explore and learn by doing falling way behind in the self-fulfilment pecking order.

We protect ourselves from experiencing painful and indeed harmful emotions that hurt our self-esteem, by being a lot less inclined to do things when we have been affected before.

So, unless carefully nurtured, as employees we hold back and stay safe. We’ve experienced the bump on the head or the graze on the knee once too often to try it again, especially when it made us feel not only physically bad, but even more so when it hurts us inside.

As managers, we can really get much more from the potential of our people by making exploration and new learning a very safe place to go.

When we start to appreciate just what it is that we need to do to lighten up our people; to let them make their mistakes; to let them learn from the little bumps and scrapes that children learn from, we offer an enlightening experience indeed.

We are there to nurture our people to ‘find things out’ freely and without besmirching or embarrassing them at all, we do them such a favor. Indeed we develop our teams so effectively as well.

So once again, where we take the time to recognize exactly how each of our employees needs us to be, everyone can become a winner.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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November 17, 2010

My Team Is Famous For…

Getting great people to be in the team is one of the most rewarding tactics to help managers deliver the results demanded of them.

Yet these ‘great people’ as employees can be so hard to find.

Some managers have found the key to unlock creating a successful team, by ensuring that they get well known for the environment in which they and their people work.

A compelling experience for those employees who are lucky enough to be in there. Indeed, an experience so rewarding that there is a queue to join.

Imagine that your team ‘brand’ is such that you have people clamouring to be a member. A reputation to ensure that you need not seek great employees any more – they come to find you.

In times where employee costs are most often the biggest expenditure any organisation has to endure, throwing money at recruitment is not only expensive, but it’s usually a waste of time.

Creating a renowned workplace experience that others want to become a part of, means that as long as the pay you offer isn’t stupidly small, you can get away with paying a good average rate for the job, so long as…

…what they find when they get there is good.

Here’s a secret. there are not that many components of good and what’s even more interesting, as long as you pay at an acceptable level, pay isn’t in that set of keys.

By providing an environment that your people like and enjoy, not only will the word get round and you find people come to you to join your team, you lose less of the one’s you’ve already got.

Now, it’s not about providing a cushy little number where your people can snooze their afternoon’s away. that’s not part of it at all – here are the keys…

1. A challenging job that:- stimulates and encourages employees to take risks and grow, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and not chastised when things don’t quite go to plan.

2. Leadership that:- delivers it’s promises; values the individual; listens much more than speaks (whilst communicating effectively); is trusted and trust others; oils the wheels to make delivery of high performance easy for the team members; can be hands on; pays attention to what’s going on.

3. Have fun – simple as that!

With these in place, your team will definitely be famous for…the team that it really is worth being in.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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October 25, 2010

Seeing Things Differently

Faced with the challenges that come at managers every day, it’s easy to see how reactions happen almost without thinking.

Maybe even it would make the job impossible if we were unable to do things on autopilot at least some of the time.

So finding ways to take stock and respond with more consideration to situations, can be a tough call.

Being unable to take a breath and take time over making decisions can be frustrating and ultimately be detrimental to what you are trying to achieve.

This week take up the challenge to consider making a different decision to the one that comes immediately to mind, providing you with the opportunity to create outcomes that are unexpected.

For example, what might happen if you made no decision when asked? What could be the value in making a decision that is completely the opposite to what your gut reaction suggests?

There are other options that you can consider, when you just take that extra few moments to consider what you automatically would do – and consider the others by seeing the situation differently that you would typically.

And the reward might just be greater than you could possibly expect.

Filed under Blog, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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September 29, 2010

Adequately Managing Employee Expectations

There’s a small action you can take, right away, that will build  confidence in you personally, as well as ensuring that the trust that  your people have in you is high.

I’m pretty sensitive to it –  perhaps it’s just the way I am – but it’s a very important behavior that  I notice easily when it happens.

You see, I really expect people to do what they say they will. It’s not much to ask!

Now, that doesn’t seem so hard now, does it? well, you might be surprised.  In fact managers so often fail to deliver, it’s little wonder that they  fail to create the respect and trust that they need to be effective  managers.

And there’s such a simple way to ensure that you are seem to deliver what you say you will.

Under-promise.

Here’s an example.

I  was once placed in a tricky situation. The organization I worked for  had a rigid salary review process – one that once a salary raise was in  place (and it was an annual activity) there was no way to change it.

