Answer the Call to Exceptional Leadership

answer call

Leading the Unleadable

Taking a management job is not the same as answering the call to exceptional leadership. That’s what Alan Willett’s new book is all about: how to create a culture where people are able to perform in an extraordinary way.

Often new managers think that those following them are unengaged, cynical, or otherwise difficult. And that can be true, but many of these symptoms are a result of the manager not knowing how to lead, how to challenge, how to create team-wide expectations.

Alan Willett offers practical ways for managers to take on these challenges. Alan is the president of Oxseeker, a leadership consultancy with clients ranging from Oracle to NASA. His new book is Leading the Unleadable. I recently asked him about his work on exceptional leadership.

 

“Exceptional leaders have a personal, passionate mission that goes beyond results.” –Alan Willett

 

Set the Right Expectations

There are so many aspects of your book to discuss, but I want to focus on expectations. How important is the leader’s expectations?

It is amazing how even people that seem “defiant” are working to meet the expectations of the leader. When leaders are setting the wrong expectation it will have negative impacts – and the leader can do this without even knowing it.

I have seen many leaders consistently tell their teams that they want the “most aggressive schedule possible.”  Of course the projects with the most aggressive schedule possible are invariably late. Along with being late, there are many negative aspects that can include quality problems and morale issues since team members feel they are failing. Many leaders who set these expectations later ask me, “Why are my teams always late?”

What the leader really wants in these situations is for the team to have the “smartest” plan possible and a commitment that the team can definitively meet or beat that plan. Setting those expectations correctly will get leaders who they really want.

 

“Exceptional leaders are fearless in setting expectations in clear language.” –Alan Willett

 

How a Leader Sets Goals

It seems that you can set the bar too low and not challenge the team or be “so positive” that you demotivate everyone. What’s the best way to set the goal appropriately?

Set clear motivating goals for the team, but also leave out some specifics, leave them a little vague. Then challenge the team to make it more specific and meaningful to them. In doing this the team members almost always grumble about the lack of precision. They then get to work to make the goals better. The team then creates the goals that are that high bar you refer to. Since the team set those specific goals, they are committed to achieving them.

 

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” –Pablo Picasso

 

I have worked this method with leaders over 300 times, and it never fails to inspire the team ownership and commitment. Leaders are often stunned at what the teams can really accomplish.

 

Expect Excellence Every Day

Is Leadership a Passing Phenomenon?

Leadership is a fad

This is a guest post by Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes. Dr. Adizes is a leading management expert and author of over 20 books. He offers an interesting perspective below.

Leadership: Quo Vadis?

It is in vogue now to lecture, write and debate the subject of leadership. I claim it is a passing phenomenon, like the concepts of administration, executive action and management were before it.

All of those concepts deal with the same process: management of change, taking an organization from point A to point B.

At the beginning it was called administration.  That is why MBA stands for Master of Business Administration.

Over time “administration” was found to be too limiting as a concept. It was delegated to low level supervisory and bureaucratic positions, and the concept of management was born. Business Schools across the country changed their name from Graduate School of Business Administration to Graduate Schools of Management.

The concept of management was not yielding the right understanding of the process of transforming organizations, and the concept of Executive Action was born. Titles such as CEO, CIO, CMO etc. appeared like mushrooms after the rain, and executive programs emerged in the market place.

Still not good enough to explain how organizations should be transformed, the concept of leadership started dominating the literature.

What is going on here?

Administration, Management, and Leadership have a common purpose. They are theories that prescribe how organizations should be transformed and how to manage change. They are all based on the same paradigm of individualism, that a single individual is the driving force of this transformation, whether it is called Chief Administrator or Manager or CEO or Leader.

 

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” –Vince Lombardi

 

As long as we remain with the same paradigm, no concept will be satisfactory. We will continue to change titles, embellish concepts and continue to chase our own tails, reinventing the same wheel from administration to leadership. Leadership will be assigned its place in the annals of social sciences next to management and administration.

Passé.

Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.

No individual possesses all the ingredients in his or her personality that are necessary for successful management of change.


“Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.” -Dr. Adizes

 

Change the Paradigm

12 Things NOT To Do As A New Leader

business meeting sad expression bad negative gesture young teamwork
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.

