People listen to people who listen

Avoidable signs of not listening:

  • Hostile tone
  • Passive aggressive questioning
  • Response before thought / considering viewPoint of other party
  • Lack of empathy / unwillingness to acknowledge concerns and opinions of others
  • Negative body language
  • Use of the wrong communication medium / inviting miss-understanding

When others make one or more of these mistakes, be a leader and do not oblige with the same approach/mistake. If you are their leader, do take the time to reflect on their approach and coach afterwards. If it is a peer, realize that taking the same approach in a response fuels divide; you can’t make someone else grow, but how you react will have an impact and influence regardless of the chain of command.

And when we are guilty of not listening we should have humility, correct it, and move forward together. Grow from it – it is what others expect and what will be respected.

Be most thankful for the leaders in your life who give guidance and feedback, but who let you/require you to lead and do the work.

I remember a moment 15 years ago when I told my boss, and told him with conviction, that I realized my job was for him to not to have to worry about what I was doing at all.   My job was to eliminate the need for him to have to manage me or any part of the business I was running.   The reaction was a genuine expression of relief on his part and we have operated under that creed without wavering for the last 15 years.   The other thing it did was allow him to go focus on other ventures and continue growing (This is what I would call nirvana for a leader; to have other leaders impacting growth in an exponential way).  Another vivid memory from an event that occurred in the last 3 years was when a new and very strategic team member came on board.  That person said the same thing, except this time it was directed a me; I was relieved and rejuvenated; it is what I wanted and needed.

Managers lay out a plan and tell their folks what to do.  They inspect, coach, and make sure the results are being realized.   The team members they manage expect them to do these things, which often limits strategic thinking, leadership development, and overall growth all the way down the food chain.   Organizations really only get the boost and the growth when managers transition to leaders and have more expectations from their teams, and of themselves.  It is on the existing leaders in the organization to stop doing what they have always done, and let/require the up and coming managers/leaders take the reins.   This requires acceptance that mistakes will happen, which is alright as long as new/different inspection systems are put in place so that mistakes are not detrimental.   This also requires managers to subscribe to the leadership concept of “if it is to be, it is up to me”, and the underlying principle that their job is to make sure their leaders do not have to develop strategy, worry, or handle execution for the area they are in charge of.   It is also on the manager/up and coming leader to not let their leader do their work.   Leadership development is a two-way street, especially in high growth organizations where everyone is growing and replacing themselves.

Regardless if we are thinking about Management or Leadership concepts, everyone needs to feel supported.   Even the President/CEO needs to feel supported by their Board, Leadership Team, etc..  However, there is a huge difference when it comes to support expectations and how they differ between Leaders and Managers.  In summary, the less managing/leading you need yourself, the more of a leader you have become.

Manager’s (Someone who has not crossed the Leadership Chasm) beliefs on the type of support they need:

  • Leadership training
  • Guidance
  • Feedback on performance
  • Assistance with personnel matters
  • Assistance drafting strategy
  • Assistance creating inspection systems
  • Assistance in motivating team members
  • Accountability

Leader’s beliefs on the type of support they need:

  • Feedback/Accountability from their Leader/Board – Primarily when they ask for it.
  • Validation of the plans, inspection systems, culture/people/motivation strategy that they put together

So if you would classify yourself as a Manager or an Up and Coming Leader, who is trying to get cross the chasm into full leadership, have you looked your leader in the eye and said – “I got this and I understand and am committed to doing what it takes so you do not have to worry about my area”?  If you are not ready to say this – don’t.  And only say it if you really understand what it means to fully lead and ready for that awesome responsibility.   Also know that your leader wants you to do this, expects you to get there, and that it is your growth path.   Own it – Crush it!

Effective Leadership (strategy, praise, admitting mistakes, etc.) is done verbally; Transacting/Formalizing is done via written communication.

The first email account I had was in college and the first text message I sent was at the age of 27 – in order to get a first date with Kristen (my bride).   For this reason and regarding leadership development, I believe I had an advantage over the folks that are in their 20’s today;  mainly because verbal communication was the primary option back then.   I only had to learn how to text (on my Nextel “beep beep” phone – note that the first iPhone was 2007) because Kristen would not answer my calls or respond to voicemail.  Comparing my experience with the younger generation who has had email and text messaging since they can remember, it has likely made leadership an even tougher endeavor for them given that face to face and verbal interactions are key to effective leadership.