Yet we had to make the budgets balance before we could tell out people what they had achieved and were going to shortly receive.

One  of my supervisors was not happy with the outcome of her review and came  to tell me so. In fact, I had inherited the review that year (from a  previous manager) and it seemed to me that there was just cause for her  concern.

But I couldn’t fix it there and then. In fact, although  there was a small window to ‘fix’ such matters – at the half year mark –  I wasn’t prepared to ‘promise’ an increase then even.

What I did  do was promise to take a further look at her situation and be as fair  with her as possible and depending on her meeting some criteria we  agreed.

I was never perfect at this. I did notice that because I  held ‘keeping promises’ in  high regard in my business life, I would  always do my best to ensure that I met the expectations others had of  me.

Under-promising has so many benefits – and it’s a tactic that  is very worthy of consideration, particularly when you have taken time  to create relationships with your people upfront.

Filed under Blog, Management Basics, Management Development Tips, Managing Me by Martin

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September 19, 2010

What Do You Believe?

As many of us find out during the course of our management career, we can’t do it all.

Yet there are times when we find the workload that we have is such that there is no-one else but ourselves who can do those parts of the work that are left to do.

As managers, we know that the buck stops with us and as such we plough on with the work we are not able to give to others.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed. It’s easy to do more, take longer and spend more of our lives at work, rather than getting a fair balance between work and everything else.

Yet we feel unable to give more away, because we reckon that we don’t have people who can do more. We don’t have people who have the capabilities to deliver.

And you would be wrong.

It’s hard to accept and evidence will show that the more you support and encourage your people to take on new challenges and grow, not only will you develop them, you will motivate them and they will enjoy their work more.

What’s stopping them?

The tricky answer for you to accept is that more than likely, you are.

Managers know best. Managers are the experts. Managers are the ‘tough at the top’ people who can’t show they can’t – in anything.

Sometimes, we need to get down off the high horse and accept the following:

1. We don’t know everything.
2. We aren’t the best at everything.
3. There are others who know better
4. Our people have talents that we don’t yet appreciate.

Exploring just how much each of your people are able to contribute, often above and way beyond what you might have expected, is a leap of faith; a critical point in your management career.

So test it out.

Find out just what your people have within them, when you ask, support and challenge them.

Suspending what you believe right now and stepping aside of it might well be the evolutionary step that takes your management to the next level.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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September 16, 2010

How to Manage 14% Better

Many organisations now use surveys to see how they are doing. Some are focused at customers and clients, whilst others look at how the employees think their workplace is.

The majority of employee surveys fell out of a brilliant piece of work by two researchers at Gallup – Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham – and led to their iconic book ‘First Break All the Rules’.

They found that how employees responded to just 12 statements about the work experience would dictate the profitability of any team, department or organisation. They called these Q12.

Using Q12 required a licence from Gallup (and hence why they aren’t shown here, though you can find them if you Google them), so many organisations pinched the concept and just wrote the questions a bit differently.

In fact, over time they have added significantly to the 12 original statements, with many employees being asked to respond to up to 50 or more. Which rather defeats the object! Still, many HR and leadership teams couldn’t help themselves when given the opportunity to confuse and irritate their people!

A couple of the questions related to the employees experience of their manager. These related to interactions the manager has with the people in the team and how recently too, so I can share a story.

Jim (name changed) had faced a dire problem. On his promotion, he had inherited an operation with problems all over the place, which he’d had to fix. In the first year, sorting out core issues had been a focus expected of him by his own superiors.

When the employee survey was in, he didn’t do so well in the measures of him (though some results might have related to the previous guy too). In year two, he made a very conscious effort to be more visible to his people; to speak with them more often and to, well, be a bit happier too!

The year two results showed him still below the average for managers like him, but they had improved by over 14% on the previous year.

The moral of the story? If you want to engage better with your people (= be more effective with them), get out there and spend time with them – all of them.

You know it makes sense.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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August 31, 2010

Appreciation – Learning from Your Team

One of the simplest management tactics you can use to build trust and positive morale is where you find a small amount of time in your day to appreciate your people.

This can take the form of praise; encouragement; delegation and even that simplest of activities, just saying ‘thank you’. Sometimes even just keeping it personal is very effective indeed.

I recently came across a team where the manager wasn’t the best at saying ‘thank you’ or showing appreciation in much of any way at all.

