May 18, 2011
As I was looking at my calendar for the next month, I began to feel a few knots in my stomach. It wasn’t the churn of stress or overwhelm (well, maybe just a little bit!). I’m actually looking forward to a number of training sessions, a retreat and a conference for my professional development. No, the knots were in anticipation of the energy that it will take for me to be “on” for each of the events. You see, as a life-long introvert, connecting with people at large events such as this (otherwise known as “networking”) has always taken a lot out of me physically.
If you are a student of personality types, you know that introverts can be described as reserved, reflective, and focused inward, and that we recharge our batteries from peace and solitude, not from being in large groups of people. So as I thought about my own schedule and how I will mentally and physically prepare myself for successful networking at each of my upcoming commitments, I thought that other leader-introverts could benefit from simple strategies that have helped me over the years. After all, one of a leader’s primary roles is to get work done through other people and to be a conduit of information for his/her team. As such, establishing effective relationships with others is a key skill. Mastering networking, even if it’s not your favorite activity, will go a long way towards boosting your leadership effectiveness.
The next time you think “networking” is a dirty word, change your perspective and think of it as an action verb and a habit. Here are some ideas to help you develop this habit:
- Well in advance of your next meeting, conference or other encounter with other people, think about the top 3 things that you want/need to know or the top 3 takeaways that you want from the meeting. If you need to, write these things down and take your list with you to your meeting. Slip your list in your pocket and peek at it periodically, memorize it, write it on your hand (kidding!) – do what you need to do to keep these 3 things in mind throughout the event. This tip keeps you focused on the reasons why you need to connect with others.
- Set a target for yourself of the number of new people who you want to meet at the event. Be realistic and bold at the same time. Really stretch yourself. For example, I know that if I don’t give myself a goal, I’m perfectly happy just talking to the person seated to my right at a meeting or conference! So for the upcoming conference that I’ll be attending, my goal is to meet at least 30 new people and to engage in more than the standard pleasantries with them. That may not be a big deal to an extrovert, but my fellow introverts know that this is no small feat!
- At the event, focus on other people, not yourself. As you meet people, be open to being a blessing to others – you might have a contact or other information that would be useful to someone at the meeting/conference. When you look for opportunities to meet other’s needs, your discomfort is lessened.
- Finally, be sure you are well rested prior to whatever event you will be attending – whether it is a two-hour meeting or two-day conference. It’s so much easier to remain positive and to enjoy working on your new habit when you feel good!
These 4 strategies have worked for me – what other ideas do you have?
February 2, 2011
There’s so much to know and learn when someone moves from being an individual contributor into the ranks of management. Part of navigating the new role includes establishing goals and plans for the unit, learning how to delegate, and motivating a team, to name a few. These tasks are all areas that new supervisors must master in order to be effective. However, there are three things that new supervisors can focus on to help them set a strong foundation as a successful supervisor.
Know your strengths – Our strengths are the tasks that we are naturally good at. They are the characteristics about which others regularly make positive comments. Often, we spend so much time focused on trying to fix our weaknesses that we lose sight of the really good qualities that we bring to the workplace. Effective supervisors take the time to identify these qualities and find ways to leverage their strengths every day. For example, if you are a natural communicator, use this strength to connect with a wide variety of people in the organization to learn more about the business or about other’s expectations of you as a manager. You can also use this strength to forge relationships with your team members to begin to form bonds of mutual respect and engagement.
Model a successful supervisor – While it’s important to be authentic, new supervisors often have so much they are learning that some of the pressure can be lifted by using the best approaches that other successful supervisors have used. These role models can be found in your past experiences or even in the current organization. Seeking out a mentor who can be a trusted advisor is a smart move for any employee, but especially for the new supervisor.
Face your challenges head on – Whether it is difficulties with resource allocation, productivity concerns or staff performance problems, it is critical that new supervisors confront their challenges head on and early in their tenure. Allowing problems to fester, simply because you are inexperienced in the particular issue or because it requires too much time, only makes matters worse. It will also label you as someone who can’t handle the pressures of the new role – not good! This is not the time to be timid or hesitant to ask for help!
New supervisors who take these three steps early in their tenure will have a jump start on a productive and successful career. Learn more about being a successful supervisor by registering for an online training series and coaching group that I will be leading, The Essential Skills for Any New Supervisor, which starts February 9.
January 24, 2011
I’ve discovered a new life lesson – When you don’t practice it shows. (It’s not really a new discovery – it’s just become more apparent lately!)
