Are You Asking the Right Questions?

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel learned in “It’s a Wonderful Life” you have to know something about someone if you’re going to help them. That “something” goes way beyond their hire date, their employee number and their job description.

Leadership is about people. Failing to know your people can cause you to treat them as if they were just another thing in your organization, like a computer or lift truck. They are not things! They are PEOPLE, with wants, needs, issues, hopes and dreams…just like you.

As a leader you must make judgments about your people. As as leader you cannot be judgmental about your people. (If you’re an Authentic Leader you understand the difference) You cannot exercise good judgment about your people without information about them. The best way to get that information is to ask them directly.

That is why I recommend you conduct a periodic innerview with as many of your people as possible. No, I didn’t misspell that. I don’t mean interview. An interview is what you do when you’re trying to hire someone. An innerview is what you do when you’re trying to help someone grow.

Innerviews are quick. 5 minutes or so to ask how someone is doing. Ask about their goals, both personal and professional. Ask about how you can help them. Ask how the organization is doing for them. Ask what you could do to make their job more efficient. Ask about their family and life outside of the workplace. Ask any or all of those questions as time permits. The purpose of those questions is to get an inner view of your people so you’ll know how to help them.

Ask those questions even if your people are a little confused or surprised by them. Once they realize that you are sincerely interested in them as people their answers will improve. So will your ability to help them grow.

Now, here’s why most “leaders” tell me they can’t ask these questions….they say they don’t have time. They often say that immediately after telling me that their people are their greatest asset.

All I can conclude from that is that they intentionally invest their time in less important things than their “greatest asset.”

That does not sound like an effective leadership strategy.

Can you slow down enough to invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions? If you’re in a leadership position and you truly want to lead then your answer to that question must be a resounding YES!

How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.

The Importance of Conflict Resolution Skills

Most people would tell you that conflict resolution skills are essential for all leaders. I absolutely agree with that. Authentic Leaders meet conflicts head on. They don’t avoid them, they work through them to build consensus in a way that is people valuing and face-saving.

For those Authentic Leaders conflict resolution skills are vital.

But most people in leadership positions are not Authentic Leaders. They count on their title and position to do the heavy lifting of leadership for them. Many of them remain in leadership positions for years never learning what Authentic Leadership looks like.

For those leaders few things are less important than conflict resolution skills. That’s because they avoid conflicts like the plague.

Most of those leaders would say they avoid conflict because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. They would say their relationship with their people is more important than dealing with conflicts. Some would say they do indeed deal with conflict but only when “the time is right.” The problem for those leaders is that they never find the right time.

What those leaders won’t tell you is that one big reason they refuse to engage in a conflict is because they lack the courage and the compassion to do so. Another reason is that they believe that have only two choices when it comes to conflict. Those choices are fight or flight.

Nearly 100% of the time they choose flight. The see any conflict as a potential fight and they want none of it. What these weaker leaders need to understand is that an Authentic Leader does not allow a conflict to become a fight. So they have no need for flight.

Authentic Leaders dislike conflict as much as anyone. That’s precisely the reason they meet the challenge of conflict head on… so that they can get rid of it. So that they and their people can learn from it. So that they and their people can grow closer because of it. So that it doesn’t simmer under the surface and undermine the morale of the conflicted parties and of all the people around them as well.

The reality is that no one actually avoids conflicts, but some people do attempt to live with them. But left unsettled conflict is an untreated cancer on both organizations and relationships.

If you’re serious about resolving conflicts you will listen far more than you talk. If your responses include any variation “yes but” it may indicate that you’re being defensive. We don’t listen very well when our defenses are up. So check yourself to be certain you’re willing to have your opinion changed. Authentic Leaders know that they can be wrong about pretty much anything, just like everyone else.

To effectively resolve any conflict leave your “blame game” at home. The original cause of a conflict is less important than the lasting resolution. When you place blame on people you cause them to disengage. All parties to a conflict MUST be part of the solution. Before you engage in conflict resolution ask yourself what your goal is… do you want to place blame or do you want to resolve the conflict.

