Don’t Be the Expert!

What to do when your team is better than you! 

Leaders often have individuals working with them who know more than the leader does. This is part of being a leader when you have responsibility for areas outside your specialty or expertise where your reports know more than you do.  They will ask questions that you cannot answer and may not even understand.

So what do you do?

Firstly, you don’t want to become an expert in all these areas – in doing that you are looking to improve your weaknesses rather than leveraging your strengths.  You are also undermining your own position, that as a leader without expertise.

You want to focus on building and leveraging the relationships you have with your team, it is not about being an expert in the facts. Spend time with your people, get to know them, and understand what motivates them and how to work with them effectively.

Secondly, as a leader, you provide value not by doing the work of an expert, but by enabling things to happen. Your role is to get the roadblocks out of their way so they can be successful. In doing this you also need to take a more strategic overview and approach, rather than being tactical and hands-on.

Here you are a leader – leading people and change, sharing and inspiring confidence even when you don’t have the answers or know the answers. Your role as a leader is to bring out the best in others, even when they know more than you.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

The Benefits of Building Connection

How creating a “connection culture” can drive business results & the bottom-line

We are all living and working in an increasingly volatile environment where accelerating change is the norm. This, with the fact that most people like to live and work within their comfort zone, can cause problems for leaders and their businesses as people strive to cope with change whilst keeping some semblance of control.

As result of the rapid change people experience they often feel disconnected and disengaged in what they do. Unfortunately, since 2000 nearly 75 percent of people working in the United States have been disengaged with their jobs (Gallup 2013b). As leaders, to deal with this, we have to create an environment of connection where people can feel reconnected and they can choose to connect and engage themselves with those people around them, and in what they do.

Connection in the workplace is an emotional bond. It is based on shared identity, empathy and understanding that moves primarily self-centered individuals towards becoming group-centred members. As the connection is an emotional bond it is intangible, but we can sense it in our relationships.  When it is present, we feel the energy, empathy, and affirmation, and are more open; when it is absent, we experience neutral or even negative feelings.

When people look for connection, and they always do, they do so in a variety of ways including how they connect to other people (relational); to their work (task mastery); and to a sense of purpose (existential). These can be summarized below:

6 Connection Needs of People

Connection Needs Needs Type Description
  • Respect
Relational Needs Being around people who recognize us and who are courteous and considerate.
  • Recognition
Relational Needs Where we are recognized by other people for what we do, achieve and contribute; and the strengths and skills we use in doing so.
  • Belonging
Relational Needs Being part of a group or team helps us to be more resilient and better able to cope with unexpected or adverse events.
  • Autonomy
Task Mastery Needs The freedom to do your work in your own way, to be free of being told what and how to do the work.
  • Personal Growth
Task Mastery Needs Where you have the necessary level of skills to deal with the challenges we face and to achieve a state of ‘flow’ where you are fully involved and immersed in an energized way, in the process of the activity of the work,
  • Meaning
Existential Needs When you are engaged in work that is important to you in some way, you are energized and put additional effort into it. You feel a sense of significance from doing this work.

The Benefits of Connection

Benefits accrue to both the individual as well as the business. Research has found that businesses which create a strong connection culture, by fostering an environment where each of the six connection needs can be met, realize significant benefits over their competitors. Compared to business units with engagement and connection scores in the bottom 25 percent, the top 25 percent’s median averages were:

  • 21 percent higher in productivity
  • 22 percent higher in profitability
  • 41 percent lower in quality defects
  • 37 percent lower in absenteeism
  • 10 percent higher in customer metrics (Gallup 2013)

Employees who feel engaged and connected are

  • 20 percent more productive than the average employee
  • 87 percent less likely to leave the organization (Corporate Leadership Council 2004)

Connected employees are not only happier but are high performers. Again research has shown that:

1. Employees who feel connected perform at the top of their game.

2. Employees who feel connected give their best effort and persevere.

3. Employees who feel connected align their behavior with organizational goals, so their business has more people pulling in the same direction

4. Employees who feel connected help improve the quality of decisions as they are prepared to speak up and share information.

5. Employees who feel connected actively contribute to innovation as they actively look for ways to improve the organization.  As a result, new products, services, processes, and businesses will arise

So the question is not can you afford to create and sustain a culture of connection, but rather can you afford not to. Your people drive your competitive advantage, so help them to help themselves to do so.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

The Salesman Who Lost the Million-Dollar Deal

How failure can make you more successful…

We all make mistakes, but do we learn from them?

