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People Need Feedback

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We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. – Bill Gates

According to 1,400 executives polled by The Ken Blanchard Companies, failing to provide feedback is the most common mistake that leaders make. When you don’t provide prompt feedback to your people, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to improve their performance.

Lots of people have lost their jobs for the simply reason that their boss was too big of a chicken to give them the feedback they needed to improve. Yes, just because you’re a boss doesn’t mean you can’t be a chicken too.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to let someone go? Were they shocked to discover that their performance wasn’t sufficient to keep their job? Then it’s most likely that you failed to provide them the feedback the needed to improve their performance. No one should ever be blindsided by their own firing, they should see it coming from miles and months away.

When Bill Gates said “We all need feedback” he truly meant “all.” No one sees themselves as other people see them. We have the ability to justify behavior in ourselves that we wouldn’t tolerate in other people. We use the “yea, but” defense to let ourselves off the hook way too easily.

Even your most seasoned people need feedback. They need another set of eyes, another set of values, and a different batch of experiences to provide them with other views that they can’t get from a mirror.

It’s not just your people who need feedback. You as a leader need feedback too. If your people see you as an Authentic Serving Leader they will likely provide you with at least some of the feedback you need. If they see you as a boss you’re in big trouble because you won’t be receiving any feedback from the people in the best position to provide it to you. They probably won’t trust you enough to be truthful with you.

If you’re in a leadership position then you owe it to your people to help them grow by giving them thoughtful, meaningful, relevant feedback. Consistently. Do not “store up” feedback for their annual review, provide them with useful information on their performance, both good and not so good, that they can use throughout the year.

When you provide the needed feedback you eliminate mistakes, minimize stress, both yours and your people’s, and potentially grow future leaders.

If you’re truly a leader you also owe it to yourself to allow your people to provide you with the feedback YOU need to grow. You simply must have people on your team who trust you enough to be honest with you. You can only build that trust by not “shooting the messenger” when they provide you with feedback. Feel free to disagree if you must but don’t do it defensively. And never never never retaliate for feedback meant to help you, whether it’s accurate feedback or not.

But….. and this is a BIG but; to do any of this you you you must over your own fear of confrontation, of being thought of as a hard ass, or a jerk. If you’re truly an Authentic Serving Leader you will invest the time required to give your people feedback in a way that they can accept and use, to their benefit and yours.

If you’re frustrated with your people constantly making the same mistakes then STOP being frustrated and START providing the kind of feedback that leads to real behavioral change.

That’s what leaders do.

 

What’s the Rush?

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Haste makes waste.

That truism is never more true than when it comes to problem solving. When you rush to solve a problem you run the risk of actually making the problem worse. You may misidentify the problem and end up “solving” a symptom. It could appear that the problem is gone but it’s seldom gone for long. When it comes back it’s often bigger and it’s often more expensive to solve.

Misidentifying a problem, failing to discover the root cause of an issue, is the single biggest mistake a problem-solver can make. Yet it’s made all the time. I think it’s because too many people aim to instantly fix a problem.

We live in a world where Minute Rice just isn’t fast enough anymore. We want everything now, immediately, if not sooner. We especially want problems solved, preferably before anyone knows there’s a problem.

Sometimes it’s best to slow down and live with a problem for a while.

When we live with a problem for a bit we get to know it, we understand it more. We know it’s origins and it’s likely our solution will be much better. Not only better but permanent.

Slowing down does not mean doing nothing. Study the problem, discuss it, look at it from different angles. Learn from it, above all, learn about it. The best problem-solvers have patience and they know enough to never mistake procrastination for that patience. Never forget, there is a difference between moving a little more slowly and not moving at all.

Do not slow down because you don’t know what to do, slow down so that you will know with certainty what needs to be done.

Some people see more in a walk around the block than others see in a trip around the world. Great problem-solvers, like great leaders, walk slowly through the halls, they listen, watch and learn with every step.

Now a good number of people reading this post will say slowing down is a luxury that they can’t afford. They have to “get it done” ASAP! Time is money! You know how it goes.

But you also know that if you don’t have the time to fix it right the first time you’ll never have the time to do it a second time. A shortage of time is EXACTLY the reason you should slow down.

So save yourself some time, slow down and solve the problem once.

There’s no rush to do it twice.

When Things Really Matter

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In a Major League Baseball season there are 162 regular season games. Pretty much every team will win 60 and every team will lose 60. It’s what happens in the other 42 that matters. It’s knowing which 42 games will make the difference that really matters.

The most effective leaders know that not every decision is life, or business changing. What makes them effective is knowing which ones may be and which one most definitely are. The most effective leaders know which 42 games they MUST win.

