Real Leaders Focus on Learning and Listening

 

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Our current approach to training managers isn’t working. That is not a newsflash but some of the statistics in a recent study on corporate training are stark. 33% of employees who attended corporate trainings say that uninspiring content is the biggest barrier to learning.  Only 38% of managers believe that their learning programs meet the needs of the learner. Worse yet, only 12% of learners implement what they learn from training on the jobs. I am passionate about leadership development and an advocate for creative thinking about how we can do it more effectively. I also think we need to think outside the training box. If we believe that 70% of development happens on the job as the 70/20/10 suggests, then managers should develop 70% of their leadership development through everyday interactions. Pairing practical conversation tools with basic training on hiring, development, and corrective action can greatly improve leaders’ development…and their results.

Hiring: Interview and Engage. There are some important fundamentals about interviewing that it is important for leaders to know- legal requirements, your particular T/A process, and the ins and outs of an interview guide. But the game changer is engaging the interviewee. Help your managers focus on creating rapport with small talk, listen and linger on tidbits they pick up during the interview process, and talk about why this role and your company would be a great fit for the candidate. The mechanics of interviewing matter, but in today’s competitive labor market, conversations that build genuine connection will close the deal.

Development: Make planning personal. Most of us have some kind of talent review/succession planning process. Training leaders on the rating system, the process and preparation, and the company norms about sharing results are key. But what will actually move the dial on building our bench is open dialogue. If managers ask their high potentials questions like, “In this calendar year what contribution do you want to be known for making?” “What kind of leader do you want to be? How does your role today help or hinder your ability to achieve that?” “Five years from now what does an amazing career look like for you? A mediocre one?” This kind of dialogue will open rich doors and help move development planning from a check the box exercise to a plan truly designed around the individual.

Corrective Action: Process and people both matter. Few people relish writing someone up. Giving difficult feedback is – well difficult. We need leaders to understand the process, the paperwork, and our policies. But most importantly we need leaders to understand their people. Corrective action is the perfect time for real talk. Managers who say things like, “Neither of us wants to have this discussion, but it’s important that we talk through this issue.” or “This was a lot to take in. Let’s meet again tomorrow to be sure you are clear on next steps.” make this process more positive and personal. Arming managers with real talk tips can greatly improve the efficacy of the discussion and ensure we respect people throughout the process.

Training is important, but if we allow our managers to practice having conversations and encouraging them to focus on both training and talking, I am 100% confident we can improve our results and our manager’s leadership skills.

 

Excellent Integrations Start with EI

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Most of us have had the experience of working on some kind of integration – a system integration, a process integration, or a business integration. Usually we are focused on our intelligence pieces – our project plans, our schedule, and our time/cost savings. As a result, we often miss the emotional piece at the heart of this endeavor – the questions, concerns, and experiences of the team receiving our “intelligence.”  A recent Price Waterhouse survey found that gaining people’s confidence and commitment during acquisitions are the biggest challenge to successful integration. Yet only 45% of respondents said they were “completely committed” to integrating staff during the acquisition process. Improving our self awareness, managing emotions, and having empathy are the missing pieces to most integrations- and are needed to complete a project successfully.

Improving Self Awareness. In the Harvard Business Journal article, What Self Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), self awareness is like a two way mirror: it’s what you see and reflect internally and externally. Self awareness, not surprisingly, starts with self. It is understanding our values, motives, and behaviors, and how they impact others. It also means understanding how others view us.  Before charging in with your “intelligence,” stop and do some self reflection. Add the following to your project plan: How can my strengths help the team during integration? How could my development area impact the team? How am I viewed? How might that impact the project? Taking time to ask – and honestly answer- these question can have a huge impact to your integration.

Managing Emotions. Quick word association: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Bobby Knight? Guessing chair thrower, yeller, maybe basketball came to mind. Winningest coach of all time (at the time of his retirement -902 NCAA Division I games) sadly is not usually our first association with Coach Knight. We all have emotions, and they are important to acknowledge. Managing emotions isn’t stuffing our emotions. It is creating a space between stimulus and response. We want Bobby Knight to be passionate. We just want him to keep four on the floor. We all have things that trigger us- that elicit a deep emotional reaction in us. The trick is not immediately responding to that stimulus. During an integration there may be a sense that the new team is resistant. That you are behind schedule. That the process/system changed, but you don’t see the expected improvement. Instead of charging forward, pause and practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness allows you to recognize what you are feeling – mad, frustrated, upset – which creates the space for you to take a deep breath and reset your approach. Add the following to your project plan: What emotions might I experience during this integration? How would I like to handle them? What will it take for me to do that? Creating awareness of your triggers before the heat of the moment can keep the integration from going up in flames.

