Nobody Rises To Low Expectations

If you are dealing with a mediocre team or average performance from people, check what you are expecting from them. People respond to expectations (implicit and explicit) and raising the bar of expectations is a great way to enable growth and potential in people.

Raising Expectations Doesn’t Mean Pressurizing People

Setting high expectation means providing clarity of purpose, helping people find meaning of their work, helping them see what success looks like and then helping them along the way. It is a common misconception that the only way to raise expectations is to put undue pressure on people. Pressure can help people perform, but only till a certain point beyond which it results in a burnout. In a creative world of work, people step up when they know the difference their effort can make. It is a leader’s job to enable the ecosystem of conversation, clarity and collaboration.

To Believe that People Can Do Better

When you raise expectations, people will falter. The key is to have a belief that people can do better. It is easy to give up on someone and blame their limitations. It is incredibly hard to handhold, believe, enable and help.

Know Where to Raise Expectations

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 (activities, task, operational aspects) and when to see a broad picture (values, behaviors, methods, results etc).

Finally…

Once you raise expectations, be a catalyst of their performance. When you see their efforts towards raising the bar, acknowledge it early and often. Celebrate small milestones because appreciation is the fuel of high performance. Fail to do this and people will fall into the trap of “it is never enough” mindset. When they know that you are raising expectations only to squeeze something out of them, they will soon disengage.

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

By the way, this also applies to expectations that you have from your own self!

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Also Check Out:

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Thanks to Sebastian Andreo for sharing his view via Twitter on acknowledging, appreciating and celebrating the efforts. I updated the post.

A Quick Guide To Managing Conflicts

In early years of my career, I avoided conflicts just like any other obedient contributor would, not knowing that they were inevitable in the process of doing meaningful work. Most of us learn how to deal with conflicts through our instinctive reactions when we are in middle of one.

Here’s my one big lesson about managing conflicts – whenever I tried to “react” in the face of conflict, the situation mostly worsened. But when I chose to “respond”, conflict became a constructive learning experience. Response is nothing but a time delayed, thoughtful and goal-oriented form of reaction.

In an idea cast at Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo, author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, outlines four types of conflicts and offers very useful guidance on how to handle them.

I outlined the key ideas from the idea cast in form of a sketch note while listening and sharing it here with an objective that others may find my notes useful. Please listen to the idea cast here for more nuanced insights on the topic.

BONUS: Seth Godin’s guidance on managing disagreements and on managing conflicts with our own selves.

Leadership: Look For Intention First

Assessing intention is a powerful way for leaders to understand how people and teams operate. Intentions are hidden, not always clarified directly through words, and hence easy to overlook. We therefore end up focusing on behaviors and actions.

A team member who always asks difficult questions (act) is looked upon as a ‘trouble maker’ when the reality could be that this team member cares more about the work or wants to really help the team improve.

Because actions are directly visible, we end up judging actions. And the fact is, when we constantly assess actions, we also end up being more judgmental. But what people seek is acceptance – they want their leaders to understand them completely.

Without acknowledging the intention behind an action, acceptance is not possible. Unless you are working with robots, human beings will make mistakes and act in ways that may not be coherent with your worldview. Constantly judge them and you stand a chance of losing them.

As human beings, we are essentially flawed. If you have to make things work, in spite of these human flaws, you need to assess people by their intentions first and then judge the methods.

The idea here is not to simply accept poor behaviors, substandard work or compromise on results. The idea is to look for the big “why” – the cause of a certain behavior or action. That is because our intentions drives our actions.

If intention is right, you can correct the methods, behaviors and actions. But I doubt if it is as easy to correct someone’s intent even when their methods seem be perfectly placed?

Measuring Right Things: Utilization Versus Efficiency

In manufacturing world, there is a direct correlation between how much machines are utilized and how much they produce. This works because machines do the work that is non-linear and there is very little variation in producing exactly same unit of work. Utilization is the extent to which installed capacity performs actual work. Less idle time means more utilization.

Knowledge work – where people find optimal ways to apply their knowledge to a given context in such a way that it produces the best possible business result – is very different. In this world of work, more utilization does NOT always equate with more productivity and efficiency. With re-usability, someone can churn a great deal of work in a short time whereas a tiny piece of work/defect may take up days to solve. Being busy, in this world, does not mean progress and when people seem to be sitting idle, it does not necessarily mean they are not working.

