ONE THING You Can Do To Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness

It is always surprising to me to hear about organizations that do not promote or support “feedback” for its employees. In one organization I worked with recently, I was told that leadership expects (and wants) its employees to “just know what to do.”

To expect everyone to “just know what to do” is to assume everyone is meeting performance expectations. We know that is not true so, therefore, are their expectations realistic?

Make no mistake. The purpose of feedback is PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT … and we all have room for improvement. In fact, strong leaders embrace continuous learning and development. That’s how they became a Strong Leader.

How does feedback help improve performance?

  • Helps you to understand how others perceive your performance and effectiveness as a leader
  • Exposes blind spots that you, as a leader, might not otherwise recognize
  • Feedback can be very motivating and satisfying as you understand how your leadership is making a difference
  • Most importantly, feedback helps you identify specific opportunities for future development

So what does a leader do when they find themselves in an environment that does not support feedback? They #ExerciseLeadership.Here is a quick, 7-step process to solicit feedback and improve your leadership effectiveness.

  1. Get clarity on EXACTLY what you want to accomplish. Perhaps you want to become a better communicator, be more engaging with your team, or improve your leadership influence throughout the organization. Take time to identify specific goals or behaviors that you want to improve. This is a critical step that will guide you through the rest of the process.
  2. Identify a short list of targeted questions. The key is to ask questions that focus on what you should continue to do or do differently in the future. For example, “What are specific behaviors that promotes engagement within the team that I should continue?” “What is something I can do differently in the future that would improve engagement with the team?”
  3. Ask for feedback from a variety of stakeholders. Don’t just ask for feedback from your greatest fans. Talk with a variety of stakeholders that interact with you on an ongoing basis. This will provide you with a more “rounded” assessment of your performance. Direct reports, colleagues (other leaders at your level), your boss, vendors, consultants, or even customers might be great sources of feedback. WHO you solicit feedback from depends on the goals you identified in the first step.
  4. Manage the session so it remains positive and productive. It is okay to ask for clarity (i.e., What do you mean by “engage effectively?”) … but do not ask for an explanation (i.e., What do you mean “I don’t engage effectively?”). There is a difference. One question asks for clarity and the other can cause the person giving feedback to become defensive and hesitant. Don’t argue or try to prove a point. This is not the place nor time to debate details.
  5. Thank them for the feedback and share what you intend to do as a result. Identify specific behaviors you want to work on over the next month. Give them permission to give you feedback when they observe your progress or if they see you veering off track. Encourage them to watch and comment and thank them for their valuable feedback.
  6. Keep things in perspective. The feedback you receive is one person’s perception. It doesn’t necessarily make it “true.” However, if two or three people share the same feedback, perhaps this is a blind spot and warrants serious consideration.
  7. Continue the feedback loop. Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author and one of the top 10 most-influential business thinkers states “Leaders that ask for suggestions from their direct reports – focus on improving 1-2 key behaviors – and follow-up on a quarterly basis – are almost always seen as dramatically increasing in leadership effectiveness.” It is much easier to change behavior than it is to change others’ perceptions. Continuing the feedback loop not only supports your development goals but, as colleagues acknowledge your progress and continue to give you feedback, the process will have a positive impact on their perception of you as a leader.

There are two important keys to keep in mind as you go through this process: The goals and commitments must be measurable and the process must be manageable. Now go … #ExerciseLeadership!

6 Critical Keys to Unlock High Performance!

Get a group of managers or supervisors together and, inevitably, the conversation will land on a topic that is a common source of stress and frustration for many leaders. In fact, they often share their horror stories in an effort to empathize, comfort, and even compete with one another. While many dislike it, they don’t always know how to correct it. The topic? Bad Performance. Whether you have a “bad apple” or a good employee that falls short in a specific performance area, knowing how to effectively deal with this situation is crucial for every strong leader. So how do you unlock high performance? Great question.