I was listening to a TED talk last week and the presenter stated that the #1 benefit from a training program they delivered to their up and coming leaders was focused on communicating effectively.   It made me remember the most practical and highest impact course I had to take a long time ago when going through an MBA program, which was “Effective Communication in Business”.   I distinctly remember an exercise where they had us go through the archive of our business emails and pull the three worse examples of communication and then present them to the class.  They weren’t just teaching us how to write, the medium we should use, or self-awareness in regards to the perception others have due to our actions; they were teaching us leadership.

Regardless of what/who we are trying to lead, large advancements in what we are trying to achieve only happen with a more intimate form of communication.   The quicker/easier/less stressful way to communicate is to text/email/send a letter, etc., which is also why it is typically the wrong way to handle more strategic matters.   Written communication is still an important step, but only as a follow-up to formalize and/or confirm what was discussed.

Some examples (based on my opinion only) of when to use certain channels:

Verbal/In Person Communication Written Communication
Strategic planning Meeting notes
Consulting with customers/team Conveying supporting information
Recognition for large achievements Confirmation of understanding
Reflection on and learning from mistakes Formalizing next steps
Apologizing Reporting/inspecting what is expected
Training/mentoring Conveying general information
ANY sensitive matters Business transactions


Why? and Millennials

Millennials ask WHY all the time don’t they?

I find value in the characteristic of being asked why.  I also ask the question quite a bit myself and believe it is key in business.   The only challenge is when the person asking does not understand/accept the answer, even when the answer is accurate and comes from years of experience.  When this happens, I recommend putting that person in a situation where they can witness the why or even letting them them fail so that they can learn.   If not, they may start building up these scenarios in their memory log and leave the organization because they feel like they were not listened to.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • If the why question leads to an improvement to be made, we should always capitalize on those and recognize the person in a very positive way.   This makes them feel like they have made an impact and that is what they are seeking.
  • If how the person asks the why question is aggravating or too frequent, others will stop including them because they will see it as inefficient and non-productive to do so. If you have someone who acts in this way please SAVE THEM.  They just need some major mentoring in regards to their style.   They likely do not know they are coming across this way and you can make a big impact in their life by helping them correct it.

In our organization, more than 50% of our staff falls in this generation and I missed it by only 2 years.  The percentage of millennials in organizations is increasing each year and that will continue given that the youngest of the millennials is now 22 years old and they are still entering the workforce.    Given these statistics, organizations should like stop looking at the situation as “trying to understand millennials” and start thinking of it as “understanding themselves as an organization”

Leadership gut check: Do each of your team members feel genuinely supported and cared for by you?

This is a great question for new and existing leaders – especially those that are in constantly changing environments.

At the most simple level, a leader’s purpose is to grow and build a team in order to leverage each team member’s strengths, which in turn magnifies the success of each person and of the whole.   For net new leaders, if they fail to change and continue to be a lone soldier, who/what is being led?   For those struggling with the question of how good they are performing as  a leader, here are some questions for self-reflection:

  1. Do my team members feel supported?
  2. Do they feel I am helpful strategically and a key to their success?
  3. Do they believe I genuinely care about them?

If the answer to all is Yes – Right on!;   If the answer to any one of these is No, it is time to change and give your team members what they need to ensure their success, your success, and the success of all other stakeholders (customers, other teams, etc.).   After self-diagnosis, the next step is to ask other leaders their perception of how you are performing.   One tactic to avoid as part of the discovery process is asking our team members what they need from us.   Rarely will they tell you that you are failing, or that they need you to care about them more than you do yourself.    The only time questioning them is appropriate is for certain tasks and/or specific help they need – it is not a question we ask in regards to how we should lead them.   To care is to place our thought, energy, and priority on the other person(s), which is the only way they will feel it.   We have to be thinking about what they need rather than solely depending on them to tell us.

Leadership is tough/more work and it can be a lonely place at times.   However, we all have to remember why we signed up, which was to help others grow and because we understand  the Go Giver (“The Go Giver” book is great!) mentality and are confident in the results it will net .



Teach others the value of making it easy to say yes

The best lesson learned from one of my greatest mentors was that it was my responsibility to make it easy for others to say yes.  At the time of learning this I was consumed with something I knew we had to do as a business in order to grow at an even faster pace.   I had the passion and I was asking those who I needed an approval from to just say yes…they said NO, and I could not believe how irrational they were being…

In reality, I was asking for something without doing all the work to present my case in a way that would be easy for them to say yes.   After meeting with my mentor I did not present the same idea again until it had a plan behind it with multiple outcome scenarios that were all positive.   I spent time thinking about all the questions someone else would have and I got the answers in advance.   The next time I presented the idea, there was no frustration on either side.   The only response I received was “what are you waiting for?”

