How to Get Your Team Focused on Solutions Rather Than Talking About the Problem

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Problems. There never seems to be a lack of them. And there is never any lack of people that want to obsess over them! And when I say obsess I really mean that they are stuck TALKING about the problem as they are not working on a solution.

If we are honest, we are all guilty of indulging in this behavior from time to time. We know it is not helpful and yet we still get sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity at LeaderShift One Day Intensivetimes. Recent brain research gives us some insight into why this is and what we can do about it.

Research on how the brain deals with positive and negative stimuli published in an article in Psychology Today  gives us some insight into why we get so stuck in the negative. It should come as no surprise that our brains are more impacted by the negative. What is surprising is that the ratio of positive to negative stimuli needs to be at least 5:1 in order to maintain a balance in our relationships. This may explain why leaders tend to try to overwhelm their teams with positive ‘how we can’ information when their team wants to talk about ‘why we can’t. Unfortunately all that positivity falls of deaf ears, and the team may eventually writes of the leader as disconnected from reality. And that leads us to Deadly Sin #4.

Leadership Deadly Sin #4: Allow People to Focus on Things They can Neither Control Nor Influence

There is a lot riding on whether you can get your team’s focus on solutions rather than problems. It will come as no surprise to you that your success as a leader is directly proportional to your ability to get your team to focus on what they can do, rather than on what they cannot. The question is HOW. In order to answer this question, we need to first look at a mental model of how problems interact with what we can control and what we can influence.

Your Circle of Control (COC):
Although we may try to control many different things in our lives, there are only two that we can exert complete control over; our thoughts and our actions. No matter how talented you are you cannot control your results, and you definitely cannot control another person. As a individual contributor you may have felt that you were in control of your results, but you really were not. You just were using your talents, skill and experience to create positive results. Once you become a leader you now are responsible for the results of others, but you have even less control because you are one step removed from the activity that creates results.

While you may not be able to control people, circumstances and results – you can influence them.

Your Circle of Influence (COI):A second larger concentric circle is your Circle of Influence. This circle encompasses people you have strong relationships with, some events that occur, and some circumstances you encounter. There are other people, events and circumstances that you have little or no influence over that would be outside your COI. While the Circle of Control is static (it does does change), the Circle of Influence is dynamic – it will grow or shrink depending on how you deal with Problems that come into your life.

Problems:
We define a Problem as a person, event or circumstance that you have some influence over. There are actually two parts to any problem. The first is the part that you have some control of influence over. The second part of the problem is the part that you have no control or influence over.

If you chose to focus and take action on the part of the Problem that you have some influence over, then you will feel empowered and you will experience growth in your capabilities and results. In addition, over time your Circle of Influence will grow; and people, events and circumstances that were previously outside of your Circle of Influence will now fall within your new Circle of Influence.

Unfortunately, many people choose to focus on the part of the Problem they have no influence over. This is initially very liberating, as blame for the problem can be assigned elsewhere. However, over time this focus will lead to a decrease in growth and eventual decay of an individual’s Circle of Influence.

How to Change Your Team’s Focus:

In order to shift a team member’s focus off the part of the Problem they have no influence over you must do something that is completely alien to most leaders. You have to agree with them and stop arguing with them. In other words, when they say “We can’t because … insert reason here” we would normally say “But you could do … insert solution here.” This amounts to an argument with your employee. It’s an argument it would appear you eventually win, because they may capitulate and appear to be committed. However you almost always will find that they do not change.

What if you tried this. Next time when a team member says “We can’t because … insert reason here” say “You are absolutely correct, that is why we can’t do it.”

Then stop. Don’t talk. It will absolutely pop their navel. They were expecting an argument but you a agreed with them. They don’t understand. And so they will be listening to what you say next.

The Magic Moment:

Now you have their attention say: “I have a different question for you though… What could you do that would positively impact the situation?”

Do you notice what happened? We moved from why they can’t – to what they could do. However, we did not ask them to do it – just to entertain the possibility. Now that you have them discussing what they could do you can engage in a conversation about can actually happen.

So next time you notice that your team is focused on ‘why they can’t’ do what needs to be done – don’t overpower them with positive solutions. Redirect their focus with a question like, “What part of this Problem do you have control or influence over? Once you identify the part of the Problem that they have some control or influence over, then coach the person to set goals and action steps in that area.

