6 Practices to Help Leaders Grow

leadership growth

Stand Out as Leader

To stand out and make a big impact as a leader, you need to be well-versed in fundamental leadership skills.

Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville are the authors of a new book from Harvard Business Review Press entitled The HBR Leader’s Handbook: Make an Impact, Inspire Your Organization, and Get to the Next Level.  The book is a back-to-basics primer for both aspiring and experienced leaders, which describes the fundamental leadership practices: Creating a unifying vision, shaping strategy, building a great team, driving for results, innovating for the future, and leading yourself. The authors, both respected leadership experts and consultants, based the book not only on their own experience but also on interviews with over 40 successful leaders and a review of the most enduring themes and seminal articles that have appeared in Harvard Business Review in the past several decades.

 

“A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” -David Gergen

 

Back to Basics

Why a “back to basics” leadership book now? With so many new leadership books and articles every year, why a new Leader’s Handbook from Harvard Business Review?

Brook:  We wrote this book to give the pendulum of “leadership” a needed push back towards its timeless and pragmatic origins: leadership defined as achieving a significant impact by building an organization of people working toward a common goal.

In recent years, leadership as a discipline has expanded to include not just a lot of gimmicky and ephemeral concepts but also a wide variety of basic self-improvement techniques: how to make checklists to order your day, how to stand before an audience to project authority, how to resist the temptations of too much social media. Such advice can be helpful but can distract rising professionals from the bigger picture of why leadership ultimately matters and what they should aspire to.  We wanted to take leadership back to its historical meaning and show would-be leaders the value of tried and true practices that can help them make a real difference in whatever they are trying to accomplish with other people.

In addition, getting back to the fundamentals, as we write in our book, will heal several myths or misconceptions that have arisen about leadership: That there’s only one “model” of leadership, based on specific traits and behaviors; that leadership is only about one’s self and character, and not building, inspiring, and aligning an organization; that leadership is so different from “management” that leaders don’t have to understand operations and deliver regular results; that leadership no longer matters in a world of networks and less-hierarchical enterprises. Successful leaders, through history and into the most productive organizations today, demonstrate otherwise.

 

“Dreaming big and having the courage to pursue those dreams – despite the risk – is essential for leaders.  But you also need to get others to share your dreams, vision, and purpose.” -Ron Ashkenas, Brook Manville

 

6 Practices to Help Leaders Grow

The Benefits of Leaders Asking Powerful Questions

questions

 

This is a guest post by Fred Halstead, founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching and author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results*.

 

The Leadership Skill of Asking Questions

Powerful questions will help you learn both about the person you’re speaking with and the subject you’re discussing. You can find out how the person thinks and what is important to them, based upon what they say and don’t say. The more you continue to ask powerful questions, the more you will accomplish both. This confirms George Bernard Shaw’s point: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” So often we fall into a trap in which we believe we understand each other and grasp the concepts being explained, only to later find that it was almost as if we were speaking a different language to one another. Continual probing and on-target questions will help both you and the other person arrive at the best solution and learn more about each other and yourselves.

 

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” -George Bernard Shaw

 

It seems obvious since we spent two chapters discussing the importance of listening, but when a question is asked, allow the other person the time to respond. You want to be sure that thought processing and critical thinking are at play. I had one client who felt that the reason the respondent didn’t answer immediately was that he or she didn’t have an answer. If you want a quick answer, there is a really low probability that you will gain a truly thoughtful answer. If your expectation from a thought-provoking question is a quick answer, you risk the other person being frustrated in a nonproductive way, with you and with themselves.

Powerful questions also satiate your sense of curiosity. When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking. When the right question does not come to mind or the person was not clear in what he or she said or was trying to say, you can always respond: “Tell me more about that.” This simple phrase will expand the other person’s thinking as they further verbalize their thoughts and your understanding of what they are saying. When one is not naturally curious, the desire to respect the other person by exploring their thinking provides a solid motivation to ask questions that bring out the person’s best thinking. Instead of saying, “Stay thirsty, my friend,” as Jonathan Goldsmith did in the Dos Equis ads, say to yourself, “Stay curious, my friend.” Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.

