Friday, 29 July 2011
Make it personal
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How much time do teams spend working on strategic plans for their business?   In my experience in the technology industry, every fiscal year teams at various levels would spend literally weeks (sometimes months) putting together the areas of focus for the next fiscal year.   What was always interesting to me was the effort of work that went into the “plan” and the degree of enthusiasm that people exerted that effort vs. the lack of thinking that went into how the plan would be communicated.

I’ve seen countless strategic plans communicated to large groups of very attentive employees via conference calls, power points and online video.  Usually accompanying these sessions were 15+ page memo’s that detail all the nuances of the plan.   In my experience, there was never a lack of detail in terms of the plan or a lack of effort ensuring I reviewed that detail.  I’ve even seen tests given to ensure employees read and understood the details.   What I always found missing was the “why this plan” part of the message.   Why was this plan important to my company, our customers, my leader, my team and me personally? 

For a plan, a mission statement, a vision or anything that requires wide spread adoption to truly be embraced, you have to answer the simple question as to why it’s important to the individual.   Examples of these questions are:

1. Why should they care?   

2. How will this plan change their approach to the business? 

3. How will this plan allow them to service their customers better?

4. How will this plan allow them to be more successful personally?

5. How will this plan allow them to be more emotionally proud of the company?

 If the communications of a plan to a team includes 1 or more of the above, the plan has a much higher likelihood of being embraced by the broader organization.   

Don’t undermine all the efforts you put into creating a strategic plan by missing the last step.   Make it personal for the individual when you communicate it.

 
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Posted on 07/29/2011 10:52 AM by Scott Carlton
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Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Control your anger
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If you are in a high stress role it is easy to get upset, even angry, but losing control produces a losing outcome.  Hold on, step back, take a deep breath, and if necessary, walk away. Don’t lose it.

Find whatever personal solution works for you to control your emotions. In my executive role I often got pretty upset and found that a walk down the street gave me time to cool off and think clearly.  If you are upset about an email or a voicemail it is OK to draft your response but discipline yourself to sleep on it.  The next day you will likely handle the situation much more professionally.

A loss of temper becomes a loss of respect for us by those around us. We all get upset occasionally and we all need to find the right way to keep our emotions in check.

 
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Posted on 07/27/2011 2:54 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Monday, 25 July 2011
Does Likeability Matter?
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There are some who believe that likeability is one of those intangibles that is important for leaders to have.  After all, do I really want to follow someone I don’t even like?  To me, likeability is almost a pre-requisite for leadership.  Yes, there are leaders who lead by fear and intimidation and can produce results—at least for a while.  Those results come at a price, however, and part of that price is the stress and fatigue on those humans that are producing the results.  I myself have worked for several people I didn’t like, and I found that what it did to me was unacceptable.  I became stressed out, apathetic about my work, and really unpleasant to be around.  That is definitely not the person you want to wake up to every morning!

On the other hand, a leader that is likeable is someone who brings out the best in everyone.  I will do just about anything for someone whom I like and respect.  We talk a lot these days about emotional intelligence, and I think EI is more about common sense and instinct about people, which, when followed to its best conclusion, makes being likeable an instinctive element that is foundational to becoming a good leader. 

 
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Posted on 07/25/2011 7:56 AM by Mary Fink
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Friday, 22 July 2011
Trust your team
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How many of us have experienced a person of authority in our lives who felt they always needed to be in control.   They constantly wanted to know what the individual members of their team were doing and regardless of the task, they always had an opinion about how it should be done.   In our casual water cooler conversations around the office, we’d call these people “micro-managers”.   The key word in that phrase turns out to be “managers”.

Warren Bennis, a very influential scholar/author who helped develop many of today’s theories on leadership once said “Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why”.   In my own personal experience, the key word that defines the difference between managers and leaders is “trust”.   A leader has learned or just naturally has trust in his or her team.   They believe in the ability of the cohesive unit to understand the mission that he or she has laid forth and for the individuals to make good decisions in pursuit of that mission.

Managers lack the trust mentioned above.  Why is that the case?   Personally, I’ve seen people who don’t allow that trust to be built because they harbor the pride that no one can do the key tasks better than they did.   Alternately, they may have an issue that prevents them from enjoying the success others can have.  Regardless of the reason, “managers” can’t seem to let go and find that trust.  Managers that can’t evolve to be leaders tend to chase off those up and coming high performers and are destructive to the team

Look yourself in the mirror – ask yourself some candid questions:

  • - Do you trust your team to implement the shared vision?  
  • - If you trust all but a couple on your team, how should you deal with those people?
  • - If you worked for someone like yourself, what would you be saying at the water cooler?

If you didn’t answer these questions in the obvious way of a leader, determine what you need to do to learn to trust your team.