In HBR article “Six Myths of Product Development”, authors Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen say –

Processes with high variability behave very differently. As utilization increases, delays lengthen dramatically. Add 5% more work, and completing it may take 100% longer. But few people understand this effect.

And when companies focus solely on measuring and improving utilization alone, people will respond to that expectation accordingly. People will seemingly remain (or report) busy all the day when nothing real is accomplished. More utilization without visible gain in efficiency is a waste.

Instead of focusing on utilization, we should focus on efficiency – how much real work gets shipped and how well. Efficiency encourages people to work smart, focus on quality and find best possible route to achieve the desired business results.

For this, we should focus on building a system where efficiency is more likely to happen. We need to engage our people to the purpose of our product/organization. We need to give them autonomy and promote self-organization. We need to share feedback early and often. Most importantly, we need to trust them.

And we need to monitor real progress instead of simply trying to occupy people for 8 hours everyday!

What Enables Proactive Leadership?

If there is one thing that differentiates leaders from others, it is their ability to remain proactive. I have seen so many leaders in business environment who don’t fix things till they start hurting the work. They devote more time to solve the problems that could have been fixed much before they happened. The cost of solving these problems after they grow big is often very high – sometimes, as high as losing a customer or your key team members!

What are the enablers of proactive leadership? Here are a few that came forth.

  • Systemic Understanding: Understand the System when taking decisions or evaluating issues. It is about understanding the critical interdependencies of parts within the whole. A wrong decision in one department may have long term repercussions elsewhere. The key is to see (and let your team see) those repercussions through the understanding of the system.

“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” – Peter Senge

  • Constant Learning: Learning feeds proactive leadership. We all make mistakes all the time but a learning team constantly apply lessons from past mistakes to prevent them from happening in future. Constant learning also allows people to apply their knowledge to the specific business context. Here are more ideas to build a learning organization.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

  • Foresight. A leader needs to be watchful about the changing landscape and currents. They keep a close watch on discrete events and use their systemic awareness to foresee challenges, issues and risks. While they may not be able to prevent all the issues from happening, but they can always use this awareness to prepare well.

Leaders that fail to assume responsibility for developing the discipline of foresight will eventually forfeit the moral authority to lead. – Bret Simmons (post)

  • Openness to Feedbacks: Feedback and inputs from people at all levels enables leaders to understand situation at a ground level while also staying current on expectations and needs of people. In many situations, this feedback can act as a compass.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Quick Action on Solution: Don’t let the grass grow under your feet. Risks, issues and dependencies can derail your organization if they are allowed to grow. A proactive leader maintains a constant cognizance on the potential threats and keeps them in check all the time. If you are a leader, don’t let the problems grow. Act on them.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

  • Keep the team together. A leader who leads through a compelling vision, fosters learning and builds influence keeps the team together. People need an ecosystem to perform proactively. A leader’s ability to connect, communicate and clarify constantly on vision, values, intent and progress enables teams to take decisions with better clarity.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard


Join in the conversation: Have you seen reactive leadership in action? What have been your lessons? Share them via comments or via Twitter!

Better Leadership in 2015 (And Beyond): 9 Essentials

Year 2015 is knocking the door. A few hours later, fireworks in the sky will mark the beginning of another new year. Last few days of a year often pulls us into a retrospective mood and we tend to look back and look forward at the same time. As I write this, I am thinking about leadership.

Our world of work is constantly changing at a rate that is almost unnerving. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) best describes the times we live in. People’s expectations from their leaders are increasing all the time. Generational shifts at workplace combined with business model disruptions is only adding to the woes of being a leader in the current times.

But the same challenges are also opportunities to practice better leadership provided we understand what it takes to succeed as a leader in 2015 (and beyond).

