Tanveer Naseer - Leadership Coach, Speaker and Writer.+Add.Feed Info1000FOLLOWERS
Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development.
What would you do if your role as a leader lead to the accidental death of one of your employees? It’s a scenario that, thankfully, most of us might never have to consider. And yet, for one leader, this was exactly a situation they faced in their career, and what might have been a career-ending moment turned into one that helped this leader to learn how we can achieve extraordinary outcomes simply by caring for those we lead.
The leader in question is Cort Dial, who is also the guest in this episode of my leadership podcast, “Leadership Biz Cafe”. Cort is a former manager and executive who now serves as President of Cort Dial Consulting, where he has worked with executives from Chevron, Intel, U.S. Borax, Disney and Apple.
A few weeks ago, I was the invited guest on CBC Radio’s Daybreak where I shared advice on how to successfully achieve your goals for this year. Now, the start of a new year is typically when most of us make efforts to create goals for what we’d like to achieve over the course of the next 12 months.
But setting goals for what we’d like to achieve is not something that’s exclusive to the start of a new year. Indeed, anytime is a good time to commit to achieving goals that will help you to succeed, prosper, and become a better you.
Of course, leaders are always creating, monitoring, adjusting, and evaluating goals they create for their employees and their organization well beyond the month of January. But how many of us are setting goals for ourselves? Of what we’d like to achieve both for ourselves as well as within ourselves to help those we lead be successful in their collective efforts?
The truth is it’s often easier to set organizational goals than personal leadership goals because with the latter, we’re pretty much dealing with ourselves in terms of making these changes for the better. And sometimes, that can be a pretty big obstacle to overcome.
Granted, there are numerous articles that have been written which share tips on how we can go about achieving our goals. That’s why during this interview on CBC Radio, I wanted to share some lesser known approaches that can amplify our efforts to succeed.
Given how well-received they were, I’d like to share these 3 uncommon strategies for how you can successfully achieve your goals so that, 11 months from now, you can be successful not just in terms of your organization’s goals, but in terms of your personal goals as well.
1. Be specific about the how and why, and not just the what When it comes to creating organizational goals, we all understand that you need to be specific not just about what you want to achieve, but how you’re going achieve this and why it matters in terms of your organization’s long term goals.
Unfortunately, when it comes to setting goals for ourselves, we tend to overlook this critical step in the process of successful goal attainment. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again in my work coaching leaders – although they have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve or of what they want to change, they lack an understanding for how they’ll go about accomplishing this goal, and in some cases, even why this is worth pursuing.
In fact, when I asked some leaders what achieving this goal would look and feel like, it was hard for them to articulate what living within this newly realized outcome would be like. For most, the only answer they could give is that it would allow them to have one less thing to do.
That’s why when it comes to setting goals for ourselves – either professionally or personally, it’s important to remember that to successfully achieve our goals, we need to have a clear understanding of both how to achieve it and why [Share on Twitter].
2. Solicit feedback to help inform goal setting and how to go forward When setting goals for ourselves, one thing all of us do is share with others what we’re hoping to achieve – the most common example of this, of course, is when we make those New Year’s resolutions.
Of course, there’s a benefit to sharing our goals with others in that this measure can fuel our sense of accountability because we’ve created this expectation in others that we’ll achieve this goal.
But as I pointed out during my interview on CBC Radio Daybreak, there’s an even better reason why you should talk to others about your goals. Namely, you should use these conversations as an opportunity to get feedback from those you trust and respect about how feasible these goals are. Of what are the real challenges you need to address, what actions and behaviours can help you achieve this target, as well as what things you’ll need to change to make this a reality.
By changing the conversation from one where we’re simply telling others about our goals, to asking for feedback on what we can do to be more successful in achieving them, we not only benefit from getting an outside perspective pointing out things we might not have considered, but the act of getting feedback from others makes them more invested in our success as well.
Remember, the value we create in giving others feedback is by helping them to grow into that better version of themselves [Share on Twitter].
Since sharing that study’s finding with my readers, I’ve been applying this technique to some of the more mundane tasks I have to do and I can honestly say, it really does help in sustaining my motivation over the long run.
