Wednesday Jul 06, 2016

When Was Your Last First?

This past weekend, my son asked me "Mommy, when was the last time you did something for the first time?"  Since it was 7am, I had to actually unwrap that question before trying to answer it, but I told him I've had lots of firsts:
  • Managing a team at Oracle for the first time (just this past month)
  • Attending a class at Harvard (last month)
  • Practicing aikido (started this past year)
  • Picking up alto saxophone (since Christmas)
  • Quilting (started two years)
I asked him why he was asking, and he said "Because if you don't have firsts in your life, it's probably not a very good life." 

Think about that for a second - "firsts" make life interesting.  "Firsts" make work more interesting.  When was your last "first" at work?  Maybe you:
  • Wrote your first blog
  • Worked on high visibility project for the first time
  • Managed a team for the first time
  • Received your first promotion
  • Moved into a new role for the first time
  • Found your passion for the first time
As a leader, you have the opportunity to create "firsts" for your people.  We tend to ask people with proven skillsets to work on projects.  But think about asking someone new to work on a project - maybe to be mentored by that experienced person.  You just created a "first" for the new person and maybe a "first" mentoring relationship for the experienced person.

Maybe you have the ability to task someone with presenting at a User Group or some other conference - you've created a "first" for them to get noticed by their peers and by customers.  Maybe you're creating the next (your first) famous TED speaker.

Maybe you have the chance to participate on a new project that is a "first" for Oracle and for everyone on the team.

Think about the last time you experienced a "first" at work.  Were you scared?  Nervous?  Excited?  New experiences give most people a rush - a combination of fear, excitement, and - most importantly -  possibility.

As a leader, you have the ability to create those "firsts" at work and help your people define the possibilities.  So what firsts might you create today?

Tuesday Jun 07, 2016

Four Leadership Lessons From Disneyland

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on Earth? My (unscientific) research would indicate that, yes, it is. My family spent this past week at Disneyland and another well-known theme park, and I have to say that there was a marked difference between the two. My research consisted of talking to park employees to determine what makes their park, their job, and their company special.

At Disneyland, we came across employees who shared their four keys of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. We saw employees smiling all the time and asking how they could make your day perfect. I talked with employees who said they loved working for Disney – one worked there through college and then returned after getting her Masters degree; one employee was in his 47th year at Disney. And I talked with employees who said they never get tired of working at Disney because any daily assignment is a 30 minute rotation, and longer term employees have the opportunity to move throughout the park.

In contrast, at our second theme park, we saw a lot fewer smiles from employees, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like they had been there 47 years. When I asked about training, I was told that “they have certain things we can and can’t say.” When I asked for directions, the employee pointed and said “I think it’s that way.” The best observation was from my 11-year old when we walked past an attraction late in the day, and she said “He doesn’t look as fresh as he did this morning.”

Overall, our experience made me think about the leadership of each park and how their actions can be a lesson to all leaders. The four leadership lessons that I learned from Disneyland include:

  1. Set clear expectations. Employees at Disneyland said their job was to make every park guest’s visit memorable and perfect. This expectation was set from the top level down, through all of the training that employees received. At our second park, nobody talked about the expectations of their job, and you could see the difference in performance.
  2. Keep jobs fresh. At Disneyland, one employee said he never got tired of what he did because they had 30 minute rotations in their area. By contrast, at our second park, the employee who didn’t look “fresh” at 5:30pm was at the same location when we started our day at 9:00am. If you keep jobs fresh – rotate assignments, provide new projects, and give new opportunities – your employees are more likely to stay engaged with their work
  3. Have fun. Nobody wants to work in dreariness. Find ways to make work fun for you employees – create contests out of certain activities, celebrate birthdays, host online holiday parties. When people are having fun, others can see that…including your customers.  My kids easily saw that the Disneyland employees had fun at their jobs – that’s why they’ve been there for 40-plus years!
  4. Provide excellent training. Disney employees had one job – to make every guest’s day perfect. To accomplish this, they had training in all aspects of the park that contributed to that. If you expect certain behaviors or actions from your employees, it is your responsibility to ensure they have the right training to meet those expectations.

One of my final questions at Disneyland was “Do you ever have really bad employees?” The cast member chuckled and told me that employees who don’t meet Disney ideals don’t last long and typically choose to leave before they’re even in front of park guests. As another point for leaders, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone is fit for the goals of your team. You can fight that, or you can accept it and help them find the right roles.

Overall, I saw many employees at Disneyland meeting corporate expectations and making park guests happy. I’m not sure that Disneyland would be everyone’s idea of the Happiest Place on Earth, but if you employ some of the same ideas as Disney leaders, you might have the Happiest Teams at Your Company!

Tuesday Jun 16, 2015

Feedback: What They Want, Or What They Need?

This weekend, my husband and I drove four hours into the mountains to take our kids to church camp.  After getting my "almost 8" year old registered, he hugged me and said, "I'm going to miss you, Mommy."

"Really buddy," I asked, feeling a little "aawww" in my heart for such a rare show of emotion.

"No," he giggled.  "I just know you want me to say that."

