Five Reasons You Need to Hire a Coach

Connor is a former business student of mine who just got his second promotion since joining a national retail firm three years ago. He’s managing a group of professionals and reached out to me to provide coaching as he takes on his new responsibilities. He has a boss, of course, who can provide direction and help him through the learning curve, but Connor wanted someone who could not only help him navigate the role, but provide unbiased input as well as a sounding board from a source that wasn’t writing his performance review.

Connor and I talk through relationships with his team, especially those he finds more challenging to manage. We’ve worked through the company’s new performance management system and how it can be used positively despite the fact that it’s not perfect. I’ve shared some tools with him that will help him build relationships while helping his team reach their goals, and Connor has asked me questions about managing his own career and influencing his bosses.

Executive coaching has seen strong growth in the past decade. Coaching credentials are varied, although the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is probably the most well known and respected certifying bodies. They offer a solid program that ensures coaches have good model to follow. But there are many excellent coaches whose credentials are based on experience more than certification.

Why You Need a Coach

We all understand the role of a coach in athletics – they’re the ones on the sidelines during the game giving direction, correcting missteps, and providing encouragement. But before game day the coach spends hours teaching game strategy, instilling discipline, and focusing on conditional and strength development. The coach doesn’t play in the game, but they know the game inside and out and provide invaluable input that leads to improvement and, ideally, a win.

The executive coach has a similar role. They assess, teach, provide feedback, instill habits, and act as a cheerleader on the sidelines. But in the world of business or nonprofit management, is a coach really necessary? After all, I went to college, have years of experience, and have done pretty well on my own. That may be true, but sometimes we don’t see roadblocks that are keeping us back, or opportunities that are right before us.

A coach can help us see those things, plus help us create a strategy and associated processes to achieve our goals. If you’re interested in getting to the next level in your career, a professional coach can help you.

The Five Reasons You Need a Coach

A professional executive coach can provide five things that you might not be able to do for yourself.

  1. Assessment. A skilled coach has a bag of tricks they use to assess your strengths, aptitudes, default mindsets, etc. This is the starting point for most coaching relationships.
  2. Expertise. Although your coach may not be an expert in your industry, they are experts at insight and drawing parallels from experience in multiple industries. They can shed light on things from a unique perspective that challenges you to see the world differently.
  3. Accountability. One of the greatest benefits of a coach is the accountability they provide. Their objectivity allows them to challenge you without emotional baggage that comes from a friend or boss.
  4. Processes and Tools. A coach teaches a coachee valuable models and processes that build positive habits.
  5. Achievement. Strategy creation provides measurable achievement for you, and a good coach will provide insights and means to move you toward achieving meaningful, intentional success.

Some specific outcomes of coaching are:

  • In one study conducted by MetrixGlobal LLC, companies including Booz Allen Hamilton received an average return of $7.90 for every $1 invested in executive coaching.
  • A recent study of Executive Coaching in a Fortune 500 firm by MetrixGlobal reported a 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.
  • A survey by Manchester Inc. of 100 executives found that coaching provided an average return on investment of almost six times the cost of the coaching.
  • An internal report of the Personnel Management Association showed that when training is combined with coaching, individuals increase their productivity by an average of 86% compared to 22% with training alone.
  • A Hay Group study of Fortune 500 companies found that 21 to 40% utilize Executive Coaching; Coaching was used as standard leadership development for elite executives and talented up-and-comers.
  • A 2001 study on the impact of executive coaching by Manchester Inc. showed an average ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment or a return of more than $100,000, according to executives who estimated the monetary value of the results achieved through coaching.

(Retrieved from ActionCOACH.com)

What To Look for in a Coach

Coaching is about creating the future, so finding a coach who will equip and enable you to do so is critical. So how do you know if you’re getting a good coach? And by good I mean someone with whom you have rapport, a person you feel comfortable with, and someone who can move you toward achieving your life and career goals?

Erika Anderson, writing for Forbes.com, identified some important elements in coach selection. Before committing to a coaching relationship, conduct an interview and really make sure you get answers that make sense to you. Paraphrasing Anderson, a good coach will:

  • Provide clarity about the process. They’ll provide a roadmap of the process they’ll use.
  • Facts and feedback. A good coach will try to get the perspective of those with whom you work most closely, rather than relying on your view.
  • A learning approach. Skilled coaches go beyond dialogue and move toward ability and action.
  • If your prospective coach is talking openly about other clients, they’ll do the same with you.
  • Measurable outcomes. Your coach should be able to provide you with solid examples of helping coachees achieve their goals.

Coaching certification may be less important than other credentials, depending on what you’re looking for. The important thing is that you have confidence in the coach’s ability to take you through a process that will get you closer to your dreams.

