Monday, August 25, 2014

Defining Leadership

There are seemingly as many definitions of leadership as there are Leadership gurus.  We hire for it, train for it, strive for it... all without truly having clarity over what 'it' is.  I often am told by 'Leaders' within corporations that although they may not be able to clearly articulate what Leadership is, that they 'know it when they see it'. However, this nebulous target does not prove helpful for those seeking to develop and strengthen their leadership abilities.

Turning to the dictionary for help we find this definition of Leadership...
"Act of leading a group of people or organization"
Not a particularly helpful definition when you consider that it is attempting to define a term through the use of the same term.  If I don't understand what Leadership is all about, I likely don't understand the term leading. I do, however, like the inclusion of others in the definition.

Warren Bennis once defined leadership in this way...
" Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality"
I like the thought that leaders help to clarify a vision, to help turn it into something more tangible and achievable.  Leadership is purposeful.  However, clarifying the vision is not enough.  If people don't act upon that vision then gaining clarity has not proved 'enough' in truly benefiting an organization.

So far then we know that Leadership involves others, that it doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Additionally, we have determined that Leadership is necessary for shifting us from where we are, to where we want and need to be.  Another component I feel is an integral part of true leadership is highlighted in the following quote, by Bill Bradley...
"Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better"
The important element to consider here is that true Leaders aren't simply using the existing skills of those around them, in the achievement of a goal, but are also developing and growing them.  Leaders help others thrive.  Often, some make the mistake of assuming that Leadership is a function of position, that a formal title immediately bestows upon the wearer the mantle of Leadership.  Take the following quote from Chester Bernard for example...
"Leadership is the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action"
True Leadership though has nothing to do with position, title or seniority within an organization.  It does, however, have a great deal to do with influence.  You can use your positional power to direct the actions of others, but they are merely doing as they have been told.  Leaders use their influence to inspire the actions of others such that they choose to follow the desired course the leader has set.  Managers will use their positional power while Leaders will influence and inspire.

In establishing our definition of Leadership we have thus determined that..

  • Leadership involves others
  • Leadership helps to clarify a vision, it is purposeful, with an intended outcome
  • Leadership helps to unlock the potential of others, maximizing their efforts
  • Leadership uses influence and not position to motivate and inspire
Taken together we are left with the following definition...
"Leadership is the art of influencing others in such a way as to maximize their efforts toward the achievement of a specific vision"
Right now... this is working for me.  It seems to include the critical elements highlighted above but... your thoughts and input are always welcome.  Share with me below your comments about the article or your favourite Leadership quote!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Overcoming Communicational Roadblocks

You're in a meeting, charged with developing a solution to a very real business issue.  There are two ideas tabled and two different factions representing each idea.  The past 45 minutes have been spent with each group pushing their idea forward and no forward movement being made.

Sound familiar?

This is a common scenario we face, both within our business and personal lives, where people get so caught up in their point of view that they fail to truly listen to the views of another or to seek a common solution.  It ends up becoming a push to determine who is 'right' rather than finding the best result.  This creates conflict, can lead to resentment and hard feelings, all of which serve to create roadblocks to working effectively in future.

The best action that you can take, when you find yourself on one side of the two-sided argument is to stop, take a breath... and listen.  We get so caught up in our wants, needs, opinions that we typically stop truly listening to what the other party is actually saying.  We begin focusing on being heard and end up shutting down our hearing, let alone our bid to understand. If you are looking to reach a resolution, and not just push your agenda forward, then listening is the way out.  The following tips will help you to break through the one-sided dialogues taking place and shift back into having a conversation about the issue.

1.  Look at the other party and make eye contact.  Once we shift our focus on ourselves - our solution, our desired outcome, our needs - our eyes tend to shift also.  It is difficult to convince someone that we care about what they need and want if we are not even looking at them.  We unconsciously direct our upper torso and eyes toward what we are interested in.  Show your interest in what others have to say by angling your upper body and eyes toward them.

