Archive for Leadership

It’s the Little Things that Matter….

A typical weekend for us might look like this:

There’s a lawn to mow, naturally, and some laundry that needs doing. Perhaps a blazer and a couple of sweaters need dropping off at the dry cleaners. Food shopping, without a doubt, hopefully at some non-peak hour when we won’t find ourselves in a checkout line that resembles the wait for a ride at Disneyland. We might also go to a movie, or perhaps a hike with our dog, Zoe, who manages off-leash commands quite well and loves to play with any other dogs rambling along the trail. We’ll also most likely need to gas up the car and, oh yes, run either a dust cloth or vacuum over our home’s horizontal surfaces.

When Monday arrives invariably someone will ask, “How was your weekend?” to which we’ll likely reply, “Pretty good. The weather was perfect so we took Zoe and headed up to Riddle Brook Park.”

Nary a mention of anything else, and why would there be? All those other things we did (which probably took up most of that “pretty good” weekend) are the kinds of things that everyone does all the time. No one needs to talk about them; they’re assumed.

The time at Riddle Brook Park was wonderful, of course, but was it more important than everything else we did? Not really. All those other things—the routine, run-of-the-mill, gotta-get-done maintenance tasks of life—are the true engines that keeps things moving. Imagine if all we ever did was go hiking, or to the movies, or to concerts. Our lives would suffer rapidly and seriously. All those other things are critical activities, even if we don’t pay them much attention.

Our lives as leaders, it turns out, aren’t that different. Oh, sure: we work hard to have those great events for our employees—the development programs, the holiday parties, the summer picnics. Those are valuable and remembered. But equally valuable (perhaps even more so) are those smaller repeated tasks that keep things running smoothly every single day. The good mornings, the smiles, the one-on-one conversations, the mentoring and coaching sessions, the problem solving meetings…. the time spent, each day, with those who work for us, those who make us, as leaders, successful.

When we maintain our employee relationships we encourage a better life for ourselves and those around us.  It may not be what we remember, it may not be shiny and glossy, and it may not have the same cache as a big celebration or big event, but it’s what makes everything work for us, each and every day.

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Possibility…

This week Renee heads up to Maine, where she’ll lead a session at the Maine HR Convention, which also commemorates its 20-year anniversary. She’s done this for a few years running now, and her sessions always focus on a book that she’s found both enlightening and practical. This year she’s introducing The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.

The book covers a variety of interesting perspectives, many related to Benjamin Zanders’ experiences as an orchestra conductor. The Zanders discuss frameworks of leadership, the importance of speaking possibility, enrolling others in your vision, and how best to listen to the voice in your head. Their views truly open up new ideas of furthering “possibility,” providing us with guidance that can inform how we engage with others in ways that are productive, creative, and inspiring. The book’s concepts instantly resonate with HR leaders.

“Possibility” is a wonderful and powerful word, isn’t it? It’s the stoker’s fuel, the swimmer’s stroke, the pilot’s current. Possibility can take us anywhere, allow us to do anything, reach for any goal. It’s a word steeped in color and vision.

Possibility.

Each of us is surrounded daily by possibility. We see options and we make choices. Many of them are repeats of choices made the day before, or the week before, or the year before, while others are new, unique. Some are mundane—choosing breakfast, for example—while others are life-changing, like offering up a ring from one bent knee. Some are innovative. Some challenge us to try new things, while others limit opportunities.

What’s important, though, is not which possibilities we explore and which we don’t, but that we recognize that the possibilities are always there. Too often we encounter possibility like a butterfly encounters the air. It is so much a part of existence that we don’t even know it’s there. But it is. Each day we experience it, breathe it, catch its flow.

What the Zanders remind us—over and above their specific notions of Capital-P Possibility, is that possibility is constant, always with us, always presenting opportunities for change, innovation, and growth. It’s just there for our taking.

Photo courtesy of lightwise.

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We are all so many things…

Sometimes ideas for this blog come from the strangest places. It might be a lightning-struck tree that sparks thoughts of fragility, or time spent weeding flower beds that germinates reflections on care and mindfulness. Wherever we look, something always emerges.

Today, it’s a photograph. This one:

The flying fish is an odd, odd creature, and not just because of the way it lives in two worlds. Each of the more than sixty species are structured precisely to their purpose, able to propel themselves out of the water for brief periods before returning. They are attracted to light—a trait easily anthropomorphized as spiritual—and exhibit behaviors both regal (as in the broad and noble “wingspan”) and frivolous (as in the curlicued trailing wake).  Too, they are excellent swimmers, gaining speeds of nearly forty miles per hour on their way to breaking the surface.