Bammo!!  Reality hits hard when it hits!

His comment, though, made me think about something all leaders are responsible for, and some of them don't do very well - feedback.  Often, people in leadership positions will tell people what they want to hear (like my son) - a true leader, however, tells people what they need to hear.

Providing feedback to people is tough - you don't want to hurt their feelings; they might perceive it as negative; you're not sure if you're getting through; the feedback might not be specific enough; the conversation will likely be uncomfortable; and your employee might not like you very much at the end of it.  Great picture, huh?

Here's a different picture.  You start with positive intent - feedback is designed to help a person perform better.  You gather specific actions and results related to your feedback; you talk with your employee about these actions and results and what needs to be different; you ask them how, together, you can help others from making the same mistake in the future; and you both leave the conversation feeling like something was accomplished.

In their book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, authors Tacy Byham and Richard Wellins explain the concept of using STARs for feedback (Oracle employees can access the book via Safari).  STAR stands for:

  • Situation/Task (ST): basically, what was being handled or addressed
  • Action (A): what a person did that was effective
  • Result (R): the positive impact of the action

The book further explains the concept of STAR/AR for providing developmental feedback, where the /AR stands for:

  • Alternative Action (A): what a person might have said or done instead
  • Enhanced Result (R): what might have been more effective as a result of the alternative action

A Zenger/Folkman study written about in Harvard Business Review indicates that people actually want corrective feedback, even more so than they want praise (or positive feedback).  What employees do not want is "constructive criticism" because, let's face it, any criticism is not really constructive.  Additionally, employees don't want feedback that is focused on them, as a person.  For example, if you started the conversation with "I can't believe how inept you were in that discussion," the conversation will undoubtedly go downhill from there.

Instead, experts suggest that the feedback you provide focuses on specific actions (like in the STAR/AR model), and when providing feedback, you:

  • are timely - you don't wait until performance reviews at the end of the year to address an issue from 8 months prior
  • are explicit - you explain exactly what you saw and what you would like to see differently so your employee doesn't have to read your mind
  • ask questions - you ask your employee to consider alternativse by asking them how they perceived the situation and what might have worked better
  • follow through - the first conversation isn't the end.  You need to follow up with your employee to find out how changes are going and how you can continue to support him or her.

Yes, feedback can be uncomfortable, but if you approach it as an opportunity to improve one's performance, it can be well received...much more so than just telling your employees what they want to hear.

Monday May 18, 2015

What's Your Leadership Lesson Plan?

In my former life, I was a high school English teacher, and I was expected to have a lesson plan for every class. I was even given 50 minutes each day to ‘plan’ lessons for my five different classes (about 10 minutes per class). Because I was starting out in my teacher role, I actually spent substantially more than 10 minutes planning for each class.

What was included in my lesson plan? Glad you asked. I had an overall plan for each unit, including the learning objectives for the unit. For each daily lesson, I had an introduction to the lesson, learning objectives, notes on what I would say, how long it would take, discussion questions, vocabulary that might be new, quizzes, handouts, and potential essay questions, etc. I was very prepared for each day. And I knew what I wanted my students to learn and how I was going to build upon each day throughout the semester.

And that made me think about graduation and the fact that companies have a host of graduating college students joining their ranks. If you are going to be leading a team of new college hires, how much time have you spent identifying what you want those new hires to know? Think about what skills you want your new hires to learn – how are they going to learn those skills, who is going to help them, how are you going to provide feedback, and how is your new hire going to show he or she has learned the skill? And do the skills you’ve identified align with the goals of your business unit?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Millenials in the workplace, including research that indicates Millenials aren’t all that different from other generations. That group of college hires that you have coming in probably want the same thing that the rest of your team wants – consistent communication from you, knowledge of how their work fits in the bigger picture, feedback on how they’re doing (beyond once a year performance reviews), and they want to feel valued as an employee and as a person. Research indicates that Millenials want these things, but - no surprise - so does the rest of your team.

A teacher creates lesson plans not to be completely rigid about each day, but to ensure that they are providing the greatest amount of learning opportunity for their students. Likewise, as a leader, you should create a lesson plan for you team that provides the greatest learning opportunity possible for all of your team members. This might mean that those new hires mentor older workers on new technologies; older workers provide business context around the ‘college learning’, and you, as a leader, provide the structure that makes it all work. Creating a lesson plan is hard work, but the payoff is tremendous. You have 50 minutes – go!

Wednesday Apr 01, 2015

1 Easy Rule for Being a Great Leader

I've been reading a lot of blogs and articles that talk about how you should treat your employees in order to motivate them, help them achieve peak performance, engage them, etc.  The advice is generally really good, but I admit that I'm one of the people who is going to forget to:
Smile at people every day; Talk to my team to really get to know them; Remember to marry employee desires to corporate strategy; Know the top three things that motivate each employee; Help tie personal goals to corporate goals; Have 1:1 meetings; Have career conversations with each employee; Avoid blame; Bring others along on a change journey; Build trust; Maintain integrity; Build meaningful relationships and networks; Conduct an annual performance review; Be strong; Communicate often...don't over-communicate.

