I had a delightful week catching up with some of my friends. One of them was a very old friend that I haven’t heard from in over 20 years, the other was a new one that I met at my last full-time gig. The former found my blog and sent me a message, the latter I invited to lunch since she was going to be in town. There really isn’t much that I enjoy more than connecting with someone that I haven’t had a chance to talk to in a while. The extraordinary thing is that in both cases the more that we talked, the more that we found in common with one another.
All I have to say here is –
Has the busy-ness of your life caused you to lose touch with someone that you remember fondly? Is there someone that you’ve been thinking about recently – wondering how they are doing? Contact them! Just do it. It will be worth it.
If there are any more lurkers out there reading my blog that are old friends – shoot me a line, I’d love to catch up.
Today I am going to do something that I’ve totally shied away from while I’ve been looking for a job. I’m going to write about an interview that I had this week. Yes, really. Part of my brain is still screaming “NOOOO don’t do it!”, but I’m going to override that. Hopefully that’s not a bad idea, but here goes.
First off, this is a position that I really, really want. Since I’ve been interviewing it is one of only a very few that I have been very excited about. This isn’t pretend excited, this is chomping at the bit to get started excited. I was beginning to wonder if such a job exists or not… well, it does.
The reason for this post is because I learned something completely new and different. I’ve done a lot of interviewing. I mean a LOT. I’ve probably personally interviewed well over 100 people. I’ve asked technical questions, I’ve asked behavioral question, I’ve made people really squirm. On the other side of the interview table, I’ve learned to answer questions with stories about my past rather than general feel good statements. This week I learned an interview technique that applies extremely well when you are interviewing for a role that has many different interpretations. Ask the interviewee to present what the role means to them in 10 minutes or less. SO Simple. Duh! I should have thought of this!
Actually, it’s a little more than that:
- Describe what you think that this role is
- Describe how you’d approach this particular role in this company
- Describe what makes you uniquely qualified for this role
So simple. But yet, so effective. I put together 8 slides and presented them to a panel of interviewers who then asked me questions about my background and my presentation. It was a quick, effective way to get to understand how a person would approach a job. I’m going to remember this for when I am interviewing to fill positions again.
So, you’re probably wondering… how did my interview go? I’m cautiously optimistic. My one regret is that I wasn’t able to sit down with everyone individually. It is much harder for me to make a connection with people when I am talking to a roomful. I don’t know how much that hurt me.
Unlike a lot of folks, I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I typically address issues as I go throughout the year – it’s easier that way – at least it is for me. I’d rather quietly make small changes in my life on an ongoing basis than try to do a big bang, make a lot of noise and fail. Besides, I already eat pretty well, I work out 5-6 times a week, and I floss my teeth regularly. After about 10 years of effort to make many small changes in these areas I’ve got most of the typical resolutions covered.
However, that strategy isn’t a lot of fun to blog about this time of year. BORING. There is one new thing that I have been working on lately – I started it the week after Christmas and I found that it is helping me get more focused on the things that I want to do with my life going forward. I’ve decided to make a list of my 100 dreams. You might call it a bucket list, but I’d rather be more positive than that. As I cross items off the list I plan to add new items to it. These are things big and small that I want to accomplish in my life. The big ones were easy. I want to be financially secure, I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, I want to climb Machu Picchu, and I want to run a successful company. These are things that will take time and a bit of planning. Just putting them on the list gives me permission to start the investigative phase. How? When? Where? What skills and resources (time, people, money, equipment) do I need to collect first?
I’ve come up with 31 out of 100 so far, and I am turning over rocks for some of the smaller ones. Some of the smaller ones are subgoals of the large ones. Some are just things that I want to be able to do. I’d like to be able to deadlift 200lbs. I’m probably not that far off on that one, just been lazy. I need to learn how to roll my kayak at some point. I would like to have a successful vegetable garden – so far I’ve had dismal failures. This time my plan includes getting my soil tested by the agricultural division at NC State.
From a blogging perspective I have a lot of ideas. The biggest thing that I plan to do is to get more involved with other bloggers. I’ve signed up on blogher (women bloggers), I’ve guest blogged for The Mad Peacock Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough. Very exciting – my first guest blog!
I’m also putting out a request for guest bloggers on my site. Do you have something that you want to say about leadership?
Today I’m going to defer to a terrific paper I found on organizational trust from the DDI group.
