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Out of Your Mind Leadership

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Are you in tune? 3 Powerful Steps to Improve the Teams in your Organization

This past weekend, I watched the sequel to the popular movie "Pitch Perfect." As the father of teenage daughters, I have to acknowledge that I was "encouraged" by my daughters to see the original movie more than once, as well as to see the sequel. I also have to confess that I really enjoyed it. Not just for the entertainment value of the movie, but also for the lessons in leadership that it demonstrates.

Yes, I'll confess something else. I'm a huge leadership geek. As a person who has committed a career to developing and coaching leaders to create cultures of responsible collaboration, I take great pleasure in finding unique ways to observe and learn about leadership. And let me say, there is a lot to be learned from the acapella groups in these movies.

I am often engaged by leaders who have taken over a team or department or an entire company. Usually, the first thing these leaders ask is for me to help "get the team straightened-out." Most often, the conversation begins with some version of a desire to "fix" the people on the team and make them change the way they operate. This is almost always the wrong place to start.

Leading teams and departments in organizations is a lot like pulling together an acapella singing group. The leadership opportunity is to get everyone to sing in tune and with the same rhythm.

Here are 3 simple steps that you can take as a leader to improve your team.

Step 1: Figure out what kind of singers you have

The first step is to figure out what talent and capabilities you have to work with. What parts do you have in your group? Some people sing low (Bass/Alto), some people sing high (Tenor/Soprano), and some people sing in between (Baritone/Mezzo-soprano). The first step is to figure out who can sing what part and what parts may be missing. You may have an idea of what kind of music you want your team to make, but if you don't have all the parts, it doesn't matter what your goal is, it just won't happen. If you have a team of tenors, you won't be able to make music with those deep base notes, no matter how much you scream about the bass line

This is akin to a new leader coming into a team and declaring that we are going to be more "agile" and adaptive to changing market conditions. If your team is made up of people who only know how to respond to traditional, bureaucratic oversight, agile isn't likely to happen.

Step 2: Get people to listen to each other

In a successful music group, what matters is how each singer listens to their performance and listens to the other performers and then adjusts their tone, pitch, and volume to make sure that everyone blends together. As the song goes on, each person makes slight adjustments to continue to blend to produce beautiful music.  

In the domain of leadership, we call this collaboration. People work together; fulfill their role on the team for the sake of fulfilling a shared promise that is bigger than what they are doing by themselves. 

Step 3: Go make music (i.e. – Do your thing.)

Pick the song(s) you are going to sing, then put your heart into it. Then ask your team to put their heart into it. Think of it this way, all of the people you are leading take actions to produce particular outcomes. Think of these outcomes as the notes in the music. As a leader, your role is to shape the outcomes from each person to produce notes in the same key. It's the way the team works together that produces the music.

Here's the really interesting thing about it. You don't even have to be singing the same song. If everyone is in key, collaborating, listening and engaging with a rhythm that blends, it makes beautiful music.

In leadership, this happens when one small group can be focusing on one project; another group can be producing a key deliverable, while another is coordinating with customers to find out what they really value. Bringing it all together is how the leader establishes the key for the music and directs the team to stay together and sing in tune.

An example of this can easily be seen in this scene from the original “Pitch Perfect”

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-ByPeSVxyQ(And if you are interested, here is another great example from the final performance of the same movie:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAVPYq8fc3k)

Not everyone even has to be singing the same song. As long as everyone is singing in tune and blending with the same rhythm you can quite literally “rock the house.”

Leadership success is measured when everyone on the team is playing the same tune and the customer is happy with the music. If one person is doing their own thing, it distorts the entire song.

As a leader, ask yourself how you are keeping your team in tune? 

Are you lamenting the fact that you don't have all the parts, or are you adjusting to the group you have? 

Have you identified your customers and have you asked them if they are satisfied with the music you are producing?

It might serve you well to take a page from the Bellas in Pitch Perfect and make great music with the team you have.

Image source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm198814208/tt1981677?ref_=ttmd_md_nxt

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2 Key Skills to Avoid Crashing Your Career on the Rocks

 

A Leadership Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that goes something like this. A proud U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was sailing along one dark night when the navigator noticed a light directly ahead. He quickly notified the Captain who immediately got on the radio. Here is the exchange that followed:

Captain: “Unknown vessel, you are on a collision course to our position. Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Unknown Voice: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Captain: “This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Unknown Voice: “This is a Petty Officer 2nd Class. Please divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South.”

Captain: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS NIMITZ, ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. WE HAVE ON BOARD AN ADMIRAL. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT IS ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP!!”

Unknown Voice: “This is a light house. It’s your call.”

This story incidentally turns out to be completely untrue (I don’t want all my Navy readers to write me nasty emails). However, it is a prime illustration of how incorrect assessments can escalate quickly and can cause significant leadership problems. Here are a couple real-world examples of leaders with whom I’ve worked and their challenges.