I'm sure you get the picture.  So, I've boiled it down to just one single rule for being a great leader:  Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated. 

This is a rule that was drilled into us in kindergarten, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the "Golden Rule" in many religions, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the rule of the philosopher Plato when he said "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."  But we forget about it.

Instead, we rush to work in a traffic jam that is being created just to piss us off and start our day off wrong.  The person in front of you saw you coming up to the door and slammed it in your face instead.  The one employee that you really needed to perform today should know that you need more from them.  And why did your whole team decide to slack off when you needed them working hard.  By golly, you have a right to be mad as hell and take it out on everyone!

But we forget.

Take a deep breath.

That traffic jam occurred because there was an accident on the highway, and someone was killed.  The person going through the door in front of you happened to be blind and didn't even know you were there.  The distracted employee just learned yesterday that her parent had a stroke.  And that team that wasn't working...they were working to support their co-worker who was just diagnosed with cancer.

Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated.

Instead of being mad that a traffic jam exists, use the time to think about how you're going to approach a specific problem.  Instead of assuming ill-intent from your employee, ask her "I notice that you're attention isn't really here today.  Is something going on?"  Instead of being mad that someone in front of you didn't hold the door, hold the door for the person behind you.  And instead of assuming that your team isn't working, ask them what is top of their mind.

Most people don't wake up and plan how they are going to make everyone around them miserable.  They don't plan how badly they can screw up at work.  They don't plan how they're going to make everyone else look bad. 

So the next time you are interacting with your employees, think about how you would like to be treated.  Ask instead of assuming.  Listen with respect.  Show compassion.  Act like a human being.  Remember Plato's advice to "Be kind."  Chances are pretty good that you'll learn something about your employees, and they'll learn that you are, indeed, a great leader.

Monday Mar 30, 2015

3 Characteristics of Poetry That Can Help You Communicate Better

My fifth grade daughter has a new assignment in school - she has to read 100 poems by the end of May, with specifics about the types of poems to be covered and what information is to be recorded for each poem.  Almost immediately, I pulled out all sorts of poems that she could read, running the gamut from Christopher Marlow to John Donne to Emily Dickinson (I was an English major, so I have a fairly large selection of poetry on my bookshelves).

As I started reading through different poems, I was reminded once more of how incredible poems are because they teach us how to communicate more effectively than we might imagine possible.  I might have lost you at the mention of reading 100 poems, but if you're still with me, let me explain the characteristics that I'm talking about:
  • Word choice:   Poets carefully choose their words to paint a picture of what they want you to see.  Instead of "it was cloudy," a poet might say "the wisps of white were like puffs of dandelion floating in a gentle blue breeze."  The poet has selected words that create the image of puffy clouds slowly moving in the breeze.  It is this kind of careful selection of words that we should strive for in our own messaging - using powerful words to tell our story. 
  • Brevity:  With the exception of epic poems (apologies to Homer, Milton, Vyasa and others), poems don't spew forth every word known to man.  Poets manager to get their points across in as few words as possible.  Think about this - the human brain can store 5-7 'chunks' of information in short term memory.  If you want to get your point across and be memorable, you should aim for 'short and sweet' in your message.
  • Reflection:  A great poem gives you something to think about, and the message of that poem may stay with you long after you read it.  Likewise, if you are presenting a message, you should think about what you want your audience to continue thinking about long after the presentation.  This can help define the words that you use when you communicate.

You may think word choice and brevity conflict with each other, but they really don't.  A poet might choose very precise words to create the imagery that is necessary for the meaning of the poem, but the overall poem may be very short.  Check out the following:

Risk - Anais Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Hans Christian Anderson

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.

Nin tells us that at some point we have to step up and take a risk; Dickinson tells us that what we do actually matters to others; and Anderson makes us want to get on the next plane to some unknown destiny.  And they do this with beautifully painted imagery and a minimum number of words.

Long after you read this post, you'll probably be wondering 'What risk should I be taking?'  Or 'Who's life might I have impacted by my actions?'  Or 'Where should I go on my next journey?' And therein lies the reflective nature of poetry and its message.

Poetry may not speak to the masses (at least that's what my husband tells me), but if you consider the word choice, brevity and reflective qualities of poems and and how they relate to your own messaging, poetry may just help you become a more effective communicator.

Monday Mar 16, 2015

Are You Leading With a Growth Mindset?

Growing up, my mom would tell me "You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it."  Mom was also a big believer in PMA, or Positive Mental Attitude.  If I was having a bad day...PMA.  If I was having a bad gymnastics meet...PMA.  If I didn't achieve to the level I expected of myself...PMA.  My mom wasn't going to let me feel sorry for myself or dwell in negative thought; instead, she insisted that I figure out what went wrong and move forward with a positive mental attitude.  I heard PMA from Mom so often that when I left home for college and then moved away to start a career, I would tell myself "PMA" whenever I was having issues with something (I think that was my mom's goal).

