Talking Leadership

Lead Like Scrooge?

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on December 1, 2017 at 11:51 am

Scrooge

“Oh!, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” – Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol

At this time of year it seems fitting to turn to Dickens with A Christmas Carol for some seasonal leadership inspiration. Let’s see what we can learn from one of literature’s most well known bosses – Ebenezer Scrooge. Read the passage again and this time let your mind linger over the words, then let’s take a closer look.

As the story unfolds, we can’t help but sympathize with the diligent and hard working clerk Bob Cratchit, a devoted husband and father who must endure the scorn and mistreatment of a cold and uncaring boss. Scrooge sees Bob’s wish to be with his family over Christmas as an imposition. As far as he’s concerned Cratchit is taking advantage of him. Even today there are a great many people feeling torn between unreasonable bosses and their families, they are often as discouraged as Bob Cratchit. Encouraging a healthy work / life balance is not only the right thing to do – it builds loyalty and performance. So this Christmas season why not take time to do a balance audit. Look a little more closely at how hard the members of your team are working and how they are feeling about it. Make sure there is time for family, rest and even a little Christmas cheer.

Dickens describes Scrooge as “secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I think we can pull two good lessons from this passage. Today too many leaders hoard too much information. They don’t talk to team members regularly about the business, and when they do their comments are often superficial. If you want involved employees then you have to involve them – that’s the way it works. When you share information openly, when you genuinely work to help the members of your team understand the situation (whatever it is), you send a powerful message that you trust them and care about them. This is why a good communication plan is a strong loyalty builder. Remember, we talk to people we care about. This is the message good communicators send. So this season, take stock of how often you’re holding staff meetings and how openly you are sharing information.

Finally, I ask what might be the most important the question: Can a leader be “solitary as an oyster” and still build a high performance team? You of course know the answer. Leadership is at its heart all about relationships. When the people you lead know you care about them, they care about you – team members don’t want to disappoint leaders who care about them. I am convinced this is a powerful and enduring leadership truth. Whether you are encouraging, challenging or correcting, it must be evident that you care. So your final assignment as this Christmas approaches is to ask yourself how well you know the people you are leading and how well they know you. If you have well developed relationships, you are doing the work of a good leader, keep it up. If you’ve lost touch, if you’re spending too much time in your office and not enough on the shop floor resolve to get out more – Christmas is a great time to make a start.

We all know how the story ended. Ebenezer had a change of heart. He became the very best of leaders, illustrating the last and most important lesson: a change in the right direction can have a dramatic effect on everyone involved. Merry Christmas all, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.

Dan Gaynor

Follow Well To Lead Well

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on October 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

geese_formation

Great teams are ordered, and order starts on the leadership team itself. There is no place for anarchy, yet too many leaders unwittingly create more chaos and discontent than they realize. The conditions arise when we are directed to lead a mission we don’t personally agree with.

These situations are important tests for every member of the leadership team. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all failed this test at some point. So how should we deal with them? First, a good leader will welcome input from the members of his or her leadership team. Advisors help leaders find tune plans and avoid unnecessary mistakes, so advocate for your point of view as an advisor, and when you’ve had your say, fully support the direction you receive as you carry it to your team. You would expect the same from those you are leading. If you cannot do this, even when it is contrary to a choice you would have made, the time has come to leave. Anything else invites chaos and eventually conflict for you and those you lead.

In his book, Shake Hands With The Devil, Ret. Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire poignantly described his thought process at the height of the FLQ crisis of 1970, when he was asked to lead a mission he was uncomfortable with. His men had live ammo in their guns and he might have to give the order to fire on fellow Quebecers. Dallaire wrote, “If I gave the order to shoot, I could not let my men sense the slightest shiver of doubt in my belief in the rightness of that order. Any uncertainty on my part would communicate itself to my men; any hesitation on their part could result in chaos and innocent casualties. In a nanosecond I had to be able to set aside deep personal loyalties and put the mission first.”

Leaders who cannot put the mission first and follow well create three problems:
1. Divided loyalties
When the team sees you don’t fully support an initiative, they are caught between their loyalty to you and their obligation to the larger team. They hesitate, they cannot give the mission their best work and are often cited for poor performance, they become the innocent casualties of your leadership.

2. Multiplied resistance
It’s not good when anyone resists a mission their leader has charged them with, but a single individual does not have the same impact as a leader who is resisting. A leader can and will multiply that resistance across an entire team, undermining the effort for everyone who is trying to make a success of the effort.

