6 Steps To Effective Change Leadership

3256212725Leadership, at its most basic level, is about change.

Leaders create change, help others adapt to change, and affect the nature and type of change.   Think back through your experience – have you seen great leadership without change, or the possibility of change?  Situations without some kind of change usually involve degrading, diluting, and otherwise moving the wrong way.

Why is it then, that so many leaders resist change?  Change brings challenges, and so well-intentioned  people naturally want low-risk change – change that appears to be a clear win.  But here is the danger.  The lowest risk change also brings the lowest potential benefit.  In a business, a small tweak to the organization or a minor change to a product will not impact performance much.  A new package for a corn flakes box is not going to make corn flakes the new rage.  A new fender shape for a 15-year old car design does not make us rush out to buy it.

Recognize that resisting change, or only supporting low risk change, has a  significant cost of its own, the cost of missed opportunity.  A better course is to engage in change, help direct change – influence the direction of change actively to ensure maximum positive impact.

6 Steps for Effective Change Leadership:

1.  Get over it!  Change is going to happen.  Resist that emotional reaction, the frown, the negative body language the declares immediately you are not on board.  Actively seek to understand the positive.

2.  Develop your own plan for positive change.  Call it vision, strategic planning, program management  – whatever you want.  To lead effectively you need to have your a sense of where you want your team/organization/life to go.  This vision will drive the kind of change you create.  And, when change occurs, this vision will guide you in how to engage, how to respond – since times of change are always, always, opportunities. 

3. Communicate, communicate – then communicate some more.  Whether you are leading the change, or you are helping your team adapt to change, communication is your primary tool.  Explain the reason for the change, acknowledge  uncertainties, and ask for support and ideas for how to ensure the most positive outcome.  Make sure every person affected is part of this conversation.  This kind of communication is not a one-time thing – continue the dialogue.

4.  A Plan for Change, well, changes!  Be prepared to course correct.  Whatever you think is going to happen in a period of change, you are wrong.  Stay agile, be prepared to adjust your thoughts, messages, and actions.

5.  Help the team learn.  Even in the midst of change, as the team makes it through key milestones, wins, or even difficulties – get everyone together to discuss what has happened, strengths that need to be emphasized, and adjustments that need to be made.  My blog post concerning Team debriefs is worth another look – Here.

6.  When people turn negative or become discouraged – communicate even more.  Change can be harder for some than others.

We can all benefit from a more intentional focus on vision, action, and communication in times of change.  Amplify your leadership impact by taking advantage of the opportunity that change brings.


Related Content:

1.  How to Lead Change:  3 Simple Steps (www.forbes.com)

2.  Leadership Lessons:  5 Critical Requirements When Leading Change (www.lisapetrilli.com)



Values Alignment: What it is, Why it Matters, and 4 Steps to Get More of It!

53819053Modern leadership “jargon” includes this phrase, “Values Alignment.”  We all toss it around like 1) everyone knows what it means, and 2)  everyone knows how to achieve it.   In my experience, neither point is usually true.  So lets dive in…


What are values?  The Oxford dictionary  gives us,  “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life….”  That hits it about right.  Principles that represent the judgment about what is important – not just in a single context or situation, but in life overall.

A key distinction, is that we all have values that are not situational – and these deeper values drive us in a powerful way.  For example,  honesty is a core value for many.  One of the fundamental values I have is  that people deserve love and respect.  We all have a number of these core values.   Think on this a minute – can you state your core values?  Write them down!

Core or Not Core?   Core values are those values that you would give everything to protect.  It is not easy to boil your various beliefs and values down to the core.  As you come up with an idea, ask yourself if you could live without that value – if you can, it is not core.  For example, one of my not-core values is that time is valuable, so meetings should be effective.  But I would not fight to my last breath for an effective meeting!  So this is not a core value – other things are more important.

Values in Conflict

Major differences in core, fundamental values drive conflict.  It is inevitable.  The conflict might be “inner” – causing dissatisfaction, disengagement, and other things beginning with “dis-.”  In extreme cases it can be external – the newspapers are full of this kind of outward verbal or physical conflict.

Don’t think you and your team are any exception.  Don’t think you can somehow manage or finesse your way through major core value disagreements.  Core values are those things someone would protect at all costs.  No cleverness can make up for opposing core values.

