Leader What Flag are you Flying?

Leader What Flag are you Flying?

Today, June 14th is Flag Day in the US.  It is a day to pause and pay respect to the flag, a symbol for our country.  To many the US flag at it’s most basic level is a symbol for the inalienable rights of individuals and for a system of government that is for the people and by the people. Flags can provoke powerful responses.  I have experienced deep feelings of humility and gratitude when seeing the flag as part of a remembrance at a military funeral and deep pride when the flag is displayed as a celebration on the Fourth of July.  Conversely I had a deeply negative and visceral reaction just seeing the Nazi flag when the setting was as innocuous as seeing the play, The Sound of Music. In the context of work, leaders can fly all sorts of flags.  By flag flying I mean, by words or actions what people interpret to be the priorities of their leaders.  Examples of flags leaders might be (consciously or unconsciously) flying: “For the business” “For a fun environment” “For Q1 results” “For the mission” “For the stock price” “For innovation” “For sales” “For collaboration” “For this division” “For safety” “For productivity” “For me” “For impact on the community” “For the environment” “For rigorous analysis” “For consensus” Flags, as symbols, have the potential to focus attention, attract/push away, and stir emotions.  The questions then are: If you were to ask your team to describe what flag are you flying, what would they say? Is that the flag you intended? Is that the best flag for this circumstance? Is your...
Reluctant Leaders and the Poison Promotion

Reluctant Leaders and the Poison Promotion

When a new leader is struggling in a new role the cause is often diagnosed as a lack of leadership skills. This may be the case, but often the obvious and overlooked point is the impact of preference.  In addition to lack of skills is there also a lack of a preference to lead people?  In retrospect was the move to a new role actually a poison promotion? People also (cynically) reference the Peter Principle* as validation that poor performance indicates that a person got elevated beyond their level of competence.  The point is missed that the Peter Principle is also a caution about promoting based on past role needs and not based on future role needs.  Thus the Peter Principle puts role failure responsibility not just on the individual, but on the person (or organization) that took the action to promote the individual.  The Peter Principle is not a reason to feel smug about people underperforming in a role, but actually highlights the need for organizational discipline around talent management. Keeping preferences in mind, “poison promotions” can occur because: Lack of knowledge by the organization if the person wants to lead Lack of knowledge by the candidate if they want to lead Lack of interest by organization whether the candidate wants to lead (i.e. no other options) Lack of feeling there is a choice by the candidate (i.e. if they don’t take the promotion they will miss out on this and future opportunities) Reasons senior leaders should care if poisoned promotions are occurring in their organization: Lack of role effectiveness Decreased team effectiveness Dampening growth of the pipeline...
A Day to Remember Silent, Noble Service

A Day to Remember Silent, Noble Service

In our busy, day-to-day lives, it takes a formal day for us to pause and reflect.  Memorial Day honors those that have died while serving in our armed forces.  It is humbling that so many have given their lives in service.  It is also remarkable that many have served and sacrificed with little fanfare.  A formal day of remembrance is then a powerful force to help get us thinking and thankful. On a drive between Phoenix and San Diego I stopped at the tiny town of Dateland. Arizona. On a marker there I read about a B-50 that crashed nearby in 1950 during training exercises.  Twelve of the fourteen crew members perished in the crash.  I have driven by that spot for over 20 years, ignorant of the story. This week, a Wall Street Journal editorial noted that thousands of military contractors have died while supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The contractors (because they are not active service members) do not get military honors or benefits.  They are often not counted in the tallies of the casualties of those conflicts. Through my grandparents I met a World War II veteran.  My grandfather introduced him as a hero.  The man just shrugged his shoulders.  Later I learned from a book on the subject* that he was part of an audacious group of paratroopers called Pathfinders.  These troops (and this man I met) were tasked with parachuting behind German lines to provide navigation orientation for the troops to land at Normandy. It is easy to be unaware of even great sacrifices. While not on the scale of sacrifices honored...
Enjoyment Killers at Work and Why they Matter

