How does your team think?

Blackboard with a drawing of a thought bubble enclosing a lightbulbEvery now and then, Amazon puts a really good book on their Amazon Kindle sales.

I would never have come across Time to Think: listening to ignite the human mind, by Nancy Kline, if it hadn’t showed up as a 99-cent special one day. (Sorry, everyone, it’s back up to its regular digital price of $5.99, $12.99 for the paperback, and still worth it!)

I’ve long been a proponent of encouraging people to think for themselves, voice contrary opinions, speak up when something’s going wrong or being overlooked, and, in general, speak truth to power. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from General George S. Patton, who pointed out that, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

My question for you is: do you encourage your team to think for themselves?

Or do you foster groupthink (where everyone is afraid to voice anything diverging from the group)?

Or maybe you’ve made it hard for your team to tell you the truth about what’s happening? (See my post “Does your team lie to you?” for more on that.)

What can you do to encourage independent thinking on your team? Here are a few ideas – some of which come from Kline’s book, and some of which are my own thoughts. (See what I did there? Yep. I’m thinking independently!)

Forgo the need to be right

If you have to have the last word – and it always has to be the right word – no one will bring new ideas or emerging problems to you. It’s that simple.

Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to not have all the answers. Be willing to be half right, if that’s all you can manage for now.

As Walter Isaacson puts it, “One mark of a great mind is the willingness to change it.” (He has too many accomplishments to cite; click here for his Wikipedia entry.)

Listen …

Yes, I know; this is what everyone says, and yet we all still listen only long enough to figure out what we want to say or how we want to argue.

When we listen fully (without dismissive facial expressions or body language, and definitely without interrupting), we encourage the speaker to keep going, keep thinking, keep developing their ideas. And then good things happen.

Ask good questions

Another excellent book, A More Beautiful Question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas, by Warren Berger, suggests asking “What if?” questions, and Kline agrees.

“What if?” questions open up possibility by breaking down perceived limitations and constraints.

Notice that these are not “How?” questions. “How” questions create constraints; “shat if” questions remove constraints. (I thought I’d written about this before, but I can’t find the post. Stay tuned for an article on the dangers of “how” questions!)

Allow silence

A good friend and colleague once made the point that silence can be a full partner in any conversation.

Most of us, though, aren’t comfortable with silence. We feel pressured to fill it, to say something, anything, rather than allow the silence to continue.

But when someone is thinking and we fill their thoughtful silence with our ideas, input, information, guidance, whatever – we’ve interrupted them. We’ve stomped on their thought process, and wherever they were going is lost.

Allow silence. Stay attentive. Bite your tongue if you have to.

It’s weirdly difficult

You’d think all this would be natural. After all, we want people to have ideas, think clearly, offer their opinions, tell us when something is going wrong.

But it’s weirdly difficult. Whether because, as the leader, we feel we’re “supposed” to be the one with all the ideas, or because (as hard as it may be to admit) we feel threatened if someone else raises a problem or idea we didn’t think of, or simply because we’re feeling rushed and “too busy” to pay attention, or for any of a host of other reasons, we fail to give people the time to think.

What do you think would happen if you did?

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Interview: Leadership Communication

I’ve known and respected Catherine Mowbray-Lorenz for years, so I was delighted when she invited me to join her on the BlogTalkRadio show Women Lead.

We talked about how leaders, especially newly-promoted women leaders, can communicate better, and what it means to be a manager, leader, and supervisor in today’s challenging environment.

Thirty minutes of fun and information – enjoy!

https://www.blogtalkradio.com/connected-women-of-influence/2019/08/05/leadership-communication

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Where’s your power?

Infographic depicting sources of powerPower.

It’s a tricksy concept, isn’t it?

Kind of uncomfortable for a lot of people.

As a leader, you have power.

You might be a new manager with just one person reporting to you.

You have power.

Actually, you have power even if no one reports to you.

We all have power.

It’s how we use it that matters.

Or how we don’t use it.

And those statements cut in two directions.

How we use it.

Power is a tool.

Just as a hammer can be used to build something beautiful, or can be used to hurt or even kill someone, so too power can be used for good or ill.

