Latest "Leadership Development" Posts
Practicing Leadership Daily
During our mid-year face-to-face retreat with Leaders Ought To Know® client Helena Chemical, we heard an interesting statement. We were asking the group what they thought about developing leadership skills. A person in sales management said something that was simple, but profound. He said, “The more you think about leadership, the more you find yourself practicing it daily.”
The comment is such a gem of truth that it is worth repeating. The more you think about something, the more you find yourself acting on it. In other words, the mental exercise of contemplating something, whether it is a particular leadership skill or anything else, energizes the actual results that you achieve.
This truth contains two learnings that are important.
In my last blog I told the story of my first mentor when I was a seventh grade kid in rural North Carolina. I didn’t find Barry Wheeler; he found me, and I’m grateful that he did. Since then I’ve come to understand the value of having a mentor, wherever I am in my career, and so I’ve made it my business to make sure there is someone in my life that I see as my mentor. Sometimes that person may know that I view them as a mentor; sometimes they may not. Whether the relationship with your mentor is formal or less so, the important thing is that you have one.
How to Start a Mentor Relationship
How does one go about finding and starting a mentor relationship? Perhaps these suggestions will help.
A recent article on mashable.com reminded me of the value of mentor relationships in our lives.
My first mentor was a fellow named Barry Wheeler. I was a seventh grader in Brasstown, North Carolina where there was no brass and no town. It was an isolated, rural community with a post office and a general store. Barry was a school teacher who taught special education students. From Barry Wheeler I learned why mentor relationships are so valuable.
Like millions of people, I made the mistake of reading the newspaper this morning. Staring at me from above the fold were titillating headlines grabbing my attention and leading me deeper into depressing stories of leadership failures. Stories of professional athletes exercising bullying tactics to intimidate and toughen up fellow teammates; elected officials openly buying and using illicit drugs; and yes, leaders at the highest levels recanting under pressure, saying that what they said is not really what they meant, even though they’d repeated it again and again. Unfortunately, this crisis of leadership confidence exists in all areas of our lives — so what can we as individual leaders do about it?
Why Leaders Should De-Brief
There is a lot of evidence available to support the wisdom and value of investing necessary time, effort and energy in the pre-planning of any worthwhile task or activity. Pausing long enough to consciously and thoroughly think through the process, including the anticipation of required steps, phases and alternatives, can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure in any endeavor.
In fact, it has been suggested by time management gurus that for every unit of time (i.e., minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, etc.) spent in planning a particular activity, upwards of four times that amount of time can be expected to be saved during the implementation phase of those plans. In other words, if we spend a measly fifteen minutes poring over atlases and maps, carefully predetermining our vacation driving route through unfamiliar terrain, we can reasonably expect to save an hour or more that might otherwise have been lost due to road construction and congestion, wrong turns, dead ends and having to stop to ask for directions. For those of us who, so far, have refused to surrender our pioneer spirit by becoming GPS-dependent (is it just me and my Kentucky/Daniel Boone roots or what?), such focused pre-planning serves as a key ingredient in a more enjoyable journey.
I was in the midst of developing and presenting a months-long, comprehensive leadership and customer service training initiative for the management team of the Ocala (FL) Police Department, when I received an unsolicited call from Captain Jack Suess (pronounced “cease”). The call went something like this:
Capt. Suess: “Phil, I’ve been talking with the Chief about the training you’re leading for our agency. We were thinking that since you’ve never worked as a cop that you might be interested in seeing how law enforcement really works from the inside out. Understanding what we really do might be helpful to you in offering unique perspectives and even additional applications for the training concepts you’re sharing with us.”
Van Hooser: “I certainly would be interested. What do you have in mind?”
Capt. Suess: “We’re in the final stages of an investigation that has been underway for several weeks. Our undercover people have surveillance information concerning two juveniles and a known convicted felon who we know to be actively selling crack cocaine out of one of the public housing complexes. These guys are known to be armed and dangerous. They are also street smart and unpredictable. It’s critical that we get them off the streets before they hurt someone. We’re in the final planning stages of a S.W.A.T. operation that is scheduled to take place tomorrow night. Would you like to ride along with me as an observer?”
My pulse quickened at Capt. Suess’ suggestion. Was it fear, trepidation, uncertainty? I didn’t really know and there wasn’t much time to figure it all out. Having to real idea of what I was getting myself into, I heard myself ask meekly…
Van Hooser: “Are you sure I won’t be in the way?”
Capt. Suess: “Absolutely not! We will be glad to have you along. And don’t worry, you will be perfectly safe.”