Little did I know, my mom was teaching me to have a growth mindset.  The term 'growth mindset' refers to the belief that abilities can be developed and honed through dedication and hard work.  In contrast a 'fixed mindset' is the belief that you are born with a level of talent and intelligence that really can't be changed.  These concepts are the basis for Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Dweck maintains that how we feel about things like risk, learning, intelligence, tests, failure , effort (and other things) form our beliefs, and those beliefs can ultimately impact our performance and success.  This is a great picture differentiating growth/fixed mindset:

(Click here for a larger image of this picture)

Fortunately, as Dweck explains, mindsets are simply our beliefs, and we have the power to change our beliefs and our mind.  In Dweck's TED Talk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, she describes the power of "not yet."  The phrase "not yet" implies a learning path into the future and provides a person the confidence to persevere.  Think about it like this - you are coaching an employee on a particular issue, and they come to you with an idea on how they will solve the issue.  Do you say No, that won't work or do you say You're not there yet.  Think about what else you might do?

"That won't work" closes down the conversation and forces the employee to give up.  On the other hand, the "not yet" phrase gives the employee permission to grapple with the problem, learn from what he or she has already tried and come up with a better solution.  And, an additional benefit is that the employe has learned to persevere and think outside his or her comfort zone - this causes neurons in the brain to form new connections, which helps with future problem solving.  You are, in essence, setting up the employee for success.

If you tend to have a fixed mindset, you can change it!  First, learn to "hear" your fixed mindset when it occurs.  Second, recognize that you have a choice on how you interpret what is happening.  Third, talk back to your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice.  And finally, take the growth mindset actions.  Details of each of these steps can be found on MindSetOnline

New research tells us that leaders with a growth mindset tend to be better coaches to their employees; they are more likely to notice improvement in their employees; they make better negotiators; they seek more feedback so they can improve.  And - I think this is a biggie - they are modeling a growth mindset for their employees.  Even Harvard Business Review has written about "How Companies Can Profit from a 'Growth Mindset"  (Hint: words like trustworthy, commitment and innovation are used).

Leadership is all about the willingness to grow and change and to help your people do the same...this is the embodiment of the growth mindset.  You may not have my mom whispering "PMA" inside your head whenever you're facing a challenge, but you do have Carol Dweck telling you that the only thing standing between you and your goals is the story you tell yourself about why you can't achieve them.  And the beauty is, you have the power to change that story!

Monday Mar 09, 2015

Leadership Lessons from the Hallway

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my kids’ school, and I was sitting in the hall working while the high school students had lunch. Since I’m curious about kids today and their leadership skills tomorrow, I decided to ask them a few questions (this is where my husband would cringe and say “Do you have to?”). Despite the fact that I was a “mom,’ the kids were really receptive to the conversation.

I started with “What does leadership mean to you guys?” They proceeded to tell me that “leadership” means putting others before yourself; helping others do something while you’re doing it as well; not being judgmental; equality; being able to direct people without having a superiority complex. One boy even offered the comparison that good leaders direct and help while bad leaders sit on the sidelines and point fingers. All of these kids understood that leadership was about helping others be better.

Then I asked what they felt leaders needed to learn, and I was blown away by the answers. Be personal – tell me you need my help, and I’ll want to help you. Let me know how things relate back to me and what I’m supposed to be doing. And then there was this – leaders need to teach people how to think for themselves and teach those people how to teach others. Too often, we’re taught how to think in one way, and that can stifle our creativity and ability to solve problems. Wow!

The question around social media was quick as all the kids said they don’t really pay attention to social media as they would rather talk to someone; employees shouldn’t be consumed by social media and should have a life outside of work; and it’s a good tool to post those things that college recruiters and potential employees would like to know about.

I also asked the kids what they thought would be the biggest issues in the next 15-20 years as they started moving into leadership positions. One response was that we need to keep in mind that the world is shrinking and will only get smaller, and we need to be able to make hard decisions without groups feeling left out of the decision. Another student said that we need to focus – he went on to explain that we don’t focus as much as we used to because there are too many different things competing for attention. All of the kids felt that the conversation we have need to be “bigger” and more inclusive.

My final question was “How many of you see yourself working in an office 8-5?” They all laughed.

Lunch was over, and when I apologized for taking their whole lunch period, all of the kids responded with something along the lines of “No, this was great. It gives us a chance to really think about what we might do in the future.”

Why am I sharing this? Because I thought it was interesting that we complain about “kids these days” and “those millennial” who are entering the workforce; and, even these kids are any indication, I don’t think we have that much to worry about. I learned that these kids have it right – leadership is about helping others become better; it’s about becoming better yourself; and it’s about remembering we’re all human and that we should focus on the important things. If the high school students can get it right in the hallway, we should be able to get it right in the cubicle!

Thank you to the high school kids at Cornerstone Christian Academy who spent their lunch with me that day!

Tuesday Feb 10, 2015

Do You Have a Learning Habit?

Habit (hab'it)

  1. An act or practice so frequently repeated as to become almost automatic.
  2. A tendency or disposition to act consistently or to repeat.