What NOT to do as a New Leader

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It is recognition 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 more visibility.

 

“Continual blaming only disempowers the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Whether you are a new executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader; when you are new to the role, people will watch closely to understand your style and how to work with you. Here are just a few of the things people will be evaluating:

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

 

“Many people confuse lengthy discussions with being effective.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

In two previous posts for new leaders, I described several tips to quickly and effectively establish your style, culture and values:

            How to Get Good Information and Build Relationships

            How to Decide, Empower and Take Action

However, as you begin to take action and set the desired cultural tone for the organization, it is easy to allow some behaviors to undermine your effectiveness as a leader. Here are a few things NOT to do as a new leader:

 

1. Do not Lead or Manage “around” other Leaders:

When involved in the various skip-level and other informal meetings, be careful not to usurp the authority of other leaders who may be responsible. If necessary, instead of acting at the time, simply make note of the situation, ask a few questions, then work through the appropriate leader to do what is necessary later.

 

2. Do Not Kill the Messenger:

Using the techniques I outlined in the previous post to get good information will sometimes surface bad news. Be cautious not to “kill the messenger” of the news, but listen and take the appropriate action in the proper forum. Strong, emotional reaction to a messenger of bad news kills open communication.

 

3. Do Not Be Totally Problem-Focused:

It is easy as a new leader to focus on solving problems. Be sure to balance problem solving with actions to capitalize on new opportunities and future strategies. Looking forward to possibilities allows the organization to solve current problems with a better context.

 

4. Do Not Start Too Many Large Initiatives at Once:

It is great to make decisions and take action, but be cautious to balance long-term, larger initiatives with the short-term actions. You will be more effective with organizational focus on a few long-term initiatives that are completed rather than on too many initiatives that drag on forever.

 

5. Do Not Permit Hidden Agendas:

When people have ulterior motives that are for personal gain or to hide negative consequences for actions and proposals, it undermines clear communication and trust in the organization. Always prompt people to explain their motives if you suspect hidden agendas. Asking questions is a good way to get to the actual agenda.

 

“Upward delegation undermines accountability and empowerment.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

6. Do Not Tolerate Pocket Vetoes:

A pocket veto is when someone appears to agree but actually does nothing, hoping that the subject will be forgotten. A pocket veto in business is a sign of passive-aggressive behavior. It not only undermines the effectiveness of the organization, but it also undercuts your leadership. Always confront this behavior with follow-up and reprimands. Pocket veto behavior is not like baseball – you do not get three strikes. Taking direct action with someone with this behavior will quickly set the tone for everyone that pocket vetoes are not a good idea.

Strategies to Develop Major League Leadership

Baseball on the Pitchers Mound Close Up with room for copy

 

You can learn about leadership from a variety of places.  Researchers Howard Fero and Rebecca Herman decided to study leadership principles in Major League Baseball.  Touring numerous MLB clubhouses and interviewing managers from Tampa’s Joe Maddon to Los Angeles’ Don Mattingly, they developed what they call the 10 bases of leadership.

 

“Hope is energizing, engaging, contagious, and increases our spirit and ability to be resilient.” -Fero and Herman

 

Their new book is called Lead Me Out to the Ballgame: Stories and Strategies to Develop Major League Leadership.  It explores the insights learned from the game of baseball and how they apply to leaders in every situation.

I had an opportunity to ask the authors a few questions about their conclusions.

 

“If you want to be a leader, the first person you have to lead is yourself.” -Mike Scioscia

 

Tell me more about your research.  What were your goals?  Where did your research take you?

The idea came to us about 2.5 years ago when we were in a session at a management conference.  As leadership professors and consultants we know how important it is for people in all walks of life to develop their leadership skills and also know that quite often, they just don’t know how to do it.  As we sat at the conference we had the idea to marry together our love of leadership with our other love, baseball.

Lead Me Out To The BallgameThe goals for our project were pretty ambitious.  Without having any idea of how to go about achieving our goal, we decided we wanted to gain access to the players and managers from the 30 teams in Major League Baseball and find out from them how managers lead their teams, inspire trust, manage diverse populations, and deal with success as well as defeat.  Our objective was to take the stories we heard and use them to develop strategies so that people outside of the game could develop their own leadership skills.  We are proud to say that the ten Bases of Major League Leadership that are included in Lead Me Out to the Ballgame come from the interviews we held with 17 Major League Baseball managers and over 100 MLB players and executives.

