The best and most successful leaders recognize that the learning journey never stops. They know their strengths, and look for opportunities to leverage them. They also acknowledge that there are areas where they aren't as strong and need to continue to develop.
One of the challenges for new and emerging leaders is determining what skills and behaviors - competencies - are the most important to be an effective leader today and into the future. A Google search will result in myriad lists of "top" skills for leaders. "The Top 10 Leadership Competencies" (Psychology Today), "The 5 Most Important Competencies for Function Leaders" (Center for Creative Leadership), "The Most Important Leadership Competencies According to Leaders Around the World" (Harvard Business Review).
In a review of these lists, there are several core competencies that bubble to the top: strategic thinking, effective communication, a desire to develop others, decision making, creating a vision, ability to have tough conversations. And, of course, trust and integrity. THAT should be a no-brainer. As far as I'm concerned, integrity has to be at the foundation of leadership, 'cause if you don't have that, nothing else matters!
These are some of the traditional skills that make an effective leader. But there are additional skills that have become increasingly important over the past few years as we look at a new way of working in the 21st century. Skills like emotional intelligence, self-awareness, collaboration, global thinking, agility and future focus.
When was the last time you did an inventory of your leadership competencies - both strengths and development areas? What are you doing to prepare yourself to overcome the challenges, and leverage the opportunities, as a leader in the future?
I recently went to an inspiring talk by John Chambers, former CEO and now Chairman Emeritus of Cisco, and author of the recently-published Connecting the Dots: Lessons for Leadership in a Startup World. He spoke about taking Cisco from a $70 million, 400-employee company (1991) to a $47 billion tech giant (2015) and how important it was to have clarity around who he was as a leader - during both the good and the not-so-good times. He emphasized that you have to always be preparing for what's next.
Think about this: Gen Z (born 1995-2012) employees will have 12 jobs in their lifetime. Six of those jobs aren't event invented yet.
What do you need to do to prepare yourself to lead multi-generational teams? How will you lead as artificial intelligence becomes an integral part of the way we work? What are you doing to keep your competencies current and ready for what's next?
"The worst thing to do when things are running smoothly is to get comfortable. You've always got to be thinking what's next." - John Chambers
Till next time,
The greatest untapped resource for leadership development is experienced leaders who have done the work to improve their effectiveness as leaders. That’s why I recently conducted a survey – the PeopleThink Leadership Journey Survey – to capture insight, experience, and lessons learned from people who have “earned their stripes,” so to speak, as experienced leaders of teams and/or organizations in a variety of industries. I’ll be integrating the results of the survey into my GET REAL Leadership Program, which I’ll be rolling out early next year.
Survey respondents represented more than 10 different industries across the US and Europe. Industries included Technology, Life Sciences, Financial, Professional Services, Learning and Development, Nonprofit, and others. Leadership roles represented ranged from Mid-Level Manager (17%) to Senior Leader (31%) to Founder/Entrepreneur (21%) to C-Level Executive (18%). The average length of respondent leadership experience was 13+ years.
Here are some highlights of what the leaders collectively shared from their Leadership Journeys.
Primary purpose of a leader. The majority of respondents said that the primary purpose of a leader is to 1-Build a Strong Team. Other purposes that rated highly include (in order):
2-Focus on the people (coach, develop, grow)
4-Set the vision
5-Shape the culture
Since one of the goals of the survey was to capture insight that I could incorporate into my leadership development and coaching work, I wanted to understand what respondents believed were some of the key actions that helped them achieve their purpose as a leader. Here are some responses:
“Hire the right people” (Build a strong team)
“Learn to listen” (Focus on the people)
“Hold yourself and others accountable (Achieve results)
“Communicate the vision” (Set the vision)
“Build trust” (Shape the culture)
Leadership competencies. Respondents identified the following as the competencies that most helped them succeed as leaders (in order)
1-People focus (coach, develop, grow)
3-See the big picture
Personal development. A rather alarming result from the survey was that while 74% of respondents said they believe that leaders should carve out time to develop their leadership competencies, 40% spend LESS THAN 15% of their time developing those competencies. Competencies they identified as important to work on:
2-Seeking feedback from others
3-Being comfortable with change
5-Having difficult conversations
Developing others. 86% of respondents said they believe that leaders should carve out time to help their people grow and develop. The top resources they currently make available to their people:
Some of the greatest insight from the survey came from the open-ended questions where respondents were asked to reflect on what they would have done differently on their leadership journey, and what their key lessons learned were.
“I would have invested in myself earlier in the journey.”
“I wish I had taken more risks.”
“I was once told that if I felt like an ‘imposter’ in my leadership role, then I didn’t understand my true value. So, I began to ask what value I provided, and in all my years as a leader that has made the biggest difference for me.”
“I would have started sooner to take more time to work on my leadership competencies.”
“Hire the right people and invest in their development.”