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How to Make Sure You Receive Feedback That Guarantees Results

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In the last blog post (How to Avoid the Most Common Error Leaders Make When Setting Goals) I recommended you set a goal that you were absolutely passionate about achieving, one that you most likely do not know how to achieve. I am also going to challenge you to write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it multiple times each day. If you do this, you will find that you will have one of three experiences as you review your goal:

  1. You will find yourself thinking about how to make it happen.
  2. You will ignore the goal because you cannot figure out how to make it happen.
  3. You will start hiding the goal because people keep asking you what it’s all about – and you are embarrassed because of #2.

Most people would not say they are ‘ignoring’ the goal. We just get very busy with all the urgent matters that we already DO know how to do. The end result is the same though – we lose focus on the important because we are preoccupied with the here and now.

What about hiding your goal from others because you’re embarrassed? It is natural for human beings to only want to focus on goals they know how to achieve. In fact, most of us don’t like having questions that we do not have the answer to. We certainly do not want to bring attention to the fact that we do not know how to achieve our goals! However, it is been our experience that success in life is has more to do with asking the right questions than having all the right answers. In fact, you can almost always find the right answer once you have asked the right question!

The key is to know what questions to ask – and who to ask those questions to. And that brings us to Leadership Deadly Sin #2.

Deadly Sin #2: Solicit feedback from people just like you.

One of the consistent challenges we find with leaders is that when they set a goal, or experience a challenge that they are not sure how to resolve, they either do not ask for advice or they ask for advice from the wrong people.

You may ask: Why would a successful leader have a tendency not to want to ask for advice? Most people will go to great lengths to give the impression that they know what they are doing. In addition to this, there is the socially accepted vision of a leader being a strong individual who always seems to have all the answers. So the idea of admitting you don’t have all the answers flies in the face of all socially accepted norms of leadership. It is been our experience (and the research bears this out) that the most exceptional leaders are humble individuals that admit when they don’t have all the answers. (At the very least those are the types of leaders almost everyone would prefer to work with.)

Who should you seek advice from?

When leaders do seek out advice, they tend to seek it out from people who are just like them. Now, I do not mean that they only seek advice from other leaders. What I mean is that they tend to seek the advice from leaders who approach challenges much the way they do.

Lets consider the example of an “accountability” or “task” focused leader. Let’s also assume that this leader is struggling with the ‘engagement level’ of his employees. In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is highly focused on holding employees accountable to reach their goals. What the leader may need to do is support her employees in the learning associated with the very behavior changes that would eventually drive results. It has been our experience that  an “accountability” focused leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also more accountability focused. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of engagement, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from that conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.

LeaderShift One Day IntensiveConversely, consider the example of a leader has a more “supportive” or “people-oriented” view. This type of leader has a tendency to empathize with the people they are seeking to lead. The most common complaint from this type of leader is that his employees seem to ignore his ‘requests’ for increases in performance, In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is so busy ‘empathizing’ with his people that he is not holding them accountable for the required behavior change. It has been our experience that  a “supportive” leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also supportive. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of accountability, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from a conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.

Sound familiar?

Now, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the insight we require often resides with the people who have a different perspective than us. So why don’t we do it more often? Because when we ask someone for advice and they turn the ‘mirror of responsibility’ back on us, it makes us very uncomfortable. And so, we ignore them and seek the soft comfort of those who ‘understand’ the problem the way we see it.

As a leader, you need to seek out advice and input from people who are very different from you and  your leadership style. And these won’t be comfortable conversations. But they will drive you to look at things differently, change your perspective and you’ll learn from the  dialogue.

So how about you?

Do you have a tendency to seek advice from people who are just like you? Or do you actively pursue dialogue with people who  challenge your perspective of the situation?

Here’s your next assignment:

  1. Keep your goal posted where you’ll see it multiple times each day.
  2. As you interact with other leaders in your organization, start asking them what you could do differently to move your group in the direction of that goal.

And, if you ask for advice from the right people – get ready for some pain.

Next we will look at how to make sure the team we seek to lead is focused on the right things.
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WHAT CAN YOUR ALARM CLOCK TEACH YOU ABOUT LEADERSHIP?

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What can you learn from your alarm clock about leadership? It turns out quite a bit.

This scene is played out in almost every household across the nation each morning:

The alarm clock goes off to alert you that it is time to get up. At that point there is a battle that takes place between the the rational side of you that wants to get up (and get a head start on the day) – and the emotional side that wants nothing more than just a few more minutes of sleep. I won’t ask you which one normally wins – or how many times the ‘snooze’ button gets slapped in your household. Suffice it to say that the fact that there is a snooze button tells us everything we need to know!

Enter the Clocky, an invention of an MIT student by the name of Gauri Nanda. As you can see, it is no ordinary alarm clock. Once set, it will go off at the prescribed time just like any other alarm clock. But that is where the similarities stop. Once the alarm goes off, the Clocky rolls off your bedside table and away from your reach. Imagine how hilarious it would be to watch someone chasing one of these around the room in attempt to silence it! But wait – what on earth does this have to do with leadership? Well, I’m glad you asked…

It turns out that the Clocky is a perfect analogy for what happens in human psychology whenever we are asked to do something that we rationally believe to be beneficial, but that is in conflict with our emotional side. The unavoidable conclusion is that when we say we need to ‘make up our mind about what we need to do’ – we really should say ‘we need to make up both our minds’ – the rational and the emotional. Unfortunately the rational side is typically overwhelmed by the sheer power of the emotional side. The emotional side of you is the part that is instinctive and feels both pain and pleasure – and it tends to be governed by HABIT. The rational side of you is what we would refer to as the intellectual or conscious mind. This is the part of you that thinks and (in theory) makes decisions. The crazy part of this is that all decisions made in the conscious mind must first pass thru the filter of the emotional mind before we can take action. In order for the conscious mind to win there needs to be a crisis that reinforces the need for change, or a lot of repetition (hence the prevalence of the snooze button).

So how do we use this knowledge to lead more effectively?

While we all know that it is relatively hard for us to change our own habits, we tend to underestimate the lock that our employees’ habits have on their behavior patterns. Because of this we tend to frame logical reasons to our employees why they should change. While I am not saying that we should throw logic aside – it is without a doubt an important and necessary element of any change initiative – I am saying that convincing the rational mind of the importance of a change is actually the easy part. The harder part of any change is getting a person to change their habits.

There is normally only one time of year that most people give any attention to changing their habits: New Years Eve. Although many people have given up on the fruitless ritual of the New Year’s Resolution, others cling to the dim hope that the new year will help them overwhelm the power of habit and they will indeed change for the better.

How to change any habit:

Changing a habit is one of the hardest things you will ever do, however it does not have to be as laced with failure as it normally is. Here is a simple strategy that you can follow to help yourself or an employee increase the likelihood of success:

  1. Focus on the root cause of our frustration – which is likely a HABIT not a bunch of tasks that needs to be completed. For example, if you have a messy desk and it bothers you (I say this because it does not bother everyone!) – do not set a goal to clean your desk. It will only be messy again in no time. Instead focus on the HABIT that is generating the messy desk, likely that you tend to dump things on the desk rather than putting them away.
  2. Identify ONE habit that needs to change. This is of course not what we normally do – we normally get so frustrated that we identify a whole raft of changes that need to happen. This almost assures failure before we even start the process. Since most people struggle to change even one habit at a time we must find a way to focus them on that one change.
  3. Follow up relentlessly until either change occurs or you determine that the change will not occur. If you determine that this one habit cannot change and it is critically important to the success of the role, then it is immaterial if other habits change or not.
  4. Back out of the follow up cycle slowly ensuring that there is adequate positive reinforcement and then identify what needs to change next.

By following this strategy you can overwhelm the emotional mind with your consistency of follow up. In essence you have (for a short period of time) become a Clocky – a constant reminder of HOW the change needs to happen – but definitely NOT just a reminder that it has not yet happened.

Now let’s get started! What HABIT would help you be more successful? If you are unsure you might want to try attending our next Webinar “The 7 Deadly Sins Of Leadership & How to Avoid Them” and you will then have 7 to choose from!

Here’s to your success!

Andrew

We have found that most leaders are frustrated that they experience the same problems day after day. At the LeaderShift One Day Intensive we teach leaders a process that helps them create a Performance Acceleration Plan so that they radically accelerate their business results. To learn more click here or on the icon below.
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The Ultimate Coaching Question

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Some years ago I was teaching influencing skills to a group of sales professionals. As you can imagine, there was a diversity of experience, tenure and talent in the room. At one of the breaks, a senior salesperson approached me to let me know why he was less than interested in the subject we were covering. He explained that he was really just trying to make it to retirement. When I asked how many years he had ‘left’ until he retired, he replied ‘five’.

Before I share my response to him, I want to share that beyond knowing that he was a slightly below average performer, I had no specific knowledge of his situation. However, I did not need to. His attitude toward growth and change told me everything I needed to know about what the next 5 years held for him: A slow decline in his sales numbers and increasing frustration with higher expectations of the company.

