I consider myself a pretty successful person. I am proud of what I have achieved academically, professionally, athletically and in my personal life.
While working towards my achievements over the last 40+ years I have displayed some of the following strengths:
Focused and highly goal oriented
At times I also have been guilty of overdoing my strengths by showing up as
Inflexible and loosing sight of the big picture
A lot of us have been told that we shouldn’t spend too much time on improving our weaknesses but rather get them to an acceptable level and then focus on perfecting our strengths. The logic behind this thinking goes something like this: you will never be really good at your weaknesses. Get them to a good enough level and then surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak. Use your energy to move your strengths from excellent to world class. Become outstanding at one thing vs. being slightly above average at a few things.
While I agree with the notion of focus and becoming outstanding at a few select things, there is a key point missing in the above argument:
By relentlessly focusing on further enhancing our strengths we often neglect to realize that we can indeed (and very often do!) overdo our strengths! Remember my own example above. It is easy for me to go from being highly driven, goal oriented and focused to too single minded and inflexible!
So here is one of the few absolute truths I believe in and frequently quote in my leadership coaching:
Every weakness is a strength overdone.
I am focused and structured. When I overdo it, I am becoming inflexible and rigid.
Your boss might be highly empathetic and sensitive. When overdoing his strengths, he looses sight of the business agenda, or worse, becomes a pushover.
Your direct report is self confident and a strong presenter. She often overdoes her confidence and comes across as arrogant.
What is my biggest strength both in my personal as well as my professional life? How might this strength overdone show up as a weakness?
What is the first step I can take today to address my ‘strength overdone’?
*And if you are as brave as our coaching clients are, you will also ask someone who knows you well and be willing to tell you the unvarnished truth.
The same day Microsoft announced their huge reorganization this month, I was presenting a CEO client the findings of my interviews with his senior management team. The two main points of critical feedback the managers had for my client were:
We operate in a silo mentality
There is a lack of trust ands collaboration across departments. At its worst, we have a blame culture
On the way back from the meeting I got stuck in notoriously bad Seattle rush hour traffic and was listening to the reports of Microsoft’s reorg on National Public Radio. I learned that (my fellow Swiss countryman 🙂 Steve Ballmer’s goals for the reorg were tearing down of departmental silos and creating more cohesive teamwork; hence regaining the spark that has been missing from so many Microsoft products recently. Right there, stuck in traffic, less than 3 miles from Microsoft’s headquarters, it hit me once again how many similarities there are between running a $20m business (my client) and a multi-billion dollar business like Microsoft.
It’s the age old challenge every leaders faces: How do I get everyone to think ‘us’ vs. thinking of colleagues in other departments as ‘them’.
Here’s how Kathleen L. Flanagan, the chief executive of Abt Associates, tackled the issue.
“We’ve grown from $180 million in annual revenue a few years ago to $425 million today. As the company grew, more business units were created, and so we had more silos in the organization. My objective two years ago in coming into this job was to take down the silos. So I reorganized the company. It used to be organized around lines of business — international, U.S.-based, data collection — and there used to be senior vice presidents who led each of those big businesses. I took those senior V.P. positions away and hired one executive vice president for global business who shared my vision for what I call One Global Abt.
(…) I now ask my managers to wear two hats. Everybody’s got their job in the big picture of the company, but they all have to wear an Abt hat. It’s really easy, given the time pressures and the pace of our work, to put blinders on and be very project-focused. It’s harder to take a step back and ask, “How does this apply to the whole company?”
Simplify the Scoreboard
A big part of a leader’s job is to establish a simple set of performance metrics so that everyone in the company can feel as if they’re part of a broader team, and can understand how the work they do contributes to the broader goals. Chief executives have to choose those metrics carefully because, as the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed.
A powerful example of this came from Shivan S. Subramaniam, the chief executive of FM Global, a commercial and industrial property insurer, who shared how his team worked hard to develop very simple goals.