One of his team was leaving after a few months only, to go back to college – she was 19 years old and had settled in very well, becoming a big contributor to the team very quickly.

The team had 7 people in it and it was clear that they would all miss this employee – and indeed she gave a strong impression that she would miss them too (even marking ‘so sad’ on the calendar for her leaving day!).

This was made very clear on the day after she left, when she returned to the office and left everyone a small card.

Inside the card were a few sentences which thanked each one personally for their friendship and how much she would miss them. There were also a few words of what was so special about each of them, including the manager himself.

Now, I don’t know if the hint was taken by the manager, but every individual was not only hugely touched by the gesture, but each was surprised and enlarged with the rosy-glow of the value they each contributed to the person leaving.

Small, personalized, honest and very appreciative were the comments. But what a difference they made to each of her friends and colleagues. A difference that would be long-lasting and specific to each of them.

As managers, we can always learn a lot from our people, when we take the time to notice – and then apply – what we observe.

It takes a little effort to get down off that high horse we sit on when we are the boss – and when we are humble enough to do so, we can make great steps forward, making our own difference as we go.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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August 2, 2010

Waving The Management Magic Wand – Part 1

OK, so we’re all managers, right? And although we might keep it to ourselves, we all probably have moments when we whisper to ourselves, ‘I wish…’.

Never fear, we all in this together, so you can tell me it’s so…

Little things that our workplace does to us that really, it would be so cool to, well, be different.

Whilst I am not able to give you the magic of Master Potter’s magic wand, I can help you a little here.

It’s about being focused and taking action.

Part one this week is about issues that are all about you. Next week we’ll attack those ‘I wish…’ issues about your people.

For this week, we’ve enough to work on with you alone.

When you want things to be different, there is only one answer to that wishfulness thinking. It’s about grasping the issue ahead of you and being strong (sometimes brave) enough to handle it.

You see, many time we want things to be different, yet we want magic to happen. Here’s a heads-up. The magic will only happen when you have the wand in your hand and you make it happen.

If they are issues about the way you do things, be resolute and decide it’s going to be different from now on – or, decide that you are going to live with it and find work-arounds that will make the difference.

So you can park the challenges someplace else apart from right in your face causing you worry, stress and frustration.

The wand, as they say, is in your hands (and, in case the message didn’t quite get there – no-one else’s, so, if it’s your way, stop blaming everyone else).

Filed under Blog, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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February 22, 2010

Using Visioning Activities to Lead to Future Success

It’s easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of your existence as a manager from day to day. Surviving even in the short-term can become a challenge – and that’s on a good day!

But what about making it better into the future? What can you see?

The future is the way forward. Good managers understand that their day job – whilst important – is not just about overcoming the crises and fire-fighting that fills their days.

It’s vital to see the current as a stepping-stone to a future which is more relaxed, creative and stabilized. So many times, it’s easy to say ‘There’s got to be a better way’. The good managers do something about this.

Whilst having a sense of what the future might need to be, there’s nothing like experiencing it, as close to first hand as you can get. This might require a bit of imagination and letting go of current challenges, but it is a refreshing way to understand that things can change.

Grasping, as openly as you can, the possibilities that the future holds for your team is all about experiencing ‘What good looks like’.

In fact, with an element of trust and belief, there are ways that the best managers help their people practically live the dream of their workplace being how they want it to be, to be the very best themselves too.

Visioning is the activity of appreciating fully what you want to achieve, in very sensory ways. It’s about helping your people put themselves in a position where they experience in their mind’s eye, the experiences they would have when they achieve the dream of perfection in their working day.

Being able to ‘see’ where you are aiming for builds a real appreciation of what it is that you expect from your workplace, if it is exactly how you would like it to be.

Now, timescales for achieving this will always vary, depending on the circumstances that you decide to use visioning for – that’s for you to decide.

The key to using visioning techniques is to remember that you will be using all of your senses to describe the future in as detailed a way possible. It’s not just what you ‘see’, it’s what you hear, feel, smell and even taste along the way!

You want to know what ‘perfection’ is and what you will fully experience when you get there.

This is a bit like goal setting with the twist of having a fun experiential playtime too!

You can appreciate why this can be so exceptionally powerful to draw out the most fascinating expectation you – and your people – can have together.

You can work on a vision on your own; together and, if you want really smart, you can use both together!

Visioning is a powerful tool to draw the best expectations from your people for the future that you can build for your team, together.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People by Martin

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