Are You’re To Critical?

I’m betting there are a whole lot of people who, even if they are reading this sentence, are only paying partial attention to it.

 

They are only partially focused on it because they can’t get past the poor spelling in the title. The two mistakes in the title have tainted the entire post for them. Some people won’t read the post at all because of the grammar issues. They assume that there is little to learn from anyone who uses “you’re” where “your” should have been used. Using “to” in place of “too” likely sent them over the edge. 

 

Thank you to those of you who have hung around long enough to give me a chance to explain. 

 

The “mistakes” in the title are not really mistakes. I used those words to make a point. The point is that when we are too critical of other people we lose the opportunity to learn from them.

 

The most open minded successful people look past imperfections and use what they can to learn from everyone they meet. They realize that just because someone may misuse a word here and there or misspell a word now and then it doesn’t mean that everything they say or write should be dismissed. 

 

No one is perfect, no one knows everything and everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they are not knowledgeable or that their opinion is less valuable than anyone else’s. 

 

The most successful people and the most effective leaders know that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means they can learn from anyone and that’s exactly what they do. 

 

Every viewpoint and opposing opinion teaches you something if you can keep an open mind. In fact, you’ll learn more from people who think differently than you then you’ll ever learn from people who think just like you. 

 

Yes, typos, misspelled and misused words distract from the message. Using the wrong word in a presentation or a sentence lessens it’s impact but….. for a leader those are coaching opportunities, not a reason to dismiss the entire message. It most certainly does not diminish the value of the person making the mistake.  


Anybody can find fault with someone else, it takes a leader to see the strengths in everyone. If you’re focusing too much on the mistakes of others you’re also making it much harder to learn from what they do well. That is YOUR mistake and one that YOU should work on before you try eliminating the mistakes of others.

Everyone Needs Encouragement

This post has a pretty simple title. I’m hoping that everyone who reads this knows that unarguable fact. 

 

Knowing it isn’t enough. If you’re a leader you must actually provide encouragement to your people. Consistent, planned and very intentional encouragement. Now, before you say that you “do that all the time” stop for a moment and think. Think about the last time you actually stopped long enough to truly focus on someone else and provide them with meaningful encouragement. 

 

How long has it actually been?

 

If you’re thinking that “nice work” or “keep it up” or “way to go” is actually encouragement then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. Passing someone in the hall and tossing a “nice job” their way is not encouragement. It’s not a compliment and it most certainly doesn’t pass muster as a sincere Thank You. 

 

Actual encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes.

 

To encourage someone ask them how you can help them. Offer to assist (doing someone else’s work for them is not encouragement) them with advice or ideas. You may be surprised at just how powerful the simple question “How can I help?” really is.

 

Asking questions to help them uncover their own ideas is also a great encourager, especially when you point out that the idea is their very own.

 

Offer encouragement in public, let everyone see what a difference true encouragement can make. When you bring encouragement out into the open you develop a culture of encouragement within your organization. 

 

Providing real encouragement to others requires practice and preparation. Authentic Leaders set aside time to make certain this vital leadership responsibility does not fall through the cracks. Keep your eyes focused on your people and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to offer real encouragement. 


It might not be easy or even comfortable at first but keep at it. Once you become an habitual encourager you’ll wonder why you didn’t develop this awesome habit long ago.

The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.

 

It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.

 

Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 

 

Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 

 

Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 

 

In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 

 

The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.

 

Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 

 

Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 


One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.


The Limits of Good Mentoring

I’ve been truly blessed throughout my life to have great mentors. I knew they were great mentors because every now and then they would say “I don’t know, you should probably ask someone else.” 

 

I’ve written several times on the importance of having a mentor. No matter your age, your current level of success, your title or your position within your organization, you will do better tomorrow if you have a mentor today. What’s more you’ll be even better off if you have multiple mentors. 

 

Here’s why. 

 

One of the things that make a great mentor is that they know what they don’t know and they didn’t pretend that they know it. 

 

You can have a mentor who is a brilliant business strategist but not so capable with their people skills. You can have a managerial genius as a mentor but that doesn’t mean they are great leadership coaches. 

 

Those “gaps” don’t mean they are a bad mentor. It’s when they attempt to fill those gaps with guesses, rumors, and plain old BS that they become a poor mentor. I suppose there are mentors who do have a vast amount of knowledge across a very wide spectrum of skill sets and situations…..I just haven’t found one.

 

I’d much rather have a mentor, and much much rather be a mentor, who occasionally has the confidence to say “I just don’t know,” and “I don’t want to steer you wrong so I can’t answer that.” 

 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but if you have a mentor that has an answer for every question and advice for every single situation then it is very likely you don’t have the right mentor for you. 

 

Having more than one mentor helps overcome the limits that all truly good mentors have. When you have multiple mentors you are more likely to have a mentor with deeper experience in the area(s) where you need help. When you have mentors who look at the same situation but view it from different angles you’re provided with a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with and that makes a successful outcome much more likely.

 

If you don’t have a mentor today then find one today. Find someone who you feel is successful, someone who cares enough about people to share their “library of experience,” and someone who is willing to invest a part of themselves in your success. 


When you find someone with those characteristics then you have found a mentor and when you’ve found a mentor you’re that much closer to finding an even greater level of success.


When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well! 

What Your People Need to Know

I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career; I’ve never been fired from a job and I’ve had to fire very few people. I don’t like firing people, it is not only a very unpleasant experience it is a failure of my leadership as well.

As bad as firing someone is, being fired is far worse, research says it is one of the most disruptive and stressful events that can happen during a person’s lifetime.

So firing somebody is a VERY big deal. It should only be done as a last resort; considered only after every attempt has been made to help the person become a valuable member of the organization.

If you’ve hired someone who you later are forced to fire there are really only two possibilities; you either hired the wrong person for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools they needed to perform.

I know there are leaders out there who are freaking out at that last paragraph and to you I say this: Step up and accept responsibility for your decisions. It’s okay to screw up, it happens, it shows you’re human. Not accepting your role in the failure of one of your people diminishes your credibility as a leader.

As bad as having to fire someone is here’s what’s worse: firing someone who had no idea it was coming.

That is about as huge a leadership failure as you can find and sadly, it is very common.

As terrible and as stressful as being fired is no one should be surprised when they hear the words, “you’re fired.”

Your people need to know, clearly know, what is expected of them. Research done across a variety of industries and professions indicted that fewer than 35% of employees say they do. If my math is correct that means that over 65% of employees do NOT have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Your people also need to know, with as much precision as possible, how their results will be measured. Leaders who leave “gray areas” when measuring results create stress and lower productivity in their workplace.

If you think you’re “covered” because you conduct annual reviews with your people you’re just kidding yourself. Or, you’re like me, and a lot of others, in that you just don’t like those “performance” conversations. Well tough, you accepted your leadership role so start leading.

Effective leadership requires consistent, somewhat frequent “updates” that are two-way conversations where ideas are exchanged and expectations are discussed and managed.

Most people will either try to meet or exceed your expectations of them. If they are not meeting your expectations then you need to carefully consider whether you have clearly communicated those expectations to them… recently. When your people clearly know what you need from them and they see you as a leader they WILL find a way to deliver.

Your success depends on the success of your people, make sure you give them the chance at success that they deserve.