Power can manipulate, inflict itself on others, create division, intimidate, diminish, hold back – all manner of things that hurt people.

Power can also guide, strengthen, teach, lead, support, develop – all manner of things that help people.

How we don’t use it.

I was recently horrified by a friend’s description of an event where – yes, I’m going there – masculine power over a woman’s appearance was blatantly and despicably demonstrated.

There was no physical violence. Power doesn’t require physical violence; anyone who’s been hurt emotionally, intellectually, or professionally by someone’s inappropriate use of power knows that.

But I’m not telling this story to demonstrate that some people use their power in awful ways – I covered that in the previous section.

No. My point here is that the woman in this story did not use her power. Instead of objecting, she acquiesced. And the people around her didn’t act either; they too abdicated their power.

We’ve all seen, or been involved in, situations where someone (us?) didn’t use their power when they could – perhaps should – have done so.

And we can all think of times when we used our power to exploit, manipulate, or belittle someone else, even if only in minor ways. (Though is any mis-use of power minor? I’m not sure…)

Power is tricky.

As human beings – whether we lead none, one, or thousands – we owe it to the people over whom we have power to be conscious and intentional of how we wield that power.

And don’t fool yourself into believing you have no power.

You do.

Use it wisely.

gljudson Leadership

Are you scary?

Frightened emoji characterYou might be more scary than you think.

A recent Harvard Business Review article cites research indicating that although 66 percent of survey respondents said they were “never” or “rarely” scary to their employees … that wasn’t necessarily their employees’ experience.

Simply by virtue of your title, you may appear intimidating to your team – even if that title seems relatively innocuous or even junior-level to you.

We like to think we’re approachable; we have an open-door policy; we say we value feedback; and we claim it’s okay to make mistakes.

But when push comes to shove, do the people on your team really believe they can come to you with challenging questions or – worse yet! – with the news that something’s gone wrong? The article I mention above references issues such as the recent Boeing 737 Max safety failures; other instances that come to mind are the Challenger explosion and ethics breakdowns such as at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo.

I’m not suggesting you’re facing any such #epicfail situation as those. (Though I’d guess that initially, the people in those situations didn’t think they were either!)

What I am suggesting is that being aware of your potential scaryness is important in building trust and creating an environment where your team is comfortable raising tough issues with you.

This isn’t about being a pushover; leaders need to maintain high standards for all types of behavior.

But it is about recognizing that, for some people at least, your title alone – your position in the organizational hierarchy – may create hesitation and uncertainty about speaking up when necessary. Add to that personal (and unintentional) behavior characteristics, such as frowning when in deep thought, or getting testy / cranky under certain conditions – and you can be more scary than you might think.

Team members afraid to bring up ideas, challenge a course of action, or confront a true ethical crisis – we all think it can’t happen to us.

But it can.

Check your scary factor!

gljudson Leadership

Are you ready to WIN? (and that’s NOT what you think!)

Graphic of a multi-armed sign reading "Pulled In Too Many Directions"I am not a fan of long hours, hustle-at-all-costs, and burnout. Been there, done that, and I don’t even want to see the T-shirt!

Yet I’ve attended plenty of meetings where the team was exhorted to “crush it,”  “kill your numbers,” “beat the {unreasonable} deadline,” and so on.

Frankly, even typing those terms makes me feel slightly ill.

So when I ask, “Are you ready to WIN?”, that approach is not what I mean. In fact, quite the opposite!

As a leader, you’re trying to keep up with a million things at once. Especially if leadership and management are new roles for you, figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing, never mind how to handle it all, can be overwhelming and exhausting.

Did you know that for 500 years from the first known occurrence of the word “priority” in the 1400s, there was no such thing as “multiple priorities”?  Yep. “Priority” was never plural until, sometime in the 1900s, someone brilliantly (not!) decided that we could get even more done if we had multiple “top priorities.”

Does that sound familiar? Maybe so familiar that you hadn’t even noticed that it’s a little … odd … to operate as if there could be several Most Important Things To Do?

There can be only one Most Important Thing.

And so when you’re swamped with all the things, stop. Breathe.

And ask yourself:

What’s
 Important
NOW?

Right now, this moment. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, not this afternoon.

What’s important now?