 

“Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.” -Fred Halstead

 

Powerful questions are perfect for discussing sensitive matters. Asking difficult, tough, or edgy questions can be hard for even the most veteran leaders, but those who want their colleagues and team members to succeed will of course need to ask some from time to time. As a coach, I ask those questions fairly often to bring out my client’s very best thinking. When the person is asked a tough question that reflects on them personally, you will find it interesting, maybe surprising, and rewarding to first ask for their permission to ask a difficult question.

The typical question is simply something like: “May I ask you a tough question about all of this?” (This is one example of when a yes/no question is wise.)leadership skills book cover

Tough or difficult questions are direct and go to the heart of personal accountability and, at the same time can inspire a higher level of performance. Examples of such questions include: “In retrospect, what could you have done differently to create the outcome we wanted?” or “What was an even better way for you to handle that?” These questions will help them reflect on their decisions and actions, and also on what they can do in the future to improve. A question such as, “What do you need to do to greatly improve this situation?” or “What specifically will you commit to do differently when this or a similar situation arises?” may feel too pointed at first, but it will lead to them being more reflective and thoughtful, help them avoid the same actions in the future, and to grow as a leader. These kinds of pointed questions also demonstrate that you care about them as a person and you care about their success—and they reflect clearly on who is responsible. They have no sense of “gotcha,” which tends to make it about you more than their responsibility.

 

“When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking.” -Fred Halstead

 

Ask Questions that Touch the Core

Communication Tips from Don Hutson

Communication Tips

Public speaking is not only a common fear, but it is also one of the most important skills if you want to see rapid promotions at work. I previously shared 7 Reasons Why You Should Improve Your Public Speaking. It is an incredibly important skill.

Don Hutson is a world class public speaker and past President of the National Speakers Association. His decades of experience made him the perfect person to sit down and discuss the art of public speaking.

Don has also authored or co-authored fourteen books. Two of them The One Minute Entrepreneur and The One Minute Negotiator have been Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestsellers.

 

“The number 1 antidote to fear is preparation.” -Don Hutson

 

In this video interview, I talk to Don about:

  • The importance of preparation.
  • How to overcome your fear of public speaking.
  • Techniques to handle hecklers.
  • 3 Tips to improve your speaking skills.

 

Increase your leadership skills. By signing up for FREE to Leadership Insights, you will have a positive stream of insights to support your own goals.

Already on my list? Enter your email above and you'll get instructions on how to access the webinar.

How to Transform A Sluggish Organization

sluggish organization

Leadership Skills for Breaking Inertia

One of my favorite leadership thinkers is Samuel Bacharach. Not only is he a regular columnist for Inc., an author, and a leadership speaker, but he is also the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

He recently released a book that I found to be an incredible addition to my leadership library. Transforming the Clunky Organization: Pragmatic Leadership Skills for Breaking Inertia is one of those books that will inspire both new and seasoned leaders with its practical advice and unique perspective.

If your organization is stuck and you need to break inertia and foster innovation, I can think of no better place to start than with this book.

 

“One of the great ironies of organizational life is that yesterday’s delivery becomes today’s inertia.” -Samuel Bacharach

 

Advance the Agenda

Why this book on leadership and why now?

In the last number of years there has been massive growth in books about leadership and trainings in leadership, but one fundamental question is not asked: What is it in an organizational context do we want leaders to accomplish?

If we are going to train and educate people in leadership, it has to be for a purpose. In an organizational context, that focus has to be on the capacity of people to come up with ideas, move ideas, implement them, create change and innovation, and get things done. In this context, what is important to me is pragmatic leadership—that is, the simple and clear tasks of execution. Not execution as global promise but as a series of skills that can be followed and achieved for results.

In The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, I discussed the micro-political skills that leaders at levels need to move their agenda: creating coalitions, overcoming resistance, negotiating, and establishing credibility. These often-ignored political skills were the focus of this volume.

