Lesson in self-restraint: How do you handle almost getting killed? by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD

Anyone can get angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.

-Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

planeDale Carnegie liked to tell the story of Bob Hoover, who was a famous test pilot and frequent performer at air shows. Hoover was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an air show in San Diego. Suddenly, both engines stopped in mid-flight on the aircraft that Hoover was flying. Using his skills and some deft maneuvering, he managed to land the plane, but it was badly damaged. Thankfully, neither Hoover nor the two passengers that were flying with him were hurt.

Hoover’s first act after the emergency landing was to inspect the airplane’s fuel. Just as he suspected, the WWII propeller plane he had been flying had been fueled with jet fuel rather than gasoline.

Upon returning to the airport, he asked to see the mechanic who had serviced his airplane. The young man was sick with the agony of his mistake. Tears streamed down his face as Hoover approached. He had just caused the loss of a very expensive plane and could have caused the loss of three lives as well.

No one would’ve blamed Hoover for ripping into the mechanic for his carelessness. But Hoover didn’t scold the mechanic; he didn’t even criticize him. Instead, he put his big arm around the man’s shoulder and said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.”

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One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.

Leadership 101: Get These Basics Right!

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Lauren and I absolutely love supporting our clients in getting better. If we could have it our way, our clients would work on their leadership skills all day, every day. Thing is, they have some other things to get done…

Within those resource constraints the question for us is always: which leadership skills, if applied correctly, will make the biggest difference for our clients? Which 20% of behavioral changes will get our clients 80% of the results?

Here are the three basic leadership skills we believe will get you a long way towards the famous 80% of the 80/20 rule:

  1. Valuing being respected more than liked
  2. Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’
  3. Owning and managing your own development

Valuing being respected more than being liked

One of my early bosses once told me: “Look Urs, my goal is for you to respect and like me. However, if I can only have one, I take the former.” Because I probably sometimes care more about what other people think about me than I should, this comment has really stuck with me.

To varying levels, we all have the need to be liked. Some of us need less external gratification, others need more. It’s important to understand your ‘default mode’:

  • Are you someone who tends to sacrifice business results in order to preserve a relationship?,  or
  • Do you tend to value business outcomes over the relationship?

Where do you sit on this continuum?

In our experience most leaders fall into the first category: they are leaders who have a strong need to be liked. This becomes a problem when you are fulfilling your need to be liked by comprising sound business decisions. In doing so, you might get a short term ‘like boost’ but in our experience, the same people whom you were trying to please might actually lose respect for you in the long run.

As a true leader:

  • You make the best decision for the organization;
  • You sit down with your people, look them in the eye and explain the business reason for making the hard decision; and
  • You show compassion for those negatively affected by your decision by listening, (really listening!) to their concerns and acknowledging them (including the accompanying feelings).

Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’

For many bosses, but especially for founders, it is very comforting to be involved in the ‘doing’ of the day to day of the business. Some leaders I have worked with may be ok to let go of running the operations side of the business but find it very challenging to transition the deep and rich customer relationships they have built over the years.

No matter if it is operations or customer relationships: If you want to grow your business and scale it, you need to transition from doing to leading.

What do I mean by leading?

  • Setting goals for (and with) your people;
  • Getting out of their way so they can do the work they need to do; and
  • Holding them accountable for their results.

Setting goals for (and with) your people

Much has been written about good goal setting. Here is just one piece of advice in order to gain staff buy-in for goals:

  • Have your staff give input on your overall goals for the organization. Don’t just develop them by yourself in your corner office, then present them to staff and expect them to be jazzed about it. Really involve your staff in the development of company goals. Having said that, also be clear that you really want their input but that you will have the final say on what the final goals will be.
  • Once your organizational goals are defined ask your staff: What do you or your team need to achieve in order to get us there? Have them develop their own goals. Make yourself available to provide input and coaching. Having your staff develop their own goals will go miles towards buy-in.
  • Finalize all goals and publish them across the organization. Have everyone know what everyone else is working on. There is no better accountability tool! (Include progress towards the main goals in your staff meetings to help accountability, speed progress, and identify and solve obstacles.)

