Tag Archives: #UsBlogs

Mastering Leadership – Essential Lessons you won’t learn in school…

For me, leadership is not linked to position or accreditation. By that I mean that I have met many non-titled leaders who inspire and influence others without any formal authority over them, and many excellent leaders who got their MBA the ‘hard-knocks’ way. I have met an equally large number of people who hold a leadership position but dramatically fail to lead. They may direct, govern, preside and authorize… but lead? They are missing that particular chromosome.

For me the major difference is personal agenda. The leadership I aspire to is one which motivates others to give willingly of their best. One that believes in driving people to live to their full potential. These are qualities that are not developed in a business school or from the pages of a book but rather in real-time connections with the people and organizations you spend your career days with. Being naturally curious about people and figuring out how to unleash their creativity and determination to resolve new business challenges is the true work of leaders.

So, what are some of the most important and essential lessons I have learned so far in my journey towards mastering this kind of leadership?

1 – All business is personal:

While I fully support a focus on goals and results, I am equally conscious of the manner in which we get there. People; not business models, frameworks or processes; run organizations. People decide whether to lend their knowledge, skills and resources to help execute a plan. Those same people can be stubborn, resistant to change and counterproductive towards an end game they don’t believe in or don’t feel part of.  My years of working with Partners and Business Owners have shown me that leaders must have a grand vision but must also make goals individually significant. If the new direction is going to take effort – you’d better make the net result meaningful for each person at an individual level.

2 – Its about them, not you…

A couple of years ago, at the peak of the credit crisis, I witnessed many senior executives burying themselves in emergency cabinet meetings and planning sessions, trying to figure out how to ‘lead’ their business through. Being so focused on how they would help the business to survive, they effectively withdrew from the very people they were leading and closed off the opportunity for everyone to be part of the solution. Furthermore, employees lost valuable work time worrying about what might happen.

Even in positive times, great leaders need to ask their people what they need to find a way through. How they can remove barriers and provide the tools and resources people need to get the job done. Thinking about what your team needs from you (rather than what you need from your team) can help inspire innovation and accelerate change even when a solution seems impossible.

3 – Don’t try so hard

When I got my first shot at a true leadership position, I dutifully adapted to the role. All the books and ‘how to’ guides on effective leadership walked me through those first 90 days and how I needed to set goals and go for the ‘quick wins’. I was excited to finally get the chance to put all my great ideas into action. That is when I discovered that what looks great on paper, often falls apart when you factor in the human element! Somehow my great ideas and mental rehearsals didn’t translate into the inspiring roar of action that I was aiming for! My colleagues wondered what had happened to me. The person who had been a creative and inspirational team member was confusing and awkward as a new leader. Looking back, I was trying so DAMN hard, I forgot that what got me to that point was my instinctive interest in people and their needs. I didn’t need to suddenly develop new methods for engaging people and communicating with them. I’d like to say they came around, and that I managed to get over that initial leadership hiccup, but unfortunately not. It was a lesson learned from failure!

4 – Take care of number 1

It might sound counter-intuitive but this is the toughest lesson most leaders have to learn. Think of it as the oxygen mask lesson. You are not invincible! If you have ever suffered from health issues as a result of working too hard and not taking time to take care of yourself you know all about this lesson. Enough said.

5 – The learning never stops

No matter how successful you become as a leader, the learning should never end. This lesson is harder to apply the more successful you become. Its easy to absorb new ideas and recognize learning opportunities when you are starting out, but the more successful you are, the harder it is to let go of what you ‘know’ and remain open to what might be ‘possible’ or even ‘imaginable’. I see many incredibly successful people close themselves off to new learning because they know better, they’ve tried it that way before and it never works or simply they don’t have time to learn a new approach. Make it a rule to learn something new every year, from languages, to music, to a new software program.

While there are certainly excellent examples to learn from in the field of books and business schools, leadership is truly a personal journey of discovery. You can learn as much from your mistakes as from your successes.What do you think? What are some of the most important lessons leaders must learn outside the classroom or pages of a book?

The Elephant named Google and the Brand called YOU!

Every bit as relevant as it was the day it was published in 1997, Tom Peters article on “The Brand Called You” has become one of those common sense and fundamental ideas that is often talked about in universities and business schools as a way to stand out in the job market and a way to ensure you land that all important first ‘career’ position. If you haven’t read it recently, click here for a copy!

Since the publication of that article, a whole industry has grown up around personal branding and helping people to manage the impressions formed by recruiters, head hunters and potential employers to secure a place in their chosen profession. Many see personal branding as a tool to use if you happen to be actively seeking a new position. You set up a Linked-in profile, add a few recommendations, dust off your resume, clean out your Facebook profile and un-friend any dubious characters in preparation for putting yourself back on the market. Not really something that you need to think about unless you are actively looking for a new adventure, right?

