Leadership Lessons from my Family – Overcoming Adversity

As winter quickly approaches, I thought I would cover another leadership lesson I’ve drawn from my own family experiences. At the tail end of last winter, my grandson Spencer qualified to race in the OFSAA Championships for snowboarding. If you are unfamiliar with OFSAA, it is the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations and is comprised of 18 regional school athletic associations from across the province. This particular competition combined all students from grades nine through twelve (14 to 18 years old) racing in the same category.

As likely the youngest competitor in the field, my 14 year old grandson came 5th.

Now, this would be amazing to me simply as a proud grandfather, and as someone who thrives on achievement, aiming high, and accomplishing goals. I find it even more outstanding, though, because four years ago Spencer, like many kids these days, experienced a particularly traumatic breaking apart of his family. Four years ago, he was thrown into a brand new identity as a child of a broken home.

People like to say children are resilient, and perhaps they are, or perhaps they don’t have a choice in the matter. The family psychologist said to expect a drop in grades at school, to anticipate anger, look for signs of depression, etc. Apparently, Spencer looked straight at the counsellor and said “if you think my grades are going to drop, then you don’t know me”.

So, a 10 year old boy took his sadness and anger and threw it into academics, into music, into snowboarding – into proving the counsellor wrong. He didn’t want to be the kid who lowered his own goals in life because the S&*$ hit the fan when he was 10 years old.

The reality is, life’s worst experiences happen to everyone. No one is immune, and whether we feel we are naturally resilient or not, there are times we need to be. When job changes happen unexpectedly. When health changes happen unexpectedly. When life changes happen unexpectedly.

I have included a few of my favourite quotes on resilience below. Please feel free to add your own to the comment section, I’d be interested to hear your personal take on resilience in business and in life.

 “‎Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself – and be lenient to everybody else.”
― 
Henry Ward Beecher


“My life was my life; I would have to stare it down, somehow, and make it work for me.”
― 
Paula McLain

 “Did you once have a grand plan which has become obsolete and no longer serves you? If there are areas in your life which must change to help you create better results, a redesign may be in order. Consider going back to the ‘drawing board’ to deconstruct what isn’t working and start anew.”
― 
Susan C. Young

How do you cultivate creativity? (Hint: it’s both messy and deliberate)

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued” – Ken Robinson – the New York Times best-selling author of “The Element”, TED speaker, education and creativity expert.

As a business leader, cultivating creativity in your team or organization might be one of the most difficult aspects of your job. Far less tangible and quantifiable than production and processes, creativity is undeniably as important as both, yet research cited in the HBR article below suggests that up to 80% of American and British workers feel pressured to be productive rather than creative at work. Yes, it’s hard to measure creative success in the same way we measure widgets but, in the long-run, we all know that collective creation is necessary to progress and, therefore, must be worth the time, energy, and space to make sure it happens.

This article provides a useful path towards creating an environment in which structured creativity can yield constructive results. Author Ron Carucci suggests that it takes intentional, thoughtful leadership to foster a creative culture, as well as great self-awareness of your role in enhancing or hindering the creative process of your team. Knowing when to participate and when to step back is key. Understanding that creativity is messy, and yet needs to be defined and balanced, is also critical.

This is a great read and highly recommended.

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Raising the Bar on Team Performance

It is possible (highly likely even), that the topic of high-performing teams will be studied and debated forever. Have you mastered it in your organization, or is it a holy grail that you are still seeking?

Over time, there have certainly been outstanding leaders who have single-handedly achieved great success. The reality for most organizations, however, is a much more complicated architecture with a variety of team structures at the core. Impacting the performance of these teams is a dizzying number of variables including economic factors, technology, social media and generational changes to name just a few.

So, with so much at stake for your organization, how do you ensure you are able to pin down the elusive high-performing team? We recently came across an article in the McKinsey Quarterly that sheds some much needed light on this very complex subject. It is entitled High-performing teams: A timeless leadership topic, and it is a very useful synthesis of what they have found to be the most valuable advice on team composition and team dynamics.

Within this article, you will also find reference to a new book entitled Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths, in which it is noted that top-team performance has been on the list of the top ten business topics for the past 40 years. That’s quite a statistic!

We have known for a long time now that good teamwork was actually a red herring, and what organizations really need is superior team performance. This article can help you get there – finally.  Read More Here

Getting to Meaningful Strategy Discussions

 

Are you finding yourself a little lost in the quagmire of frameworks and theories aimed at helping you in your strategic thinking and planning processes? Would you welcome a fresh perspective?

There isn’t a leader out there who hasn’t studied, discussed and, most likely worried about, the ever present challenge of strategy and being strategic. You can over-engineer and complicate it to death – or, according to a recent article from Harvard Business Review, you can take a practical approach, looking at how well strategic thinking is implemented throughout your organization on a day-to-day basis.

The article I am referring to is entitled, Being a Strategic Leader is About Asking the Right Questions. It offers five very straightforward questions for you to ask yourself and your team. They are presented in a deliberate order, and include the following:

  1. What are we doing today?
  2. Why are you doing the work you’re doing? Why now?
  3. How does what we’re doing today align with the bigger picture?
  4. What does success look like for our team?
  5. What else could we do to achieve more, better, faster?

