Connections – Dealing with ADD in business

When you saw the title of this article you probably said, “Yes. Finally someone is writing about my crazy boss who can’t stay focused on one topic for more than a few days and then is off on another tangent.” Companies too can suffer from ADD; one day we’re going one direction and the next day another. Bosses and companies that can’t focus and finish something are frustrating and often struggle with performance. They create a group of followers who have learned that the best option when given an assignment is to do nothing and wait for new orders to follow. This is a real issue and certainly a worthy topic for an article. But that’s not the ADD I’m referring to. The ADD I want to talk about is Affection Deficit Disorder.

Affection Deficit Disorder is a failure to connect. It occurs when too much attention is on results and not enough on relationships.  Make no mistake; results are important, very important. But an organization whose connection and communication is all about performance is an uninspiring and energy sapping environment. When employees cannot connect at work, they leave. Creating connections is an essential skill for every leader to develop. You can’t separate performance from relationships. If you want a great organization, employees need to feel connected.

Connections happen at different levels. Employees must connect horizontally with their peers. At that level they’re welcomed in as part of the team. Employees must also connect with their leader. Connecting at this level establishes their value and purpose for being on the team. If employees don’t feel connected in the work environment, they’ll look elsewhere. Employees need to be supported as individuals and when they are, performance goes up, their contribution increases and their overall attitude improves.

Connections knit people together at a human level. Employees need to feel connected and engaged to contribute their maximum. For some leaders, building connections comes naturally. For others, whom it doesn’t come quite as easy, I’ve identified a few simple steps to get started on curing Affection Deficit Disorder. However you build your connection, it should be authentic and reflect the unique personality and style of the leader.

Develop the habit of walking around, not to check up, but to check on. Employees enjoy a brief visit on the job when it’s not about how they’re performing. There’s another time for that. Regular walk-arounds enable you to connect with individuals at a personal level. It can be as simple as a question about the weekend or their family. In either case the individual has been recognized for the full person they are and feels comfortable in a one-on-one connection with you. Be deliberate about the frequency of your walk-arounds and who you connect with. Spread the love, even to those whose performance isn’t where you’d like it to be.

Create a schedule of regular individual meetings with your direct reports. There are few meetings that will get more results than a regular one-on-one meeting with direct reports. These meetings are dual purposed. On one hand they serve as coordination, developmental and performance meetings. They also serve as a great connecting opportunity. One-on-one meetings are an opportunity for the employee to have your personal attention. That matters to them more than you think. Use the opportunity to encourage, support and affirm them. Your insistence to keep the schedule reinforces with them how important they are to you.

Begin the practice of periodic and regular all-employee meetings. Often all-employee meetings are conducted on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, when times are good there’s no need to meet and when times are tough, there’s neither the time nor desire to meet. The result is a lot of time passes between meetings. These meetings matter to employees. First, it’s an opportunity to connect through assembly. It may be one of the only times they gather together on the job. The symbolism of everyone in the same place at the same time reinforces that they’re all part of the same team. It’s also a great opportunity, and maybe the only opportunity, where you can engage in connection around values, principles or the need to pull together. It’s OK to discuss performance, but there has to be a big dose of connection. It’s not as much about what you have to say as it is about how you say it. You also don’t need a reason to meet, only a schedule. As you develop the habit of assembling together on a regular basis you’ll find you always have enough to talk about.

Medication won’t help when it comes to Affection Deficit Disorder.  You’re the prescription. What matters is that employees see in you a sincere and caring attitude and leading with a philosophy that people matter.

If you’d like to discuss your own cure for Affection Deficit Disorder, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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Maximizing Strategic Success

For a couple decades now we’ve heard claims from change experts such as Joh Kotter and McKinsey & Company that on average, 70% of new, large-scale strategic initiatives fall short of their goal.  Even if the basis for the claim is over-stated, the results would suggest that an alarming number of strategic initiatives fall short of their goal. An argument can be made that the number is even higher for small and mid-market companies where a lack of resources and skills add to the failure risk. However you look at the data, the failure rate is staggering and given the effort and cost put into strategies, improving the success rate even by a small amount would yield significant results.

A strategy implies change and change inherently involves a component of leadership to be successful. To get a change in outcomes there has to be a change in how something is done. When focusing on getting an initiative to stick, attention is often centered too much on the management and implementation of the strategy and not enough on the leadership required for the change.

