“It’s not always what we say; often it’s what we allow the other person to say. By listening, we gain trust and make other people feel more comfortable with us.” Rick Pitino
The ability to listen well, to really listen well, is one of those “soft skills” that distinguish effective leaders from run-of-the-mill managers.
As leaders, effective communication requires that we listen well to understand the true views and opinions of our team, our customers, and other stakeholders.
Four keys to such effective communication include:
Strategic thinking skills differentiate middle-level managers from effective upper level leaders. With excellent strategic thinking skills, the leader is able to make effective decisions that benefit their companies in both the short and long term.
Developing strategic thinking skills requires practice. It requires us to think strategically and see the consequences of our thinking. Three ways to get this practice and develop great strategic thinking skills include:
Hawaiians and other Polynesians are the descendants of peoples who traveled by boat from East Asia to settle their islands. Those most likely to survive the long and arduous journey were those with “thrifty genes”. They were those ancestors who were best able to process and use the limited food on their boat trips. Today, in a world of cheap and plentiful food, these same “thrifty genes” have led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among their descendants. What worked in one time may not work in another.
I share this anecdote to drive home the point that “survival of the fittest” does not mean survival of the toughest or meanest in a dog eat dog world. Rather, the survival and success of the fittest requires that we be flexible and adaptive in our leadership focus, style, and vision depending on the needs of the marketplace and our companies. Continue reading
Even as leaders, we all have bosses. Perhaps, it is a Vice-President. Perhaps, it is the CEO. Perhaps, it is the Board of Directors.
To move our companies forward, we need to be good (but not mindless) followers to our good bosses.
Support the Boss
The success of any organization requires that everyone is rowing in the same direction. So, our job as followers is to ensure that we devote ourselves to following and supporting the direction in which our boss is taking us. This means supporting their key initiatives and doing what is required to further the goals and objectives of our boss.
In corporate America, approximately $100 billion is spent each year on training. Yet, many studies show that training is only 10% – 15% effective. As Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer writes, this is…
the great training robbery
Yet, training is a vital part of developing a winning team. So, how can we do training right?
Keep It Simple… Keep It Small… Keep It Focused
Training is only useful when it can be put into action and change our thoughts and behaviors. The best way to do this is to change one habit at a time. As such, our training goals need to be modest and focused on one (or at absolutely most, three) specific concepts at a time. In addition, the trainer needs to be explicit about how the training relates to the trainee’s job and how the training can be put into action.
To run our businesses more effectively, most documents and reports in our businesses (including summaries, plans, reviews, and analysis) should be kept to one page.
Businesses are awash in information, specifically reports, analysis, weekly updates or reviews, which are rarely read and, even more seldom, acted upon. As an example, the one page Executive Summary is a relic of the past, now replaced by Executive Summaries of 3 – 5 pages or even longer. Such long reports or analyses are time-consuming to write and usually too complex to translate into actionable steps to move our companies forward
“Abraham Lincoln said that people think that the real test of a person’s character is how they deal with adversity. A much better measure of a person’s character is to give them power. I’ve been more often disappointed with how people’s character is revealed when they’ve been given power.” Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria
As leaders, we have power. We have the power to direct and lead others; we have the greater power in all of our interpersonal relations. This power requires us to be even more attentive in our interpersonal relations to ensure that we do not abuse this power, but instead that we are as effective as possible in developing open, positive, two-way communication with our teams.
So, what can we do to develop strong interpersonal relations with the people who work for us?
“The world is changing faster than ever before.”
“We need to adapt to the change or we will get run over by it.”
“The paradigm has shifted and the world will never be the same.”
“Robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will disrupt every industry and company on the planet.”
The hype from the media about the change happening in the world is nearly overwhelming. As such, many of us live in fear that we and our businesses are not changing fast enough.
To move our companies forward, we need to experiment. We need to try out new products, new sales/ marketing strategies, new processes, and new leadership styles. We cannot be certain if all of these will work. But, to not experiment means that our companies stagnate.
It is common sense to take a method and try it: if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But, above all, try something. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“In a minute, there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
This line from the 1915 T.S. Elliot poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, is a lovely bit of poetry. It is also a prescription for how not to run a business.
To be successful leaders running successful businesses, we need to be decisive. We need to make a decision, decide on a course of action, and then work relentlessly to execute on the decision.
“The one word that makes a good manager — decisiveness.” Lee Iacocca
Guilty as charged!! I confess that I do, at times, micromanage.
However, soon after slipping into micromanagement, I become aware (yet again) that micromanagement is truly just mis-management. It would have been far better for me to avoid the trap of micromanagement and to focus instead on coaching and empowering my team to achieve great results.
Several years ago, a medical surgeon, Atul Gawande, wrote a best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, that discusses the advantages of using checklists in all types of activities from surgery to disaster recovery to business.
As leaders, we need to follow his advice and use checklists regularly to help improve our companies.
Our words matter.
As leaders, we spend much of our time communicating with others through our actions, our body language, and especially our words.
Unfortunately, all too often we do not use our words well leading to poor communication and poor performance.
Some thoughts on using words well:
It happens to all of us.
- A direct report either gets promoted, quits or gets fired, and we have to manage his or her direct reports in addition to all of our other duties.
- We are assigned to a special project or task team and are expected to continue to do our regular job.
- We have to get into the details to turn around an under-performing operation while keeping all other operations moving forward.
For many leaders, leading when overwhelmed leads to deteriorating performance. We try to work in the same way that we did before we took on all these extra duties and responsibilities. Nevertheless, it does not work.
- Important tasks do not get completed
- We are not holding our direct reports as accountable as we should because we do not have time for our usual interaction
Internet entrepreneur, Simon Sinek, has a popular TED talk on asking why. His primary advice in building a successful company is that:
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Unfortunately, while I admire Mr. Sinek, I cannot fully agree with this principle. Like most Americans, I generally buy from companies based on the quality, price and service of what they provide, not based upon why they do what they do.
Today’s workplaces are more diverse than ever with more work being done in teams. To ensure that everyone is working together well, companies need to be inclusive and embrace diversity and individual differences.
The core element behind a diverse and inclusive workplace is respect – each employee giving and receiving respect from other employees, management, customers, and suppliers.
As business leaders, we strive to have each of our areas improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Accounting, Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Operations, Project Management, Customer Service – each of these parts of the business needs to be as effective as possible. Likewise, each of us needs to be as efficient as possible in getting our work done.
Isn’t that right?
As business leaders, our goal is to optimize the whole. Only by doing what is best and most effective for the overall business will we have as successful a business as possible. Continue reading
Every Do-It-Yourselfer knows the carpenter’s advice:
Measure twice cut once.
In successful businesses, a similar recommendation holds true:
Think twice and do once.
To so many of us, immediate action appears to be essential:
- We are just doing it!
- We are making it happen!
- No ‘analysis paralysis’ here!
The ability to speak well in public – whether giving a sales pitch to a customer, presenting at a Board Meeting, or speaking to a large group of employees – is an essential leadership skill.
- Public speaking is fundamental for effective executive communication as a way to lead a group or team into taking some desired action.
- For better or worse, most leaders are evaluated by their ability to speak in public.
To be a strong public speaker requires practice and keeping in mind some simple Do’s and Don’ts.
- Focus on the End Result: As a leader, the purpose of public speaking is to inform, teach or remind your audience to do something that will help them do their jobs better and drive your company to success. Eloquent speeches, no matter how insightful or entertaining, are useless unless they lead to changed thoughts and changed actions. As such, the focal point of any speech needs to be on the end result: what do I want my audience to do? And a call to action needs to be the last point in any speech or presentation.