What Does It Take To Grow As A Leader?

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It’s hard to learn and grow when you’re the one in charge.

When you’re the boss, people all-too-often look to YOU for the answers to their questions. They all-too-often look to YOU for the questions they should be asking, too. And even when they say they don’t, they also all-too-often rely on YOU to check their work.

Isn’t that right?!

Maybe it’s because they’re trying to be really careful. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to shirk responsibility if things don’t go precisely as planned. Or maybe they just realize that you’re going to change whatever they decide or recommend, anyway, so why bother try to figure it out, beforehand.

Regardless, if this is happening to you, it’s likely that you’re encouraging people to do the exact opposite of what you’re hoping they will.

Stop Reinforcing The Wrong Lessons

This all-too-familiar cycle actively dampens learning. Or said another way, it encourages not learning in favor of upward delegation. Which creates a downward spiral of ‘dumbing down’ for employees and bosses, alike.

  • If you don’t know how to do something, ignore it and see if the boss ever follows up with you on it.
  • If ignoring it doesn’t work and you’re boss does ask about it, say you’ve been too busy working on more pressing priorities.
  • If saying you’re too busy doesn’t work, try ignoring it, again – or better yet, blame someone else for slowing you down.
  • And if none of that works, just dump it in your boss’ lap as something too difficult to handle on your own.

So now you, the boss, have to do not just YOUR job, but THEIRS, too.

Sad AND all-too-often true.

Articulating What (And How) To Learn

So how might we reset what (and how) learning takes hold? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t just assign a task; state the learning opportunity it’s designed to enable – This may seem like an obvious place to start, but never underestimate how UN-obvious it can be.
    • Bad: “Call this irate customer.”
    • Better: “Call this irate customer and let me know what he wants.”
    • Best: “Call this irate customer to find out what he wants while practicing your rapport-building, conflict management, and independent problem-solving skills.”
  2. Don’t just assign a due date; explain how you’ll use the deliverable you’re requesting – All meaningful work is part of a process, not just a series of isolated to-dos so show how this piece fits into the larger whole.
    • Bad: “Get this done.”
    • Better: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon.”
    • Best: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon so I can use it for my presentation to Senior Management at their 1pm meeting so they can authorize our project.”
  3. Don’t just accept submitted work; circle back to review it with the person – Share both your positive and constructive feedback to inform the person as to what excellence looks like.
    • Bad: [Say nothing.]
    • Better: “There were a few parts I had to fix, but you did a nice job overall.”
    • Best: “Here’s specifically what I liked about what you did and what, specifically, I’d like to see you improve, moving forward.”

Leaders Learn By Helping Others Learn

Sure, you’re busy. You’re stressed. And there’s far too little time to do far too much. But here’s the math: Let’s say it takes 15 minutes for you to do something, yourself, and 30 minutes to train someone to do it for you. If it’s only a one-time thing, it might not be worth it. But, really, what are the chances that anything you have to do at work is a one-time thing?

Besides, helping others learn not only helps them learn, but it helps you learn, too:

  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, precisely what you want, and why you want it facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, the difference between ‘good work’ and ‘excellent work’ (and ‘insufficient work’) facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, your vision and priorities facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, what outcomes you specifically want to avoid facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.

See? You’re already learning, again, aren’t you?!



Grit, Resilience, and Hardiness

In many ways, GRIT, RESILIENCE, and HARDINESS are more similar than not. If we were to differentiate, though, I’d say it this way:

  • GRIT is what keeps you focused and helps you push through, notwithstanding the stress
  • RESILIENCE is what helps you bounce back from a prior stress
  • But HARDINESS is the ability to actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress

So while GRIT and RESILIENCE are obviously very important, if you want to maximize your efforts, work on increasing your level of HARDINESS.

Building Hardiness…or Not

Figure inspired by : The Hardy Executive, Salvador Maddi, Suzanne Kobasa

recognizing hardiness

Think about it this way:

  • CONTROL vs. POWERLESSNESS is created by

    • Shifting from: Trying to Control What You Really Can’t
    • To: Addressing What You Actually CAN Control
  • CHALLENGE vs. OVERWHELM is created by 
    • Shifting from: Feeling Helpless and Dis-empowered
    • To: Creating Healthy and Doable Challenges and Stretch Goals
  • COMMITMENT vs. REFUSAL is created by

    • Shifting from: Thinking, “It’s Too Hard, Why Bother?”
    • To: Reconnecting with your Core Values and Beliefs

Doing so – even partially – will help you create a more optimistic (and less pessimistic) view and naturally shift from avoiding what’s stressing you (which only causes more stress) to taking action to resolve what’s stressing you sooner.