They know that when they are in the middle of one of those “must wins” that they must lead, most likely from the front. They are less likely to delegate and more likely to micro-manage. Actually effective leaders wouldn’t admit to micro-managing, they are in a “must win” situation and they are just “making sure.”

But what exactly is so critically urgent that an effective leader wouldn’t dare delegate it? Not much as it turns out should be so urgent that it can’t be delegated… or just eliminated.

A long time ago I was promoted to my first management position as Sales Manager for a soda pop company. Not too long after that promotion I received a 4:00am phone call that our delivery drivers had just gone out on strike and everyone in management had to come in immediately.

Shortly after that I had this neat new uniform and a spot on a truck delivering pop to grocery stores and bars. I wasn’t meant for that kind of work to begin with but I was really unprepared to do that all day and then my real job at night.

A short day was 18 hours and even with that I fell behind. I lived in my office for several weeks and still I fell further behind. My desk was a sea of paper stacked several inches high.

I was overwhelmed.

One morning about 2:00am I went into the warehouse and grabbed one of those big trash dumpsters on wheels. I pushed it to my office and threw every piece of paper on my desk away.
A few hours later as my colleagues begin passing my office they would all look at my desk in amazement with the same question; What happened?

I said only that I had a very productive night.

Here’s the truly amazing part, with the exception of a couple of documents that needed signing I never heard a word about anything I had thrown away. Not a word.

It was then that I realized this leadership truth: never underestimate the absolute unimportance of almost everything you do. Most of the things we stress over just don’t really matter. There are few things in life that are truly important and we miss too many of them by focusing on the stuff that isn’t important. We fall victim to the “urgent curse,” doing what seems to be urgent rather than doing the truly important.

We try to focus on too much and forget that “over focusing” is like wearing Milk Bone underwear in a dog eat dog world. We’re going to be eaten alive and it ain’t going to be pretty.

Successful leaders don’t mistake the urgent for the truly important.

As a leader you should not be doing anything that someone else on your team could be doing. If you’re doing anything that someone else could do then your not doing something that only you can. You, I’m sorry to say, are holding back productivity in every direction.

You have 120 games that are going to happen with you or without you. Some will be won and some will be lost and it won’t really matter.

It’s in those 120 games that you build your future leaders. Those are the times that hold the decisions you allow others to make. Those are the times when you just get out of the way and let other leaders stretch their leadership wings. The outcome won’t matter much. What will matter is that THEIR actions and decisions led to an outcome. They can see the results of THEIR decisions and learn from them.

When their day comes to lead the way in the “must win” 42 games you will have prepared them to succeed.

That’s Leadership!

Do You Have A Vision?

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Here’s an interesting if a bit risky experiment for you. Walk into a room full of people that you have never met and yell out “follow me” and run out of the room. See how many people follow you.

Next, walk into a room full of people who know you well, don’t say anything to anyone other then yelling the same “follow me” and then run out of the room. See how many people follow you.

I’m betting the numbers will be almost the same. The people who don’t know you may have some disparaging comments about you, then again, so may the people who know you. But the group that knows you may just shrug and wonder what you’re up to now.

Both groups however will have this in common: they are unlikely to follow you without first knowing where you’re going. Even people who know you well, they might even trust you, but to follow you they need to know where you’re going.

So now let me ask you this. As a leader, do you have a vision? For yourself, your organization and for the people you lead?

I hope your answer is yes. Let’s assume that it is. Here’s a second question. Do your people know and buy into your vision?

If you’re answer to that question is yes as well, then congratulations are in order. You’re set!

You’re also in a very small minority. The sad and challenging reality is that too many, way too many, leaders have an “idea” of where they might be going but have nothing so formal and serious as a vision statement.

If you don’t know where you’re going, or can’t articulate it to your people then why in the world would you expect them to follow you?

The good news is that you, anyone as a matter of fact, can develop an effective vision statement that shows you and those who you would lead exactly what your (and their) destination looks like.

To write a vision statement, focus on the basics of your mission statement and extrapolate; where is your organization, you, or your people going to be five years from now? What will you, your organization or your people have accomplished?

It might sound something like this for your organization:

In five years XYZ Company will be the leading provider of healthy snacks for unhealthy people. We will do this through our committed employees showing care and concern for every single customer we touch. We’ll “Wow” our customers and competitors alike and we will be a joy to do business with. We’ll work in a supportive caring environment that makes “work” fun and allows no doubt about the fact that XYZ is a great place to work and a wonderful place to do business. We will be a business where every customer is served with a smile and positive attitude.