The two components of successful strategy implementation are behavior and beliefs. Behavior changes how we work. Beliefs enable it to stick. To get consistent behavior and thereby implementation success, leadership is required to change the belief. Management is required to navigate the detailed coordination of the implementation.

Change comes in different forms requiring varying degrees of leadership and management, and the management of a change is often independent of the leadership required. One change initiative may require considerable management with relatively little leadership while another may need relatively little management but require significant leadership. This is best illustrated by looking at change from the perspective of the relationship of project management to transformational leadership for the purpose of reshaping behavior and beliefs.

  • The first and easiest degree of change is one that requires no change of behavior or belief to succeed. Here the emphasis is on management. The sale of a non-performing asset might require a great deal of management and coordination, but little change in employee behavior or beliefs is required, hence not a great need for change leadership.
  • The second degree of change would be one which involves a change of behavior but not a change of belief. Imagine an organization implementing a new phase of an established quality program. The company already believes in the quality approach but the new component requires a change of behavior. The new behavior is made easier since the organization has already embraced and bought into the overall program. As the degree of difficulty increases with new procedures, so does the role of leadership to cement new behaviors into the organization.
  • The third and final degree of change is characteristic of most new and bold strategic initiatives. These initiatives not only require a change of behavior but also of belief. Fresh strategies that depart from historical practice hold some of the greatest benefits but also come with a significant risk of falling short of their expectation. An effort to build a customer-centric culture in a company that previously saw the customer as the enemy is just such an example. These changes are often slow, difficult to assimilate into the culture and require a great deal of leadership and perseverance to succeed.

Several simple steps can be taken to increase the likelihood of a successful strategy implementation.

  • A Clear and vivid picture. For a strategy to succeed, the organization has to buy into the destination, not the journey. People will slog through some tough terrain if they want to get to where they’re going. Seek to make it personally beneficial for everyone touched by the change.
  • Over communicate. You almost can’t over-communicate during times of big change. Frequent conversation answers questions and addresses real matters of interest and speculation. Don’t overlook adopting new language for the change. Words matter and carefully chosen ones can change minds.
  • Make it bite-size. Don’t let the organization become overwhelmed. The management of a strategy can be large and complex. Leadership can break it down into segments everyone can understand and support. The journey of a thousand miles is made up of many individual steps.

One critical step is to evaluate the culture for mechanisms and components that could inhibit the change. Stories, rituals, established practices along with embedded attitudes, often seen as the truth, can stall out a strategy if not addressed in advance. In most cases, it’s not a conscious or deliberate effort to derail the plan, it’s just people acting normal and normal seeks to maintain the status quo. Emphasize and reinforce what’s positive of the strategy, change what’s not. Today we have tools to evaluate and facilitate culture transformation making it much easier to be proactive in creating an environment that supports strategic change.

The greatest lesson to be learned is that success lies more in the minds of those affected and involved in the change than in the details of the change itself. Successful strategies require leadership to precede management. Management will get the work done. Leadership is the grease that makes it all work.

If you’d like to enjoy greater success with your strategic initiatives, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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Swapping Control for Influence

It seems these days that you don’t have to look too far to find frustrated leaders. They’re easy to spot by the cloud hanging over their heads. Nothing is going right and no one is doing enough of what they should be doing. Several quickly come to mind for me. In fact, I used to be one myself.

Maybe you recognize some of the traits. You think you need to control projects, machines and people. Perhaps, you feel that if you were clever enough you could have some control over your customers and competition. But this kind of thinking is doomed to frustration. No matter how hard you try to control things, it seems the people or systems are pushing back, which only emboldens an even stronger need to get control of the situation. It’s a never ending problem and one that can physically and emotionally wear you down. I can relate to the experience. It all got better for me when I gave up trying to control my environment and started influencing it to get the results I needed.

Control and influence are much different. Leadership seeks to influence while management seeks to control. Leadership influences for change. Management controls for a predictable outcome.

People are most often the target of our control efforts. People by their very nature resist control. Trying to control people is maddening if not impossible. It’s nothing short of manipulation when threat or coercion are necessary, and it never works. You might get compliance for a while but that’s it. People don’t like being manipulated. Even if you do succeed, eventually they’ll even the score, often in subtle but effective ways. Control asks them to comply with your goal. Influence helps them to accomplish their own goal with your help.