“We call them key result areas, or K.R.A.’s. We’re multinational — we’ve got 5,100 people, 1,800 of whom are engineers. We’re very analytical. But we have three K.R.A.’s, nothing terribly fancy. And everybody focuses on them. One is on profitability. One is on retention of existing clients. And one is on attracting new clients. That’s it.
You can talk to people in San Francisco, Sydney or Singapore, and they’ll know what the three K.R.A.’s are. All of our incentive plans are designed around our K.R.A.’s, and every one of those K.R.A.’s is very transparent. Our employees know how we’re doing. And, most importantly, they understand them, whether they’re the most senior manager or a file clerk, so they know that ‘If I do this, it helps this K.R.A. in this manner.’”
Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff
There’s a reason that so many companies hold regular all-hands meetings (and with technology, it’s possible to do them in large and sprawling companies now). Again, it’s about tribal behavior. You have to bring everybody together and speak to everyone as a group for people to identify themselves with the broadest group. Leaders then have to take their simple plan and hammer it home, again and again, even if they feel like everybody has heard it before a hundred times.
It’s a lesson that Christopher J. Nassetta, the Hilton Worldwide chief, learned over time.
“You have to be careful as a leader, particularly of a big organization. You can find yourself communicating the same thing so many times that you get tired of hearing it. And so you might alter how you say it, or shorthand it, because you have literally said it so many times that you think nobody else on earth could want to hear this. But you can’t stop. In my case, there are 300,000 people who need to hear it, and I can’t say it enough. So what might sound mundane and like old news to me isn’t for a lot of other people. That is an important lesson I learned as I worked in bigger organizations.”
Ask yourself for your own organization:
One Company Culture:
On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate your organization as having a One Company Culture?
How does your org chart support/not support a one company culture? What changes do you need to make?
What language are you using to support a one company culture?
Simplify the Scoreboard
How clear are you personally on the performance metrics for your business? What about your senior managers? What about your front line people?
How can you simplify the metrics down to no more than three?
How will you make your people ‘care’ about those metrics?
Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff
How often do you communicate to your entire staff?
How can you make your message as simple as possible?
How often do you feel you have said the same thing 150 times, seven different ways?
Most of us understand the importance of leading by example. Often, however, we forget, that we are constantly on stage. And I mean constantly: from the minute you walk into the office in the morning until you leave at night, you are sending signals to your people about what is desirable behavior and what is unacceptable.
Our colleague and leadership teacher Jim Hessler writes in his excellent book “Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, “Just showing up as a leader can be hard work. Think of the thousands of interactions you’ll have with others in the days and months ahead. In the morning you’ll have to choose a parking space: even this is a form of interaction. Perhaps you’ll hold the front door open for a fellow employee-or not. You’ll walk to your desk or office a certain way-briskly or casually, smiling or frowning, greeting colleagues along the way or lost in your own thoughts …”
Leading executive coach Marshall Goldsmith compares leadership to Broadway theater, “I am inspired by great theater. Every night, great performers pour their hearts into each production. Some have headaches, some have family problems, but it doesn’t really matter. When it’s show time, they give it all they have. Although it might be the thousandth time an actor has performed the part, it might be the first time the customer sitting in the fourth row has seen the production. To the true performer, every night is opening night.
Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. It doesn’t matter if they have a headache. They do whatever it takes to help their organization succeed. When they need to be ‘on’, like the Broadway stars, it’s show time.” Click here for Marshall’s complete article.
Throughout the work day people in your organization will look for clues from you about how you the business is doing, how you are feeling and what it all means for them.
And it does not end there. Think business travel, office parties and semi-social gatherings. Remember: the show is always on and you are constantly on stage!
Have you ever thought out loud in front of your team about the pros and cons of launching a particular new service or product next year?
Later on, were you surprised to find rumors spreading throughout your business that you just decided to launch that very product next quarter? If so, you fell into the trap of underestimating how closely people are listening to every single word you are saying (and then not afraid to put their own spin on it and spread the word).
If you happen to be a leader who thinks through difficult issues by talking about them, you need to be particularly mindful about what, how and with whom you are sharing your ‘thinking out loud’. Remember, you are not thinking out loud from the 20th row but from up on the main stage!