Get out of the way

Offer your insights, coaching, and resources along the way but don’t give into your urge to jump back in and get your hands dirty. Remember, micromanagement does not scale!

Don’t be afraid to defer to your team member when you get approached by a customer who wants you to personally take care of them. You need to develop your own wording but something along these lines might be a start: “Thanks Jeff for reaching out to me and thank you for doing business with us. Let me put you in touch with my team member, Sherry. She is very knowledgably in the area of xyz and will be a great resource for you.”

It is even better if you have previously brought your key team members along with you to meetings with clients, mentored their client development and relationship skills, and allowed them to develop their own relationships with clients along the way.

Use your co-workers or a coach as an accountability tool to avoid slipping back into old ‘Doing’ habits.

Holding them accountable for their results

One of the most powerful ways to start an accountability discussion is to have your staff self-assess their performance vis-à-vis the goals. If you have hired the right person she will be doing a lot of the work for you. Be sure to celebrate and acknowledge wins (“Lauren, this is a job really well done because of x, y z”) and don’t hesitate to be equally direct where you need to see improvements: “Urs, you know I really value your hard work and this simply is not good enough. In particular I need you to improve x, y, z”). Moving from Doing to Leading can be a very difficult transition to make. You need to redefine your role in the organization and change how you define your success.  A good day is no longer about how much YOU did but about what your TEAM achieved. 

Owning and managing your own leadership development

Hint: no one else will own and manage your leadership development if you won’t, so here is where micro management can work well for you.J

To kick the process off, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you invited the people you work for and with to give you their honest feedback on how you are doing as a leader? What is holding you back from doing it in 2011? What are you afraid to hear?

How clear are you about the leadership skills needed to take your organization to the next level? Do you have them? If not, do you have the potential to acquire them? If yes, how will you go about it? (see below)

  • How much formal and informal work on your leadership skills have you done in 2010? What are you planning to do in 2011? (This may include: formal training, consciously taking on new stretch assignments on the job, coaching, mentoring, and participating in a peer group).

Reflect on your answers to the above questions and then answer the following simple question:

What one thing are you willing to commit to in 2011 to become a more effective leader to help you get the basics right? 

We would love to read your response to this question. Send us a 10 pager or a one liner to: changeability@redpointcoaching.com. Your entry will go into the drawing for one Leadership style assessment valued at $100 and 5 Starbucks coffee cards. We will also publish all entries (anonymously, of course) over the course of the next few ChangeAbility ezines.

Develop Trust and Devote Quality Time: Two Ingrediants of Great Leadership

I’ve recently conducted several 360 degree surveys for my Redpoint clients. A 360 degree survey provides feedback to a business owner in the form of an anonymous performance assessment by all the people (subordinates, colleagues, managers, clients, suppliers) who surround that person (hence “360 degree”).

In the case of my clients, the owners and CEOs typically want to receive feedback on their leadership skills from their staff. During the process, we define the criteria they want to use for the assessment, and then I draft a questionnaire, survey the staff, and compile and present the results.

Now, if you think this is an intimidating exercise, you are not alone! Because of the anonymous nature of the exercise, staff members are often brutally honest and are not reluctant to reveal their views. In each case, my clients have taken on the challenge bravely, knowing that this candid assessment is a critical first step towards their own improvement.

Back comes great feedback about their performances as “the boss.” They are perceived as exceptional at interacting with clients, great at getting business results and strong communicators. The two critical areas of improvement I continually observe are:

  • Lack of quality time spent with staff; and
  • Lack of trust

Critical area #1: You need to spend more quality time with your staff

Lots of owners of growing companies experience this: heavy workloads prevent you from spending time with the very people you rely on to get the job done, and who look to you for direction, mentorship and reward. Your busy schedule therefore leads to ‘seagull’ management: you stop in quickly and drop a ton of information, directions and sometimes criticism on your staff before you quickly take off again.

It came back loud and clear from my clients’ feedback: you need to take the time to talk to people substantively, ask them how things are really going, and really listen to their answers. It is not necessarily the quantity, but quality of time and interaction that counts.