He looked like a really nice guy. I wanted to help him avoid what I saw looming on the horizon and I knew he couldn’t see it. He was assuming the next 5 years would be just like the last 5. I knew it wasn’t. The pace of change continues to accelerate, and the only antidote to that acceleration is to learn and grow. Coasting into retirement for 5 years in most occupations is just not an option.

I also knew he wasn’t really interested in what I had to say. I had to get his attention.

So I looked him straight in the eye and said: “I don’t think you are going to make it.”

Now I had his attention. He wanted to know what I knew – was he being fired? “Of course not” I replied. That started a coaching interaction that continued over the next few months, and at the end of our time together he thanked me for the wake up call.

I am pretty sure that this salesperson’s manager knew what was happening with him – he just did not know how to engage him in away that would continue him in a pattern of positive growth. And not all individuals are as transparent about their intentions. Some individual’s motivations may be like a mystery to you.

I have heard leaders say that certain employees are just not motivated. That is of course not true. They just are not motivated to do what the leader wants them to do.

As a leader you will typically have 3 types of individuals on your team:

  1. The Engaged: These individuals are always looking to learn and grow. They have a great attitude and work ethic. You know who these people are. They are the ones you want to hire more of. They are ones you worry about losing to another job or opportunity.
  2. The Disengaged: These individuals are not interested in learning or growing. The typically do not have a great work ethic and tend to be a magnet that pulls people down. They are the ones that aren’t always poor performers, however they definitely pull the morale of the team down.
  3. The Uncertain: This tends to be the biggest group on any team. Some days they are engaged, and some days they are not. They seem to be very susceptible to what is happening around them, both to the circumstances they find themselves in, and the people they interact with.

As a general rule, it is the Uncertain that we must win over to being more engaged. They are the biggest group, so moving them to being more engaged is a huge win. Unfortunately, it is always easier to pull people down than lift them up, and therefore the Disengaged can have a lot of influence with this group.

How do you Know who wants to Grow?

Have you ever seen an employee that appeared to lack motivation and had mediocre performance, take off like a rocket when they were transferred, or were assigned to a new boss? Motivation is different for different people, and although it is true that motivation is an inside job, there are times when the work environment or some other issue the employee is dealing with can make them less than motivated.

Unfortunately this leads many managers to ask “Why can’t I find more motivated employees”? It’s a reasonable question, however it is a question that will not lead you to a productive answer.

A better question is “How do I motivate more of my team to be more engaged?”

I asked that question some years back and found what I consider to be the ultimate coaching question. We refer to this question with our clients as the Future Focus Question. Do not be deceived by it’s simplicity. Here it is:

“If we were sitting here 3 years from today, and you were telling me the story of those three years… What would need to happen both personally and professionally for you to be absolutely passionate about that story?”

Let’s take this question a little bit at a time so that we can investigate just how powerful it is:

  1. In order for a person to answer this question there must be some level of trust with the person doing the asking. The question is a window into your personal and professional dreams. You will not share this information with someone that you are not sure you can trust. If they will not answer, you need to step back and build additional trust in the relationship.
  2. It is Future Focused. Too many of us get stuck reliving the past. If your best days are in your past then the future is not something to be excited about. Engaged employees are excited about what is coming next. Often it is our job as a leader to re-engage people in imagining a future they can be passionate about.
  3. It has a time frame fo 3 years. There is something magical about 3 years. It is long enough to be able to dream a little, but not so long to allow idealism. it is long enough to allow is to learn new things that will allow for greater achievements, but not long enough for us to waste time before getting started.
  4. We are asking the employee to imagine that this future has already occurred. Visualization is a powerful technique to start the mind envisioning paths to our goals.
  5. We are asking them to tell us what would make them passionate. Not happy. Not satisfied. Passionate. That is not a word that we use in business a lot. But passion is where all the juice in life is.
  6. We are asking about both sides of their life – both personally and professionally. the truth is that many employees may not see a lot of motivation in the work they do. In many cases their motivation to work is outside work. It may be their outside interests or their kids and spouse. In some cases they may wish to switch jobs. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that you as their boss take an active interest in helping them achieve that future.

I had a leader one time ask me whether this approach might lead to people leaving his team?

The answer of course is that everyone leaves eventually. The question is,  do you want highly motivated employees for a shorter time or do you want disengaged employees for a longer time.

For more information on how to lead effectively and motivate thru mastering the art of leadership, register now for our complimentary webinar: The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership (& How to Avoid Them)

How to Make Subjective Feedback Objective

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Some years ago an executive coaching client ‘George’ (not his real name) related to me a particularly difficult challenge he was facing. George was struggling because Sam (also not his real name – but you knew that didn’t you?) was failing in his role as a senior leader. When I asked George what the results were like in Sam’s group, he replied that they were exceeding plan. When I asked how that was possible, he replied that the role was so critical that he had been doing Sam’s job for him for some time.