Here are your two take-aways:
Be self aware (maybe the most important leadership skill) that your people are observing you constantly and are picking up on every little thing you do or do not do. They see everything: the good, the bad and the ugly and are constantly asking themselves: what does this mean for me? You are the leader of the pack and NOT one of the pack!
Even the most successful and experienced Broadway actors are nervous before every show. In fact, some argue the nervousness is a key ingredient to really be at their best during the show. Similarly, being on the leadership stage can be scary and uncomfortable. Accept and embrace the tension. It keeps you at your best!
First, Chris is one of the most accomplished ultracyclists in the U.S. and ranks easily in the top 10 world-wide. Among many other accomplishments, he holds the 1,000 km road world record, has won what is probably the most competitive ultra event (other than RAAM), the Furnace Creek 508, and has ridden more than 500 miles multiple times during the National 24 hour race.
Second, Chris is a great friend, an amazing racing and training partner and an incredibly humble human being. Chris and I share many memories riding and racing together. Two that I will never forget: winning and setting the course record in the two man division of the Race Across Oregon and riding through the endless second night of the 1,200 km Boston-Montreal-Boston event.
Third, there are many similarities in mindset and character that are required to compete in an ultra endurance event such as RAAM and submitting yourself to our leadership coaching process and graduating a truly better leader.
Think that is a bit of a stretch? Read on. Early hint: neither RAAM nor our coaching is for the faint of heart!
Do you have what it takes? You do if you have plenty of guts, lots and lots of humility and great dose of discipline!
Why RAAM requires plenty of guts
Imagine you and I are standing at the starting line of RAAM in California at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Ahead of us are 3,000 non-stop miles across this vast country. We have 12 days to finish. Now here is a sobering statistic for us: half of us standing here will not finish on the East Coast but will have our dream shattered. Somewhere along the way we will dismount our bike and not finish the race. Statistically, it will be either you or me.
For some of us it will be early in the race. Maybe it will be on the first day in the 120 degree heat of the Mojave Desert when half the field will be puking or during the second night and third day in the thin air of the Rockies. Others will be beaten by the monotony of the never-ending plains with failing necks during the middle part of the race. And some of us, with less than a third of the way to go, will find ourselves getting peeled off the bike by our crew and being transferred directly to ICU with fluid-filled lungs, broken pelvises or worse. (This unfortunately is what happened to me in 2005.)
Despite knowledge of all of this, Chris Ragsdale will be at the RAAM starting line in June 2013. For eight months leading up to the start in June he will put the rest of his life on hold to live and breathe RAAM 24/7.
RAAM has more similarities with a mountaineering expedition than a bike race: recruiting and organizing the crew, ordering vehicles, shipping gear, designing the race plan and yes, of course, training (most riders clock between 4,000 and 10,000 miles in the six months leading up to the race).
And then there is the financial aspect. Chris’ RAAM budget is around $25,000, which is average for solo RAAM riders. Know also that Chris is a husband and father of two young boys age 5 and 3, is on-and-off remodeling his house and is not independently wealthy. Both he and his wife Lara work full time.
Taking all this on with the knowledge that he statistically has only a 50% chance of finishing requires plenty of guts no doubt.
Why our leadership coaching process requires plenty of guts
While none of our coaching clients (to date) have either thrown up or ended up in the ICU, plenty of guts are required nevertheless to complete the coaching process.
Our coaching is significantly more transparent than any other leadership coaching we are aware of. We do not believe in simply coaching our clients behind closed doors in their corner office. We take your coaching to your organization and involve your team heavily in your leadership development.
This starts after our initial 360 process in which we interview each of your stakeholders (your bosses, your peers and your direct reports) and then feed back the results to you in a very detailed report. As the leader being coached you will stand in front of your team of stakeholders and share the leadership development goals you are committing to based on the initial 360 results. Let me be even clearer: you will explicitly present to your team of stakeholders which weaknesses you will look at improving. You will also ask them to help you improve.
