Imagine this. You've been in the same role and company for some time now. You're ready to move on, but haven't been able to get started looking for a new opportunity. A friend invites you to a networking event and introduces you to a senior leader from a company that you've always wanted to get into. Turns out they're searching for someone with the skills and experience you know you possess.
You chat. She asks, "What would you say are your two greatest accomplishments?"
How do you respond?
Would something quickly come to mind? Would you be able to easily describe your accomplishments in a way that is clear, concise and compelling? Or would you hem and haw while searching your mental database and then say the first thing that pops up? Or, worse, would you simply panic and head for the bar?
My point is, you never know when an opportunity is going to present itself, so you need to be prepared.
In my last blog, Leadership and Learning - An Essential Combination, I talked about keeping your competencies relevant and up to date and continuing to learn. It's also important to periodically pause and take stock of your accomplishments. Write them down. Prioritize them. Categorize them - tie them to relevant competencies so you can use them as specific examples that demonstrate the competency. Having this information in mind and/or easily accessible will help you in situations like the scenario above and in performance conversations, your resume or bio, or other situations where you need to share who you are.
Here's a simple template you can use to capture your accomplishments. Use the Situation-Action-Result (SAR) format to describe the accomplishment and then define the competencies associated with it.
SITUATION: What was the goal or challenge?
ACTION: What was your role? What did you do to address the goal or challenge?
RESULT: What was the result (your accomplishment)?
What COMPETENCIES did you use?
When opportunity comes knocking, be ready to open the door!
Till next time,
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,
Studies show that nearly half of new leaders do not receive any leadership training. This is both unfair to the new leader and detrimental to the organization.
Most people are promoted into their first leadership role as a result of their high performance as an individual contributor and/or because of their technical skills. Yet what has helped them succeed as an individual will not necessarily contribute to their success as a people leader – where the challenges and responsibilities require a different set of skills.
New leader training needs to be a key component of every organization’s learning and development plan. And it should not be just a one-day event around policies, performance reviews and disciplinary actions. It needs to be structured in a way that gives participants time to apply their learning, receive feedback, and get the ongoing support necessary (mentoring, coaching) to grow into the next line of senior leaders and executives.
With that being said, it is EQUALLY important that new leaders – and leaders at all levels – proactively share the responsibility for their own development. Ya gotta put some skin in the game.
In my recent survey of senior leaders, the PeopleThink Leadership Journey Survey, many respondents said they wished they had spent more time on leadership development early in their career. “I wish I had invested in myself earlier in the journey. It would have accelerated the impact I could have on others had I been more aware and insightful.” “I would have started sooner to allocate more time to work on my leadership competencies.”
So, if you are new to a leadership role or working toward becoming a leader, what can you do to prepare?
Start by becoming self-aware. This is what I call the inventory stage of leadership development, and it’s a key component of my GET REAL Leadership Program. Understanding your values, competencies, accomplishments and those behaviors or beliefs that have (yes) worked against you is the first step on your journey to becoming the leader that only you can be.
Let's begin by Defining Your Values. This is an extremely important step in clarifying who you are or want to become as a leader. Your values – those things that are non-negotiable for you – will be key to guiding your behaviors and decisions on your leadership journey. Have you defined your values? If not, here’s a 10-minute exercise that will help.
On a sheet of paper, write down one-word descriptions of all the things that are important to you at work and in your life. Here are some examples: Appreciation, adventure, balance, challenge, competition, dependability, empathy, flexibility, fun, health, humility, independence, influence, kindness, knowledge, learning, power, prestige, quality, safety, risk-taking, success, teamwork, visibility, wealth, wisdom. Now go back and circle 10 that are the most important to you. Review those 10, and then put a star next to your top 5. These are your TOP 5 Values - the non-negotiable things you must have in order to do your best. Keep them visible. Use them as a guide to ensure that what you do, what you say, and what you decide aligns with your values.
The next step in becoming self-aware is identifying internal barriers that have prevented you from being who you want to be. We all have them. Calling them out helps us overcome them. Tune in next time to learn more.
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,
On any given day, in just about any given business publication, you will find one or more laundry lists of skills, qualities, behaviors, competencies, and whatevers that are attributed to an effective, successful or great leader. It’s actually a bit mind-boggling. How can anyone possibly be all of that?!
Well, here’s the thing.
I’ve been working with leaders at all levels for…well, a long time. I’ve implemented leadership development programs across organizations large and small, and I’ve worked one-on-one with senior leaders and executives. I’ve been a leader in the corporate world, on boards and in my own business. And here’s what I’ve learned. While the leadership competencies touted in those lists are important, it’s time to get real about what makes a leader truly extraordinary. It’s not rocket science. It’s what I call the Get Real Leadership Basic 6 (or Leadership According to Karen).
Learn. Be self-aware: know your strengths and be willing to admit (and work on) your blind spots. Make the time to get to know your team. Be curious. Cultivate a growth mindset and set an example of continuous learning. Provide learning opportunities for your people and encourage them to keep growing.
TAWK. That’s New Jersey-speak for talk. Communicate, communicate, communicate. People need to hear things multiple times in multiple ways before they really “hear” it. Adapt your communication style to the listener – everyone takes in information differently. Remember it’s about them, not you. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Oh! And don’t forget to listen!
Tomorrow. What is your vision? Share it. Give your people a reason to want to stay. Let them know what’s next, how “we’re” going to get there, and what they can do to help. Give your people a reason to believe in the future and to want to participate in building it.
Resources. Give your people adequate resources, tools and support to do their jobs. Then get out of the way and let them do it. Don’t make them beg or want to look elsewhere to fulfill their goals. Be sure you have the right resources to make your team successful.
Please and Thank You. Say it. Always. No excuses. Always be courteous and kind. Express your gratitude and mean it. No one gets tired of hearing: “Please” and “Thank You.”
Laugh. Laugh often and laugh loudly. You spend a whole lot of time working. Make sure you create a work environment that people are happy to come to, where they feel supported and connected, where they can do their best work. Then enjoy the ride!
You’ll note that integrity, honesty and trust are not on this list. Why? Because they are just “no-brainers.” Without trust there is absolutely no one who is going to follow you anywhere. Trust is the foundation of a leader.
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
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,