Values Alignment

“Values Alignment” is not just an absence of value conflict.  There isn’t much inspiration or energy in a “sort-of aligned” state.  Close alignment on core values, however,  binds your team into a tribe, builds energy for the important work ahead.  Think of it as value “resonance,” similar to when a sound wave causes the structural parts of an object to vibrate together, in sync, in alignment.

For you to have values alignment, the work and mission of the group needs to be based on a significant set of shared values.   And the other core values, those that are not shared, should not be in opposition.  This might sound like a tough standard, but keep in mind that differences in non-core values will occur in a diverse team – it is the solid, aligned core that keeps things together.

What actions create “alignment ?”  Values alignment occurs when folks with a set of shared core values know what they are, discuss these core values, and share how to apply them and make them relevant in life and work.  Did you write down you core values earlier?   If not – take a moment to do so, at least to hit the high points.  This list will be refined over time as you come to understand what core/fundamental really means.

4 Steps to Better Values Alignment

1.  Write Down Your Core Values.  Simple, but not commonly done.  As a leader, it can help to actually post your core values as an ever-present communication of what you stand for.  It will be a powerful reference point and anchor for your teams.  Regardless of your role, writing down core values is important to achieve alignment so you actually, uh, know what you are aligning!

2.  Talk about you core values.  I know you saw this one coming…don’t shy away from mentioning your core values as  you make decisions, celebrate victories, or discuss problems.  When they are relevant, talk about values.  Just like you would other important factors in your work or life.

3.  Know the core values of the people in your business and life.    Core values will differ among people, but there needs to be overlap, and a lack of opposition of core values.  Ask the people in your world (peers, supervisor, team members) about their values.  Look for fundamental, core values.  Understand where they are coming from.  Identify and talk about overlap, shared values.  This is essential for recruiting talent – do not bring anyone onto your team until you have  a good read on their core values.  Don’t even think about it.

4.  Address values opposition and conflict.  This is the difficult part.  Some folks in your organization may have core values which conflict with those of you, your team, and/or your organization.  But first – take a careful look at where the values difference is.  If it is outside the core, then there is likely a shared core value that can be leveraged to resolve the conflict.  That disagreement over whether to recognize individual merit or team contribution can be resolved by starting at shared core values such as caring for people – and work up from there.

But…if you find that someone in your team or organization has deeply held values that conflict with the organization/teams’ core values, then that person – for their own happiness and that of the team – needs to join a team or organization more in keeping with their core beliefs.

Take the issue of Values Alignment seriously.  It will be a source of energy, inspiration, and common mission for your team.

Defining the word “Talent” – and 4 Action Steps to Get More of It!

7987532186After my last post, Hire Talent, Not Experience!, some folks wanted to know more about what I mean by the word “talent”, and what specific things they can do to better identify and recruit talent.

Cool, those are essential questions if we want to turn this concept into action.

I think the general definition of talent used by the Gallup Organization is a good one:   “Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”  But if you think about it, that general definition leaves all the work to you, oh dedicated leader of people.  Because you have to figure out all the key pieces:

– What recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior produce results in your world/business/team?

– How do you move the talented person from “can be productively applied” to “performed brilliantly, nailed it!”

In my experience, intuition is helpful but not really enough.  You have to be intentional and specific in the way you think about talent in your context.  Here is a diagram that I use occasionally to describe the search for great product development talent, where the key talents of interest are shown as dimensions:

Talent chart

There are probably more dimensions than this to consider, but in this example I have defined 3 recurring patterns that predict the performance of a product development engineer on an engineering task:  Technical Ability, Relationship Forming, and Creativity.  I could probably add Attention to Detail but bear with me.

The point is that on a continual basis you will want to evaluate these “factors” in your team members (locate them in the talent “space,” consider how these talents correlate with results,  and begin to create a specific set of the key talent dimensions that predict success for a particular role in your organization/environment.

Here are Actions Steps that will help you get more of the talent you need:

1. Study your top performers.  Is there a combination of these talents that occur over and over again in your top performers?  A certain amount of creativity that is needed to do the job?  A certain minimum quality of technical thought processes?  These might mark key success factors for the role.  You just need to have a certain minimum level to succeed on our team.

2. Evaluate the mix of talents on successful teams, and the gaps in talent in your organization.  What range of talents would add important elements to the team, create needed diversity of talent, complement other members?  Here you are putting together that special recipe for the team that usually benefits from a range of complementary talents.

