The Downward Spiral of Tough Love

I had lunch last week with a friend and colleague who was telling me about a leader in her organization who subscribes to the “tough love” school of leadership. That for her teams to perform she has to be brutally honest about where they are screwing up.

Come on people! It doesn’t work for parents, teachers, spouses… so why do we think that tough love is a viable approach to leadership?

Now I get this woman’s position: she is frustrated because her teams are under-performing. The rest of the organization is counting on them… they are highly visible, and the face of the organization. If I were in her shoes, I’d feel gutted too. And probably annoyed and a bit embarrassed.

So to get the best from her teams, she motivates them by telling them how much they suck. Surprisingly, there is no substantial shift in results from her team. Then what does she do? More tough love. And what does she get? More mediocre results. It’s a downward spiral into blame, judgement and de-motivation.

Einstein was on to something: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”. This applies more than ever to leadership.

While her teams may be faltering… the common denominator in all of this is her leadership. To change a system, starts with changing self.

When I’ve worked with leaders like this before, a common worry I hear is that people don’t want to shift their style in a way that is inauthentic. But the truth around authenticity is that sometimes people are authentically as*holes – and then they wonder why team performance suffers. Authentic leadership, on the other hand, is about showing up as who you are AND being willing to work with the impact you’re having on those around you. Instead of saying “this is me, deal with it,” authentic leaders say “how can I play to my strengths and adapt my style to get the best from my people?”

Because really, results can’t happen without people. To get the most from your team, bring intention to your leadership this week. Try a few new things:

Be a Leader:

  • Start by taking 100% accountability: if your team isn’t getting the results you want, choose accountability rather than blame. What do you need to shift in your leadership to get better results from your people?
  • Facilitate success. Rather than de-motivate through tough love, try giving feedback and coaching. One of the biggest and most important roles a leader plays is helping their people succeed.
  • Listen with curiosity and care. When results are faltering, find out why. Start first with asking questions and listening rather than directing and declaring. Facilitate conversations where learning happens.

Leadership Mile-High Club

I’m sitting on the plane, coming home from a short week away with a client. The vantage point from up here is unreal – far out my window I can see the tips of the Rockies, and immediately underneath us the brown earth slides by. Besides the fact that I am continually amazed (and a tiny bit anxious) that I’m flying in a metal tube thousands of feet above the ground, I am in awe of the perspective I get from this height. And the perspective comes not only the vastness of my view, but the fact that I get a brief time-out-of-time from our plugged-in world.

While it is a bit of circumstance that is forcing me to take best advantage of my time in the sky, this ‘white space’ is useful (probably even more so) when I’m in the chaos of my life on the ground.

As a leader, it’s a art and a skill to be able to step above the day-to-day, to be able to both observe and assess what you see happening in your interactions, your team, your company and your career. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky say: “To diagnose a system or yourself while in the midst of action requires the ability to achieve some distance from those ‘on-the-ground’ events.” This distance and perspective leads to informed action, rather than unconscious reaction.

And you don’t have to be in plane to put these leadership practices in place:

Balcony View: This in-moment perspective requires the ability to observe your interactions, the impact you’re having, and the quality of conversation. Leadership is an everyday practice, and not distinct from strategic business conversations. How you show up in the immediate is what makes up your leadership essence. To have the impact you want means being able to both observe and act simultaneously.

Make it a habit:

  • At the end of every meeting, check in with yourself: did I show up the way I wanted to? What was my leadership impact? How do I know?
  • Check in with the team: how would everyone rate the quality of the conversation? Did we defend and declare or pause and inquire? What worked and didn’t work with how we engaged with each other?

Strategic white space: Ever noticed how one minute your calendar is blissfully empty and the next it’s completely full of meetings, phone calls, operational deadlines? If you’re not intentional about giving yourself some white space – that time away from the day-to-day where you can have a longer-term perspective – your day-to-day time just fills up.

Make it a habit:

  • Book time at least once a quarter to step away from your day-to-day to look more strategically at your leadership and your business. Ask yourself: Am I leading my team in a way that gets the best out of them? What challenges and opportunities do I see on the horizon? What’s it going to take from me and my team to overcome these challenges and seize the opportunities?
  • Check in with your customers: What trends am I seeing in customer expectations? How can we best meet customer needs? How can we stay two-steps ahead of what our customers want?

Periods of complete disengagement:  Self-care is one of the most overlooked leadership advantages. When you are at your best, your team is too… And the reality is as much as you try to convince yourself otherwise, working endless hours, day-in and day-out is not conducive to your best self.

Make it a habit:

  • Take vacations. Even though it can seem pointless – working crazy hours to get ready to leave, and crazy hours to catch up when you’re back – the complete disconnection from work is what allows you to come back with refreshed energy, perspective and mental focus.
  • Turn your e-mail off every once in a while. Companies managed to survive (and even thrive!) before the days of the digital… a few hours of inaccessibility isn’t going to end the world.
  • Spend time doing things you love… and if you looooove work, spend time doing OTHER things you love. Time with family, laughs with friends, adventures in the woods… do things that feed your soul. Then your soul has more to give.

As I start the slow decent into Vancouver, I’m thankful for this reflective time I’ve given myself. Come join me in this leadership mile-high club, take some time-out-of-time to reflect and think – and let me know if it makes a difference for you.

Finding the Awesome

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a tailspin wanting to get some clarity over what my *big* future looks like. I’ve been so intent on figuring out the destination that I’ve neglected the journey along the way. I don’t know about you, but when I get in this mindset, I start to think about all the things that are going wrong and holding me back rather than pausing to appreciate “the awesome” of what’s immediate and in front of me.

