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July 12th, 2011
Has your manager ever given you a new project that was completely outside your area of expertise and you decided to tackle it anyway?
Leadership and followership are tough ships to navigate. Leaders need to acutely listen to their direct reports to diagnose properly if their follower is both motivated and competent to complete the task at hand. Followers needed to have the courage to ask for direction and support depending on their own assessment of whether or not they can push the task to completion.
Executive Lucie’s* manager, Dora*, decided to use a supportive leadership approach. Although her words were lovely to hear, they did not land on Lucie’s ears with their intended positive impact.
“As Dora started applying terms like ‘innovator’, ‘creator’, ‘leading edge’ and ‘tech guru’ to me, I got scared and became hesitant about my suggestions and ideas. Before this project, I felt my ideas were just ideas – some good, some bad, some risky, some silly. Suddenly, I’m holding back, because I felt that all my ideas need to AWESOME and what if they’re not?”
It’s really important as leaders, that we make sure we don’t say what we want our direct reports to hear, but rather we listen to what they need more acutely. I truly hope Dora gives Lucie more direction next time, as with direction, Lucie will fly through this task! As her self-confidence increases, so will her ability to complete new projects in the future increase.
If you’ve ever been in a situation like Lucie and Dora’s, how did your manager interact with you during this process? Did they use a supportive leadership approach and convey to you that they were confident you could create a leading edge solution? Or did they use a directive leadership approach and give you some ideas of how to get the project started and some possible directions to head? Which leadership style did you need from them more?
* Names have been changed.
December 22nd, 2010
We’ve been writing this blog for almost 2-years and couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for your participation.
This past year, we covered team alignment, meeting productivity, the importance of communication and emotional intelligence. Some of our favourite posts have been;
- The Highs and Lows of Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Navigation
- Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork
- How to Prevent a Loss from Destroying Team Productivity
Since we started blogging, our most popular post has been The Secret to Email Productivity for Executives.
What was your favourite post and why? Your comments help keep our blog alive.
Which areas would you like more insight on? Emotional Intelligence? Communication? Feedback and Performance? Accountability? Team Development? Leadership and Followership? Perhaps you have a situation about a topic we have yet to cover. If you’re experiencing a stumbling block or a particularly difficult situation, chances are that others are as well. We love hearing from you, so please keep posting your feedback, comments and questions.
Look for a new post early in the New Year.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season!
November 02nd, 2010
Have you ever led a meeting where one of your team members sat slumped in their chair, arms crossed, and not said a word for the duration?
Often we hire individuals to be members of our team because they have a particular skill set. A VP of Marketing, for example, can be highly committed and competent when designing consistent marketing messages… BUT not be committed nor competent when collaborating during a team meeting.
This is a problem.
All members need to be fully engaged in order for meetings to operate effectively. So how do we use our leadership communication skills to provide direction and support for apathetic team members?
Holding a meeting “check-in” is the first vital step. A check-in encourages team members to effectively solve problems, make decisions, get results, and even celebrate successes. And it’s also an effective way to reach out to disengaged team members. (Read my post on using the check-in to increase team productivity.)
As a facilitator, I am often brought in to be the interim leader of a meeting to work towards developing a more effective leadership communication style. Here’s how I use a check-in to that end:
- I clearly illustrate what a check-in includes: “Please tell us what you are working on, how heavy your current project load is, what your “stuck-points” are, and whatever else you think we need to know.”
- When the response is a reluctant two-word sentence, I direct the uncommunicative team member to “say more.” Once the team member is asked to explain more about their project load, I notice that their arms are no longer crossed, and that they are formulating five- to six-word sentences.
- I spend some time with the uncommunicative team member describing how the check-in can help increase team productivity. Once they understand that communicating during team meetings is an important part of their job, they usually become more forthright.
Although you might notice greater engagement during the first check-in you conduct, remember that building effective communication skills is a process. Over time, check-ins usually begin to occur without leadership prompts.
As leaders and peers of team meetings, we need to stand up for effective communication. If there is an individual on our team who is disengaged, we need to use our own leadership communication skills and cross-lead to increase competence.
Do your team meetings involve check-ins? How have you used your leadership skills to engage uncommunicative team members?
October 05th, 2010
Stuck. That’s the feeling that many co-workers have when they try to navigate conflict with someone who is operating with a low level of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with a colleague that ends in finger-wagging and raised voices, you’ve experienced the negative effects of low emotional intelligence firsthand.