3. Hypocritical example
If you are to become a transformational leader – someone who leads important changes – you will soon discover that leadership is not a popularity contest. There will be times when doing what is right is just not popular. Times when you must direct the team to follow you on a mission they don’t agree with. How do you do this when your example is contrary to what you ask of them?

I offer one caveat. You do not take a mission you believe is morally wrong to your team. If you find yourself in this situation, try to change your leader’s mind and if you fail it’s time to find a new shop. This said, these situations are generally rare. Most often resistance to a mission is the product of pride, preference and a need for popularity. What we’re asked to lead is not morally wrong, we just think our way is better, or we don’t want to take unpopular news to the people we lead.

A leader who follows well offers advice and then, regardless of the decision that’s made, accepts the mission and takes the hills he or she his charged to take. Anything less invites chaos, conflict and disorder. Anything less undermines the mission and the success of the team.

Interested in going deeper into timeless leadership practices? Check out the book or call or write for some individual coaching or a group workshop.

Dan Gaynor

Fundamentals First

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on September 7, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Fundamentals

“All of these principles are easy to comprehend, and all of them are damnably difficult to live and make happen. And that explains why truly great leaders are rare indeed.” Oren Harari

Writing in his book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell author Oren Harari is talking about the fundamentals that were so characteristic of Colin Powell’s approach to leadership. I’m not sure why, but it seems these days that there is far too little attention paid to developing strong fundamentals, maybe it’s that tendency in human nature to complicate the simple.

Good examples would be the seemingly boundless enthusiasm for personality testing and emotional intelligence workshops and books these days. I’m not saying these are of no value, only that work on these topics will not transform an average team into a high performing team. In leadership, as in virtually all other endeavours, the foundation for success is found in strong fundamentals. There will always be far more upside in teaching leaders how to stay mission focused, provide good direction, build accountability and provide skillful feedback than there is in some of the more tangential leadership topics there seems to be so much enthusiasm for, yet I frequently see these foundational topics overlooked.

So what the are some of these fundamentals? In the space I have here I can’t possibly offer a complete list but I can cover a few.

Start with the right heart

All the best leaders care a great deal about the missions and people they lead. They are in it for the right reasons. They are mission and people driven. They value relationships. This doesn’t mean they coddle team members. To the contrary, they challenge people to deliver their best work and to continually get better and they encourage and support their efforts. We can’t teach someone to have the right heart for leadership, but we can help those who already do learn how it how to express it in the right ways.

Communicate well

We talk to people we care about and we listen to people we care about. For the best leaders good communication habits connect them with people and build engagement. As I have so often said, we can’t expect engagement if we don’t engage people, if we leave them in the dark. Opening the enterprise and building relationships with strong communication skills is essential.

Provide good direction

Research clearly demonstrates that when people know clearly what is expected of them they have higher levels of performance and more job satisfaction. Yet so often I meet people who don’t know or are unsure about what’s expected of them. Learning how to provide direction well and how to avoid common pitfalls is essential. This is why I include eight keys to providing direction well in my work.

Provide lots of quality feedback

I’m convinced that every truly team building leader has great feedback habits. Why? Because teams are built one member one situation at a time and skillful timely feedback is the key. Time and time again I encounter leaders at all levels who don’t provide enough feedback as well as those who provide it poorly.

Coach

Legendary coach John Wooden wrote, “Every good leader is a natural and enthusiastic teacher.” I couldn’t agree more. Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won more national championships than any team in history. His book, Wooden on Leadership, is a brilliant volume on applied fundamentals. His efforts to build relationships and improve skills through coaching ranks high among these. Time spent developing good coaching skills is time well spent.

Build Culture

I would offer without hesitation that every significant team building effort I led at newspapers across the country featured purposeful work on culture – not what your team does but the way they do it. If the leader doesn’t do something to promote the right team culture and correct problems then who will? Culture drives performance and there is a right way to go about building it.

Make every performance count

Last on my admittedly incomplete list is the way great leaders treat performance. They insist that every team member earn his or her place. When someone isn’t they confront the problem with feedback and coaching first (here we are back at these two fundamentals) and when this does not solve the problem they know how to have those difficult conversations and make the necessary changes to the roster with skill.

I take a fundamentals first approach because 20 years of building the teams I led convinced me time and time again that they work. Today, when I encounter teams who are not living up to their potential it always traces back to fundamentals. It’s fundamentals consistently applied that will always drive the biggest improvements.

Want to fortify the fundamentals with your leadership team? Check out these options for 1/2 day workshops and individual coaching.