How to Help Your People, Team, and Organization Achieve
In the Seven Disciplines of a Leader, Jeff Wolf explores what leadership looks like when done right. Jeff has coached hundreds of leaders and offers his disciplines in order to benefit leaders at all levels of the organization. I recently talked with Jeff about the leadership disciplines discussed in his book.
What advice do you give to someone who wants to stand out and get noticed as a leader in a large organization?
Learn what your company looks for in its leaders. See if there’s a competency model that identifies successful leaders’ strengths and characteristics. Study this model and be sure to practice the competencies. If no such model exists, seek out successful company leaders and talk with them to gain a better understanding of how they became successful.
You should also volunteer to lead small projects, which will provide useful leadership experiences and exposure. You’ll gain confidence and enhance the skill sets that are weak.
Always be curious. Seek new opportunities and experiences, and always be open to trying something out of your normal comfort zone.
I would encourage budding and aspiring leaders to create a plan, put it in writing, and then “work it.” Research proves that people who put their goals in writing are usually more successful.
Read as many books and attend as many training courses as possible, both within and outside of the company. Vary courses so you can experience a broad spectrum of leadership skills.
There’s another important challenge to overcome: Learn the areas in which you must improve because we all have blind spots. We see some of our weaknesses, but it’s truly impossible to identify all of them.
It’s important for leaders to be positive and have a great attitude because they can either impart or sap energy. A leader’s upbeat attitude becomes contagious, lifting the morale of those around them. You can always teach skills, but you cannot always teach people how to be positive; they either have a great attitude or they don’t.
Be sure you are striving to work well with others and be aware how other people view you. When you stand up to speak in front of a group, do you exude confidence, present articulate, clear messages, and carry yourself well?
Coaching for Success
What is the most common reason someone calls you for coaching?
Coaching used to be thought of as a tool to help correct underperformance or, as I often call it, the “broken wing theory.” Today, coaching is used to support leaders, employees with high potential, and top producers in an effort to enhance individual capabilities.
We work in such a high-speed environment! Organizations are finally beginning to recognize the importance of helping leaders achieve critical business objectives in the shortest possible time, so they’re hiring me to speed personnel development.
I’m often brought into organizations to deal with a number of leadership issues. Providing feedback is one key area. As leaders move into greater levels of responsibility, they receive less—perhaps even no—feedback from others on their performance. The unfortunate consequence is stagnation. Critical leadership and interpersonal skills often reach certain levels, and the leader is given no opportunity to become an even better leader. Working one-on-one with an objective third-party coach offers these leaders a trusted advisor who can focus on behavioral changes that organizations are ill equipped to handle. Coaching develops extraordinary leaders. Extraordinary leaders produce extraordinary business results.
If you are a new manager, what are a few ways to have a quick impact?
People make companies. As leaders, we often spend most of our time on strategy and improving bottom-line results, but what about our people? It’s our job, as leaders, to guide them, help them develop more skills, and increase productivity.
I think Walt Disney put it perfectly: “You can dream, create and design the most wonderful place in the world….but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
For a quick impact, work to understand what your people want, not just what you want, and act accordingly. Ask your staff for their feedback with questions such as:
- What can I do to make you happier here?
- What do you find challenging about your work?
- What’s energizing about your work?
- How can I be a better leader for you to be successful?
- What resources do you need that you currently don’t have?
- What motivates you to work hard?
- Do you feel appreciated and receive the praise and recognition you feel you deserve?
Often times a new leader’s first inclination is to become too friendly with people. After all, everyone wants to be liked. But by trying to become everyone’s friend, leaders run the risk of losing respect and influence. If your staff considers you to be one of the group, they may not respect your judgment on important issues.
Additionally, they may lose their motivation to achieve goals, fail to work hard, and assume deadlines are soft when they believe their “friend” will never reprimand them. That’s why leaders must avoid falling into the trap of becoming too friendly with their staff. The bottom line? You’re the boss—not a best friend! You cannot be objective and unbiased when staff members view you as a work pal.
A Guide to Hiring Right
Hiring decisions are discussed in your book. What’s the Jeff Wolf quick reference guide to making the right hire?
Hire the right people for the right positions. Choose people for key positions as carefully as a casting director. Recruit and hire people who fit the culture and brand and empower them. Only the right people (talented individuals who do great work) are your greatest assets.
Set high standards, and never deviate from them. Hire slowly and if you can‘t find a highly talented person to fill the job, leave the position unfilled. It‘s a far better solution than plugging a mediocre worker into an important slot or fill a position with a good worker who isn’t suited for the role.
We often hire on the basis of an impressive resume or a recommendation from a friend or colleague. In doing so, we may forget attitude. People with great attitudes make great workers, as long as they have the necessary skills set for the job. But just having great skills doesn‘t guarantee success. You need that winning combo of core skills and a positive attitude. Skills can always be taught. A negative attitude is unlikely to morph into a positive one, no matter how much prodding a leader does.
The person you hire should also be a team player, as so much of the work performed in today‘s organizations involves teams. You want to ensure the person you bring on board is a “we (not an I)” performer. The wrong hire can break a formerly strong, cohesive group, one in which you‘ve invested so much time and money.
To determine whether a potential hire is a team player, ask open-ended questions such as, “Give me an example of a team or collaborative project that brought you success. Have you been a member of a team that struggled or failed to accomplish its goal? If so, what assessment did you make of the reasons for the failure?” If candidates have trouble answering or if they refer to “me” as opposed to “we” or “us” or redirect their answers, this may indicate they’re not team players
Be conscious of the two-way flow of information during interviews, and beware of candidates who have nothing to ask you. They either don’t care about the job, or they feel lucky to have gotten this far in the process.