That’s the WIN I’m referring to.

And that question can change your life, if you let it.

(This question, and the data regarding “priority” vs. “priorities,” is from Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown. I’ll have more to say about this book, and a few others, in a future post on books every leader should read.)

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Whatcha gonna do about that?

White board with the words "Today I will..." in red marker“I’d love to get a promotion.”

Whatcha gonna do about that?

“I want to change careers.”

Whatcha gonna do about that?

“I’d be a good team lead!”

Whatcha gonna do about that?

“I dream of a house in the country.”

Whatcha gonna do about that?

“I’d like to be CEO someday.”

Whatcha gonna do about that?

Wishes, dreams, wants, desires, ambitions…

Whatcha gonna do about that?

Without taking action, they’ll always be “someday.”

And as the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

Whatcha gonna do about that?

gljudson Career development

Do you have Tall Poppy syndrome?

Photo of a vivid red poppy against a lightly-cloudy blue skyTall Poppy syndrome is the desire to mow down those you feel are above you or head of you – those who seem more successful, wealthier, drive better cars, have nicer offices, and so forth.

It comes with a desire to not be a Tall Poppy yourself.

But there’s a big difference between arrogance and well-earned pride.

And if you find yourself wanting to cut the Tall Poppies in your life down to size, you’re probably not as confident or self-assured about your own accomplishments as you could be.

In fact, you might want to take a good long look at your achievements and give yourself credit for them.

You’ve done many things that seemed daunting when you started out… but which now, in hindsight, seem like no big deal.

You did them well, and they are a big deal.

Your skills, talents, and triumphs are important. And there’s a big gap between the arrogance of a braggart, and the invisibility of someone who thinks “Oh, it wasn’t such a big deal” and “I shouldn’t have to self-promote.”

Whether you’re an employee in a mega-corporation, or a self-employed individual practitioner, or something in between, if you want to be successful, you must let people know about your accomplishments.

Must.

You can start by not downplaying your ideas.

Eliminate “This might sound stupid, but..”, “I’m not an expert, but…”, and “Maybe this is obvious, but…” from your vocabulary.

Instead, say, “Here’s my idea!” – and say it with certainty.

Never say, “Thanks, it was nothing!” in response to a compliment on your work.

Instead, say, “Thank you! I’m really proud of the work I did!”

Don’t say, “Oh, it was all my team’s work!” (Unless, of course, you had absolutely nothing to do with it.)

Instead, say, “Thank you! I’m really proud of the work we did!”

You get the picture.

Because here’s the thing: no one else will do it for you.

No one else will notice the level of effort you put in.

No one else will be aware of just how much you’ve done over time.

Only you.

So go do it. Give yourself credit. Take credit when others give it to you – and take it with confidence and pride.

It’s not arrogance when you’ve earned it.

gljudson Career development, Self-talk

Can you learn empathy?

Photo of scrabble tiles spelling "LEARN"Some of the foremost leaders in business and science believe in the importance of empathy in the workplace – and in the world.

“People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career.  Don’t accept this false premise.”
~ Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc.

“The reason why I use the word ‘empathy’ is because the business we are in is to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. That’s what innovation is all about. And there is no way you’re going to do that without having empathy and curiosity.”
~ Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

“Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’”
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium

Despite what these eminent leaders say, there are a lot of people who believe that empathy has no place in the office.

There are also a lot of people who believe empathy is an innate personality trait: you either have it, or you don’t.

Both beliefs are wrong.

Empathy is a crucial skill in dealing with employees and with customers – and skills, by definition, are things you can learn.

When you read this next quote, I encourage you to read “customer service and employee engagement” in the first line, and “customers and employees” in the following sentences.

Empathy is a core skill in customer service.

Customers often experience negative emotions. When that happens, the rational part of our brain cedes control and can’t function properly. Everything stops until those emotions cool down.

Empathy is the magic that can take angry customers out of the red.
~ Jeff Toister, Toister Performance Solutions

And while Alan Alda may be less well known for his work in communication than as an actor, he’s having tremendous success teaching empathy and communication to scientists and medical professionals through the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook, as he comments in this interview excerpt.