Emotional intelligence is characterized by a person’s or group’s ability to constructively manage their emotions during interactions. (Read my blog post, “Emotional Intelligence – How does it impact the bottom line?” for an in-depth definition.)
Just how important is emotional intelligence in the workplace?
Psychologist Daniel Goleman surveyed 200 companies and found that emotional competence accounts for two-thirds of productivity differences among workers (“What Makes a Leader,” 1998).
People who demonstrate behaviours of high-level emotional intelligence are able to:
- Manage their emotions during highly volatile and high-risk situations.
- Quickly tap into their self-awareness to identify and manage those emotions with appropriate behaviours.
- Exhibit empathy for others and, with effective leadership assertiveness, demonstrate a competence in social skills which result in a positive outcome.
Consider this scenario:
Sarah, a great worker bee, has difficulty being accountable for her department’s task deadlines. In collaborative departmental and project-related meetings, she often flashes a sweet smile while blaming her teammates or clients for the lack of results on one of her direct reports.
Jason often states that Sarahʼs behaviour is unacceptable. Because Sarah is the team leader, he feels itʼs her responsibility to lead her direct reports to a successful outcome and notify all parties if the project goes off-course.
At this point during the meeting, Sarah usually explodes into a loud tirade of blaming statements and accusations and stomps out the door. Jason is left perplexed, trying to figure out what to do differently to get the project moving forward.
Meanwhile, Tanya remains sitting still in the meeting, saying nothing. Sheʼs tired of the “same old” behaviours from Sarah. Although she silently applauds Jasonʼs efforts, she knows that he doesnʼt have the ability to implement any consequences to Sarahʼs actions.
Interactions like these leave most co-workers feeling powerless and ready to give-up: “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” So when peer interactions are being dominated by low-level emotional intelligence, don’t hesitate to involve your leader, manager or supervisor.
Here’s what the process would look like with Sarah and Jason:
- The leader is able to identify the “sticking points” in communication and project results that Sarah and Jason are encountering. Both Sarah and Jason have an opportunity to take accountability for the impact their ineffective communication has had on both the end result and the overall team dynamics.
- Once Sarah understands how her behaviour affects the team, she can be guided back to the basics. Her leader can develop a plan with task-specific expectations and subsequent consequences to not meeting those deadlines. The plan provides Sarah with both clear directives and corrective feedback.
- A similar yet less guided approach needs to be presented to Jason. He understood that their communication needed to change, but had no power or understanding of how to redirect Sarah. Acknowledging his frustrations and recognizing his struggle to work with Sarah is adequate.
Once team behaviours improve, the team relationships and project results will all improve too.
Ever bumped up against a co-worker with low level emotional intelligence? How did you handle it?
March 31st, 2010
I know what you might be thinking about your team: it takes one “bad apple to spoil the barrel.” Fact is, though, it’s the stuff “swept under rug” that’s more damaging to team productivity.
I’m talking about loss and how no one wants to talk about it.
All businesses face loss at one time or another. It could be loss of coworkers due to corporate downsizing or restructuring, or loss of a client or bid, even a death of a co-worker. In the years I’ve been working with teams, it’s always surprised me how even the most experienced leaders back away from dealing with a loss. The typical response seems to be, “It’s a private matter. Best to let it run its course.”
In other words, let’s ignore the loss and hope it goes away before anyone notices. But everyone notices—especially when it’s something as major as a restructuring or downsizing.
Not only does a loss distract people from staying focused and on track, it also makes them anxious. Anxious people are very unproductive. They can’t help but worry about what’s under that rug, why no one’s talking about it, if it’s worse than they imagine, and if they’re next.
Fortunately, applying your emotional intelligence can help turn a loss-related crisis into an opportunity to assert leadership and relationship values. It gets down to having the courage to have the tough conversations.
I worked with a team leader recently to support him in doing just that after his company went through a significant restructuring. The news shocked everyone. Worse, it was followed by yet another shock—an increased workload due to the loss of staff.
I recommended the team leader facilitate a “hot-topic check-in.” The hot topic was the actual loss through restructuring; the check-in provided an opportunity for following to happen:
- In a team meeting, the leader acknowledged what had happened and why.
- He then asked each group member to offer personal feedback (thoughts, concerns, plan for today). No dialog was expected; it was simply an opportunity to make a statement, listen, and empathize.