Which Begs the Following Questions…

  1. How might you have more CONTROL than you maybe realize?
  2. What’s the a ‘doable’ CHALLENGE inside the overwhelm you’re maybe feeling?
  3. And what is the larger COMMITMENT you’re working toward?

Try It For Yourself And See, Yes?

While grit is good, don’t just settle for being able to push through your challenges, regardless of its personal cost to you.

And while resilience is good, too, don’t just settle for being able to recover from stress.

Focus, instead on increasing your hardiness so that you can actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress.

For more, visit www.leadershiptraction.com/hardiness.

 


Restraining Restraint Bias

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What is Restraint Bias?

Restraint Bias is our (inaccurate) belief that we can control natural urges more than we really can.

But even beyond that, we often TEST ourselves just to prove we can.

Except, we typically CANNOT.

  • “Oh, I don’t need to prep so I won’t get defensive when they challenge my hold-backs at the upcoming budget cut meeting.”
  • “Oh, I don’t need an agenda for my next staff meeting so I don’t ramble on. I can just wing it.”
  • “Oh, I don’t have to write down what I just agreed to do. I won’t forget (again).”
  • “Oh, I can hit the snooze button (one more time) and still get to work on time.”
  • “Oh, I can eat just few potato chips (and not end up inhaling the whole stinkin’ bag).”
  • “Oh, just one more drink…”

You see when it comes to urge- and temptation-management, THINKING about avoiding something – if we even raise it to the level of conscious thought – is significantly easier (and substantially less challenging) than ACTUALLY avoiding it.

Why?

Because we routinely forget how tempting an urge can be when we’re not actually being tempted by it.

And that fools us into thinking that THIS time (or NEXT time) will be different, oh, just you wait and see.

But, realistically – and more likely than not – it won’t be.

Research on Restraint Bias

Turns out that Restraint Bias is a pretty common thing.

Per Researcher Loran Nordgren, et al:

  • Students who rated their ability to overcome mental fatigue more highly than others, also thought they could leave more of their coursework until the last week of term.
  • People who felt they could resist eating their favorite candy bar better than others were actually more likely than others to eat that candy bar.
  • Those promised a greater cash reward for challenging themselves to fend off greater temptations were more likely to lose to those challenges.
  • People in a ‘quit smoking’ program who claimed more impulse control than others were found more likely to relapse.

And those were just the scenarios tested.

So How Best to Restrain Restraint Bias?

David DiSalvo said it best in a Scientific American Mind magazine:

“When you’ve made progress avoiding your indulgences, and that little voice in your head tells you it’s okay to start exposing yourself to temptation again — ignore it.”


Leadership Move #30: Model How To Handle Failure

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Quit pretending you’re perfect – even trying to be is a ridiculous timesink.

Excellence versus Perfection

Striving for excellence is good. Striving for perfection is not. To help clarify the difference…

Striving for excellent is a three step ‘competency plus’ model:

  1. What do I need to do to meet the minimum requirements of the assignment?
  2. What might I do to meaningfully exceed those minimums?
  3. Let me go do those things.

Striving for perfection, on the other hand, is a four step ‘never good enough’ construct:

  1. What do I need to do to do a perfect job, here?
  2. Let me go do those things.
  3. Uh-oh, it’s not quite perfect, yet.
  4. Repeat steps 1-4, ad infinitum.

Failure in Failure

Any time we’re working on something that’s both challenging, we’re likely to fail. And what that means is that, from time to time, we’re all going to do something that makes us look a bit…foolish.

So be it.

But it’s how we ‘be’ in those moments of failure and foolishness that makes the biggest difference – as in the difference between a good laugh that reinvigorates everyone around you (including yourself) and a continued awkwardness that erodes your credibility, trustworthiness, and relevance, as a leader and team member.

Indeed, there are few things more absurd than a boss who did something wrong and won’t admit it. Truth is, everyone already knows it was a screw-up – the only question is whether the boss is adult enough to admit it. Or aware enough to see it.

Yet so many bosses think that a clever explanation gets them off the hook.

Not so.

Furthermore, this bizarre face-saving behavior encourages – that is to say, trains – staff to react in similar ways when they err.

To state the obvious, that’s a full 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Excellence in Failure

Mistakes, slip-ups, and failures are a normal part of business. And while it’s important to minimize them when we can, it’s even more important to show your staff how to appropriately handle them when they do occur.

Defensiveness? Blame? Denial? No.

Lessons Learned? Growth and Development? Perspective? Yes.

Show them how to react.

They’re watching and learning from you – whether you’re doing good or not.

 


Leadership Move #29: Establish S-T-R-E-T-C-H Goals

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The thing about personal/professional development goals is this: If they’re too easy, people get bored by them; If they’re too difficult, people get unnerved by them.