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About the author: Todd Conkright, MA, CPT is a Certified Performance Technologist who combines expertise in human performance, six sigma process improvement, and the soul of a teacher to help clients achieve their personal and organizational dreams. If you’d like to talk with Todd about coaching or consulting, email him at info@cornerstoneglobaltps.com.

Meetings Don’t Have to Suck!

The Joy of Appreciative Meetings

Remember when you weScreenshot 2015-06-05 07.24.05re a kid and your parents, after busting you for some bad behavior, said something along the lines of, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” That’s kind of how I feel about meetings. I’m not mad that meetings are so mind-numbing and soul-sucking, but I am disappointed that we’ve all missed an opportunity to turn meetings into something life-giving and encouraging. I’m not so concerned about the number of meetings we have, but know we can do better at using meetings to focus on what is going well, celebrate successes, and build energy to pursue our goals.

In their book Appreciate Leadership, Diana Whitney, Kae Rader and Amanda Trosten-Bloom suggest

 “Get staff meetings off to a positive start by asking staff members to share stories of their best day at work in the past month.”

And

“Do a positive project debrief by asking about the ‘root causes of success.’ Ask to hear about everything that happened that make it a successful project.”

It’s all about the questions you ask. When you start a meeting asking questions that center on what went wrong and what problems need to be fixed, the tone of the meeting degenerates instantly to a focus on the negative. It’s depressing and zaps energy. The atmosphere is one of defensiveness, blame, and finding more nails to hammer in.

Appreciative meetings focus on what is going well, what went right, and what you want to see more of. This is not a head-in-the-sand, mamby-pamby approach to meeting management, but a determined effort to turn the tide of the conversation to the positive.

In Appreciative Leadership they call this the “flip” – the practice of turning a habitual problem, like employee turnover, inter-group communication, technology breakdowns, and slumping sales, into an affirmative topic to discuss:

  • Employee turnover >> employee retention
  • Inter-group communication problems >> productive collaboration
  • Technology breakdowns >> users as designers
  • Slumping sales >> new markets

Asking positive questions and flipping the conversation to what’s possible builds energy. Meetings actually become life-giving sessions where teamwork develops and solutions are nurtured together. We dread meetings because they drain us and take something away from us. Appreciative meetings address challenges and opportunities from the vantage point of what we hope for.

Try it! The next time you call a meeting, spend the first few minutes asking questions about what is going right. Allow people to share successes, whether personal or work-related, and revamp the agenda to flip the discussion to affirmative topics. I guarantee your meetings will begin to suck less and might actually be anticipated!

Explore more benefits of appreciative inquiry:

  

What To Do When Your Organization’s Culture Sucks

You may be compelled to stay with your company because the pay is good, the work itself is rewarding, or your peers are like family. But the organization culture is mediocre, at best. What do you do when the organization’s culture sucks, but the reasons to stay outweigh the motivation to move on?

I’ve been in this scenario many times: managers who fail to walk the talk, inane policies that defy logic, and practices that thwart progress at every turn. But along the way I’ve learned some lessons about what it takes to survive – even thrive – a company culture that seems to get more wrong than right when it comes to empowering people to contribute to the organization’s success.

10 Traits of Sucky Cultures (in no particular order)

  1. Lack of leadership accountability
  2. Emphasis on maintaining the status quo
  3. Undefined processes
  4. No opportunity to participate in decisions
  5. One size fits all solutions
  6. Command and control management
  7. No support for professional development
  8. Unclear expectations & mixed messages
  9. Undervaluing in-house expertise & insights
  10. Thinking only about the bottom line

Create an Island of Health in a Sea of Bad Culture

So many quips and quotes come to mind as I think about advice for carving out a little slice of heaven in the midst of organizational Hades:

“If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I’m sure you can picture a hallway in your organization filled with motivational posters collecting dust. They are artwork, at some level, but certainly not beacons of inspiration that the purchasers envisioned. There used to be a Successories store in every major mall in America, but the platitudes and pictures of teams high-fiving and individuals scaling summits were so far from reality that they subconsciously demotivated us.

So what do I do if I’m committed to my job but am in an environment that brings me down? How do I keep going when the organization is doing so much to stop me from progress? Here are five recommendations for creating your island of health in a sea of bad culture:

  1. Know what you can do – and know your limits. Understanding your boundaries will help you adjust your mindset and not become overwhelmed by all that could and should be fixed. You may have no authority or power to fix policies, but you may be able to put some order to your world that makes things easier to manage. At the same time, be aware of signs that workplace stress is taking a toll on your health. No matter the benefits/reasons for staying with the company, when your health takes a hit, it’s time to walk.
  1. Become a stealth influencer. It’s amazing what you can do when you go undercover to influence up and down the org chart. Covert operations allow you to make recommendations and suggest improvements subtly, little-by-little. You may also benefit from piloting tweaks to processes and practices, sharing your positive outcomes after the fact. True, you probably won’t get recognition for your brilliant ideas, but your workplace will be better, which is more important.
  1. Bring others with you. You don’t have to be stranded alone on that desert island – bring someone with you! Band together with others who are committed to their jobs and want to see the organization culture improve. Partnership alone can do wonders for your job satisfaction! And even if you can’t make a cultural breakthrough, having a colleague to commiserate with will get you through hard days. Commit to being a mutual encouragement to one another.
  1. Be a burr with a sense of humor. Identify a few things that are worth fighting for and be the burr under the saddle of those who are in positions to do something about it. This is probably the most challenging of the five recommendations, since it takes an ability to pester without being labeled a pest. You don’t want to lose your influence, but you don’t want the door slammed in your face either. The key here is to have a sense of humor. If you present every opportunity as an urgent crisis you’ll not be heard (like the boy who cried “wolf!”.
  1. Celebrate successes, however small. Yes, it may be a “party of one,” but do take the time to recognize when your efforts have been successful. Whether it’s a grin as you leave your boss’s office with a new inch of ground, or a more tangible celebration (like cake!), it is important to your psychological well-being and continued motivation to reward yourself when progress is made.

There are plenty of articles and books, and consultants like myself who are available to assist leaders in creating positive workplace cultures, but if your executive team has yet to crack open any of Edgar Schein’s great works on designing culture perhaps the advice above will keep you engaged in the meantime. Or you might want to pick up a copy of one of these books and initiate a “lunch & learn” to talk about what might be done to create a great workplace culture!

By Edgar Schein:

The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, 2009

Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2010 ed.

By Others:

Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (Cameron & Quinn), 2011

Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture & Organizational Design (Argyris), 2012

(Order below from the CreativeGapMinding Bookstore):

      

Lean Performance Management: Moving Toward Peak Performance

What is lean?

The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.  -Lean Enterprise Institute (lean.org)

 

Lean manufacturing is a process improvement methodology based upon the highly acclaimed Toyota Production System (TPS).  The main focus in lean manufacturing is the removal of waste from a value stream. leanprocess.net

So, “lean” has to do with trimming away things that get in the way of optimal performance. Processes and practices often take on a life of their own over time, and before you know it you have a monster on your hands. Normally lean consultants (six sigma/process improvement) are brought in when performance has devolved to a state of crisis, but smart organizations engage lean principles as part of their business-as-usual operating culture.

Lean manufacturing is underpinned by 5 principles:

  • Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective
  • Identify all the steps along the process chain
  • Make those processes flow
  • Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer
  • Strive for perfection by continually removing wastes

(http://www.leaningforward.co.uk/principles.htm)

Applying these lean processes to human performance creates a focus on productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction. Practicing lean in performance management enables peak performance and allows employees to focus on value-adding tasks.

Performance management is a structured process for setting expectations, identifying key performance indicators (metrics), measuring outcomes, and improving performance through accountability and feedback. Performance management is both a science and an art. Performance technology provides the framework to structure and analyze human performance, while emotional intelligence and relational skills ensure a sensitivity and empathy. A solely scientific approach is dehumanizing and detrimental to lasting performance change.

Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective.  Job descriptions and performance accountability should place a priority on customer- facing behaviors. Identify how the role supports customer satisfaction, identify how the customer is impacted when the job is (and isn’t) done well, and tie performance metrics and rewards to those behaviors.

Identify all the steps along the process chain. A job-specific SIPOC will do the trick here. A SIPOC is a picture of Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – and Customers surrounding a specific role or task. Identify how performance is impacted along the way, from when work is handed off from one role to another, and the interdependencies that may create roadblocks and inefficiencies.

Make those processes flow. Remove barriers to performance and hold employees accountable for keeping things flowing smoothly. Reward process improvements and build expectations for internal customer service. Create a culture that challenges the status quo in pursuit of optimized performance.

Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer. This is somewhat of a repeat of the first principle, but an additional point when it comes to performance improvement is to be aware of processes, and even positions, that don’t add value. Just because a position has always existed, or a form is always used, or a handoff has always been a part of the process, doesn’t mean it adds value. Go back to the analysis of what supports customer experience, and eliminate everything that gets in the way. This streamlines performance management by simplifying the focus to one thing: the customer.

Strive for perfection and continually removing waste.Perfection is a lofty goal, and probably not realistic. But striving for perfection, as elusive as it may be, keeps us focused on continuous improvement. Waste is anything that hinders peak performance: tasks and deliverables that don’t add value to the customer; missed opportunities to leverage resources; and systems that create more work than they’re worth.

Using the principles of “lean” to manage human performance ensures an emphasis on quality work that ties to the customer experience. The benefit of applying lean to performance management is that “fluff” (waste) is removed on the front end, through better performance planning, and on the back end as performance is evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness.