The check-in took 10 to 15 minutes, after which you could feel the tension meter drop to zero. Someone even cracked a joke that got everyone twittering. It was as though the team found its groove again just by opening up.
Amazing how powerful and cost-effective a little communication can be. Here’s the best part—it’s never too late. Can you think of a loss your company has experienced that you might want make a hot topic for a check-in? Give it a try and let me know what happens.
March 18th, 2010
I once asked a very successful marketer how she could jump into an industry she knew nothing about and in a couple of months nail their new brand strategy. “I listen,” she said, adding. “It’s like magic.”
She’s certainly not alone in the high value she places on listening. Management gurus, such as Tom Peters, have been emphasizing the power of listening for years now, because as it turns out, most of us aren’t very good at it. Not even doctors find listening easy, says Peters, and that’s when it can be matter of life and death. Imagine what it’s like in the average business meeting?
Peters makes the point that an organization-wide commitment to what he calls “strategic listening” is even more important than a good strategic plan.
Fortunately, learning strategic listening isn’t difficult, though successful application takes some practice. It starts with commitment at the top. Leadership teams need to agree on its importance and then commit to teaching listening skills to other team members.
There are a number of listening models from which to chose, any of which are easy to teach and simple to apply in any day-to-day situation. To help you out, I’ve created this free ebook that outlines my proven model for strategic listening. You can download it here: Communication Loop_Ebook
Once you’ve taught team members the elements of listening, you can help enforce the skill by using conversations with peers and direct reports as “learning opportunities” to illustrate the listening technique.
Team leaders who have implemented my strategic listening model tell me it’s one of the most efficient, cost-effective ways they’ve found for improving decision-making, conflict resolution, and even interpersonal relationships. Why not see what it can do for your team? Let me know how it goes—I’m always listening!
January 18th, 2010
People often say to me, Renée, you make teamwork look so easy—what’s your secret? Well, the quick answer is, it’s all in how you apply emotional intelligence. When it comes to aligning teams to get the results and productivity you want, the fastest way to do that is to start with this simple team building exercise called the “check-in.” (Not seeing a video-screencast below? Click here)
Let me tell you a story about how the check-in works. I was working with a team last month, and they had this wonderful VP of Marketing. She walked into a meeting and the first thing she did was not dive into the agenda. Instead, she took a couple of minutes to share where she was at—and in detail. She talked about the four projects she was managing and how two had just derailed. In short, she did a check-in, and invited everyone else at the meeting to do one too. In less than 10 minutes, she had re-focused and aligned everyone around results.
Now if you think about it that rarely happens. Usually, meetings go something like this.
You call a meeting. As the team leader, you’re focused on the agenda—there’s a lot to get through. But in truth, your mind is all over the place. You’re thinking about the numbers, some client problem, a personnel issues, a business opportunity. You’re barely at the meeting—your mind is back at your computer or on the phone.
What if you took a moment to do a check-in, just like the VP of Marketing did in our example?
What if, starting with you, the team leader, you went around the table and gave everyone a chance to dump all the data and details in their heads? Each person would get a couple of minutes to talk about what’s going on for them right now. Everyone else would just listen.
That’s the check in. It’s simple and fast and it works. Give people a chance to get the swirl out of their heads and amazing things start to happen. People shift from being preoccupied by their internal agendas to connecting with each another. They develop empathy as they hear what other people are going through. They get aligned and get results.
The check-in is a great example of applied Emotional Intelligence. What it’s really doing is raising everyone’s self-awareness, and in doing that, creating connection and alignment.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes. The next time you call a meeting, start with the check-in. Before you jump into the agenda, give yourself and your team a chance to dump out all the distracting stuff first. You’ll be amazed at how easy and quickly you get full engagement, and how that kind of focus can make productivity soar.
Interested in more on developing emotional intelligence within your team?
January 14th, 2010
Teamwork. You either love or you hate it. And for good reason. Effective teamwork requires a lot of emotional intelligence.
I’m thinking the folks over at Scotiabank have emotional intelligence in spades. They’ve launched a new initiative called “one team, one goal.” Here’s the amazing part: they have 69,000 team members, spread across 50 countries.
How are they going to find the glue that unifies all these different employees to get results? By putting emotional intelligence to work. Here’s what that means. An important principle in emotional intelligence is starting with what matters.