Something like that. Make it meaningful, make it realistic, make it attainable with effort.

Once you have a vision statement you must share it with everyone. Your people, your customers, anyone who will listen. You must share it often. If you share it once it will die a quick death. The only way to keep your vision alive is to share it often.

Expect your people and anyone else you share it with to hold you accountable to it. While that can be scary it is also a great thing. Accountability will be a huge asset in your efforts to achieve your vision.

Above all, YOU must believe and commit to your vision statement. If you don’t then others won’t either. Your vision statement won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

So, let me ask you again, do you have a vision?

If you do then tell the world. You might be amazed how many people will be willing to help you get there.

Where Have all the Servants Gone?

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When I write or speak about Servant Leadership I often receive a fair amount of feedback that true “Servant Leadership” is some utopian dream that “can’t work” in today’s world. It has been suggested to me that I should “park” this new age Servant Leadership thing.

It sometimes seems as if all the servants have gone away.

The concept of Servant Leadership is hardly new. In fact, it’s been around longer than anyone reading this post.

Lao-Tzu wrote about Servant Leadership in the fifth-century BC: “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!'”

The concept of serving from a leadership position seemed to go into a type of hibernation for many, many years. It began to surface again with a paper “The Servant as Leader,” written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. In it, he said: “The servant leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … (vs. one who is leader first…) … The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons … (and become) more likely themselves to become servants?”

Today, Servant Leadership is a much talked about and sadly, little practiced concept. It seems many people like to talk about serving as a leader but aren’t really all that interested in investing the time required to lead while serving. They also struggle with the “people are barely aware of their existence” thing. Leaders, well actually most people, tend to like getting noticed these days.

There are many reasons why people have a hard time buying into the whole “Servant Leader” thing, a big one is the fact that the terms “Servant” and “Leader” don’t actually go together well. Even many of those who would be served see “servant” as a weakness and would prefer a “stronger” leader than a mere servant could ever be.

The average person has a much greater need to be led than to be served. If they have to sacrifice one for the other then the “servant” will be quickly jettisoned in favor of the “leader.”

If “servant” is seen as a weakness in a leader, as it is for many people, then perhaps a better term would be “Serving Leader.” I know I’m kind of splitting hairs here but words do matter. People value people who serve. We thank members of our military, strong, young, and brave men and women, for their “service.” They “serve” the citizens of their country. I wonder if we would feel the same about the members of our military if it was filled with people we thought of as servants.

If the term “Servant Leader” is preventing you from embracing the concept of helping others grow; if it is causing you to delay acceptance of the responsibility that goes with committing yourself to your people; if you or others in your organization believe being a “servant” makes you weaker then adopt the philosophy of a Serving Leader.

In all things Serving Leaders put their people first.

That may sound naive in a competitive business environment but it’s actually a great business strategy.

Serving Leaders understand that their success and the success of their organization is completely dependent upon the success of their people. They know that the fastest, most efficient way to build a stronger business is to grow the people who make up the business.

If you’re a leader who believes your people are an “expense” then you should flat out change your thinking to see your people as an investment. It is not a weakness to “serve” their interests, it is in fact in the best interest of the leader to do so.

Serving Leaders are tireless in their efforts for their people. They are also, almost without exception, the most fulfilled of all leaders. Serving Leaders are held in high regard by their followers, they feel better about themselves at the end of the day and are often more productive than mere effective leaders.

Leadership is a people business. Leaders who skip the people part are limited leaders. Leaders who serve their people are limitless leaders. I understand that serving isn’t the only way to lead but it just might be the best way.

Where are all the Servant Leaders? Feel free to share your examples of serving leaders in a comment. The more “serving” as a leader is recognized the more likely leaders are to serve.

That would be a good thing for everyone!

Titles Can’t Lead

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You’ve worked hard to earn your title and position of leadership. You’ve done more than required of you and now you have the opportunity to truly make a difference.

Maybe you’ve just lucked into the title. Maybe you were born into the position, or married into it. Maybe you’ve benefited from the Peter Principle and got the position because “they” tried you in other roles and you did okay.

Either way, whether you lucked into a position or you’ve really earned it, your title and position of leadership does not make you a leader.

Being a leader requires that you actually lead somebody.

If you manage people you’re likely a boss, not a leader.

If you lead people to act as you act and you can influence them to behave in a certain way you’re probably an effective leader. The challenge with being an effective leader is that despite some success you’re likely still not helping your people reach their full potential.

If you lead people to act as you act and you care as much about your followers as you care about yourself, and if you influence your people in a way that helps them become a leader and you celebrate their success as much as or more than your own then you’re almost certainly an Authentic Servant Leader.