Staff members who have been heard and feel that their feedback and suggestions have been taken on board are always more engaged workers. And engaged workers are almost always better performers.

Ask yourself: Over the last week, how many people in my business have I asked how things are going? How many people have I thanked for a job well done? Remember: praise in public, criticize in private. And, of course: when you are wrong (and you are and will be :-), apologize.

Critical area #2: Lack of trust: “We sometimes feel you do not trust us. It always has to go your way”

I am sure this sounds at least somewhat familiar to most business owners. After all, this is your baby, you have grown it and you know best what it needs. Trusting someone else to take over and perform tasks you have owned for so long is incredibly difficult.

In fact, the reason why people start businesses in the first place is that they believe they can perform a particular task better than anyone else (or at least better than their current or past employer). This strong belief in one’s abilities is one of the great strengths of the entrepreneur. Yet we know this strength can also become your biggest liability: the reality is that if you want to build a company, you have to trust people to help run it for you.

Trust sounds like a challenging concept to actively develop, but Carl Robinson, a Seattle based psychologist and executive coach, offers some helpful insights in his discussion of trust that appeared in an article in the Journal of Managerial Psychology (2004):

Motive-Based Trust is what most people think about when they think of trust. It is based on the belief that another’s values, goals and beliefs are closely aligned with yours.

Competency-Based Trust is based on your belief that your employees have the capabilities to get the job done.

So how then can we learn to develop these forms of trust?

How To Develop Competency-Based Trust

  • Assess Your Hiring: Do you have the right people in place to get the job done? Do they either have the necessary capabilities or are they willing and able to learn them? If yes, read on. If no, you need to consider making some staff replacements.
  • Take time to observe your people in action. Give them goals and let them come up with their own methodologies. Resist the huge temptation to jump in with solutions and advice-giving. If, after a while, you do not like what you see, go back to assessing your hiring practices or start providing more training.
  • Look for outside support. Hire a coach or consultant and/or establish a board you can lean on to help assess candidates. For more info on the benefits and how-to’s of establishing a board see: http://www.redpointcoaching.com/resources/documents/Oct03.pdf .

How to Develop Motive-Based Trust

While developing competency-based trust is relatively straightforward, motive-based trust tends to develop only once competency-based trust is established; motive-based trust is, therefore, harder to assess. Because this is a more intangible area, lots of entrepreneurs rely on their instincts. Remember, though, that you have great tools to align motives:

Remunerate staff based on their performance (e.g. a commission pay structure for your sales staff or a profit sharing pay scheme).

  • Provide key staff members with equity in your business. Carl Robinson argues that in an imperfect world where trusting relationships sometimes have to develop quickly, distributing equity is a great way to establish tentative trust.

My experience with 360 degree surveys has shown me that spending quality time with your staff and developing competency- and motive-based trust makes all the difference between mediocre and great business owners.

Contact me if you would like more information on conducting a 360 degree in your organization.

How To Lead Generation Y: Delivering The Leadership That Will Make Them Thrive Is Easier Than You Think

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Personal note: In my previous position as marketing director at Merriman, a financial advising firm, I had both the two oldest (60+) and the youngest member (23) of the entire firm on my team. My team spanned almost all four of the previous generations (Traditionalists, born between 1926-1938), Baby Boomers (1945-1960), Generation X (1961-1981), and Generation Y (1985-1995). Including an intern, I had four Generation Y members working for me. One of the things I enjoyed most about my job was to facilitate and lead intergenerational team-work. If you are leading young adults (or are in charge of people who lead them) I believe you will find the lessons I have learned about leading members of Generation Y helpful.

Shannon is 25 years old. She is in her second job out of college. She was hired as a ‘high potential’ candidate by her current company. She survived several rounds of layoffs and is very unhappy in her current position. Her old-school, corporate, generation-X boss micromanages her time while not providing much feedback or guidance on her actual job. Shannon is disillusioned with management and cynical about her job. She puts in the absolute minimum in time and effort and spends a lot of her working time surfing the web. The poor job market is the only thing stopping her from leaving the company.