  1. Don’t ignore bad performance. It is contagious and a detriment to the team and the organization. When we do not address poor performance … it becomes the new “standard.”
  2. Provide frequent feedback. Make no mistake. The purpose of providing feedback is performance improvement. Unfortunately, many managers do not know how to give effective feedback so they rarely do it and, when they do, its most likely negative feedback. If you must give someone feedback about poor performance, focus on “positive feed forward.” Positive feed forward emphasizes what to keep doing or start doing in the future. While successful people tend to resist negative feedback about the past, they almost always respond well to positive suggestions for the future. By focusing on the future, leaders can help their team members be “right” tomorrow, as opposed to proving they were “wrong” yesterday. In addition to feedback for the purpose of improved performance, when you see someone doing something remarkable, recognize it. Be specific and value their contribution. That will go a long way to reinforce positive behaviors you want them to duplicate again and again.
  3. Help them leverage a talent to overcome the challenge. Not everyone achieves success the same way. A strengths-based approach to improving performance affirms what’s right about an individual and helps them think strategically about “intent and impact.” Simply look for a strength that has a direct connection to their performance challenge. What does success look like and how can they leverage that strength to create a plan?
  4. Rearrange team responsibilities. If possible, assess the talents and strengths of the entire team. What could be one person’s “low” could be another person’s “love.” By simply aligning responsibilities to the talents and strengths of each individual, you are intentionally setting up each individual to bring their best to work every day. When your team has a chance to do what they love to do and do best every day, everyone wins!
  5. Coach them to success. One of the easiest ways to start a feedback session is by asking questions. It helps you (the leader) get a read on what the team member is thinking. When you insist on doing it your way there is no thinking going on … and there is no buy-in. Questions such as “How do you think you are doing?” “What needs to happen to improve your performance in this area?” “What does success look like?” “What is most important in this situation?” “What can I do to support you?” It’s also important to ask the tough questions. I am a huge proponent of asking questions to promote accountability. Questions such as, “How do you want me to handle it if you don’t complete this task on time?” “What should I do if you miss the deadline again?” Great leaders know how to ask great questions that results in team members that know how to think for themselves.
  6. Hold them accountable. Accountability simply means being responsible for some action. It is not meant to brow beat or make people feel bad. In fact it is the complete opposite. The truth is most people want to do a good job. Holding them accountable helps them to perform better. When you ask the tough questions about consequences to poor performance in the future, you are setting the stage for accountability

You do not drift to high performance. When you consistently confront poor performance, provide frequent feedback, ask powerful questions, and hold people accountable, it will become what is expected.

Are You Guilty of “Fake Talk?”

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. When they do it well, things seem to work more smoothly. However, when it is done poorly, it results in countless problems including missed deadlines, poor performance, interoffice conflict, and don’t forget gossip. Yes. When people don’t understand what or why something is happening, they tend to make things up.

How do you know if you are communicating effectively?
Great question! And the answer is … if you’re getting results!

On the flip side, according to John Stoker, author of Overcoming Fake Talk, a conversation that seems to go well but then nothing happens is called “fake talk.” Stoker writes that fake talk occurs because we expect people to read our minds, we think our intentions are obvious, and we are so vague that even a mind reader would misinterpret what is being said.

Instead of “fake talk,” what if we could engage in powerful conversations that left people feeling valued and respected, strengthened relationships, and delivered remarkable results? The following is a simple 5-Star Conversation Model that has helped hundreds of clients avoid “fake talk” and facilitate powerful conversations.