In an age where “doing more with less” is standard, eliminating non-value-adding tasks, systems, and processes means you can still expect high quality work even if you’re running with a smaller staff. If the reports are correct that most of us work far below capacity (50-70% by some accounts), then applying lean will help us move toward better time management, stronger accountability for the things that matter, and continuous improvement across the organization.

   

The Butterfly Effect of a Leader

This blog was originally written for and posted on Linked2Leadership in March, 2011.
Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 6.16.26 AMIt took 30 years, but the scientific community finally embraced Edward Lorenz’ hypothesis that:

A butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air – eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet.

What Lorenz called the Butterfly Effect became the much more scientific sounding Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions. I prefer Lorenz’ much more poetic & compelling image of a butterfly’s wings setting off a chain of events that leads to a mighty storm.

In a frame on my office wall I keep the following quote, from James C. Hunter’s book The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership.

How we behave as the boss at work today affects what goes on around the dinner table in other people’s homes tonight.

In other words, the actions we take, the words we use, the priorities we set begin the Butterfly Effect in the lives of followers, colleagues, clients and, according to the theory, everyone we encounter.

In his book titled The Butterfly Effect Andy Andrews tells two stories that illustrate the impact of our actions today on generations to come. First, he traces the decision made by a schoolteacher-turned-Civil War commander who quite possibly kept the U.S. from becoming fragmented into multiple nations. Andrews claims that without the Confederate win at Gettysburg the world would not have benefited from the U.S. allegiance that toppled Hitler during WW II.

The second story involves the story of George Washington Carver, in reverse, that led to the development, generations after Carver, of a disease-resistant seed later that does well in arid climates and has consequently provided grain around the globe and saved an estimated 2 billion people. Andrews makes the point that the origin of that discovery can be traced back further and further to decisions that set future events in motion.

Our own impact may or may not be so dramatic. We watch movies such as Freedom Writers, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poet’s Society and other inspirational tales of one person making a difference in the lives of many and our hearts are stirred. But do we consider that we have the ability to do the same thing in the lives of our direct reports, peers and others?

When your name comes up around the dinner table, what is being said about you? If you were a fly on the wall, would you hear statements like, “He always shoots down my ideas and won’t give me a chance” or “She only cares about the bottom line and has to always do things her way”?

Research from Gallup shows that what followers need most from leaders are trust, stability, hope, and compassion (Strengths Based Leadership, 2008). Luthans, Youssef & Avolio (Psychological Capital, 2007) identify efficacy (self-confidence), hope, optimism and resiliency as “psychological capital” that can positively impact the workplace.

Positive butterfly effects from leaders, then, start with intentionally infusing hope, optimism, resiliency, trust and other positive traits into daily encounters with followers. In the midst of chaotic, stressful and sometimes impossible circumstances, leaders can create a legacy that positively influences the outcomes of other people’s lives with a ripple effect that goes on for generations to come.

Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Integrity writes

When a person travels a few years with an organization, or with a partnership, or any other kind of working relationship, he leaves a ‘wake’ behind in these two areas, task and relationship: what did he accomplish and how did he deal with people? And we can tell a lot about that person from the nature of the wake.

If we are going to leave a wake one way or another, why not be intentional about it? Why not choose the direction the molecules of our actions will travel? Why not decide to unleash a tsunami of hope, optimism, resiliency and trust?

   

The Superhighway System of Organizational Reality: A Metaphor for Systems Thinking in Organizations

highwayMerging on to the interstate, blinker flashing and speed accelerating, I glide into my lane, becoming one with my fellow travelers. Some of us are headed toward the same event and will exit in a line, one after the other. Some will keep going and still others will realize they’ve missed their exit and have to reroute. Thanks, President Eisenhower, for championing America’s interstate highway system!

I’ve traveled to cities that seem to consider traffic laws as optional, and lanes are mere suggestions as drivers blare their horns as they dodge through intersections. When we first arrived in Tehran when I was in high school, our taxi driver even took “shortcuts” through parking lots and down alleys. He felt a sense of urgency we hadn’t communicated, almost as if he couldn’t deposit us to our front door fast enough!

Interstate and road design is meant to get us from one place to another in a somewhat orderly and efficient fashion. On ramps and off ramps, connections to and from other arteries, construction zones and speed traps, and changing rates of speed describe the transportation system, and also serve as a fitting metaphor for our workplace systems.

A key principle in human performance technology is systems thinking – an acknowledgement of the multifaceted and simultaneous activities within an organization that turn inputs into outputs through processes and channels. When looking for ways to close performance gaps it’s essential to think about the whole system, expanding the focus to see what might be a symptom of a larger issue.

The London Underground (Tube) system was introduced in the 1860s as a solution to the city’s overly congested streets. Hailing the first underground railway system (1863), greater London now has 270 stations that move travelers to all parts of the city with relative ease. But it wasn’t always this way.