“Focus on the people and the results will follow…This is now my leadership philosophy and it has proven true many times.”
“To make critical decisions, always keep in mind the mission and vision of the organization. When you lose sight of that, it never turns out well.”
“Delegate and empower people! It’s the only way to achieve multiples of what you can achieve on your own.”
“See the future, believe the future, feel the future.”
If you didn’t have the opportunity to complete the survey, but would like to share some insight or lessons learned from your leadership journey, please complete the The PeopleThink Leadership Journey Survey.
Till next time,
Whether you are leading a small work team or a large organization, there are bound to be some team-related challenges. Having some ground rules in place, as I suggested in my last blog, will certainly help, and…you can’t just post those on the board and walk away. As the leader, you need to proactively identify and resolve issues before they impact team members, their work or the business.
Here are 5 common team challenges and what you can do as a leader to fix them.
Lack of trust. This refers to trust in you and in each other. A lack of trust impairs productivity and may lead to missed deadlines, milestones and even project failure.
Solution: Build trust by being very clear about team purpose, individual roles, and expectations. Be open, honest and consistent. Be willing to tackle tough issues and to stand up for the team. Demonstrate empathy. And demonstrate that you trust the members of your team.
Poor communication. Infrequent, incomplete or disrespectful communication impacts employee engagement and may lead to errors or intra-team conflict, ultimately affecting productivity and goals.
Solution: Communicate clearly and regularly. Share as much as you can, especially about business information that may impact the team or their work. Listen. Ask for feedback, ideas, solutions. Model open, honest and respectful communication so the team will mirror that among themselves.
Lack of accountability. When people aren’t held accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work others may have to pick up the slack resulting in conflict or missed deadlines or – at worst – project failure.
Solution: Be sure everyone clearly understands expectations and the impact of not meeting those expectations. Challenge your team to higher performance goals and establish an environment where they hold themselves – and each other – accountable for results. Include regular progress reports, open sharing of mistakes and lessons learned, and team discussions on how to move through roadblocks.
Conflict and tension. Some conflict is good for airing different ideas. However, when left unchecked or unmanaged, it can lead to distrust in the leader and impair team progress.
Solution: Harness the power of diverse thinking. Create an environment that encourages fresh ideas and approaches. Reach out to those who are less vocal to ensure that their ideas get added to the mix. When everyone feels heard and appreciated, “conflicts” become productive discussions. When tension arises between team members, facilitate a discussion to get to the root of the problem. Overlap of responsibilities, perceived lack of effort or contribution by a team member, and personality differences are common causes.
Working in silos. When team members each march to their own drum, chaos ensues, wasting precious time and resources.
Solution: Be sure everyone has a clear understanding of their role, other team members’ roles and the importance and interdependence of each role and task in achieving team goals. Establishing this knowledge up front will prevent duplication of effort, project delays and team conflict.
And remember, the best teams bring diverse personalities, skills and experience to the table. Recognizing the value that each individual’s skills and traits contribute to the team and how they complement each other will help you lay the groundwork for a well-functioning, high-performing team.
Till next time,
Think about this: 85% of job success is due to having well-developed soft skills, and only 15% is due to technical, or hard skills. This is from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and the Stanford Research Center.
It amazes me that despite this research, organizations (and individuals) still tend to focus on developing hard skills. In 2010, employers spent $171.5 billion on employee training and only 27.6% of those training dollars went toward soft skills, according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
It’s time to put more of our dollars and development efforts where they really count. In our increasingly global, dynamic and service-oriented way of working, organizations need leaders, teams and individual contributors who have the personal behaviors and interpersonal skills that will help them grow and thrive.
So what are those skills? In my work with organizations to create leadership and employee development initiatives, these are the 10 soft skills/behaviors (in alpha order) that leaders most often tell me they need in their people.
Collaboration – the ability to meld ideas and share credit with others.
Creativity – initiating new approaches to projects, solving problems, etc.
Effective communication – clear and concise speaking and writing paired with active listening.
Emotional intelligence – self-aware and sensitive to others, empathetic.
Flexibility – adaptable to change.
Growth mindset – recognizing they don’t know it all. Being willing to learn.
Leadership – the ability to lead, even without the title.
Reliability – do what you say you’re going to do by when you say you’re going to do it.
Resilience – the ability to continue pursuing the goal despite roadblocks and challenges.
Teamwork – sharing the work and supporting others toward a common goal.
Organizations that want to remain competitive and individuals who want to increase their marketability would do well to put more emphasis on identifying gaps in these skills and then creating a comprehensive development plan to close those gaps.
One of the best ways to identify gaps is through a behavioral assessment. The one I use with leaders, teams and individuals is Lumina Spark. Lumina Spark is a state-of-the-art psychometric assessment that provides a framework to help people achieve better self-awareness and learn how to improve their working relationships with others.
