Once you have established Coherence in your leadership, knowing who you are, how you want to lead and what you want to accomplish, the next step is coming to know and harness the “fuel” for performance. This “fuel” is inherent in each of us and as leaders we can use it to drive our own performance and to foster a culture that allows our teams to do the same.
That fuel is Challenge. We are wired to rise to and overcome challenges. Challenge is THE key ingredient for growth and innovation both personally and corporately. One of my favorite sayings (okay I have a LOT of favorite sayings) is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” This is really another way of saying that challenge leads to innovation.
We Are Hard Wired For It
It is not hard to find this in our DNA. How many activities did we do as kids, whether they were actual challenges or not, that we turned into challenges. The games we play, the sports we participate in and yes even the work we do. How many things do we turn into challenges because it makes the “doing” of that thing more fun and rewarding? We have corporate challenges, volunteer challenges, food bank challenges, read-a-thons, jump-a-thons and the list goes on and on.
We don’t have to just compete against others either to create challenge. Personal performance or goals form a large part of how we grow. Intrinsically we will measure our growth over time whether it is in our academics, our height, our weight, our skills and even our status. Things like when we completed high school, got our license, got a car, started dating, started a family, bought a house, got that raise or promotion and well you get the picture. Psychologists call this resilience, biologists call it adaptation but whatever the label Challenge is fundamental to growth and performance.
For those of us familiar with farm life or who have witnessed this at school as part of a project you know that when you are hatching chicks or ducklings you cannot help the chick or duckling out of its shell. The struggle or challenge to free themselves is a necessary first step to survival.
Discovering Our Strengths
It is through challenge that we come to understand our strengths and abilities. It is the reason that a good education will expose us to a number of experiences so that through the process of experimenting with these things we find our natural abilities. Our understanding of those abilities will ultimately (hopefully) lead us to professions that give us an environment to express and run in those strengths. You have them as a leader and you must recognize and foster the strengths on your team as well.
Rage Against The Norm
All businesses and organizations are based on Challenge. Yet in spite of that reality often that challenge is not translated down or out through its various components. This results in teams of employees who are not challenged and as such not engaged. In case you are wondering – this is actually the norm. (See, we all want to know where we stand against the competition.) Gallup gauges engagement in North America at around 33%. And yes, this is not performance and leaders should rage against that norm.
How Do I Create Challenge?
Now you may be a leader or are going to be a leader and I am sure at this point you are wondering; “how do I create challenge?” This is what we are going to explore next. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
I have coached many leaders and folks moving into leadership roles. Some have a natural bent toward leading and some are less clear about it. Most though, have never given leadership much thought at all.
Who Am I?
The first step then in becoming a comfortable leader is developing an understanding of who you are, how you want to lead and what you want to accomplish in that role. I call this Coherence. Coherence is crucial to developing leaders because most people simply assume that when you arrive in a leadership role your experience and knowhow will be enough to ensure success. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Who Was Your Best Leader?
Good leaders are comfortable in their own skin. What I mean by that is that they have a pretty clear understanding of who they are and what style of leadership works for them. Often this understanding has come through our experiences with leaders we have had. We can all reflect on the leaders we flourished under and on the leaders that were a nightmare. Often those experiences serve to push us in certain directions in terms of what kind of leadership style we want to use or not use.
While this may serve as a foundation for our approach to leadership often it is subconscious in nature. What we need to do is explore in a deliberate sense how we view leadership in terms of what traits and qualities make a good leader. This is important because we need to be clear about what kind of a leader we want to be and what that looks like on a day to day basis. President Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk in which was inscribed the phrase “The Buck Stops Here.” It was for him a reminder of the kind of leader he wanted to be and how he would approach each issue.
Some people have a favorite painting or quote from a book that they keep nearby so that they can stay centered on the kind of leader they want to be. Whatever the case may be a good leader knows what works for them and stays with that approach. This is the first phase in Coherence.
What Do You Want To Accomplish?
The second phase is relative to the role you are taking on. If the first is knowing HOW you want to lead, then the second step is knowing WHAT you want to accomplish. What is it that you see need to be done in that position? Some of that will be set by company goals and objectives and those are paramount. But you should be able to look at that position and have a clear idea of a broader set of objectives for it. I call it vision.
Vision is critical to comfortable leadership. It becomes the rudder that keeps you on course when all the unexpected things come your way in the day to day rush of your work. It helps you fight through the noise of the “tyranny of the urgent” and stay focused on the important tasks and objectives. It becomes a touchstone when you are not sure about the next step or how to deal with a situation. You can ask the question; “does this advance progress toward our goals or inhibit it?”