“How do you promote open communication with employees to gain trust? Here are five easily adaptable behaviors:
- Be positive.
- Seek others’ ideas.
- Don’t shoot the messenger.
Each of these behaviors helps to build bonds of trust between leaders and employees.”
Click to see the full monograph.
See you on the other side in 2010 – Happy New Year!
I thought that a great way to finish out the year would be to talk about my top 10 really important things in more detail. Today I’m going to hit on transparency. Some of the key concepts required to be a transparent leadership team include the following:
- Regular, consistent dissemination of information. Create a schedule of all hands or team meetings and stick to it! This needs to be done in good times as well as in bad. One of the worst things a management team can do is disappear when times get tough.
- Share the good news as well as the bad. It’s ok, people can take it, especially if you hire “grownups” and treat them that way. Don’t overhype the good news and don’t spin or omit the bad news. People are smart and they will see right through your attempt to obfuscate the truth.
- Clearly articulate what is confidential. There’s two points here. The first is to make sure people know what part of the information that you are sharing must not be repeated outside the walls of the company. The second is to trust the team enough to actually share that confidential information with them. Giving people your trust in a straightforward manner almost guarantees that they will not break it.
- Be willing to address less than positive feedback. There are times when leaders do things that don’t seem to make sense to the rank and file. Sometimes these things make everyone’s job tougher and can hurt morale. Make sure to address why painful decisions have been made. Talk about the alternatives and how the leadership team came to the decision. Just understanding why a decision was made will lead to a much greater acceptance of it.
- Let people share their accomplishments. It is wonderful to have a team member be able to demonstrate or talk about a significant achievement that has occurred. This is a morale booster across the entire organization. For example – demo new product capabilities, talk about a new marketing campaign, share a story about closing a major customer. Knowing that the company recognizes and appreciates these milestones is key.
For more reading about transparency see Transparency and Open Communication by Beth Steinberg on Rypple. Beth and I worked together a few years back and she’s got some great thoughts on leadership.
Continuing on my book review binge – today I’ll talk about “The Inspiring Leader” by Zenger & Folkman. This is a followup book to their Extraordinary Leader tome that I recently read. I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed by this book. On the whole, it wasn’t bad, but it was very predictable. There was really nothing in it that made me go “AH HA! That’s the key!” I found it to all be common sense and many of the studies and literature that they referenced were things that I have already read. I do think that this book has value, especially for someone who hasn’t been in the management trenches for a long time or for someone who really isn’t big on reading management theory or self-help books in this area. It’s a good concise read that gathers a lot of loose ends together.
I do think that one thing really bears repeating. Extensive studies show that positive communication is critical to high performing teams. As in marriages, the ratio of positive comments (approval, praise, support, compliments etc) to negative ones was one of the highest predictors of success or failure for a team effort. The best performing teams received positive-negative feedback in a 5-1 ratio. The worst performing teams received 1 positive for every 3 negative comments. As a leader you have a lot of control over that. You set the stage. You are the role model that the team follows.
Have you ever worked for a leader who was critical of everything that you did? I have. That sure didn’t make me want to work harder because it really didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong, bad, not good enough. Maybe I am a little sensitive, but it made me want to curl up into a ball and go into protective/defensive mode. On the other hand, when I had a leader who recognized the difficult things that I did, or pointed out specific – very concrete – behaviors and accomplishments that they appreciated I would double my effort to help them be successful.
Another thing that I thought was valuable and too infrequently used is leader visibility. If you want to drive certain behaviors in your company you need to walk the talk and you need people to see that you do that. There should be no double standards for you versus them. Hold all hands meetings and be transparent to your employees. Allow them to interact with you and answer the tough questions honestly, don’t dance around issues. Practice management by walking around. Talk to your employees, show and interest in what they are doing, ask how they are. If your organization is divided across multiple locations – visit – FREQUENTLY. Out of sight = out of mind. A visit from a leader can have a strong positive motivational impact. Of course this depends highly on the leader’s behavior while in the remote office. Even though you are the leader, you are still a guest in that office. Show up on time based on the local conventions – do not force the entire office to bend to your whims and time frames when you are there. Be a true role model.
“The ability to make a person feel that, when you’re with that person, he or she is the most important (and the only) person in the room is that skill that separates the great from the near-great.” from What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
I have to say that this quote is what really made an impression on me in this book. I can see so many applications of this in my day to day life – both at work and in my personal life. For the curious – the workplace habit to break in this instance is Habit #16 – Not Listening.