Here are 9 key thoughts on leading in 2015 and beyond:

  1. Leaders need to understand the new definition of power. It is not in titles or how large an office they occupy or where they stand in the pecking order of hierarchy. In this world of work, a leader derives power by engaging others, collaborating with them, build a positive influence and build an environment where people can thrive.
  2. Stability is a myth. As a leader, if you are not making forward progress, you are already moving backwards. Leaders have to maintain constant positive momentum towards achieving the vision and goals of the team. Constant improvement (and innovation) in products and processes is one of the ways to maintain positive momentum.
  3. Communication, collaboration, creativity and commitment are 4C’s that empower leaders in this world of work.
  4. In a complex environment, a leader’s ability to introduce and manage changes is as important as responding effectively to external changes. Leaders have to be creators of change too.
  5. Leaders need to stop trying to motivate people. This may sound counter-intuitive but intrinsic motivation, the one that lasts, cannot be generated externally. Creating an environment and system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen is the primary expectation from a leader.
  6. People need two things: purpose and meaning. A leader’s primary (and ongoing) challenge is to clarify the purpose and outline the meaning of work that people do. This is one of the key drivers of engagement that requires a lot of communication and context setting by the leader.
  7. For leaders, constant and self-initiated learning is not optional anymore. Constant learning equips leaders to remain agile in the face of uncertainty (and it sets a great example for people to follow).
  8. Work is a tool to develop people who, in turn, do great work. Traditional view of leadership is that leaders get work done through people. Which is true, however, I also believe that available body of work is an opportunity to develop people. You can use people as ‘resources’ OR you can use work as a ‘resource’ to develop people.
  9. Leaders in the new world have to be graceful and decent – even when facing uncertainties and chaos. They have to respect people, their time and their strengths.

Bonus:

With those thoughts, I wish you a glorious 2015!


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Leadership Development Carnival: June 2014 Edition

 


Namaste!
Welcome to the June 02nd 2014 Carnival of Leadership Development.

I am thankful to carnival leader Dan McCarthy for allowing me to host this event -  a wonderful collection of very practical insights on Leadership Development. It is always a great privilege to host a Leadership Development Carnival because it allows us to explore so many different facets of leadership at one go. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment where technology is constantly changing how people collaborate and work, the paradigms of leadership are changing.

In this edition of Carnival, we have a solid collection of posts that explores the changing face of leadership in the new world. Continuing the tradition, I have also included Twitter handles of the contributors.

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Beth Miller of Executive Velocity asks “Does Your Leadership Fear Transparency?” and says “With the increasing lack of transparency that Washington DC has displayed, it is more important than ever for business leaders to step up and adopt the characteristics of transparency. Your employees crave and want leaders they can trust.” (@SrExecAdvisor)

Dan Oestreich from Unfolding Leadership says, "We think of the system as ‘out there,’ but the most important system to change is the one within.”  You can read more in this his powerful post titled “Having Tea with the Dragon”. (@DanOestreich)

Jesse Lyn Stoner of the Seapoint Center emphasizes on the importance of creating a team charter through her post “Create a Team Charter to Go Faster and Smarter”. She says, “Taking the time to get clear agreements among team members can slow things down in the beginning, but will help you go faster in the long run. It’s a paradox: Go slow in order to go fast.” (@JesseLynStoner)

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership presents an insightful post “10 Things Your Employees May Not be Telling You.” In this post at About.com, Dan writes, “In the absence of a solid foundation of trust and open two-way communication, here are ten things that you’re not going to hear from your employees.”  (@greatleadership)

Dr. Anne Perschel from Germane Insights shares “The Secret Ingredient of Great Leadership”. We have all read 10 tips, 5 steps, and 4 actions of successful leaders, but we have to look closer to find the secret ingredient of great leadership and outstanding results. (@bizshrink)

Julie Winkle Giulioni  asks “How Well-Populated is Your Pipeline?” She suggests, “Perhaps it’s time to evaluate leaders by the most crucial output for which they’re responsible: the quality of their followers.” (@Julie_WG)

Joel Garfinkle on his Career Advancement Blog shares “7 Competencies Successful HR Executive MUST Know” to be successful. (@workcoach4you)

Jim Taggart at Changing Winds blog submits his recent post “Why Arrogance Leads to Eventual Failure”. In this post he says, “I profile two very well-known companies, which happen to be Canadian (as I am) to illustrate how arrogance by top corporate leaders brought down one company (Nortel) and almost brought down the other (Blackberry), whose new CEO is working very hard to reposition the company to compete in the global telecom market.” (@72keys)

John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog presents his post “A Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving” and says, “An organization succeeds because of the efforts of many great people. But the management system has to be created for an organization to prosper as what we all know will happen, happens: people will leave and need to be replaced.”  (@curiouscat_com)

Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders says, “Micromanaging is a dysfunctional behavior that most leaders fall into from time to time. So how do you know if you’re slipping into the micro management trap?” and presents her post “The Insiders Guide to Micromanagement”. (@LetsGrowLeaders)

Jane Perdue of LeadBig presents “You know you’re not a leader when…” and says “Sometimes leaders need to take a moment, reflect on what they’re doing, and perhaps recalibrate if their actions are leadership material….or not.” (@thehrgoddess)

Mary Jo Asmus at Aspire-CS presents the post “Give them something of value” and says, “Relationships are foundational to great leadership, and value is the common currency that flows between healthy relationships.” (@mjasmus)

Nicholas Bate of Strategic Edge reflects on Leadership in his post “Leadership Reflections Seven”. In this crisp post, he provides useful reminders about fundamentals of great leadership.

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results Through Culture says, “GM’s recall delays indicate a corporate culture more concerned with profits than with people. These recall delays are a failure of internal systems, of engineering, and, most critically, a failure of the heart.” Read more in his post “GM’s Heart Failure” (@scedmonds)

Bruce Watt Ph.D of Development Dimensions International presents “Who Would Really Want to be a Leader?” and says, “Is negativity about leadership discouraging future generations from stepping up? In this post, I address our responsibility to select and prepare better leaders, hold them accountable and (very importantly) encourage future generations to pursue leadership.”

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference presents an interesting take on VUCA world through his post “VUCA Times Call for DURT Leaders”. He says, “We work in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous times. To lead effectively through VUCA, we need to be Direct, Understandable, Reliable, and Trustworthy. Five leadership practices will enable our DURT approach.” (@ThinDifference)

Alan Robinson, Ph.D of The Idea Driven Blog shows how leaders can prepare for uncertainty by embracing flexibility through his post “A High-Performing System Helps You Face an Uncertain Future with More Confidence.” (@alangrobinson)

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership blog presents “Looking for a leader?” and says, “If you’re looking for someone who will make a good leader, here are some things to look for.” A very interesting list. (@wallybock)

Frank Sonnenberg of Frank Sonnenberg Online suggests, “It’s better to learn from the mistakes that other companies make, than from your own.” and presents “50 Insane Mistakes Companies Make”. (@FSonnenberg)

Susan Mazza of Random Acts Of Leadership says, “Most "to do" lists are often more a compilation of "should do" lists rather than "must do" lists – and the difference between the two determines whether you are clear about your goals and able to achieve them.” Read more in her post “3 Steps to Transform Your To-Do List” (@SusanMazza)

Lisa Kohn of Chatsworth Consulting Group, presents Managing yourself out of the picture on The Thoughtful Leaders™ Blog where she shares why leaders should make themselves dispensable in order that their teams can survive without them. (@ThoughtfulLdrs)

Randy Conley of Leading With Trust presents “After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality” and says, “Suffering a breach of trust can be a traumatic experience that sends you into a tailspin of self-pity and victimization. This practical article offers five concrete steps you can take to avoid a victim mentality.”  (@RandyConley)

Neal Burgis, Ph.D. Practical Solutions presents “Can You Lead Through Your Discomfort?” and says, “When leaders normalize discomfort, you invite your work culture to embrace feedback and change.” (@Exec_Solutions)

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares "Leading Change-It’s Not about You" on The Lead Change Group blog and says, “This post serves as a great reminder of the humble leadership that ought to happen, where leaders are the first to admit to their employees that they don’t have all the answers, they don’t have all the ideas, and that they need everyone to be engaged and feel valued in order for there to be true success.” (@paul_larue)

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS Blog gives detailed, thoughtful instruction that will help all leaders develop more effective, productive, and meaningful relationships with their direct reports. Read more in this post “Do You Bail Your People Out? Rescue Management Diminishes Employee Accountability” (@DialogueWORKS)

Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand says, “Stress is down to two things – control these two factors and you can conquer the world!” and shares the post “How The Best Leaders Deal With Stress” (@Engagingbrand)

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace asks a question, “What does your CEO consider important when discussing talent?” The answer, in his post, “Tell The Truth About Talent” is thought-provoking.(@steveroesler)