Sometimes a picture helps to illustrate the point. When an individual seeks to control another, most of their combined energy is lost in pushing back on one another. Ultimately, the one with the greater energy wins. Contrast that to influence. Here, instead of pushing head-on, the two come alongside each other and with their energies combined, accomplish much more.

Control also limits ideas. When I seek to control a situation I’m doing so to produce a specific outcome. In some situations that’s necessary. But in most cases what I really want is the contribution of others to find the best solution. That contribution and creativity is lost when I control. It’s nurtured when I influence.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to control.

  1. Do you have a control issue? Recurring frustration is the control freak in you screaming to win. Most leaders have some control freak within them. That’s OK. Ask yourself though if it’s a problem for you or those you lead. One way is to monitor your frustration level. How often do you smile or laugh?
  2. Does the situation require control? Can there be some flexibility with the outcome. Just because your boss is controlling, do you need to be the same?
  3. Can you actually get control of the situation? Decide what you can control and what you can’t. It’s OK to have high expectations but remember that some things, no matter your expectation, are still going to be out of your control. You can’t control everything and despite the temptation, you certainly can’t do everything. One of the great liberations of life is choosing to focus your energy on things within your control and letting go of the rest.
  4. Is the situation worth your emotional energy to gain control? Pick your battles and stay out of the others. Decide what’s really necessary to get right and what can be left as just OK.

Beyond that, practice transparency and honesty in your communication. Show confidence in and affirm others. Show respect for others and listen to them. It’s hard to control in an environment of engagement, empowerment and delegation. Those attributes can only exist with influence.

Believe it or not, the people around you usually want the same things you do; to be part of a successful company, to take pride in their work and to contribute in a meaningful way to achieving the goals of the organization. All too often, by trying to control the means and the outcome we deny them the joy and satisfaction of work and we deny ourselves the contribution they’re capable of making.

It can seem counter intuitive, but if you’re frustrated with not being able to better control outcomes, it might be time to consider a change in thinking. Think influence, not control.

If you’d like to learn more about how to give up some control to gain influence, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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Leading With Empathy

It’s the planning season for many companies. Hours will be spent evaluating past performance, strategies and market opportunities all for the purpose of creating an exciting and profitable future. Often that picture is one of success. A picture you’ve gotten so close to achieving, but which always seems to slip away sometime during the year. You tell yourself next year will be different. Plans will be detailed. Budgets will be prepared and presentations will be made in the hope that everyone will be dedicated to the work ahead.  So much depends on the enthusiastic commitment of all hands on deck to get there. Unfortunately, as we’ve often seen, we fall short of the level of support we need to achieve our goals. What’s missing?

I believe that support and engagement comes more from our employee’s response to leadership than it does from the vision and plans themselves. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” When it comes to running a company, you can try to communicate and engage all you want and you’ll get the smiles and nods you expect. But people will go back to doing their jobs as they always have until they know you truly care, and when they do, they’ll do just about anything to support you. One trait that communicates to others that you care is sincere empathy.

Empathy is a word we hear a lot, but you might be uncertain of its meaning. Empathy is often confused with sympathy. It does not mean you have to agree with how someone is feeling or can even relate to those feelings. Instead, empathy involves being aware of how someone might feel even when you can’t sympathize with them. If you can appreciate what another person is going through, even without agreeing, you’re displaying empathy. Empathy is critical to leadership because it builds trust and without trust you’re not leading people, you’re managing them.

Listening is certainly part of empathic leadership, but listening with empathy goes beyond the words. It involves trying to understand the other person and the emotion and feelings behind their words. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see it. Rather, it means you’re willing to try to see it through their eyes.  Empathic leadership is also non-judgmental. When we take the time to understand the needs of our people, we provide them with the support and safety they require to deal with the challenges or issues that might be holding them back from achieving their, and our goals.

Empathic leadership is also central to our being. Humans are by nature wired for sociability and attachment to others. We are driven to connect and care for those we interact with. You only need to turn on the television and hear about a natural disaster to feel the emotion and urgency to help others.

There are several things that happen when people know their leaders care about them:

  • Empathy allows people to feel safe in their short-comings and instills a sense of personal responsibility
  • It creates the basis for higher expectations and the safety net required for people to reach for riskier goals
  • It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance and creates credibility, understanding and cooperation for difficult performance conversations
  • Empathy allows leaders to build and develop deeper relationships with those they lead.