  1. Articulate the Purpose. Before engaging in a powerful conversation, it is important that everyone clearly understands the problem, challenge, request or goal. Be specific. What is the problem? When is it a problem? Where has the problem occurred? Why is it a problem for us?
  2. Define the Win. Now that you have articulated the problem or the goal, it is important to explore the “win.” Players on a sports team know when they are advancing in the game because they know what it takes to “win.” Before you move any further in the conversation, make sure you take time to define the win … to define success. This gets everyone moving in the same direction and focused on the ideal outcome.
  3. Set Expectations. Don’t assume they know what you want. This is the point where you can share what matters most. Whether it is a specific outcome, objective, stakeholder, or process, spell out what you expect from the outcome as well as from them individually and collectively.
  4. Ask Questions. Don’t skip this step because “telling” isn’t communicating. When you ask questions, it challenges their thinking and gives them a platform to provide their input. This ensures the team is engaged, is a part of the solution, and that you have buy-in. For example, “What are viable solutions? What do you think would be the best approach? What are possible barriers that might prohibit success? What resources do we need? What support do you need from me?”
  5. Gain Commitment. This step is what differentiates powerful conversations from fake talk. Powerful conversations set the stage for action and accountability. Simply bring the conversation to a close by asking questions such as: “What is your commitment? When will you get this done? How will you keep me informed?”

Whether you are facilitating a team meeting around a team project or holding a quick, five-minute conversation in the hallway, the 5-Star Conversation Model is a great tool that will help move your conversations from good to great!

QUESTION: What is your personal commitment to overcoming fake talk?

Guest Post: Storms, Icebergs and Leadership

As I’ve suggested for many years, the iceberg is a great metaphor for leadership… the 10% above the waterline represents the skills of the leader and the 90% below the water represents the character of the leader. In an attempt to learn more about these unique products of nature, I ventured with my family to Antarctica.

As the picture above illustrates, icebergs are amazing! The scale is this photo is deceiving – this iceberg is about 100′ tall and 600 feet long! We saw all shapes, sizes and a variety of colors – the minerals in the water give them many different hues in the pure, pollution-free sunlight.

One of the things I learned was the critical role storms play in the formation of an iceberg. You may have thought about this, but I had not. Icebergs are formed over decades of snow and ice storms. The more storms, the deeper the snow, the deeper the snow, the more pressure, the more pressure, the more the snow is compressed – to form ice. This process repeats itself over and over again until the weight of it all forces a break from land and the newly calved iceberg is launched into the sea.

Here’s something to consider, could the iceberg as a metaphor for leadership extend to the way leaders are formed? What role do storms play in our formation? There are several ways I believe storms shape our leadership.

Storms strengthen us. Think about the hard things you’ve encountered in your life – at home, at work, with your health. If you and I have learned from these experiences, we are stronger. Whenever I find myself in a storm, one of my first questions is always, “What can I learn here?”

Storms deepen our experience. One of the more treacherous features of many storms is the element of the unknown. And certainly, every new storm can bring its own surprises. However, I’ve been in numerous situations in which past storms provided insight regarding how to survive a current storm. Experience matters.

Storms shape our character. This is where I want to stretch the metaphor just a little. If storms form an iceberg and if the amount above the waterline is directly proportional to what’s below, storms shape and deepen our character. I believe this to be true. When you and I move through a storm in our leadership, our resolve and our beliefs are impacted in a profound way. How we react under pressure is a true test of our leadership character. Here’s a footnote to consider: We only learn from the storms we survive. So, if you find yourself in a storm – and you will – hang on and learn all you can from the experience. It will serve you well when the weather clears.

QUESTION: How do storms prepare you for the future?


Mark Miller

Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else. In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing. The 10th anniversary edition of The Secret was released September 2, 2014.

Do You Do and Know “The Secret” of Leadership?

In my early days of Corporate America, being a leader meant you had a title, responsibility and authority, and a larger cubicle with a view. In other words, you were the “boss.” The boss made all the decisions and you, the employee, were expected to simply follow all the policies and procedures that had already been established … usually by the boss. I was told to enter work orders and print and mail purchase orders. Period.

I recently had the pleasure of being on the Launch Team for the recent release of the book titled The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller.

