Leadership Move #15: Be Bolder

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Here are seven leadership moves to help you be bolder, more easily:

  1. Purposefully Push The Envelope –
    Show what you’ve got…and to see what happens. You can always apologize (mop up?!) later if someone thinks you went too far. (Remember: You have been given leadership responsibility for a reason – so lead.)
  2. Be More Visible –
    Let them get to know who you really are and what you really stand for. People, at all levels, are going to form their opinions about you, anyway, so you might as well have a say in what they decide. (Always participate. If you don’t provide input at the meetings you attend, you are actively diluting your brand – whether you think so or not.)
  3. Keep Focused On What People Are Counting On You For –
    Be relentless in delivering EXACTLY that…up, down, and across the chain. (Knowing your entire business, not just the part you’re responsible for, provides great clarity in knowing exactly what that ‘exactly’ is.)
  4. Take A Stand –
    Get passionate about possibilities…especially with peers and superiors. Let them know you’re alive, engaged, and ready to make some magic happen. (Volunteer and seek out special projects you believe in, as well.)
  5. Jump In Sooner, Rather Than Later – You don’t always have to wait for everyone to stop talking before saying something…learn how to interrupt politely. (It’s not always rude to intrude. Watch any good tv interviewer to learn how. Watch any lousy tv interviewer to learn how NOT to!)
  6. Innovate Through Experimentation – Dare to try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail…you’ll get more mileage from applying your Lessons Learned on subsequent problems and opportunities than you will from just dutifully taking the safe route. (Even a small scale pilot or test program can provide surprising value, regardless of its outcome.)
  7. Enjoy Yourself –
    People want to work with people who want to work. So help them realize that you want to work by showing them how much you enjoy the work you do…even if it isn’t always the case! (Modeling enthusiasm and effective ‘mood management’ are very powerful leadership techniques. Show ’em how.)

When you’re bolder in your interactions with others – they’ll respect you for shaking things up…and they’ll see you as someone capable of even greater things.

A word of warning, though: Be sure to do so RESPECTFULLY, though. Otherwise, you’ll likely be seen as more of a liability than a potential asset.


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Leadership Move #14: Know How You’ll Mop Up

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Delegation is an essential leadership skill necessary to create and sustain success.

But even more important than just knowing how to delegate is knowing how you’ll clean up should something you delegate go terribly, terribly wrong.

Back in 2013, I wrote about Passing the “Mess Test” as a way to help maximize BOTH your strategic AND tactical thinking. You might find it still relevant after all these years for that AND what we’re talking about here.

Risk Mitigation Planning

The underlying idea is this: If you already know how you WILL mop up, then it will likely to be far less problematic should you NEED to.

In other words, whenever you plan to delegate something – which, per Leadership Move #4, I recommend you REGULARLY do – thinking through precisely HOW you’ll mop up will not only save you considerable time and effort, in-the-moment, but will increase your willingness to delegate more readily than you might otherwise.

The Figure Eight Pattern

Let’s look at some (actual) mopping best practices:

  • If you have a small job, using a sponge mop, to mop back and forth in straight lines, is usually sufficient
  • But if you have a larger job, then using a rag mop in a figure eight pattern, is far more effective

Since your job likely IS a larger job, let’s use the rag mop’s figure eight pattern as our analogy-of-choice.

And, while it may be a ‘messy’ metaphor, here are eight questions you might want to ask (and answer) as you prepare to delegate something to someone:

  1. What will you do if that difficult customer, vendor, or key stakeholder is even more unsatisfied because of how poorly his issue was handled by your delagatee?
  2. How will you respond if a peer, who was counting on you to deliver something important, is left holding the bag because of something done (or not done) by your delagatee?
  3. What steps will you take to unwind your boss from an assignment botched by your delagatee?
  4. How will you react if one of your own key deadlines is missed by a delegatee?
  5. What additional resources do you want at-the-ready should the effort actually fail?
  6. What do you want your delegatee to learn from the experience if the assignment fails to achieve its desired ends?
  7. How will you leverage that learning with the delegatee in future assignments?
  8. [How about YOU come up with the last one?!]