We all have habits, and most of the conversation around habits consists of talking about how bad the habit is and how difficult it is to stop the habit. I’m going to switch the conversation on you and tell you that for 2015 you should have a habit – a learning habit!

I was on a call a couple of weeks ago, and the topic of learning habits came up. The question was “What learning habit do you have or will you build for this year? Using the definition above, a learning habit is something that you do repeatedly or consistently in order to develop your knowledge. It’s really nothing more than making a commitment that you are going to do something to stretch your knowledge.

On my phone call, people shared what they already do or are planning to do, including:

  • Read one news article each day in my professional area.
  • Watch 2 or 3 TED talks each week that look interesting.
  • Read one business related book each quarter.
  • Read one Business Book Summary each week. (Oracle employees have access to Business Book Summaries through the Virtual Library).
  • Interview one leader each month that you feel is a great leader and find out what they do differently.
  • Have one-on-one meetings with your team members each month to learn more about them and what they want to achieve.
  • Finish my degree (whatever level it may be).

Any advice we read on leadership tells us that great leaders are continual learners – without constantly assessing where you are, where you want to go and what you need to get there, you will never improve.

So here’s my challenge to you – figure out what you are going to do in the next 7 days to start your learning habit. Write it down in your learning journal. At the end of seven days, check in with yourself and see how you did. Repeat this process for the next month (or quarter) until your habit is established. If you’re feeling up to it, share a comment about what your new habit will be.

By incorporating a learning habit into your leadership actions, you will be modeling continual learning for your employees and taking a great opportunity to develop yourself.

Wednesday Jan 28, 2015

4 Leadership Challenges for 2015

With the start of a new year, there are predictions all over the place about what 2015 will bring. So what makes my predictions any different? They’re mine…and you have to wait 12 months to tell me that I was wrong!! These predictions are based solely on my own research and trends that I’m seeing in the industry. So, with that, here’s what I think will be happening with leadership in 2015:

  • Leaders will become marketeers to a new workforce. The global workforce will drastically change as more employees approach retirement age but still want to work reduced hours and younger employees choose work that really matters to them. We will see a rise in micro-consulting – short bursts of project-based work that is still very important to the business (check out platforms like Maven, Guru and Elance). Leaders will have to develop marketing skills that continue to ‘sell’ the organization and projects to these ‘sometime’ employees, especially if they want the employee to come back for more projects. Further, the ability to quickly and effectively coalesce a team will be required as the ‘sometimes’ employees and full-time employees will need to work together to achieve project outcomes. The leader’s ability to manage this diverse knowledge community will be crucial in meeting the needs of an organization and its customers
  • A leader’s new career tool will be the Learning Portfolio. The world is constantly changing; information continues to increase at exponential rates; knowledge is doubling every 12 months, with the rate expected to increase to every 12 hours with the build out of the “internet of things;” and leaders will be expected to stay ahead of the curve. Now, more than ever, learning agility is a key to leader success. Organizations will start looking at how a leader has learned throughout his or her career to determine if they are capable of creating and driving new ideas. Rather than a resume, this proof will instead come in the form of a Learning Portfolio that documents everything learned – degrees, MOOCs, mentoring, formal and informal learning – how it’s learned, and learning plans that show a leader’s growth and indicate what they plan to learn in the future. And the best jobs will go to those who can prove that they are continually learning.
  • Accountability will be the battle cry. We have more leadership advice available than ever before, and more people are unhappy with their managers and leaders than ever before – a Forbes article even indicated that 65% of Americans would prefer a new boss over a raise. I think this has to do with the trust that employees have in their managers and their companies. We are told to focus on we and us rather than me or I – and that allows us to shift responsibility from me to the unknown them. Accountability means taking ownership of your actions and decisions – not passing them off as group-think and -actions. Leaders who hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions build trust in their organizations, and that trust allows for greater accomplishment. As we see leaders hold themselves to a higher level of accountability, we’ll see their teams and employees being held to a higher standard as well. If you’re wondering what accountability looks like, check out Michael Hyatt’s article “How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability.”
  • The Re-emergence of Systems Thinking. Systems thinking is basically understanding how individual things influence one another within a whole. In today’s business environment, we need to be able to make connections like never before – connections between multiple projects, company strategies, competitor strategies, world economies, business trends, geographical differences, remote teams, our social networks, and so on. The complexity that we live in increases every day, month, year. Successful leaders will need to look at their business with a systems mindset – they need to influence across multiple differences; they need to recognize recurring patterns and behaviors within the system; they need to address cause/effect and unintended consequences resulting from their (and their teams’) decisions; they must project potential risk and accelerate decisions within an increasingly complex business environment; and they need to help their people (and themselves) deal effectively with the ongoing complexity. By having this broad understanding of their system, leaders will be able to have an increasingly positive impact on their organizations’ performance.

Are there other things that leaders will have to concern themselves with in 2015? Yes. Things like employees as stakeholders, leaders becoming career coaches, mass customization of learning, cloud based learning, and so on. But, those are fodder for another post!

So, what do you think? Will these four things become big issues for leaders? What do YOU think will be the biggest leadership challenges this year?