3. Create the talent profile you need.  There will be a range of talents you can accept – you want to think about this before people start interviewing for the job.  At this point you will not only have a stronger target for your search, but you will have a meaningful language to discuss how candidates would affect the team and perform in the role.

Important Caution:  Do not use this system as a back-and-white, go/no-go screen.  Talent is hard to identify and always a subjective criteria at some level.  And you might find that someone high in one talent might not be the ideal fit but might complement others who are low in that talent.  You might find a team recipe that works with a particular person’s talents in a special way you had not considered – sort of like an unusual case of item #2 above.

4.  Develop screening tools.  Consider not just interview questions, but specific problems or situations that reveal the focus talents for the role.  Run each candidate through as wide array of questions and evaluations as feasible to understand his/her talents.

I know this is harder than it sounds.  But try this out for a critical opening on your team, run a pilot project to see if this helps.  Let me know how it goes!

Do have any thoughts on this or related ideas?  Let me know by commenting below…

Related Content:

1.  Exactly What is Talent, Anyway? (businessjournal.gallup.com)

2.  How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents (blogs.hbr.org)

3.  Identifying and Developing Talent (www.fastcompany.com)

Do Managers Really Matter?

2200500024Many of us know people ( or maybe entire teams) who believe  managers don’t matter.

The kind of “manager” we are discussing here focuses on coordination, orchestration, and people-related tasks – the overhead of running a team or organization.   Things like making goals clear, providing resources, recruiting, providing performance feedback and career development, making big picture decisions about the business and the people – that kind of thing.

So you might be able to see how this kind of manager might appear sort of extra.  After all, managers aren’t actually playing the music, carrying the football, or writing the software.    I once had a reasonably savvy boss question my plan to hire a manager by asking, “so you need to bring in this other guy to tell the experts what do?”   The implication being that the right team of experts would not need much management.  Hmm.

Let’s use the technique from my last blog post to test whether there is truth in this managers-don’t-matter idea.  Let’s give it some validity, look for facts that support it…

Take the example of self-conducting orchestra.  The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra ,  founded in 1972, has been conductorless since its inception.  Leadership roles shift to different musicians depending on the demands of the piece performed.  This team of about 20 musicians performs some of the most complex classical-music to world-class standards.  But we see that there is a leadership role in a given piece assigned to a specific musician.  So this is more like a rotating-conductor model (admittedly, a conductor and manager are different, but they are similar in key ways – work with me here).  One might reasonably wonder how this scales, whether it works for a large orchestra.

Or consider WL Gore and Associates.  As described in a post on the guardian website,

” In Gore’s self-regulating system, all the normal management rules are reversed. In this back-to-front world, leaders aren’t appointed: they emerge when they accumulate enough followers to qualify as such.”

A very successful company where the leaders/managers emerge.  But they still exist.

The reality is that the need for a great coach, conductor, platoon commander, or company manager exists.  The question is how to identify and appoint these folks.  Or whether to distribute their leadership roles  among people in the team.  Evidence from the world of sports, or music, or the military would seem to show that if a leader is not identified, one will emerge – that the need for clear goals, for decisiveness, for coordination, and for handling the overhead of running a team demands that a  team leader-coach exist, and that the manager in a business serves (or should serve) this role to be, well, useful.  Such a person needs pursue excellence in management in the same way an excellent violinist continuously practices and refines her craft.

The Gallup organization has performed extensive studies of management, management skills, and taken on the task of defining “Great Managers.”  Great managers do specific things to establish an engaging work environment and to build team engagement.  And there is significant and measurable impact on profits/outcomes that occurs where engagement is higher.  Take a look at these Gallup posts here and here, which make a compelling, data-based case that…managers do matter.

What do you think?


Essential Qualities of a Leader: Passion for the Truth, and a Powerful Bias that Stands in the Way

4696352143Pursuing the truth is essential for servant leadership.

What do I mean, “truth” ?  The truth for our purposes here consists of the available facts, and the identification of the actual cause(s) of  event(s) or circumstance(s).  It is this second part – figuring out the causes, that requires leaps of reason that get us into trouble.  But more on that in a minute.

So… it’s often hard to figure out what the absolute truth of a situation is – we operate mostly with incomplete information, and causes can be obscured by confusing signals.  But a leader has to be passionate, and energetic, and persistent about seeking the truth in a situation.   Getting at the knowable facts, pursuing the best available idea of what cause and effect are, is critical to good leadership decisions and effective action.

