There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.
The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.
Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.
Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!
“Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy.” –Andy Swann
Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway
Some people collect things. When I was growing up, I watched my father collect degrees. He was always taking a class, learning a new skill, or listening to an educational program. In fact, way beyond retirement and the age when most of us would consider it, he’s finishing up a doctorate in yet another field.
I learned early on: one of the secrets to happiness and success is to become a lifelong learner.
Kay Peterson and David Kolb delve into how you can renew and enhance your natural ability to learn. How You Learn Is How You Live will inspire your learning journey.
I recently asked Kay to share more about her research into learning styles and lifelong learning.
“Deliberate learning is a skill that is developed through practice.” –Kay Peterson
A learning style is a way of navigating the ideal process of learning- the learning cycle- that emphasizes some parts over others. It’s not a fixed trait. Learning style preferences can change to meet life situations.
How and when do we develop our primary learning style?
Culture, personality, education, career choice and the demands of life influence learning style. Your preferences start early; yet they are not fixed traits. An active child may prefer to be outside exploring rather than sitting in a classroom. If she finds success through actively experimenting, it will lead to greater skill in these areas and a greater desire to use this style. The child may practice the Acting style until it becomes a habitual way of approaching any situation. Your learning style and life path are based on the choices you make.
“Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” –Martha Graham
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.
The Power of Admitting A Mistake
Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Yet, many times when a mistake is made, people try to pretend that it did not happen. They attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” -Confucius
Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?
One of the most important skills today is the ability to be comfortable with being a novice. The world is changing so fast that new skills and knowledge make all of us feel uncomfortable. Embracing our inner novice, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accepting being bad at something on the way to mastering it is the most important way to stay ahead.
“The ability to learn quickly is the most important skill to have.” –Erika Andersen
Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses on leader readiness. She’s the author of three other books: Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic, and Growing Great Employees. All of her books are full of actionable advice from her three decades of advising and coaching executives.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Erika about her research into being comfortable with being continuously uncomfortable.
Be Bad First
What does it mean to be bad first?
It means being willing to go back to being a novice – to being not-good at new things – over and over again. As we move through our lives, it becomes increasingly challenging to accept the need to “be bad first.” We come to rely on and identify with our expertise; we get used to being treated as knowledgeable and experienced. To have to go back to being a beginner in order to acquire new skills and knowledge – especially in the public setting of work, in full view of our employees, bosses, and sometimes our customers – can be scary, embarrassing and frustrating. I wrote Be Bad First because I’ve come to believe that in order to succeed in this ever-changing world, you must be able to learn new things continuously and well – and that requires, among other things, getting good at being bad first.
There’s a generational change from Boomers and Gen-X to Millennials that is also at play. How do different generations react to this concept?
Generally, we’ve found it’s somewhat easier for younger folks to be bad first in the service of learning new skills. They tend to be still in the process of developing their expertise and are often therefore less “stuck” in what they already know. Also, most Millennials have grown up experiencing daily change in technology, communication, society, and business – for them, keeping up with ever-accelerating change has been the norm for their whole lives. However, many Millennials have a hard time with other aspects of new learning – especially Aspiration and Neutral Self-Awareness.
4 Mental Skills for Learning
1. Develop Aspiration
Let’s talk about your ANEW concept. A, for Aspiration, is the first step.
The model at the core of Be Bad First consists of four mental skills for learning that we call ANEW: Aspiration, Neutral Self-Awareness, Endless Curiosity, and Willingness to Be Bad First. Becoming adept at these skills will allow you to be a high-payoff learner, a master of mastery.
Aspiration means, quite simply, wanting something that you don’t now have. In terms of learning, aspiration is key because we only learn the things we want to learn. For instance, you can say over and over that you want to learn Spanish – but if you don’t make the required effort, it means you don’t really want to do it.
“Great learners unearth and then build their aspiration.” –Erika Andersen
I believe we often tell ourselves we want to do things because we worry that if we don’t actually want to, there’s nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, that’s not true. You can change your level of aspiration: you can make yourself want to do something. The secret is to identify benefits that are personally motivating to you of doing or learning that thing, and then envisioning a future where you’re reaping those benefits. (You may have noticed that you do this automatically when you do want to do something.)
So for example, if you decided to ramp up your aspiration to learn Spanish, you’d think about ways in which you might benefit from doing that – and perhaps the one that really resonates for you is that it would enable you to be a part of the team that’s expanding your company into the Chilean market. You imagine yourself in a couple of years, on that team, living in Santiago and building new business. If that’s personally exciting to you, I suspect you’ll suddenly find yourself taking real steps to improve your Spanish.
By the way, the problem many Millennials have with Aspiration is their belief that wanting or not wanting to do things is permanent and unchangeable – and they tend to reinforce their not-wanting by saying things like “No, I don’t want to – it’s just not me.” However, I’ve worked with Millennials for whom the idea that they can consciously change their level of “wanting” is hugely liberating, once they accept it.