WRONG!

If you are an Entrepreneur or Business Owner, including Equity Partners in Professional Service Firms; your personal brand and your overall business brand are often synonymous.

Hard to convince your clients and prospective clients that your business will act in their best interests, or that responsiveness, accountability and value are intrinsic to your service if these characteristics are not portrayed by you as an individual.

If you are not yet a business owner, but imagine one day adding the word Partner or President to your card, then you must treat personal branding as an essential part of how you operate daily. Knowing what it takes to create a strong reputation and to manage the impression that you form with clients, colleagues and prospects through every interaction is essential to ensuring that when the time comes, the best opportunities will find their way to you.

So what does Google have to do with it?

In these days of social and digital media, we have never had so many tools to enable us to amplify and manage our personal reputations. What you say, what you do, where you are seen, who you choose to associate with, what you think about a particular business issue… all these elements of your personal brand can be demonstrated and shared through social tools.  When people meet you for the first time you can bet they will be ‘googling’ your name as fast as you can say “nice to meet you”.  When they do, its important that your name and your accomplishments are congruent with the way you present yourself.

The opposite is also true; a poorly considered comment, a questionable display of behaviour, inappropriate actions, indiscriminate associations can also appear as part of the tapestry that becomes your personal brand and reputation. Google never forgets!!

Three things I know about Branding (personal or traditional)

  • Brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what others say and think about you.
  • Your brand is created through every experience and interaction people have with you – live, online, in written form, from a distance, third hand, and brand impressions can be both fleeting and memorable…
  • ACTION trumps Intellect every time. Unless you are an academic, you don’t build a reputation on what you think, or what you know, or what you understand, but rather how you apply all that to what you do and how that impacts others. 

Branding tools for everyone…

Linkedin, Facebook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Face to Face Meetings, Telephone Calls, Coffee meetings Emails, Blogs, Articles, Seminars, Conferences, Public Presentations, Teaching opportunities, Volunteering opportunities… These are all part of the personal branding tool-kit. How many of these are you using purposefully today to manage and sustain your chosen brand characteristics? Social media may have made it easier for you to develop your reputation, but once you have built it, you also need to nurture and protect it. Choose your tools (shields) wisely!

Go Fast, Turn Left…

The topic for this weekend’s #USBlogs post “What are you afraid of, and (more importantly), what are you doing about it?” was suggested by @donfperkins

Like many, I share a few traditional and customary fears:

  • I have a healthy interest in keeping my feet on the floor (rather than attached to the end of a fully stretched bungee cord or beneath a billowing piece of silk)
  • I am mildly arachnophobic, which I reportedly share with up to 55% of western women and 18% of western men.
  • I prefer not to walk in unlit areas late at night
  • I have to look the other way when being punctured by a hypodermic

But none of those things really interfere with my day to day or professional life.

The number one thing I am afraid of is that when all is said and done, what I have done won’t make a lasting difference.

As a parent, I worry about the impact I have on my kids, and how I can make sure that they become all that they can be. We are all doing it (parenting that is) for the first time, without a backup plan. To counteract my fear, I long ago wrote myself a guideline for the kinds of adults I hope my kids will become : caring, nurturing, intelligent, questioning, hard working etc. It made me realise the values I wanted to instill in my kids and the personality traits I would most admire in them as adults. The minor arguments and challenges over things that don’t really matter; like finishing all the food on their plate, drinking another can of pop or what clothes they wear, now get weighed against how that particular battle will contribute to the kind of adult they will become. Having a goal-plan allows me to focus on the bigger picture and not get drawn into every little scrap. From a professional standpoint, and as leaders, we all need to learn to do the same. Focus on the bigger picture and allow the noise and distractions that happen around us every day to colour our actions only to the extent they have an impact on our future.

The other thing I am afraid of is getting too comfortable and set in my ways.

The more success we achieve professionally, the more vital it is to acknowledge the enormous value of learning and stretching in areas where you are least comfortable. Paradoxically, it is also when we feel most pressure to be infallible. As a Director, VP or even a C-Level executive, you still cannot afford to stop learning and growing from those around you. That said, you do need to maintain a presence with your followers which inspires their confidence and loyal commitment. Over the last few years I have done a few things to ensure that I don’t fall prey to the silencing pressure of my own accomplishments. I have worked with external mentors to candidly explore areas where I could stretch and grow. My mentors have ranged from those I have worked with in the past to those I have actively sought out to purposefully chart unmapped areas of expertise. I have placed myself in relationships of trust to openly discuss where inexperience and hesitancy might be holding me back. The value of a third party perspective to the learning opportunities you might find yourself in enable you to extrapolate to general rules and methods to use again and again.