Either extreme falls short of its intended aim. So the key in establishing quality goals is to have them sufficiently s-t-r-e-t-c-h the person, but not overwhelm them.

Here are three ways to do that with your staff:

  1. Trial-and-Error – Try a few things, see what works, what doesn’t, and modify the goals accordingly over time. It helps to realize that you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time; the best learning (and striving) is always iterative.
  2. Report Back – The idea here is for them to create their own goals and then tell you about them. Then build some stretches around what you hear. Just keep an eye out for whatever bias your staffer brings to the process, though – some people will purposefully UNDER-estimate what they can achieve (sandbagging) ; others will OVERstate it (wishful thinking). Your job is to find the sweet spot.
  3. Collaborate – Engage WITH others on random assignments to: (a) see how they perform; and then (b) create their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals WITH them. Using the best of ways 1 and 2, identify meaningful, relevant, and sufficiently challenging goals that build their skills and are aligned with their interests.

Whatever way you choose, be sure to remind people that you are noticing whether they’re working on their goals (or not) … and watching their progress (or not).

In other words, help them keep their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals top-of-mind so they actually DO stretch.

After all, the things we pay attention to are typically the things that actually get done.

 


Leadership Move #28: Maintain Strong Fiduciary Controls

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To quickly undermine your credibility, as a boss, just mismanage your budget.

Routinely spending too much is, obviously, bad. But it’s important you know that spending too little is also problematic. Why? Because routinely striving to come in UNDER budget – an approach that (far too) many leaders take – also proves you’re ill-equipped, or flat-out unable, to properly manage the company’s money.

Rather, strive for your actuals to come within +/-5% of your budget** – THAT shows you know how to work with money AND make money work for you.

Tips for Maintaining Strong Fiduciary Controls Throughout the Year

  • Review your financial reports within 3 hours of receiving them.
    If you aren’t receiving your financial reports on a timely basis, complain to someone who can do something about it.
  • Note any variances of +/-8%, or more, off of expected amounts**
    Request a written Explanation of Variance (EOV) from the appropriate manager(s) for each and every line item variance.
  • Make sure you actually receive those EOVs from your managers.
    Why? Because you often won’t.
  • Make sure their EOVs make sense.
    Why? Because they often don’t!
  • Adjust spending monitoring and authorization accordingly.
    Variances happen. But it’s your job to insure they don’t continue to happen as a matter of course or because no one was watching what needed to be watched.
  • Insist on hearing the BUSINESS justification for any/all expenditures PRIOR TO any actual spending.
    Be open to requests for budgeted (and non-budgeted) moneys, but always – ALWAYS – require staff to articulate the business need for such expenditures as a prerequisite for even considering their request/proposal. You can do this by simply asking, “What is the NEED, here?”, “Why is it not just a nice-to-have?” and “Why can’t it wait until next year?” and probing into whatever is said. Do this enough, and you’ll find they start answering your questions before you even have to ask them!

Tips for Establishing Strong Fiduciary Controls During Budget Season

  • Pay particular attention to the calendarization of expenses.
    Very few line item expenditures divide neatly over a 12-month period, even though the spreadsheet you’ll be working with will likely auto-populate in that way. Indeed, most mid-year EOVs result from some sort of easily-avoidable calendarization error.
  • Give spending control some thought before the year starts – not just once it’s too late.
    Across-the-board increases are easy enough to propose, but rarely stand up to even the most modest of push-backs. Why dilute your credibility so unnecessarily?
  • Identify two-to-three line items to meaningfully REDUCE.
    Consider how, exactly, you can make that happen. Look, specifically, at large, seemingly fixed, line items: How might you effectively negotiate those rates downward? Also look at where you mis-categorized moneys in the past. Don’t just carry mistakes forward, clean up your mess.
  • Identify two-or-three line items that deserve an INCREASED investment.
    Crisply articulate your rationale (in business terms) for adding to this part of your budget. (Think ‘essential upgrades’.)
  • Identify two-or-three ongoing initiatives to wind down.
    Just because continuing last year’s project is approval-capable doesn’t make it automatically approval-worthy. One of the biggest sinkholes of next year’s money comes from continuing to fund in support of last year’s sunk costs.
  • Identify two-of three brand new initiatives to recommend.
    Again, crisply articulate the business justification for each, being sure to clearly address the ‘Why?’ and ‘Why Now?’ questions.

Showing that you can ably manage money builds trust and credibility in you as a leader … which makes MAINTAINING STRONG FIDUCIARY CONTROLS a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.

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** To be sure, check with your accounting department to find out what they consider to be acceptable variations in your organization as some uses a tighter +/-3%, while others are far more lax.