Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

I just read another article about leadership development. In it, the author said that you can’t train everyone to be a leader. When I hear that not everyone can become a leader, it’s like listening to fingernails across a chalkboard. I cringe. I just don’t believe it. At Lead Star, we believe that everyone can become a better leader.

Saying that not everyone can be a leader is like saying that you can’t teach everyone to play golf. Now, everyone may not make it on the PGA Tour, or win The Masters. But, everyone can play the game, and with a little bit of practice, everyone could get better. Leadership development is similar. We may not all become perfect leaders, but we can all demonstrate accountability, credibility, confidence, decisiveness, and emotional resolve. Those behaviors enable us to influence and inspire people around us. And, by developing self-awareness around our current behavior and by practicing, we can all learn to demonstrate more of those behaviors.

Leadership development is a journey, or a continuum, not a destination. We are all on that journey somewhere. And, we can all keep taking steps on that journey to become better leaders.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is the boss. At Lead Star, we think that everyone can demonstrate leadership behaviors in whatever role they fill.

How much better would your job be, would your workplace be, if everyone around you took more responsibility for their performance; strove to meet and exceed performance standards; connected their actions to the ability of others to succeed; worked to meet the needs of colleagues; and, dispensed open, honest feedback to elevate performance? That’s leadership. And, we can all do it.

Have you ever been asked to do something outside of your comfort zone? Something that you may have never done before or was even outside of your role at work? A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation while volunteering for a local non-profit organization. I was asked to head up their sales committee for a charity golf event. My first thought was, “Me? Sell sponsorships? No way!”

I dismissed the idea completely because I had zero interest in it and, if truth be told, I felt that I wasn’t going to be very good at it. Where did I get this idea? It was actually my fixed mindset talking to me.

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, is committed to helping professionals recognize their true potential by sharing her research around fixed and growth mindset. Through her work, she has concluded that we are born with a growth mindset. We embrace challenge and the joy of learning when we are young. But as soon as we start to become evaluated, such as in formal learning institutions or at work, something happens to us — we start to switch between a fixed or growth mindset. When we adopt a fixed mindset, we limit our opportunities for growth.

Clearly, in my situation, I let my fixed mindset take over. My first response wasn’t to embrace the challenge; I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, and if I had to do it, I was not going to put in any effort.

Thankfully I had the self-awareness to recognize my fixed mindset. I knew that type of thinking would not only inhibit my professional development but also impact my career potential. I took that negative energy that I had about sales and I used it to motivate me. I turned that fixed mindset into a growth mindset. I recognized the challenge that I was facing and looked at it as a learning opportunity. I knew that the skills I needed to be successful could be developed and I was determined to develop them.

In my first real sales experience, a volunteer opportunity that I could have easily said no to, I sold more than $100,000 worth of sponsorships for a golf tournament. Not bad for someone who wanted nothing to do with sales and avoided it at all costs.

Your mindset is your choice. Here are some tips of when your fixed mindset is influencing you:

  • An opportunity is presented to you but your immediate response is “I can’t do that” or “I am no good at that.”
  • A peer gives you feedback regarding a project you are working on but you get defensive and are not open to honest and critical feedback that can be helpful in your success.
  • You start a new project but you face one setback after another and just want to give up.
  • You reluctantly take on a new assignment but you really are not interested in learning anything during the process and just want to get done as quickly as possible.
  • You miss a deadline and vow to never take on anything like that again. You let failure define you.

During these moments, remind yourself that your mindset is your choice. Then make a conscious choice to switch to growth so that you can benefit from the experience.

A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man
perfected without trials.
Chinese Proverb

Leaders must do two things well: influence outcomes and inspire others. One way to influence and inspire is through effective communication. Your ability to have honest and compassionate conversations contributes to your growth and development, as well as your team members.

Do you want to give someone a piece of feedback but aren’t sure how to do it right? You want them to know something, but you also don’t want to upset them, or create a confrontation.