Maybe you identify with one of these scenarios

1. A senior leader in organization, let’s call him Dan, was frustrated. He had 2 direct reports who didn’t get along with each other and who made their distrust known to others. This escalated to the point that everyone in the organization knew about the “civil war” in Dan’s department. The smallest issues quickly escalated into a full-blown crisis. Dan, however, was afraid that by confronting the relationship problems it might cause one, or both of them, to quit.

His approach: “I pulled them into my office and told them that they need to start acting more professionally.”

 The problem: Dan incorrectly assumes that rationality and logic will win over emotion and hurt feelings. The relationship is clearly damaged. By not addressing the behaviors and the lack of trust in the working relationship, there is only one thing you can guarantee: nothing will change. Telling someone to act more professionally in this situation would be as effective as a marriage counselor telling a couple to just be nice.

2. A CEO, let’s call her Alicia, had a member of her leadership team who was technically competent in his role but who was oblivious to the way his interpersonal style put people on the defensive. People frequently complained that they would be held “hostage” in endless meetings while he argued his point until they acquiesced to his perspective.

Her approach:  She frequently says that he’s very good at what he does and it’s not her job to deal with his interpersonal skills. She said, “He’s a highly compensated professional in this organization, I shouldn’t have to tell him that this is how I expect him to behave.”

The problem: Alicia assumes that others know what is expected of them without actually being told what is expected, even when it comes to behavior. Unless she sets the expectation for what standards she will or won’t accept, everyone else is left to fill-in-the-blanks based on their own definition of what is acceptable. In this situation, what happened is that people started to actively work around this person. People started declining his meeting requests and would only share information with him as a last resort. Alicia’s team started having their own “pre-meetings” so they could prepare for arguments and be a unified front against this one person.

These examples illustrate how leaders who don’t accept the current situation in which they find themselves are setting themselves and their organizations up for breakdowns.

What is a leader to do?

There are many things these leaders need to do to address the situation described here. In each case, it starts with two fundamental steps.

1. Know yourself and challenge your assessments

What assessments are you making?

An assessment is simply an opinion or a judgment. It can never be right or wrong, true or false, good or bad, etc. It is just your opinion. A fact on the other hand, is measurable. Another person can look at the same thing and come to the same conclusion. For example, if I were to say that it’s hot in this room; that is an assessment. If I were to say, it’s 73° in this room that is a fact we can measure.

The challenge many leaders have is that they treat their assessments as if they are fact. Furthermore, they treat their assessments as logic that everyone else should share.

In the examples listed above. These leaders had what they consider to be very reasonable assessments about the situation and people they were facing and those assessments were not shared by the people there were leading. No matter how passionately you feel about an assessment, it doesn’t make it any more factual; it’s still an opinion.

Be aware of your assessments and how they are shaping your interpretation of what’s happening in front of you. You can scream at a lighthouse all you want because you don’t think that it should be there. It still won’t make it move and you’ll be the one crashed on the rocks.

2. Do your assessments match the situation?

Once you are aware of when you are dealing with an assessment or a fact, ask yourself if your assessment of the situation is trustworthy.

  • Are you standing on the deck of the ship telling the lighthouse it shouldn’t be there?
  • Ask for input from others about the situation and what options that they see.

Self-awareness and situational awareness are critical leadership capabilities that can keep your organization from crashing on the rocks.

 

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Posted by on in Awareness

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A Leaderhip Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that goes something like this. A proud U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was sailing along one dark night when the navigator noticed a light directly ahead. He quickly notified the Captain who immediately got on the radio. Here is the exchange that followed:

Captain: “Unknown vessel, you are on a collision course to our position. Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Unknown Voice: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Captain: “This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Unknown Voice: “This is a Petty Officer 2nd Class. Please divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South.”

Captain: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS NIMITZ, ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. WE HAVE ON BOARD AN ADMIRAL. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT IS ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP!!”

Unknown Voice: “This is a light house. It’s your call.”

This story incidentally turns out to be completely untrue (I don’t want all my Navy readers to write me nasty emails). However, it is a prime illustration of how a leader’s Ego can allow them to create a perspective of reality that could be damaging, in more ways than one.

 

Can you see the Ego?

Eckart Tolle describes the Ego as that voice in your mind which tells you that you are better, or worse, than someone else. In this story, the Captain’s ego clearly is at work because he is placing his perceived importance ahead of situational awareness.

This story came to mind recently when I was working with some senior executives to implement new operational procedures to support a new computer system. These procedures were developed by a team of Subject Matter Experts from across the company who worked for the better part of a year to ensure they were consistent across the company.

As often happens, the new system and related procedures meant that some people and, in some cases entire departments, would have to change the way things get done. (The equivalent of the “divert your course” request.)

One senior leader, however, was particularly adamant that the new procedures placed an undue burden on their team and therefore were unacceptable. When asked why, they insisted that financial reporting would be compromised and that they would not be able to effectively execute ongoing initiatives. This leader further went on to say that they were going to escalate this to the business unit Finance Leader if things didn’t stay the way they were. (The equivalent of the Captain’s rant about the size and importance of the aircraft carrier.)