This living in two worlds—and adapting perfectly to each one—reminds me that each of us also lives in multiple worlds. We have home lives and work lives, family lives and friendship lives. We wear personas for each, shifting easily (most of the time), moving from metaphorical water to air and back to water.

What does this mean for us as leaders?

It’s easy to develop a profile of those with whom you work, to cast them in bas relief as employee, or team member, or contributor. Such roles are important, providing a sense of definition and the accompanying responsibilities and expectations that come with it. However, it is often too easy to forget that the people we work with are so much more than just that one definition, that each of them, like the flying fish, can leap and dive among roles, can be more than employee, or team member, or contributor.

Each person we manage arrives to work each day, quickly shifting from sea to sky. We lead them through the air, guiding them through eight hours before they slowly shift back to the sea. It’s also worth remembering that each lives a life of more than just one role, and that they bring with them each day the cares, concerns, emotions, and upheavals of all the worlds they inhabit. As leaders, we do well to remember the complexity of each person, noting how they shift, how they participate, and how they live.

And how they fly.

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Changing Thoughts

Change is hard.

I know that all of us in the Leadership and HR fields write about it endlessly, offering sometimes facile reminders like “The only constant in life is that everything changes,” or “To improve is to change.” And those clichés—well-worn because they’re true—are certainly worth remembering.

But we know, deep down, that it’s not quite that simple.

We often write about change as it happens to others: our employees, our teammates, our family members and friends. It’s easy, then, to offer simple advice because, after all, it’s happening to someone else. But when it happens to you, then you remember the truth of just what change really is.

Change is hard.

Try to remember the last time a big change occurred in your life. Perhaps it was a relocation from a place you had lived for many years to a place much less familiar. Or maybe it was a job change, and the trepidation that came from walking in that first day, not knowing anyone at all and suddenly realizing that you were now surrounded by relative strangers with whom you were about to spend eight or more hours a day, every day. Or maybe it was a sadder, more personal event, like the occasion when your first-born left for college and you realized that a voice, a pattern of footsteps, which had become part of you had now wrenched free.

If you’re like the rest of us, then it didn’t much matter whether someone offered you a timeless homily, didn’t matter if someone suggested you plan out what you would do next. If you’re like the rest of us then a big change hit you in the gut, sparked a viscerally emotional response. That was what needed to be dealt with before you could move forward—the feelings sparked by a major change in your life.

I sometimes wonder whether we, as consultants, as professionals, as experts, take the few needed moments to recall that when we help our organizations deal with change, there are very real people dealing with those changes, and most of those people are not thinking about denial and bartering, or Bridges’ famous model, or the precise ways in which communications are flowing from one group to the other. What most of them are probably thinking about—and quite justifiably—are What does this mean to me? and Will anyone listen to me? and What comes next?

We’ve all immersed ourselves in the how of helping organizations cope with change. We need, equally, to remember the how of helping people cope with change. In fact the latter, I would argue, is far more important, for it’s the people that create our organizations. It is always crucial—in any “change project”—that we take the time to talk to people, to find out what they are feeling, to let them know that it’s okay, and to help them through it. Only then can organizations effectively manage change.

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Why We Should Invest in Employee Development

As I sit here this morning it is once again snowing outside, and—even though I live in New Hampshire—I’m surprised and just a little bit frustrated by it. It’s been such a hard, hard winter, and with everyone I know anticipating the coming season with a fervor I’ve rarely seen, it feels almost like a step backward, one that’s pushing spring even further away. Still, this latest snowfall rapidly melts, and I know that it’s just another slow step in the move toward the greens and yellows that mark the first forsythia buds, now only just around the corner.

It may not look like it, but change is coming.

Thinking about the slowness of nature’s seasonal shifts reminded me that we, our co-workers, our leaders, and our organizations also change slowly. We invest in them through training and development, through coaching, through workshops and team-building experiences, and yet the next day—when everyone returns to their “real work,” nothing seems all that different. People still seem to talk to each other the same way while they perform the same tasks in support of the same objectives that drive the same strategies.

So if that’s true, why invest at all?

Because change is slow, sometimes too slow even to see.

While the snow falls my placid dog Zoe lies nearby, curled on one of the several beds we’ve scattered around the house for her. (Yes, I know: she’s spoiled!) She’s a wonderful dog, and the day we rescued her was one of our happiest. I’m trying now to picture her as she was when we first got her (as an eight-week old pup, newly weaned), and I find that the image easily leaps to mind. What doesn’t leap to mind, though, is seeing her grow day by day. Oh, I remember what she looked like when she was about six or seven months old, and I certainly know her as an adult, but I can’t recall ever seeing her change.