While the book is a relatively short read, once I picked it up, I was unable to put it down. Using a story format, Ken and Mark painted a clear picture of true leadership, and it had little to do with one’s level or title in the organization. Here are three personal take-a-ways from the book.

  • A person can serve without leading, but a leader can’t lead well without serving. I have read many books on the topic of leadership and I agree that the telltale sign of a great leader is one that knows how to SERVE. They write “If I am leading with the intention to serve my people and my organization, I will behave in a fundamentally different way than if my motivation is self-serving.” The mindset and behaviors of a servant leader focuses on achieving wildly important goals, but not at the expense of their people.
  • Great leadership requires skill and character. In most organizations, people are promoted into positions of “authority” because they were good at their jobs, not because they were effective leaders. Now they are required to “manage” more stuff plus lead a team. So you keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing to get promoted and now no one thinks you’re all that great. In fact, all of a sudden people hate you!In leadership it is critical to learn effective skills for dealing with people while at the same time leading with character. In other words, doing what you preach and preaching what you do. It is important to “own up” to your bad decisions; apologize for previous sins and rectify the situation so you maintain credibility and trust with your team.
  • “Fit” people into the right jobs and help them leverage their strengths; don’t try to “fix” them later. When you put a person in a role that requires them to leverage abilities that are foreign or less comfortable to them, they will spend their entire day stressed and frustrated, resulting in performance problems. Great leaders understand when they place people in roles that allow them to leverage natural talent, they are setting that person up to succeed.

In reality, there are two tests of a leader. Do they get results? And do they have followers? By the way, if you don’t have followers, it’s very hard to get long-term results.

To get the entire scoop on The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, you will need to get the book … which I highly recommend!

QUESTION: What leadership secrets have you discovered that have helped you become a more effective leader?

“Strengths At Work” ZONE

As a strengths-based coach and facilitator, people often share with me that they have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment but never really did anything with it. While the results were unexpectedly accurate and they experienced several feel-good moments reading their report, they never understood how to take this extraordinary insight and turn it into something practical and powerful.

There’s more to discovering your strengths than a warm and fuzzy feeling.

What is Strengths-Based Development?

My strengths journey began in 2003 when I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. StrengthsFinder is an assessment tool that explains the natural ways in which you think, feel, and behave. These natural tendencies are called talents. Decades of research reveal a person’s talents, when developed, are the source of his or her true potential and power. This “investment” into those talents is referred to as strengths-based development.

Our talents help us understand who we are. They

  • describe us
  • influence our choices
  • direct our actions
  • explain why we are better at some things than others
  • help us filter our world

The wonderful thing about talents is that they hold great potential for us. It is through our talents that we tap into our greatest potential for success.

Benefits of Strengths-Based Development

It was amazing to discover the things I took for granted — the way I thought, felt, and behaved — were actually considered “talents.” This was transformational in so many ways.

Donald Clifton, former Gallup Chairman and “Father of Strengths Psychology” asked the question “what will happen when we think about what is right about people instead of fixing what is wrong with people?”

I don’t know about you, but I never felt confident, empowered, or motivated to achieve the “extraordinary” when there was an emphasis on my weaknesses. Instead, it left me feeling defeated, defensive, and beaten down. The message that it sends when we choose to ignore the 80% success to focus on the 20% breakdown is truly detrimental to the performance of the individual and the culture within the team. Again, I’m not advocating that we ignore the 20%. I’m merely suggesting we use a different strategy to improve and develop our success story.

People working from an area of strength (versus weakness):

  • are more confident
  • are more engaged in their work
  • look forward to going to work
  • have more positive than negative interactions with coworkers
  • treat customers better
  • tell their friends they work for a great company
  • achieve more on a daily basis
  • have more positive, creative, and innovative moments

In addition to the personal benefits of a strengths approach, when teams learn how to intentionally leverage the individual and combined talents and strengths of the team to achieve performance objectives, they gain a process they can use time and time again to set them up for success. That is priceless and nothing short of powerful!