Basically, as I start working my way through a particular task I don’t enjoy, I focus initially on how much of it I’ve completed. But around the half-way point, I shift my focus towards how much I have left to do. This simple shift in perception makes it easier to keep going on tasks I don’t enjoy because by changing how I measure my progress, I’m changing the kind of motivations I’m tapping into to help me keep at it to reach that proverbial finish line.
So take it not just from this study, but from my own experience that the key to sustainable motivation is not just how much progress we’ve made, but how we measure progress towards achieving our goals [Share on Twitter].
Of course, there are several other approaches that can help us to achieve our goals. But I wanted to share not only what I’ve found to be uncommon strategies, but shed some light on how to refine the way we go about pursuing goals for ourselves so that this year, all of us might savour greater success in what we hope to achieve in the weeks and months ahead.
Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered, “Why am I here?”
Or worse yet, have you ever lead a meeting while others quietly asked themselves, “Why am I here?”
If so, my guess is there was one thing missing that could have made a profound difference in how you or others felt about a meeting. Something that not only does away with the ambiguity of why this meeting is taking place but also increases connection, belonging and trust. With one change, you can transform meetings from having low-to-no engagement with ambiguous outcomes into fully transparent, productive collaborations.
How? Begin your next meeting with a statement of intent. It brings clarity to others about “where” you are coming from and what “game” you’re are willing to play. Sharing your intention allows for full transparency rather than leaving others guessing about what we are up to and “why we are here?”
When I suggest making a clear statement of intent, I don’t mean open your next meeting with, “Hello folks, today we are here to talk about the new product launch.” The CEO that I was coaching started a recent meeting that way. As you can guess it did little to move people to the edge of their seats.
When we explored what he was really trying to achieve he came up with, “Hello folks. My intention for today’s meeting is to discuss how we can meet the timeline of the product launch so that our customers are delighted with our new offerings, our designers know they can count on us to be fashion forward, and our competitors are blown away.”
Setting and sharing an intention that moves and uplifts all the key stakeholders, will move people closer to the edge of their seats. It creates a game that is worth playing and people can choose if that is the game they want to play.
Getting real work done during a meeting, and asking powerful questions that move the organization forward, needs the support that comes from setting a clear intention. Working on intention first allows you to begin to focus on who you are rather than what you do. An important distinction if you really want to have an impact.
The root of intent, intendere, from Latin, suggests “to stretch,” so when you make an intention, you are inviting yourself (and others) to stretch, grow and evolve toward something greater, to something purposeful.
Through my work with a number of companies, I have observed that in many cases there are cultural myths that prevent leaders from being clear about their intent. These include:
that leaders are the keepers of information,
knowledge is power,
that when it comes to getting ahead in the workplace, you should only share whatever knowledge is relevant to advancing your own position within the ranks.
I now know that is a bunch of poppycock.
The most successful leaders are:
generous with their knowledge,
and allow others to know what motivates them.
The astounding thing is, the clearer you are about your intention, the easier it is to accomplish what you are up to. By being clear about your intention, you allow others the opportunity to choose which game to participate in.
One huge advantage of being clear with your intent is that it crushes manipulation.
Manipulation and clear intent cannot exist in the same space.
In simple terms, manipulation is getting someone to do something without telling them what you are trying to get them to do. When you state your intent clearly and include the needs of others they have an opportunity to agree, disagree or counteroffer. They have a choice in the matter. The fact they have a choice will do wonders to increase connection, belonging and trust.
Powerful intent statements are clear, true, and complete. In order for others to understand your intention, though, you must avoid faking it by making something up that you think they would like to hear and omitting the truth, in part or in whole.
A hidden agenda will only create more space between you and others. On some level, they will know you’re holding back. Being clear opens up the possibility for the relationship to be transparent rather than opaque. Opaqueness continues the cycle of the “guessing game” and does not lead to connection.
So how do you get clear about your intent?