The Consistency of Cohesion
Cohesion then is a key to comfortable leadership. It helps you remain consistent in your leadership choices and direction. This is something your team will come to appreciate and rely on. It will give them confidence in their work and decision making because they will know your style and expectations.
A Comfortable Choice
Herb Kelleher of founder Southwest Airlines demonstrated this type of coherence one time when a customer wrote him a letter to complain about a flight attendant who was making jokes during the pre-flight safety talk. Herb wanted employees with a sense of humor and they hired people who could display that as he felt that having fun was a key to customer experience at Southwest. He wrote a short response back and cc’d the flight attendant who was the focus of the complaint. His response? “Thank you for sharing your concern. I hope you find satisfaction with another carrier.” Herb knew how he wanted to lead, how he wanted his staff to lead and his response was entirely consistent with his approach.
Leadership is wrought with challenges and pitfalls. As leaders knowing yourself, your leadership style and what you want to accomplish. Coherence is key to overcoming these issues. You won’t ever need to second guess yourself and neither will your team. You both will thrive because of it. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
I wonder how many will look at this title and think to themselves “I don’t want to be a comfortable leader I want to be an awesome leader!” If you are in leadership or moving into leadership, like all of us, that is the sentiment you should have. But like so many other things in our society there is an expectation of instant gratification and instant attainment. We like the stories of the overnight successes and we have come to believe that the same should be true too for leadership. The reality is that growth as a leader comes in baby steps and becoming comfortable as a leader is the first step to becoming the awesome leader you want to be.
Dealing with Doubt
The reality is that overnight successes are rarely that. They are the culmination of years of hard work, trial and error and most of all perseverance. The truth is that many of us are not comfortable leaders. We suffer from “imposter syndrome,” that nagging doubt that we are only playing the role of leaders and that if people really examined our leadership closely they would know we are frauds. We focus only on the things we feel confident about and so often what that means is we can generate awesome reports or studies, manage the paperwork and so on but struggle internally to master the soft skills around managing performance of the people on our teams.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Some folks will compensate for these feelings through bluster and bragging. Some (many) will compensate by using promotion as a means to distance oneself from dealing with staff and becoming “paper busy.” (I have seen supervisors who are just a door down from an Operations Center who never set foot in that room.) And some will try one approach or another looking for ways to find balance in their leadership. Whatever the case may be, comfortable with their leadership, many people are not.
A New Skill Set
To be fair it is not your fault. We live in a digital era that is governed by industrial revolution era leadership models. What does this mean? Companies are set up to bring people in because of their technical skills and when they reach the top of their pay band or grade the only option left to giving them a raise is to promote them into leadership. The net result is someone gets moved from a place of technical expertise to a position requiring an entirely different set of skills, leadership skills.
How Do We Prepare Leaders?
Typically, the only training or preparation for this role is the example set by the person who previously held that position. (Let that sink in for a minute.) Many companies spend a lot of time working on issues around succession planning at the C – Suite and Executive leadership levels yet give little thought to similar processes for leadership at other levels.
It is true too that companies now have started utilizing leadership training programs to help in this process yet fail to connect the program with the objectives of the company and the actual needs of its leaders. For many it is a prerequisite to take a leadership course as part of moving into leadership but these courses are often only an HR version of “pencil whipping,” a checklist to say that it has been complied with.
How much thought has gone into helping that new leader understand the company goals and objectives? Or how many get training on dealing with that difficult employee (and we all have them) who will rob them of time and energy? Do they show them how to know they have had a good day or that their team has had a good day? Have they received grounding in knowing the core components of leadership?
These are the things we are going to explore for the next while on to how to become a comfortable leader. These tools are not new or necessarily unique but they are effective. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
I want to finish our exploration of the P Factor by drilling down a bit on the issues that Millennials and other post Boomer demographic groups say are important for engagement. In going over the research for these issues there are some notable things that stand out. Perspectives that are truly unique markers of the post Boomer groups.
The Need for Active Management
The need for active management ranks as a top driver for engagement. Whereas in the past one might have been able to take the position “here is your desk, I will let you know if you are not performing.” Today’s employees expect their managers to be actively involved in having their performance managed. These demographic groups have been nurtured in a much more collaborative setting in school and college and look to their managers to be actively involved in improving their performance.
While some may see this as a problem, it really is not. Managers are being invited to collaborate with staff around performance. This is really an opportunity for those confident enough to take up the challenge. There is a lot of room for growth here too as Gallup has found that only 21% of employees see their managers as being actively involved with them in this regard.