My Son, skating recently in Toronto

Some of the best learning opportunities come from facing fear and pushing yourself all the way to the point of failure! Only then do you know just how far you can go. That is why many of us put ourselves in extreme situations, to see just how capable we really are. I do this in my life by taking on new skills outside of my professional capacity, to stay grounded to the need to learn and grow. The skill I took on this year was speed-skating. My son took up the sport in 2009 and I decided it was time for mum to stop sitting in the stands and start taking a more active interest. Our club has members from age 6 to 78 and one of our older skaters only started speed skating at age 70 and went on to win a slew of medals! Having barely strapped on a pair of skates before, I took to the ice last September. I cannot profess to be record-breaking fast, but a few months later I am proudly traversing the ice in crouched position with smooth sideways strokes and cross-overs, accomplished only because I learned to let go and push myself to beyond the point of failure (with several bruises to show for it)! Next year I may even quell my fears long enough to enter a race or two!  I find learning new skills where I have to fail in order to succeed a great lesson in humility and a constant reminder to stay fresh in my thinking at work. How can I push past the point of comfort to unveil new methods. What’s my workplace equivalent of Go Fast, Turn Left…?

In her famous book “Feel the fear and do it anyway” Susan Jeffers shared 5 Truths about fear:

  • Truth 1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow
  • Truth 2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
  • Truth 3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it.
  • Truth 4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
  • Truth 5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

I am proud to fear… It inspires me to keep learning. How do your fears push you?

This post is part of the #usblogs: Week 5 Round-Up Topic of the week: “What Are You Afraid Of? More Importantly, What Are You Doing about It?”

Check out these other blogs in the network series:

You’ da man! (building your offline ‘Klout’)

When “Building your offline Klout” was announced as the theme for week 3 of the #UsGuys #UsBlogs weekend blogging challenge, I was initially uncertain which direction to take…

Is the topic suggestive of building your network, establishing your personal brand, raising your profile or becoming a trusted authority? That I immediately started to think of different ways to take the discussion shows what a great topic choice this is! Thanks to @DanPerezFilms for the idea!

The fact is, the concepts of klout, influence, personal presence, sway and authority all existed long before the invention of social media and algorithms. Your measure as a professional is often less about what you say you do, and more about what others say and think about you. With a hat tip to #UsGuys everywhere, You’ Da Man! can apply to anyone!  Just a fun way of saying you’re cool, you’re reliable, you’re knowledgeable, you always get the job done… etc. However you want to describe it, do you do the things which set you aside as an individual and as a professional so that people trust in what you have to say?

So what are some of the things you can do to establish your personal brand and reputation in the ‘real’ world?

My first and most obvious answer to this question is simply “Deliver”… There are no shortcuts to developing a strong reputation and job number one is:

Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.

Realizing that’s just a tad simplistic and facetious, I decided to dig further into my coaching tool set and figure out the most important steps I tell people who are trying to develop their professional reputation.

Focus on relationships

Personal brand and reputation will develop as a by-product of the things you do. Focus on meeting people, building relationships, having conversations, getting to understand everything you can about the people you meet etc. Stay connected to people you qualified alongside. Make strong connections with people in your peer group and be a supporter to each other as you develop professionally. The relationships you build now will be the foundation of your social currency in the future.

Voluntary acts of help

When you meet new people, explore what their interests are and where they are heading in terms of their professional career. Then surprise them by asking how you can help them get there. It seems counter intuitive but by offering to help someone move ahead, you become a far more trustworthy companion for the ride. Its an example of what Chris Brogan and Julien Smith might call a Trust Agent move. The other day I met with a Journalist from Canadian Lawyer Magazine (after sending him an email referencing his recent articles & inviting him for a coffee). We explored how he gets his ideas and what his views are on the challenges affecting the Legal profession. I also asked him what’s next for him in his career path. My intent was genuine curiousity and understanding of the individual but the outcome is increased trust and warmth in the relationship.

Give and Take

Building personal influence is a two-way venture. It is intensely irritating and unappealing to watch people cut through a room, making a beeline only for the people they believe are the most important and influential, and dismissing others on the way. These are the same people who make every conversation about them. Who are less interested in learning and more interested in making sure everyone knows they are in the building. I’m sorry but you will never be “da man!’ to me with that approach. I don’t care how important you believe you are. If you haven’t got time for the up and comers and the people who move in different social networks than you do, your learning will exist in ever decreasing circles. If you have to tell everyone how important you are….

Mix it up

It is easy to forget that you are the common denominator or connecting point to many people who might benefit from getting to know each other. Maybe they are in complimentary businesses, maybe they are in similar roles or career transition points. The fact is that the people in your network would very likely benefit from meeting each other!  Set up coffee or lunch with small groups (4-5 people max) where you can introduce and cross-pollinate your network circles. They will get to know each other and you can get to learn more about them by observing the connection from a new perspective.