Dana Theus of InPower Blog says, “Leadership is all about being able to see success, and help others see it and find their motivation to pursue it. But what happens when leaders see things differently? We don’t often take the time to think about the leadership gifts our gender gives us, but take a few moments to learn how others view success.” and shares the post “Do Men & Women Vision Success Differently?” (@DanaTheus)

Mary Ila Ward of The Point Blog shares “I’m spending a lot of money on this: Getting and Measuring Bang for your Buck through Leadership Coaching” and says, “Thinking about getting a leadership or executive coach or have one? Coaching has been cited to be both effective and efficient for certain organizations, but how do you know if coaching will pay off for your organization?  Read this post to learn how to measure for efficiency and effectiveness of coaching.” (@maryilaward)

Bill Bliss of Bills Blog breaks down the art of delegation into its value-added parts. Readers will never question the benefits (and bottom line impact) of delegation again after reading this post. Find more in the post “Delegation is the Killer App for Leaders” (@coachwmbliss)

Dr. Dean Schroeder of Dean M. Schroeder Blog demonstrates how leaders can realize a sustainable, substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace – and create a more engaged workforce in the process. Find out more in the post “Organizational Improvement: It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Journey” (@deanmschroeder)

Miki Saxon of MAPping Company Success shares “Ducks in a Row: Robert Sutton—Scale Means People” and says, “It’s important to understand that a company has no existence beyond its people who are united in a shared vision and their efforts to reach a common goal—to scale a company you must scale its people.(@OptionSanity)

That’s it for this month’s edition. Thank you to all the bloggers who submitted their posts this month and I hope you enjoy reading/learning from these brilliant posts!

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Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 1

Being in a band is always a compromise. Provided that the balance is good, what you lose in compromise, you gain by collaboration. —Mike Rutherford

At the core of being an effective leader is ability to analyze the situation and then lead in the most appropriate manner which is best suited for that situation. A leader knows that there is no single optimal style to lead everything. Experts have defined this as “situational leadership.”

In that context, not all situations demand collaborative leadership. There are situations when directive leadership is required and the ones where focus is on coaching and supporting. Collaborative leadership style works best in almost all situations but in following scenarios, it becomes very essential.

  1. When there are team members/stakeholders with diverse interests.
  2. When team members/stakeholders are cross-functional and geographically distributed.
  3. When the problem at hand requires effort from diverse groups/communities to solve.
  4. When a leader does not have formal authority over the people involved in the team.
  5. When complex problems require everyone’s creativity and insights.

However, one thing is clear – pure command and control leadership where people are simply expected to follow the instructions does not work anymore. Even when other leadership styles are adopted, the collaborative elements of leadership are still a vital source of competitive advantage as a leader, as a team and as a business.

What makes a leader collaborative? What are the absolutely essential traits of a collaborative leader? Let’s dive into what I call “indispensable traits of a collaborative leader”. In a series of posts, we will cover traits that make leaders truly collaborative.

1. They are passionate about the cause: Without passion for the intended outcome, no amount of collaboration will yield desired results. Before even initiating, a collaborative leader gets absolutely convinced about the desired outcomes and value they will add to the business. This clarity is important because vision, outcomes and benefits have to be re-iterated (read sold through influence) constantly through the execution. This clarity is the glue that keeps team focused on the results.

2. They lead their own selves before leading others. Unless a leader knows the self better, understanding others is very difficult. Collaboration with others requires prompt responses, focus on objectives, relationship building, creativity and perceptive abilities. The only way to lead others is to lead self – explore the self constantly and keep learning.

3. They look at “power” differently. For a collaborative leader, definition of power is to empower others. A collaborative team is the one where power is decentralized and everyone owns the final outcome. This also requires a collaborative leader to give up on their ego and need to be “in control”. They understand that “power with people” > “power over people”

4. They listen. Really. If a leader does not know how to listen, collaboration fails. Everyone wants to express themselves and be understood. A collaborative leader fulfills this essential human need by listening – what is being said and what is left unsaid. What is said through words and what is said between those words. All that is said through the body-language and tone of language.

5. They are generous in sharing credits. This also goes back to power. This is also perhaps the most difficult part. When team achieves great feats, it is easy for a leader to fall into a temptation to take credits when they should be generously sharing them. They recognize performance, remain thankful of others contributions and let the team be proud about themselves.