For most of our clients, this is the scariest part of the engagement. And yet it is incredibly powerful. When is the last time you have seen a leader stand in front of his team acknowledging his/her weaknesses and specifically asking for the team’s help to get better?
Throughout the coaching engagement you will be asking your team of stakeholders for regular face-to-face feedback on your progress towards your goals. You are specifically inviting the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly feedback.
Half-way through and at the end of our engagement, your stakeholders will assess your progress in a very short anonymous s survey. Once again, you will ask them to be brutally honest.
Truly becoming a better leader requires that you put yourself out there. It might not seem as scary as attempting to ride your bike across the United States, however as any of our clients will tell you: Our leadership coaching does require guts. In the words of one of our current clients: ”I have to admit I did not sleep well the night before the stakeholder meeting where I had to present my coaching goals based on the initial 360. However, the feedback after the meeting from my team was so incredibly positive that it was worth the lost sleep. They expressed a true appreciation for my openness and willingness to dig deep in order to become a better boss.”
Over the course of the next few ezines I will share with you how lots of humility and great doses of discipline are required to both compete in RAAM as well as graduating from our leadership coaching process.
I strongly believe that the world would be a better place if each leader would go through Redpoint’s stakeholder based coaching process (originally designed by Marshall Goldsmith).
Let me explain: Imagine every politician from Obama down, every corporate CEO from Messrs. Balmer and Branson down, every small business owner, community leader, doctor and teacher asking their direct reports, peers, clients, patients and students these two simple questions:
What am I doing well?
What do I need to improve?
And then picking one, and only one thing, to get better at, sharing this goal with these same people, asking for regular feedback (say every month) on their progress. After reflecting on this feedback ,the leaders then work towards changing their behavior. Then, after six and 12 months, asking each of the same people to anonymously assess their progress.
Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Why aren’t more people doing this? In fact, why isn’t everyone doing this? Here are the top two reasons we find (and no, it’s not really the lack of money or time, it almost never is!):
Leaders think they are already excellent and don’t believe they need to get better. They are notoriously overconfident and sometime even arrogant.
Leaders are afraid to openly admit that they want and need to improve and are leery of the feedback they might get. They are afraid of the truth.
And that in my humble opinion is part of the reason why so many organizations and companies are in such a sorry state.
I believe that if we had only leaders who have (1) the humility to admit that they are not perfect and want and need to improve, (2) had the guts and healthy self esteem to do so publicly to their teams and (3) the follow through to ask for regular feedback months after months, we would have better governments, better businesses and better organizations. In short: a better world. Hence: Better Leaders, Better World!
Now I am the first one to admit that what I am proposing here is not realistic. And yes, we would have some capacity issues at Redpoint :). In the meantime however, we are chipping away at making the world a better place one leadership coaching client at a time.
Here is what some of our current clients are working on:
Delegate more effectively
Treat others with respect
Become a better coach and mentor
Hold others accountable
Utilize emotions effectively/not use anger as a management tool
Listen to different points of view with an open mind before giving my opinion
Address conflict in a constructive and timely manner
And here is what I personally am working on this year:
Improve my ability to prioritize and to say ‘No’
What is it you want and need to improve this year to make you a stronger leader and ultimately make the world a better place? Better yet, what would your co-workers say is the one improvement you should make that would have the greatest impact on your organization’s health?
If you (1) are a coach, (2) have worked with a coach or (3) are hiring a coach (for yourself or others) ask yourself these three questions (discussed in more detail below):
What does success look like and who gets to decide?
What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?
What is the process?
(Note, I believe that a lot of what I discuss here also applies to hiring and working with other consultants, not just coaches)
Let’s talk about what most coaching looks like today and what we believe it should look like. Consider the below two scenarios and ask yourself:
Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
Which scenario is preferable and why?