Here’s the context: I’m taking piano lessons – I’ve been at it for about 7 months now. Some of my friends have reminded me that it’s harder to learn a new skill like this when you are … past a “certain age”, but I poo-poo’d them and went about my lessons with all confidence. Besides, I told myself, I’ve always wanted to play and it’s in my genes since both my mom and several great aunts played and taught piano. Alas, the sad truth is I’m not very good. Why? Because I’m not naturally gifted with the ability to play and because I haven’t been practicing regularly. I have good intentions, but life gets in the way! When I have found (er, made) the time to practice, I find that I am more comfortable at the keyboard and the lesson goes much better! In my case, practice is not going to make me perfect, it will just make me more comfortable and perhaps make me a little better at playing. I think my other struggle is that I’ve realized that I’m not all that interested in being able to play really well – just well enough to be able to pick out a tune from a songbook or hymnal when the situation calls for it!
That brings me to the point of this post (and perhaps a related life lesson). Practice makes you comfortable and when you’re comfortable with what you do, coupled with an interest in what you’re doing, you can do great things. If what you are attempting is an area of strength for you (meaning that you have a natural ability) then practice can make your performance near perfect. Marcus Buckingham in his book, Now Discover Your Strengths, defines a strength as something you can do with “consistent near perfect performance.” (p. 25) If what you are doing is not a strength you can get better but you will be slower at it and make more mistakes than someone for whom it is a strength. Back to my piano saga – after much painful practicing, I can now play Joy to the World and London Bridge with a modicum of confidence!
So how do you discover your strengths? Start by asking trusted friends or colleagues a simple question – “what do you know me to be naturally good at”? Reflect on what people tell you and do some self-reflection on questions such as:
- What tasks do you find easy?
- What positive comments do people routinely make about you?
- What do others routinely seek you out for guidance?
- In what areas do you excel or stand out from the crowd?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
You could also take an assessment to help you further understand your strengths. I’m a great fan of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 and I love working with leaders to understand their profiles and to find ways to incorporate their strengths at work. Contact me if you want to explore how you can become near perfect at your strengths!
January 7, 2011
Do you agree with this statement? The above assertion is made at the risk of igniting the age-old debate about whether someone is born a leader or whether one can learn how to be good leader. For someone who has been recently hired in or promoted to a supervisory role, the debate doesn’t matter. All new supervisors care about is how to be effective in their roles.
There are some common characteristics that successful supervisors share. Here are four:
- View themselves as leaders in their sphere of influence. Supervisors who have great impact are able to do so because they don’t view themselves as “just a supervisor.” They take a broader view of their role by looking for ways in which they can connect their responsibilities to the larger organizational goals and strategies. This motivates them to create a vision for their work and for their team, and in turn helps them to boost productivity.
- Do more listening than talking. Humans have two ears and one mouth for a reason! In today’s world of instant communication, most employees still crave to be around others who will really listen to what they are saying. Successful supervisors recognize that others (direct reports, peers, customers, etc.) often have better ideas than they do for solving operational problems.
- Build healthy teams by tapping into the strengths of each team member and helping the team to operate at its peak. The essence of effective supervision is getting work accomplished through other people’s efforts. Successful supervisors use what they know about the skill sets of each of their team members to orchestrate success by putting each member’s strengths to use in support of the overall team goals.
- Take time to get to know their staff and to help them improve their skills. The best supervisors are ones who have invested time in their direct reports. This investment comes in the form of having regular conversations with each person about their career goals, their strengths and areas for development. Successful supervisors then create opportunities for their direct reports to leverage their strengths and work on improving skills. It is an investment that pays off in increased productivity and engagement.
Learn more about being a successful supervisor by signing up for my free teleclass to be held on January 19, sponsored by the Workplace Coach Institute . You will hear more success tips and also learn details about an upcoming online training series that I will be facilitating, Essential Skills for the New Supervisor.
January 4, 2011
I love the beginning of a new year! Maybe it’s the carryover of all of the warm feelings from Christmas or perhaps it’s because school is back in session and life around the house can take on a bit more normalcy and routine again! I think the main reason I love the start of a new year is that everyone has a chance to make a fresh start and practically everyone’s attention is focused on defining what a “fresh start” means to them.
What does it mean to you? It may mean making a difficult decision about a job you don’t like or a relationship that isn’t working. It may mean recommitting yourself to healthy eating and exercise (mine!!) or to finally finishing your degree or to being more intentional in your spiritual life. Whatever the specifics of your situation, the New Year brings a chance to walk a new path, start a new chapter and press on toward goals that will take you to new levels of effectiveness and impact!
Don’t let the freshness of the season slip by – take advantage of the opportunity to create at least three goals for yourself for the New Year and to find a trusted friend, colleague or family member who will hold you accountable throughout the year as you work on your specific action steps. And if your goals are stretch goals (as they should be!), keep your focus on the end game – not on all of the things that you need to do to get there. Here’s something that’s do-able, regardless of what your goal is: pick one action step that you can take this month to move you closer toward what you want. Be sure it’s something that is achievable and realistic. Go for the small successes to give you motivation to press on!