As children we are often taught not to make mistakes, and that it is important to be right. This is reinforced as we become adults and so we learn to equate mistakes with failure.  And when we do this we limit ourselves and our potential to grow.

I view failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, and from this to grow and develop myself further. If I am not making mistakes then I am not pushing my boundaries or myself, and I condemning myself to be average as I cannot grow. The important thing about mistakes is not just to learn, but to implement that learning so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

I would like to share a story with you about Thomas Watson Sr., the man who founded IBM and oversaw its massive growth from 1914 to 1956. The story goes like this….

“”IBM had survived The Great Depression. Gambling on a post war boom, Watson Sr. had maintained IBM’s employment levels by increasing inventories when there was little demand. Excess machinery and parts crowded basements and filled every nook-and-cranny of Endicott’s warehouses.

Some on the board of directors, because of this, were lobbying to remove Watson as IBM’s President.

He needed these inventories sold.

A very large government bid, approaching a million dollars, was on the table. The IBM Corporation—no, Thomas J. Watson Sr.—needed every deal. Unfortunately, the salesman failed. IBM lost the bid. That day, the sales rep showed up at Mr. Watson’s office. He sat down and rested an envelope with his resignation on the CEO’s desk. Without looking, Mr. Watson knew what it was. He was expecting it.

He asked, “What happened?”

The sales rep outlined every step of the deal. He highlighted where mistakes had been made and what he could have done differently. Finally he said, “Thank you, Mr. Watson, for giving me a chance to explain. I know we needed this deal. I know what it meant to us.” He rose to leave.

Tom Watson met him at the door, looked him in the eye and handed the envelope back to him saying, “Why would I accept this when I have just invested one million dollars in your education?”

It is that last line – “I have just invested a million dollars in your education” – that brings it home to me.  There are two important learnings here:

  1. The failure you experience and the mistakes you make are opportunities for you to grow.
  2. The failure others experience and the mistakes others make are opportunities for them to grow.

Are you tolerant of and welcome mistakes in yourself? And in others?  Currently do you look to learn from your mistakes and failures? And do you help others to learn from their mistakes and failures?

We are living and working in a changing world, and we are finding that what got us here will not get us there. As well as this we are also discovering that what we have always done will no longer get us what we always got.  Failures and mistakes do not stem just from doing something new or different, but they can stem from doing that which we have done before and which has previously brought us success.  The latter source of failure and mistakes is more insidious and harder to sport, ironically because it is so familiar.

So create an environment where failure and mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn and grow – individually, as a team, and as an organization. Identify the learnings, share them with others, and determine what you need to implement to prevent the failure or mistake from recurring by raising the bar for both what you do and how you do it.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here. (needs link)

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Two Questions to Attain and Maintain Focus

Two Questions To Attain and Maintain Focus

Achieving and maintaining focus is a key skill in modern business.

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

In a time-poor environment in which more demands are being made of us it is more and more important that we focus on what we do.  This is especially true as the business environment becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex resulting in managers having to make decisions more quickly, with less information and greater risk.focus

Focusing allows you to concentrate your efforts, time and resources on what needs to be at the center of your attention and your activity.  To do this you need to be able to ensure that you have prioritized what needs to be done and to avoid unnecessary procrastination.

There are two questions to ask yourself when you are about to start a piece of work or, as occurs more and more frequently, people interrupt you with a request for your assistance.

  • Is this piece of work important to me?
  • Is this piece of work urgent for me?

If the answer to both is then you might accept it – or guide it to the right person if it is not you.  If the answer to either question is “No”, then you don’t need to focus on it now. You can either refuse it, accept it conditionally (you might do it later or delegate it to someone else, for example), or if you are not sure then you can ask for more information (often a good idea if it is your boss who is interrupting you!).

This is a simple technique by which to maintain focus on what is important and what is urgent, and by which you can consider tasks which you are only important or urgent, and to reject those that are neither important or urgent.  Try it out for yourself, and find out how much time you free for yourself and how much easier it is to do the work that matters!

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Creating ‘Head Edge’ for Competitive Advantage

The power of visualization and mental rehearsal is often not appreciated by leaders and managers, yet it has been proven in research time after time.

