New Leaders – Get Good Information and Build Relationships

Customer Care Or Human Resources
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion; the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Open Communication

The techniques in these areas will establish the foundation to develop a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, accountability and action. I will discuss these attributes in a future post.

First Impressions

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

 

“What you do, not what you say, is what establishes culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on the following characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

To lay the groundwork for these cultural practices, you must first have good information, form relationships at all levels and communicate openly. The next two sections provide some techniques.

 

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Before a new leader is able to decide, initiate action or communicate intelligently, he/she needs good information quickly. It is vitally important to have information from different perspectives and different levels in an organization. Just getting information from one person/place can lead to narrow, sub-optimized decisions. Here are some mechanisms to obtain good information and simultaneously form relationships:

  • Skip-Level Meetings: Go to department staff meetings at all levels of the organization, starting with your direct reports, if you are a manager. This also works for project team leaders. You may simply listen during the meeting, but a simple round table discussion also works very well. Popular questions are: what is working; what is not working; what is frustrating; what should we stop doing; what decisions are holding up progress?

 

“It is vitally important for leaders to have information from different perspectives and levels.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

There are several benefits to skip-level meetings. Not only do you get good information from “the front line,” but it is also a good place to find things that people can be empowered to fix, thus setting the tone for delegation, action and decisiveness. Two fundamentals: 1) Always listen and question; 2) Be cautious not to manage around the team leader.

  • “State of the Union” Meetings: These are short one-on-one meetings for a person to give you a summary of the situation for a group, team, department or project. It does not have to be a polished presentation, just a discussion from an outline that covers: priorities, issues, decisions needed and what to start, stop or keep doing. Basically, let the person tell you what they are doing, what is going well and what needs attention. Again, look for opportunities for decision and action.

3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life

Icons Charge Battery Vector Illustration

Are You Fully Charged?

Are you at the top of your game?

Have more energy than you need?

Is your work meaningful?

In recent research only 11 percent of people said that they have a great deal of energy. If you want to rev up your engine, read on.

One of my very favorite authors, Tom Rath has a brand new book called Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. Tom is a researcher at Gallup who studies human behavior. You may know him from any of his five New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. From How Full Is Your Bucket? to StrengthsFinder 2.0 every one of his books inspires and challenges. We recently discussed what it takes to be fully charged at work and in life.

“The pursuit of meaning, not happiness, is what makes life worthwhile.” –Tom Rath

Maintain a Positive Attitude

You open the book with your own personal health challenge. How do you maintain such a positive attitude and strong work ethic in the face of the unknown?

I have learned it essential to focus on what you can do today that will continue to grow when you are gone. In reality, no one can say with certainty that they will live for a defined period of time. But we all have today to do something that improves the life of another human being.

You don’t even have to do anything that profound today to make a difference for someone else. The things that change people’s lives are usually an accumulation of small acts. If I have one great conversation today, do a little research or writing that contributes to something larger, or read a book to my son, those all add up in the way I think about a day where I am fully charged.

 

“The things that change people’s lives are usually an accumulation of small acts.” –Tom Rath

 

Learn the 3 Keys to a Full Charge

Three keys to a Full Charge include meaning, interactions, and energy. Are You Fully Charged?offers practical, easy steps to energize your life and become more effective. At the same time, I don’t think most of us think of our lives in these buckets. How did you develop this approach?

While I have also worked on research and books about life in a more general sense, this one focuses more on the key ingredients of a great day, for yourself and others. So I think of these three elements as little reminders of things I need to try and spend time on within a given day. As I talk about in the book’s prologue, this work has been deeply influenced by recent research suggesting that our daily experience functions very differently from our overall satisfaction with life over decades.

 

“Doing for others may be the only way to create lasting well-being.” –Tom Rath

 

Find Purpose in Your Work

FullyChargedYou say to “make work a purpose, not just a place.” What practical steps can company leaders take to make that a reality?

I think it starts by going all the way back to the fundamental compact between a person and an organization. Companies are now pretty good at quantifying the value an employee adds to their bottom line, but very few do a good job of ensuring that each person’s life is better off as a result of joining the organization.

So leaders need to spend more time helping employees to see how their daily efforts are part of something much larger that makes a difference. One way to do this is to help employees hear directly from customers and communities who are benefiting from their daily work. What matters is not just that we make a little meaningful progress each day but that each person also has a chance to see and perceive this through their own lens.

 

“Make work a purpose, not just a place.” –Tom Rath

7 Steps to Improve Your Character Habit

build habits reminder - self-development concept - handwriting o

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Fred Kiel, the author of Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  His extensive research provides data that proves that character matters.  That same research also indicated that much of the character habits of the world’s best, virtuous leaders are formed in childhood.  Fred offers seven steps to improve your character habits.

Improving Character

It absolutely is possible to improve Return on Character (“ROC”) and raise your character reputation scores.  Your character habits are just that – habits.  And as such, they can be changed.  We all have some personal experience in changing our habits.  Sometimes it’s quite difficult, but it can be done.

We’ve isolated seven steps that work to improve your character habits:

1. Pop the Bubble

The first step you need to take to strengthen your character habits is to get real!  We all live in our own “bubble” – our version of ourselves.  Unfortunately, our view of ourselves is often wrong – we tend to believe our own press.  Everyone rates themselves as having a strong character – we see ourselves as principled people.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” -Confucius

 

2. Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Be brutally honest with yourself.  You have acquired your character habits because at some point in your life, they were very beneficial. But in all likelihood, some of the habits learned long ago are now more costly than beneficial.


“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” –Sigmund Freud

 

3. Find the Fuel

The only way you’ll go the next step in changing your character is if you believe that the cost of your current habit outweighs the benefit.  You must find the “fuel rod” that will energize you enough to acquire a new habit.

“What keeps me going is goals.” -Muhammad Ali

 

4. Now, Write it Down

The important thing now is to write down what you’ve decided from your cost-benefit analysis.  If you can’t write it down and provide a convincing argument about why you should change, you’re just living in la-la land.  You won’t change anything about your character habits.

“If you do not write it down, you have a wish, not a goal.” -Steve Maraboli

 

5. Focus Your Attention

Are You Drowning Your Team?

Watering Garden

Enough.

I was enjoying a quiet walk a few years ago.  As I approached one of my neighbors’ homes, I could hear a garden hose running.  Not wanting to get wet, I crossed the street.  Glancing to my right, I could see the hose running at full strength into a large planter.

The planter was overflowing and the water draining down the side and into the driveway.  A little stream was running right down the other street.  Crossing back across the street, I thought I would turn off the hose.  Clearly someone left it on by mistake.  Only a few steps later, I saw my neighbor.

 

“Sharing too much drowns a listener, destroying opportunities for growth.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Hi.  I thought I would turn off your hose,” I said.

“Oh, I’m watering everything a lot extra today,” before adding, “We’re going away for a few weeks so I wanted to water in advance.  It’s going to be really hot this week!”

“Not sure it works that way,” I said, smiling.  “I’m happy to water everything for you,” I offered.

After he declined my offer, I shook my head and continued my walk.

Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” – John Wooden

John Wooden