You advocate developing people through inspiration. How does a leader learn to be inspirational versus authoritarian?
You can’t lead without inspiring people to do great things. They must be willing to take that next step, the one that allows them to reach beyond their perceived capabilities and step out of the proverbial box. Each employee has distinct values and needs, wants and desires.
People are motivated in two ways: intrinsically and extrinsically. Extrinsic motivation involves outside factors: money, power or position. Intrinsic motivation comes from within: the desire for pride, a passion for one’s work and the desire to do a great job.
Effective leaders spend time coaching people one-on-one to find out what makes them tick, which challenges confront them, and which types of motivation will spur them to perform at a higher level.
Developing and training is another key to keeping people inspired, engaged and motivated. By encouraging and promoting ongoing training and development, you create a pipeline of talented people who are full of ideas, thoughts, and inspiration. This sends a strong, motivating message to each employee: We care and we’re willing to invest in you. You’ll then be rewarded with tremendous engagement and enthusiasm, positioning your organization as an employer of choice.
Inspiration requires you to be a great role model. Members of your team will recall how you led them in previous tasks, and they will often adopt your style. If, however, you have previously failed to command team members’ respect, your team may take a more Wild West approach, thereby inviting chaos. Your encouragement and support will help inspire your team to victory, and rewarding team members for a job well done reinforces their achievements. If a project hits a bump in the road, you need to maintain your optimism.
Don‘t allow a bad apple to spoil your team‘s motivation. A firmly entrenched pessimist can drag down everyone‘s spirits, so meet with this team member for an attitude adjustment. If negative behavior continues, you may want to remove this person for the good of the team. Remind each team member that the organization‘s mission takes precedence over personal agendas.
Great leaders motivate people to work together and achieve goals, instill confidence, and earn employees’ trust—a commodity that can never be bought.
Are leaders fully conscious about how they are perceived? What tips do you have for improving non-verbal communication?
Many times they are not, as the best way is through feedback which, as I mentioned earlier, does not happen very often. The second aspect of leadership communication is listening—the receiving end of any conversation or dialogue. Great leaders are great listeners who generate a powerful connectivity among people. To learn through listening means that you listen openly, ready to learn, as opposed to listening defensively, ready to rebut. Listening actively means you acknowledge what you heard and act accordingly.
Here are some tips for active listening:
- Be in the moment. Give the person your full attention. Try not to think about how you will respond. Suspend judgment about the person’s statements.
- Lubricate the conversation, using nonverbal behavior to show you‘re listening. Use phrases like “uh-huh,” “yes” and “so” to show you‘re listening. As for body language, be sure to nod your head and lean forward.
- Periodically paraphrase. Restate what you’ve heard to test your understanding.
- Avoid interruptions. Don’t interrupt and try to finish their statements or interject your thoughts before they finish.
- Periodically clarify the other person‘s meaning by using open-ended, probing questions.
- Slow down. Leaders are sometimes moving at such a fast pace that they don‘t slow down to take the time to listen to their people.
When people feel listened to and heard, they become energized.
I often have leaders write down three things they learned from their employees the previous week. It could be a process, an idea for improvement, a customer challenge or a team issue.
If they can’t list three things, they probably haven’t been listening carefully enough to their employees.
7 Disciplines of A Leader
1. Initiative and Influence
Seize the reins and set an example for others
2. Vision, Strategy and Alignment
The progression from plans to accomplishments marks a true leader
3. Priorities, Planning and Execution
Execution cannot succeed without the team’s acceptance and endorsement
4. Social/Emotional/Political Intelligence
The Tribulations of Leadership and Their Remedies
5. Reciprocation, Collaboration, and Service
6. Love and Leverage
There is No Substitute for Passion about Work
7. Renewal and Sustainability
Those Who Practice Renewal and Sustainability Avoid Common Pitfalls
What advice do you have for those managing Millennials?
Millennials were brought up in child-centered homes, with parents who were focused on their development, success, well-being, and happiness. They grew up greatly influenced by technological advances using e-mail, text messaging, cell phones, video games, social media, and the Internet, on which they heavily rely to find information and communicate. Millennials want to work hard and move up the career ladder, but they tend to be impatient as they have a sense of entitlement. They don’t want to wait too long for career advancement, and they’ll change jobs frequently when they feel bored or unhappy.
Thanks to the Internet, Millennials are used to finding information quickly, and they don’t require long explanations of how to do something. They forge ahead and enjoy learning as they go, while older generations generally want more detailed explanations.
Millennials are used to structure and seek role models with whom they can build relationships. They want to be challenged and engage in as many learning opportunities as possible. They also have very high expectations and aren’t interested in paying their dues. For this reason, leaders must coach, praise, and encourage them on a regular basis, as well as provide lots of positive feedback.
Millennials’ enthusiasm should always be nurtured, and support should be readily available when they encounter more challenging situations. Leaders can accomplish this by allowing them to participate in teams with older workers, which has two enormous benefits: Millennials will improve their people skills, and more senior workers will become more proficient in modern technology. The older workers can offer advice on people and social skills, including teamwork, building relationships, and customer service. Partnering these groups facilitates growth among all generations.
Always keep in mind that Millennials want to work with similarly positive people within a friendly environment where everyone is treated with respect. They seek open, accessible leaders who demonstrate the utmost integrity. They’ll never respect leaders based on age, longevity, and authority. What’s most important to them is someone who shows them respect.