Yet she did. She does.

The same is true of ourselves and those we work with. Each event, each investment, each opportunity for learning creates a situation in which the tiniest of changes can occur. And while each tiny change may be unnoticeable, over time those changes accrue until, just like with my dog, (or your child, or that oak tree that you never realized was quite so tall) something shifts, leaving a person stronger and bolder and more confident than before.

People change and improve. Cultures change and improve. Leaders change and improve.

So keep providing those opportunities, encouraging people to go through that training and development, that coaching, those workshops and team-building experiences.

The investment is worth it.

P.S. I’d like to offer a shout out to Robin Eichert at PeopleSense Consulting, whose blogs about her own wonderful Grace inspired today’s post.

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3 Ways that Coaching Supports Strong Mutual Relationships

We firmly believe that the key to effective “mutual relationships” is to “map” your organization’s customer/supplier commitments. Once built, however, keeping those mutual relationships alive and thriving takes personal discipline, a willingness to remain open to the needs and concerns of others, and a true desire to remain aligned with the goals the organization.

This is where coaching comes in.

Leadership coaching vastly improves the success of transformational and impactful change—exactly the kind of change organizations undergo when beginning to center on relationships.  How, exactly, does this happen?

  1. Coaching encourages the development of deep listening, the ability to truly hear what others are saying without defensiveness and without judgment.
  2. Coaching provides the means to explore and unlock potential, and to deepen confidence and capability, exactly the kinds of skills needed to develop the kinds of trust inherently part of strong mutual relationships.
  3. Coaching deepens new ways to be curious, to open oneself up to the kinds of questions designed to explore rather than to make a point, to create rather than to block, and to relate rather than to defend.

Coaching supports stronger relationships with customers and colleagues (who are also “customers,” as we know) by renewing energy, increasing awareness both of self and others, and describing new ways of being in relationships. All of this offers a way to influence and to sustain over time the important mutual relationships developed with our approach.

Organizations are complex systems that are challenged with monumental and accelerated change.  Results can be achieved through leaders who value the natural diversity of leadership styles and the talents of the teams they lead.  All leaders can benefit from learning how their own styles impact those they lead and the results desired, and nowhere is this more of a vital component than within the emerging world of newly formed mutual relationships.

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A New View of Working Relationships: Part Three—Knowledge Sharing

Last week we introduced the idea of customer—supplier relationships at work, relationships based on the idea that everyone both gets and gives important things to others.

This idea of customer—supplier relationships is a fundamental foundation for taking a new view of working relationships, one of five such foundations we have identified. We introduce the second one today, and it is this:

We must relearn how to share.

We don’t much share at work, really share. Our knowledge is valuable to us: it protects our job, makes us feel important, and creates respect in others. But for companies to work really well, knowledge sharing is critical. And we’ve forgotten how to do it. Why? Because it’s been trained out of us.

Even before you reached kindergarten, it’s likely that you had some exposure to the “rightness” of sharing. Perhaps you had a sibling or a cousin close in age that you played with frequently. If so, your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles probably all told you more than a few times that you needed to “play nice” with someone or to let “your little sister take a turn.” Sharing is what we were taught to do, what we were expected to do and what we needed to do. Sharing, we were told in many different ways, is a cultural norm.

But then we graduated from kindergarten into the mainstream environments of our elementary grades, and slowly the ideas of sharing and independence slip into competition, as if you can’t really do one and also the other. And it’s this dichotomy that continues into our adult lives and into the workplace. But how does it happen?

It begins very early, during the time we transition from a sharing-based play/learn environment to a more learning-centric environment in school. As we move through the grades, each progressive world we are led to relies more on individual measurement, usually in the form of grades. We are tested on what we learn, study, and know for ourselves. And slowly, as we move through our school years, what used to be sharing is given a new name: cheating.

For those of us who go on to college, that training becomes even more intense. Despite the study groups and the joint projects, despite the way students may take notes for each other in order to skip a class or two, there is now an even stronger emphasis on independence, on that individualized grade. Now, in college, you’re not just going to be graded on what you know, you’re also going to be graded on what other people don’t know. It’s called the curve, and it means, simply, this: To score well, to get a good grade, you must be better than the average within your class. Inherently that means that you must know more than other people around you in order to truly succeed.

And so there we all stood at one time or another: on the threshold of our working lives, degree in hand, gladdened (or not) by how we’ve scored throughout twelve or sixteen or twenty classroom-filled years, and ready to move forward into hopefully fulfilling and interesting careers. Eventually we find that door and begin, bringing with us all the training and learning worked into us over the entirety of our educated lives. And one of those things we’ve learned, that is now practically bred into us, is how not to share.

