Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First Step Toward Leadership

Are leader born or made is a classic question. We believe the answer is “yes.” All of us are born with greater amounts of some talents. We can develop them or develop some of our lesser talents.

Leadership skills are no different. We all possess them to some extent.

A person cannot lead without knowing about those whom he would lead. What is important to them? What do they want from the “leader?” Only after leaders learn that information can they seek to influence others in a certain direction.
The leadership relationship is a two-way street. There must be benefits for both parties. That is why the leader must know what must be given in return for “followership.”

An initial step toward developing or increasing leadership skills is to take the initiative in conversations. Ask questions to learn about others’ interest and values. Seek to understand others before seeking to be understood. Once someone knows that a person is interested in him, then that person can “hear” what someone else has to say.

Such questioning cannot be a one-way street. It cannot be an interrogation. The would-be leader must be willing to show himself, as well. If this conversation is not handled properly it can be seen as a person trying to make the conversation revolve around him)self. Balance is necessary.

As stated above, there must be benefits for the “followers.” However, once a trusting relationship is established the “leader” and the ‘followers” can act on faith when the advantages to each are not clearly evident.

As a first step toward leadership, try to focus your next conversations on learning more from others, whether you intend to try to influence them or not.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How'm I doin'?

Remember Ed Koch asking that question when he was Mayor of New York City?

It is a question whose answer we want to know. Unfortunately, too often we want a positive answer, whether it is correct or not.

Leaders need the answer to that question as well as anyone else. How are they meeting the needs of others? Leaders know that followers do not exist to meet the needs of leaders. Leaders are to serve others. Thus, they need to know if they are doing so.

Leaders, like everyone else, are often afraid to ask the question because of what the answers might be. However, even if the response is not as positive as a leader might like, it is necessary if the leader is to be successful.

A leader cannot see how (s)he is doing. The leader needs the perspective of others. Others provide the mirror that we otherwise are lacking. It is through others that we see our performance.

Would you rather be doing something wrong and not know about it or be doing something wrong and know it? If one knows (s)he is doing something wrong it is the first step to doing something right. An error can only be corrected once it is recognized.

Anyone striving to do the right thing will develop a following, will become a leader. Thus, seeking to find out how someone is doing is a basic step of leadership.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Leadership Through Performance Review

Opportunities for leadership arise in many ways. Performance review is often overlooked as an opportunity.

Performance review is an everyday occurrence. Just as we would correct a problem as soon as possible, we need to reinforce good behavior or performance as it occurs. Such daily action gives an employee or student guidance on what is expected. That is the purpose and goal of performance review. Intervals of once or twice a year reviews are not sufficient for guidance. They can meet the needs for review of agreed upon goals.

We often dread and avoid performance review because we fear confrontation. Ultimately, we pay the price of living with an undesirable situation that lingers.

Performance review need not be a confrontation. If we truly wish to improve or continue the performance of an individual the review process can be a friendly discussion. We cannot play “gotcha” with the process. It is not a way to punish someone. We need to conduct the review with heart and backbone. The heart is involved as we treat someone as someone deserving respect. The backbone is involved as we talk candidly, not tip-toeing around issues.

One reason we fear performance reviews is that they are often used as tools to stay within budgetary guidelines. We often feel put in the position of “grading” people so that we can justify raises or lack of raises. That is a primary reason I do not believe in numerical rating systems, as it does not give sufficient guidance to employees as more narrative systems do.

How have you used performance reviews to lead your staff? How has your supervisor helped you grow through performance reviews?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Right Leadership Style for the Time

I recently attended a presentation by the Human Resources Director of a major corporation going through bankruptcy. The value of its stock has plummeted to about one percent of its former value and staff has been reduced from 95,000 to 25,000.
I was surprised to hear him criticize one of a string of CEOs as being an effective leader because his style was to build consensus. How could consensus building be wrong?