So now what?

If you believe your team’s greatest potential lies is the strengths of the individual contributors and you are intrigued with the idea of using a strengths-based approach to develop great leaders and strong teams, getting started is simple.

The FIRST STEP is to discover the talents of each member on the team. This can be done using the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. Explore the connections between their dominant talents and their greatest successes. How did they use their talents in the past (often unknowingly) to accomplish great achievements?

The SECOND STEP is to look for ways to apply the team’s dominant talents towards a specific challenge, goal or project. What specific areas of the project allow team members a chance to do what they love and do best? Where can you leverage the best of each team member to achieve an extraordinary outcome?

The THIRD STEP is to invest in the greatest talents of your team members. Look for ways to expand their knowledge base, develop new skills, or practice using their dominant talents. This “investment” in their talent is how they move from talent to strength!

While some are interested in “growth,” great leaders are interested in something more tangible. Great leaders are interested in learning how to improve individual and team performance, increase engagement and job satisfaction, and execute strategic plans. They want to know how to develop a team that collaborates and communicates effectively towards organizational goals. They don’t want “growth” … great leaders are interested in excellence and achieving success!

If you have never tried a strengths-based approach to extraordinary performance, then you are sitting on a goldmine of untapped potential. And that, my friend, is priceless! What can you do today to start this amazing strengths journey with your team?

3 Ways to Build Trust with Your Team in the Next Hour!

Today I had the awesome privilege of sitting under the teaching of Curt Liesveld, Advanced Learning & Development Consultant at Gallup and co-auther of Living Your Strengths. In our session Curt reminded us of the importance of trust in a strong relationship and the impact it can have on the performance of those around us. According to Donald Clifton, former Founder and CEO of Gallup, “Relationships help us to define who we are and what we can become. Most of us can trace our successes to pivotal relationships.”

When I think about the leaders that made the greatest impact in my life, it was definitely the ones I knew I could trust. I could count on them for support and feedback, and I was confident I would be treated fairly if I simply did the right thing. And in that place of trust and confidence, my performance excelled.

According to Tom Rath, author of Strengths-Based Leadership, the chances of employees being engaged at work when they do not trust the company’s leaders are just 1 in 12. In stark contrast, the chances of employees being engaged at work are better than 1 in 2 if they trust the organization’s leadership — a more than six-fold increase.

Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship and, in leadership, relationships matter. Without trust in a relationship, what do you have? Distrust. And distrust on a team creates emotional barriers that result in conflict, resistance, skepticism, self-serving motives and self-centered goals. It’s like starting from zero each time.

There is no shortage of books, blogs, and other resources that teach you how to build trust with your team over time. But for those of you who understand the importance and urgency, here are three simple strategies you can implement today, even within the hour. They’re possible, practical, and powerful!

How do we build trust?

  1. Go first. Barry Posner writes in Leadership Challenge, as a leader, when it comes to building trust you must “go first” — you must model the way. It is important that you say what you do and do what you say. You must be reliable. You must be credible. You must be trustworthy if you want others to follow you. You must go first!
  2. Be a good listener. The 5th habit from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says we are to Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen to your team of peers or direct reports. Really listen. Don’t act as if you’re listening and let it go in one ear and out the other. Faking it is worse than not doing it at all. When a leader is a good listener, people feel respected and trust can grow.
  3. Be consistent. Leadership is a practice of behaviors. The crux of leading is doing the right things, doing them well and doing them consistently, to the point where it is predictable. Your team can count on it. According to John Hamm, author of Unusually Excellent, “then, and only then, are they freed up and fired up to do their best work.”

Trust can’t be built overnight. It requires commitment and diligence. But highly effective leaders and high-performing teams cannot function without it. The good news … all three strategies only require the buy-in and effort of one person. You. So I challenge you to be intentional. Start today.