Time Spent is Time Saved

Yes, I know, you’re busy. So busy that you think you don’t have time to plan or sufficiently answer these questions.

That said, if you’d rather just ‘wing it’, that’s certainly up to you.

But, investing even a few moments, BEFORE delegating, ABOUT delegating, can pay-off handsomely.

Not only will it give you some peace-of-mind SHOULD things go wrong, but it will also help you actually know what to do to more quickly defuse a challenging and fast-moving situation, WHEN one develop.


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Leadership Move #13: Earn an Outstanding Performance Review

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Many leaders define success in terms of their staff’s confidence in them. And, while that’s a fair litmus to use, it only speaks to part of what’s needed.

Another, often overlooked, component is how much confidence your BOSS has in you.

Why it Matters?

Anyone who’s ever tried to get approval for a new initiative only to find that the boss needed “a more compelling business justification” knows how important this is. Conversely, it’s so much easier to get things done when your boss is squarely in your camp, isn’t it?

If you’re not getting what I mean, just consider the difference in conversations you then have, downstream, when one of your requests is approved by your boss versus when one is not.

Approvals are the ‘juice’ that power (and empower) leadership success up, down, and across the organization.

Validating Expectations

The psychology of it is this: Whether bosses realize it or not – and by ‘bosses’ I mean YOU, too – they tend to be far more open to new ideas and counter-intuitive approaches when coming from one of their outstanding performers rather than one of their lesser-rated direct reports.

Why? Because if your boss already thinks you do really good work, then chances are that whatever you do, next, will likely be seen in a more positive light than the work of someone who just scrapes by.

Expectations work that way – it’s called the Halo Effect.

Per Wikipedia, “The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties.”

I like to call it ’rounding UP’.

We Like to Help Who We Like to Help

But, the deeper value of earning an outstanding performance review goes beyond this benefit-of-the-doubt Halo Effect.

When your boss thinks you do outstanding work, s/he’ll work both WITH and FOR you to help get more things done SOONER – things you likely cannot do without his/her authority and active backing.

And therein lies the importance of YOUR performance review on your staff’s performance – it enables you leverage your own boss’s authority to get more done … with (and for) them!

So what tends to occur for you, AND your staff, when your boss is impressed with your work? Here are some examples:

  • Better raises
  • Higher bonuses
  • Faster promotions
  • New program funding
  • Additional headcount
  • Increased visibility
  • Greater support
  • More recognition
  • Deeper respect
  • Help in crafting the subtle distinctions that allow for approvals without violating existing policies or setting new precedence

Yes, having your boss on your side is a powerful leadership tool, indeed – not because bosses lower their standards for their top performers, but because bosses tend to work HARDER to SUPPORT their top performers.

And if you bring it back to you and your staff, what employee wouldn’t want to follow you, as THEIR boss, if you can potentially get so much more done for them?!

What’s it Take?

So the operative question becomes this: HOW DO YOU GET A BETTER PERFORMANCE REVIEW?

And the answer?

Well, if you don’t already know, let me suggest you ask your immediate supervisor and follow his/her instructions, accordingly. 😉


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Leadership Move #12: Master the Difficult Conversation

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Conversations are an essential part of your job, especially those difficult conversations.

Difficult conversations are the ones where you know you need to talk with someone about something, but you expect that they’ll either: (a) want to vociferously disagree with you, or (b) become upset, agitated, or disgruntled by what you are saying.

Said another way, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most, describe it thusly:

“Anytime we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is implicated, when the issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain, when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it, there is potential for us to experience the conversation as difficult.”

Leadership IS Difficult Conversations

Who hasn’t, at some point, used any of these difficult conversation starters?

  • “You’re being written up for a performance lapse…”
  • “You’re getting less of a raise and/or bonus than you probably expected…”
  • “You didn’t get the promotion…”
  • “You cannot have that day off…”
  • “Your request has been denied…”
  • “Funding for your project was not approved…”

But what many bosses don’t seem to realize, is that having a difficult conversations really IS what their job is all about. And it’s helpful to remember that while difficult conversations may be somewhat challenging, they’re really, really important.