Tuesday Jan 20, 2015

Your Mom Loves You, But She Doesn't Work Here

You’ve probably heard the stories about helicopter parents – those moms and dads who show up to their kids’ job interviews and don’t hesitate to call the hiring manager to find out why little Johnny didn’t get the big grown-up job.

Now picture this kind of parent “helping” you at work. He or she makes an appointment with your manager (and maybe you in the room) to ask why you don’t have a career path mapped out in order to be CEO by the time you’re 32? Your manager turns to you and says “Because you didn’t make one. And you didn’t tell me anything you wanted to do. Nor did you ever tell me you wanted to be CEO. Further, I’m not a freaking mind-reader.”

No good manager is seriously going to be that blunt (probably), but he or she will get the same point across through many 1-on-1 conversations with you about your development and your career. The point of the scenario above is that you – and only you – own your own career and development. You have to put in the thought to figure out what you want to be, what goals you want to achieve, when you want to do it, and what you need to know to get there. You are also responsible for coming up with the steps you’re going to take to obtain that knowledge.

So, what does a manager need to do? Think of your manager as a tour guide. They are there to guide you, to open doors, help define possibilities, fine-tune your development or career plan so that it works with the goals of the business (this assumes that you’re not wanting to change careers from a programmer to a children’s book artist or something like that). They do this by having conversations with you where you share what it is you want and how you think you might achieve it.

What does your manager not do? The things you would expect a helicopter parent to do. Your manager does not decide what your career path looks like. Your manager does not assume that you want to achieve a specific role unless you tell them. Your manager does not question your level of achievement by a certain age. And you manager definitely doesn’t read your mind to know exactly what you want.

Now, you might read this and think it’s all good and well, but then you say “But my manager doesn’t have development conversations with me.” My response is going to be “Take the initiative.” Send an email to your manager requesting 30 minutes to talk about your career. Tell him or her you would like their advice on how your aspirations can help build the department or contribute to the company. Any good manager will welcome a conversation like this. It’s called managing.

Defining where you want to be in 5-10 years helps you determine the steps that you need to take and the help that you need to ask for to get there. However, the key is that you need to be the one defining the end goal. After all, you want to be happy in your career – not in someone else’s.

Thursday Jan 15, 2015

Want to Be a Better Leader? Answer One Question.

They’ve actually done studies that indicate January 16 (or January 23, depending upon the research) is the most depressing day of the year. Why? Because that’s the day most people realize they’ve failed to maintain their New Year’s resolutions. Seriously – 16 days in to the new year and it’s over?? What on Earth should you do for the next 349 days? How about set some new goals!

Everyone talks about the fact that the beginning of the new year is a great time to set personal goals, but what about goals for you as a leader? I think the best question that I’ve heard for leaders is “What are you going to do today/this week/this month/this quarter to make yourself a better leader a year from now?

What I like about this question is that it gives you an opportunity to re-examine and refresh your goals whenever you need to. Maybe you want to become conversant in a particular subject. That could be your “do this week” goal. Maybe you want to work on having 1-on-1 conversations with your employees each week – that’s more of a monthly/quarterly goal. What matters is that you’re spending time thinking about you as a leader and what you want people to see when they look at you, the leader.

How do you know if your goals are right? Don’t be concerned with “right” – be concerned with “right for now.” I firmly believe that goals should be a bit fluid as you never know what will happen. You could face a health crisis, there may be a collapse of your marketspace, you could get re-org’ed or acquired. As long as you have a direction, however, you always have the opportunity to change that direction.

Whatever goals you create, grab your learning journal and write them down!! Why? Because research indicates that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down. Michael Hyatt suggests five reasons that writing down goals will help you achieve them:

  • It forces you to clarify what you want.
  • It motivates you to take action.
  • It provides a filter when additional opportunities come up.
  • It helps you overcome resistance by focusing on the goal.
  • It enables you to see – and celebrate – your progress.

I’d go one step further – write down your goals and then tape them to your wall, by your computer – anywhere where you can see them on a daily basis. That way, they’ll stay in front of you and help drive your behavior and decisions. Additionally, make a habit of reviewing your goals, reflecting on what you’ve learned, and recording your successes. If you do this, at the end of 2015, you’ll be able to say “This is what I’ve accomplished to make myself a better leader.”

Monday Dec 15, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Employees Leave You

A boss asked his employee to do some research on salaries for like positions around the country, and when the employee came back with the information, the boss said “If you want to make that much money, you should be looking for a different job.”

And then there was the boss who shared confidential information and, when found out, said “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going down for this.”

And finally, there was the boss who asked for an estimate of what could be accomplished for a given cost…and at an All-Hands meeting announced that one employee was going to achieve the full plan…at zero cost.

We’ve all had bad bosses, but the one great thing about a bad boss is that he or she helps you realize what you would never do as a leader. From my own experiences (the three above as examples) and from watching leaders in other companies where I’ve consulted, I can tell you some common themes that can cause your employees to start looking for a new position.

