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.

The Real Reason Leaders Win: Return on Character

Blue Books Graph With Red Arrow

Cash or Character?

Not too long ago, I was asked to give a talk about organizational culture and why it matters. Before I walked up to the podium, one of the attendees cornered me. He wanted me to know his strongly-held position. In an emphatic tone, he nearly shouted:

“Skip, cash matters, not culture, not character, not creativity! Cash is the only thing you can spend.”

How fortunate that my slides started with financials so I could demonstrate the power of culture change. But, what I wish I had was the book that crossed my desk a few weeks ago:  Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  In the most comprehensive study of its kind, Fred Kiel reveals the research that proves that good character wins. We discussed his findings at length and I know many organizational leaders will want to study the results.

 

“Character is the tree. Reputation is its shadow.” -Lincoln

 

 

Studying CEO’s

Tell us just briefly about your study and its methodology. Where did you get the idea, how many CEO’s were involved, etc.?

ROC CoverIn 2005 I and my co-author, Doug Lennick, published a book entitled Moral Intelligence in which we claimed that highly principled leaders obtained better long-term business results than leaders who were not so principled.  The book has done very well, but shortly after it was published we received some pushback. One person said, “Fred, I know you like all of this soft stuff.  But let me give you a little lesson in economics.  The business model is what creates value.  If a business is profitable and makes a lot of money, all that culture stuff will come along with it.  And if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal as long as management stays legal.  What you talk about is just icing on the cake.  It’s nice but not necessary.  And, besides you don’t have any hard data to back up your claim.”

This really got to me.  He was right about me not having any data to back up our claim that character matters – and that became the call to action for our study.

Over the next seven years we signed up 121 CEOs and their senior teams to participate.  Eighty-four completed the study, so we have complete data sets on these 84 CEOs, their senior teams, and their organizations.  Over 8,500 randomly selected employees completed our surveys about these CEOs and their teams.  We have nearly one million separate data points in our research base.  This is the largest study of this kind to date.

 

4 Universal Character Habits

How do you define character in the Return on Character (ROC) matrix?

We scoured the cultural anthropology research and discovered that humans all over the world share many common practices and beliefs.  Parents all over the world teach their children to tell the truth, keep promises, own up to mistakes, forgive others, and to care for people – at least in their tribe.  We added to this understanding the recent findings from the neurosciences and genetics to come up with our definition of character as it applies to leaders.

The ROC Matrix shows the four universal principles and the character habits that are aligned with these principles.

 

Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission

Lincoln said, “Character is the tree.  Reputation is its shadow.”  Likewise, the habits we all have for how we treat other people is our character reputation.  That’s what we measured in our research – a leader’s reputation for how he or she treats people.

 

Probing the Leader’s Childhood

In several places in the book, you delve into the CEO’s childhood and upbringing.  Why?  What did you find?  Why is the CEO’s life story so important?

If you took the resumes and employment histories of high character CEOs and compared them to low character CEOs, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference. Both groups are competitive, driven to succeed, rational, high energy, and often wicked smart – they know how to command a room and nail an interview.

Where we started to see significant differences was when we surveyed their employees and asked about their behaviors around the 4 universal character habits – integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. So that begs the question – how did each group come by their different postures around these habits? Where did they get their beliefs about how the world worked and how to succeed in that world?

Turns out the clues are in their childhoods and upbringing.

Leadership Lessons from Over 200 Thought Leaders

ON AIR

Voices of Influence

A few years ago, I launched this blog with the idea of sharing insights, ideas, and inspiration.  It is my hope that the lessons and ideas shared here help you in some way whether that is fast-tracking your career or overcoming procrastination.

When I started, I thought it was worth it if I made a real difference to just one person.

I’m happy to report that at least one person has found it life-changing.  That person is me.  I learn far more by sharing these ideas than you can imagine.  What an incredible experience to have the opportunity to learn from so many people.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing these posts.  I appreciate all of you and look forward to getting to know you better in the coming months.

Below are some of the leadership interviews and posts with thought leaders from a variety of fields on numerous topics.  I hope you find one you missed and that it positively influences your year ahead.

 

“The book you don’t read won’t help.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

Leadership, Management & Execution

 

“You will be the same person in 5 years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” -Charlie Jones

 

Leadership Communication

Becoming A Heart-Centered Leader

Red Heart On Wooden Background

Matters of the Heart

Students of leadership will often look at the intellectual attributes of a great leader. We point to great strategy, distinction, winning against the competition.  Leadership is also about matters of the heart.  Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett’s book Heart-Centered Leadership reminds leaders to be mindful, authentic, and caring.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan Steinbrecher about her work. Susan is a consultant, mediator, speaker and leads Steinbrecher & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm.

 

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” -Jesse Jackson

 

Leading From the Heart

What is your definition of “Heart-Centered Leadership”?

Heart-Centered Leadership means having the wisdom, courage and compassion to lead others with authenticity, transparency, humility and service.

 

“You lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control.” -Susan Steinbrecher

 

Anyone can be a heart-centered leader if he or she has the determination and daily commitment to practice certain core principles.  The root or basis of these principles is what we call “the power of the human element.”  Two things are required to tap into and unleash the human element.  The first is your ability to listen or, even better, your ability to learn how to listen.  The second is your own willingness to clear personal obstacles, in other words, your own story and organizational obstacles that get in the way of this deeper listening.