Over the last three years I have been focusing on the question, “What do I want leaders to accomplish?” In my experience of some forty-odd years, I realize that great leaders are those who begin to have the sense of when their organization becomes stuck, sluggish, and trapped by inertia.  Great leaders break inertia. They appreciate the dangers of inertia and do something about it. They also understand that organizations may be sluggish and in the doldrums of inertia, even though they continue functioning. These leaders understand that although inertia may not necessarily lead to immediate failure, inertia may impede their organization’s capacity to reach its potential. Transforming the Clunky Organization focuses on the characteristics of organizations that get trapped by inertia and, in turn, suggests leadership skills and strategies leaders can use to overcome sluggishness and inertia.

 

“Organizations get stuck because of sluggishness and inertia. Great leaders know how to break inertia.” -Samuel Bacharach

 

Why Organizations Become Sluggish

Develop the Leader Habit

Master the Skills to Lead

We generally don’t think of leadership as a habit, but it’s time that we do.  How we get things done at work, and how we manage people, is the result of habits – and those habits can be purposefully changed.

Martin Lanik is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Pinsight®, a global leadership software-as-service company known for its disruptive HR technology.  His new book, THE LEADER HABIT:  Master the Skills You Need to Lead in Just Minutes a Day, shares the science behind how people develop habits and shows you how to develop key leadership skills through simple, daily exercises.

 

“Any leadership skill starts as a weakness.” -Martin Lanik

 

Why Most Leadership Programs Fail

Why do most leadership development programs fail?

There are two main reasons why most leadership development programs fail. First, they rely mainly on classroom training and workshops that focus on acquisition of knowledge. Not only do we forget 85% of what we learn within one week, but knowledge also doesn’t equal skill. Knowledge doesn’t make us better at actually doing things.  One of the examples I use in THE LEADER HABIT comes from music education: You can take classes on proper piano-playing techniques and watch YouTube videos, but that won’t make you a concert pianist. You must actually touch the keyboard and practice every day. But even more importantly, traditional leadership development fails to take into account the overwhelming influence that habits have on our daily behavior. It assumes that we rationally decide how we behave at work and in life. But research suggests that almost half of our everyday behavior is actually unconscious and automatic. No amount of classroom instruction alone can build effective leadership habits.

 

“What cannot habit accomplish?” -Herman Melville

 

Tell us more about the latest science on learning and the development of the Leader Habit Formula.

Leadership, at its core, is a set of habits. How we interact with coworkers, customers, how we answer the phone, make decisions, plan and delegate work, or empower our employees are all to some degree influenced by habits. Positive habits make us better leaders, while negative habits hinder our performance.  In the research we did for THE LEADER HABIT and for our online leadership training platform, we identified the 22 core leadership skills and the underlying micro-behaviors that effective leaders possess. By associating each micro-behavior with a natural cue and then deliberately practicing this pairing every day for 66 days, anyone can turn these effective leadership behaviors into habits. Once the new habits take root, people perform these effective leadership behaviors automatically, without having to rely on reminders, or even thinking about them. They just happen as seamlessly as making your bed in the morning.

 

“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” -Vince Lombardi

 

What are some ways to incorporate this science into today’s training programs?

Training professionals should think about what happens after the class or workshop. What will happen with the concepts? How can you help learners turn these concepts into habits, so that they stick? The Leader Habit Formula tells us to distill the main concepts into specific actions or thoughts, associate them with a cue, and then ask learners to practice the pairing once per day for 66 days. For example, if you are teaching leaders how to delegate better, distill the knowledge about effective delegation into one actionable behavior. For example, we found that effective leaders tell employees what to do but not how to do it when they delegate projects and tasks (otherwise it’s micromanagement). Then associate the action with a specific cue, such as when the learner decides to delegate a project or task. And there you have a Leader Habit exercise that anyone can practice: After deciding to delegate a project or task, describe what needs to be accomplished but let the employee figure out how to do it. If the learners practice this exercise for 66 days, they form a new habit and become better at delegating. It’s that simple.

 

“Habit is stronger than reason.” -George Santayana

 

22 Core Skills of Successful Leaders