For Professionals: Leadership (3)
Building Real Leadership Connections
By Gregg Thompson
Great leaders seem to have the uncanny ability to readily create large networks of people who help them and their teams get things done; approvals are given, resources are provided, projects are financed, decisions are made. Other leaders seem to struggle at getting the smallest things accomplished within the organization. What’s the difference between these leaders? The leaders who have built these extensive networks understand that their real power comes not from their position, but from their ability to build strong, lasting connections with others in the organization.
How do they do this? First, it’s important to understand the nature of a leadership connection and how it compares to most relationships we form. In most good relationships, people work well together, respect each other’s knowledge and abilities, share information, and honor commitments. This is all good stuff; however, great leaders strive for a bond with others that is closer and more profound.
Think about a strong leadership connection as a wide-diameter pipe between the leader and others. The leader speaks, others hear. Others speak, the leader hears. The leader moves, others act. It is deeper and more meaningful than most relationships. When this type of connection is made, the leader hears what’s really important to others and, in turn, is heard. Difficult topics are broached, mistakes are admitted and feedback is exchanged. Both leader and follower are challenged to perform at their highest levels and held accountable to do so.
You would think that building these connections would be relatively straightforward — be polite, find out what common interests you share, and ask questions so you can find out what makes the other person tick. This is the process most of us routinely employ; however, great leaders take a somewhat counter-intuitive approach to building strong connections. They:
Honor the person – as soon as possible after meeting someone (or meeting them again), they make a point of recognizing and highlighting something that is unique and interesting about the person. They do not simply provide some trite compliments or seek to flatter the person. They put real effort into identifying what is distinctive and special about the person.
Disclose key information - they find a way to reduce the barriers of rank, position, status and the like by sharing personal information, becoming vulnerable and communicating on a distinctly personal level.
Learn what’s important - rather than just learn about the other person, they find out what is really important to the other person and how the leader can best interact with the person.
Seek to Serve - they find an opportunity to be of significant service to the person before they ask anything of them. If this requires a significant sacrifice or investment on their part, that’s all the better.
Think about the people whom you work closest with each day. Do you have a real leadership connection or just a good relationship?
Gregg Thompson is the President of Bluepoint Leadership Development (bluepointleadership.com).
How to Get the Right Things Done
By Julie Diamond
The last decade is a strong contender for the title “the decade of dubious leadership.” From the handling of Katrina to the collapse of the banking system, it was a disastrous decade for leadership. Ironically, it was also a decade during which more was written on leadership than ever before. I’m hoping for a better decade of leadership, and here are my top five leadership trends I’d like to see take off in the coming years.
1. Good-enough leadership.
Enough with excellence. We may be better off with “good-enough leadership.” Our infatuation with leaders and celebrities smacks of feudalism and might even be at the root of leadership failures. When we overestimate high rank, we don’t see those above us as needing help, dependent, or fallible. So, rather than feeling it’s our responsibility to help leaders, we hold them to an impossible standard of behavior and, when a lapse occurs, attribute the fault to an abuse of power rather than to their human fallibility. This deification of leadership is bad for organizations and bad for democracy. It furthers the idea that change happens from above and serves as a disincentive for others to step forward to lead and serve. And, when leaders buy into their own deification, they keep themselves isolated and out of touch with what’s happening. Good- enough leadership recognizes leaders’ limitations, fallibility, need for help, and dependence on those below. Leaders can be only as good as the followers they develop.
2. Better followership.
This is the flip side of #1, above. Subordinates are just as crucial to the success of an organization as the leader. The higher up you go in an organization, the more dependent you are on those below for getting work done. Information is filtered to you through subordinates who are trying to curry your favor, compete for your job, and preserve their good name. Fostering better followership should be job #1 for any leader. The subordinate’s responsibility is to be honest and direct with the boss, to know and relate to the boss’s working style, expectations, and style of communication, and, above all, to let the boss know what’s happening, not only problems and failures but successes as well.
3. Be a leader with limits.
Sustainability is the buzzword of the decade. When we think about sustainability, we tend to think about recycling and carbon emissions but not about our bodies. Work-life balance is a sustainability issue; knowing our bodies’ limits, attending to fatigue, and factoring our energy into the bottom line should be the next big thing in the green revolution. If we closed a crucial deal but got sick in the process, what did we accomplish? Our bodies are like the canary in the coal mine: fatigue, fear, hesitation, and uncertainty are important signals that can help us create more-sustainable leadership practices for ourselves and for the people we lead.
4. Leading means learning.
Studies show that the most effective workplace learning doesn’t happen in a classroom, on a computer screen, or even at an expensive off-site but through interaction, relationships, and informal mentoring. In other words, learning happens all the time, day by day, minute by minute. We know that the single biggest cost to an organization is finding and growing talent. Learning is a serious business, and the competitive advantage goes to the organization that recognizes and leverages implicit learning. What is the role of the leader in this? The role of the leader is to model that learning and to foster others’ desires to learn in the workplace.
5. Be nice.
We’re inundated with research that shows the impact of positive emotions and a pleasant atmosphere on productivity and employee retention. A study in the Harvard Business Review (June 2005), “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools,” found that likeability is so key in the workplace that people are more likely to ask help from someone who is likeable than from someone who is competent. The quality of interaction with our immediate boss and co-workers is cited as the single most important reason behind voluntary turnover and is linked positively to employee engagement, morale, and performance. Finally, recent research that emotions are contagious, that people mimic facial expressions and synchronize their moods with others, makes the value of niceness even greater. And leaders are more emotionally “contagious” than others. It’s not rocket science, it’s something we all feel and know intuitively, but now research is validating our intuitions: the better the mood, the greater the level of collaboration, and the greater the results achieved. People who get on well get more done in less time and with less cost.
What would you like to see in the next decade?
When Not to Delegate
By Sean Silverthorne
One of the accepted rules of 21st-century managers is that we must delegate. Empower your troops closest to the customer to make crucial decisions. Give them the chance to show what they’ve got.
But I wonder if we sometimes overdo this wise advice, expecting that redirecting a job is as easy as changing the channel with a remote. Are we setting up middle managers for failure when we hold them accountable for decisions they aren’t prepared to make? Are we handing off responsibilities that should stay with us? Harvard Business Review blogger Whitey Johnson had similar thoughts recently and developed three reasons you shouldn’t delegate.
I’ll summarize her three rules and add one of my own.
Don’t delegate when:
- The task has not been thought through. If you can’t explain the task and the goals in concrete terms, then you have more work to do before handing it off to someone else to accomplish.
- You are the best person for the job. If it’s something you know well and can add real value to, do it yourself.
- You could learn from making the decision yourself. The best learning comes from doing, so don’t shortchange your own development by letting others take your place.
I think there is a fourth reason not to delegate:
You can’t find someone to reward. Delegating a responsibility should be considered an honor for the recipient, a time to practice what they have learned and create a real accomplishment. If no one on your team buys into the responsibility you are bestowing or has shown enough skill to deserve a chance, the job should remain on your plate.
Looking back on your own advancement, did you ever delegate a job that came back to bite you? On the flip side, did a boss give you a responsibility that became a real career-enhancer?