Enjoyment Killers at Work and Why they Matter

Research has shown that if people enjoy 75% or more of their work, they are 4 times more likely to be successful at it. Unfortunately, some leaders miss maximizing the performance and retention of their teams by not addressing these common “enjoyment killers.” Emphasizing “fun” above “enjoyment”. Enjoyment can be thought of the degree to which a person is engaged with and absorbed by their work. Think being in a state of flow.* Fun is part of enjoyment, but more short-term.  Examples include company lunches, ping pong tables, and holiday parties.  These activities can encourage connection and lighten things up, but are not a substitute for lasting enjoyment. Mismatch of culture. For example the real (not aspirational) culture of a company is top-down, command and control while the employee has a high value for autonomy and wants opinions valued. Employees of course like positive feedback and dislike negative feedback. However, the third option of leaving someone in the dark has been shown to be the most damaging to engagement. Nice, non-confrontational people can unintentionally be very damaging to the performance of their people by not giving timely feedback. Ignorance of important but unmet factors of key employees. Examples include the degree to which a person wants opportunities to develop, advance, have challenging work, lead others, make decisions, and drive innovation. Leaders who want to keep their top people working at a high level and keep those people over time will seek to eliminate these enjoyment killers in their organization.  Have you seen these enjoyment killers in your organization?  What do you do to promote enjoyment? *Milhalyi Cziksentmihalyi, author of...
How and Why to take “Cold Plunges” at Work

How and Why to take “Cold Plunges” at Work

Cold plunges and cold showers are a popular component of athletic performance routines.  The advertised benefits include faster recovery and increased energy.  The cold shock deepens breathing and stimulates the nervous system — and definitely gets you going in the morning. Taking metaphorical “cold plunges” can also have tremendous impact on our growth as leaders.  The benefits include improved perspective, accelerated learning, discovery of new abilities and renewed enthusiasm for goals. There are three ways to create the bracing effects of a plunge in your development: seeking feedback, experimenting with new skills/behaviors and exposure to new experiences. Seeking feedback…  as I say, “Feedback is only breakfast for champions”, but it is a good place to start.  Maximize the value of feedback by getting it from 1) those that will not sugar-coat nor dilute 2) experts in a specific area, or 3) from those you may have hesitated asking before (bosses, peers, direct reports).  I have done many 360 reports with leaders. Not one has said they enjoyed the experience.  Almost all found the information incredibly valuable. Experimenting with new skills/behaviors… Try something that is not your normal style.  I was at a large gathering of leaders recently and the host, a senior leader for a major university, stuck to reading prepared remarks.  The message and delivery were plain vanilla and totally lost amongst the clatter of table chatter and silverware.  It appeared to me that this leader was most comfortable with a safe style – even when the impact was low.  Risk a little and see what can be done better. Exposure to new experiences…In the context of developing...
String Theory of Leadership

String Theory of Leadership

Leadership is like a string in two ways: we can push or pull.  “Pushing on a string” is exhausting and has limited utility, including in organizations.  Pulling works, but is limited to the extent that your force is greater than the possible resistance. The options for leading are then are to 1) continue to force (push) or 2) optimize the conditions for pulling.  Think of pulling as the process of getting people (your team or organization) moving in your direction. Ways to get people moving in your direction: -communicate an attractive future state (vision).  We are going great places and the future is bright. -communicate an attractive reason (mission). We are creating great impact for our clients/industry/sphere of influence. -create an enjoyable “how” (culture).  We get things done the right way. -engage a style that does not push others away.  I interact with and influence others in a positive, productive way. -make it better to be “here” than “there” (engagement).  We seek to satisfy the wants of contributors including but not limited to compensation.* To what extent do you and your leaders pull people in?  Are you and your leaders over-relying on pushing? If so, why?  In what ways can you be even better at pulling? Are there areas of your organization that can be even better at pulling?   *example of other factors to consider: having the best tools and processes to do the job developmental opportunities advancement opportunities opportunity for challenging work appreciation expectations recognition expectations opportunities to work in a team opportunities to have...