It goes without saying that only one of those goals is productive. Authentic Leaders know which one.

Authentic Leaders are willing to compromise to find lasting solutions to conflicts. They demonstrate that while they may be passionate about their own point of view they value workable resolutions over “winning.” They in fact understand that “winning” requires all sides be able to resolve the conflict with their self-respect intact.

Authentic Leaders with excellent conflict resolution skills do not forget the importance of relationships. They realize that how they make the other people feel is just as important as the eventual resolution. That “feeling” will likely outlast the resolution. It will also impact, either positively and negatively, any attempts to resolve future conflicts.

No matter how fast and far you run you should know that the conflict you’re running from will be waiting for you when you get there. So don’t run. The sooner you deal with the conflict the sooner you can return to building healthy and productive relationships with your people.

That makes the effort required to successfully resolve conflicts well worth it.

Proven Leadership Truths

Many years ago I worked for a fantastic organization called Dale Carnegie Training. I began as a sales rep selling their courses to businesses and individuals. One of the key selling points we were taught to use was the many benefits of being effective at speaking in front of groups.

I told many many people of the career advantages of being able to deliver an impactful message to an audience either large or small. I said the advantages were huge.

I learned an enormous amount about sales, leadership, and people in general while I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization. But after a bunch of successful years I wanted even more of a challenge so I moved into Corporate America.

After telling people for years what an advantage it was to be able to comfortably and effectively present in front of groups I was still amazed at what a huge advantage it actually was. It is not an absolute “must have” skill for advancement but if you do have it you will move up faster and have much greater impact on those around you.

Communication skills like presenting to groups are especially critical in difficult times. If there was any doubt about that those doubts are quickly being erased. We are discovering how important all communication skills are in times of trouble.

But many other “truths” of leadership are also being proven true in our current environment. Here’s a few of those.

As a leader you really really do set the tone for your team. If you’re convinced “it” can’t be done then rest assured it won’t be done…no matter what you say to your people. You can be the Rah-Rah guy in front of your people but if you don’t believe what you’re saying they will see right through you.

You must understand this pure fact. Your people’s attitude will NOT be better than yours. If you can’t be sincerely positive around your people then do your people a favor and don’t be around them.

Your people, with rare exceptions, will not out perform you. As a leader YOU are the model for successful behavior. If you’re putting out a 50% effort then don’t expect your people to put out a 51% effort.

If you’re blessed as a leader you may have the occasional superstar who is upwardly mobile and willing to outwork you. But for the most part your people will follow your example in all things, including how much effort any task or assignment is worth. If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must authentically lead. That means demonstrating exceptional effort in everything you do.

You can be assured that if your effort is mediocre the effort of your people will be mediocre too.

Leaders who vision cast effectively have a higher percentage of engaged followers. “Leading” isn’t a title or position. “Leading” is a set of activities and characteristics. People will only follow someone if they have some idea where that person is leading them to.

Do you have a vision of where you’re leading your people to? Can you communicate or “cast” that vision out to your people? Is it a vision that includes them and somehow rewards them for helping to achieve that vision?

People will not follow you to Nowheresville. People don’t only want to know where they are following you to, they NEED to know. Which brings us right back to effective communication skills.

Have you shared your vision for the future with your people. Many many people are both wondering what they future holds and worried if they have a place in that future. DO NOT let them worry and wonder.

You’re most expensive employee is not the person you pay the most. Your most expensive employee it the one who is least engaged. Give all of your people a vision of the future that they will want to engage with.

Communication, modeling successful behavior and demonstrating the power of positive attitudes are characteristics of successful leaders. That is being proven out every hour of every day during these challenging times.

Are you a leader who is up for the challenge?

A Self Leadership Checkup

Everybody says we need Authentic Leadership right now, perhaps more than ever before. Well it must be true since everybody can’t be wrong. But it seems to me most people talking and writing about leadership these days are missing an important point.