For decades, competing rail companies dug their lines underground, moving people on a fairly straight path from one end of the city to another. Commuters would often have to exit one station from Line A and walk to another line to continue their journey. This made the underground experience almost as inconvenient as the above-ground transport.

Then, in 1933, a new entity was created that merged all of the competitors into a single organization. With this coordinated effort, Tube travel became much more efficient and consistent. The subterranean, geographical map of the Tube system was very difficult to read, until Harry Beck created a simplified (although geographically interpretive) map that was easy to follow.

Having a roadmap to explain and simplify the system is essential. Following the system is also required – from everyone…until a better system is discovered and adopted!

When I visited Beijing in 2012, one of my contacts told me about a traffic jam that lasted for 10 days in August, 2010 (check out the story on Wikipedia). Because of the vast number of automobiles and trucks trying to get in and out of Beijing every day, a schedule is required to avoid snarls. Commuters are allowed to enter the city on specific days, and delivery vehicles cannot enter the city before certain times, usually during the night.

As the story goes, some delivery truck drivers grew impatient and decided to make their way toward the inner city through construction. This caused such a wide-spread pandemonium that some drivers were stuck for up to five days, only able to move .6 miles per day.

We experience similar snarls in our organizations when we don’t follow our own processes. Our systems are only as good as our willingness and ability to follow them, and when individuals or departments insist on forging ahead without consideration for the consequences, the system breaks down completely and we get stuck for long periods of time.

Peter Senge, a thought leader in organizational systems and learning says,

Business and human endeavors are systems…we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.

To avoid organizational traffic jams, leaders need to keep the whole system in mind and commit to designing and following processes that keep things running smoothly. One department, and one leader, can’t make a decision without considering the impact on up- and down-stream stakeholders. Retrofitting new processes into old systems also causes inefficiency and mayhem. There must be a collaborative effort to co-create and co-repair the system.

When performance falls short of expectations, at the individual, workgroup or organizational levels, there must be a systems approach for discovering the gaps and contributors to those gaps. I often use the example from a call center client, who was addressing a serious problem with average handle time (AHT) for one of its products. Why were employees from one site able to meet the AHT goal while another site chronically fell short?

The assumption was that it came down to employee training and behavior (attitude). A refresher class was needed to remind employees of the steps that would ensure AHT goals were achieved. As employees sat through the refresher, however, my trainer noticed something…the employees were following the steps, but the system had a critical lag that slowed them down.

We can train, coach, and discipline employees when they don’t perform as expected, but we are being unfair when we hold them to impossible performance goals. We have to get a wider frame of reference before we jump in with solutions and make sure we’ve considered all possible contributions to the issue. Yes, training may be needed, but why else is possible? A technology issue? A supervisory problem? A policy that doesn’t make sense?

To understand and benefit from organizational systems we must learn to see through lenses other than our own. As processes are created and revised, decisions are made, or technology implemented, a consideration for the whole system is crucial to success. What impact will a course of action have on…

  • Marketing?
  • Sales?
  • Human resources?
  • Customer service?
  • Information Technology?
  • The community?

Systems thinking doesn’t mean we have to become experts in every area or learn to think like every possible stakeholder, but it does require an awareness that these entities and individuals exist. And we must learn to build social networks outside of our own areas of expertise to leverage the insights and factors bearing on the organization.

Managers are the engineers of workplace systems, creating the traffic flow, the signage, and rest stops that keep organizational drivers safe, focused, and able to navigate to their destination. Peak performance happens in our organizations when we think about the best routes to get our enterprise from Point A to Point B, and consider the many possible scenarios that could interfere with the flow.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Peter Drucker said, Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes. The knowledge within any system is only as powerful as the attention it is given. Pay attention to your systems as you would a map on an unknown interstate before GPS!

   

Servant Leadership By Any Other Name


In the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has the young Juliet proclaim,

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

In other words, call it what you want, but the characteristics of a rose – the aroma, texture, and other aesthetic qualities remain the same even if you choose to call it a greglestick.

Servant leadership, in its modern iteration, was a concept developed by Robert Greenleaf from a mostly a-religious (or at least unspecified) base of knowledge and experience. As Greenleaf observed leadership behaviors within a corporate setting, he identified those actions and mindsets that lead to a lifting up of individuals. He saw the benefits of a society, whether a workgroup, corporate enterprise, or geographic community, that built success through serving one another.

Since Greenleaf’s development of the servant leader principles in the 1970’s, several have built on his original ideas to provide a clearer framework that can be taught and applied in settings as diverse as corporations, educational institutions, churches, and government entities.

The church and some faith-based nonprofits eagerly embrace servant leadership, seeing the roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He said, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) Followers of Christ understand the importance of serving others, and the term servant-leadership is widely accepted. Yet even within some Christian circles, the term carries some baggage, and a search is on to rename it.