The Need for Vision
This has always been an issue for leadership in most companies. What is crucial in our current setting is that we are entering an era of intense competition for talent. Companies that don’t have a clear vision for their organization, who are not communicating this well and who are not getting employees excited about being a part of that journey are going to fail to compete for those top level employees. Leadership teams must be clear on the vision and brand of the company and they must communicate it and then communicate it again and lastly they must communicate some more and maybe a bit differently too.
The Need for Understanding
The demographic groups that companies are competing for have at their core an underlying dissonance. As a whole they are far more apt to change jobs and companies than previous generations but their rationale for this is driven by a need to find greater job stability and security. While those two concepts may seem at odds with each other (high mobility and the need for security and stability) what it really means is that they won’t “settle for second best.” Perhaps this is a reflection of the affluence that many of them were raised in but nonetheless they see life as too short to waste time in a company where they don’t perceive a good “fit.”
What that “fit” looks like is where companies need to develop understanding. This group want to work where they have the ability to do what they do best. That is to operate in their areas of strength and where they feel they are contributing. They want a greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing. With regard to this they don’t find it strange at all of companies to sponsor and yes at times pay for work around special projects or social issues. Connected to that they want to work for a company with a great brand or reputation. Part of that sense of wellbeing is the knowledge that the company they work for does “good things” for the community or corporately.
An Untapped Opportunity
To sum things up, while it would appear that these demographic groups come with a unique set of perspectives. What this really represents is a tremendous opportunity for leaders and managers to tap into this potential. The work force and the face of work is going to change because of this and I suspect for the better. It also will give you as leaders the opportunity to truly engage your leadership around meaningful performance management and cultural enhancement that you may find surprisingly satisfying. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
We have been exploring the P Factor (people factor) or how we function as humans and leaders in a digital environment. We have places that make people work like machines. We have places that have machines replacing people – witness the rise of digital order takers at various fast food chains. But how do you get people to work and perform like people? And why is this important?
In a word; demographics. Boomers are heading into retirement, Xers, Nexters and Millennials are moving into the work place and the reality is that these demographic groups are much smaller than the boomers. What this means is that there will be increasing stress on companies to attract and retain good employees. Business competitiveness will now be as much of a function of staffing as it is about strategic or financial acumen.
Who is Looking?
Gallup’s latest offering “The State of the American Workplace” highlights both the problems and solutions that come with this new reality. At a time when the labor market is going to become increasingly competitive research is showing that over 51% of people are actively looking for new jobs. Let that sink in for a minute.
What do you need to do retain your staff? You need to engage them. Here is a quick snapshot from the Gallup findings; the top quartile companies in terms of employee engagement see up to 59% lower turnover than their counterparts. They also have 70% fewer safety incidents, 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales and 21% higher profits. That is what engagement gets you.
So what does this new demographic want? What will keep them with you? They want work that lets them work in their areas of strength. They want more flexibility in the work place in terms of things like flex time, working from home and pursuit of professional and personal growth. And they want a workplace that is authentic and leadership that is willing to coach them.
Making Technology Work For You
In short Millennials have decided to make the technology work for them not the other way around. They want to use technology to give them flexibility around work life balance. If you have to be connected during off hours or on vacation, then why not take that thinking a step further and actually get to work at home or away from the office?
One really neat thing that Millennials are looking for is paid time to work independently on a project of their choosing. Remember our discussion around the satisfaction of accomplishment? This is one way this group chooses to deal with it; work on a project (that could be related to a company need or just a social need the company supports) in which they get to experience the satisfaction that comes with creating something meaningful in an analog way.
Tapping Into A Different Mindset
There are a number of issues that Gallup has identified that really differentiate Millennials from the other demographic groupings and I want to explore that in the next few blogs. Let me leave you with a teaser about what ramping up engagement can mean to your bottom line.
When looking at total Earned value Per Share (EPS) when comparing results from 2011-2013 and 2014-2015 here is what Gallup found.
-Publicly traded organizations that received the Gallup Great
Workplace Award experienced 115% growth in EPS, while their
competitors experienced 27% growth over the same time period.
-The actual EPS of the best-practice organizations grew at a rate
that was 4.3 times greater than that of their competitors.
-The best-practice organizations in the study had 11 engaged
employees for everyone actively disengaged employee. At
the start of their engagement journey, these organizations had
an average of two engaged employees for every one actively
disengaged employee. Gallup – “State of the American Work Place” 2017
What are the pieces that leaders need to understand in order to drive this kind of engagement and these kinds of results? We will look at this more closely in the next blog. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
Perhaps the greatest motivator for success is the satisfaction that comes with achievement. A sense of accomplishment is a truly “analog” experience and something that can be elusive in this digital age. When we think of the “experience” of accomplishment we see this reflected in advertising and other media as the sense a craftsman gets from creating a well-made piece of furniture, knitting that sweater and so on. To capture that feeling we often harken back to pre-industrial times where satisfaction and accomplishment came from what we did with our hands and skills.