Van Hooser: “Worried? Do I seem worried?” I asked, as I laughed nervously.
As scheduled, the following day at noon I arrived at the Ocala Police Department headquarters where I found Capt. Suess waiting. I was quickly ushered into a briefing that was already underway. In the room were a dozen or more uniformed officers, two plain clothes officers–a policeman and policewoman, a representative from the State Attorney’s office and the Chief of Police himself.
For the next 45 minutes or so, I listened as the group discussed detailed plans for apprehending the suspects. They carefully evaluated the intelligence they had and matched that intelligence with the best time, place and manner to make the arrests. Significant time and attention was spent considering the safest and most efficient approach for all concerned–the officers, the local residents, potential bystanders, even the suspects themselves.
As I watched and listened intently to the goings-on in front of me, I had to remind myself that this was not some sort of reality show. It was no show at all. It was reality! In front of me were professionals of the highest order, in the midst of planning and strategizing how to do a difficult job assigned them in the most judicious manner.
Once the meeting adjourned, I headed out to the driving range with my host where I watched the group practice rolling stops and vehicle evacuations. Every stop was timed and rated. No detail was too minor for consideration.
The balance of that afternoon and evening was spent in equally impressive practice and careful preparation for the planned activities of the evening ahead. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.
Finally, by 10:00 p.m.–a full 10 hours after I had joined the planning process–everyone and everything was in place. I won’t attempt to provide a blow-by-blow description of the events of the evening. Once the action started there were screeching tires, screaming sirens, shouts and arrests–luckily, there were no shots fired. Simply put, the plan was initiated and the intended arrests were made. From an organizational standpoint, the plan worked and the bad guys were soon behind bars.
I must admit, it was an exhilarating experience, one I won’t soon forget. However, I must also admit that as we drove back into the police department parking lot at about 11:30 p.m., I was more than ready to call it a day. As I exited the patrol car, I stepped around and extended my hand to Capt. Suess. He just looked at me.
“Thank you for including me in all this. It’s been a very valuable day for me. I’ve learned a lot,” I said.
“You’re not free to go just yet,” Capt. Suess said matter-of-factly, without accepting my hand. “We still have the operation de-brief to attend to. Follow me,” he said, as he turned and headed for the administration building. My options being limited, I did as I was told.
I followed Capt. Suess back into the briefing room where the day had started for me almost 12 hours earlier. There we found most of the officers who had been engaged in the operation of the evening, already assembled. For the next 20 minutes or so, I listened to the roundtable conversation as it centered on specific answers to a handful of questions.
As I listened intently to the discussion around me, a professional reality soon settled over me. I realized that I had worked as a manager in corporate America for the better part of 10 years. I had been engaged in the planning and implementation of innumerable plans and projects during that period of time. However, in that briefing room on that evening I realized for the first time that I had never before been involved in any sort of de-briefing AFTER the operation had been concluded. As interesting as the previous 11+ hours had been, those last few minutes provided me the tidbit that would allow me to be a better leader and communicator from that point forward.
That night I learned the power of the de-brief. Since that night I have been sharing the lessons I learned there with my management audiences by way of 6 questions. Consider these 6 questions carefully. First, ask yourself how often you have used each in the past. Second, ask yourself how valuable they might be should you start using them now. Of course, to yield positive benefit each question needs to be asked openly, answered honestly and acted upon accordingly.
The 6 questions are:
- What did we do well?
- What did we do poorly?
- Who should be acknowledged publicly for their superior performance?
- Who should be redirected privately for their sub-par performance?
- What have we learned from this operation?
- What should we change before the next one?
We all recognize the power that resides in proper planning. But, as has been said before by others, feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
How many times in your role as leader have you experienced a clashing of attitudes or ideas with one of your followers or even another employee? How often are you called in to mediate or resolve situations where people just don’t see eye to eye on an issue? It happens frequently, doesn’t it? And if you’re like most people, you find these situations uncomfortable and full of emotional minefields.
As leaders, we recognize that problems like these need to be addressed, but so many of us hate and therefore avoid the confrontation we know needs to take place. We say things like, “this will only make matters worse.” “I’m not sure I can control my emotions.” “Maybe if I give it some time, the issue will resolve itself.” Do any of these sound familiar? Probably so. Unfortunately, it is at best, wishful thinking.
Knowing how to successfully manage a confrontation is a skill that all leaders need in their toolkit. If you’ve been avoiding confrontation for fear of doing more harm than good, consider equipping yourself with these techniques for managing the situation effectively.