The concept of service is not unfamiliar outside the church walls, as military members serve their country and politicians serve their constituents. But when it comes to the boardroom and the cubicle farms of our organizations, the idea of serving one another brings unease (although I can’t tell you how many job applicants say, “I like to help others” as a reason to hire them).

The principles of servant leadership are not necessarily the problem. Professor Larry Spears, who teaches servant leadership at Gonzaga University, lists 10 characteristics of a servant leader:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Building community

Most of these qualities are familiar to us, although terms such as “healing” and “stewardship” seem foreign to our perceptions of what we discuss within our corporations. These unique characteristics, however, are exactly what make the servant leadership approach different from many other leadership models and philosophies.

An even greater step out of the leadership model comfort zone is Kathleen Patterson’s servant leadership model (Regent University), which uses terms like love, humility, and altruism. Similarly, Jeremie Kubicek, author of Leadership is Dead, replaces the term servant leadership with humility-based leadership. Citing baggage that comes with the term servant leadership, Kubicek sees the humility-based leaders as the antithesis of the self-serving and self-protecting leader.

It seems that to truly capture the essence of a type of leadership that promotes the needs of followers, to the extreme that productivity and profit are deemphasized over helping individuals to fully achieve all they are capable of, we may have to get comfortable with calling it what it is. Transformational leadership captures this emphasis on raising others up to their full potential, but the missing link, at least according to Patterson, is the notion that a servant leader serves altruistically, not because it is a means to greater productivity or organizational benefit.

While the title “servant leadership” may not resonate with everyone, especially those prone to a less benevolent style of leadership, I think that’s the point. Those who have seen the value of servant leadership, as Robert Greenleaf did decades ago, and are convinced that it delivers the best organizational and personal outcomes, must dialogue about how to articulate the benefits and principles that go along with it to a skeptical audience.

That being said, perhaps the closest commercialized leadership “model” that embraces the principles of servant leadership is The Leadership Challenge. Based on decades of research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge promotes the care of followers, which sounds a lot like servant leadership. Their principle of Encourage the Heart is based on the belief that, “As a relationship, leadership requires a connection between leaders and their constituents over matters, in the simplest sense, of the heart. It is personal and it is interpersonal.”

The servant leader enjoys serving, and would do it whether it “pays off” or not (that’s the altruistic nature of the model). Some may view this as “soft” or overly-idealistic. But to call service something other than service because it might offend, makes serving others seem optional, sub-par, and unrealistic.

Though others have tried, I’m not sure calling servant leadership by any other name really makes sense. Instead, I see the need to package servant leadership in a way that is clear, compelling, and convincing. Ben Lichtenwalner, who maintains the site www.modernservantleader.com, provides a list of organizations who have applied servant leadership successfully. The list includes well-known companies like AFLAC, 7-Eleven, The Container Store, Herman Miller, and Southwest Airlines, as well as smaller businesses that operate in a limited geography.

So, my suggestion is we move from re-naming servant leadership and focus on promoting it within our organizations and communities. Find out more at…

Modern Servant Leader

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

Spears Center for Servant Leadership

Regent University Servant Leadership Research Roundtable

   

Four Keys to Influencing Up the Org Chart

(Getting the boss’s attention when you know something you wish they did too)

I led a training session recently for a group of production and operations supervisors from a mid-size global firm. Our topic for the day was teams and trust, and our focus was on optimal functioning for work teams that they managed. They described, however, a scenario that is all too familiar: their new leader (less than a year) was clueless about how to run the operation. Hired for his lean manufacturing experience, he suggested skipping over some critical aspects of the operation to save time. Based on these “efficiencies” he suggested the product would be defective, even unsafe, and would require hours of rework.

For nearly a year these supervisors, with an average tenure of 15 years, had tried to explain the process to their boss. He took notes, smiled and nodded as though he was in agreement, then went away and disregarded not just their advice and experience, but the scientific facts of the process.

We had a long discussion about how they could influence the boss to do the right thing, to listen to them and heed their warnings. They were frustrated and disillusioned. Some of their peers had already left the organization, taking with them decades of experience. We needed to figure out a way to stop the exodus of talent and have a meaningful impact up the organizational chart.

Whether we want to share a new idea or fix a broken process, influencing up the organization chart is an important skill for everyone in the chain of command.

The best managers, of course, want to hear from people – they welcome new ideas, challenges to the process, and suggestions for adopting technology to make work easier, cheaper, or faster. But not all bosses are open to others’ ideas.

I’m reading Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings. He describes three kinds of people that we encounter in life:

  • Wise
  • Foolish
  • Evil

If you’ve ever read the Old Testament book of Proverbs, these designations will be pretty familiar to you. For instance, Proverbs 3:35 says, “The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame.” Proverbs 6 talks about the evil person who “plots evil with deceit in his heart—he always stirs up conflict.”