Having read the list, you might be tempted to go right to the fifth question, but the article warns against doing that. You must do the groundwork in the here and now, before you can effectively look forward to the new and better.

I have always believed purposeful and relevant questions are the very best tool in the leader’s toolkit. This article proves the point, once again.

To read the full article, you can go to Read More Here

Bad managers lead to lost employees. Period.

This is not breaking news.

This equation is never going to change.

Companies avoid getting rid of bad managers for any number of reasons –  he’s a brilliant mind, she’s been with the company since the outset, he has the best sales record in the organization; the financial package to get rid of her would be too much.

A company’s decision to not get rid of that bad manager, however, is also a decision to get rid of any number of valuable employees reporting to him or her over time. These good workers, managers, and possible future leaders of the organization will then be gone before they can even reach their potential within the company.

No amount of bonuses, perks, or external motivators can compensate for the negative impact of a bad boss over the long-term. Employees will stay, either until they can’t take it anymore, or until something better comes along, leaving companies to rehire and retrain a continual stream of new employees who, in turn, are left to deal with the same bad manager until they decide to move on as well.

Read more on this topic in this article from Inc.com:

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5 Essential Practices for Leading Cultural Movement

We all know the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

This age old cliché assumes that the dog is too old, or too set in its ways, to change at this point in its life. So why bother – right? But what if the dog’s age, or ability to learn, was never the problem at all? What if the problem is that the change is being imposed, and does not stem from internal motivation or inclination? Yes, it is difficult to impose the learning of new tricks on an old dog but, if you shift the motivation and create a desire for change … well that an old dog is able to learn a few new tricks after all, isn’t it.

The HBR article below is called “Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate.” I think it is a fantastic read for anyone who, in the back of their mind, or even right in the very forefront of their mind, holds a nagging intuition that top-down imposition of mandates for cultural change don’t work. Simply put “someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.”

If you are interested in reading about ideas and practices that can help galvanize employees to create organizational change, or even smaller team movements towards change, then I highly suggest this read.

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Why Some People Get Burned Out and Others Don’t

Emotional intelligence.

More often than not, we consider the quality of emotional intelligence primarily in terms of how we relate to others. When we discuss and weigh the impact and positive outcomes of high emotional intelligence, we generally do so based on the connections and relationships it allows us to foster with colleagues and other individuals in our lives.

Another notable impact, however, of high emotional intelligence, is how it enables us to employ emotional skills to help ourselves. The self-awareness, self-management, conflict management skills, empathy and compassion that we employ to foster positive relationships with others, can be used internally to allow us to counteract the physiological impact of stress. In turn, high emotional intelligence can help counteract and reduce the chances of experiencing burnout.

This Harvard Business Review article summarizes how we, as individuals, can leverage emotional intelligence in order to deal with stress, and ward off burnout. The concepts presented aren’t wholly unique, however, they are woven together concisely and provide a pragmatic overview of some of the most basic strategies we can employ to help ourselves through stressful times.

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Strategy plus execution: It takes both to succeed

Sometimes I wonder how we are still writing about this.

“Strategy plus execution: It takes both to succeed.”

I balked at the title of this Globe and Mail Business article. I mean is this really news to anyone? But then again, how does it seem so elusive? Why are so many companies still struggling to figure it all out?

We know that Apple does it right, Starbucks, IKEA. We know that there is no real point in even having a strategy if you don’t execute it well. We know that executing without a plan, purpose or focus is equally doomed to fail. We know it all, and yet so many still fail to capture the holy grail of executing strategy effectively in order to ensure organizational sustainability and success.

I am including a link to the article partially because it includes some practical tips, but more so because it serves as a reminder that one of the most basic premises of business success is still a difficult one for many organizations to achieve.

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Overlooked leaders and how to find them

Do you find your organization hiring and promoting the same personalities into leadership roles over and over again? The extrovert? The verbose, bombastic luminary? The individual who seems to crave the spotlight and jump at any opportunity to steer the ship? Of course … most organizations do. And there is good reason why these people get noticed and promoted, however, there is also ample evidence to show that introverted and more reserved employees often make wonderful leaders, too, and that a balance of personalities make the whole so much greater than a sum of its parts. After all, not all individuals being led are extroverts either. There isn’t a one size fits all best leadership style.

Thank you McKinsey & Company for reminding us that not all talent looks the same, and not all great leaders are the same. The reality is, there are many potential leaders within most organizations, some of whom don’t get easily noticed – you have to put in some effort to find them.

This is a lengthy article, but I do think it is an important one, and well worth the read.

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Are you a giver or a taker?

I simply love this TED Talk by Adam Grant on “givers”, “takers”, and “matchers” in the workplace.

While I usually recommend readings on my Blog, the reality is that in my leadership development and organizational strategy sessions with clients, I almost always screen videos; they break up the day, and the visual media component resonates with people on an entirely different level.

Besides being a great storyteller, Adam Grant has a very intriguing message to convey regarding the various roles people assume in organizations, and the implications of those roles on both individual and collective organizational performance.

One of the big take aways for me personally, was Grant’s suggestion that getting positive influencers into your organization is not enough on its own, but that making sure negative influencers don’t get in truly is the key. No amount of good can undo bad!

Definitely a useful 13 minutes of your time.

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