Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.

Words that speak

A few weeks ago, we looked at how much we reveal about ourselves through our unspoken messages. But that is not to say words aren’t important. They are. They’re really important. A poor choice of words can instantly switch people off and lose you their goodwill – or gain it. Your words can instantly irritate or create cooperation, help or hinder, confuse or clarify. You can choose words that are forceful or accommodating, impartial or emotive, clear or vague, courteous or challenging, depending on your purpose.
Whatever your purpose, you probably want to choose clear, positive and powerful words.
· Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk colours the way you think and the way you think shapes the way you act.
  • Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk influences the way others see you.
  •  Clear positive and powerful because they make what you say understandable, unambiguous and persuasive.
  • Clear positive and powerful because they can set a constructive tone to a conversation.
Choosing clear words isn’t as easy as it might sound. The 500 most commonly used English words have an average of 28 meanings each, which in part accounts for people understanding something quite different from what we mean. At any rate, clear words don’t include double-speak and they generally don’t include jargon (unless you’re talking to an expert, in which case, jargon can be very clear and precise).
Clear words are usually descriptive and specific; so rather than say you’ll send something, you can say you’ll post it, air mail it, courier it or scan and email it. You might want to say when you plan to do this, too. Or in a service situation, you might instruct staff not to ‘be polite to customers’ but to ‘make customers feel like special guests in our home’.
Positive words: here’s what we don’t want to hear:
  • You’ll have to fill out the form and send it back.
  • I can’t do that until Monday.
  • Don’t do that.
Negative gets people’s backs up. Positive brings a smile to their face:
  • You’ll want to fill out the form and send it back so that I can … for you.
  • I can do that on Monday for you.
  • Try it this way.
Much better, right?
Powerful words are strong. We know a strong word when we hear it and we know a weak word, too.
  • I may be able to do that.
  • It might work.
  • I’ll try to get to that soon.
  • I’ll see what I can do.
We lose all faith in speakers of weak words and we know they don’t even begin to mean what they say. Powerful words sink in and give you credibility.
So clear, positive and powerful words are the way to go. They’ll get you a lot more of what you want.
And here’s some icing for your cake: Choose words that the other person uses.
Using similar types of words and expressions that the person you’re speaking with uses makes your words hit home even more . These might be formal or informal, correct or colloquial. Use technical terms or long words when that’s what your conversational partner uses, or everyday terms or short words when these are more in harmony.
This works because people have a characteristic way of speaking, called an idiolect. They arrange words in certain ways and use certain styles of words and expressions. Harmonising your words with theirs puts you in synch because and makes it easier for people to understand you. Your message gets through loud and clear.
Choosing the right word and the right combination of words is essential, so choose your words with care.

Staying motivated yourself

It’s hard to ask your team to be motivated when you’re not. Whether it’s to do a task you dislike or start a conversation you’re not looking forward to, or you just need ‘energising’, leader-managers need to be able to motivate themselves in order to set the pace for others.

You need three things to be motivated:

  1. the desire to reach a worthwhile goal
  2. the commitment to put in the effort
  3. the self-confidence to take action.

Desire
Large or small, you need a clear goal to hold in your mind’s eye. How will you, and perhaps others too, benefit when you achieve it? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you locate your desire when you’re lacking motivation:

  • What positive outcome results from accomplishing this?
  • What good things result from doing this?
  • What happens if I don’t do it?
  • Why is it important that I do this?

When you’re searching for the motivation to tackle a task you dislike, try listing the major push factors (sticks) associated with the task. How can you turn them into pull factors (carrots)? Try changing your language: Instead of saying ‘I have to do this (groan)’, try saying ‘I want to do this because …’ Having to do something usually leads to half-hearted attempts while wanting to do something produces whole-hearted efforts and a better result. (Even this works, lame as it is: ‘I want to do this to get it out of the way and off my desk.’

Commitment
Are you committed enough to willingly put in the time and effort required to achieve your goal and to forgo something else in order to achieve it? For example, part-time study while working at a full-time job takes a lot of commitment. You may need to pass up many enjoyable personal, family and social activities in order to study or attend classes. How willing are you to put off short-term pleasures for long-term rewards?

Try mentally projecting yourself into the future and seeing yourself achieving your goal. Feel your success. Savour it. When your goal is a big one, break it down into a series of interim goals, or set dates and jot down a simple plan to get you moving.

Think about what might be stopping you from making a start or continuing to work towards your goal. What can you do to remove those barriers? For instance, it can be difficult to study in a noisy environment. What could you do to make it quieter? Could you study in a different environment, one more conducive to thought and concentration, or put on some headphones to deaden the noise and distractions around you?

Self-confidence
As you probably know, you need a reasonable expectation of success before you can attempt anything wholeheartedly. Do you believe you can achieve your goal? Do you have the skills? Do you need to organise any help or support? Think about your self-talk. When you’re giving yourself limiting, negative message that you can’t succeed, change them. The most important voice you’ll ever hear is your own.

 

Paint the picture

‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ (John Kennedy)

‘A computer on every desk in every home.’ (Bill Gates)

Every leader-manager, at every level, needs a clear vision, a picture of how we are when we’re doing our best work. You can’t avoid it if you want to engage your team.

Vision literally means ‘seeing’ and the best visions help people ‘see’ the ultimate results of their efforts.