Scenario I: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. Although the manager’s boss and the Vice President of Human Resources had a good idea what the manager was working on (he needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) they did not participate in the actual coaching process. The coaching was a somewhat mysterious process as it happened behind closed doors. Even some of the coaching client’s close working colleagues did not know that he was working with a leadership coach. Over the duration of the engagement, there were two progress meetings during which the client and the coach reported their progress to his boss and the HR VP. At the end of the engagement, the coach submitted a report in which he outlined how the client progressed during the engagement. He presented primarily self-reported anecdotal evidence. The report included a (positive) self assessment by the client. The coach believed he had earned his $35k fee because he spent a lot of time with the client and strongly felt that the client got better.
Scenario II: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. The client involved her stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses) from the very start in the coaching process. The client developed her coaching goals (she needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) in collaboration her stakeholders and regularly solicited feedback on her progress from them. Halfway through and at the end of the engagement stakeholders rated the client on her progress against her coaching goals in an anonymous online survey online survey. The results of the first online survey were less than stellar and forced the client and her coach to make some changes. The second and final online stakeholder survey showed a significant improvement of the client’s targeted leadership behaviors. The coach collected his $35k fee because (and only because) he facilitated a process by which helped the client get better, as assessed by the client’s 3rd party stakeholders.
Again, ask yourself:
Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
Which scenario is preferable and why?
A lot of coaching in small business and corporate America is significantly closer to Scenario I than to Scenario II (I know because I have practiced it myself…). For those of you even vaguely familiar with our leadership coaching approach, it will come as no surprise that Lauren and I are strong proponents for moving coaching towards Scenario II.
Let me explain.
I have been coaching for more than 10 years and looking back over this period I am amazed how much the field of coaching and my practice has changed.
I started my coaching as a career coach, quickly transitioned into small business/entrepreneurial coaching and finally ended up finding my calling in leadership (executive) coaching.
I have worked with many wonderful clients (100+ of them) and I believe I have done a lot of good work and, on occasion, some great work. However, I often had the nagging feeling of uneasiness around the measurable impact of my coaching. Yes, the clients felt happy and gave me positive feedback. I did feel they were (for the most part) making good process and got things done they would not have done without our work together. Nevertheless: my outcome driven personality was not satisfied. Questions would linger: How did I really know if I made a difference? Who should be the judge? Did the results achieved justify my fee?
At about the same time I was pondering these questions, Lauren and I were certified in a methodology called Stakeholder Centered Coaching pioneered by executive coaching legend Marshall Goldsmith. In essence, the coach first identifies the client’s key stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses.) Stakeholders are critical to the process as they are people best in a position to: 1) identify the client’s existing leadership shortcomings, 2) give specific and immediate suggestions for ways to improve and 3) assess progress towards desired change. The stakeholders, in essence, are turned into collaborative partners in the coaching process. (Scenario II describes a Stakeholder Centered Coaching engagement, which is the approach Lauren and I now use in our engagements.)
The result? A quantifiable assessment that is hard to “game” by either the coach or the client. (Another side benefit to the Stakeholder Centered approach is that it tends to greatly improve the quality of conversations across the organization, but that’s the subject of another article!)
Coaching represents a big investment in time, money and effort for the client and your organization. Make sure you get a fair return on your investment by asking the questions below before you hire a coach. Does their process look more like Scenario I or II? Does it provide good answers to each of the questions below?
1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?
How does the coach define success for the coaching engagement? What about the client? The boss? HR? How is failure defined?
How will progress be measured, along the way, and at the end? Is it quantifiable?
Who reports progress/results? Is it self-reported (client, coach) or by third parties (e.g. anonymous surveys, stakeholders)
2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?
Are you paying for process/activities (e.g. billable hours spent) or measurable results?
Are you having to pay the coaching (consulting) fee no matter what the outcome of the engagement or is the coach’s fee at least partly dependant on the success of the engagement?
3. What is the process?
Is the coach able to clearly articulate the process (note: coaching is not (anymore) simply a series of conversations)?
Does the coaching only happen in private, behind closed doors, or is the process attempting at building leverage across the organization (e.g. by including various stakeholders)?
Is the coaching engagement clearly scoped? Does everyone agree what is being worked on and what is not being worked on? How do you prevent scope creep?
For a detail description of our coaching process, visit our website at Redpoint Coaching.