George was faced with a problem: How do you deal with an underperforming leader when their objective results are strong – even if you know that they are not the reason those results are strong. In other words, your feedback is Subjective rather than Objective, and could be viewed as your opinion.

Even Objective Feedback has a Subjective Component:

In some cases you can show an employee that objective performance metrics are not where they need to be. That is not to say that they will always agree on their performance being the cause of the metric being less than desirable – but at least you have a solid starting point for the conversation. Note: For more information on handling these type of conversations see How to Avoid Defensiveness When Providing Feedback and Can You Really Get Someone to Change.

Even in the case of incontrovertible objective evidence, leaders are often unable, or unwilling, to see the connection between their operational results and their own leadership skills and/or behavior.

The Solution: You Have to Make Your Subjective Feedback Objective

Since so many of our coaching conversations revolve around subjective feedback, we created a process called Making the Subjective Objective™. Let’s use an example to show how it works:

One of your supervisors is having difficulty driving operational results. You can see that he is not engaging in effective coaching behaviors. Instead, he seems to take great pride in solving operational issues himself. This is lowering overall morale and engagement level in the team. Since he can only be in one place at a time, response times have extended and problems seem to pile up. This has caused him to complain about not being able to find skilled and hard working employees. You have tried to broach the subject of improving his coaching skills but he feels that he is already a pretty good coach.

Sound familiar?

In this case there is a mismatch between his perception of his skill level and what you believe his skill level to be. In other words – your feedback is subjective in nature.

Try Making the Subjective Objective

Ask the supervisor to rate their coaching skill from zero to ten. Note: We use zero because no one can confuse that with a good score.

If the supervisor gives himself rates anywhere from zero to eight, they are indicating that there is a possibility that they could improve. The challenge we fall into here is that we get hung up on the rating being correct – at least in our opinion. This desire for a correct score misses the point. What we want is for them to acknowledge there is a GAP between where they are and where they could be. So if they think they are a 7, and you think they are a 2; who cares? They have admitted that there is an opportunity for growth. So don’t get hung up

Once they have admitted there is a GAP and therefore there is an opportunity for growth – ask “What would a 10 look like?”

In some cases they may have some ideas of where they could improve. In other cases you may have to provide some ideas for them. In either case you have an opportunity to ask them to commit to those changes.

But what if they rate themselves a 9 or a 10?

This is the tougher scenario. Even a 9 is a 10 in disguise – they just did not want to seem arrogant. In this case, you have to have a candid conversation with them that you do not believe that their evaluation is correct. In some scenarios the person may never have worked for someone that has been willing to give them candid feedback, and while painful, your feedback could be a critical step in their career development. In other cases it may may a case of a lack of humility. And humility is one of the hardest traits to coach – and that will have to wait for another day!

 

How to Avoid Defensiveness When Providing Feedback

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when feedback failsOne of the most difficult challenges we must deal with as leaders is the fact that some people would rather blame others for their results, rather than place at least part of the blame where it certainly belongs: with themselves. We even have a term for this: Defensiveness.

When I speak with leaders there is an almost universal agreement that this is one of the core challenges that they deal with on a daily basis.

Whether you are speaking with a family member, a peer, or an employee: we are providing feedback to help that person make progress. And yet often that ‘help’ is viewed negatively and discounted by the person we are seeking to assist. Too often they seem preoccupied with deflecting responsibility onto someone or something else.

The challenge that you must overcome when providing feedback to another person, is that your ideas (feedback) conflicts with the way they see the situation – even if they believe that you have their best interests in mind. Complicating matters, research shows that a majority of employees would actually trust a stranger more than their boss. Ouch – I know. I’m not saying that lack of trust is warranted or appropriate, however it could be true that your relationship with the person your are attempting to give feedback to is strained.

How the Brain Experiences Feedback

We tend to believe that since our feedback contains useful information, providing that information to another person it will accelerate their learning. Recent research shows that the opposite is true. There are at least two reasons for this:

The first reason for this is that we make a number of assumptions about the superiority of our understanding of the problem that the person is experiencing. We communicate this superiority through our lack of questions about how they see the problem. Whether or not you do understand their situation better than they do or not – that is not the issue. The issue is that you have cast yourself in a superior role and that is almost always going to cause a defensive reaction.