  1. You make everything an emergency. Yes, we know that there really are emergencies, but someone a level up from you asking a question does not mean that we need to pull an all-nighter to write a white paper on the subject. Use Covey’s time management matrix to determine if a request is both urgent and important before calling “all hands on deck.”

  2. You don’t give any recognition. Everyone likes to know that they’re contributing to the team and that their work has an impact. A simple “You did a great job on X” can be all the encouragement someone needs to continue doing that great job and feel a part of the team. You can find additional ways to motivate and recognize employees here and here.

  3. You don’t provide feedback. How often does a coach tell a soccer team “We’re going to practice every day, play about 20 games or so, and I’ll tell you how you did at the end of the season?” Common sense tells us this is ridiculous, and yet, some managers will not provide any feedback to their employees and then whack ‘em with a surprise at year-end reviews. You should be having enough conversations throughout the year that nothing is a surprise at performance reviews. MindTools has a great article on Giving Feedback.

  4. You take all the credit. As an employee, my job is to make my manager and my team look good. However, when you refuse to acknowledge the contributions of your team members, it makes us cranky. Let people know when your team does great work, and you’ll be admired as well for being such a great leader.

  5. You fail to articulate goals. If you let us know where we’re going, chances are good we all have some great ideas on how to get there. However, if you can’t tell us what our goals are, you are not allowed to get upset with us for not achieving them. Read this short article for tips on articulating a vision.

Research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. If you can avoid these five ways of making your employees crazy, chances are pretty good that they’ll stick around.

Monday Oct 20, 2014

No Raise? No Development? No Way!

The other day, I was asked why we should be concerned about development if we're not getting raises or bonuses.  I asked the person if they were getting a ‘performance review’ or a ‘salary review.’ After chuckling, the person responded "Yea, but really, what's the point?"

What’s the point? Let me start with a story.

When I was in grade school, I told my mom that I thought I should get an allowance. After all, my friends did. Mom and I negotiated, and I walked away with $3 per week. At the end of the first week, I asked my mom for my allowance, and she gave me $3 with an extra piece of paper. When I opened the paper, it was a bill…for $5.

Mom explained that this was my charge for room and board – after all, I was earning money, so it was only fair that I contributed to household expenses. When I complained that the bill was more than I earned, she simply said “You’ve got a problem, then.” She explained that when you are part of anything – family, team, or organization – you do certain things because they are expected of you as part of your role.

So let’s go back to development – why should you care? There’s no immediate financial reward (unless you count your paycheck). You’re not getting a diploma. You’re not having a party thrown in your honor for completing a class. So why should you care?

Because development is something expected of you as part of your role – your role on your team, in your organization, in your community and in society. defines “development” as the act or process of developing; growth; progress. If we chose not to grow, adults would still act like 2-year olds (okay, some still do, but that’s another post); technology would be irrelevant; and we’d still be rubbing sticks together to make fire.

Since I like the idea of growth and progress rather than stagnation and uselessness, here are some reasons why I bother with my own development (and why you might want to bother, too):

  • Preparation for the Future: Learning new things, studying emerging trends and exploring possibilities prepare me for changes that will happen in the future. I can’t predict what will happen, but if I have knowledge of the possibilities, I can predict what I might do in different circumstances. (Shell Oil refers to this as ‘scenario planning’ and uses it extensively in developing Shell Scenarios to aid their business strategies).
  • Career Advancement: I’m not aiming for a C-level position (I’m sure Mark and Safra are relieved), but I know that if I am continually improving my skill set and my capabilities, I’ll be ready if/when an opportunity comes up. And I also know, based upon what I’m learning about myself and my skills, what kind of opportunity I’m actually willing to take on.
  • It Keeps My Brain Happy. I have to admit, I’m one of those people who does not do well stamping loan papers “Paid in Full” and calling it a day (that was actually one of my summer jobs in college). With every new thing learned, I end up asking more questions…and learning more new things…and coming up with more new ideas.  All of these new ideas form new connections for me and keep my brain engaged in my work.
  • My Manager Cares About It. Listen up, leaders! If you care about development (including your own), your people will care about it too. My manager pushes information to me, she asks about my interest in different conferences, she asks about new things I’m learning. And she shares new things that she’s learned, information from conferences, etc. She takes an interest in what I know and how my knowledge applies to what we’re trying to do, and having a manager who cares can be a great motivator!
  • The World Is Changing. Knowledge doubles about every 12 months. What you know now is probably not what you will have to know in three years. If you keep abreast of new developments, you will be able to incorporate these things into your work and show that you are future-minded. Need an example? Twelve years ago, you didn’t know about wikis, LinkedIn (both 10 years old) or Twitter (8 years old)
  • My Network Needs It. Every time I learn something new, I have the potential to interact with other people learning the same thing. I might interact with people who have the potential to mentor me. I might interact with people to whom I can teach this new thing. All of these provide the opportunity to expand my professional network and build relationships that might not have existed if I wasn’t willing to learn something new.
  • Collaboration Rules. As our business environment moves more toward collaboration, it will be increasingly important that we’re able to work together and share knowledge (check out the HBR Insight Center Making Collaboration Work). However, if you are unwilling to learn anything new, you won’t have much to contribute in a social and collaborative world.