So often I see this problem-focused mentality with leaders too. With a mandate of: fix things… improve… do better… be better… do more… it’s no wonder many leaders look first for problems, rather than look for what’s working, or even what’s… awesome.

Shifting from problem-focused to awesome-focused is hard. Many of you were hired to fix things. And, absolutely keep fixing… I’m just suggesting that the fixin’ might get easier, and the road less bumpy, if you look also for the good.

This week, try these few things (at home or at work):

  • Pause to celebrate the little things… This means slowing down enough to notice.
  • Look for the awesome in your colleagues and employees… (or your spouse!)…. And tell them. Not just the “you’re awesome” comment… but really, truly telling them what they’ve done that makes them awesome, and the impact it’s had on you, the team and on results.
  • Notice what makes you smile.

Emotions are contagious. Take this to heart.

When I need a little reminder to lighten my mindset, I’ll pick up Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome and read a few pages. Pasricha, a self-proclaimed “regular guy,” started a website called 1000awesomethings.com as a way to escape the doldrums of everyday life.  It’s a reminder that there is joy in noticing the little awesome things.

e-musings awesome list for May 21 and 22:

  • Waking up while the house is still quiet and sneaking in a productive hour of work. It’s not often that this happens (me waking up early, and a quiet house! I’ll take it!)
  • The morning crib-chatter of my 17-month-old. This sound melts my heart. I have no idea what he’s saying, but it sure sounds important and interesting!
  • Listening to my dog have puppy dreams. If you have a dog, you know this sound. I laugh every time I hear it… It just doesn’t get tired.
  • Tiny glimpses of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day. I’m in Vancouver. I’ll take what I can get!
  • Cows lying down. Saw this the other day, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Cows need rest too.

What’s awesome in your life today?

Triggers and the Contagion of Leadership

You know that co-worker that you have… the one that just keeps getting under your skin? No matter what he (or she) says or does, it’s the wrong thing? Even when you try to get along, he’ll say something stupid that will just set you back further? Wouldn’t life just be easier if he would just go away?

Truth be known: he irks you because you let him… and it may be more about you than you think or choose to admit. When we are triggered by someone, or something, we get thrown into a response that can sometimes be out of proportion to the situation.  This amplification is a cue that it’s less about the other person and more about, well… you.

As a leader, when you are triggered, frustrated, annoyed, or irritated that energy is both observable and contagious. Your team performance suffers, as does your reputation. Boyatzis and McKee talk about this contagion of leadership in Resonant Leadership. On the flip side, when you are curious, confident, compassionate and accountable, so too is your team. What team would you rather lead?

This week I invite you to join in my experiment. When you get triggered by someone, stop and ask: “What’s my part in this.” Get serious and real with yourself. Try these tactics:

  1. Change your lens. You see the world through your filters. Values, beliefs, family history, past experiences: these all shape your perception of people and situations. You can’t change another, you can only change yourself, so try on a new pair of glasses to see the world through.
  2. Own your part. If someone gets under your skin, look in the mirror. You might just be casting your shadow where it doesn’t belong.
  3. Get curious. What’s going on for the other person? Would your response be different if you came at it from a learner mindset?

e-musings confession: I’ll tell you what gets my irk on… ego. Pure. Arrogant. Ignorant. Better-than. Ego… That grandiose sense-of-self is in direct conflict with my value around learning. And if I get really, deep-down honest with myself I’m triggered because I, too, can be egotistical. I inadvertently make other people feel small when I show up with blinders on. So, to make life easier (on me!) I prefer casting that shadow onto someone else rather than own it myself. Please tell me I’m not alone!

We get triggered all the time. It’s how we respond to those triggers that determines our character. Notice, reflect and then choose your response. I know it’s something I’ll be working on… forever.

 

Stop the Circumstantial Drift: Lead with Purpose

Many leaders float through life, coming and going with the tides of circumstance. Time gets away on them, and soon they realize they aren’t in a role that inspires them, and their career has been based on logical and comfortable progression rather than intentional drive and passion. These leaders lead from a place of unconsciousness; having a wishy-washy impact on results and on the people they’re leading. This is leading without purpose.

Sometimes financial need dictates our direction. Other times convenience stands in our way. And more often than not… even when we choose to plead ignorance… we get in our own way of really, truly declaring and going after our dreams.

It takes courage to take a stand for what you want, and sometimes it’s just easier to ride the current rather than dig in and paddle. I know. I’ve been there, and will probably be there again… and again.

So rather than fall prey to circumstantial drift, how about giving yourself some good anchoring? Sit back, take a time-out-of-time and reflect on these questions:

  • What gets you excited in life and in work?
  • What untapped potential have you been shying away from?
  • As a leader, what do you want people to be saying about your character 5 years from now, 10 years from now?
  • What’s keeping you where you are?
  • What risks are you willing to take to get what you want and be even happier than you are now?
  • What first step are you willing to take tomorrow to move you closer to your dreams?

A vision is an anchor point. A place from which directed action occurs. It’s an internal compass – helping to guide decisions and ideas. It gives purpose and meaning to our work and leadership.

My litmus test for a vision (personal or corporate) is whether or not you can answer positively to these three questions (The 3 Cs):

  • Is it clear? Can you say, without a doubt, where you’re heading?
  • Is it concise? Can you remember it? Does it make sense?
  • Is it compelling? Does it guide your decisions and actions? Does it “grab” you and inspire you?

While these questions may seem a tad fluff, I can tell you that the clearer you are in the difference you want to make the more likely you are to make it. And from a leadership perspective, when you lead with intention, courage and clarity, people are more likely to want to be around you.

Bring some discipline of thought and passion to your own leadership. I dare you to lead with purpose… You may be surprised at what you come up with.