Here are some tips to successfully deliver feedback:

  • Ask the person if you can share some information with them.
  • Admit that this is an awkward moment for you.
  • Describe specific actions, mannerisms, or words you would like to make them aware of.
  • Tell them how their behavior affected you.

Don’t:

  • Judge, infer, or assume anything about them, their behavior, or their intentions.
  • Label them (as lazy, inconsiderate, rude, etc.).
  • Label the feedback you are about to give (“I’ve got some constructive criticism for you.”).

Here’s an example: “Robert, may I share some information with you? As I say this, realize that this is also an uncomfortable moment for me. During the meeting yesterday, you spoke over several people while they were explaining various aspects of the budget. I felt like you didn’t value other team member’s input.”

Put aside hesitations about delivering feedback, and demonstrate your desire to elevate performance by addressing a colleague, or issue, requiring attention.

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. - Winston Churchill

So … it happened.

You were just blindsided by some constructive criticism. To make things more uncomfortable, it stung a bit. Perhaps the person who delivered it didn’t use tact, or maybe even the feedback you received wasn’t relevant. Nonetheless, you now have to deal with the information you just received.

Believe it or not, how you handle this moment will have a lasting impact on your relationship with who delivered the criticism. Research has shown that if you do nothing and say nothing about the criticism, your relationship won’t improve. But if you can respond with a leadership response, engage in follow-up, and show that you’ve taken the feedback to heart, your manager/ boss/ friend/ spouse/ customer/ client’s perception of you and your performance will become increasingly more favorable.

Here’s how to LEED when you receive criticism:

  • Listen. Even though your instincts are to get upset or become defensive, calm them down so you can truly hear the information that you’re receiving.
  • Express Appreciation. Thank the person for sharing this information with you. When you express appreciation, you’re not agreeing with the person – you’re acknowledging that you know how hard it was for them to share it with you and you’re grateful that you have the type of relationship where they can bring this to your attention.
  • Evaluate it. After you receive it, consider how the feedback relates to your performance in the role. Also evaluate the relevancy of the information you are receiving. Sometimes evaluation can take time; after receiving feedback, it’s okay to share, “Wow. You’ve given me something to think about. Can I spend a few minutes considering this before I give you a reply?”
  • Decide. Not every piece of criticism is a mandate. Sometimes you’ll choose to do nothing with it. Sometimes, though, you’ll discover a small action you can take that will make you better.

When you receive criticism well, you’re not only expanding your communication abilities, but you’re showcasing to others that you can be trusted with information and that you value candor and honesty.

Even though I’m the person who went to law school because there was no math in the curriculum, I do appreciate the value metrics add to business operations. But, what if the comfort we can find in the numbers is only part of the picture?

I was just talking to a client who is a C-Suite executive in a robust organization. When you look at the numbers, her company is thriving. Yet she’s convinced there are some icebergs on the horizon as she looks at the human dynamics of her business. Senior managers aren’t getting along well, there are competing agendas within the management team, and a willingness for peers to hold each other accountable to results is fleeting. Her strength as a leader comes across in her ability not to get caught up in the hubris of success. She knows that success won’t last if the people challenges are left unaddressed. That’s why we were talking. I’ll be working with her team in the coming months.

Sometimes we buy into the numbers too much. Perhaps it’s because they bring some sense of order to the often chaotic world of achieving success with and through other people. Numbers are neat and clean, while working relationships can be messy. The best leaders recognize this and consistently invest time, resources and effort into continuous improvement of what is often the most unpredictable, but most powerful aspect of our organizations – the human factor.

Have you ever felt micromanaged? You knew what you were doing, but someone was giving you too much direction? Or, have you felt like you were asked to do the impossible without being given enough support? During times like these, it’s easy to get upset with your manager. Often, it’s their inexperience with leading others that puts them in a position of applying the wrong approach to leading you.

As leaders, we need to be aware of the experience level of our team members, so we can adjust our leadership style accordingly to achieve the best results.