Getting clear with intention starts with reflection and asking yourself some questions about what you are aiming to achieve. When I cannot pinpoint my intention, or I need to do so quickly I use one of these three lenses to unlock it:
1. Future Focused Intent How do I want the world to exist? (“I want to work in a place in which we all get along and can still challenge each other to do our best work.”)
2. Outcome Focused Intent What result am I expecting from this meeting that would be useful for everyone involved? (“When this meeting is over, I want to understand the challenges you have been facing with this project and what we can do to make it work for all of us.”)
3. Commitment Focused Intent What promise have I made that I want to live fully in this moment? (“I love you; I want you to know that and want to understand what is getting in the way of us having a loving relationship.”)
Powerful intentions that enliven, rejuvenate, and exhilarate those around you tend to include “we” language. Using inclusive language will encourage you to be accountable for the whole by attending not just to your own needs, but to the needs of those around you. In this way, you will discourage yourself from holding an intention based on your own fear.
For example, a fear-based intention might be: “I want to fix my financial situation at work.” Flipping it into “we” language might be: “I intend to create a workplace that is supportive of all our needs, be it related to finances, health, or wellbeing.”
Action Step Before your next meeting or conversation, spend some time discovering what your intention is. You might ask yourself:
What are we aiming to achieve and what about that is important for everyone?
What is the overall picture that needs to be clear for us to fully leverage our time in this meeting?
How can I be accountable for the whole?
When you arrive at the meeting or start the conversation, state what your intention is. Destroy the assumption that they know what your intention is by simply saying it. Start the meeting by saying, “My intention for this meeting is____, so that___.”
If the focus becomes unclear, or if things get heated at any point during the meeting, pause the conversation and return to stating the intention (maybe try using different words this time). After applying these tactics in three separate meetings, reflect upon those meetings and conversations—see if you notice a difference in how they went compared to how they usually go.
Bonus Action Steps After you have practiced the above your could start your next meeting by inviting others to share their intention. You could start by saying, “Let’s get clear about our intent of this meeting. How will we know when this meeting is over that this our time has been well spent?” Let them co-create with you the game that you are playing together and agree to the rules of the game. You will surely notice an increase in connection, belonging and trust.
Creating an Intention for the New Year How many new year resolutions have you lost by the end of January? Another option is to create an intention for the year. Here are a few examples:
I intend to shift my conversations so that I’m not listening to win, to interject, or to prove something but to listen to understand.
I intend to create a peaceful community.
I intend to live in a world where everyone belongs.
Your statement should reflect what drives you, no matter what you are doing. Create a statement that you can lean on even when you are surprised at what shows up. You’ll be able to cultivate more serendipitous moments that benefit everyone.
The following is a guest piece by Jaime Anderson and Gabor George Burt.
In the beginning, there was humor and there was laughter. And it was good. But then, work became suffocatingly serious. Until now.
There’s an entire branch of social science that studies the psychological and physiological effects of humor and laughter on the brain and the immune system— it’s called gelotology.
Discoveries in this field have demonstrated that humor, laughter and fun releases physical and cognitive tension, which can lead to perceptual flexibility—a required component of creativity, ideation, and problem solving. So to get the most out of innovation processes such as design thinking, truly creative leaders also need to master the social dynamics of… [wait for the punchline}…humor!
But in the world of leadership, humor has typically been typecast as a manifestation of individual personalities and thereby a spontaneous and non-replicable activity. Much less attention has been given to the idea that humor might be acquired, learned and nurtured.
We have witnessed that skilled leaders, those we call “Stand-Up Strategists”, understand the utility of humor to boost innovation. In the words of IDEO founder Dave Kelly: “If you go into a culture and there’s a bunch of stiffs going around, I can guarantee they’re not likely to invent anything.”
Of course, humor can be highly subjective and what one person finds hilarious another person may not – so knowing your audience is paramount. It is therefore not surprising that business leaders who score high in the effective use of humor as a tool to boost innovation also tend to score high in emotional intelligence.
Creative leaders also have an intuitive appreciation of the four humor styles, and understand how these styles can be nurtured – or sometimes curtailed – in others.