6. They know how to balance tasks and relationships. The objective of leading others is to generate results and get the tasks done without adversely affecting the relationships. Relationships are important, but not at the cost of progress. Excessive focus on relationships means that a leader becomes weak and tries to avoid conflict. The key is to remain objective in communication and constantly align others to the vision, mission and values.

In the next post, we will outline 6 more traits that make a collaborative leader successful. Stay tuned!

Tell us what you think about the 6 traits outlined above. What would you like to add?

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In the series so far:

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Seagulls

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: Humility, Life and Leadership

Humility

In that leadership workshop, the trainer and the participants were discussing about the importance of humility in life and leadership. Some people defined humility as ‘modesty’ while others said it was about ‘seeing the self as a means to an end and not an end in itself.’

After listening carefully, the trainer said, “Humility is like the banks of a river that gives direction to the flowing water without possessing it.

“In life and leadership, we are only great to an extent we empower others without having any pride in possessing them. It’s about standing with people, not above them.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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A Note of Gratitude: to our friend Kurt Harden (at Cultural Offering) for including QAspire Blog in his annual list “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make Your Smarter

In 100 Words: Accepting the Differences

Mark had joined this new company only a few months back, but he felt frustrated. He looked at problems from a very different point-of-view than his boss resulting in strong debates over solutions.

One fine morning, Mark put up his resignation.

“Why?” asked the boss. “Because my thought process is very different than yours”, replied Mark.

Boss gently smiled and said, “That’s precisely the reason you were hired at first place!

Boss explained, “If two people always agree, one of them isn’t needed. I debate with you to clarify our thinking. If you take differences personally, you will never grow.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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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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

Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

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In 100 Words: With People, Be Patient!

When you are set out to help others grow (including your own kids), you have to give them time and space to grow. People, like plants, grow organically. They learn from what you tell them, but they learn from how they feel and what they experience.

As a leader (yes, parents are leaders too!), if you are too worried about seeing immediate results from people, you may be disappointed. When you plant seeds, you don’t dig them every day to check if they are growing. They will never grow. Sometimes, less leadership is the best leadership.

With people, be patient.

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Also: Read all posts “In 100 Words”

In 100 Words: Accentuate the Positive

In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers studying the human learning pattern videotaped two bowling teams during multiple games. When these tapes were shown to team, they were edited differently. One team was shown the video of all their mistakes and the other team was shown the video of their good performances.

Both teams improved, but the team that focused on positive improved twice as much.

Excessively focusing on errors can lead to feeling of blame, fatigue and resistance. Emphasizing on what works well leads to strong emotions like passion, creativity and enthusiasm.

You get more of what you focus on.

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Fostering Autonomy in a Team: 7 Lessons

“…leadership may be defined as: the ability to enhance the environment so that everyone is empowered to contribute creatively to solving the problem(s).”Gerald M. Weinberg

People do their best work when they are “intrinsically motivated” and one of the most important intrinsic motivator for people is autonomy in work. People need a space to perform and they need a say in how their work should be performed. Workplace autonomy feeds self-esteem and fosters creativity.

Here are a few things I have learned (from my experiences and seeing other leaders perform) on fostering autonomy in your team:

  1. Recruit right: That’s where it starts. It is important to ascertain that a team member is capable of handling things, take independent view of work and drive it accordingly. You can only foster autonomy when you have team members who you can rely on. Look for professional integrity while hiring, because that is at the core or self-organization.
  2. Have a strong purpose: Smart people subscribe to a compelling purpose. If the purpose of your project/initiative does not excite people, they will not be able to give their best.  Clarity of purpose also enables people to proactively align their actions and thinking in the best interest to achieve the purpose. In agile terms, a strong purpose that is bought in by all in the team is also referred to as “shared vision”. Strong purpose and clear goals automatically establishes a demand for performance.
  3. Do “Smart Delegation”: Smart delegation plays to people’s strengths. Delegating tasks that allow people to expand their capacity to deliver ensures that people put their best skills and experience to use. Smart delegation is also about setting the ground rules/expectations and setting team members free to take work related decisions within given boundaries and/or organization constraints.
  4. Offer/arrange for help: When people try to organize their work, they will definitely need help. Either you, as a leader, can offer direct help or arrange for help. How much team members help each other in difficult situations is an indicator of team strength. When people know that help is available, they will also be willing to extend help. It works in fostering autonomy where a lot of problems are taken care of at the team level. Good and timely help gets impediments out of the way and ensures progress.
  5. Monitor progress, not people: Monitoring people is easier, but it does not help. As a team lead, your primary role is to monitor progress, not people. Small wins on a daily basis can be a great motivator for people. When people know that progress is important, they will do what is needed to ensure progress.
  6. Retrospect: Once in a while, it helps to look at the journey so far along with the team. Retrospective helps team in sharing lessons, best/great practices and solutions. It fosters collaboration, strengthens the team, accelerates learning and equips them to take better decisions.
  7. Always respect: You can only expect a team member to work independently when they trust. Without respecting people, you can never build trust. Respect people, respect their views, listen to them and respect their time. Sometimes they will falter, take wrong decisions, make mistakes – but that’s what makes them human. Dealing with people without grace is #1 killer of individual autonomy.