Before you can lead others authentically you must effectively lead yourself.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know the people you lead really need you now. That’s because especially in challenging times people need to be led, not managed. But you’re people too. You need leadership as much as anyone. The difference is you may well have to lead yourself.

So let’s do a quick checkup on your self-leadership skills.

You know that your people need some extra inspiration right now. They look to their leaders to provide it. But it’s pretty tough to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. In those quiet moments (perhaps few and far between right now) how are you staying inspired? What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you aggressively looking for positives to keep your mindset where it needs to be.

It’s as easy for a leader’s attitude to go south as it is for anyone else. If you’re going to keep other people’s spirits up them you’ll have to keep yours up first. Find the possibilities in every challenge. Problems are an opportunity to learn and grow. They provide the chance to become better and more nimble.

Coach yourself to see obstacles as growth opportunities. Remember, your people will do what you do far faster than they will do what you say. Model the attitude and mindset that you want your people to possess.

You are the master of your emotions, no one else. If you do not make the conscious choice of a positive attitude every single day then a subconscious choice will be made for you by events and circumstances. It will not be a choice that serves you well.

Positive attitudes do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.

How are you doing with time management? If you’re suddenly finding yourself leading from home you may find that you don’t have the same level of discipline that comes with working in an office environment.

Setting daily goals can help with this. Goals create discipline. Discipline is simply choosing between what you want now and what you want most. Your goals should be what you want most. Holding yourself accountable to do the same amount of work at home that you would do in the office requires that you keep in mind what you want most.

The “work things” that you may be less accountable to accomplish right now are the means to the things you want most. When my daily work goals are achieved I allow myself what I want most. That would be ice cream! If the work isn’t crossed off my list then the ice cream doesn’t cross my lips.

It is important to remember that no one on earth has more time than you do. No matter how pressured you may feel you do not, I repeat, you do not have a shortage of time. What you most likely do have is a lack of prioritization skills.

Pursue those daily goals with the zeal of a crazy person and you’ll discover you have all the time you need to accomplish every one of your goals.

Are you carefully choosing your words? A leader’s words carry more weight. In challenging times they weigh even more. Choose your words to convey the exact message you’re trying to get across. Remember how you say something can be even more important than the something you say. Are you being mindful of your tone? It is likely you’re doing more communication over the phone than normal. People can’t read your body language so they use the tone of your voice to decipher the meaning of what they are hearing.

It is your responsibility to make sure they are hearing what you intend for them to hear.

Leading others begins with leading yourself exceptionally well. These three areas are not the only leadership skills to focus on for exceptional self-leadership but they will get you on the right path to being a leader who is prepared to lead others in turbulent times.

Business as Usual

The current state of the world absolutely does not allow business to be conducted as usual. Perhaps no time in history have businesses, and every person alive for that matter, been faced with so many unknowns.

No one likes unknowns.

In you’re in a leadership position then one of the things you should be doing right now is providing the people you lead with as many “knowns” as possible. Few things will be business as usual so find as many usual things as you possible can and put them in front of your people.

Many readers of this blog are not aware that in addition to writing this blog I also have a full time job. I do a ton of speaking each year. While I also speak outside of my industry the majority of my speaking opportunities are in support of my employer and our customers.

I never write about my “day job.” But the current crisis around the Coronavirus has provided me the opportunity to witness firsthand some truly outstanding leadership. But this week I would say I saw nothing less than brilliant leadership.

Those who know me also know that I am a harsh judge of leaders and leadership. I believe that if you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you darn well better lead, really really lead. Lately I’ve seen a ton of what can only be described as Authentic Leadership.

In a company-wide meeting this week, conducted for the first time virtually for obvious reasons, the organization’s leadership made the decision to make the meeting as normal as possible.

There was a needed update on preparedness for and steps taken against the virus. But it did not dominate the meeting. It would have been easy, and expected, that the doom and gloom over-taking many organizations would have been the focus, but it was not. The focus was on business as usual.