The second reason that feedback often does not accelerate learning is that when we are presented with a new idea – or at least one that conflicts with what we believe to be true, we have a choice to make. We can choose to learn from that idea or we can choose to attack that idea and defend what we know to be true.

But we cannot do both. At least not at the same time.

Now if we were to be honest, we would have to agree that it is hard to be open minded about ideas that conflict with what our experience has shown us to be true.  So our natural reaction is to defend our own perception of the ‘truth’.

When providing feedback to others, what we really want is for them to be open minded – in other words we want their mind to be open to the possibility that they could learn and that the idea may actually help them. Unfortunately, our process for getting them to change their minds is flawed.

Instead of opening their minds to the possibility that their understanding of what is happening is flawed, we instead encourage the very defensiveness that frustrates our ability to assist them in making a positive change. In other words, we try to argue people into changing their minds. Rarely does this work, so we up the ante and increase the volume and intensity of our dialogue. Even if this results in a temporary change in behavior – it is too often short lived, and the person reverts to their previous behavior pattern.

A Better Model For Feedback

So then how do we coach positive change in another person?

It is actually easier than you may think.

As a leader, we are often told to ‘walk the talk’ or ‘model that which we expect from others’.

Unfortunately, we tend to interpret this in the narrowest sense – we should arrive on time if we want others to do so, we should work hard if we want others too etc. While all of these habits are a great start – they are really just the price of admission to being able to ‘lead effectively’.

So what should we do?

The answer is to model the very behaviors we desire in those we seek to lead. So, if we want people to be in ‘learning’ mode rather than ‘defensive’ mode – we need to model that behavior ourselves.

Think of a time when you last experienced defensiveness from someone. Did you you model being in ‘learning’ mode? Or did you argue with them and attempt to convince them that your feedback would help them? Did you ask questions with a desire to understand their point of view, or did you ask questions with an eye to uncover where their logic was flawed?

The question is – are you in ‘learning’ mode when they you are interacting with the people you need to model the behavior for? That’s when it counts – they need to see you making an effort to learn (interpret this as understand) their perspective on a change you are seeking them to make.

Try this experiment next time you are faced with defensiveness from another person: Set aside the need to be right, and ask questions to understand their perspective. That does not mean they are right, and you should accept their answers as facts. However it does mean that you listen and really try to understand why they feel the way they do. You will find that the emotion in the dialogue decreases, they open up and you actually can have a conversation rather than an argument.

Consider this: When we are in ‘defensive’ mode we are almost always talking. When we are in ‘learning’ mode we are almost always listening. So, to model ‘learning’ behavior we must listen. Only then will you understand how the other person sees the issue.

So how about you: When you are seeking to change the behavior of another person do you do most of the talking – or most of the listening?

How Much Influence Do You Really Have?

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Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

Today’s organizations are increasing characterized by cross functional teams or a matrix structure. In this environment, leaders can rarely achieve their goals by relying on the individuals that are part of their own reporting group. In nearly every case, a leader’s ability to do their job and deliver on the promises they make is dependent on the cooperation of individuals that they have no authority over. Not to mention the fact that often we need to collaborate with vendors and partners outside the company we work for.

In fact, your formal title and the authority that comes with it will only take you so far in today’s workplace. Without question the most relevant skill to address this challenge is the skill of Influence.

At The Oxley Group define we define the amount of influence you have as the inverse of the amount of positional power required to get anything done. The challenge for most leaders is that it is very hard to assess the amount of influence you have with another person. That is at least unless you know how.

Warning Signs

Here are a few warning signs that perhaps the your ‘influence’ muscle could use some work:

  1. You find your work is sometimes stalled because of your reliance on the response from individuals that do not report to you.
  2. It is hard to get people to return calls and emails.
  3. You are not invited to meetings where you perceive your input would have been helpful, or your would have desired your input to be heard.
  4. People rarely ask for your input.
  5. You rarely receive candid negative feedback – even when it is solicited.

Even the most capable leader needs to constantly monitor their current level of influence if they want to ensure maximum contribution and effectiveness.

The Influence Audit

In order to assess the amount of influence you have with the individuals that are critical to your success, perform the following audit:

  1. List the individuals that have the most impact on your ability to get work completed.
  2. Assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ to each contact based on how critical they are to your success.
  3. Assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ to each contact based on how much value they provide to you. Value includes support, timeliness, and accessibility. Do not assess your perception of their ‘skill’ as part of this equation.
  4. Now take each individual and assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ based on how much value you provide to them.