Our research took us into the inner sanctum of Major League Baseball as we met with managers in their offices and in their dugouts during batting practice, and even on the third base line as they watched their players warm up.  We also met with players in the clubhouses and learned from them some of the unique ways that their managers helped them to achieve success and overcome obstacles.

 

Your book shares 10 bases of leadership and is broken into 3 major sections:  Leading Ourselves, Leading Others and Leading the Game.  Let’s touch on one of the bases in each section.

10basesofleadership

Leading Yourself.  Base number one is finding your passion.  What advice do you have for someone looking for what really makes them tick, what really drives them?

We heard some great stories from managers and players about the importance of not only finding your passion but showing it to those around you.  Ryan Doumit, a catcher, now with the Atlanta Braves, summed up many of the sentiments we heard when he said, “When the leader, the guy at the helm, believes and is passionate, it’s tough not to feel that same energy.”  This is such a great point as it’s not enough for a person to be passionate about what he or she does. To be a leader this passion needs to be seen by others.  In order for an impact to be made on a team, passion needs to be visible so that others will become excited about a goal as well.

Finding one’s passion is something we all need to do; we need to determine what it is we like to do.  Do we like speaking with people and solving problems?  Do we like crunching numbers and seeing the results emerge in front of our eyes?  Do we like teaching others and seeing the light bulb go off when an idea resonates with them?  To each of us there are different things which excite us, and it’s an individual’s task to identify them and determine what careers are a good fit for the things which excite us.

 

“What I’m most proud of is the culture change, the belief in how it should be done, and then going out there and doing everything they can to make it work and make it happen.” -Ron Washington

 

Leading Others.  Base number seven is effective communication.  What tips do you have to help leaders communicate vision and inspire others? 

4 Ways to Get Appreciated at Work

Happy team of business people posing in modern office environmen

 

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”  -William James

 

Undervalued

 

Usually, I would run into my friend at the gym.  He was always full of energy, smiling, and lifting more weight than seemed humanly possible.

One day, I was leaving when I noticed him arriving at the gym.  He was walking slower than normal with his shoulders slumped.  His trademark smile was missing.

Though I really didn’t have time to talk, I asked him how he was.

“I’m good,” he responded, a bit too quickly and with an even less convincing acting job than he realized.

 

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”  -William James

 

“Want to grab a cup of coffee and chat for a minute?” I asked.

We sat down at a table with our coffee.  I’m not one to waste much time and jumped right to the issue.

“What’s up?  You are clearly down.  Why?  What’s going on in your life?”

“I don’t know.  The Preds lost last night.”

I knew him well enough to know that his hockey team losing a game was not the cause of his change in attitude.  Here was a guy who would regularly bounce off of walls with his energy.

I didn’t even need to say anything.  He could read skepticism in my face.  If he missed it, I would recommend he check his vision.

“Ok.  I just feel unappreciated at work.  I turn something in, and I just get overloaded with more and more.  Every once in a while, a little recognition would be nice.  Maybe a bonus?  Heck, even a beer would be cool.”

Appreciation.  It’s what William James says is the greatest human need.

Stay at home moms (or dads):  you know what this is about more than most.  Thankless chores.  Constant demands.  And the world shows little respect for your efforts.

 

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” -Catherine the Great

 

Reasons Your Boss Does Not Appreciate Your Work

 

There are many reasons you may be unappreciated at work.

Here are a few:

You’re not doing a good job.

You’re boss doesn’t realize the work you are doing.

Your boss is overworked and overwhelmed.

Your boss is a jerk.

Your boss isn’t skilled in recognizing others.

Your boss has childhood issues and needs therapy.

 

I shared with my friend some ideas for him to consider:

You should change your perspective.

More work may equal appreciation.  Your boss may be recognizing your good work by giving you more work.  He may not be expressing it in the way that you want to hear it, but for some people this is how it works.  More work = great job!  When you think of it that way, you may find ways to utilize this for your benefit.