Finding Our Way
I use commercials a lot because I believe they are a reflection of what is prevalent in our society or what is longed for. One of my favorites had a potent combination of images and music where the song that was being sung spoke about “finding my way home.” What was interesting were the images of a woman manning a loom, a mechanic standing at his bench, a woman in front of her tractor, a boy skateboarding and a girl skipping rope. All images of accomplishment and with that accomplishment a sense of satisfaction. It was a brilliant commercial and I believe it taps into a deep seated need.
Are We Repeating The Same Mistakes?
Is it possible that we are repeating the excesses of the industrial revolution in the digital revolution? As a student of history I know that much of the excess of the industrial revolution was about the move from craftsmanship to the assembly line. From a pastoral setting and pace to the hectic race to keep up with the machines. Workers, often entire families – women and children included – lived a stones throw from the factory that owned their house, provided their food and kept them at work often 18 hours a day! Those conditions were brought about by an idea that the worker had to keep up to what the machine could do.
Gone was the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that came with it. People were simply parts of the larger assembly line that pumped out products that they could neither appreciate or afford.
Rise Of The Machines
Much like the industrial revolution the digital revolution has created an environment where we must keep pace with the machines. What are the issues we are grappling with today? Should you turn your phone off when you are not at work? Do you have time to take a vacation? (Yes statistics show that vacations are on the decline.) Even more alarming is when you do take “time off” you are still connected to work!
Ask someone what they do they can give you a job title but few can point to a product. Is it any wonder then that we long for the experience of “accomplishment” and the satisfaction that comes with it? Are we any less constrained by the “digital” machines than we were by the steel ones?
Can Millennials Lead The Way?
Next blog we will look at how the Millennials have come up with some solutions to this need and how we as leaders can help our teams tap back into that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Yes, these thing are not only possible but are vital components of the P factor. Performance Leadership – Think About it!
I have spent the last month conducting research on leadership and training around leadership. You can imagine that this is a big field and currently growth numbers in this industry segment are in the double digits. There is an increasing need for training around leadership and my research was about the “why” of this need. Put simply; why is this need increasing? Why are companies choosing to invest more in this area? Why are people in general spending more time on their own looking at this issue? I am going to “chunk” this into several bite sized blogs of 400-600 words each and share with you what I see as the key component of this trend and what its subcomponents are.
A clue came to me this week in an article written by Simon Jenkins of the Guardian. The title of his article is “We’re over the digital revolution. This is the age of experience.” In his article he writes about the resurgence of things like Ektachrome film for cameras, vinyl records, printed books and a host of activities centered around experiences and technology long since considered passé.
I saw the key statement of his article as this one; “Only fools would deny digital its recent and astonishing history, but that is different from how people feel about it.” It struck me because I had recently taken a group through leadership training and we discussed that humans are “analog” creatures in a digital age. Is it any wonder then that we should seek out “analog” experiences that we can better connect with at a human level?
I was watching a pretty well-known commercial the other day and I was struck by the same sentiment Jenkins speaks to in his article. You may recognize the commercial where a bearded and weathered traveler speaks of walking the sands of a 1000 beaches until he found this one. He turns to his fellow traveler to ask “And you friend, how did you find this paradise?” Her response is “Oh I used XYZ program and just looked it up.” “How long did that take you?” the experienced traveler asks. “Oh about 30 seconds” comes the reply, to which we zoom to the experienced traveler wheezing in astonishment.
Of course this is a rough paraphrase of this commercial but I found the whole thing unsettling. What I realized was that I would rather have the “experience” of the journey of a thousand beaches than the “30 seconds” of online searching. And there is the rub. We are humans who live in a digital age. There is so much we have gained because of it but we are only just waking up to what we may be losing; our humanity.
Leadership in this digital age is wrought with challenges; changes in information that now comes at blistering speeds. Challenges to keep up with the machines we created to make our lives so much better. The need to sift through mountains of data in order to locate leading indicators instead of lagging ones so that we can stay ahead of the pack. And lastly knowing how to lead our groups, teams or companies in that kind of environment.
How do you lead what are analog beings in a digital age? How can you account for the P factor – the People factor? I propose that successful leadership in this age involves leaders who know how to activate and utilize the People factor. How do you activate the P factor with your team? That is what we will explore next. Performance Leadership – Think About It!