Making Difficult Conversations More So

It’s really a shame how many bosses make difficult conversations so much more difficult than they need to be. How? Here are just 10 obvious ways:

  1. By being disrespectful
  2. By being argumentative
  3. By becoming triggered
  4. By not listening
  5. By losing patience
  6. By allowing the conversation to shift to a related, but different topic
  7. By holding a grudge from prior difficult conversations
  8. By not having the conversation in a timely manner
  9. By not preparing their whys and wherefores
  10. By not insuring that the message they INTENDED to be received was the message that actually WAS received. (Remember Leadership Move #7?!)

We’ve all had bosses who’ve made conversations more difficult than they needed to be. Maybe you do, too, sometimes.

Making Difficult Conversations Less So

Countless articles, blog posts, books, and such, have been written on the topic. Pick up a few and start reading. Or, if you prefer podcasts or videos, etc., there are plenty of them, out there, as well.

But if you’re looking for a few ideas to get you started on the road to mastering difficult conversations, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Always be respectful and attentive to the employee you’re talking with, AND the related business concerns you’re wanting to address.
  2. Remember that, as the boss, you have the authority (and responsibility) to choose the agenda or specific (business-appropriate) topic of any meeting you chair.
  3. Never, ever, confront someone with only hearsay evidence. Instead, lead with either verifiable facts or direct personal experience.
  4. Unbundle and differentiate between related and overlapping issues so you can speak more discerningly about what you want to talk about.
  5. Purposefully choose how best to start each conversation and when best to segue between related issues.
  6. Actively monitor tone, tenor, and mood to insure that the employee feels comfortable and safe enough to actually BE present, when present.
  7. Deflect attempts to change the topic until you are completely satisfied that the message you intended to be received is exactly the message that was received.
  8. Reiterate as often as necessary ‘why’ this topic is so important (usually because it affects not just their own performance, but the performance of the larger group – which is, by the way, why you’re totally justified in raising it with them) and that it’s important to you that they fully understand these implications and ‘respond’ to them, constructively.
  9. Have the employee restate the message you wanted them to receive (to confirm proper receipt) and discuss and agree to any related commitments, appropriate next steps, and ongoing accountabilities.
  10. Thank them for their time and willingness to have such an important dialogue with you, express your appreciation for who they are and what they do, and offer to clarify any points or answer any follow-up questions they may have as they think through and work to integrate your counsel.

Of course you could also schedule a time for us to talk it through, together.

Your thoughts?


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Leadership Move # 11: Respond Appropriately

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How you react to what just happened often determines what happens next.

That being the case, you want to be sure that your reactions – and your responses – are meaningful, appropriate, and motivating.

The Downside of Merely Reacting

Reacting is a two-step process:

  1. Something happens
  2. You react

Although efficient, this process has embedded in it a major risk – that the way you react can all-too-easily undermine your intentions, derail progress, and cause a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Some examples:

  • Overreacting – Like using a chainsaw to cut through butter, this is when you react in ways that are clearly excessive and uncalled for.
    • Classic Example: Shooting the messenger who’s just brought you some bad news.
  • Under-Reacting – Like trying to knock down a wall with a feather, this is when you react in ways that even under the best of circumstances, are woefully insufficient.
    • Classic Example: Offering to meet with a direct report ‘sometime tomorrow’ when they really need your help right away.
  • Reacting Belatedly – Like closing the barn door after the cows have escaped, this is when your response is too late in coming, and too little in value.
    • Classic Example: Asking if there’s anything you can do now that everything is already done.
  • Reacting Tangentially – Like offering a glass of water to a fish, this is when you reply with relevant words, but in irrelevant, and unhelpful, ways.
    • Classic Example: When someone asks you to clarify a policy and you use a lot of corporate-speak but never actually say much of anything that helps actually answer the question.
  • Reacting Obtusely – Like Nero fiddling while Rome is burning, you respond in a way that seems completely unconnected to what’s been going on around you.
    • Classic Example: When someone comes asking for some help because s/he’s on a tight deadline and you insist on telling a very long and drawn out story that provides neither insight nor motivation – or help.
  • Reacting Vacantly – Like a regular Bermuda Triangle, you seemingly ignore or otherwise ‘lose track of ‘ the requests that others have made of you and are (still) waiting for from you.
    • Classic Example: Not responding to emails and voice mails because you’re quote/unquote too busy and seemingly disinterested.