But sharing our knowledge with others (and having them share theirs with us) is a critical component for creating the customer—supplier environment we want and need for our organizations. As leaders we must learn to recognize the importance of encouraging and enabling sharing whenever and wherever we can.

Photo courtesy of: otnaydur / 123RF Stock Photo

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A New View of Working Relationships: Part Two—Customers and Suppliers

In last week’s introduction to this series on Working Relationships, we threw darts at the myth that people at work know exactly what they need and how to get it. This simple dictum—a kind of “conventional wisdom—is simply untrue. People generally don’t know what they need, and so part of what we want to do when improving our working relationships is to surface exactly what we do need—and to understand why.

We begin shedding light on the conventional wisdom by first introducing some ideas about being a customer and being a supplier.

From the moment we get up in the morning we are, in one way or another, a customer. You may have your morning coffee while watching the local news, in which case you are a customer of your local cable company (on whom you depend to provide the signal), the owners of the channel you’re watching, and those who put on the broadcast itself. If you channel-surf from the news to, say, a sports or business station, then you become customers of those services and companies as well. Perhaps you stop to get gas on your way to work, in which case you’re a customer of Shell, perhaps, or Sunoco, and if you then take a toll road to the office, you’re again a customer—this time of your state’s transportation department.

The list is endless, and not just in a metaphorical way. From now until your very last day on earth, you will be a customer: dry cleaning, dentistry, movie theater, super-market, electronic store, plumber, airline, bookstore, hair salon, hockey team, university, emergency road service, doctor, manicurist…. There is not a day—not a single day—in which you can (or should) avoid this role.

Yet we never speak in these terms at work. We talk about having customers—those individuals and organizations to which our company sales products and services—but we don’t often think of ourselves as customers of each other, customers inside the company. We don’t imagine that the engineering department, for example, is a customer of the finance department when, in fact, engineering can’t do a thing—can’t purchase materials or hire staff or maintain equipment—unless the finance department approves the engineering budget.

Being a customer is almost like second nature to most of us; given that we have so many customer experiences—every single day, in fact—it should come as no surprise that it’s pretty easy for most of us. In fact, most of the time we probably don’t think of it directly, we simply expect certain things to be provided to us, and to be provided in ways that are easy, that cause neither difficulty nor confrontation. And most of our customer interactions are like that—we walk into some place (or log on some site) with a set of expectations and most times those expectations are met. So used to adequate (one might almost say “invisible”) service, we acknowledge it only in the most automatic ways—a “thank you” and a smile at most.

But for every time we’re a customer, someone, it’s worth remembering, is acting as a supplier, giving something to us. And it stands to reason that we are also suppliers, often and every day. We’re probably much less aware of it, but we provide things to others constantly, mostly without even realizing it.

At work this supplier role takes on very significant meaning, yet it’s a role we almost never acknowledge. Too often we complete work we’re “supposed to” complete, yet never really understand what it’s for or how it’s used.

If you think about it, there is a fundamental relationship between person-as-customer and person-as-supplier. There must be, or else why would any product, service, or work ever happen?

Next week: Defining the “Customer—Supplier Relationship”

Images Courtesy of: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
and lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

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SHRM: Is it Worth it?

As leadership development professionals, we constantly find ourselves inundated with invitations to join various organizations.  Here is just a partial list of some of the ones we regularly run across:

  • The Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society for Training and Development)
  • International Coach Federation
  • International Association of Coaching
  • College and University Professional Association for Human Resources
  • American Coaching Association
  • National Human Resources Association
  • New England Human Resources Association
  • HR Certification Institute
  • Talent Acquisition and Management Industry Association

And, of course, the granddaddy of them all…

  • SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management

SHRM, with more than a quarter of a million members worldwide, dwarfs all the others. It is the “go-to” for most HR and leadership professionals; joining is an obvious no-brainer—or so it would seem. But do people actually use SHRM, and is it worth it?

In a word: Yes.

We’re not just talking about the perk that is the annual conference, a well-rehearsed affair with an array of wonderful keynotes (Condi Rice in one of the years we went), numerous topical sessions, decent food, and fantastic networking opportunities. We’re talking about the actual resources they provide, principally through their website, various education offerings, and nearly 600 local chapters. (The jury will be out for a while on their new certification venture, so we’re setting that aside for now.)