How to Manage a Confrontation
1. Prepare yourself in advance. Clearly determine the cause for the confrontation. Are you addressing a performance issue, an unacceptable attitude or perhaps a safety issue? Also determine the purpose or the goal for the confrontation. What do you want the confrontation to achieve? How do you want to be perceived after the confrontation? With these answers in mind, it will be easier to stay on target during the confrontation.
2. Do not procrastinate if a confrontation is necessary. Many leaders try to convince themselves that the problem with work itself out or dissipate if left alone. Putting off what needs to be addressed allows more time for emotions to grow and frustrations to fester. The reality is that bad news does not get better with time.
3. Avoid extreme emotional involvement. Never initiate a confrontation when you are emotionally charged. This is difficult, but that is why preparing yourself in advance is so important.
4. Choose carefully the time and place for the confrontation. Go behind closed doors if possible. Confrontation in front of an audience invites embarrassment and offers undue opportunities for “emotional performances.” Consider timing the confrontation at the end of the work day. This gives the other person an easy exit for cooling off and considering the issue.
5. Work to determine the other person’s driving needs. Try to evaluate the issue from their vantage point.
6. Willing accept some measure of responsibility for the situation – admit fault if you are to blame in part or in total.
7. Allow the other person time to vent. Remember, you have had the advantage of sorting through your emotions before initiating this confrontation. Give the other person the same opportunity.
8. Zero in on the problem, not the person. Positive confrontation focuses on the problem. Negative confrontation focuses on the person. Frame the conversation in terms of specific expectations for future performance. Encourage feedback regarding alternative solutions or approaches for managing the issue.
You may not find a solution immediately. You may never completely agree on the issue. But a leader’s responsibility is to address difficult issues and ensure steps are taken to work toward a mutually agreeable solution. It’s hard work – and something that leaders ought to know.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
Recently a reader posed a sensitive scenario that often proves conflicting for organizational leaders. In essence the reader asked, “How long is too long for an organization to accommodate for an employee’s personal crisis, such as the illness and death of a family member?”
By accommodations, I mean time off, flexible work schedules, and reduction of job responsibilities. In this scenario, the crisis has lingered for two years. Performance appraisals indicate the employee has and continues to perform below expectations. The dilemma is this: How does a supervisor, in a sensitive manner, lead an employee in this situation to a) improve performance; b) accept a lesser role with the company; or c) move away from the company?
Certainly, few leaders want to be thought of as cold and insensitive in a situation like this one. It’s a precarious dilemma. The pain and emotional suffering that is certain to have been experienced by an employee is something that none of us ever want to face. Organizational leaders that work to ease the pressure of situations like this are to be commended. Frankly, in this day and time, I fear most simply wouldn’t make such an effort to accommodate an employee for an extended period of time. They would have either determined that they couldn’t–or wouldn’t–justify the sacrifices on the part of the organization.
But, the fact remains that more is now expected of the employee and the employee knows it. Can the employee rise (return) physically, emotionally and intellectually to the level of performance necessary and required by this position? At this point, no one really knows–not even the individual. But, for the good of the organization and all who are vested in its success, the organization is within its rights to expect more than has been realized over the past two years.
As a leader, have you faced a similar situation? Have weeks passed into months as you’ve avoided addressing the issue? Are your superiors, colleagues as well as your employees questioning your leadership, your fairness, your ability to be objective?
If this reader asked for your guidance, what would you suggest?
Here are some ideas to consider:
1. If the company offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), I suggest utilizing that service to identify an outside, professional counselor to assist the employee. There is no reason to know the substance of their discussions. However, it is fair to inform both the counselor and the employee that the end goal of their session(s) is one of the following options:
a) Eliminate all barriers (including emotional ones) that are currently preventing the employee from returning to the expected performance levels required of the position the employee currently occupies. Identifying specific standards of performance is appropriate and would be recommended.
b) Decide to step out of the current position and into another available position within the company that would accommodate the changes this employee may have experienced relative to professional mindset, performance, energy and commitment during the preceding two years.
c) Voluntarily abandon the position within the organization entirely and seek more suitable employment opportunities given the changes in perspective and priorities that the employee may have experienced.
2. I suggest a firm deadline be assigned to this counseling activity from the beginning of the process, as in, “We will expect your decision regarding what the future may hold for you here within the next 3 to 6 weeks” (or whatever period you think reasonably acceptable).
3. It should also be reinforced that regardless whether Option 1 or 2 is selected, future performance evaluations will be conducted to determine whether acceptable levels of performance are being met. If they are not, appropriate actions will be taken consistent with company policy regarding professional job performance.