If you’re struggling with getting started on setting some goals, check out my post from May 2010 (“Living B-I-G Reaps Big Rewards!”) for some ideas and for a cool activity that you can do today to inspire you!
Dedicated to your success in 2011,
December 14, 2010
As I’ve talked with leaders over the last few months a common theme runs through these conversations. A lot of leaders are spending a lot of time worrying about real challenges they face at work. The worry then turns into fear, which for some turns into paralysis; for others the fear turns into action to tackle the challenges ahead. These challenges run the gamut – “Am I going to be laid off?” “Will I have to let someone go because of poor performance?” “How do I motivate key talent so that they stay engaged and continue to perform well?” “Am I really good at being a leader – do I have what it takes to be successful?” And the list goes on.
I’ve decided to conduct a very unscientific poll. Please comment below with your list of leadership challenges that keep you up at night. I’ll post the results and offer some insights.
November 1, 2010
Consider the following scenario:
Your division has been undergoing major changes to its business processes for the past several months. As one of the leaders in the division, you have been closely involved in the planning process. It is now apparent that significant human resource changes are needed to align your internal structure with the new business goals. These changes will involve the creation of new positions requiring higher-level skills than many of the current employees possess, outsourcing, promotions, reassignments and layoffs.
You and the other members of the leadership team have mapped out exactly what change need to be made, when they will occur and how the changes will help you meet your strategic goals. You have checked with corporate counsel to be sure there are no legal issues, and you have checked with Human Resources to be sure no policies have been violated. The changes are announced and the next week you find yourself spending all of your time meeting with irate employees – some of whom have filed grievances or lawsuits – all of whom are upset about the way you implemented the changes.
Sound familiar? Even if the exact details don’t mirror a situation you may have dealt with during your career, you likely have found out the hard way that not only is organizational change hard, but that there are some actions leaders take that can make it harder or easier on the people affected. It’s just simply human nature to be concerned about and to resist change, to some degree. As a leader, you play a key role in helping employees to navigate their reactions to the change. Now, don’t get nervous – I’m not suggesting that you have to add a therapist’s couch to your office or put up a sign that says “The Doctor is In.” You do, however, have to be intentional about planning for the human side of organizational change.
Here are 5 keys for leading doing this:
- Involve others. I’ve heard it said somewhere that change imposed is change opposed. Most adults do not respond well to unilateral changes imposed on them, especially when there is a direct effect on them that is perceived to be negative. Involvement can be as simple as explaining the long term goals of a change effort or seeking ideas on how to streamline operations to leading focus groups or establishing working groups to work on significant aspects of the change. Involvement should not be confused with getting employees to agree with your rationale or with the planned actions. Involvement will decrease resistance and more importantly, help garner employee buy-in, which you’ll need in order for the changes to be successful.
- Give people honest information. People who will be affected by any sort of change will naturally want to know four basic pieces of information – 1) why is this change needed? 2) what will it mean for me and those I care about?; 3) who will be affected and how?; and 4) when will the change occur? The old adage “communicate, communicate, communicate” is definitely true Enough information should be shared on a regular basis during the planning and implementation of the change to help lessen the anxiety that is a natural consequence of the unknown. Information might include details such as a realistic picture of the business and competitive pressures driving the change effort, the strategic goals to be accomplished, a time line of the various phases of the restructuring, and honest information about the impact on employees.
- Give people privacy. If one of the outcomes of your change strategy will result in a real or perceived negative impact on an employee’s job, all such announcements must be done in private. Another aspect of privacy is ensuring that the affected employee(s) is informed of the change to their job before others in the work group, even if it may mean delaying the action until the employee can be informed first. The reasons for privacy are obvious, not the least of these being to protect the confidentiality of any performance-related rationale for the action.
- Allow employees to “grieve”. It is natural for feelings of loss to be prevalent for some period of time after any type of change to our normal routine. For example, the loss of a job is considered by many to be as traumatic as the death of a loved one. Employees may exhibit the classic stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance) when confronted with news of a job change. Grieving is not limited to losing a job, either, as any change in an employee’s job may trigger similar reactions. Giving the employee time to adjust to their new responsibilities may require such creative strategies as allowing for some reasonable, periodic time off, delaying performance discussions, or referrals to helping resources such as an employee assistance program.
- Be compassionate above all else. Most importantly, throughout all phases of any change effort it is essential that every leader involved exhibit compassion and understanding. This should not become an unrealistic attempt to ensure that all employees agree with and are happy about the changes. Rather the goal must be to put yourself in the shoes of the individuals to be impacted by the change and to care about treating them in the way in which you would want to be treated. Remember the Golden Rule that your grandmother would admonish you about? Practice that here!
What techniques have you found to be helpful in successfully leading the human side of change?