Here you are, leading a team of toy makers. Which vision should you offer them:

  1. Our toys make wide-eyed kids laugh and proud parents smile.
  2. Our toys are enjoyed by all our customers.

Research found, not surprisingly, that vision number 1 encouraged significantly better performance.

When I lead meetings of leader-managers to develop a vision, I ask them to think of a day when every operation and every team is working optimally. Absolute perfection. A dream come true. Then I ask them to describe that day in these terms:

  • What am I seeing?
  • What am I hearing?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I saying?

They write it down and then share it with the others. Then we capture the key themes and develop a joint vision. The resulting visions are invariably amazing and they all paint a clear picture that can bring employees fully on board.

What is your clear, image-based vision that you use to bring people fully on board?

Six hot tips to balance your life

Whether you’re into work-life balance or work-life blending, here are six ways to help you achieve it.

  1. Have a purpose. What do you from life?You probably plan your holidays and even trips to the supermarket, so why not take the time to plan the most important event of all – your own life? A friend of mine spends every New Year’s Day at the beach with a pencil and notepad, updating her life plan. She writes all the words and phrases that describe her or that she would like to describe her. Then she selects themes and turns them into goals about the kind of person she wants to be and what she wants to achieve. And believe me, she achieves a lot and still manages to lead a well-balanced life.
  2. Work to your strengths.How do you like to learn and reach decisions? Are you a reader or a listener? Or maybe you prefer to talk it through or mull it over?
    What are your natural skills and inclinations? Numbers? Logical thinking? Coming up with great ideas? Seeing the big picture? Seeing the details?
    Are you a people person or a ‘Let’s get down to brass tacks’ person?Everyone has strengths. If you don’t know what yours are, ask a few people or monitor yourself and notice where and when you feel most comfortable, confident and competent. Once you know where your skills lie, you can concentrate on them and develop them further.
  3. Sort out your surroundings.Like strengths, we all have our own work style. What’s yours? Do you work best in a pressure-cooker or a stress-free environment?
    A structured or a flexible environment?
    With others or alone? If you like to work with others, in what relationship – a close-knit, mutually interdependent team, near people but as individual contributors, as a leader, as a follower?Once you know how you work best, you can seek out those situations and make your surroundings work for you.
  4. Concentrate on what’s important.My father used to say ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ But perfectionism can be a stressful struggle. Here’s what I think: Only jobs worth doing are worth doing well. Jobs that add value to your life by moving you further along the road to reaching your purpose are definitely worth doing well. Jobs that add value to your work role or your work team are worth doing well. They’re the ones to put your energy and effort into. The others – those that aren’t worthwhile – you can dump or delegate.
  5. Make some ‘Me Time’.It might be the gym, doing a jigsaw, going for a walk – whatever it is that clears your mind and makes you feel alive. Plan those activities into your day.Snatch little opportunities for Me Time, too. I used to work with a woman who closed her eyes for 15 minutes during her lunch break, not to sleep but to ‘chill’. The point is to take time out so you don’t burn out.
  6. Dump the grumps.Some people bring joy whenever they go while others bring joy whenever they go. Who do you bring joy to? Hopefully it’s people who line up with your purpose and are important to you.And who are the people who bring you joy whenever they go? They’re the ones to dump. Complainers, negative people in general, sap your energy,  block your fun and leave you unbalanced.

Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

Maslow’s hierarchy put to the test

You are no doubt familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s and old and much-loved theory that says we must satisfy our basic needs for food, sleep, shelter and so on, before we start trying to meet other needs. Once we’ve met our basic needs, we then seek safety and security. Once we feel safe and secure, we seek love and friendship. Once we feel loved and have enough friends, we seek self-respect and the respect of others. Then what Maslow called self-actualisation kicks in – we want to become the best that we can be. Finally comes self-transcendence, which is feeling part of the greater whole, wanting to serve and help others and so on.

Of course, we’re probably never fully satisfied at any level, but we need a comfortable level of satisfaction at one level before we can move onto the next one.

According to this fine theory of Maslow, we’re happier when we can meet our needs. When we can’t meet our needs, we’re not so happy. Now there’s a blinding flash of the obvious.

But is it true? Is there really a hierarchy of needs that everyone tries to meet?

The problem has always been that this is what’s called an ‘armchair theory’. In other words, Maslow sat in his chair in front of the fireplace, probably smoking a pipe or cigar since after all, it was 1943. And he thought, ‘Now then, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ Or rather, ‘Which comes first, food and shelter or the desire to reach your potential?’

Well, some psychologists at the University of Illinois set out to find out whether Maslow’s theory holds water. They tested it in 123 countries between 2005 and 2010.

The good news is, at least for people like me who have studied, taught and used the theory to bring out the best in people, is that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. Fulfilling the needs described in his hierarchy does indeed correlate with happiness: happy people are those whose needs are fulfilled.

To be specific, fulfilment of the lower order needs – food, shelter, friends – is closely linked to a positive evaluation of your life. Satisfaction of the higher order needs, – respect, self-actualisation and self-transcendence – is strongly related to enjoying your life. Bingo.

An interesting but maybe not so unexpected finding when you think about it, was that people seem to feel more positive about their own lives when those around them also have their needs met and feel positive about their lives. And we enjoy our lives more when those around us are enjoying their lives.

So go forth and help the people you lead and manage meet their needs. And make sure your job allows you to meet your needs, to. Especially the higher order needs.