For the skeptics in the crowd, think on this example, drawn from my recent past:

A project being developed by an otherwise capable team is late.  Really late.  Why is that, and what should be done?   Actions must  to be taken that  make things better, and the choice of what actions to take must be based on an accurate judgment about the causes of the project delay.  This seems obvious – leaders that take steps that make things worse, or create change that has no effect, are not really serving the team or themselves at all, are they?

By the way, the leaders in this situation are not necessarily those formally holding management titles.  Highly effective action can be driven from any level.

Yet there is a powerful bias that stands in our way.  The bias is that we are going to most easily see the evidence that confirms our pre-conceived ideas about why the project is late.  Based on nothing more than guesses clouded by emotion and loosely based on past experience, we will already have a theory about the cause, and we will tend to notice more the evidence that  favors the  pre-conceived notion.

So let’s say that we have had some conflict with a key person on the project team, and they have in another setting proven to be an obstacle to progress.  We may suspect (or expect!) that they are a holding the team back.  So here is where the bias kicks in,  the confirmation bias.  The questions we ask, and the information we are most sensitive to, will center on this person and his/her  impact on the project.  And we very well might find things that disturb us in those answers, that seem to confirm our opinion.  So we more intensely focus on our theory.

We often hear the term, “rush to judgment” in prominent court cases.  Confirmation bias is a powerful force in police investigations, and history is full of examples of innocent people convicted by a building confirmation bias that pulls in the police, the witnesses, and ultimately the jury.

Back to our example:  asked what might make a project late, project managers might point to common factors such as unclear requirements, changes to project scope, unexpected/unanticipated technology challenges, and a host of issues shown over time to cause most  project delays.  But the confirmation bias has already been at work, and a few specific individuals who are seen as the source of the delay are removed from the project team.

How does it work in this case?   Not very well.  The delay lengthens even more, though eventually the team delivers a high quality product.

Here are some steps that will reduce the confirmation bias and help a servant leader come closer to the truth:

1.  Put a list together of the facts.  No causes, not theories.   The verifiable facts.  Involve the team and the knowledgeable experts.  This will serve as an invaluable reference for decision-making.

2.  Develop multiple  possible causes  from these facts.  The more the better.  Involve  folks not influenced by inside knowledge of the team or the project.

3.  Consider the opposite:  if there is a developing theory, or as a cause starts to surface, specifically identify an opposing theory and invest time to see if it is true.  Example:  A new product is not selling well, and the theory is developing that it is not a compelling product.  Consider the opposite: it is compelling, but we are not succeeding at communicating its benefits/the price is too high/etc.

4.  The truth might be surprising, so communication is critical.  It is a tough role to be the bearer of a surprising truth, one that counters conventional ideas and a developing confirmation bias.  Be prepared to clearly and effectively and persistently communicate why you believe another theory (cause) is closer to the truth.

5.  Take action.  Effective action is the reason for all this trouble about figuring out causes, the truth, etc.  Serve your team by taking the steps that actually make things better.

Here is quote from the intriguing blog  You are Not So Smart  that brings this home:  “Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”

The confirmation bias is ever-present.  So develop the habit of looking elsewhere for the truth.  You might be led back to your pre-conceived ideas.  But the journey will often take you in surprising directions.

Essential Qualities of a Leader: A Belief You Really, Absolutely Must Have for Servant Leadership

6918240903I am going to say something, and I want you to pay careful attention to your reaction.  How you react will tell us alot about how painful this is going to be.

Here it is:   You are not always right.  In fact, you are probably often wrong.  You might even be hopelessly self-deceived.

How did you feel when you read that?  Did you immediately bristle with offense, or frown with skepticism?  Did you defenses go up?  If so – we have a long way to go in leadership development.

I don’t want to hear your defense.  I am not interested in stories about how smart you are, or how you rose to leadership by being good at what you do.

If you believe you are always or even mostly right, I can tell you that servant leadership is a long, long way away.

For the belief that that answer lies outside us is what drives us to listen.  It’s what drives us to collaborate.  It’s what drives us to seek the expertise and voice of others.  It’s the engine of our desire to learn and to help others learn.   It is the energy behind our search for the truth in our leadership and decision-making.

It the root of humility and a servant attitude.