I think that many people are attentive only when they think it is in their best interest. Who wouldn’t pay close attention to the CEO or to a key interviewer? The power of a conversational partner will make a lot of people turn up their skills a notch. I think what is really impressive is when someone does that regardless of who they are talking to. This is clearly a way to make everyone, from a receptionist, to a new hire, to a difficult customer feel valued and respected.
A key aspect of this skill is the ability to focus and really hear what a person is saying. This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. Sometimes reading the non-verbal is much more important because it will provide clues to what the person is really thinking.
This level of focus can be very difficult. Most of us have a running dialogue in our heads – formulating what our response will be. Many times we are concentrating so hard on what we should say next that we stop listening to the other person. Other times we are worried about something else entirely and we just want the conversation to end quickly. I don’t know about you, but I can tell if someone is not really listening to me. It doesn’t encourage me to continue sharing information.
The next time you’re talking to someone try this. Ask a question – and really listen to their answer. It might surprise you. Stay engaged.
On the whole – I enjoyed this book. I was surprised by how much the author suggested that to become more successful as a leader that you need to talk less and listen more. I tend to agree.
Wow, has it been close to a month since I’ve posted something? As usual, the job search has been pretty consuming. I’ve done a lot of company and technology research, I’ve kept up my networking and my online job hunting, and I spent close to a week out of town, first for an interview and then to visit with some dear friends.
Do you have an old friend that no matter how long you’ve been apart, the second you see each other you pick right back up where you left off? My friend and I have known each other since we were 12. We’ve been best friends ever since. It doesn’t matter that we only see each other every 5+ years or so and that we haven’t lived in the same state in 17 years. We’ve had years (yes, plural) where we didn’t even talk on the phone and barely sent Christmas cards. Doesn’t matter. She’s the one person that no matter what happens she’ll be there if I need her, and vice versa.
The interesting thing is that we’re night and day, black and white, solar and lunar…. however you want to describe it – we’re opposites except for the really important things. That is part of the reason we get along so famously. When I talk to her, I always get a different perspective. Since we’ve had so much history we both can take that difference in perspective at face value and not read any ulterior motives into it. It is invaluable.
What I find to be really sad is when people with different perspectives square off at work. It seems to happen more so than not. It’s a matter of trust – or lack thereof. Both people are there in their own little worlds building walls around their ideas, shoring them up. Heaven forbid they listen to one another and figure out ways to incorporate diverse input.
This single mindedness can also occur in the hiring process. When was the last time you looked at someone’s different experience and instead of saying “they haven’t done exactly what we are doing so the learning curve will be too big” have you said “this person has a lot of experiences that are different yet complimentary to the rest of the team, they will provide a fresh perspective”? Seriously. One of the biggest traps that people fall into is hiring people that are just like themselves. Same ideals, same kind of experiences. Same blind spots. Just because someone hasn’t done exactly what you will need them to do doesn’t mean that they don’t have the facilities to do it. Heck, they might even do it *better* than someone else in your company because they have seen something in the past that either worked really well, or failed spectacularly.
Different isn’t bad. If you take advantage of it, it will make your team and your company stronger.
I love it. The New York Times article “In Praise of Dullness” talks about the skills needed to be a successful CEO. (thanks to the lead to this article from Bill Warner at http://www.paladinandassociates.com/)
They relied on detailed personality assessments of 316 C.E.O.’s and measured their companies’ performances. They found that strong people skills correlate loosely or not at all with being a good C.E.O. Traits like being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator do not seem to be very important when it comes to leading successful companies.
What mattered, it turned out, were execution and organizational skills. The traits that correlated most powerfully with success were attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours.
In other words, warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as C.E.O.’s. Organized, dogged, anal-retentive and slightly boring people are more likely to thrive.
These results are consistent with a lot of work that’s been done over the past few decades. In 2001, Jim Collins published a best-selling study called “Good to Great.” He found that the best C.E.O.’s were not the flamboyant visionaries. They were humble, self-effacing, diligent and resolute souls who found one thing they were really good at and did it over and over again.
That same year Murray Barrick, Michael Mount and Timothy Judge surveyed a century’s worth of research into business leadership. They, too, found that extroversion, agreeableness and openness to new experience did not correlate well with C.E.O. success. Instead, what mattered was emotional stability and, most of all, conscientiousness — which means being dependable, making plans and following through on them.