Suddenly it dawned on me that the company did not have the time to build consensus. It was struggling to survive and decisions had to be made quickly. The benefits of broad commitment to a corporate plan would not be realized if the company had gone out of existence!

The alternative to consensus building is not to isolate oneself and rule by fiat. The CEO needed to gather the best information from as many sources as practical. However, with that information in hand, the CEO needed to act decisively and quickly. He did not have the time to rally the staff behind the idea and collect their feedback to polish the strategy and tactics.

The lesson I learned from this presentation is that timing affects leadership style, as does the situation, as discussed in an earlier entry.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Do You Get It?

Asked Senator McCaskill, and millions of Americans, about Wall Street Executives. Could this same question be asked of you?

How could Wall Street give out billions of dollars in bonuses when they needed us poor folk to bail them out?

How could Wall Street give out billions of dollars in bonuses when the businesses lost most of their value in the past year?

How could auto executives take separate corporate jets to Washington to ask for a bailout?

Clearly, they do not get it. And why do they not get it? A major reason is that they rarely get objective feedback. Who among the knights is willing to tell the emperor he has no clothes on? It took a serf to do so.

Most of us have a diversity of contacts that we stay in touch with the real world. The higher one ranks in the corporate hierarchy, the less one is likely to get honest, objective feedback from others in the corporation.

This is not just a problem for Wall Street and for Detroit. All of us can fall victim.

A major role for a business or personal coach is to give honest feedback, with a heart. Honest feedback cannot be heard if it feels like a slap in the face. The person receiving the feedback has to believe that the feedback is being given to help the person, not to hurt the person. Part of the message is in how it is given.
How do you ensure that you “get it” from the feedback of others?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Leadership Opportunity

Leadership opportunities can present themselves at more than location at the same time.

Take our current economic crisis. The federal government is the most logical body to lead us through this crisis. However, state and local governments can also lead.

This is a time for state and local governments to accelerate their capital programs. They can stimulate job preservation and creation as well as the federal government.

My own state of North Carolina has experienced bids for projects coming in 20% under projections because of contractors seeking work.

My home County of Wake has experienced lower interest rates because of over-subscription of their debt issuance.

Oil prices mean costs of road materials are lower than they have been for ages.

These are favorable conditions for undertaking capital projects at this time. The present cost is low, usually about 5 percent in the current budget for total project cost.

We all want tax relief. In order to minimize costs many state and local governments will postpone capital projects. By doing so they will dilute the impact of the federal stimulus effort. The stimulus program would then become a funding replacement program. State and local governments would be like recalcitrant employees who resist change.

We need to look at what each of us can do to stimulate the economy and what is in our longer term interests. We can defer projects and leave ourselves further behind the 8-ball both in terms of our current economic situation and in terms or our longer term competitiveness. Or we can take the opportunity we confront at this time and lead in the recovery from the current situation.

How are governments in your area responding to the financial crisis?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Running for Election

Anyone in a leadership positions runs for election every day. Each day that person must win the approval of those whom he would lead.

To be in a leadership position is not the same as being a leader. A person leads by establishing a direction and by setting a tone. If a direction is not established there is nowhere to go and one cannot lead to nowhere.

Often the direction is assumed. We expect others to know the destination without explicitly telling them. Have you ever gone shopping with someone with the idea you were looking for a certain product and would up shopping for something completely different or for several more items? In such cases the direction (or goals) were different.

Leading also involves setting a tone. It is the “how” of getting to “where.” Do we want others to be methodical in accomplishing the goal or do we want it done as quickly as possible, without great concern about the quality? Each approach can be appropriate in the right situation.

So the leader must establish and articulate the “what” and the “how.” Those who would follow decide if they want to go in the same direction and if they want to go by the same method as the “leader.” In a retail setting, is my goal to sell the store product or to sell warranties and credit cards? A leader makes sure I know that. I, as the worker, determine how I buy into that idea. My actions are my vote on the leadership. Do I buy in completely and enthusiastically follow the goal, or do I do enough? Either way, I have voted on the leader that day.