 
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Posted on 07/22/2011 3:51 PM by Scott Carlton
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Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Conflict and Style
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I spent the better part of today sitting in on a colleague’s class on conflict, and specifically how we engage in conflict based on our behavioral style, just as we engage in other leadership activities differently according to our style.  I was reminded that just because we are different it doesn’t mean we can’t engage in meaningful and productive conflict.  

Many organizations believe that a lack of conflict is a good thing, and that it means things are going well.  What it really means is that many things are going underground, creating an environment that can do damage to that organization’s productivity as well as its culture.  Well- managed conflict is necessary to resolving problems and dealing with issues, and it’s important to have some conflict resolution tools in the toolbox.  Most productive conflict, like many other elements of leadership, begins with a self-awareness of our behavioral style, knowing how we prefer to engage.  It also involves knowing the other party, and respecting the differences in our styles.  

Conflict is never easy, but it can be productive and help to move our organizations forward when we choose to engage in an appropriate way.

 
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Posted on 07/20/2011 12:45 PM by Mary Fink
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Monday, 18 July 2011
Empower your People
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Leadership is about getting the work done by the team.  Leaders are measured not by how many hours you work, or how many reports you write, or by how long your meetings last  -  leaders are measured by actual accomplishment. 

The success formula starts with assembling the right people (all with positive attitudes) and then clearly outlining the mission in sufficient detail to assure achievement.  Then divide the work among the team and get out of the way. Let them know you trust them and be available for consultation but don’t do it for them.

An empowered workforce can achieve incredible results and in many cases will come forward with constructive ideas about improvements. When you empower the team and stay out of the way you then have time to think about other topics, or, as I like to say “you have time to look over the hill and around the corner.”

 
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Posted on 07/18/2011 3:06 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Friday, 15 July 2011
The most dangerous phrase!
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Having a computer science background, I have always held Rear Admiral Grace Hopper in very high esteem.   Admiral Hopper was an accomplished US Naval Officer, but also one of the US’s first Computer Scientist.  Ms. Hopper was one of the true pioneers in the industry that allows us to have all the fantastic software evolutions in our life today that we take for granted (phones, tablets, laptops, Facebook, etc.).  Reading about Ms. Hopper a few weeks ago, I came across a quote from her that caused me to reflect on leadership – the quote was “the most dangerous phrase in our language is we’ve always done it this way”.

In various roles I’ve had, I’ve personally experienced the situation where I’ve hired someone new to my organization and they come in with great enthusiasm, ready to change the world.  At times when we were in meetings discussing some of the challenges of the organization I can remember some of those newly hired folks chiming right in, making suggestions and trying to provide value.  Instead of being the leader I aspire to be, I can remember times when I squashed that enthusiasm with comments like “you really should learn more about how we do things before commenting”.   I was falling victim to the closed thinking that the Admiral was referring to.   A team that is closed to new ideas is a team that is well on the path to irrelevancy.  

When people share their ideas about how anyone or any team can improve or do things better, regardless of their experience or background, we should look at that as a gift.   They see your business with different eyes – ones that take a fresh view and perspective.   Value that other perspective regardless of if you ever implement their idea or not.   The proper response when someone gives you the gift of feedback from a different perspective is “Thank you”!  

Fuel and capture the enthusiasm of people new to your team and help them realize the worst thing they could do is keep quiet until they have more experience.  Let them know that you are always open to hearing their views and you don’t hire anyone to be a wall flower.   Your team will love the openness and reward you with all those great ideas they’ve previously been reluctant to share.

 
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Posted on 07/15/2011 7:43 PM by Scott Carlton
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Leadership 101
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Preparing for an upcoming workshop by completing the pre-reading assignment, I discovered a list of derailment factors for executives, or problems that can stall a career.  The list was determined by research of those skills that differentiated successful executives and those who were terminated, demoted or failed to achieve to their expected level.

On the top of this list is “problems with interpersonal relationships,” those interpersonal skills which are the foundation of the Signature Executive Program.  While for years books have offered many “secrets” to successful leadership, the real “secret,” once the foundation has been laid with the most basic business skills, is getting along with others.  Recently the topic of emotional intelligence has grown as a body of knowledge, but basically it boils down to understanding yourself and others, and behaving in an appropriate manner.  I once had someone say to me “Leadership is easy—just treat people the way your mother taught you,” or it’s “common sense not commonly practiced,” both indicating that it’s not technical or clinical or scientific as much as it is skills that have a foundation in being smart and caring.  I’d like to think that these are the skills that the Signature Executive Program teaches and that its students practice.

 
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Posted on 07/13/2011 10:04 PM by Mary Fink
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Monday, 11 July 2011
Behave ethically no matter what!
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There are simply no acceptable excuses for a lack of ethics at any place or any time.  If something feels even remotely immoral, illegal or just simply wrong don’t do it and you demonstrate your leadership by encouraging others to follow the same path. The more worldly experience that we have the more we can simply trust our instincts – if it feels wrong, it is wrong.