These are certainly not easy or comfortable conversations to have with anyone, especially an employee who has been through so much. However, honesty and expediency are key here. The employee needs to hear the truth and needs to hear it ASAP. Any less would be unfair to the individual and to the integrity of the organizational process.
Great leadership is not easy and it’s not always clear-cut. But for those leaders who commit themselves to working through tough situations like this, a leadership reputation of fairness, honesty and integrity is the reward.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
It’s sad to say, but too many organizations around the world still don’t see the value of investing in the professional development of their most valuable resource—their people.
They ask short-sighted questions like, “Why would any organization invest resources, in times like these, developing leaders when there’s no guarantee that they’ll even stay with us?”
Or, how about this one: “What’s wrong with people today learning leadership the old-fashioned way, like I did — by the seat of the pants?”
Choosing to ignore the need for focused professional leadership development may appear to be an option for some organizations — just not the great ones. Companies like Proctor and Gamble, Nokia, Amway, Rockwell Collins, Capital One Financial and General Electric, to name a few, have long recognized the value — and profit — associated with developing leaders internally.
In an August 2010 article published in the Wall Street Journal, the author made the following points:
• Business layoffs and cutbacks in recent years have thinned the manager pipelines.
• Baby boomers who postponed retirement during the recession will soon start departing.
Too many organizations, for too long have turned a blind eye to the inevitable reality that their supervisors and managers were aging. Supervisors and managers you work with are beginning to vacate their leadership positions in droves. Unfortunately, too many organizations have done too little to address their succession planning needs in a practical way.
In other words, the need for more and better leaders is not just a future need — they are needed now.
An earlier article in FORTUNE magazine put it this way, “Your competition can copy every advantage you’ve got—except one. That’s why the best companies are realizing that no matter what business they’re in, the real business is building leaders.”
But, back to that earlier question: Why is leadership training even necessary?
First, there exists a dire need for more effective leaders in almost every business organization in the world. Second, employees and people of all kinds and cultures have a strong desire to follow — to be led. Finally, well trained leaders today can actually make a difference for the organizations they represent — a difference in profitability, a difference in productivity, a difference in on-time performance, a difference in employee engagement, even a difference in safety awareness.
These well trained leaders create a lasting difference by establishing a culture of leadership that is sure to permeate the organization and extend well beyond their time of individual service.
The success and viability of organizations in the future is quite literally being shaped today by the quality and capability of that organization’s leaders.
Not too long ago I was working on-site with a corporate client, conducting leadership training. An employee approached me and asked if we could talk. As soon as the conversation began, it became quite clear that the employee was terribly upset with his supervisor. For the next few minutes, he railed on about a mistake he believed his supervisor had made and how that perceived injustice was continuing to affect his performance in a negative way. He questioned how such a fundamental mistake, in his mind, at least, could have happened in the first place. Finally, in an exasperated tone, he ended his remarks to me with this statement:
“This person is in an important leadership position, and, well, leaders just ought to know better.”
“Leaders ought to know better.” Now there’s an interesting concept, I thought.
Let’s face the facts. Most of us were never formally trained to be a leader. Most of the managers and supervisors I know, initially earned their opportunity to be in a position of leadership because they were smart, hard working and really good at what they did before being promoted to a leadership position.
The engineer had a proven ability to analyze schematics in the search for inaccuracies, while the accountant was adept at interpreting the nuances of a balance sheet with relative ease. They were good at what they did because that’s what they had studied and trained to do. After years of hands-on experience their proven ability and performance had elevated them to a level of competence and visibility, thus earning them a positive reputation and recognition for the good they did.
Then one day their boss called this peak performer into her office and announced that she had good news. After much careful deliberation, it had been determined this person had earned the right to be promoted to the level of supervision or management. In other words, overnight this person was promoted to a position of leadership.
But, did that make them a leader? For far too many of us, that’s where the trouble begins.
The person was confident and capable in his or her ability read blueprints or to create an amazing spreadsheet, but far less sure about their ability to communicate group objectives effectively, to lead their new team through a process of consensual decision making or to successfully accomplish the dozens of other responsibilities expected of a leader daily.
This was all new territory. They hadn’t been trained for this. And add to the equation that from day one, the employees and individuals this newly minted leader had been tapped to lead were thinking, “Someone in an important leadership position like his or hers, well, they just ought to know better.”
That’s why we’re here – because there are some really important things that Leaders Ought To Know.
But we don’t want this to be a monologue on leadership – we consider it a conversation and we want you to join the exchange. Your insights will make the discussions more relevant and on point, so please share your questions, comments and perspectives at any time. Because Leaders Ought To Know…
Phillip Van Hooser
Founder & Concept Director