  • People who are new, or inexperienced, need more direction. Leaders should tell these folks how to do things, when to do things, what to think about, and what to keep an eye out for. Leaders should provide structure and clear guidelines to inexperienced team members.
  • As people learn and gain more ability, transition to providing support along with direction. People can become disillusioned and overwhelmed by new challenges. They need support as they continue to develop skills. More experienced performers may plateau and will require encouragement to continue building the ability to work on their own.
  • Our most experienced workers are confident, willing and able to do the job, and are self-directed. These are the people you can delegate to confidently. Challenge them with high standards and be available if and when they have questions.

We’d like to grow all of our team members into peak performers who can work independently. First, assess the developmental state of your team members with regard to the specific task they are performing. Reduce the amount of direction you provide as they become more skilled and confident. Watch for opportunities to provide support as you build everyone into that independent and self-directed superstar!

I get up early to read the paper (and by paper, I mean I surf the Internet and read from different news websites). I recently came across an article on RadioShack, and it made me mourn the loss of this iconic American store. It also made me pause, reflect, and feel sad about the lack of free time American professionals have and its broad impact. It’s impossible to imagine, but since the 1970s we’ve been working – time wise – the equivalent of an extra month more per year.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going to reverse this trend in the near future. But there is something that we can do to at least reclaim our precious minutes. It’s an idea that I’ve just started implementing and it’s called “One Less Thing to Do.”

You’ve heard the phrase “I’ve got one more thing to do.” Well, this obviously is the opposite. It starts by making purposeful decisions that protect your time. Here’s one I made last week: I’ve been flirting with the idea of joining a community group. It’s one I admire greatly. But to be a full participant, I have to make a huge time commitment. As a mother of two, a business owner, a wife, and a grad school student, spare time is just something that I don’t have. Last week I finally came to a conclusion: Since I can’t commit wholly to this organization, it’s best that I just don’t commit at all. After all, I’d rather be remembered for my exceptional contributions to the organization than my sub-par ones.

Another “One Less Thing to Do” is about oldest son’s bed (he’s 9). I’m not making it anymore. The Marine in me used to obsess about “hospital corners” and whether or not his Pottery Barn bedspread was displayed just like in the magazine. Even though it still pains me to walk by his bedroom in the morning and see his hurried job, I work hard to let it go. Making his bed is one less thing that I have to do each day.

I’ve also stopped obsessing about making perfect breakfasts, lunches and dinners. (My husband is probably going to wonder when I started?!) If it’s food and it’s healthy, then it’s just fine.

I’ve also stopped opening up my calendar so generously. It’s hard saying “no” sometimes to meetings and lunchtime engagements, but if the appointment doesn’t connect to a goal, then I take the time to weigh its value and whether or not I should attend.

The “One Less Thing to Do” campaign has a purpose. It’s so that I can be “more” to the things that matter most to me: my family, my friends and my career. There is a limit to my time and attention and when I try to spread it around, the quality and impact that I make starts to weaken. It’s not that I don’t want to do more – I’m ambitious, there’s so much that I want to do. But there’s a limit to how much I can do. And when I try to do too much, so much in my life suffers – especially those important leadership roles that are priorities for me.

There is also a secondary aim – and that is to help me carve free time back into my life. We all need margin in our lives, which is that quiet white space where we can go to reflect and tinker away at a project or hobby. Ah-ha moments don’t happen in our busy days. They occur in the moments when our mind is quiet, our thoughts are free, and our imagination is turned loose.

I recently delivered a keynote at Lincoln Financial Group’s annual sales conference – all I can say is “wow!” What an amazing group of professionals!

After the keynote, one of leaders came up to me to share her story about how she’s led in her life. She talked about experiencing great adversity, but having a strong support network that encouraged her. She pointed out that when we’re struggling, it’s difficult to ask for help and how wonderful it was that her network didn’t make her have to ask for it. This not only inspired her during her darkest times, but it motivated her to take action because she knew she had a fan club cheering for her.