Development doesn't have to be taking a class (see my post on 45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box). Rather, pick something that you’re passionate about and determine how that passion ties into your business role.

Maybe you’re excited about developing a new application that customers are going to love – do a 30-minute presentation to a Sales team to show off those new features. You’re fine-tuning presentation skills; learning more about customer needs (because Sales folks will tell you what will/will not work); expanding your network (because now you and the people in your presentation know of each other); teaching others (and improving your own knowledge); and preparing for the day when you get asked to present at OpenWorld (but you don’t know that’s coming yet).

You might notice that none of the reasons on my list are associated with salary or bonuses. Instead, they’re all about preparing yourself for future opportunities. The future might hold opportunities you would love that don’t exist and haven’t even been imagined yet; but you have to be ready for those opportunities...and that is why you should care about your development.

Thursday Sep 25, 2014

Leadership, Reflection, and 34GB a Day

Information is flying at us throughout the day. A few years back, a report from University of California, San Diego estimated that an individual consumes 34 gigabytes of information each day. Further, human knowledge tends to double about every 13 months, with IBM estimating that the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will cause human knowledge to double every 12 hours. It’s no wonder that we feel stressed!

Last week I read an article titled “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write.” The article stated that writing allows a person to focus on moving forward rather than “obsessing unhealthily” over something that has happened.

Writing allows a person to pull together disparate pieces of information and make sense of them. With writing, you have the time to connect information, see patterns, and notice those things that get lost in the daily bustle. As you do this, you’re creating more complex mental models that allow you to make more connections, and, ultimately, potentially better decisions – about yourself, your work, your team, your leadership.

So what does this have to do with leadership?

Research tells us that a leader’s health and a leader’s ability to reflect are crucial to his or her success. Too often, however, leaders don’t take time for either. We don’t have time to get to the gym. We need to make just one more critical decision. It will hold until tomorrow. But, it won’t hold until tomorrow. As a leader, you owe it to yourself and your team to invest in your health and in the practice of reflection.

One line in the article I read stood out for me – “even blogging or journaling is enough to see results.” Think about it. If you spend 5-10 minutes a day simply writing about your leadership practice, you are exploring higher levels of cognitive thinking; you are opening yourself up to more innovative ideas; you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn new things about yourself and how you learn; and you are potentially lowering your level of stress and your blood pressure.

Right now, you might be thinking “Yea, I buy into it. But I don’t know where to start.” Guess what? I have five simple steps that will help you start a practice of reflection:

  1. Pick your tool. Use a blog (published or not), a journaling app on your tablet (there are some good ones for free), or even a cool notebook that you picked up when shopping back-to-school supplies with your kids. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it works for you.
  2. Select your time. Maybe first thing in the morning at your desk, or in the evening before you go home. Perhaps it’s on the weekend when you’re the only person awake at your house. Aim for twice a week (or more if you want), but figure out your best times and stick to it.
  3. Add it to your calendar. Yes, you are busy, but adding it to your calendar makes it a commitment that you’re more likely to honor.
  4. Write. You might be telling yourself that you don’t know what to write about. Try some of these ideas:
    • What went incredibly well last week? Which of your leadership skills contributed to this success?
    • What was the worst thing that happened last week? What leadership skills could you cultivate to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
    • Thinking about a particular approach to a problem? Write about the opposing view to your approach. It might open up new ideas.
    • As a leader, what risks have you taken lately? How did they turn out? What did you learn about yourself by taking the risk?
    • What are the specific gifts and talents that you bring to a leadership role? How do you show or share those gifts and talents with your team and/or colleagues?
    • If you were the hero in your own action movie, what would happen in your movie? Do you the skills and/or knowledge to make that happen? Where might you improve?
    • What have you learned in the past 48 hours that you can apply to your leadership role? Why would it be important to do so?
    • What will your leadership role look like in 10 years? Why do you think this?
    • What leadership advice would your future self give to your current self? What leadership advice would your current self give your past self?
    • Try drawing out your problem. Create a visual representation to see if there are pieces of the problem that you’re not really seeing.
  5. Read what you wrote. You don’t have to share what you wrote with anyone, but you should periodically review what you wrote. Look for any new ideas, overarching themes or consistent issues. This will give you additional ideas to explore in future reflections.

Remember that this is purely for you and your development. Try to commit to a three-month trial, and I guarantee that you’ll be smarter at the end of those three months. How can I be sure? Because at the end of three months, you’ll have three months of accumulated intelligence in the form of your insights, connections and ideas – things that you wouldn’t have without reflecting and writing.

Socrates boldly said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Take the time for examination…reflect on your leadership…make those mental models that provide clearer thinking…gain perspective. Doing so might lower your stress level and blood pressure; it will likely let you better handle those 34 gigabytes of information that you intake each day; and it will definitely make you a better leader.


My blog is a look inside my head on ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff. I manage Oracle's Managing at Oracle team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


« July 2016