Scotiabank focused on finding a solution to connect people so that they would generate results they needed. They sat down as a leadership team and thought, Hey! We’ve got a lot of members, in a lot of different places, a lot of data, and we need to get one core result. What’s the glue? What’s going to hold the team together? What’s going to align all of the data and the people?
Applying the power of Emotional Intelligence, they got to the idea of developing a mentoring program in which top-tier level executives would nurture and teach second-tier executives. That became their glue and goal: Develop new leaders.
Then it gets really exciting.
They started to think about this glue as a conversation about Scotiabank’s values, Scotiabank’s skills, and Scotiabank’s culture. They started teaching all that to this group of people, and it led to some robust conversations about problem solving.
Next thing you know this magical thing starts happening: the human element kicks in. People get electrified by ideas. They engage and connect. They solve problems and get results.
That’s emotional intelligence in action. You find the glue that will align people and data. For Scotiabank it was developing leadership through mentoring. For your team, it could be something different.
It’s interesting to note that Scotiabank is the only Canadian company to make the list of The Global Top Companies for Leaders. I’m guessing emotional intelligence has something to do with that. What do you think? How can you use emotional intelligence in your team and organization? What’s your glue?
October 06th, 2009
I’d like to share a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s a story about what happens when a high-functioning executive team with well-defined roles, strengths, and dynamics suddenly loses a member and fails to adjust. If you’re a CEO or senior executive, don’t let this happen in your organization.
I recently worked with a company that had offices across Canada and an executive management team that had been together for over 10 years. They communicated well, were willing to give direct and corrective feedback, shared an understanding of the strategic and tactical goals of the company, and reviewed their metrics with regular monthly strategic meetings.
The company was lead by a female CEO, whose father had passed the company to her 10 years prior. She had stepped into the role with no previous experience and decided to bring in outside resources to establish norms of effective teaming, help the team articulate the strategic plan and understand how to review it on a regular basis. (This is where I came in – facilitating the annual strategic planning process and monthly management meetings.)
She had a consensus building leadership style; she put issues on the table for discussion with her trusted team and then, if necessary made the final decision after weighing all of the viewpoints. A key role at the table and, definitely her primary strength.
As profits soared and the executive management team dynamic flowed effortlessly, she decided to have her first child. I was excited to see how this team would now step up and take on strategic and tactical decisions in her absence. What a possibility for the team to grow to new heights, to function with a deeper level of commitment. It’s interesting how her decision to have a child, could also birth the next level of possibility within her executive team.
Before she left, this CEO needed to pass her authority to another member of the team, but, unfortunately, she didn’t let go of her role. She chose not to do so. Instead she simply left to have her child. She assumed the team would continue to function in her absence.
Instead the team floundered because a primary leadership strength – building consensus and making the final decision was no longer at the table. Not one of the executives had the ability to make final decisions when needed. Their once dynamic meetings became meetings of discussion after discussion without decision making and actions of how to move forward.
I sometimes wonder whether this CEO recognized her primary strength and role on this team. Why didn’t she assign responsibility for decision making while she was gone? Was she paralyzed with fear that the executive team would function in a different way in her absence. making it difficult for her to find her place on the team when she returned? Watching the team flounder was extremely difficult – I was saddened by the lost opportunity for the CEO to birth both a child and a more highly functioning team.
September 17th, 2009
The most effective teams are full of people who have the courage to exercise professional clout in meetings. They’re prepared and passionate about the meeting contents, willing to be influenced and to influence others. They are willing to take ownership of their individual excellence; their wisdom, knowledge and judgement. All of this equals clout!
You may ask – why clout?
The word clout resonates for me. It represents the courage to be excellent, to put forth my viewpoint and to influence my team. If I’m successful, hopefully I will have the courage to try again next time.
Clout is different than power; my interpretation of power is too closely linked to control.
- Follow your passion with persistence, magnified by intense preparation (preparation and passion)
- Use compassion and courage to weave a strong web of connections (influence)
- Use focused excellence to drive achievement and gain wisdom (ownership and courage).
She states, “It is through combination of all these things that your power will reveal itself. The magnitude and reach of your power is up to you”. She continues, “Connectivity is key; it is what creates and strengthens your web of opportunity. The more connected you are, and the stronger your connections, the more effective you will be in obtaining and using power to achieve your goals.”
Now that resonates for me! That woman has clout! Your thoughts?