Let me share one study done with the United States Olympic ski team. The team was divided into two groups equally matched for ski-racing ability. One group received imagery training, visualizing how they would win their races; the other served as a control group. The coach quickly realized that the skiers practicing imagery were improving more rapidly than those in the control group. He called off the experiment and insisted that all his skiers be given the opportunity to train using imagery.

Like anything, visualization requires regular practice; this can be done anywhere, at any time, even when you are tired. When visualizing and mentally rehearsing, make your images as vivid and as clear as you can. Don’t just visualize the end result, but visualize every step you will take along the way and how you will feel. Incorporate every sense into building that picture of the future. See yourself overcoming mistakes, and imagine yourself doing things well. You will find, and feel, yourself achieving greater confidence, clarity and agility.

Top sports psychologist, Gary Mack, used to carry out an experiment on the power of the mind and visualization when he coached professional sports teams on the power of the mind. He would get all the athletes to stand up and then ask them a simple but important question: ‘Who believes that their performance on the sporting field is affected by how they think, by at least 50 per cent?’ He found that at least half the room agreed. He then asked a very powerful question: ‘If most of you believe that your state of mind changes your final performance so greatly, why aren’t you spending ten, twenty, thirty or even fifty per cent of your training time on thinking in the right way?’ The room would go quiet as the athletes realised that they were not devoting nearly enough time to mental training for peak performance.

It is no different for business leaders and managers. We get so caught up in what we do, the physical training and the present, that we do not look at how we do what we do, the mental training and the future. We often act, but without any clear direction in mind. We are trying to move straight from the ‘Now’ to the ‘How’ without considering the ‘Where’. This is a reflex action. What we want is reflective action, to think about what we are going to do and where it will take us. Working on your “head edge” and making dedicated time to reflect will help you do this.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

 

How to Be an Effective Leader?

What Do Effective Leaders Do?

The one thing effective leaders do. Do you do this too?

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

effective leadership

When you ask people what do effective leaders do you will get a range of responses – set strategy, provide direction, develop people, motivate people, create alignment of activities, and so the list goes on. All true, but they are all facets of one thing,

To discover this, ask yourself what should an effective leader do? The one thing an effective leader should do is to get results.

All the earlier responses are actions that an effective leader makes in order to get results.  If it were that easy then virtually all leaders, by dint of what they do, could be effective leaders.  But this is not the case. A leader is not effective because of what he or she does, but rather because of how he or she does it.  An effective leader is followed, and people follow the leader for who they are and not because of the position.

As such, it is how leaders lead that encourages and engages other people to follow and get results.  The “how” is the individual’s leadership style, and this is made visible and tangible in the behaviours they exhibit when leading.  This is important as people will pay more attention to what their leaders do than what they say, and if there is a conflict between (such as when the leader does not “walk the talk”) then people will follow the example of what is done rather than what is said.

There are six common leadership styles which are utilised by leaders, and which they switch between in the short-term on a frequent basis.  These six styles provide a context in which a leader behaves, and depending on the leadership style the behaviours that exhibit can be very different.  The leadership style used is a result of the individual’s perception of the situation at hand and how they need to adapt it, and their personal preference in leadership styles.

Six Leadership Styles

  • Coercive leaders – demand immediate compliance.
  • Authoritative leaders – mobilize people toward a vision.
  • Affiliative leaders – create emotional bonds and harmony.
  • Democratic leaders – build consensus through participation.
  • Pace-setting leaders – expect excellence and self-direction.
  • Coaching leaders – develop people for the future

Being an Effective Leader

So, to be an effective leader – a leader who gets results – you need to

  1. Be clear on what the results that you want are – ensure you articulate and communicate them clearly to everyone.
  2. Be clear on how you will achieve them, in doing this you need to:
  • Use a suitable leadership style given the context of your particular situation.
  • Adapt your behaviours to the style, but make sure that they provide the right example to others and for others to emulate.
  • Switch between styles and behaviours as needed so you not only get the results, but you get them in the right way.

Remember, the difference between a good leader and a great leader is in the how.

Next Steps:

Look at what you are looking to achieve as a leader.  Once you are clear on what you have to do, and can articulate it, then ask yourself how can I do this to be effective?

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Are You Setting Up People to Fail?

When Leadership Fails – and Why!