“What I found, and this is really interesting, [is] that you can get better at empathy. There are people that I have interviewed, who teach empathy, and one might think that one is born with a certain amount of it and that is going to be it. And that turns out not to be true.”
~ Alan Alda, Alda Center Visiting Professor, 7-time Emmy award-winning actor, and podcaster

Yes, some people have a natural talent for empathy, just as some people have a natural talent for logic, speaking, or writing – or for any of a myriad capabilities that are also learnable.

I don’t recommend bringing the same level of empathy into the office as you’d show to a struggling friend or family member. But I strongly recommend taking the time and making the effort to understand your employees and customers well enough to display appropriate professional empathy.

It’s also worth noting that your skill at empathy can make – or break – a negotiation, and can be the difference between escalation or transformation in conflict.

Here’s a quick, fun experiment you can easily conduct – and deepen your own skill at empathy.

And if you’re interested in digging deeper, here are all the posts I’ve written (so far!) on the topic of professional empathy.

 

gljudson Professional empathy

Is leadership bad for you?

Cartoon of upset, screaming womanAccording to workplace research giant Gallup, 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement is directly attributable to management.

Translating that to plain English: if you’ve got a good manager, you’re more likely to be happy, engaged, and productive than if you have a bad manager.

Aye-aye, Captain Obvious! Like many research studies, this is hardly surprising. I think we’ve all been there, done that with the bad manager. (Hopefully also with the good manager!)

Here’s another statistic: at least half the people you work with either have quit in the past, or will quit at some time in their career future, just because of a bad manager. As the saying goes, people join jobs, and quit managers.

Yet many people don’t realize that they’re not alone in this struggle to cope with bad leadership – which means that however obvious these statistics are, they can help people feel less isolated. And they’re useful to start the conversation about what to do about the problem.

Because the benefits of good leadership are important for everyone involved:

  • The leader operates from a place of confidence, displaying sound decision-making skills and professional empathy for their team.
  • The individuals on the team feel understood, cared for, and appropriately challenged by their leader.
  • The company (and therefore senior leadership) benefits because their teams are meeting or exceeding expectations, thereby directly improving corporate outcomes and the bottom line.
  • Even the customers benefit, because the product or service they experience is likely to be of higher quality.

Here’s another unhappy statistic: 60 percent of new leaders fail in their first year.

This is hugely expensive and deeply tragic.

Hugely expensive

Google “cost to replace a manager,” and you’ll get numbers in the range of 15 to 20 percent of total compensation.

That’s low by a factor of almost 250 percent. That’s not a typo: two hundred fifty percent. And that’s a conservative estimate of how much it costs when you factor in failed or delayed projects, diminished team engagement and productivity, and all the myriad costs of hiring a new first-line manager.*

Deeply tragic

When we’re unhappy and stressed at work, we’re going to take that home with us. Family relationships suffer, relationships with friends suffer, and we struggle with even more stress when our support structures falter because we’re unhappy, cranky, and hard to live with. And if we’re one of the 60 percent who fails … now our self-image is beaten down right when we’re in the middle of having to find a new job.

And our health suffers

More studies: statistics show that people who are stressed at work are significantly more likely to experience illness, including cancer and heart disease.

That’s probably another “aye-aye Captain Obvious” statement, since I think we’re all aware that stress is bad for our health … but I also think we tend to shuffle that awareness aside, not wanting to look squarely at what it means for us and our situation.

Leadership and wellbeing

The thing is, leadership doesn’t have to be bad for your health – physical, mental, or emotional.

As a leader, you know there are things you don’t know about leadership, no matter what level you’ve achieved within your organization. Even CEOs know this: Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, was quoted in the New York Times recently as saying that every CEO has times when they have no idea what they’re doing and are sure everyone knows they’re just faking it.

Newly-promoted first-line managers need and deserve training and support to learn good management and leadership skills (and avoid developing bad habits). It’s that simple.

Because 60 percent of leaders shouldn’t fail in their first year. And work shouldn’t be a stress-inducing, illness-creating, emotionally-draining experience for anyone.


* To see the employee replacement costs calculations – which have been verified by multiple senior HR executives – click here to download the costing spreadsheet. It includes an example, and allows you to fill in your own data as well.

gljudson Leadership