This simple concept is one few embrace; either because they have not been lucky enough to be taught, or because they lack the tenacity to work the process and would rather blame someone else by claiming that no one ever listens or cares about their grand ideas.

Leaders should be sure to teach this concept because it leads to much better results due to the team having a much higher business acumen.   They also grow up much quicker and can learn this lesson directly rather than them moving on and have to come to the realization themselves after continuous disappointment with multiple organizations.

If you are striving to be a leader in your line of work, do the work and make it easy to say yes.  I promise that it will be more work, but it will likely stop you from putting forward half-baked ideas that get a “no”, and the ideas you do put forward will likely be met with a “yes” and will propel your career.

Leaders must be trusted; you cannot be a “Man of your word” if expectations are not clearly defined at the start.

When people do not fully understand the plan, goals, and the path to get somewhere, the result is failure.   However, they do not see it as their failure if their leader failed to clearly set expectations, validate goals, and inspect to verify understanding and progress.  Without clarity the failure will always be placed on leadership.   The best leaders lead in a way that puts people at ease.  They are thorough, supporting, and tough but fair, which is the environment where people understand their surroundings, and are at ease knowing that if they do x it will lead to y.

If we have the right people in the right roles, yet they are failing, it is either due to lack of leadership/setting expectations, or the person’s inability to execute.   Never failure be due to a lack of leadership.

“A wise person can be a great leader, but a person with a high IQ and the tenacity to balance that with wisdom is just about unstoppable in regards to the impact they can have on others, the organization, and themselves.”

In leadership, wisdom is a requirement and therefore is prioritized over IQ.  Highly intelligent people tend to have a tougher time with Leadership because they cannot pivot to growing others easily if those on their team do not have the same IQ.   They may be more comfortable working alone and only being directly responsible for their own success.  They may also feel threatened by others that have the same or a higher level of intelligence, whereas those with wisdom invite this.  This is all fine if they have self-awareness and are not in a leadership position – they can still be high performers and great contributors to the team.  However, they will not perform well in a leadership role if they do not understand/embrace what it takes; the wise person might tell you that a high IQ person expecting to out-think the realities of leadership, is equivalent to being the dumbest smart person they know.

As leaders, our team’s performance is our performance.  Those who embrace this, rather than  beingquick to revert to their own abilities, are the leaders who experience long-term exponential growth, which is also holistic in that they get the privilege of helping others maximize their potential, while also maximizing their own.  Wisdom is more important that IQ when it comes to Leadership…..  Wisdom without being the smartest person in the organization is safe and can be fruitful; High IQ with low wisdom is dangerous and is not an acceptable combination for a leadership role; possessing wisdom and a high IQ is rare, but if/when it happens, there are exponential results.

I leave you with one example that should sum it up.   What camp would you put Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg in?  The answer to that question is why we should never stop trying to get the smartest in the pack to embrace leadership.  They only need to embrace it, for they are smart enough to understand it once they do.

“Manipulation has no place in Leadership”

It is unfortunate when those who manipulate others are put into Leadership roles. Manipulation has a negative connotation, and for good reason. To manipulate is to use shrewd or devious management tactics, especially for ones own advantage. Great Leaders do not manipulate, because it is the most disrespectful thing to do to the smart and dedicated people who signed up to be on a true leader’s team.

The best and brightest only want to be with the best and brightest, but more importantly, they value a leader who is genuine and who truly cares about them, over everything else.

Manipulate, and the people you value most will see right through you. Be genuine and they will go the extra mile – this is what great leaders do, whereas manipulation is only a tactic for those who are too lazy to do the real leadership work, and for those that do not realize that the people on their team are smart enough to tell the difference between being led vs. manipulated.

“Passion and Authenticity are rare. Possessing both is required before expecting it of others”

Managers desire employees that are passionate go-getters.  The issue is typically in how they approach this goal.   Every change we attempt to make in business has to be sold, and just like customers, team members only “buy” if they believe in the product/service, and the company behind it.   The first goal should be to transition from a Manager to a Leader and start with self-reflection.   You must sell yourself before others can be sold.  The effort is not as daunting when you are totally authentic and passionate about the organizations objectives.  It becomes contagious and something that others naturally want to emulate.   And if there is some reason that a manager/leader is having a hard time becoming passionate about the objective, then there is something fundamentally flawed that has to be fixed immediately.