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,
There’s an old saying among recruiters and other hiring professionals – “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” Yet how many companies really do that? Look at any job description or posting and you’ll see plenty about the technical skills required and very little about the personal qualities or soft skills needed to succeed in the role.
This, despite the stat I talked about in my last blog – 85% of job success comes from soft skills, not hard skills.
The benefit of well-developed soft skills is borne out pretty quickly in an employee’s job tenure. A study by Leadership IQ, a research and training company, found that 46% of new hires will fail within their first 18 months. Why? Not because of a lack of technical skills, which only accounted for 11% of the failures, but because of their lack of soft skills.
According to the study, “26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback, 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job.”
I say it’s time we rethink how we develop job descriptions and go about attracting and developing the right people for the right positions within our organizations. In addition to requiring that candidates have the right job-related skills, include the soft skills that will help the candidate succeed in the role. Then, in addition to creating questions around technical skills, train your hiring managers and other interviewers to ask well thought-out behavioral questions that will determine whether the candidate has the personal qualities and interpersonal skills that are needed for the job and to be a contributing member of the team.
Create a culture where the “soft skills” are valued as much or more than the “hard skills.” Review your learning and development strategy to ensure that employees have opportunities to build their capabilities in problem solving, innovation, emotional intelligence and other competencies that will help them succeed. Promote people to leadership roles not because they are the best at the function or have been there the longest, but because they demonstrate the personal qualities that will set the bar for the organization in creating the workforce for the future.
And, for those of you who are job seekers, take an inventory of your soft skills. Which of those skills have contributed most to your past success? Have you included them on your resume? Do you have specific examples of how you’ve leveraged those skills to achieve success in previous roles? What skills or behaviors do you need to work on to be ready for your target role/organization? What’s your plan for improving those skills and behaviors?
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,
For employees to thrive (and stay!) they need to feel valued, connected, challenged and recognized. One of the best ways leaders can help employees feel this way is to give them timely and effective feedback on a regular basis. In other words, feedback that matters!
Now, I get that giving feedback isn’t always easy. For that matter, neither is RECEIVING feedback, but we’ll talk about that next time. Often when we hear the phrase, “I’d like to give you some feedback…” our defenses go up and we prepare for the worst.
Giving feedback, however, shouldn’t immediately trigger a negative response. Feedback is actually very much a positive. It’s a real opportunity to help someone get better and stronger. And as leaders, it’s our responsibility to help our employees get better and stronger.
Remember, employees want to know how they’re doing. You may believe “no news is good news” yet your employees may not see it that way. They may interpret your silence as apathy, and begin to wonder, “Why do I even bother?” Take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for their efforts. Likewise, if there’s an issue, don’t assume it will resolve itself. Unless you say something, they may not realize there’s a problem. Poor performance does not improve with age.
Effective feedback is a gift and provides benefits for all.
Here’s how to give feedback that matters.
Make it timely. This doesn’t mean you have to praise them each time they complete a task. Be sincere! It means saying “thank you” immediately when they’ve made an extra effort or providing praise shortly after they’ve solved a complex problem or achieved a new skill. It also means giving negative feedback no later than 24 hours after observing the behavior. And be sure the feedback is based on your observation rather than what you’ve heard from others. Giving feedback regularly will help you build trust with your employees and make them more receptive and motivated to improve.
Make it specific. Focus on facts not feelings. Use the SAR method. Situation. Action. Results. “Thank you, Jane, for stepping in to complete that report while John was out. Without your help we would not have been able to complete the project milestone.” Or, “Bob, I’ve read through your proposal and some of the figures don’t quite add up. Accuracy on these proposals is essential to avoid future issues with the client.” Be sure you don’t fall into the “but” trap. “I really like your approach on the presentation, but I think the slides are too busy.” What will the employee hear? “The slides are too busy.” Use “and” instead. “I really like your approach on the presentation, and I think it will have more impact if you have fewer words on each slide.”
Be kind. As frustrating as the behavior may be, keep a check on your emotions and words. Stick to the facts and focus on the solution moving forward. Help them understand how what they do – or don’t do – impacts other individuals, the team, the project, or the organization. Also, be sure that you conduct negative feedback in private.
Listen. Deliver your feedback in a manner that allows a two-way conversation versus a finger-pointing monologue. Be open to the employee’s ideas as to how they might improve. Include them in designing the development process.
Follow through. Giving the feedback and recommendations is just the first step. If you leave it there nothing will happen. Once you’ve clearly defined expectations and next steps, help your employee improve by keeping them accountable. Set specific goals and periodic check-ins. Revisit the conversation to acknowledge progress made and/or reinforce development plans.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
For more on feedback, tune into my “Giving Feedback That Matters” podcast.
Till next time,