Every single one of us has had a bad day, discouraging week, or a dismal year. So when you see that dark cloud following someone around, this can be your call to action:

  • Invite them to coffee and focus the conversation on them. Express your concern and offer your support.
  • Write a note to them. Share what you have observed, remind them of their talents, and make an offer to be a resource to them as needed.
  • Invest in the relationship. Don’t just have a one-time conversation about their troubles, reach out to them routinely and give them constant encouragement.
  • Don’t enable the person – empower them! Also, don’t take on their troubles. They don’t need pity – they need support! Be empathetic, but also be strong. They need a leader right now!

A good leader helps others in need. A great leader anticipates the needs of others and initiates action. What are you waiting for? Be that person who can make a difference in someone’s life.

A couple of recent minor events have made me question if I am as comfortable with embracing the new or different as I think I am. Recently, my eight-year-old daughter asked me if she could rearrange the furniture in her room. My instinctual response was to say, “No.” Since I know being an effective leader is often about being better than your instincts, I bit my tongue and instead said, “Why?” Her response was detailed, amusing, and full of exciting reasons as to how moving most of her furniture would create more play space.

Her enthusiasm made me wonder why I was resistant to the change. What did it really have to do with me? She explained that I wouldn’t have to do a thing. She had the plan and Daddy was going to do the moving. This whole interaction would have been just a fun exchange with my daughter, except for the case that the very next week my office was set to undergo a complete renovation. I did not handle the change process well. In fact, I found it frustrating, annoying, and completely disruptive.

It wasn’t just the noise, or being displaced, it was something more. As humans, we have a fundamental need for things to stay the same. Some of us have found a way to push past this need and demonstrate adaptive capacity. For those of us that want to improve our ability to embrace change, here are some practical tips you can use to begin your own “Change Workout.” Just like with exercise, this workout requires consistent practice to add value to your leadership style:

  • The moment you sense your resistance to change, work to get to the heart of what’s driving it. Identify what you fear or dislike about the change. You might not be able to control the circumstances, but you can understand why you are unsettled. Often, just that clarity allows you to get a bit closer to accepting the new reality.
  • Embrace the big picture. Life can be hectic, and chaos can be constant. There’s so little we can control, but our ability to influence is limitless, as long as we are demonstrating leadership behaviors. Our issues with change can be more about the impact to us personally versus the bigger picture. Work to view the value of change objectively and not from a self-focused perspective. Seek to understand why the change will be valuable to others.
  • Get fully on board. Once you know the change is taking place, and you understand why it’s uncomfortable for you, transition to how you can best serve the process. That’s challenging to do, but as leaders, we don’t want to be the ones blocking the path to a possible better way.
  • Seek out more change. If change can be a challenge for you, recognize that handling change takes practice. Deliberately put yourself in low stakes circumstances that require you to embrace change: get a new phone earlier then you would, take a new route to work, offer to assist a colleague in a way that’s different from your typical support. Being proactive with small changes builds our adaptive capacity for more meaningful ones.

My daughter moved her furniture and expanded her play area, and my new office is fantastic. Change for the better is great; don’t let the process scare you.

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Norman Vincent Peale

If we want to grow, we need to be open to accurate information about our performance. Usually, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to soliciting feedback that allows us to grow.

Sometimes, we don’t have the courage to ask for input on how to get better. Or, when we receive feedback – solicited or not – we are quick to become defensive because we hear things that we don’t want to hear (but need to).

To help you receive better feedback, here are some simple tips:

  • First, assume positive intentions. Regardless of the feedback and who delivered it, assume that it was meant to help you get better.
  • Say, “Thank you.” Feedback really is a gift.
  • Evaluate the feedback after you have had a chance to process it. Your immediate reaction might be to discard it, which won’t help you get better.
  • Finally, get in the habit of asking for feedback. Even if someone praises you, ask her for one thing that you could have done better.

It is easy and comfortable to avoid taking a hard look at how we can improve. However, in today’s competitive world, feedback is one of the most important insights we can receive to get better. Our ability to make an even greater contribution hinges on our ability to be proactive in getting real, accurate information on where we can improve.

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