The Upside of Responding

In contrast to the two-step process of reacting, responding is a three-step process:

  1. Something happens
  2. You quickly consider how best to respond, discarding counterproductive alternatives
  3. You respond in the most constructive manner, given the situation

Admittedly, Step 2 adds time. But not a lot, really – a few seconds, maybe? And the benefit is that you can make sure your verbal (and nonverbal) response helps keep thing moving meaningfully forward. And how long does it really take to consider how best to respond:

  • Thoughtfully?
  • Relevantly?
  • Helpfully?
  • Appreciatively?
  • Respectfully?

Self-Management is Key

Of course in order to respond, rather than merely react, you’ve got to be able to control yourself. But, frankly, if you can’t, you’re likely not nearly as suited to be a leader than you think.

Said another way, your job, in very real terms, requires more from you than just blurting out whatever, whenever.

The issue, if there even is one, is that getting good at responding, rather than merely reacting, takes a bit of practice and intention.

So be it, though, right?

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Leadership Move #10: Be Courageous

Unlike many (most?) people, leaders are often seen as being truly fearless.

Even the most challenging of circumstances, whatever they may be, seem to create little to no fear for (or in) them.

But that’s not always (read: actually) the case.

Don’t Fear the Fear

Sometimes, leaders feel a LOT of fear. Even if you can’t see it.

But it’s their ability to move forward, notwithstanding the fear, that sets them apart.

So it’s not really their ‘fearlessness’ – the absence of fear – but,  their ‘courageousness’ – their not letting the fear they feel slow them down.

And courageousness is an ESSENTIAL component of being a good leader.

(Courageousness is not the same as recklessness or being irresponsible. You get that, right?)

Do not strive to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Rather, learn to not mind being uncomfortable in such situations.

Becoming More Courageous

Admittedly, it’s a process, but here are some ideas to keep testing and challenging yourself with:

  • Quit waiting for permission…
    • By virtue of your position and rank, you’ve likely already got whatever permission you think you need.
    • Recognize that, and OWN it.
  • Articulate what you see…
    • To help you fine-tune your message.
    • So that others can see it, too.
  • Say what needs to be said…
    • Whatever ‘it’ is as clearly as possible.
    • Without diluting your message with avoidance or sugar-coating – and as politely and respectfully as possible.
  • Tell your staff meaningful things, such as…
    • ‘Here’s what I want you to think about…’
    • ‘Here’s what I think you’re missing…’
  • And when your staff tells you what IS missing…
    • Don’t just explain it away.
    • Really work to improve what you can and if you really can’t, explain why you can’t.
  • Share your insights and perspectives…
    • You’ve got good things to say.
    • Recognize that, and OWN it.
  • But, don’t shoot from the hip…
    • It rarely works as well as you think.
    • Impulsiveness has far more to do with being undisciplined than being courageous – realize the difference.
  • Speak from an informed point of view…
    • Keep your eyes on what’s IMPORTANT, not just on what’s HAPPENING.
    • Don’t pretend to know when you don’t – it leaves a mark!
  • Understand the 5 (or 6) Truths about Fear

the 5 (or 6) truths about fear

Feeling the Fear

Being courageous doesn’t not ELIMINATE fear; it just helps you better manage it – especially when tackling difficult issues.

Which, as a leader, is a large part of what you get paid to do.

For more on fear, fearlessness, and courageousness, visit https://www.leadershiptraction.com/executive-courage/.

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