Be consistent, reliable, authentic

The impact of networks and building your professional reputation is cumulative. Networks build over time and can crumble when you stop building and managing them properly. Stay connected and keep reaching out to understand and help others. I see many people who have developed an enormous amount of goodwill and social influence through a long and illustrious career, but then rely on the celebrity of their past to secure their future. Sorry – not good enough! Maybe you were a big deal once, but you have to keep working at it to continue being a big deal. Just look at the backwash that’s happened towards Malcolm Gladwell following his February 2nd post in The New Yorker – Does Egypt Need Twitter? Once the media darling for game changing works like “The Tipping Point”, now people wonder if he’s keeping up.

Don’t try too hard

If you are only ever focused on doing things because they may raise your credibility factor, it comes across as insincere and self-serving. You cannot ‘game’ real life klout.

One persons guru is another person’s fool…

Not everyone you meet with will ‘get’ you. Some just won’t find you credible or worthy of the attention you appear to get from others. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes your efforts to connect with them will crash and burn and they will resist your charms. Accept it and move on. You’ll never have 100% klout with everyone.

I’d love to hear what you think. Got any other ways you like to build your offline reputation?

To Dan Perez for suggesting this topic for #UsBlogs week 3 – You’ da man! Click here for Dan’s original post on raising your offline Klout. Outstanding!

Updated with the WEEK 3 ROUND-UP  – BUILDING YOUR OFFLINE KLOUT via Brand Directions

The End of the Visionary? Leadership in 21st Century

It wasn’t that long ago that being a leader meant being the most assertive, driven, autocratic and demanding person in the room. Exemplary leaders of the last few centuries have been innovators, thought leaders and icons with unshakably confidence in the direction they were leading their business. One can only imagine how intimidating and exhilarating it must have been to have the opportunity for an ‘audience’ with such a Chief. Indeed, who needed Klout, in a time when reportedly the likes of Jack Welch and Steve Jobs could cast their vote on your future success within seconds of meeting you, and watch lists of the Top 40 under 40 either made or broke your career aspirations.

In fact, many tomes still espouse the ideal scenario of the leader who sets a clear vision for the future and then works with his/her team to steer all efforts in that singular direction. Many discussions on change management continue to perpetuate the myth that all it takes to motivate people is to paint such a compelling and aspirational image of the future that people are eager to jump on board and do whatever it takes to get there.

Then Jim Collins set a ball rolling with the epic “Good to Great” suggestion that charismatic, celebrity leaders may not provide the greatest return on investment for their organizations. The humbler, more humanistic level 5 leader become an interesting dichotomy for those who aspired to the corner office enough to read Collin’s book. People started to question if unwavering (some might call dogmatic) determination to set a strategic direction and then continue to pursue the vision come hell or high water was the most appropriate model for business success.

Along with the shift introduced by Collins, has come a not-to-be-ignored groundswell of people looking for more purpose in their work.  Gen Y’s demands to be heard, the Linchpin’s drum beat of contribution, the Free-Agent and Drive nation stating that if their leaders wont recognize their talents they will up sticks and move elsewhere. All have crescendoed into the emergence of a new type of leader – The Leader as Facilitator.

The current batch of leaders to inspire a generation are clearly still assertive and confident in their own intellect and creativity. But there is space in their hearts and their egos for the contributions of others. They collaborate. They recognize and admit the areas where they are not strong and seek openly to complement their absence of strengths by working with others. They seek input, take direction and listen and support the ideas of others, sometimes in preference to their own. When they have a clear idea of what they’d like to do – they share it. When they are missing pieces of information, they state clearly what they know and where the gaps are and they ASK for help.

So, are you a 21st Century Leader?

  • When you are working with others, do you openly admit what you don’t know and seek help?
  • Do you appreciate and value the contributions of others, even when their views and approaches may be diametrically opposed to your own.
  • Do you welcome diversity of thinking and behaviour and see it as an opportunity to learn a new perspective?
  • Do you take accountability for your actions, and the impact you have on others around you? (intended or otherwise)
  • Do you promote and encourage others to think for themselves, try new things, experiment and even fail – without stepping in and trying to ‘correct’ them?
  • If people try, and stumble, do you support the learning they have accomplished?
  • Are you open to learning from those who are younger, less experienced or less educated than you are?
  • Are you willing to show your vulnerability, and your lack of knowledge, in order to open the door for new possibilities?

I know which kind of leader I aspire to be. And like the best role models I have had the pleasure to work with, I admit… I am a work in progress.  Long may I continue to learn and collaborate!

p.s. THANKS #UsGuys for the #UsBlogs challenge which inspires this post!  I look forward to reading the other posts & attaching their links as an update.

(Updated with the extended Roundup, Thanks Tom!)