As you look at the scores you may see some immediate areas you need to address. Here are a few Challenges you may recognize in your scores:

Challenge #1: You have individuals that are critical to your success (question #2) however you rated them low on value they provide (question #3)

This a red flag that you may have an issue with Influence with these individuals. Consider how you can build your influence through the value you provide to them. Is the only time they hear from you when you need something? What skill do you have, or that you could develop, that you could proactively utilize to provide value to them. Have you spent time getting to know them as a person? Do you know what is important to them?

If you rated their value low and you suspect that they lack the skill for what you are asked them to do, that is a perfect opportunity to build influence by assisting them develop that skill. Remember that they may not be particularly trusting of you at first, and you may have to spend some time building trust before they feel able to open up about the challenges they are facing.

Challenge #2: You have individuals that are critical to your success and provide great value (question 2 & 3), however you rated the value you provide low (question #4)

The good news here is that you do not have a short term problem. The bad news is that you have a long term problem: this type situation is not sustainable. If you do not address this imbalance, you will eventually find that not only will your current relationships suffer, you will gain a reputation as a person that is a ‘user’. While I have never met a leader that feels they fit this term, I know of many leaders that other people would describe this way. The solution is simple: How can you start to provide value to others? Consider projects that are outside of your formal role that you do not have to be involved in. In this way your peers will start to view you as a contributor to the success of others, even when there is not a direct benefit to you.

At some point in very leader’s career there comes a point when your success will be less dependent on your personal skill and ability than it will be on the relationships that you have created that allow you to play at a higher level.

5 Sure Fire Ways to Waste Money on Executive Coaching

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For years clients have asked me to engage in executive coaching and my answer has always been the same: NO.

Why you may ask? Because most coaching engagements are bad deals from the outset. They are doomed to failure before they even start. And since I respect my clients and always endeavor to spend their money as if it was my own, I could not ethically take money on an Indiana Jones type quest – except without any excitement or even the prospect of success.

But then I started thinking: What if you could ensure success before you start?

Crazy idea right? I mean if you were assured of success why would you even need a coach? Well, since success in leadership is not a winner takes all experience, we could accelerate a client’s path to success and help them avoid the mistakes that are too often only learned from bruised knees and running through the jungle being chased by aboriginals.  (I know, if you are under 40 and not an action movie junkie that reference was totally lost on you). Moving on…

The question is how do you ensure success prior to starting? I needed a litmus test. Since there is no such thing as a question without an answer, I soon was able to scope out a simple 5 part test that would allow me to select ONLY clients that I was assured to be successful working with. I am going to share these with you from the ‘dark side’. In other words, I am going to share with you how to make sure you waste your money – which will make the point of what you need to do to ‘not’ waste your money. Here are the 5 Sure Fire Ways to Waste Money on Executive Coaching:

#1: Invest in the wrong person for the wrong reasons.

Too often organizations decide to engage an outside coach to ‘fix’ an individual. What I mean by that, is they hire a coach to help someone play nicer in the sandbox with others. Coaching is most likely to be successful when the person being coached is very valuable to the organization’s success – both in terms of current performance and also future performance. Never choose a person that is disruptive and not particularly key to driving performance – even if they are damaging performance through their behavior.

#2: Invest in fuzzy goals.

Here is a great example of a fuzzy goal: They just need to be nicer. Nicer is not a goal.

A Litmus Test for Leaders to Learn What They REALLY Expect From Their People

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Are you frustrated with some aspect of your team’s performance? Should you be?

Even if you are leading correctly, there will be times (through no one’s fault) where the team’s performance is less than desired. At this point we have a choice – accept the current performance level from the team or work on improving the individual performance of the team members. After some period of time – since we are all creatures of habit – a pattern will emerge within your team. Some individuals will take to your coaching and make significant improvements. Some individuals will improve for a time but slip back into old behavior patterns. And some individuals will make no significant effort to change at all. Sound familiar?

This is where your leadership skill will be tested. Leaders must always be more committed to the achievement of the change than their team is committed to not making the change. Unfortunately, there are always more of them – and the process of making even a small change can be daunting! And so, the leader is faced with the challenge of working tirelessly to shift the mindset, skill set and behavior of team members that either do not want to change or are struggling with the transition.

The Power of Expectation

This is where the power of expectation comes in. People will alway respond to what we truly EXPECT from them – not what we WANT from them. Unfortunately, leaders often EXPECT what they DO NOT WANT, and WANT what they DO NOT EXPECT. Let me explain.