And people truly use these resources: according to Alexa, a website ranking tool, the SHRM website is one of the top 25,000 most-visited websites in the entire world. (Lest that number not impress you, keep in mind that there are over 1 billion websites out there right now.) That translates to about 250,000 visitors (and 1.1 million pageviews) per month—pretty impressive for a special-interest site.

So why go there? Well, here is our Top Five List of reasons to join (and use) SHRM:

  1. The Trends—An incredible number of questions in the HR world boil down to the “What’s happening out there?” variety. SHRM offers consistently useful trends to tell you how you compare with others. See, for example, their 2015 Salary Trends Report.
  2. Samples and Templates—Need some guidance on how to write a policy or handbook entry? Interested in sample job descriptions? Just about anything you can imagine is available at SHRM and, unlike what you may find with a random web search, you’ll know it’s been used by others in the HR community.
  3. Research and Metrics—Validating what we do (and turning it into numbers for the rest of the management team) is often a challenging exercise. SHRM provides a ton of current and historical research findings and surveys on just about any HR topic you can think of.
  4. The Legal Angle—It’s amazing how quickly the legal and public policy arenas shift when it comes to HR.  Having a “one-stop shop” for these issues is invaluable, and we’ve used this SHRM area to help numerous clients.
  5. Community—Whether it’s about finding a local group or attending the national conference, no organization provides the level of community for HR professionals the way SHRM does.

All in all, we have to say that the resources SHRM provides are unmatched in the HR world. We visit, and often. Visiting, of course, means joining, and the annual membership fee (which costs about $15 a month) is well, well worth it.

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What are YOU Reading this Summer?

Summer reading lists are something of an American tradition. The New York Times Book Review, for example, just released its fattened summer book edition, a habit that goes back scores of years and now includes such institutions as the Los Angeles Times, Barnes and Noble, the American Library Association, and even TED (of the famous “Talks”). The latter’s list includes such non-standard summer reading material as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Renee and I have decided to give you our own summer reading list, one that covers the topics important to all of you, but at the same time meets the criteria expected this time of year: somewhat light and breezy, quickly read, and suitable for the beach (or some similar vacation spot).  So here are five leadership-relevant books (presented in no particular order) that will enlighten and amuse you in various ways…

Quiet, Susan Cain—Both Renee and I are introverts, and so we rapidly embraced this book as a passionate and well-researched case for how and why society tends to undervalue the more quiet among us. Being an introvert, it turns out, is a bit like being left-handed—the world is subtly designed for others and you almost don’t realize it.  Importantly though, introverts not only can become great leaders, but they actually lead in unique ways.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith—There’s a long history of “climbing the ladder” books, popularized most famously by The Peter Principle (which introduced the idea that most people will sooner or later rise to their level of incompetency). In this book Goldsmith argues that you can climb and climb the ladder, but as you climb the skills you need to keep climbing will change. The book introduces the “20 workplace habits you’ll need to break,” if you want to maximize your success. (We particularly like Habit #12, “Making Excuses.”)

The OZ Principle, Robert Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman—And speaking of making excuses, this book’s authors stress that one of the biggest barriers to trust and teamwork in organizations is what they call “the blame game.” Instead, they say, draw a line between being a victim, and being empowered and accountable, then go “above the line” to “see it, own it, solve it, and do it!” Using the Wizard of OZ as an effective metaphor, the book breezes through its key concepts, and will give you new language that reinforces the book’s central ideas. (Also, I love that Glinda the Good Witch represents “above-the-line leadership!”)

The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni—Lencioni may not have pioneered the readable business book, but he’s certainly made it work. He has the five of this and the three of that, uses sexy words like “dysfunction,” and packages it all up into meaningful bites that are both tasty and nutritious. In this book he covers “organizational health” and, true to his motif, give us his “Four Disciplines” model. It may not seem complex, but underneath it all are some pretty heady principles, ones that can actually make a difference.

Archimedes’ Bathtub, David Perkins—This is without a doubt our favorite book on the list. Not strictly a business book per se, Perkins well-written and always interesting book is about breakthrough thinking, and uses as it’s jumping-off point the apocryphal story of how Archimedes figured out the principle of water displacement by soaking himself in a public bath. Filled with stories, games, puzzles—and eye-opening insights, this is a book we go back to again and again. To give you an idea of how much fun this book is, try to figure out the following puzzle, in which you are asked to add one straight line to this inaccurate equation in order to make it a true statement:

(Bonus points: The puzzle actually has THREE answers! Can you find them all? If not, email me at mcharney@charneycc.com and I’ll send you the answers…)

So there you have it: For those of us who just never get away from business books, a few “beach reads” to dive into between dives into the water!

What books are you reading? And how does your summer list compare to ours?

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