Leaders and potential leaders are often set-up to fail by their own companies.  Where are companies going wrong, and what can we do about it?

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Let me paint you a picture.

Your business has a new global initiative to identify and develop leaders to meet both the current and the future needs of the business.  Your business is looking to expand globally, and with the slow-down in the developed world you are looking to improve your efficiencies where you are established, expand your existing products and services to new markets, and to develop a culture of innovation to help support and spur on the planned growth over the next 5 years.

Failing Leadership

You have spent considerable time and expense in establishing what your current talent pool looks like, and you have developed a framework of the key skills and capabilities that you need now and in the future as your existing business expands.  Against this you have tested and measured all those who are above a certain level to ascertain their potential, to identify how their skills and capabilities rate against the levels that you have identified as necessary.  From this you have developed the training needed to develop them.

This is a very broadstroke approach, but one that is familiar to those involved in developing, acquiring and retaining talent, and in organisational development.  It is time-consuming, expensive and requires considerable time, resources and top management time and active sponsorship.  And let’s assume you have all of this.

Now let me ask you – how successful have you been in doing this?  Yes, I know you can point to significant successes that have been realised.  But take a deep, deep look at what has been achieved and compare it to what was planned.  Compare this to what is actually needed.  You will find gaps and, dare I suggest it, gaps there are larger than you would like.  Or maybe you have some anecdotal evidence of some success, but you do not have clear measures in place or those that are in place are not meaningful.

So you want to have better leaders, for both now and in the future.  You want the right people in the right place who have the skills and capabilities to take the business forward, both now and in the future.  Yet despite investing millions of dollars, thousands and thousands of man-hours, and dedicating the necessary resources, time and senior management support your efforts fail or, at best, are only partially successful.  I know this is not true for you (?), but take a deep and long look at your efforts and see what has really been achieved.  I suggest you may be taking an over-optimistic view.  I am not disparaging the effort that has been put in, or people’s intent – that is in place.  However, the efforts have been made either in conflicting directions, reducing their effaciousness, or even in the wrong direction.

In the USA, according to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum.  Yet despite this massive annual investment what is the return that is achieved?  Few companies measure this in a meaningful way, and of those that do few achieve a significant return

So why is this happening?

Why Leadership Training is Failing Leaders

There are five main reasons:

1. Leadership is a Choice, Not a Position

Companies spend considerable time and effort in testing and assessing people to identify the potential leaders.  Here is my first gripe.  How can you test for leadership?  You can’t.  Leadership is only apparent when people stand up and lead.  It is a choice.  I might have perfect pitch, an ability to follow music by ear, and a great pair of lungs but if I am not interested in playing the trumpet it does not mean I will be a great trumpet player.

I suspect many companies “test and assess” people for leadership because this is what they do for technical roles.  The thinking is that it has worked well for them there, so by extension it should work for leadership roles.  As a result of this companies spend significant money and time in trying to skill up those who have leadership “aptitude” (as tested for) but no “attitude” (no desire).  This has a double-impact with:

  • Many of those being developed lack the passion required to be a leader.  Investing   time, resources and money into such candidates is ineffective; it also means that the level and quality of leadership being developed is sub-par (as well as all the implications and costs of having poor leaders in place who are not able to lead effectively).
  • There being a significant opportunity-cost in that those who do have the passion, hunger and desire to be great leaders lack the opportunity to be fully developed.  Frustrated they will leave to work for other companies, including competitors, where they can grow.

2.  Leaders are Developed not Trained

Companies confuse training and development, using the terms interchangeably when they are not synonymous.  Here is why.

Training focuses on teaching people about the necessary systems, processes and techniques and, in doing so, assumes that these are correct.  It looks to standardise, and to acquiesce to “best practices” which are in themselves static as they represent a fixed goal. Training assumes a status quo and is not suitable for equipping people to deal with dynamic or volatile environments.  Leaders will try to avoid training because, quite rightly, they do not see it as supportive or developmental.

Herein lies the crux.

Leaders need to be developed. Leaders have to adjust to the new business reality, where they need to lead the business in a volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex world – and one which is becoming increasingly so.  To develop our leaders we need to help equip them to develop and grow themselves, and in turn to grow their teams and reports, to provide the agility, flexibility and speed to adapt and grow.  Training, to be frank, does not cut the mustard – it is one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all and static – it looks back, not ahead.