Check out the Lumina Spark fact sheet, and then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how PeopleThink can help your organization build its people capability.
Till next time,
It’s easy to become complacent at the top. You may tell yourself, “I worked hard to get here and now I’m just going to coast for a while.” Or, “I’m waaaay too busy to carve out time for learning.” Or even, “I’ve maxed out my learning capacity” (AKA “I already know it all.”)
Here’s a reality check. There’s always more to learn. And the best and most successful leaders recognize that the learning journey never stops.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has done extensive research on achievement and success. In this work, she discovered that people tend to have one of two mindsets – a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their innate qualities such as intelligence or talent are fixed traits and that any success they achieve is directly attributable to those qualities. No need to work hard or continue learning.
Conversely, people with a growth mindset believe that their innate qualities are just a starting point and that those qualities can be further developed through hard work and dedication. Dweck found that the most successful people have a growth mindset. They have a love of learning and a resilience that helps them achieve great things.
PeopleThink recently did a series of interviews with experienced leaders to learn about their respective leadership journeys and what they each considered the keys to their success.
The most common theme? Continuous learning and development.
And it’s not just about learning and continuing to develop the skills you need to lead – setting a vision, effective communication, people care, achieving results, etc. It’s about identifying and developing the personal behaviors that will help you lead effectively. Things like listening to others, accepting feedback, embracing change, learning to be more confident, becoming self-aware. Carving out time to work on these leadership skills and behaviors – competencies – is essential to becoming an effective leader.
So how do you do it? First of all, adopt the right mindset. Be curious, and admit that you still have room for improvement. Recognize that investing the time to do so will not only benefit you, but will also benefit your team (we’ll get to developing them in my next blog). Then, follow these steps:
Identify and acknowledge gaps. What are the areas you need to develop to become the leader you want (and need) to be? Do some self-reflection to make a list, and then get some feedback from others (here’s where you develop “accepting feedback.”)
Create a plan. Select one or two areas that you will focus on in the next three months. Do some research to find resources and opportunities to develop and practice those skills/behaviors. Carve out and schedule the time.
Execute the plan. Post your plan somewhere visible – your calendar, your refrigerator, your desktop. Stay focused! Concentrate on the one or two areas you’ve prioritized – don’t get distracted by the other areas you’ve identified. You can work on them in your next plan.
Remember that learning comes in many forms, from many places. In my leadership development work with organizations, I’ve seen the greatest benefits come from programs where we used a variety of components including: workshops, mentoring or coaching, assessments, stretch assignments to apply the learning, teach-back sessions conducted by participants, leadership forums, and required reading.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.” – John F. Kennedy
Till next time,
Most of us have a tough time receiving feedback, especially when it’s uninvited. We either immediately reject it (“What does she know anyway?”) or we take it so personally that it tampers with our basic self-esteem (“I can never do anything right.”)
Yet here’s the thing. Feedback is a growth opportunity. The key is in having the right mindset to take advantage of that opportunity.
Shift your thinking. In her book, Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, talks about two mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence is a fixed trait and that it’s talent not effort that creates success. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that “brains and talent are just the starting point.” They recognize that continuous learning is essential for great accomplishment. Practice a growth mindset by being receptive to feedback.
Ask for it. Not from everyone, but from people you respect and who know you. They may have some ideas that can help you grow. They’ve been waiting for your permission to share them with you. Be specific in the ask. “I want to be sure I’m conveying confidence when I’m presenting. What observations do you have, and how can I improve?” Research shows that people who seek feedback have higher performance ratings and are happier overall.
Conversely, a 3-year study by Leadership IQ found that the biggest reason new hires fail (46% of them fail within the first 18 months) is because they cannot accept feedback. Seriously? You’d think that, being new, they’d be more open to it. Nope. Of those who fail, for 26% it’s because they’re uncoachable and for 23% it’s due to lack of emotional intelligence (which also relates to being able to accept feedback.) Only 11% fail due to lack of technical skills.
Listen. Even when feedback is uninvited (or unwelcome) allow yourself to just listen. Ask for clarification – and/or a specific example – to be sure you understand what the other person meant. If you feel an emotional response coming on, take a breath (not a sigh and eye roll) and say something like, “Thank you for that feedback. Let me think about it.” Then really do think about it and pull from it what is useful.
Take notes. When someone gives you feedback jot down in your own words what they said. That will take the sting out of it and also give you the opportunity to tie it to specific examples in your work or behaviors. Look for patterns. Maybe there’s a non-word you use all the time that is impacting your credibility when presenting or speaking to customers. Writing that down will make it real and help you think about how to fix it.
Say thank you and follow up. Feedback is a gift. Say thank you. And one of the best ways to show your appreciation is to actually implement what you learned from the feedback. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every change. What it means is that you have to at least think it through and capture the nuggets of wisdom that will contribute to your growth.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates