Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

There is no leadership, personal or organizational, without listening. In fact, ability to truly listen (and not just hear) is the foundation of having a conversation, building trust, influencing others, resolving conflicts, driving your vision, building relationships, implementing change and learning. Yet, many of us equate listening with absorption of what the other person is saying. There’s more to it!

In this respect, I loved reading a recent article on Harvard Business Review titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article provides an excellent round up of how to truly listen.

I attempted to capture the essence of their post in a sketch note form and I loved the way they sum it up. Here is a snippet from an article that you must read:

“Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

Here is a sketch note summary along with some links to my own thoughts on listening well at QAspire.

 Related Posts at QAspire

Critical Competencies for Effective Coaching (And a Book) by Lisa Haneberg

Great coaching is at the heart of meaningful accomplishments. In an organizational and team context, being able to coach people means helping them overcome their own resistance, get unstuck and move forward in the direction of their goals. Great coaching catalyzes great results.

But too often, we see managers and leaders getting so busy on the treadmill of getting things done that they lose focus on how those results are achieved. A leader’s constant job is to strike a balance between getting things done and developing people. Doing one at the cost of the other can be a great disservice to organization and its people.

I recently read revised edition of my friend Lisa Haneberg’s book “Coaching Basics” published by Association for Talent Development (ATD). It is a wonderful resource for organizational leaders, HR professionals and managers if they want to understand the nuances of how to coach others for greatness. I strongly recommend this book.

I was also fortunate to be able to write a blurb in this book where I say,

Companies often tell their leaders to ‘coach’ people without giving any guidance on the ‘how.’ Lisa Haneberg fills this important gap by offering a very useful handbook that clarifies the foundation of good coaching and offers actionable insights and tools for effective coaching.

– Tanmay Vora, Director, Product Development R&D, Basware

But when I read this book, I was instantly reminded of a wonderful post that Lisa wrote in 2014 where she outlined critical competencies of a great coach.

Here are a couple of excellent quotes from Lisa’s post:

“Coaching is a service and we cannot be successful if the learner perceives that we are helping to satisfy OUR needs or wants.”

“Great coaches are able to help learners adopt a more helpful perspective of the situations about which they are struggling.”

And here is a sketch note summary of coaching competencies that Lisa’s post outlines.

Get the book at: TD.org | Amazon

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Also read at QAspire.com:

Leadership, Connection and Power of Storytelling

If the job of a leader is to take people to a better place, they first need to take people’s imagination to that better place.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when communicating about the future is to show future in form of data, numbers and charts. They are good to capture the mind of people, but people will only endeavor to go there when their hearts are engaged.

Storytelling has been one of the most powerful tools to drive imagination of people first before people decide to take actions towards the future. The historic “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King or the narrative of non-violent movement for India’s independence by Mahatma Gandhi are powerful examples of story telling that led to massive change, first in the minds and hearts of people and then in reality.

If you are a leader who is facilitating a large scale change or transformation effort, paint a compelling picture of the future before you show the data. Ability to tell stories that foster change is a critical leadership skill.

In his classic HBR article titled “Telling Tales”, Steve Denning outlines seven aims of a good narrative. The article also provides an excellent context of leadership storytelling and offers practical ways to frame your narrative depending on your goals. I recommend that you read the original article.

Here is a quick sketch note of seven aims of leadership storytelling:

 

Additional Resources:

Purpose and Progress: Powerful Motivators

Progress is a powerful motivator. When individuals and teams achieve small wins, they have a big impact on the overall motivation. It also generates positive momentum and energy to take further steps in the journey of achieving the purpose.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer presented their research findings in a book titled The Progress Principle” – Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work where they found,

“Of all the positive events that influence the inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work” – The Progress Principle

The converse is also true. Setbacks and lack of visibility into progress (as a team and as an organization) can be powerful de-motivator.

In this context, three things are very crucial from a leadership perspective:

Make the purpose visible.

We are talking about meaningful work here. In the daily conundrum, it is easy for your folks to lose the sight of the purpose and meaning of their work. While the meaning of our work is largely driven by the personal lens we use to see our work, the key question you need to ask as a leader is: Are people clear about what we are trying to achieve here and how their work contributes to that purpose?

Enable Progress.

People will get stuck. Their ability to make progress will be stifled by all internal and external forces. And that’s when they will need help. Enable progress by helping people, coaching them when required and eliminating the roadblocks (potential derailers). When a setback is encountered, help them in finding a way through the set back. The key question you need to ask: “Am I doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I am enabling progress?”

Make the progress visible.

Once people are clear about the purpose, then progress matters. Leaders have a huge role to play in making the progress visible. Use all forums of communication (daily stand up meetings, weekly status, monthly meetings, newsletters, wiki, portals etc) to make the progress visible. The key question you need to ask: Knowing what purpose are we working to achieve, do people know all the time about progress we are making (or not) towards the purpose?

Why does this matter? Because people want to make valuable contributions to a purpose larger than themselves. And when they know that they are making progress in achieving meaningful work, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.

That’s what we need more of in organization’s and teams today – isn’t it?

Flight Mode

Notifications on the devices are constantly craving for our attention. We check them when waiting at the traffic signal, while having the food, during meetings and while talking to our loved ones.

Constant connection with technology is not allowing us to establish real connections with others. It is taking a toll on our ability to communicate, converse and connect effectively.

We want others to listen to us, really understand our ideas and acknowledge our thought process. Being understood is a fundamental human need. Key question is: How often do we fail to do the same when communicating with others? 

Flight mode on your phone is not simply for when you are on an airplane. Try it at family meal, in the cinema queue with your friend and when taking a stroll through the park with your kids. Sanity mode. You know it makes sense. – Nicholas Bate, Jagged Thoughts for Jagged Times 112

Turning off technology when meeting a fellow human being is a way to tell them, I respect you.”


Also read: The lost art of fine conversations by Kavi Arasu which has some excellent ideas  on conversations, leadership and learning.

To Communicate Effectively, Connect First!

I have seen people feeling more comfortable about a presentation or a meeting when they have all the details and facts lined up in a presentation. They massage the message and try to cover as many statistics and nice looking pictures as they can.

They feel comfortable because they focus on communication – transfer of facts, information and figures. But this alone may not be sufficient, because people look for connection first. Communication is simply a tool to connect – a means to an end and not the end in itself.

Connection is the transfer of energy and emotion. Communication starts with details whereas act of connecting with others starts with an intent to identify with people, to understand their context, find a common ground and then demonstrate passion while mapping your ideas to their context.

You can devise complex plans with lot of information to do an effective sales pitch however, the real impact depends on how much you were able to connect with the prospect. That’s because people first look for energy and intent and emotion and authenticity. Once they are connected, they pay heed to information.

Ability to connect meaningfully with others and generate influence is so crucial for leaders at all levels (parents included!) and lack of connection is also the biggest reason why leaders fail to make the mark.

Getting stuff done is, quite obviously, the reason why leaders exist in organizations at first place. But the real legacy of a leader is how well they connected with others and how did it help others in becoming better versions of themselves while still getting the stuff done.

Your ability to connect with others enables you to build that legacy – one conversation at a time!

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A Compelling Vision is an Anchor

Seagull Half Shot QAspire Blog Tanmay Vora

Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: ‘Who do we intend to be?’ Not ‘What are we going to do?’ but ‘Who do we intend to be?’ – Max DePree

Specific, measurable and time bound goals are important to set expectations on results and drive performance in short term. Goals is like math; they address the head. Goals have an end date.

Goals however, are not sufficient. If you only try to provide direction to people through goals, they will know “what” needs to be done but may not know “why” something needs to be done.

When leading others, we need math but we need music too. Something that addresses our hearts and taps into our emotions. Something that is larger than us and gives us a powerful “why”. Yes, we are talking about vision.

I have seen companies falling into the trap of managing people through quarterly or half yearly goals without clarifying the vision. That works to keep everyone running, only without a sense of direction. Result? A disengaged workforce that just complies to goals, and that too – dispassionately. This becomes even more challenging when an organization has distributed teams across the geographies.

In a creative economy, people will give their best output and exercise their discretionary effort only when they are completely aware of the vision. In moments of handling difficult conversations, choices and ways of working, vision serves as an anchor. It provides a meaning to our day to day work. Vision is not a destination, but more like a compass that guides us through our goals and decisions.

Managing your organization’s work only through goals is like focusing your kid on simply getting good grades in the next examination. Kids need goals but they first need a vision of what kind of human being they should become.

What is true for kids is also true for organizations and teams. They are, after all, made up of human beings too!

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Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 2

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin

The biggest difference between command and control leadership versus collaborative leadership is – a collaborative leader knows that position in the hierarchy is no longer the source of power. The real source of a leader’s power is people and how well they work together. In a collaborative world of work, authority is merely a starting point for the leader to create an ecosystem where collaboration can happen.

In highly digital and distributed business environment, collaborative leaders need to focus on creating forums and establishing tools that encourage collaboration. Let us look at a few traits of a collaborative leader keeping collaboration forums in perspective (Revisit the series so far.)

  1. They know the difference between communicating and connecting. There is a difference between communicating (passing the message) versus connecting. As John Maxwell defines, “Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence on them.” The act of connection starts with appreciating the value each and every individual brings on the table. One of the key challenges for a collaborative leader is to align the team, cross functional groups and customers to a common purpose and the best ways to address this challenge is to meaningfully connect with others.
  2. They establish forums for communication and collaboration to happen. For people, doing their own work first is always a priority. Collaboration always takes a backseat if a leader is not conscious about setting up forums where collaboration can happen. Daily stand up meetings to address priorities, joint planning sessions, brainstorming, Lessons learned sessions, reviews and retrospectives are all forums that enable collaboration. The key for a collaborative leader is to plan them upfront and ensure that people continuously contribute towards the common goal.
  3. They use technology and tools for effective collaboration. Using collaboration tools like Wikis, document repositories, collaborative planning tools and workflow management systems act as a grease that streamlines collaboration. It is simple – the more collaboration is built into the work processes and tools, the more it happens. This is especially vital for teams that are distributed.
  4. They don’t hoard information but share openly. In a collaborative team, the sharing of information is seamless. Though a part of information sharing is taken care by the tools and forums established, a collaborative leader is very conscious about re-iterating the purpose, relentlessly clarifying the context and keeping everyone informed at all times. Collaborative leaders know that people working on the tasks are as important stakeholders as the customers.
  5. They first share the knowledge, and then expect others to share. The act of sharing starts with the leader. Team members only open up to share their knowledge and insights when everyone around them are doing it too. Collaborative leaders add value to the team through their clarity of purpose, their overall business knowledge and understanding of how things should work. Then, they encourage others to do the same.

In the next post, we will outline a few more traits that make a collaborative leader successful. Stay tuned!

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In the series so far:

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 1

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

In an industrial age, people went to factories and worked together to produce the outcomes. When required, they collaborated in person. Supervisors commanded and controlled others and leadership was often equated with “taking power”. Factories depended heavily on rigid top-down hierarchies and people were viewed simply as dispensable workers.

With technological advances, our world of work changed dramatically. Today, we seldom do anything alone. With rise in knowledge oriented work, people in small and geographically distributed groups work together to create value through their expertise and creativity. There is no raw material, there are only people.

In this world of work, collaboration is not optional. In fact, effective collaboration is the backbone of how work gets done today. Most successful projects and teams I have seen have one thing in common – effective collaboration. They had one more thing in common – that one person with vision who believed in collaboration – a collaborative leader.

In this series of posts, we will look at what goes in to make collaborative leaders and their indispensable traits. Mary Parker Follett defined management as “the art of getting things done through people” and collaborative leadership embodies and extends this belief. It is about bringing diverse group of people together, have them share a common vision and provide them an eco-system where they effectively work with each other to produce desired outcomes optimally.

At the very foundation of collaborative leadership are respect for people, individual competence and engaging communication. Let us take a closer look at these.

Respect for People:

Effective collaboration starts with a simple belief that people are not “resources” or “capital” – they are not just a variable cost to your company. They are essentially humans who bring their self-esteem, emotional skills and intellectual capabilities to accomplish their work. That they want to be trusted, communicated with and inspired. Karen Martin, my friend and author of the recent book “The Outstanding Organization” says, “Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.” Respect for people imply that a leader is interested in (and enjoys) dealing with people, listening to them, help them navigate through challenges of work, solve their problems and invest time in developing their skills. Respect for people also means that a leader is able to provide the required space to people without compromising on the accountability. It means that a leader looks at conflicts as a way to improve.

Competence:

Collaboration is almost never a substitute of competence. At an individual level, a leader cannot foster collaboration and solve team’s problems without having the necessary skills and capabilities. For a leader, competence does not necessarily mean only technical skills. It also means higher visibility into work and how it fits into larger scheme of things. It means knowing how to communicate effectively and deal with problems. Competence also equates with an individual’s integrity – the extent to which thoughts, words and deeds of a leader are uniform. An integral leader quickly builds trust which is the currency of a collaborative team.

Engaging Communication:

If trust is the currency of a collaborative team, communication is the way to build it. It is only when a team frequently communicates, provides clarity, clarifies vision, shares ideas, extends their lessons and outlines problems clearly that they can really collaborate. Leaders in a collaborative environment need to be transparent and conscious about cultural aspects of communication. They need to offer a compelling view of the future (vision) to engage the energies of people. Along the way, they need to reiterate the vision, keep the team focused and resolve conflicts. They also need to be aware that communication is not just about what they speak, but also about what their actions speak.

With these fundamental elements in perspective, we will explore essential traits of collaborative leaders and related examples in the subsequent posts.

Join in the conversation: How would you define collaborative leader? What are your thoughts on how people are treated within organizations today?

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, A Family of Darters, Khijadia Bird Sanctuary

In 100 Words: On Criticizing Constructively

Painting

A novice painter once put his first painting at a busy cross road for people to mark mistakes. End of the day, the painting was full of cross marks!

Next day, he made the same painting and displayed at the same cross roads. This time, he kept colors and brush there and requested people to not only point out mistakes but also correct it themselves. The day ended and painting was intact with no corrections made!

It is as important to say no to constant negativity as it is to pay heed to constructive criticism that helps us improve constantly.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Listening Enough is Caring Enough: 11 Gentle Reminders

We are living in a world of attention deficit where no one has the time to listen. From what I have observed, organizations suffer from a listening crisis. Everyone has the answers and everybody wants to tell their story. No one is patient enough to sit back, ask questions and then really listen.

This calls for some gentle reminders – they aren’t cool new ideas but this is what we need as leaders if we wish to be really effective in organizations and within our families.

  1. Not listening is one of the two biggest wastes. The second is not speaking up when it matters.
  2. Effective listening starts with an intention to understand. When you constantly listen with intent of answering or replying, you miss on a lot of non-verbal clues in communication process.
  3. We want others to really understand, validate and appreciate us. The act of listening starts with realization that others have the same basic need.
  4. Listening is a way to respect others. When you don’t listen effectively, don’t ask questions, don’t confirm your understanding and don’t acknowledge the messages, you are sending wrong signals.
  5. Effective listening entails putting the filters of your preconceived notions and beliefs aside. These filters will not allow you to get into their frame of reference.
  6. People think listening happens only through ears. You can also listen with your eyes and with your heart. In pursuit to be an effective listener, it is important to remember that only about 40% of communication happens through words and sounds. Rest is all non-verbal.
  7. Listening is also about receiving the feeling behind what is being said. When you listen, listen the words, the tone, the words being used and the feeling behind it. What is being said and the meaning behind may be very different.
  8. Technology can be an impediment to effective listening. That message on your phone, the popping sound of email and unending stream of social media updates are not more important than a human being in front of you who wants to express. Listening enough is caring enough.
  9. Listening is not practiced only when we are with others. You can (and you should) spend time listening to your inner self. It raises self-awareness!
  10. I remember words of that wise consultant who said, “The more you tell, the less you sell.” All great sales people and negotiators are first and foremost, great listeners.
  11. Effective listening is a leader’s primary responsibility – an obligation towards the followers. Great leadership starts with effective and empathetic listening – an important element of any conversation.

A leader needs to ENLIST others on their vision for which they need to LISTEN for which they need to be SILENT. Three words made up from the same letters.

Does that tell us something or is it a plain co-incidence?

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Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Cute Pug, Angry Expression!

The cricket coach had some wise words for his team. This team was reeling under pressure to perform and was marred by penalties imposed on key players due to their overly aggressive behavior on the field. Coach knew that some course correction was required.

“Aggression” he said, “is a double edged sword. If used correctly, aggression can lead to improved performance. It elevates the intensity of your game”.

The coach continued, “I like to call this ‘good aggression’ because it is instrumental in generating new energy within the team. As a team, we must be aggressive but only assertively. The purpose of our aggression is to help ‘ourselves’ not to harm others.”

The team was slowly realizing their folly.

“What I call as ‘bad aggression’ makes us hostile, unfriendly and negative because we try to draw our energy from negating and obstructing others. It may improve our performance in a short term but is not healthy in a longer run. The energy within us manifests itself in many ways and aggression is just one of the ways our energy comes out. We only need to positively direct this energy.” the coach said.

He then asked the team to think about how some of the greatest players in the history of cricket handled their own aggression. After a few quiet moments, the team members realized that best players always kept their aggression in their bellies, not in their heads. They were able to channelize this aggressive energy into a constructive one.

When the team returned to nets for practice sessions, they knew they had a choice to exercise. They chose to be constructively aggressive. No snide remarks on the field, no dissent, no fierce expressions and no more clenching of fists; just a consistent focus on performance of the self and the team.

The coach silently observed them from a distance and smiled because he knew the players had learned something that will not only improve their conduct in sport but also in their lives!

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P.S.: I participated in a corporate cricket tournament recently and this post is partly inspired by my lessons from the tournament and conversations around each game.

Interview: Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith on Art of Effective Mentoring

Last week, Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith released the revised edition of their classic bookManagers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. This week, they open up in a free-flow conversation with QAspire on the art of effective mentoring. In my view, this interview is almost a definitive guide to become a great mentor! Let’s get started:

[Tanmay Vora] Chip and Marshall, it is my pleasure interviewing you. Effective mentoring is a great way to elevate capabilities of people. How does one approach mentoring when working in a hyper-competitive business environment where speed and results take up precedence?

[Chip and Marshall] The same way any leadership or coaching activity occurs…it comes down to priority. In today’s time’s up work world, mentors can be impatient thus rendering the mentoring. Mentoring means starting where the protégé is, not where the mentor wants him or her to be. Mentor and protégé must focus on the quality of the process not a rush to the outcome. Mentoring need not be a long leisurely dialogue away from the chaotic highs and lows of a busy enterprise. Few mentors or protégés have the luxury of time to have a conversation as if over a five-course meal in a fancy restaurant. But, there must be time for a rapport-building appetizer and a where-do-we-go-from-here dessert. There must be time for focused listening and meaningful reflection. And, there must be time for the sincere communication of interest and concern.

[Tanmay Vora] If I am a mentor, what is your #1 tip for finding my protégés. What is your #1 tip if I am looking for a mentor?

[Chip and Marshall] For the mentor, start with people you directly influence and supervise. The old-fashioned view of mentoring as someone outside the leader’s chain of command it no longer relevant. Arie de Guies wrote in his book, “The Living Company” these words: Your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only competitive sustainable advantage.” Leaders create learning organizations. For the protégé, select a mentor who can help you be the best you can, not one you think can help you get a promotion.Remember, you can sometimes learn more from people who are different than from people who are “just like you.”

[Tanmay Vora] In your book, you offer SAGE model of great mentoring. Can you explain that a bit for benefit of the readers of this blog?

[Chip and Marshall] The mentoring model found in this book is built around the belief that great mentoring requires four core competencies, each of which can be applied in many ways. These competencies form the sequential steps in the process of mentoring. All four have been selected for their ability to blend effectively. Not accidentally, the first letters of these four competencies (and steps) spell the word “SAGE”—a helpful mnemonic as well as a symbolic representation of the goal, the power-free facilitation of learning. They are: Surrendering—leveling the learning field; Accepting—creating a safe haven for risk taking; Gifting—the core contributions of the mentor, the main event; and Extending—nurturing protégé independence.

Mentoring is an honor. Except for love, there is no greater gift one can give another than the gift of growth. It is a rare privilege to help another learn, have the relevant wisdom to be useful to another, and partner with someone who can benefit from that wisdom. This book is crafted with a single goal: to help you exercise that honor and privilege in a manner that benefits you and all those you influence.

[Tanmay Vora] Not all managers possess the qualities required to become an effective mentor. What are these qualities?

[Chip and Marshall] Balance. Unlike a relationship based on power and control, a learning partnership is a balanced alliance, grounded in mutual interests, interdependence, and respect. Power-seeking mentors tend to mentor with credentials and sovereignty; partnership­-driven mentors seek to mentor with authenticity and openness. In a balanced learning partnership, energy is given early in the relationship to role clarity and communication of expectations; there is a spirit of generosity and acceptance rather than a focus on rules and rights. Partners recognize their differences while respecting their common needs and objectives.

Truth. Countless books extol the benefits of clear and accurate communication. Partnership communication has one additional quality: It is clean, pure, characterized by the highest level of integrity and honesty. Truth-seekers work not only to ensure that their words are pure (the truth and nothing but the truth) but also to help others communicate with equal purity. When a mentor works hard to give feedback to a protégé in a way that is caringly frank and compassionately straightforward, it is in pursuit of clean communication. When a mentor implores the protégé for candid feedback, it is a plea for clean communication. The path of learning begins with the mentor’s genuineness and candor.

Trust. Trust begins with experience; experience begins with a leap of faith. Perfect monologues, even with airtight proof and solid support documentation, do not foster a climate of experimentation and risk taking. They foster passive acceptance, not personal investment. If protégés see their mentors taking risks, they will follow suit. A “trust-full” partnership is one in which error is accepted as a necessary step on the path from novice to master.

Abundance. Partnership-driven mentors exude generosity. There is a giver orientation that finds enchantment in sharing wisdom. As the “Father of Adult Learning,” Malcolm Knowles, says, “Great trainers [and mentors] love learning and are happiest when they are around its occurrence.”1 Such relationships are celebratory and affirming. As the mentor gives, the protégé reciprocates, and abundance begins to characterize the relationship. And there is never a possessive, credit-seeking dimension (“That’s MY protégé”).

Passion. Great mentoring partnerships are filled with passion; they are guided by mentors with deep feelings and a willingness to communicate those feelings. Passionate mentors recognize that effective learning has a vitality about it that is not logical, not rational, and not orderly. Such mentors get carried away with the spirit of the partnership and their feelings about the process of learning. Some may exude emotion quietly, but their cause-driven energy is clearly present. In a nutshell, mentors not only love the learning process, they love what the protégé can become—and they passionately demonstrate that devotion.

Courage. Mentoring takes courage; learning takes courage. Great mentors are allies of courage; they cultivate a partnership of courageousness. They take risks with learning, showing boldness in their efforts, and elicit courage in protégés by the examples they set. The preamble to learning is risk, the willingness to take a shaky step without the security of perfection. The preamble to risk is courage.

Ethics. Effective mentors must be clean in their learner-dealings, not false, manipulative, or greedy. Competent mentors must be honest and congruent in their communications and actions. They must not steal their learners’ opportunities for struggle or moments of glory. Great mentors refrain from coveting their learners’ talents or falsifying their own. They must honor the learner just as they honor the process of mutual learning.

Partnerships are the expectancy of the best in our abilities, attitudes, and aspirations. In a learning partnership, the mentor is not only helping the protégé but also continually communicating a belief that he or she is a fan of the learner. Partnerships are far more than good synergy. Great partnerships go beyond “greater than” to a realm of unforeseen worth. And worth in a mentoring partnership is laced with the equity of balance, the clarity of truth, the security of trust, the affirmation of abundance, the energy of passion, the boldness of courage, and the grounding of ethics.

[Tanmay Vora] From an organizational perspective, is it important to have a culture of mentoring, starting from the top? How does it help?

[Chip and Marshall] Today’s organization succeed if they are growth-oriented, excellence-focused and innovative Growth is about change, so is learning; excellence is about a pursuit of betterment, so is learning and innovative is about unfreezing old ways to find new ways, so is learning. When the organization embeds learning as a part of its DNA, the expression of that core is growth, excellence and innovation. So, what do leaders do in a learning organization? They mentor!

[Tanmay Vora] Your book is a treasure trove of meaningful advice on the art of effective mentoring. If you had to share one message from the book for aspiring mentors, what would that be?

[Chip and Marshall] Be humble, be curious, be courageous and be willing to share what you know with others in a partnership-relationship.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you for offering third and revised edition of “Managers as Mentors”. It was a pleasure interviewing you and I am sure, readers of this blog will find your ideas and your book, a very useful resource on developing people and bring the best out of them. Thanks again.

[Chip and Marshall] Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share with your leaders a topic we are passionate about. Happy mentoring!

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

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6 Lessons in Leading a Cross-Functional Team

Being into quality and organizational improvement, I have always worked with cross-functional groups. By definition, a cross-functional team is the one where members from different functional areas work towards a common goal. A few years back, I got an assignment to lead a cross-functional team (xFT) and it was a great learning experience. Our goal was to implement information security management system spanning all departments, support groups and technical production team. It was an interesting ride because of challenges it posed, and challenges = lessons.

Recently, when one of my friends was also asked to manage a xFT in a different context, I ended up sharing the following key lessons (and challenges) on how to lead a xFT effectively:

In xFT, like in anything else, leader is an enabler: Every team member’s contribution to the team is vital because they carry the knowledge of their own context. The role of leader in a xFT is that of a coach – an enabler who eliminates roadblocks for team members to surge ahead in their priorities.

Leading xFT = Managing Diversity: Functionally, all team members are diverse and have their own reporting relationships, beliefs and values. They have to be led without the strings of formal reporting structures attached. This also means their time allocation may be diverse, so would be attitude and skill level. A leader’s challenge is to elicit their involvement without binding them into traditional management structure.

Trust is even more crucial for success: Since they don’t have a formal working relationship with the leader, building trust is the only way to move things forward. Leading is all about trust, more so in the case of leading a xFT. With trust, people self-organize, think favorably and take right decisions. As a leader, be inclusive, respect their opinions, showcase their contributions, recognize their work and be positive.

Clear goals are drivers of autonomy: In a xFT, decision making is bottoms-up. They decide the course of action and have autonomy to change the course depending on situation. So, the only way a leader drives these discrete decisions is by setting very clear goals and defining clear outcomes. This also means that leader has to work extra hard in setting up rituals for communication and status tracking.

Early “wins” are important: When a xFT starts working together, there will be a lot of ambiguity and doubt in their minds. They may not be confident about their ability to work together. They may be swayed away by their own departmental priorities. In such situations, if they see early wins, it reinforces their confidence. A team that achieves constantly, in increments, is the team that stays together productively. Early wins make the work and progress visible.

Constant communication is the glue: that binds the team together. Establishing rituals and communication forums (formal and informal to create face time is critical to keep team on track. These routines also helps a leader sense problems even before they actually happen, manage expectations constantly, provide feedback, learn about each other and manage conflicts. Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit for building trust.

Building a high-performing team in any situation is difficult and when team members are from different functional groups, a leaders role in creating a performing whole from discrete parts is both a challenge and an opportunity.

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Related Reading at QAspire:

What is Heard and What is Felt

This may sound very simple but communication is all about transferring emotion and energy. Words are simply carriers of that emotion. Yes, choice of words matter, but that is not communication.

Consider this example.

The new sales director was on boarded with a lot of frenzy. In his first address to all the team members, he delivered a well crafted introduction. He spoke about himself, his past projects and then about how he intends to take this organization to new heights. If a transcript was created out of his speech, it would be a perfectly worded one. Yet, he was not able to establish the connection in this first address. At water-cooler conversations, people expressed skepticism. Even when everything he said was right, something was not right!

Clearly, there was a lot of focus on delivery and content and less on emotion, energy, intensity and conviction. His overall demeanor suggested that he was putting his own agendas first before focusing on others. He expressed his goals and desires without focusing on the need to understand the current context. He said it, but people felt that he did not mean it. 

Bottom line: As a leader, you talk to people more clearly through experiences you extend, not just through well-crafted words. Your words may be heard, but your attitude, emotion and intent are always felt.

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Photo Courtesy: KrossBow’s Flickr Photostream

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Other Related Posts at QAspire:

Clearing the Fog in Communication

Our communication at workplace needs a lot of simplification. Have you seen leaders who throw jargons and so called “hot words” that leave people more confused?

When a boss says, “We need to get this done soon”, people are left to wonder what soon actually means. I once observed a senior leader who was approached by his team member for some help on an issue. After thinking aloud for a while, the leader ended up saying, “You need to somehow close this ASAP.”  For a struggling team member who needed direction, words like “somehow” and “ASAP” added ambiguity and needless urgency leading to frustration.

In one instance, a manager delegated a report creation task to his team member with a note of “urgent and important”. The team member worked hard to deliver the report created the report in shortest possible time but then received no response from the manager for days. Was it really important? If not, how can it be urgent at all?

I have seen managers who request “quick calls” that go on for hours together. Meetings to “touch base” end up being meetings that “drill down”.

I see a huge need to simplify our communication – our words and our actions have to convey very specific (and congruent) messages. Jargons and hot words break the communication, creates barriers, robs understanding, adds clutter and leaves people guessing. “I need to get this report by 12:00 PM tomorrow so that I can review and send it across to customer by 4:00 PM” is much better than “I need it ASAP”. Next time you call something as “important”, make sure your subsequent actions also demonstrate the importance.

What if we stop using jargons where we need to be specific? If we clarify expectations relentlessly? Our work will be free of foggy messages and hence simpler. Clarity and congruence in thoughts, words and actions are first pre-requisites of being excellent at anything – more so if you are a leader.

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Photo Courtesy: Gavin Liewellyn’s Flickr

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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Great Quotes: On Expectations

“Nobody rises to low expectations.” ~ Calvin Lloyd

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to believe that they can do better. People respond to expectations and the only way to grow people is to consistently raise the bar of expectations.

If a team is not doing great, it is either because the team members are incapable or the leader has established very low expectations from them. Low expectations result in lower or mediocre performance.

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details and when to see a broad picture.

If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising your bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

P.S: This also applies to expectations that you have from your own selves.

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In 100 Words: The More You Tell

I used to get angry and preachy when my kid threw tantrums till I heard this wonderful statement from a leadership expert, “The more you tell, the less you sell.”

Leadership starts with listening. In face of a conflict, reacting is our natural instinct. We want to tell/justify immediately without an attempt to completely understand the problem.

The better alternative is to step back and ask open ended questions. Then sit back and listen before you respond. Listening enough is caring enough.

This works with kids and works even better in teams. There is a difference between responding and reacting.

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Wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2013!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Building Engaged Teams with Power of Appreciation

Appreciation is a fuel that helps others move forward in direction of their goals, yet we often see that managers take others/their work for granted thinking, “So what if they’re doing it – they’re paid to do just that.” When organizations establish 1:1 link between outcomes with pay, they breed mediocrity because people will also reciprocate by doing minimum that is required to get that paycheck.

They forget that people work for reasons beyond pay. They want work that challenges them. They want to contribute meaningfully and make a difference. They want to grow and learn. They want a ‘connection’ with organization’s vision, values and their own peers. When they are striving hard and run out of fuel, they need someone to pat their back and validate their direction. They seek acceptance.

In a tough business environment, managers need to be even more aware about focusing on this very important aspect – recognition beyond pay. Intentional appreciation is one of the tools to achieve that. It is equally crucial for business leaders to build a culture of appreciation.

Here’s why appreciation is important:

  1. Appreciation fosters ‘self-esteem’ of people. It affirms their worth and value to make them more credible.
  2. Appreciation motivates like nothing else. Simple things like thank you notes/cards can go a long way in keeping the team energized.
  3. Appreciation shows that we (the managers) are human. It brings out strong emotions and establishes connection faster than anything else.

The act of appreciating has to be a genuine one. It has to go beyond the usual “Great Job!” and point out specific skills/actions that made a difference. It has to transfer positive energy! Appreciating others also sets precedence on behaviors you value. You will get more of what you appreciate.

So, here’s a critical question: In your family, within your friend circle, at work place and with your customers, when did you last offer a heartfelt genuine appreciation? If you did, what did you experience?

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