 

“If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow.” -Chinese Proverb

 

3 Differences of a Heart-Centered Leader

Off the top of your head, what 3 things are different about a heart-centered leader?

  1. The focus is to serve the people that you are leading, not the other way around.
  2. A heart-centered leader tells the truth.  If you are not able to provide information when asked, you must be willing to explain why you aren’t at liberty to share that information.
  3. A heart-centered leader does not judge or assume, but comes to understand, asking the right questions instead rushing to judgment and assumption.

Our book outlines some key guidelines for heart-centered behavior. But in order for this behavior to be authentic, it has to come from a place of emotional resonance and coherence. You have to believe in what you are doing. It has to resonate with you. Ultimately, a heart-centered leader leads from principles, values, and virtues.

 

“Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” -Rumi

 

Encouraging Leaders to Have an Open Mind

How do you encourage leaders to be open-minded?

I ask them to reflect on a time in their career when being open-minded paid big dividends and why.  I also ask them to tell me of a time when they were not open-minded and what happened.  I find that if people can reflect on their own experiences, they can piece together the benefits of being open-minded much faster than me pointing out the rewards of being open-minded.

0615891195Another approach is to ask leaders to imagine how differently they would communicate with an associate if grounded in this key principle: people have positive intentions.  It requires revising certain ways of thinking, such as taking sides in a conflict, and replacing them with healthier habits of mind — observing the perspective of both sides.  It involves identifying and taking responsibility for your own mental tendencies, including an inclination to stereotypes and making snap judgments about what people “should” do.  It also means flexing your empathetic muscle.  As a result, you gain a greater understanding of the causes of atypical behavior and problems that result from that behavior, as well as insight into the best solution.

 

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” -David Starr Jordan

 

Leaders Need to Let Go

Often leaders feel like they need to seize the reigns, and yet you talk about the importance of letting go.  Tell us more about that.

How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying

Woman stressed is going crazy pulling her hair in frustration.

 

  • Would you like to ruin a business?
  • Have you been looking for tips that will guarantee you to fail?
  • Want to screw up your next big deal?

I didn’t think so.  That’s why you should read my friend, MJ Gottlieb’s new book How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying: What Every Entrepreneur Should Not Do When Running a Business.

Because it will save you a lot of time, money, pain and aggravation to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own.

Don’t own a business?  His advice isn’t just for entrepreneurs.  The same advice for an entrepreneur applies in the corporate world.

I recently had the opportunity to ask MJ to share his perspective with you.  He writes with an honesty and humility about his trials and mistakes that will draw you right in.

 

Fact: 90% of start-ups fail and 70-80% of all businesses fail within 10 years.

 

Learn What NOT to Do

MJ, why a book on ruining a business?

When an entrepreneur starts a business, a tremendous amount of time, effort and (often) money is spent and great sacrifices are made at the expense of friends and family.  That is a fact.  It is also a fact that losing (ruining) a business after all that sacrifice can be an extraordinarily painful experience.  What most people don’t realize is that they can significantly mitigate the risk of failure by learning from the mistakes of others before the clock starts and the stakes are for real.  If you truly study brands, you will see a pattern of common-thread mistakes that most businesses both past and present seem to share in common.  The ones who are willing to recognize a mistake and quickly adapt, adjust and modify will survive, the rest disappear.

 

“Only brands willing to recognize a mistake and adapt, adjust and modify will survive.” -MJ Gottlieb

 

It’s not that aspiring entrepreneurs don’t want to learn from failure, I think society is simply focused too much on the end result (the success) and is viewing things through rose-colored glasses.  Most of the information that I come across focuses on the small percent who are succeeding, as opposed to studying and learning from the vast majority who are not.

Statistics show 90% of start-ups fail and 70-80% of all businesses fail within 10 years.  Despite these facts, the market is flooded with how-to books and courses on how to succeed.  Here’s my concern with this.  Every business is different with its own unique blueprint to success, so there is absolutely no way you can tell someone how to run their business.  You can, however, find the key mistakes that most businesses seem to share in common to start to swing the percentages in the other direction and give more hope to the entrepreneur.

 

Learn From Adversity

How has adversity helped make you who you are?

I think it’s all about one’s perspective on the word.  Corny as it may sound, I have come to crave adversity and look at it as yet another great opportunity to grow.  The only reason I can see that perspective is because I operated from the other side for a very long time.  When I was young, I ran away from everything and accomplished nothing.  It wasn’t until I was able to turn around and look adversity in the face that I was able to take the power away from it and use it to my advantage.

I think adversity not only makes you a stronger person but also is the only way to see what you are truly capable of.  I think there should always be adversity to some extent, as it will always challenge us to grow.  Without adversity there is complacency, which I think is a four-letter word.  I always want some goal ahead of me that I have not yet achieved or some stumbling block I have not quite yet moved aside.

 

“It is just as important to know where you are as it is to know where you want to be.” -MJ Gottlieb

 

For example, basketball was my salvation, and I played every day until I couldn’t play anymore and had to get my hip replaced. I still do two hours of physical therapy every night because I not only want to get back on the basketball court but also want to dunk again.  The doctor says that is most likely not going to happen.  I say it most likely will.  While he is showing me the adversity, I choose to take it as a challenge and an opportunity.

How To Ruin 3D 2

Take me to the dark days after your first business failed.  What were you thinking?