Having empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. So try it. If you were on the other side of the integration, what would you be thinking, feeling, and/or worried about? What might help you move forward? The word might is important — empathy is not based on the golden rule but rather the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated.  How will you know what they want? Ask and listen. Ask the team what is important to team. What is on their mind? How can you be most helpful? You don’t need to agree with what the other person says — this is not about you, it’s about understanding them. Next listen to their verbal and non-verbal cues during the project and adjust your approach. Add the following to your project plan: How can I find out what this team wants and needs? Add a listening session to the project up front, and check-ins along the way, to be sure you continue to look at progress through their eyes, not just your checklist.

Integrations tend to be a GSD exercise. Successful integrations shift their perspective from Getting Shit Done to Solving Goals Together. Adding emotional intelligence to your integration puzzle will improve both your project and people results- and keep those pieces together.

Are You Giver or Taker?

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If you were looking to hire a venture capitalist, what skills would you look for? I looked up a posting at Deutsche Telecom and they are looking for someone who is a “motivated and an enthusiastic self-starter who works on your own initiative….Confident and capable of easily interacting with senior management.” According to the book Give and Take -Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant, Deutsche Telecom is missing the most important quality for this competitive job: they should be looking for a giver.

Givers are people who believe that we go further together. They help others and put others’ needs as a priority. They don’t see relationships as a zero-sum game. They instead passionately believe we can all win together. In Grant’s book he highlights David Hornik, a venture capitalist who invites his rivals to hear pitches, responds personally to emails for investment requests, and will introduce entrepreneurs to his competitors. Hornik has also only lost three deals in eleven years. Hornik and others featured in Grant’s book challenge our paradigm of what it takes to get ahead in the workplace. In our increasingly interdependent, global, matrixed world it is important to self reflect and ask, am I giving or taking to get ahead at work?  Three key takeaways for me from this book are networking is not about you, check your credit score, and the impact of women givers.

Networking is not about you. Many people hate networking and see it as the ultimate taker activity, believing people build good networks to build their popularity. But as I referenced in a recent post, there is a big difference between connecting vs. networking. Networking is an opportunity to connect and help. Matchers see networking as a means to connect – but focus on reciprocating behavior. If you link in to a Matcher and ask for an introduction to someone in their network and offer to connect them to a key business leaders, he/she will gladly help you– once they’ve met that business leader. Givers know that we live in a small world and are motivated to improve the lives of those they are connected to. They gladly share their time, connections, and ideas and, as Grant says, “create norms that favor adding rather than trading value.” Step back and ask yourself, “Who have I helped lately, and what motivated me to do so?” Then think about someone from a past job and reach out and ask how you can help him/her. No strings attached.

Check your credit score. Jonas Salk is known as an international hero. In 1952 his research lab created a polio vaccine, and within two years of its release the rate of polio in the US fell by 90 percent. But Salk had a serious flaw– he was a taker. At a press conference held to recognize this enormous accomplishment, he did not recognize any of his peers. He failed to mention any of his collaborators, team members, or co-workers who contributed to this life changing event. Salk fell prey to responsibility bias, focusing on the time and effort he spent in the lab instead of seeing the team’s collective contributions. The key to a good credit score is not to keep score.  Instead, whenever your team has a big accomplishment, reflect first on other’s contributions and acknowledge them before mentioning your role on the project.

The Impact of Women Givers. Grant does not spend much time on the gender dynamic in this book, but as a working mother I had some immediate reactions to the giving/taking continuum. Women are raised to be givers, and our societal norms value women who are warm and nurturing. Grant’s research shows that givers face a tricky path — givers are statistically least likely to get ahead — giving credence to the idea that good guys finish last. But his research also shows that givers also finish first-they have the highest productivity, performance results, and revenue generation in their companies. The difference is givers who are “not selfless but are otherish.” Givers who are selfless often find themselves overwhelmed and over committed. But givers who focus on giving without losing sight of their interests are “Otherish.” They give graciously without overextending themselves. Women givers, and all givers, can increase their chance of success- and decrease their risk of burnout- by tuning into this key concept. The good news for givers is that the prototype of the successful leader is drastically shifting. According to a management survey of over 3,600 participants, givers have historically have had lower salary increases, slower advancement, and lower promotion rates. Less than 65% of givers were promoted to management roles compared to 83% of takers and 82% of matchers. This appears to align to our traditional stereotype that good leaders get ahead because of their (individual) hard work, talent, and knowledge. But that is shifting. Google recently used it’s data analytic prowess to determine the most important traits of effective leaders. The top three traits are a good coach, empower the team, and is interested/concerned with their team members’ success. Sound like an otherish giver? Good news for givers and for women givers if these traits are now seen as strengths instead of risks.

We all are part giver, matcher, and taker. You can find out your rating at Adam Grant’s website.  Grant’s book Give and Take provides numerous examples of givers and takers and how these behaviors impacted their success. I encourage you to reflect on how you interact with your network and your peers and be aware of your taking, matching and giving behaviors. Look at your network as a place to give. Be intentional about giving credit. Remember that giving is not synonymous with selflessness. And with that knowledge, go out and give!