Influencing a wise boss is easy, because they are open to feedback, want to learn, and don’t get defensive when you challenge their ideas. The wise person has understanding and discernment, an ability to take in information and objectively and skillfully accept the facts without feeling challenged.

A foolish boss listens, but takes not action. They nod and smile, but lack the motivation, resolve, or interest to make things better. They may be prideful or lacking in judgment. The foolish person is often insecure, which leads them to hoard information and shut down any ideas that did not originate with them.

The evil person covets control and power, acting like a puppet-master to direct the outcomes that put them at an advantage over others. They are untrustworthy, deceptive and, often, disagreeable. They may tell you what you want to hear, but will use the information to put you in your place later. Though rare, bosses like this exist – I know from experience!

Whether you want to upward-influence a wise, foolish, or evil boss, there are some keys to help you succeed:

Know Your Stuff. The best way to influence others is to be seen as an expert. Subject-matter expertise opens many doors and allows you to be an internal consultant. Don’t settle on past knowledge – actively pursue professional development and educate yourself on new technologies and trends in your field.

The wise manager will readily accept your insights and suggestions because they trust your experience and know-how. Do your homework, though, since a really wise person may probe to get the full picture.

The foolish manager will require some careful planning. Since they resist influence due to their self-protective nature, you will need a heavy dose of humility to sell the idea as theirs. They may feel threatened by your expertise, so you have to be careful that your know-how doesn’t come across as know-it-all.

Learn to read people. Emotional intelligence is extremely important in trying to upward-influence. Learn to read social cues and understand personalities and what motivates the person you want to influence. You don’t have to give someone a formal assessment to get insight into what makes them tick. Knowing motivations is perhaps the most useful awareness when it comes to influencing.

Take a look at their work space and listen to what they talk about. Is it all work and know play? Is it centered on family, friends and relationships? How do they learn best – reading, hearing, or hands-on?

We sometimes use our own preferences when we’re trying to influence others, which is not very effective. Get to know the person you want to influence and you’ll be seen as credible and trustworthy. Your wise boss will appreciate your insights, the foolish boss will probably be surprised you understand them so well, and the evil manager may watch you a little more closely to see if you have ulterior motives.

Choose your words carefully. Once you’re able to read people you can much more easily decide how to talk with them. Words are important, as is the way you deliver them.

Our attitude impacts the words we use and the way we say them. If we are angry, we’ll sound it. If we’re fearful of how the other person will react, we’ll sound timid and unsure.

If you have done your homework to become a subject matter expert, and have some insights into what motivates the person you want to influence, you can come across as confident and smart. Make a case for your idea or suggestion, always keeping in mind the point of view of the other person. Use terms that make sense to them, speak to what is important to them (quality, the bottom line, customer service, etc.). Clearly show how your idea will help achieve their goals. Make your pitch compelling, interesting, factual, and wise. Don’t make it an information dump, but do give some materials and bullet points that they can refer back to later.

Be patient and persistent. This last key is the hardest one to apply. When we have an idea or suggestion, especially when we see an urgent need to change the current course, we find it hard to wait patiently for the boss to weigh the merits of your case. They may not have the same level of pain or concern as you.

Give them time to consider, realizing that they probably have greater insight into the big picture and may need to do their own upward-influencing to get the ear (and budget) of their boss.

Don’t dump and run! Follow up within a week after the initial conversation, possibly adding some additional information, answering questions, and asking when they think a decision will be made. Don’t be a pest, and accept their decision graciously.

What if They Don’t Change Their Mind?

You may do a great job of presenting your case but still not influence your boss to adopt your suggestion or change their mind. Ask them for some feedback so that you can understand their thinking and decision-making process. They may or may not have a good reason for saying no, but their response may give you insights that will help you in the future.

You have a choice whether to accept their decision and move on, determine to try again with a different tactic, or decide to move on because of the critical consequences you see for not changing the current course. Just as a salesperson has to make a lot of presentations before they get a buyer, someone who wants to influence upwardly must be OK with a little rejection.

Influence is the primary task of leadership, and when we are able to influence up the organizational chart we show that leadership can happen at any level and go in any direction. It takes skill to influence others, since we are breaking them out of a particular way of thinking. Our minds are not easily changed, but when we show our expertise, tap into the other person’s interests, frame our case well, and are persistent and patient, we greatly improve the odds of winning someone over to our way of thinking.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials)

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second Edition (Paperback)

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age

Rethinking Job Descriptions

A Useful Tool Gone Bad?

There’s little doubt that some sort of job description is important. They help organizations articulate the purpose of a position and how the work is to be accomplished. They spell out the competencies, experience, and other requirements necessary to succeed, and give the person doing that job a sense of what they should be focusing on.

