Friday, March 17, 2017

where are you standing?

I just returned from three days of watching baseball in Arizona, enjoying spring training and the company of fellow brothers.  One of our discussions was centered on where fielders stand on a given play or for a given batter (or for that matter, where batters stand facing a given pitcher or situation).  This conversation (as well as many others) led me to consider what it might have to do with leadership, thus the title of today's blog.

So what might it mean for leaders to consider where they are standing...and what is the impact that standing might have?  Here are a few thoughts for this Friday morning:

  • physically, leaders need to consider where to stand when they address their constituencies - are you directly in the middle, do you stand to one side or the other, or do you consistently move around?
  • values-wise, leaders need to be able to know and articulate where they stand.  What is most important to them and does everyone know and understand the implications of what the leader holds as important? And what happens when individuals violate the leader's most dearly held values? (and perhaps even more important, what happens when the leader violates his or her own most dearly held values?)
  • strategically, leaders must stand firm when competing ideas or needs want to deter the organization from moving in the agreed upon direction.  Even the very best ideas pushed for by the very best people need to checked against the current strategic direction (and, if a change in direction is warranted, the leader needs to be able to explain why they are choosing not to stand firm at that time)
  • personnel-wise, the leader should have the ability to stand in the another person's shoes and work hard to understand their viewpoint, especially when there is conflict or unmet expectations.  Hearing and understanding what the other person is saying or doing can lead to a better outcome for everyone involved
  • budgetarily, leaders have to stand firm and not let their organization make decisions which can harm them in the long run. Investing in the organization's core capabilities and choosing not to invest in activities that are not required (and insisting on holding the line in terms of agreed upon margin) are all part of the leader's stance in terms of financial health
Thinking about where you stand can serve to strengthen one's leadership capacity. Where the leader stands will help to define what the leader is standing for...and in turn help others know how to stand as they move the organization forward in its mission and vision.

Friday, March 10, 2017

from responder to listener

The reality is that those who react, respond, and make things happen often get promoted to positions of leadership.  The ability to see a problem and fix it is exactly what people see as valuable in most organizations.  Those of us who are currently in a leadership position most likely got there because we were able to react, respond, and make things happen.  The problem comes that when one moves into that leadership role, it suddenly becomes more important to listen and think rather than act and do.  The other day I asked someone what they had been learning about themselves, and their response was "I am learning to listen to listen, rather than listen to respond."  That is the essence of what it means to lean into one's role as a leader.

Now here's the rub...because the ability to react, respond, and make things happen is most likely built into the DNA of those in leadership roles, the natural reaction will be to respond rather than listen - and that can easily get someone into trouble because of that natural reaction.  So what can be done?  How do those in leadership roles stay in the listening mode and not rush to the responding mode?  Here are a few ideas:
  • stop before you offer a solution...rather than offer your own solution, ask the person if they have an idea about a solution
  • have a series of 3-4 questions that you always ask...these are your go-to questions that everyone knows you are going to pull out of your back pocket
  • pause before entering into dialogue...before the meeting begins, take a deep breath and remind yourself of why you are there and what you should be bringing to the table
  • finish each meeting with a ratio inventory...determine what your ratio was of questions asked to statements made, and ask yourself if you are happy with that ratio
  • ask for feedback...check with those around you if they believe you are more interested in responding or listening
  • stop and ask for forgiveness...if you find yourself in the middle of solving for a problem, stop your rambling and ask the other person for forgiveness - and then let them start solving the problem
  • remind yourself that you are not the smartest person in the room...which is often hard to do when everyone else is telling you (directly or indirectly) that you are the smartest person in the room
  • enter into all conversations with don't know what you don't know, and because of that you will never have all of the answers
Unfortunately, this is not something that goes away over time.  Remember that those in leadership positions got there because they are wired to respond, and that immediate need to respond never really goes away.  The paradox is that once one understands that this initial reaction will always be there, the easier it becomes to manage it.  And that's what leaders do - they manage themselves so they can lead in a more effective manner. And remember that it is in the listening that leaders best respond to others - and that is really what most people are asking for from leaders.

Friday, March 3, 2017

when a leader loses their voice

Last week I had no voice...literally.  I had been sick, I overused my voice, and my vocal cords gave out on me.  Just having to squeak out a few words was painful and all I wanted to do was be quiet.  Yet the job demanded that I appear at certain functions to speak, hold meetings with individuals or groups, and walk the campus greeting people.  It finally got to the point where I was unable to speak to a groups and had to ask others to step in for me.  I had no voice.

My belief is that leaders can lose their voice even when they are healthy and their vocal cords are functioning just fine.  I can speak, but if no one really listens I have no voice; I can lead meetings, but if I have no influence I have no voice; I can meet and greet people all day long, but if no one really cares I have no voice.  What can those in leadership roles do to keep from losing their metaphorical voice?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • give the voice rest...just as I had to stop talking to get back my physical voice, leaders at times need to stop talking and spend more time both listening and in quiet contemplation.
  • talk less, smile more (with apologies to the musical Hamilton)...sometimes presence is as important (or even more important) than one's physical voice being heard.  Letting others know that you are there and being a part of the event is just as important as speaking at the event.
  • choose words carefully...more talking does not always equal a stronger voice.  Stay on target, be careful with words, and be succinct.  Many times less really is more.
  • keep the voice at a lower level...when trying to make a point, those in leadership roles can often get excited and perhaps even agitated.  The louder and more aggressive the voice, the less people might actually listen.
  • stay away from large crowds...smaller meetings take more time, but the ability to craft one's message for an individual can go along way in making one's voice really heard.
  • let others speak...leaders often believe that they are the ones who deliver the message best; the truth is that there are many people in the organization who can say things better and more to the point.  Give them the chance to practice their own voice and others the chance to here a new voice.
My greatest fear was realized as I considered what might happen if my physical voice never fully came back.  I realized that my voice was the tool by which I do my work.  That is true for the leader's metaphorical voice as well.  Perhaps the fear of losing that voice should be greater than the fear of losing one's physical voice.

This past week I have talked much less, avoided large crowds, talked only in a softer voice, drank plenty of tea and honey, and regularly used salt and warm water to heal the throat.  I am not yet a 100% but am now able to hold a conversation without much pain.  I have learned my lesson to take better care of my voice...and I have learned to care for my metaphorical voice as well.  Let's hope that lesson serves me well for years to come.