If your employees don’t feel they’re cared about by their leaders, they will always feel they have to look out for their own interests. On the other hand, with an empathic leader, the employee knows that their feelings won’t be overlooked or ignored. Like children, they may not always get their way and may even have to suffer the consequences of their choices and actions, but they never doubt that their leader cares about them and has their best interest in mind.

When it comes to the keys for successful leadership, empathy is not often mentioned. However, I think it’s one of those common sense human nature concepts that applies to everything we do. So, as you plan that exciting year ahead, ask yourself: “How do your people know you truly care about them? How does your culture and leadership style reinforce it?” If you’re serious about next year being the one that doesn’t get away, learn how it feels to walk in other people’s shoes.

If you’d like to learn more about how to experience a more empathetic leadership style, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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Training Animals and People for Extraordinary Performance

The title of a recent Harvard Business Review article caught my attention: “Nearly 40% [of leaders] Never Give Positive Reinforcement”. Wow! That’s pretty remarkable. It’s also remarkably sad, but with all the negative noise around us maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

For me the question isn’t “Why are leaders so negative?”, it’s “Why aren’t leaders more positive with their feedback”? For some it’s a belief that positive reinforcement breeds softness. For others, the management of their job leaves little time for leadership. Lazy leaders often couch it in the “corrective criticism” euphemism. I’ve always thought that term to be an oxymoron. There’s nothing wrong with correction but what often comes through the loudest is criticism.

The problem with a steady diet of correction or “opportunity for improvement” is that it eventually feels like a beat down. Some leaders don’t give any feedback at all. No feedback feels like a beat down too. People will give up or leave if they don’t think they’re making progress. Providing positive reinforcement is more than just a nice thing to do. Failure to balance correction with regular reinforcement is lazy leadership and a huge lost opportunity for productivity and engagement.

Positive or corrective feedback is not an either-or situation. To the contrary, positive reinforcement must exist inside a culture of high expectations to create a high performance team or individual. When correction is needed it should be swift and appropriate. It’s all in how it’s done.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to spend time with a K9 police dog and his handler. I was struck by two things; the amazing control the handler had over the dog and the incredible desire the dog had to perform for his handler. There was nothing soft about the leadership or expectations yet the relationship between the two was amazing. Failure to perform was dealt with swiftly, but there was no place in the training program where punishment or criticism was used; no yelling, no demeaning, no breaking down the animal. What was substituted was correction and the power of positive reinforcement when the task was performed correctly. The dog had probably performed some of the routines over a thousand times but the excitement and praise the dog received from his handler after each task was like if it were happening for the first time. So let’s apply this to people and leadership.

Giving positive feedback is really quite simple. It can be brief and usually is, sometimes just a few seconds is all it takes. It needs to be specific rather than a general remark of “good job”. It should be intermittent and ideally occurs soon after the praise-worthy incident. Of course, it also must be truthful, sincere and heartfelt. Questions such as “What happened? It’s not like you to…” or “Is something wrong? Usually you…” indicate substandard performance while reinforcing your belief in their capability. One of the most powerful habits I’ve developed is to tell people I’m proud of them and that I believe in them. It’s usually coupled with a remark about something they’ve just done right. A culture of affirmation treats people like human beings, not tools. Affirming the positive qualities and actions of people tells them you care. It establishes in them the clarity and safety of knowing how you feel about them. When the need comes to discuss behavior or performance, the foundation you’ve laid with positive affirmations doesn’t challenge their ego, thus leaving them open to focus on their behavior or performance and not on preserving their ego.

At all levels of leadership we must cease the practice of breaking people down to make them stronger. It’s old coaching and old science and it just doesn’t work with humans or animals. When you create a high performance individual or team, they’re often their own biggest critic. You don’t need to pile on more. Your job is to get them back to the performance level you and they know themselves to have.

The goal of any coaching effort is to change or reinforce performance and behavior. Unfortunately, many managers feel that it’s their job to tell their team when they make a mistake, but that making time to provide positive reinforcement is optional. Like a well-trained dog, the right training and correction methods are necessary to produce very high response and performance. Whether you’re developing high performance animals or individuals, setting high expectations in a culture of correction, modeling, and affirmative coaching is the key to creating championship teams.

If you’d help with your training and coaching methods, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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