Take a moment and consider what you really want from your team. Are they meeting that standard of performance – whether it be subjective or objective? Now, do you really expect that they will achieve those standards? Most leaders emphatically say “YES – Of course I do!”. And yet after coaching leaders for over 20 years I can tell you than most leaders DO NOT really expect these individuals to change. Now, before you tune out – I am going to offer you incontrovertible proof of what you REALLY EXPECT from your people.

A Litmus Test For What You Really Expect

Imagine that you have two team members Harry (a super high performer) and Larry (a historically low performer).

Now imagine that Harry, who ALWAYS hits his number every month, misses one month.

Are you upset about his performance – or concerned about Harry?

Of course  you are CONCERNED. Why would you be upset? That is not what you EXPECT from Harry. And so, you inquire what is happening, and work with Harry to correct the situation.

How about Larry? Suppose Larry, who always misses his numbers every month, misses his numbers that same month.

Are you upset about his performance – or concerned about Larry?

If you are totally honest – you are UPSET about Larry’s performance. But why? Both Harry and Larry missed their numbers. However, Larry’s history predicted his performance this past month. The reason you are upset is that you WANTED something you did NOT EXPECT.

How about you? Do you have any employees that frustrate you with their level of performance? Are you truly EXPECTING a change or do you just WANT a change?

While being honest about your level of expectation does not change the performance level of anyone, it is the first step in making sure that you align your expectation with your goals, rather than lowering your expectation to meet their current performance level.

If you would like to learn more about how to radically shift your team’s results, click here to let us know and we will connect you to a coach for a complimentary coaching session! If you would like to know more our 2 Day Live Leadership Workshop click here.

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“I’ll do my best” (and other words) that should make a leader’s spine crawl

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We’ve all heard it said after coaching to improve performance – the infamous ‘I’ll do my best’ or even better – ‘I’ll try’.

OK, maybe I am a bit of a Star Wars geek, but I love the scene where Luke is ‘trying’ to use his fledgling knowledge of the ‘force’ to raise his fighter that is sinking into the swamp. He tells Yoda that he is trying and Yoda rejects him outright. Yoda tells him, “There is do, or do not. There is not try”. Well, I am not suggesting that you should dress in a ratty old cloak, grow long ears and carry a light saber. What I am suggesting is that when we allow these expressions to go unchallenged we engage in what I call ‘pretend coaching’. To really coach employees we need to dig a little deeper.

The question is : What do “I’ll do my best” and “I’ll try” really mean?

While there is no single answer to that question, I would like to suggest that these words should make your spine crawl as a leader. That is because what typically follows ‘doing your best’ or ‘I’ll try’ is, well – more of the same. So why do we pretend that our feedback was well received? If you really want to improve performance we need to first understand why these responses are so prevalent when coaching employees for change.

Here are some possible reasons for this type of ‘non response’ from an employee:

  1. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unclear about what you expect.
  2. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unsure that they can meet your expectations.
  3. They are not well intentioned and don’t want to change, however they do not believe that you will hold them accountable to changing in any kind of meaningful way.

The problem is that when you leave the dialogue with an employee with a somewhat vague commitment to ‘trying’, you also create an inability to hold the employee accountable to changing. After all, as long as they ‘try’ or ‘do their best’ then they have fulfilled their commitment to you.

How do you avoid ‘pretend coaching’ when coaching to improve performance?

So, how you avoid this trap?

First of all, you should start with the assumption that the employee wants to do a good job and change in whatever way is being requested. This is important, because quite often after a few rounds of pretend coaching, the leader starts to doubt the employee’s motivation and commitment. While this may be indeed the case, we have not earned the right to make that assumption.

So instead of assuming the worst, when an employee responds with an “I’ll try” or an “I’ll do my best” – imagine that they are running a big red flag up a flag pole that is screaming “I know you want me to commit to this but I see a problem!” Calmly say something like “I actually think you always try to do your best. Is there a reason why you feel unable to commit to doing what we have discussed?”

Then listen and ask questions. Don’t argue. Don’t listen just long enough to jump in and correct them. Really listen. What you will typically find is that they will tell you what their real concerns are. Then and only then will you be able to coach them on what they feel is the obstacle to doing what you want accomplished.

While this does not assure success, it does assure that you will be engaging in a true coaching dialogue. In order to diagnose further what the challenge blocking performance improvement might be, we offer a free Performance Trouble Shooter that will help you diagnose performance issues and pinpoint what you can do to maximize the likelihood of coaching success with any employee.

To download the Performance Trouble Shooter just click here.

Here’s to your Success!!

If you want to know more about how we can assist you or or your organization in accelerating your progress on your goals, schedule a complimentary coaching session here.

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