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, let’s keep it real about what makes a leader truly extraordinary. It’s not rocket science. It’s what I call the KEEP it REAL Leadership Principles (or Leadership According to Karen).
Before we get to those principles, though, note that they don’t include INTEGRITY. Why? Because for leadership that should be a no-brainer! The is NO negotiation on integrity. If people don’t trust you, there is no way they’re going to follow you. Be accountable and tell the truth. Do what you say you’re going to do. Show up whole, and be YOU and no one else.
Now. Here are my 6 KEEP it REAL Leadership Principles:
BOLD. Have a backbone, state your opinions and hold strong to your beliefs. Be courageous. Protect your team and staff – make them proud to be part of your team. Be accountable – do what you say you’re going to do. And have the hard conversations. Putting them off helps no one.
TOMORROW. What is your vision? Share it. Where is your team and the organization headed? 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. Provide them with development opportunities that will grow their capabilities to help achieve the vision.
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!
LEARN. You cannot stop learning! 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. As John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.”
PLEASE & 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.”
FUN. Create a culture where people want to come to work, where people enjoy the projects, their colleagues, the stretch assignments, their team. When people enjoy their environment, they’ll be more innovative and creative, and they’ll want to stay in your organization. Culture starts at the top. Create the team YOU want to be part of.
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Watch for more about KEEP it REAL Leadership – coming soon!
Till next time,
Eighty-four percent of organizations anticipate a shortfall of leaders in the next five years, according to a State of Leadership Development report by Brandon Hall. And a nearly equal number (83%) say that it’s important to develop leaders at all levels.
Yet here’s the thing. Only 5% have actually implemented leadership development at all levels. In fact, the biggest chunk of money spent on leadership development goes toward senior leaders and executives, instead of to those who need it most – first time, frontline leaders. All too often these new leaders are put in a “sink or swim” situation, thrown into the deep end of leading a team and left to figure out for themselves how to stay afloat.
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 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. Without some sort of leadership development early on in their transition from individual performer to leader, new leaders may simply mimic the behaviors of a leader they’ve had in the past, and not necessarily a good one. And those behaviors, once ingrained, are difficult to change.
A survey of HR leaders and practitioners conducted by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that “the sink or swim mindset toward new managers is ubiquitous.” In that survey, respondents were asked to rank the must-have skills for frontline managers in order of importance. Technical expertise was ranked 7th, preceded by:
Ethics and integrity
Drives for results/motivation to succeed
Develops effective teams
Maintains relationships with internal stakeholders
While some of these skills might be inherent in a new leader, being able to apply them effectively while adapting to leading people requires coaching and support. People leaders need to learn how to identify individual strengths, motivators, skill gaps, personalities and how individuals work together as a team. They need to be accountable not just for their work but for the work of others. And they need support with the challenge that many internally promoted leaders face – transitioning from peer to leader.
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.
Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.
One last startling factoid for you from that Brandon Hall Report: More money is spent on leadership development than any other area of corporate training, yet 71% of organizations do not feel their leaders are able to lead their organization into the future.
Doesn’t it make sense to take the time to effectively develop leaders from the very beginning?
Till next time,
Kudos to the companies that promote from within. Leveraging internal talent is a great way to keep employees engaged and to prevent a vast and valuable source of company knowledge from walking out the door.
Yet all too often employees are promoted internally to leadership roles without the benefit of the leadership training to help them succeed. This is critical. Especially for those employees who transition from coworker to team leader. Not only do they have to learn their new responsibilities as a people leader, they may have to deal with resentment from their former teammates who didn’t get the job.
Sound familiar? If this is something you’re experiencing, here are some tips.
Start by building trust. You may be following in the footsteps of someone everyone loved, in which case the expectation will be that things remain the same. Or you may be following someone who wasn’t popular (or got fired) and the expectation will be that things will change immediately. Give yourself some time to assess the team and get established in your new role before making any changes (or not!)
Meet one-on-one with each direct report. Spend the majority of your time listening – to their updates, their concerns, their ideas. Ask about specific areas where they need your support. Summarize what they’ve said so they know you were really listening. Keep it positive. Express a particular contribution that that individual makes to the team. Share how you want to lead. Ask about their career aspirations. Help them see you in a new light – as a leader, coach, visionary.
Hold an initial team meeting. Reintroduce yourself in your new role. Share your values, how you like to operate, and the best way to communicate with you. Convey confidence. Address ideas that came up in the one-on-one meetings (again, demonstrating that you were really listening). Enlist the team’s support in collaboratively creating guiding principles for how you will work together effectively.
Address any resentment – swiftly and privately. If you sense resentment from a team member, meet with them privately to discuss the issue. Acknowledge their feelings, and…be clear that you are counting on them to continue to be a contributor to the team effort. Mutually define the best way to work together effectively going forward.
Be prepared not to be liked by everyone. Your relationships have shifted. You are now in a position of writing a review for someone who may be a personal friend. Their lax attitude toward work may not have mattered when you were “buddies,” but it will definitely matter when you are responsible for the team. Just sayin’.
Be a leader more than a manager. It’s tempting to go overboard in “managing” at the beginning to differentiate yourself from the team. Don’t. You have the advantage of, having worked with them, knowing their strengths. Empower them to use those strengths. Let them know you are there to help when they need it. Coach them. Make sure every team member feels valued, connected, challenged and recognized.
And most of all, communicate, communicate, communicate!
Till next time,
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,
In my last blog, Becoming a Leader, I shared that self-awareness is the first step in becoming an effective leader. This means understanding your strengths, values, accomplishments, development areas AND…recognizing (and admitting) any beliefs and behaviors that may be working against you. These are what I call your internal barriers; the “show stoppers” that are preventing you from getting to where you want to be.
Here are some examples.
You’ve been unhappy for several years in your current role. You’re bored. You know you have more to offer, but you don’t see yourself getting an opportunity to do so in this organization. And you can’t seem to crank up the initiative to look for an opportunity elsewhere. What’s holding you back? Fear of change? Self-doubt? Difficulty selling yourself? Procrastinator?
For the second time in the past 5 years you’ve been passed over for a promotion. You work hard. You know the organization. You always hit your goals. Yes, maybe you’ve had some difficulties with other team members, but only because you care so much about things being done the right way. What’s holding you back? Perfectionist? Short-tempered? Controlling? Confrontational?
You’ve just come back from your annual review meeting with your leader. For the first time in your career, you’ve received less than a stellar review. You sat there in a fog of phrases like “deadlines missed,” “disappointing results,” “lack of commitment.” You can’t believe that after all you’ve done for this company, the long hours and lost vacations, that it has come to this. What’s holding you back? Difficulty asking for help? Lack of work/life balance? Burn out? Stress management?
OK. Now it’s your turn.
As you think back over your career, what are the internal barriers that have prevented you from getting to where you want to be? These may be beliefs or behaviors you recognize in yourself, or ones you’ve learned about through feedback. Be brutally honest with yourself. That’s the only way to GET REAL about them and start dealing with them.
Write them down. Choose from those I’ve mentioned above, or from the list below or add your own. The important thing is to identify, acknowledge and admit them!
Here are some additional common internal barriers to consider:
Difficulty with authority
Fear of making the wrong decision
Lack of focus
Poor judge of others
Worried about what others think
If you completed the values exercise from last time and now have identified your internal barriers, you are on your way to building self-awareness.
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Till next time,