Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

One Person at a Time

My favorite work as a leader is the time spent one on one, digging deep, helping to bring out the best in someone.  The other fun part is motivating large teams toward a vision and strategy to get something important done.  And then there is the in-between.

What I find most difficult as I have assumed larger roles with bigger teams is the strong desire to connect one on one, and the almost impossible task of getting to know everyone in a large organization to the depth that I would like.  I do my best to be as fully present as I can in each encounter, but it can be tough to do this well.   Intimacy is hard to scale.

This challenge hit me in the face this week.

I was talking to an extended member of my team who does important work in my organization hundreds of miles away and a few levels down the org chart.   I had not seen him in about 6 months. He said to me, “Karin, I think about what you said to me every day.”  Oh boy… I smiled and waited.  It turns out  that once he reminded me of the challenge I had given him, I recalled the entire conversation, including exactly where we had been standing at the time.  However, if I had been really on my game, I would have had immediate recall and perhaps have even been the first to bring it up.

I was so pleased that the conversation had helped him, and so disappointed in myself for the lack of proactive follow-through.

As timing would have it,  the next day I walked into my office to find the very large stack of books I had ordered to give away at an upcoming summit I was hosting for some of my team.  My intention was to inscribe them with a personal messages for each team member.  That seemed like a good idea weeks ago, but now with literal wildfires burning in the West, and other emergencies that were consuming my day, it seemed like a daunting task.

That evening, I dove in… and  was surprised to find that what had felt like a difficult time-consuming exercise turned into a calming and useful experience.  Somehow, moving deliberately through the team, one person at a time.. thinking about each person very specifically and the gifts they were giving, felt magical to me.  Time melted away in a peaceful meditation.   I left that night feeling tremendous gratitude for the people in my organization and their contributions to the work and to one another.  It also became obvious to me that I knew some folks much better than others, and had much work ahead of me to be an effective leader for them.

Can intimacy scale?  Tough question.  There are certainly ways to be completely present in our relationships even in a large team setting.  And, of course ways to do better with follow-up.  I also found value in thinking quietly about each person one at a time, and seeing what surfaces.

Would love your comments and ideas…

One Powerful Word

The words we choose as leaders are powerful.   Helping our teams find the right words to clarify their thinking, can be even more powerful.   As with so much else in leadership and life, less can be more.  Sometimes, reducing the thought down to one powerful word can create vision and focus.

I have two friends both looking to lose a little weight.  One is following a strict regimen of counting every calorie eaten and burned, with special calculators and lots of optimistic conversation around how many calories we actually torched in each workout.

Another friend takes a simpler approach… just don’t eat anything “white.”

Turns out, they are eating very similarly– avoiding refined sugar, potatoes, bread.  Both are losing weight.  One is spending a lot more time thinking about it.

Reducing challenges down to one word can create for easy following.

One word can clarify priorities (customers, safety).

In team building, having each person pick one word metaphors to open the conversation creates imagery that culls out the issues quickly in a non-threatening way.

“Today this team is a _______.”

“I want it to be a __________.”

In coaching, asking the employee for one word  to describe their concerns helps to crystallize thoughts and clarify the issues.

For informal recognition, a powerful well-timed word, can be more memorable than a long discussion.

When supporting decision making, asking for a one word reason can help, “in one word, what differentiates this candidate from the others?”

Of course using the wrong one word without explanation can be devastating… “no”  and a few un-bloggable others come to mind.

However, encouraging people to find the right word can…

  • calm emotion and confusion
  • clarify thinking
  • reduce conversational clutter
  • creating a starting point for more useful words to follow

What techniques do you find work well to clarify thinking?

Mentoring in Circles

In my earlier post, Don’t Get a Mentor, I talked about my preference for finding a mentor organically rather than waiting for formal programs.  On the other hand, throughout the years, my favorite formal programs have always been in the form of circles.

These are groups with a leader as guide and a small group of people learning together.   I have experience with this in 2 contexts:  (1) as a formal HR program and (2) as skip level development for my own teams.  Both informal, with lots of options for customization.