Bruce is 19 years old and in his second year of college. He is the third generation in a family business. His grandfather (70) only recently handed over day-to-day operations to his father (45). This summer Bruce is interning as the ‘social media guru,’ his first paying job in the family business. After a few weeks, he is highly frustrated. In his view, people at the company simply ‘don’t get it.’ He truly desires to make an impact and help make a difference but feels that no one is listening to his ideas or values his input. In the interest of family peace, he decides to continue with the internship but secretly vows to never again work in this family business.

The above real-life examples demonstrates what happens when Generation Y leadership goes bad.

Today’s young adults entering the workforce are a different breed than those of any of the generations before them. They must be lead slightly differently as they enter the workforce:

Provide constant feedback (and manage their sense of entitlement)
These young adults are used to and crave instant and constant feedback. Most of them grew up with lots of praise. Many Trophy Kids received ribbons and trophies simply for showing up at Saturday games. Their parents have told them over and over again they can achieve anything they want. They are highly optimistic and sometimes out of touch with reality. They are definitely not used to being told that the quality of their work needs improvement.

As their leader, it is virtually impossible for you to over communicate. Provide them with ongoing, just-in-time feedback. Give them the praise and appreciation they crave. At the same time, hold them accountable. You might be the first one to ever tell them the truth about the quality of their work. If they are falling short, you need to tell them. As their leader and mentor, you need to help them discover their weaknesses and strengths and then play to those strengths

A word of caution though: Don’t ever micro manage their time. Instead, lead by objective. They value a flexible schedule and might do their best work from the local Starbucks or at 2 a.m. in their pajamas. Assess their performance, not their attendance!

Be a strong mentor and coach
This is probably the most important lesson of them all. Members of Generation Y are extremely responsive to mentoring and coaching. Develop strong and meaningful relationships with them by really getting to know them: Take them for coffee, go for a lunchtime walk/run, play some golf and most important, ask questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Learn their passions, their desires, their aspiration in life. In return, share your experiences and lessons you have learned. They are hungry for your insights, they love to be ‘in the know’ and they will soak up your knowledge, feedback and advice. Become their strong mentor and coach and your Gen Y’s will thrive, blossom and follow you loyally.

You might also explore a ‘reversed mentoring’ approach, something Jack Welch at GE pioneered over 20 year ago. The idea is to pair Baby boomers with members of Generation Y. The Boomers share their work experience while the Generation Y team members enlighten Boomers about new technologies and social networking.

Share why their work is important
These young people have little time for doing things because they are told to do so or because ‘that’s how we have always done it.’ They are hungry for data and information. Remember that, for better or worse, many of them are constantly multi-tasking, and are taking in thousands of technology messages every day. Faced with this overload, they quickly sort incoming information between what they deem is ‘need to know’ versus ‘nice to know’.

Provide them with lots of context and information. Communicate the importance of their work and tell them how it fits into the company’s overall big picture. Help them see that what they do really matters. Show them how their work is making your organization better, making a difference in the world and is part of something bigger – not just adding to the bottom line. Several studies, for example, have shown the importance of environmental causes for Generation Y.

In short: get them fired up for your vision, show them how their work will directly help you to make the vision a reality and your Gen Y-ers will be the best people who ever worked for you!

Give them opportunity for input and ownership
Members of Generation Y have been on their laptops since they were four. They grew up with posting and voting on Facebook and blogs. They have a strong desire to express themselves, to comment and to provide input on topics.

Be bold and have them provide you input and feedback on high-level strategic topics which you would normally not share with them. They will forever value you for giving them the opportunity to ‘upload their thoughts’ and much like any generation before them, they will throw their support behind what they helped to create.

After they have given you their input, it’s time to challenge them: Carve out a project with a clearly defined deliverable, a budget and a timeline, then give them full ownership of it. Make yourself available as a coach and mentor. But don’t micromanage them or their projects.

Be tough when assessing the results of their work by providing the honest, credible feedback they so crave.