2.  If you feel that you are not being heard... then chances are good that you are not listening.  If you feel that the other party is not paying attention to your points, odds are that you have also shut them down and are not listening fully to what they have to say.  Opening yourself to truly listening to them will demonstrate the behaviour you want and expect from them.  Listen first.  You can't expect someone to show you the respect and courtesy you expect without also engaging in it!

3.  Take notes.  Not only does taking notes indicate to the other party that you are paying attention to what they are saying but it also helps you to stay focused.  This is helpful if you tend to have an unruly mind that wants to wander off sometimes, but it is always helpful in highlighting to the other party that you have a desire to capture their key points.

4.  Focus on what you agree on.  We get caught up in our differences.  However, only focusing on the areas of difference makes them appear far larger then they typically are.  By focusing on what areas you agree on, you build some commonality which serves to put the areas of difference into perspective.  You may find that the few things you disagree on are more easily overcome when you realize that they are not as all encompassing as once believed.

5.  Create mental pictures.  By trying to form a mental picture of what the other person is saying, you will find that you listen with more intent and focus.  This not only helps you to appear more interested and open to them, but helps you to pick up a level of detail that you might otherwise have overlooked.

6.  Listen with the intent to understand, not overcome.  You are not listening to what someone has to say only so that you can refute each point.  Listen to understand the other person's position, their unspoken concerns, and  what is truly important to them.  It is through that you will be able to find a solution to fit all needs.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.     Larry King

Monday, August 11, 2014

3 Step Formula for Promoting & Selling Your Ideas

One sure-fire way to being seen as adding value to any organization is to come up with ideas that others can't wait to implement.  However, having a great idea is not enough.  If you aren't able to get others on board with your idea then it will languish under your bed with the other great ideas collecting dust.

Great ideas don't come into being all on their own.  Not everyone is as quick to recognise a good idea when they see and hear it, primarily because they have to wade through all of the garbage that exists standing in the way.  Just as a new song you hear may not be your favourite the very first time you hear it, because it is unfamiliar, you can grow to love it with a few more playings. Help your ideas take root by doing the same.
Good ideas are common - what's uncommon are people who'll work hard enough to bring them about.            Ashleigh Brilliant

In order to help you gain the acceptance and recognition that your idea deserves I have pulled together the top 3 strategies you need to employ to get it heard, get it remembered, and get it adopted.

1.  Pre-Sell.  It is rare that people automatically and immediately jump on new ideas.  Often they need a little time for the idea to percolate.  To give your ideas time to take root in the minds, if not the hearts, of your audience run some of the basics of the idea past them prior to the meeting.  Giving them time to think it through a little helps them to work through some of their hesitation.  Consider also being strategic about courting some influencers.  Think about who around the upcoming meeting room table has a strong influence over others and work to pre-sell them.  Let them know that you value their opinion and you'd like to bounce an idea past them.  Working through their objections and getting them on board means that you have a supporter around the table that will help you to sell the idea when it's time.

2.  Make the idea Familiar.  The more 'different' your idea the bigger the resistance you will likely encounter.  Most people do not go out of their way to embrace change.  Build some familiarity into your idea.  Highlight some of the things that are staying the same, rather than simply emphasizing everything that will change.  Most nay-sayers are objecting to the perceived size of the 'change' required, not the idea itself.   Create a link to something that others know well, perhaps using an analogy, a catch-phrase or a simile. Likening your idea to something others are already familiar with helps them to feel more comfortable with the idea and the idea to feel instantly more 'doable'.  The more comfortable and familiar your idea feels the more likely they are to say yes.

3.  After Sell.  Don't think that just because an idea isn't immediately accepted that it is dead in the water. Court people after the fact.  Identify their objections.  Ask them... 'If we were able to address this concern would you be on board?"... and then fix it.  You can re-pitch your  idea once you have developed solutions to the objections that were raised.  Courting people before you do assures you of gaining their acceptance. Once they say that they will be on board with your idea if you can address the issue they raised, it is difficult for them to continue to object once you've fixed it, without appearing to be contrarian.