HR Program

In this context  we paired execs  with cross-functional groups of leaders learning together.  This structure helped to create a space for natural relationships to occur… and if someone did not necessarily click with their mentor, they might develop a cool relationship with one or more of their peers.  We did all this in-house, at very low-cost.  We gave the groups tools, but also lots of latitude to do what worked for them.  Each group was given an action learning project (a real problem to solve) which worked quite well.

My internet research shows that there are a lot of companies offering support for this online these days. I would love to hear comments from anyone using these programs and the success that they have had.

With My Own Team

Over the years, I have had a lot of fun running mentoring circles in my own teams.   I do this as a skip level experience, giving me an opportunity to get to know 8-10 high potential managers by working together.  I always start with teaching them about “elevator speeches”, and having them create one.  Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.

We talk about the business…and we all share the challenges we are having and share best practices.  The fun begins when we take field trips to struggling areas of the business and offer support.  We also do a project together to give back to the business.  I have found that these circles (called various names, usually “academies” or “leagues”), are a great way for me and my team to share our vision, work on work, and really get to know the managers in a deeper way.  An added win is having a direct report involved with this as part of their leadership experience.   I have seen a good track record of successful promotions coming out of these scenes.

Of course, some would argue it’s not “mentoring” if it is your own chain of command.  Perhaps.

Please share your stories of mentoring circles.  I would love to learn more.

Nemesis Mentors

The natural tendency when looking for a mentor is to turn to people who look like us, think like us, or value  the same things we do.

It’s easier, and often precisely how people are matched in some formal mentoring programs.

That can be fantastic.

On the other hand, what about seeking out a mentoring relationship with the person that REALLY frustrates, annoys and angers you? A nemesis who ignites and  challenges you?   Who questions your motives and assumptions? A person that makes you so angry at them, you wonder if you could really be mad at yourself.  One of those guys.

More tricky.

More entertaining.

And likely, more valuable.

In Greek mythology a Nemesis will “give what is due.”  That doesn’t turn out so well in some of those stories.  But what if what is due is just what you need?

I watch this dynamic at play in our church youth group.  And looking back, a similar phenomena happened back in my youth group days (but I was too involved to see it).

Unlike school where you can pick who you hang out with; in the church scene, kids are pretty much required to do stuff with everyone and be nice about it.

The kids that inevitably drive one another crazy, can help each other the most.  They think differently… they care about different things, and often have something that might be missing or underdeveloped in the other.  The growth happens when they spend time really digging in and opening up to one another.  I have seen some amazing peer mentoring magic happen here, one on one– after the storm.

At work, we are all trained to get along, be team players, and work collaboratively to get stuff done, “you don’t have to like each other, just respect one another and work as a team.”

But what about seeking out the person that most annoys you in the group or organization?  Of course, there is a 3.75% possibility that the guy’s just a real jerk.  I’ve met him.  But barring that, how about approaching that person with the Won’t You Be My Mentor? list?

Then, wait for the magic.

“Where There is Chaos, Seize Control”

One of my early bosses and mentors, Gail Parsons,  said this to me almost daily.

I was young and newly promoted in an HR role in the midst of a big merger. There was much organizational realignment.  Everyone had a new boss and a new team.  Most leaders were in the midst of relocating their families.

We were merging systems, polices, programs… you name it.

Every time I walked into her office with an idea, she would say the same thing: “where there is chaos…”

When I questioned the political ramifications of not getting the right buy-in she would say:

“Do we need this?  … Uh, yes.

“Is it a sound business decision?” Yes

“Do you have a strong implementation plan?”   Of course

“Is your team behind it?”  Yes

“Has anyone told you not to do it?”  No… but…

“Karin, look… by the time everyone figures out that we need to do this, your team will  already  be doing it… and have great results to prove it in.  Just do it well and tell me if you are going to break any big rules.   I’ve got your back.”

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So, this weekend, I called on Gail to offer some perspective on this time in our careers–and to ask what advice she would offer to new leaders today:

 “It’s all about understanding the corporate culture.  In newly merged companies there is often the opportunity to redirect the culture in an expedient manner.  There is usually so much confusion that one can seize control while no one is looking.  Control in this scenario is about getting things done.”
And…
“Where culture is well defined, get buy in to your ideas across, below and above organizational structure.  It is much easier to tear down than it is to build.  Be patient and resolved.”
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“Where there is chaos seize control,”

A once sentence mentoring program which encouraged me to…

  • Do what needs to be done
  • Not wait
  • Take risks
  • Be empowered
  • Ask before breaking the big rules
  • Do it well
  • Have their backs

Continue reading

Don’t Get a Mentor

I have developed and implemented plenty of mentoring programs over the years.   I have done the match-making and developed and led the workshops.

The truth is, after 2 decades of living and leading in organizations, my feeling is, these programs typically don’t work.

What I do believe in is investing time, energy, and commitment into real relationships with great people you stumble on throughout your career.

Like any other friendship, if you keep your eyes, heart and mind open, these folks will show up.

The classic Harvard Business Review article, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, highlights the importance of having deep two-way mentoring relationships.

“Many leaders have had a mentor that changed their lives.  The best mentoring interactions spark mutual learning, exploration of similar values, and shared enjoyment.  If people are only looking for a leg up from their mentors, instead of being interested in their mentor’s lives as well, the relationships will not last for long.  It is the two-way nature of the relationship that sustains it (George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer, 2007)”

My advice to young leaders:

  • find a mentor early
  • keep adding them along the way
  • invest time and energy
  • care about them as much as they care about you
  • be deliberate about keeping the magic alive

Why have more than one?

I was recently on a hiking tour of the Utah National Parks with my son.  After the first big day of hiking, Seb (6)  looks at me and says, “if we are going to do this again tomorrow, we will need some help…let’s each pick 3 Pokemon to take along…we can summon them up as needed… they’ve got some good skills that can help…”

Turns out he leverages Pokemon like I engage mentors.

I have wonderful “mentors” turned life-long friends who I can rely on (and they can rely on) as needed.  At this stage, I can pretty much anticipate the reaction I will get depending on who I call.

  • One keeps challenging me to take weird jobs
  • Another encourages me to develop my interest and practice of spirituality in leadership (ironically, because it’s important to me,  not because it’s particularly important to him)
  • Another I call when I need to be humbled, or get ahead of myself
  • And, another I call when I am down and need someone to tell me I am “wonderful”
  • And others…

Once I find a good mentor, I never let them go.

One of my favorite such mentors, Gary, died several years ago.  I keep his help alive by thinking “what would Gary say…”   Sometimes his advice just seems to surface when I am on a long run, or really stuck…  I know he is still impacting my life and career.

Give it back

The best part of having had great mentors, is the chance to give it back (same rules apply).

And when it’s real, I never let it go.

This is mentoring week on letsgrowleaders.   I will address a mentoring topic each day.  I hope you will join in the conversation.

Where have you found great mentors?

Two Things That Will Get You Promoted

I am often approached by leaders looking to work on my team.

 “what characteristics do you look for when hiring for the top positions in your organization?”

So, I run down my list…

  • unwavering integrity
  • confident humility
  • passionate vision
  • strong track record of results
  • teamwork down, up, and sideways
  • energetic creativity
  • change leadership
  • zealousness for employee development

Which then leads to the next question…

“How do I become better positioned for a leadership role?”

Again I have a list…(all subjects for future posts)

  • Develop a gaggle of fantastic mentors
  • Look at leaders you admire, and learn those skills
  • Pay even closer attention to leaders who annoy you, and figure out why
  • Take lateral moves that make you an all-terrain player
  • Volunteer for special projects
  • Talk to people who are doing your dream job, learn what it takes, and express interest

But that’s just me.

The other day I was sitting in a leadership development meeting… (this time, being developed) …and those same questions came up.

HR began their list of advice… Similar to that above….

Then, one of the most senior leaders in the meeting stood up and said.

“I hear all that… But at the end of the day if you are looking to work for me,

I want to know 2 things:

  1. What are your results?
  2.  What do your people say about you?

Hmmm, that’s pretty clear.

And in fact, all the other things I chat about are all means to one of those ends.

Kind-of like an elevator speech, see (Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.)

Next time, maybe I will use those… (or maybe not, depends if I am in an elevator).

Please comment:  What matters most when selecting the right  leader?