A leader’s role in building a self-organized team is that of a catalyst who ensures that team is aligned to organization goals. A leader also maintains boundaries for a team and creates/maintains an environment where team members thrive, grow and contribute effectively.

Related Posts at QAspire

5 Ways To Build Trust (Lessons from a Conversation)
Leaders Cannot Be Blamers: 3 Things
Creating a Learning Organization: 10 Actions For a Leader

Effective Facilitation 25

  • A novice manager tells people what needs to be done. A wise manager listens, questions and challenges.
  • People are not interested in what you tell them to do (command and control). They are interested in what they control and learn from what they are doing (empowerment).
  • Facilitation helps in both. In getting things done and ensuring that team members learn from that process.
  • The purpose of facilitating is: to get something done and to ensure that the person who is executing learns something valuable from the process of doing.
  • Facilitation is the key to developing people. A tool to lead.
  • Further, effective facilitation is also the key to build a great team.
  • If we are dealing with professionals, why do they need facilitation? They need facilitation so that they can work together as a team, do it better, faster, more creatively and more effectively.
  • Facilitation helps people reach their potential and elevate performance.
  • If you are a manager who is facilitating a team, you are not more powerful than them. You serve them, so that they become better and make you look good.
  • The act of facilitation should make things easy for them. If you are not conscious about how you are facilitating, you can make it difficult.
  • Facilitating someone in doing something is a great way to learn newer aspects of your work. Remember the rule? We learn only a bit of what we are taught, we learn a great deal of what we do and we learn the most when we teach someone.
  • In a group, facilitation starts with a common objective that everyone understands. That is #1 job of facilitator.
  • If common objective is not understood/defined, facilitation helps them achieve consensus on the goal.
  • You can facilitate someone on three key areas: The purpose of work (Why), the process of achieving that purpose (How) and specific tasks in that process (What).
  • Additionally, you can facilitate someone so that their expectations are managed, understood and communicated. To address their real concerns.
  • People will only allow you to facilitate them when they see value. Ensure that they see the value early in the facilitation process.
  • The art of facilitation also involves knowing when NOT to facilitate. Facilitation does not equal spoon feeding. Show them the way and let them run.
  • The starting point of facilitation is listening. Acknowledging the experiences of the team member, appreciate what they say and encourage them to be open.
  • Clarity is at the heart of good facilitation. If you don’t understand their problem OR are not able to provide clarity to them on your viewpoints, facilitation does not help. Confirm, clarify and reflect.
  • Questions are your tools to clarify – open ended questions that bring out the real thing.
  • In a group situation or meetings, it is very crucial for the facilitator to balance between the extremes of clarity and ambiguity. To remain focused on the objective without getting impatient or biased is a challenge.
  • Sometimes, facilitation also means that you have to let go of the agenda and focus on an individual/team’s real problems.
  • Facilitation is about designing conversations that really matter and make a difference.
  • People make mistakes. Allow them, for their mistakes are their opportunities to learn. Share feedback.
  • Facilitation is at the core of modern day management. Teams need facilitation, clients need facilitation and individuals need facilitation. On a second thought, all the fundamentals of effective facilitation are also the fundamentals of effective management. No?

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Join in the conversation: As a manager or a leader, do you see yourself as a facilitator? What are your lessons? Share them here.