I then explained that the new system and related procedures were actually requested by the company Chief Financial Officer, who is the Finance Lead’s boss. (The equivalent of the “This is a lighthouse” notification.)

Did it really have to get that way?

Why do some people respond to situations, changes, or a difference of opinion with such a visceral reaction? Think about your own experiences when you have seen someone’s ego at work in a similar fashion. What were the circumstances? What pieces of information did the Ego not see?

The Ego tends to trip us up when we face a situation from inside our own mind rather than from the circumstances of the reality of the situation.

 

Now, don’t be confused we all have an Ego. It’s part of our human packaging. Your Ego is the voice that tells you the new guy knows nothing of value because their experience comes from a different company. And your Ego is the voice that tells you don’t have the right to question decisions because someone smarter than you must have determined that this is the best thing to do, even if it doesn’t seem so. The Ego is also part of our lives for a reason. It helps us to get up and want to succeed. But when left unchecked, it can take us on a dangerous path: like towards a light house.

 

A leader’s responsibility is to be aware of yourself enough to recognize when the voice that you are listening to is your Ego. This Self Awareness is also the first step in Emotional Intelligence.

A leader’s responsibility is to get out of your mind enough to listen to the people around you and see the situation for what it is.

Only then can you accurately respond to your environment and influence those people to whom you owe effective leadership.

Get out of your mind and Lead

So, the next time you find yourself in a difficult position and are feeling the weight of leadership, ask yourself if the voice you are listening to is really your Ego. Be honest with yourself. Get out of your mind and be a Leader!

________________

Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence. This article and others from Dave can be found at: www.linked2leadership.com He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Posted by on in Awareness

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Have you ever had front row seat to watch a good initiative fail? It can be breathtaking. Literally.

Several years ago I was given the challenge of driving a major initiative in a Fortune 500 company. Our goal: find ways to significantly increase revenue and to reduce expenses in one of the company’s business units.

Several of subject matter experts were taken out of their “day jobs” and gathered to form a team. We took the charge and ran with it. After about 4 months of intense research, analysis, and voice of the customer assessment the team had identified half a dozen opportunities that had the potential to generate tens of millions of dollars of either savings or additional revenue.

About that time there was a change in leadership in the sponsoring organization. Uh oh…

The new leader wasn’t convinced that new initiatives stemming from detailed customer research was the right direction, and preferred to make smaller, more incremental changes in another part of the business unit. Of course, the decision wasn’t made as clearly as that. It really occurred slowly over the next two months and came in the form of multiple, smaller course adjustments, like redeploying key team members and delaying important go/no-go decisions.

It essentially died a slow, painful, and dreadful death. It took our breath away.

Eventually a skeleton crew was all that was left of the once proud team and the only remnants of the savings were the two simplest initiatives that were the easiest to execute and least politically risky. The team was sent back to their “day jobs” exhausted, disillusioned, and cynical. Leadership lesson here: Don’t do this. It’s really short-sighted and the “soft costs” cost way more than you can ever know.

Stick and the Streamer

Does this sound like an initiative you have experienced? What happened? Among other things, this illustrates the fact that many leaders fail to acknowledge the reality that any decision they make takes time to execute. In fact, it takes an exponentially larger amount of time and effort to execute than it took to come up with the plan in the first place. And the larger the scale of the initiative, the longer it may take to execute. I call this the “stick and streamer” effect.

Picture if you will a stick and to the end of that stick is fastened a streamer. If it helps, imagine the ribbon that is used in rhythmic gymnastics. Use this tool to represent the stick and streamer model for leadership.

The stick represents the leader. The streamer represents those being led.

Notice how the smallest flick of the wrist (a leader’s decision) has a much larger proportional impact on the streamer (the led). The same thing happens in every organization. It takes time for each action to make it to the end of the streamer. The more severe the shift in direction, the longer it takes to ripple to the end and get the rest of the team in line with the new direction. The impact to those at the end of the streamer is also more significant. Paradoxically, the smoother and more subtle the action, the more alignment there is between the stick (the leader) and the streamer (the led).

As a former U.S. Army Officer, there is a helpful rule of thumb that each new lieutenant learns that might also help in using this model. It’s the one-third/two-thirds rule. In short the rule says that the leader should take 1/3 of the available time to plan for a mission and then allow his unit 2/3 of the time to prepare and execute the mission. Stated another way, it is going to take your team at least twice as long to execute your initiative as it took you to plan it.

 

So, when it comes to making your own leadership decisions, remember the lesson from stick and the streamer. You can make decisions, but allow your team the time to execute and make that decision successful.

 

In your leadership role, do you really give enough time and patience in allowing ideas to blossom and grow to their desired potential? Do you build correct expectations into your plans so that that you are communicating realistic time lines to your superiors? Do they gives ideas enough time to grow and mature? Or are you or your leaders cutting  ideas time lines down and not providing that needed time frame to engage and fulfill the dream? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please share!

—————————————————
This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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