2. Cultivate Neutral Self-Awareness
N, Neutral Self-Awareness. That one grabbed my attention. I think all of us have witnessed someone who is completely unaware of something – thinking they have a strength when everyone else knows it is a weakness. What’s the best way to see yourself objectively?
Wonderful question! The place to start, when trying to become more neutrally self-aware, is to note how you’re talking to yourself about yourself. Our self-awareness (or lack thereof) lives in our mental monologue. We’re continually commenting on ourselves internally: I’m great at that – I’m terrible at that – I used to be good at that, but I’ve lost the knack – I’m terrified of trying new things – I don’t mind making mistakes – I’m a slow learner – I’m the smartest guy in the room – I already know that…. You get the idea. Sadly, this internal commentary can often be dead wrong – and we tend to accept it without question because it’s happening inside our own head, most often beneath our conscious awareness. It’s like subliminal advertising!
So the way to become more self-aware is to recognize and question what you’re saying to yourself about yourself. For example, let’s say your boss tells you that you need to get better at delivering tough news to your employees. Perhaps your first thought is, What? I’m good at that. I may not be as direct as my boss would like, but at least I don’t make my folks feel bad.
Once you notice that you’re saying this to yourself, rather than just accepting it as true, ask yourself, Is that accurate? That has the effect of taking you “off automatic” and causing you to examine your beliefs about yourself more consciously. You might then realize that you don’t really know if your self-talk is accurate. So then you ask yourself, What facts do I have in this area? You might then remember that one person on your team has been consistently missing deadlines, and you’ve been “waiting for the right time to mention it” for months. Or that quite often when you think you’re being clear with employees about changes you want them to make in their behavior, they don’t seem to get the message. Now your self-talk about where you’re starting from in this area might shift to something like, I can see my boss’ point – I don’t seem to be very good at communicating difficult messages in a way that works.
And you notice, in this example, that as your self-talk becomes more accurate, you’re more neutrally self-aware, and better able to understand and accept what you need to learn.
(Many Millennials have a hard time with this because their parents have told them they’re great at everything, so their self-talk about their current strengths and weaknesses in areas of new learning is both woefully inaccurate and somewhat “stuck.” However, this same approach to recognizing and managing their self-talk is equally effective if they buy the core premise of needing to get more neutrally self-aware.)
“Accurate self-talk frees the brain to focus on learning.” –Erika Andersen
He put his head in his hands. We had only just sat down in a small café. It seemed that this was one time that I should not speak, so I let the silence drift between us mixing with the steam off my coffee mug. My friend had asked for this meeting, but I didn’t know what he wanted. The noises all around us dimmed when he finally looked up at me and explained. “Every time I start to feel like I am about to really achieve something, I don’t know what happens. I give up.”
I was surprised. He was successful. I’m not a psychologist, but it didn’t appear he was depressed so much as needing a boost of confidence. Our conversation continued back and forth until a theme started to emerge.
My friend consistently compared himself to others who were, in his opinion, doing better, achieving more, and advancing faster. He didn’t feel he could “catch up” to them. The reality, of course, was that no one expected him to “catch up.” He was doing well. What was his real issue?
Recently, I heard that only 12% of women over 50 are satisfied with their bodies. 40% of men are dissatisfied with their appearance. And the vast majority of us would change something about our physical appearance if we could. We compare ourselves to airbrushed models and feel less attractive.
Why are we so discontent? Why do we unfairly compare ourselves to others?
There’s always someone richer, stronger, faster, smarter, or more talented, more polite, or more attractive. There are likely also people poorer, weaker, slower, less intelligent, with less talent, manners, and looks. Comparing ourselves to others can be debilitating in more ways than we realize.
“Leaders do not define success by the competition.” -Skip Prichard
When we look at someone else who has what we don’t have, we are “comparing up.” What does this do? It robs us of joy. It depresses us. It makes us feel bad about ourselves, lowers our self-esteem. We may give up on our goals, thinking “Well, I could never compare to him” or “If she is that good, why should I even bother?” We become less productive. It slows us down. We spend so much time comparing that we find we aren’t doing. It invites envy, the insidious emotion, to a prominent place at the table of our mind.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt
There are times we “compare down.” We look at someone and feel sorry for him. We hear about someone and think she doesn’t have what I have. Whether it makes us feel better or superior, we have all had moments where we look at someone else as not as good as we are. While we pat ourselves on the back for being so brilliant, we actually are filling our mind with a cancerous attitude. Arrogance creeps quietly into the room of our mind, an unnoticed intruder taking over.
“We’d achieve more if we chased our dreams instead of our competition.” -Simon Sinek