We are regularly bombarded with stories from television, newspapers and the internet about wrongdoing by politicians, entertainers, business people, and even sometimes the clergy, but don’t let that sway you. The stories are in the media because they got caught. Make no mistake about it – the bad guys get caught, almost every time.

Take the high road in every situation and in the long run you will earn the respect of others and you will sleep better. Your family and friends will be proud of you for doing the right thing and, most important of all, you will be proud of yourself.

 
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Posted on 07/11/2011 8:27 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Friday, 8 July 2011
Don't be paralyzed by doubt
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If you think about the best leaders that you’ve either experienced personally or read about, did they display self-confidence?  The answer is likely “Yes”.    In fact, it’s a accepted fact that having a high self-esteem is critical in the path to becoming a great leader.   So how does a person improve their own “self-esteem”?

As many of us move along in our careers, we experience high points where we seem to be making all the right decisions and low points where the opposite occurs.   In these latter cases, there is a tendency for some to begin to doubt themselves.   This doubt can lead to questioning every single decision and ultimately to a reduced self-esteem.   How do we reduce the likelihood of this happening?

Self-esteem is driven differently for every single human being and a detailed analysis is far outside the scope of this post.   One thing is true however for virtually everyone – when you take some action, you feel better than when you choose not to act.   You have to recognize that in every decision, there is a chance of being wrong, but there’s also a chance of being right.   Do not let doubt prevent you from taking action.   Additionally, if you do the proper due diligence around the action that you take, you tilt the odds pretty heavily in your favor.   Rely on whatever resources you need (people, reference material, etc.) to further improve your chances.  

It’s amazing the boost your confidence can get by making a decision that’s deemed “correct”.   That boost is just enough to move you forward to the next decision where the process starts all over again.   

 
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Posted on 07/08/2011 1:52 PM by Scott Carlton
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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Leaders are curious
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Basic curiosity is an important executive skill regardless of your position, industry or length of service.  It takes time and practice but we all can refine our skills for asking questions that can help us learn more and explore options for improvement and innovation. Simply asking “what would you do to improve XYZ?” can often lead you down a new and different path.

The longer you have been in a role the harder it is to be curious so try to find ways to take a look at things from different perspectives.  Try asking different questions or tour a competitor or read something that could shake up your thinking.  Simply asking “what if” questions shows that you are curios and from that curiosity new ideas will surface.

Curiosity is an important leadership skill.   

 
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Posted on 07/06/2011 2:06 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Monday, 4 July 2011
What IS Leadership, Really?
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Pondering what to write about, I asked my soon-to-be-college-graduate daughter, expecting something traditional or a definition of a boss, but I was surprised when she said,  “I think a leader is someone who doesn’t act like the boss, just behaves in a way that makes you want to work with him or her.  As I thought about her words, I was impressed at her insight.  We continued the conversation using words like “authentic,” “sincere,” and “ethical.”  
 
Real leadership is not that complex.  Do the right thing; treat people well; stand behind your product or services; know your business--what someone once described as “common sense not commonly practiced.”  It’s a combination of the obvious things that makes great leaders.  Sometimes we want to find a formula that works:  it’s not about a formula.  There are more than 15,000 books on leadership, and if it were a formula someone would have found it by now.  It’s different with every individual, just as each individual is different in other ways.  Leadership is really a state of mind, not a particular set of skills, although some skills are important.  We like to say that we want to encourage leadership at every level, and in every organization some leaders just emerge.  Celebrate that!
 
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Posted on 07/04/2011 3:29 PM by Mary Fink
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Friday, 1 July 2011
Are we REALLY more productive?
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If you compare the corporate organization of today to those of 30 years ago, you’d find one dramatic difference.   The widespread adoption of personal computers, productivity software, and smart phones has radically changed the life of the modern day knowledge worker.   The invention of e-mail alone created massive changes in how organizations of today communicate vs. what they did 30 years ago.

The use of all these electronic tools is great, however the questions lingers - are we more productive?   The presence of all this electronic “help” has created a generation of knowledge worker who believes their job is complete if they sit in Outlook all day and answer their e-mails.   How much work is really getting done if we have a high percentage of our workers simply communicating in electronic writing back and forth all day long?

Here’s a great test to see how you’re doing.   If you’re one of those folks who spends a lot of time in Outlook – go thru your “Sent Items” folder and calculate the percentage of e-mails that have a “RE:” in front of the subject line vs. those that don’t.    If you find that the majority of your e-mails don’t have “RE:” in front of the subject line, you can brag that you’re primarily a new idea person.   As for the rest of us, I think we need to be mindful of the percent of our day that is focused on responding to other people’s ideas vs. creating and refining our own.

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Posted on 07/01/2011 1:51 PM by Scott Carlton
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