The truth is many of us have work to do here.  Admitting that we are often wrong or incomplete in our thoughts or decisions is not the kind of thing that comes easily or quickly or feels natural.

So starting at your very next meeting/conversation/event, tell yourself this one thing:  I do not have all the answers.

You may be surprised how quickly it transforms your leadership and effectiveness.

Lessons Painfully Learned: The Destructive Power of Gossip

2436625071So much of what I have learned about leadership has been through bitter experience – I have done it wrong, and then painfully  poked the wound to understand what happened.

So I provide this story hoping that you avoid the trap I set for myself.

The gossip seemed at first pretty innocent.   I was a new leader in an established team, and  as I talked to my direct reports about the challenges of the day, naturally some complaints boiled up.  Complaints about certain teams not delivering what they promised.  Complaints about leaders not supporting our group.  Complaints about some folks in our business  not doing their work and not being held accountable.

It just seemed like they were answering the questions I asked, and maybe venting a bit.  How can their opinion count if I don’t listen to it?  How can I establish credibility if I don’t show a little empathy?  I needed to know what people thought so I could help.

RIght.  But there were other sides to these stories.  There were often reasons why other leaders and teams could not do what we needed of them.  Higher priority projects trumped ours.  Key team members left and slowed delivery.   The business conditions changed and a project and goal that made sense before no longer made sense.

But I continued to listen, to allow the venting.  I describe the other points of view, to be sure, but to still be a neutral and fair sounding board, right?  No really – because by allowing the venting I had taken the side of the person complaining.   The venting was really gossip – it was uniformly negative, it was not being communicated to those it concerned, and it often concerned things that could not or would not change.

Mike Myatt, in his wonderful leadership blog, has  a great definition of gossip:

“Gossip is talking about a situation with somebody who is neither a part of the solution or a part of the problem.”  – See more at: http://www.n2growth.com/blog/workplace-gossip/#sthash.wHM8nNFN.dpuf   – Mike Myatt

I began to realize that the venting and complaining was part of a long existing cycle of seeing others as the reason for our problems and – most damaging to the truth – speaking of intentions and motivations of others as if we know what they are.  You have heard this kind of talk – Joe was critical in that meeting because he hates us.  Susan submitted the report late because she doesn’t like her work.  Mike withdrew his support of our project for political reasons.

The first casualty of gossip is the truth.  Unverified and unknowable beliefs are spoken of as if true.  Things we have heard third hand are passed on without checking to see if we got it right.  Character assassination occurs with no particular attention to the facts.

Gossip is almost always negative, and it spawns an epidemic of negativity that will kill team moral.  That is why the gossip occurs in private or small groups – because people know it is unseemly to say such negative things where others can hear.  Gossip needs the dark to flourish, where there is no accountability for what is said.

Gossip is toxic to trust.  Trust cannot exist in an environment of negativity and closed-door complaining.  What people really think is whispered in the dark, not spoken in the open.  Your team members can’t be confident that what is said in the open is truthfully what a person believes. And positive thoughts or opinions about you are fleeting and conditional.

I eventually saw the danger, and began to take action discourage it, but it was really difficult to change the negative, low-trust culture.  Rebuilding trust and stamping out gossip takes time.

Here is a simple recipe for stopping gossip I learned the hard way:

Set a firm no gossip policy:  Tell the team upfront what gossip is,  that you will not tolerate it, and that you will hold gossipers accountable.

Gossip wilts in the light:  If the person(s) the comments concern is (are) not present, offer to take the conversation to them.  If that is not acceptable, then the comment is gossip.  Are the conversations you are having behind closed doors professional, fair, consistent with your leadership brand?  If not, END IT.

Move serial gossipers out of your team:  some folks just cannot exist without the behind-the-scenes venting and complaining about others.  They will suck the trust and life out of your team.  Move them far, far away.

There are many great articles on gossip.  One of the best I have found is Mike Myatt’s article:  http://www.n2growth.com/blog/workplace-gossip/

Related Content:

1.  The Danger of Wokrplace Gossip:  http://www.careerstonegroup.com/z-media/wp-workplace-gossip.pdf

2.  A thorough, rich piece on Workplace Gossip by Shelley Holmes:  http://www.leadership-and-motivation-training.com/workplace-gossip.html

3.  More on no-gossip policies from the NY Times:   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/jobs/15pre.html?_r=0