When you help people accomplish more than they ever believed possible, because you believed in them even more than they believed in themselves, then you are a leader of leaders.

No one leads merely by sitting in a leader’s chair. If you’re really going to lead you have to do something.

You see, accepting an important sounding title or position does not make you a leader. It may however make it possible to force the compliance of your people. You may be able to “scare” them into doing what you want but fear is a very poor long-term motivator.

If you settle for the compliance of your people you will always have “personnel issues” to deal with. Your people will simply do the bare minimum required to maintain their job. They will always be restless and not in a constructive way. They will underperform and they will frustrate you. And it will all be because of you; you may have filled the office of the leader but you’ve left a leadership void.

A title or position does not make you a leader, nor does it lead for you. It merely gives you a bit of time to earn the opportunity to truly lead. The extent of your leadership will be determined by you and those who you would lead. If you can show that you care enough about your followers as people then they will allow you to lead them. Yes, I said allow.

If you think you can make people follow you then you had better think again. You may be able to make them comply but leading people requires their permission and commitment. If your people are not committed to you then they will not follow you. There is no way to force someone to commit to you. Their commitment must be earned.

Compliance causes people issues, commitment solves them.

People commit to a leader when they discover that the leader cares about them as people. When a leader proactively, intentionally and consistently shows that they care then their followers will know without a doubt that the leader has their best interests in mind.

When they know the leader has their best interests in mind they will go above and beyond to help the leader. You’ll never hear a committed follower say “that’s not in my job description.”

Leadership requires more than a title; it requires action on the part of the leader. If you are counting on your position or title to gain the commitment of your people then you are missing the leadership boat.

Take action to show you care. Invest yourself in the success of your people. Freely give your time and expertise to those you would lead. Make a difference for other people.

That is how Authentic Servant Leadership works!

Be a Two-Timing Coach

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The phrase “two-timer” certainly has a well deserved negative connotation to it. It is most often used to define a person who is cheating in a relationship with another person.

In coaching however being a “two-timer” can be a very good thing.

Too many coaches, managers and even leaders think of coaching solely in terms of correcting a mistake of some kind. You could call those coaches, managers, and leaders a “one-time” coach. The only time they think to coach is when they see something wrong.

But truly great coaches and leaders know that another effective time to coach is when things go well. Coaching at these times is positive re-enforcement that tends to cement the “right” behavior that is being coached.

A key responsibility of an effective leader is to build and help their people become successful. That requires consistent, thoughtful and meaningful coaching, when things go wrong AND when things go right.

Leaders who coach increase the performance of their people, increase the satisfaction of their people and increase the value of their people to the team. They also reduce what is known as the “reality gap.” This is the gap that exists between what the leader sees the team member doing and what the team member believes they are doing. In the healthiest organizations there is very little gap.

The best leaders coach when the gap is becoming larger or smaller.

To coach effectively you’ll need these skills and characteristics:

Set a good example. If your words don’t match your actions then you simply cannot coach. Your people will do what you do light years before they will do what you say. As a leader you are the “model” for successful behavior. Or not.

See the big picture. As a coach and a leader you need to see a bigger picture than your followers. While it’s acceptable for your followers to merely see the consequences of their actions you must be see the consequences of the consequences. That comes with experience; successful coaches and leaders share their experience with others.

Be a good listener. Great coaches and Authentic Servant Leaders use more than just their ears to listen. They use their heart, their eyes, their experience, and their intuition. They do not prejudge what is being said and they focus on the person speaking. They pay full attention to what is being said and they do not interrupt the speaker. Great listeners know this simple truth; if you’re talking you’re not listening. The fact is, if you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next you’re not listen then either.

Desire to see other people grow. Leadership, true leadership at least, is not about the leader. It is about the people they lead. If you do not have a genuine, sincere desire to see other people grow you will never risk the caring, compassionate confrontation that comes with good coaching. When you’re committed to seeing other people grow you will coach, it’s just about that simple.

There really is little difference in the skills required to close the reality gap through coaching whether the gap is getting bigger or smaller. The one major difference is that when the gap is getting larger and you’re likely coaching for corrective action, the coaching must be done in private. Public embarrassment is not coaching.

When the gap is getting smaller however the coaching can indeed be public. It can be used to highlight the “right” behavior being coached. Celebrating the good stuff in the presence of the entire team tends to make the “right” behavior a bit contagious.

If you’re a “one-time” kind of coach then your people may think of you as “the boss” but they probably don’t think of you as a leader.

Coach early, coach often. Coach in bad times AND good, one is certainly less stressful than the other but both are the purview of Authentic Servant Leadership.


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