That was the brilliant part.

It almost didn’t matter what was discussed. What mattered was what wasn’t. The current situation was appropriately covered and then it was on to business. Instead of sucking life out of the organization the leadership team literally pumped life along with enthusiasm into the organization. The calming effect of even a bit of normalcy could almost be felt over the Internet.

Brilliant is the only word I can think of to describe it.

It showed me the absolute importance of leading by example. If you’re in a position of leadership don’t merely tell your people that everything will be okay, show them. Show them by demonstrating as much normalcy in these highly unusual times as you possible can.

Business as usual will be challenging for the foreseeable future but I had a glimpse this week of just how much people are craving even a bit of normalcy. I’ve never written this before but for at least a while one of the best leadership actions you can take is to be so normal that you risk boring your team.

Now, as much as ever in history people need leadership. If you’re a leader who can provide the people you lead with even a bit of stability then you are a leader who was made for these times.

One last thought, I know business as usual will be nearly impossible for many people. You must understand that “nearly impossible” and “impossible” are two very different things. If you can’t keep business “usual” then figure out a way to provide your people a bit of normalcy in their personal lives. Leadership, at least Authentic Leadership isn’t easy and it doesn’t stop at the end of the work day. So don’t assume anything is impossible, just figure it out. That’s what great leaders do!

Encouragement Required

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you have accepted the responsibility of helping the people you lead reach their full potential. That’s an awesome responsibility!

The task of helping others reach their full potential is multi-faceted. You’re a coach, teacher, sometimes a disciplinarian and always a motivator. You demonstrate that you care for the people you lead and you know that caring doesn’t stop at the end of a work day.

You are also an encourager. You’re an encourager when things are going well and when things are not going so well. You look for opportunities to encourage every member of your team because you understand that every member of your team needs encouragement.

The need for encouragement has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the people you lead. Your top performers need encouragement as much as your people who are not currently performing near their potential. It’s a human thing. Everyone needs and responds to encouragement.

A common mistake that many leaders make is assuming that a compliment and encouragement are one and the same. They are not. They are in fact distinctly different.

A compliment is an expression of praise or congratulations. They most often sound like “good job” or “nice hat” or something along those lines. We could do an entire post on how to give a compliment but we’ll do a short version here.

A true compliment has two parts. The first part is the expression of praise. That’s where most people stop. When we stop with the simple expression of praise we can leave the recipient of the compliment wondering why we gave it in the first place. They may question our motives and wonder what we expect in return.

The second part of the compliment leaves no doubt in the mind of the recipient about why they are receiving the praise. The second part is what I call the “evidence.”

For instance, if the compliment includes something about “good job” it should immediately be followed with “the reason I say that is….” If you have no concrete reason for giving the compliment then don’t give it. The second part of the compliment deepens the significance of the praise. It makes the compliment more “real.” A compliment backed up with evidence has staying power for the recipient. It shows the sincerity of the compliment giver and gives the compliment itself much greater impact.

Encouragement is different from a compliment. Encouragement is about you as a leader sharing your courage with others. It’s about supporting their efforts, most often verbally but sometimes by digging in and physically helping them complete a task.

Encouragement is about building the confidence of your people and offering them hope. Sometimes it’s about shining a light on the hope that exists in a seemingly hopeless situation.

People often need encouragement when they have been delegated a new or unfamiliar task. That encouragement can sound something like this: “I asked you to do this because I have complete confidence that you can get it done. You have the brains, experience, and knowledge required to do this well. I have total faith in you, I believe in you, I’m certain you can and will do this well. I’m here for you as you undertake this assignment and I’m excited about what you’re going to accomplish.”

As you can see, that’s very different from a compliment. Compliments and encouragement are both excellent tools commonly used by Authentic Leaders. It’s also a common mistake of new leaders to think compliments are enough to encourage their people. They are not!

Encourage your people early and often. You’ll likely see more growth than you…or they ever thought was possible.