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas.  If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.      Howard Aiken
Use this 3-Step process to help your ideas to stand out and gain acceptance.  Investing a little more time in ensuring their success helps assure you of yours!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Having a Seat at the Table: Not the Same as Having a Voice

Women talk more than  men.


In fact, this is simply a socialized belief.  We are socialized into believing that women talk more than they actually do.  This is a well-documented Listener Bias, where we 'believe' something that is not truly happening.  The fact is that, in mixed groups, men speak 75% of the time, meaning that women speak roughly about a quarter of the time.  This is a significant difference, especially given that most hold a belief that is counter to this.  The implications of this are significant for women, especially in the workforce.

If men are speaking 3 times more often than a woman is, then men gain three times the visibility.  A definite plus when it comes to promotional opportunities.  Numerous studies show that young girls are interrupted twice as often as young boys.  This pattern of interruptions serves to teach our young women that what they have to say is not as important and not as interesting.  It teaches them not to speak up, leaving the floor and the opportunities for men to pursue.

In the Courtroom, which we hope to be as unbiased an arena as possible, more female testimonies are interrupted that men's.  Interruptions of this nature lead others (including the jury) to discount the value of the content being shared, or to view the source as being less credible.  Doctors are more likely to interrupt their female patients, giving them less time to speak about their health issues, and female physicians are more likely to be interrupted by their patients than are their male counterparts.

Interruptions are an important insight into position and power.  Being granted your 'turn' to speak is not just about providing you with an opportunity to voice your thoughts, but is also a signal about your 'right' to speak.  It is about importance, significance and value.

Study after study demonstrates a strong bias to exclude and diminish the female voice around the table. (even on Twitter, where male posts are re-posted twice more often as women's posts)  Therefore, even if you have managed to hold a seat around that executive table, you still need to consciously work at gaining a voice. The further challenge, of course, is that in order to be heard women end up modifying their socialized mode of speech in order to 'speak like a man'.  However, women who master that skill too well receive push back for being too aggressive.  Therefore, on top of all the other skills necessary to succeed in business today, women also have the additional need to be Gender Bi-lingual.  They must be balanced in speaking both female and male-speak.

How then do we find ways to gain a voice around that important table?  Well, ideally, we modify some of the socialized beliefs and behaviours.

  • We stop interrupting young girls in schools.  They are interrupted twice as often as are boys, teaching them that their thoughts are not as valued, effectively shutting them down and out.  
  • Stop telling little girls to be 'good' little girls, to stop interrupting others, to wait their turn and praising our little boys for taking charge and speaking up.  The double standard exists because we ingrain it into our children.  We need to be consistent with the messages we are sending if we want our girls to be valued for their thoughts and contributions and less for being nice.
On the job we need to...
  • Provide support for those that lack the ability to be heard as readily as others, finding comfortable ways for them to share.  
  • Deal with interruptions directly, allowing others to finish their thoughts.  "Excuse me, but XX was still speaking.  Please let them finish and we'll then return to your thought".  Don't stand by and allow someone else's voice to be stolen.
  • Avoid using tag questions (...don't you agree?) and disclaimers (It's just my opinion but... I could be mistaken but... This may sound strange but...) which weaken your position
  • Avoid using uptalk, that upward inflection that makes it sound like you are questioning what you are saying.
  • Learn to feel comfortable with clearly stating our position and needs. This may not always feel 'safe' but it is always honest and is more likely to get you what you want/need.
  • Consciously work to balance the desire to be liked with the need to be heard, lest being liked wins out at the cost of our credibility.
Learning to handle interruptions and gain a voice around the table may not immediately seem like a critical skill to develop but we know that being heard around the table is synonymous with developing your credibility, perceived level of competence, personal power and positional leadership.  Often promotions get derailed over these seemingly non-critical things. Build your presence more strategically and consciously.   Don't mistake showing up with speaking up.