For some, a job description identifies the boundaries of a position. Individuals like to know what they should and should not do, and like to be able to say, “it’s not my job.” Employers, of course, have gotten around this boxing in by adding the ubiquitous phrase, “and other duties as assigned.”

Thinking Upside Down – Person First, Then Description

But what if employers flipped job descriptions on their heads? What if, instead of using these expedient documents to create an exhaustive list of tasks, duties and responsibilities, job descriptions became generalized documents that allow for interpretation based on individual strengths and organizational needs?

Human Resources professionals like to create standardized, documented procedures to reduce variability and mitigate risk. That way we can keep people accountable and easily address deviance from the norm through our structured disciplinary processes.

But this obsession with conformity and repeatability has a serious negative consequence: it squashes the creativity and resourcefulness of employees and fails to tap into their unique strengths and interests.

When we attempt to turn an individual into a walking embodiment of their job description, we lose the advantage of the whole person. The whole person may not be a perfect fit for the job description, but if we exchange rigidity with flexibility, the whole person will rise to the occasion and surpass any goals of a job description.

It’s a scary thing to let go of structure. We like to predict outcomes by identifying the right inputs. The good news is we don’t have to completely eliminate structure to create a culture where people are allowed to apply a greater percentage of their abilities, ideas, and strengths.

As our workplaces evolve and adapt to new realities, new understandings, new ways of getting things done, employers have to tap into the vast reserves of wisdom, innovation, and productivity that go to waste every day because we have limited people through our processes and practices.

How to Give (and Receive) Performance Reviews

performance_reviewAll over the world supervisors are gearing up for their least favorite time of the year. Sometime between January and March employers involve their organizations in a time of reflection, evaluation, and planning. Well, that probably sounds too altruistic. In reality, the annual performance review process is painful, unproductive, and a downright waste of time.

Reviewers often fail to keep adequate records to evaluate well and seem to be surprised that reviews have snuck up on them again at the exact same time as last year! How did that happen?! As they continue to put out fires and keep operations moving forward, they have to carve out time to think about the past. It seems like a fruitless effort, but it’s a requirement, one in which the outcome often determines the merit increases of their staff.

Merit increases have their own challenges, since “management” allots a specific dollar amount or percentage to each manager, which they have to figure out how to divvy up to their team. This often means juggling performance scores so that the budget isn’t exceeded. What a mess!

So what can supervisors and managers do to make the most of performance reviews? Here are three things to keep in mind if you’ve once again been surprised by the review cycle and have to get them done in a hurry.

  1. Adjust your mindset about reviews. Know why you are giving them, and consider what the benefits are of performance reviews. If you can modify your attitude toward evaluations and begin seeing them as an opportunity to recognize people for what they’ve done well and coach those who are struggling in certain areas, you will become more objective and solutions-minded as you prepare to write the evaluation.
  2. Focus on the purpose, not the process. When you view the performance evaluation process as a once-a-year pain-in-the neck you will likely approach the process (and your staff) negatively. But if you have made performance management a part of your everyday leadership, the annual review is just one step in the process.
  3. Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. Because supervisors often rush through the process to meet the deadline for annual reviews, they present the performance review as a monologue, checking off the score and a brief explanation as they make their way down the page. This one-way street approach denies the humanity of the employee who has little room to participate in their own performance review until the end when the supervisor says, “any questions?”

These three things will set you on a path to making performance appraisals more positive, productive, and purposeful – and hopefully a lot less painful!

If you’re on the other side of the desk, receiving a performance review that is less than dynamic and obviously rushed, here are some things that you can do to get the most out of the process:

  1. Set YOUR tone. Because you expect this years’ review meeting to be just as meaningless and frustrating as last years’, you are shut off to any other possibility. Whether your manager is taking the process seriously or not, you can set the tone by approaching the meeting with an attitude of discovery and a chance to have some positive face-to-face time with your boss.
  2. Ask questions. Don’t let your manager get away with their typical monologue of essentially reading the review verbatim, hardly making eye contact. If they aren’t coming up for breath, interject a question mid-stream. Don’t waste this opportunity to find out more about why they rated you the way they did. Make your questions positive, not attacking or defensive.
  3. Prepare! Since your boss may not have kept the best records and may be judging you based on your most recent performance or with lots of generalities, bring examples of your work. Take time to prepare a timeline of the past 12 months and what you were able to accomplish in that time. What were your successes? How did you provide value? And when did you drop the ball? Be prepared to talk about lessons learned and renewed focus.

Annual performance reviews are often forced upon the workforce, but individual managers and employees can make them better. Performance evaluation doesn’t have to be a dreadful, migraine-inducing endeavor. Really! It all depends on how you approach it – the mindset you bring with you and the preparation you undertake. Your organization may have a stupid process that seems like a departure from the day-to-day culture, but you can choose to make the most of it whether you are the giver or receiver of performance feedback.

Here’s hoping you exceed expectations!