Developing leaders is challenging – because they want to be and need to be challenged.  In this dynamic environment the adage of “what got you here, won’t get you there” is increasingly true.  Leaders need to be proactive, not reactive.  They need learn experientially, expand their social and business networks to gain alternative perspectives, and they need on-going support in doing so.  Too often leaders are “trained and left”.  The erroneous belief being that now you have ticked the box and attended the course you can do it all, when it is apparent this is not the case.  This is especially true as leaders, at all levels of the business, have no prior experience on which to draw in working in this new business reality in which we exist.

As such, leaders have to be trailblazers to lead the business and its people into new territory – and to do this they need to be fully supported and provisioned, whilst being supported in learning how to live off the land as they progress.  You need to develop them and support them on a continuous basis.

3. Leaders are Unique – Not Standard

When developing leaders too many companies adopt a “cookie-cutter” approach, believing that a standardised process will produce a standard human output.  Yet every leader, or high potential, has reached their current position through a unique blend of education, experience and skills; and each has their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses.  This means that they need an individualised approach to their development to not only build on this, but also to recognise that what got them to their current position will rarely be sufficient or appropriate to taking them further.

In doing this you need to identify what are the business outcomes you are looking for, the metrics and the expected benefits and value you will realise from achieving the outcome.  There will be areas of development that are core to all leaders and high-potentials, but there is a sizeable portion which needs to be customised.  Broadly speaking this is a 80-20 split between common areas and personalised approaches, however the benefits are often more split 20-80 as dealing with the individual’s requirements has greater relevance, immediacy and effect in helping them achieve results.

4. Leaders Never Stop Learning, the “Level” of Leadership is Fluid

The idea that you can complete a course, or a fixed program, and “become a leader” is a misnomer.  Leaders, instinctively, are great self-learners looking to challenge themselves and others, and have the humility to know they never have all the answers.

Leaders progress not only in their position in the hierarchy, but in how they lead or their “level” of leadership – and as they stay and/or move with their position in the hierarchy so they can go up and down in their “level” of leadership  The idea of the Five Levels of Leadership (from  John Maxwell) is shown below:

5 Levels of Leadership

5 Levels of Leadership

1. Positionrights granted by the position and title.

2. Permission – People follow because they want to. Level 2 leadership is based entirely on relationships. You can like people without leading them, but you cannot lead people well without liking them.

3. Production – People follow because of what you have done for the organization. Level 3 leadership is based on results. This is the easiest place to plateau.

4. People Development – People follow because of what you have done for them personally. Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. Level 4 is based on reproduction.

5. Pinnacle – People follow because of who you are and what you represent. Here leadership is based on reputation.

As such, as leaders oscillate between these different levels they will need to not only learn more, but also how to apply it.  This leads me to my last point.

5.  Leadership is a Verb & Active, Not a Noun & Passive

Leaders lead, they make decisions and they take action.  They are proactive and not reactive.  They produce a centrifugal force that draws people to them, and which often places them at the nexus of event.  Leaders not only learn from their experiences, but they apply what they learn.

Research varies in how effectively what is taught in leadership courses actually transfers to leadership practice. Some have suggested that knowledge transfer is as low as 10%. Other studies show the number closer to 60%. Others estimate that 20% to 30% of ideas learned in leadership training turn into practice. Whichever of these statistics you believe, it is clear that the investment in leadership training is not having the impact it could, or should.

Why is this?  My belief is that they many of the methods use are essentially passive, and are not practically applied or built into helping leaders improve how they work.  It is assumed that a process of osmosis will move theory to application, rather than building it into experiential learning and supporting its on-going application and use.

How Can We Stop Our Leaders from Failing

To develop a leader you need to understand three key things when learning:

  • Reason – what is it that they are learning? What is the underlying purpose?
  • Relevance – why is it important, and what is the relevance of it? They are especially time-poor, so they invest their time carefully.
  • Results – how can they use and apply what they have learnt to good effect?

As such they need to learn experientially – it allows them to apply what has been learnt, to fully comprehend it, and to build it into how they do work and, in doing so, to drive performance and results.  You need to develop your leaders, not train them.  You can train a sheep-dog, but training a leader is like trying to teach a sheep how to herd a flock – it will only end up following the herd rather than leading it.

So how will you identify, engage and develop your leaders?

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.