The first three styles generally generate positive emotions, while the fourth is more typically associated with negative emotions and therefore has the most limited application with regard to enabling cognitive flexibility:
Sense of Fun involves a leader projecting an energetic, positive, playful vibe, and having a generally humorous outlook. It also involves the ability to appreciate the humor and playfulness of others.
Self-deprecating humor is the act of a leader to laugh at him/herself through self-belittlement, excessive modesty or downplaying own achievements. The purpose is to reduce power-distance.
Social humor is about boosting human interaction, and is used by a leader to enhance relationships. It typically involves jokes or stories shared as a tool to reduce interpersonal tension, increase sociability and promote openness.
Strong humor most often entails sarcasm or cynicism and is used by a leader as put-down, as a tool for hierarchical control, as a signal of dominance or to encourage conformity to group behavioral norms.
With his Groucho Marx moustache and quirky personality, IDEO’s Kelly is renowned for his sense of fun. Any visitor to an IDEO office immediately appreciates the importance of levity in the organization’s culture – indeed, having a sense of humor is a key criterion for recruitment into the firm.
Senior leaders – including Kelly himself – are sometimes self-deprecating, a cultural behavior that reduces hierarchy and power-distance and ensure that ideas come from all ranks.
But while self-deprecating humor can reduce social distance and make leaders seem more collaborative, participative and open to their employees, leaders shouldn’t overdo it. Studies have shown that humorous self-criticism works much less well as a tool to engage with peers and superiors, and can even reduce one’s credibility with subordinates – if used excessively.
Social humor is practiced as part of the IDEO design thinking process that “encourages wild ideas” to take root. Even the most absurd perspectives are embraced, and people are encouraged to “defer judgement”. Team members openly make fun of failures related to the ideation process in a way that nurtures their collective, creative input.
Positive humor can also be utilized to reduce the pressure of stress associated with deadlines – not to make targets or challenges disappear, but to improve morale and increase solidarity of purpose.
IDEO embraces the understanding that individuals with a high sense of humor tend to experience less stress than individuals with a low sense of humor, even in situations where both face similar challenges. So Project Leaders are identified not on a basis of seniority, but for their track record of orchestrating positive social interactions between people – of which humor is a critical component.
The fun and humor-filled work culture at companies such as IDEO are well known, but efforts can start at the team or departmental level in any organization – even those not renowned for having fun-embracing corporate cultures.
Lilli Marten Christ is an energetic development manager who works for German automotive firm Daimler AG in China, and opens each of her weekly team meetings with a joke or a riddle. She has found it a useful approach for reducing hierarchy, boosting openness and increasing divergent thinking.
When it comes to boosting innovation the overwhelming focus should be on styles of humour that generate positive emotions. Just as there are rules for the design-thinking process at IDEO, there are unspoken rules about the humor that is acceptable – cyncism, ridicule, sexist and racist humor are considered completely inappropriate.
Inappropriate humor can stifle people’s creative confidence in any organization – not to mention contributing to reduced morale, absenteeism, the elevation of dysfunctional internal competition, and even company-level reputational damage.
But from a gelotological point of view, innovation is one of the few areas of business in which strong humor such as sarcasm can potentially pay dividends – so long as its practice is limited to environments in which people already know, trust and like each other. Research has shown that receiving sarcastic comments and other forms of strong humor from trusted co-workers can stimulate creativity without spurring conflict.
Pixar Animation Studios understands the power of such strong peer feedback. It has created what it calls its ‘Brain Trust’, consisting of a group of highly accomplished directors. When a director and producer feel in need of assistance, they convene the group and show the current version of a movie in progress. This is followed by a fiery discussion that can last up to two hours, unlocking provocative suggestions and constructive criticism.
The sessions are frequently punctuated by laughter, but nobody pulls any punches to be polite. This works because all the participants have come to trust and respect one another – but leadership still actively moderates to ensure that no red-lines are crossed. In these interactions, strong humor is never used as a put-down, as a tool for hierarchical control, or as a signal of dominance.
Discoveries in the field of gelotology also explain why companies such as IDEO, Google and Lego are investing in creating playful and fun work spaces. IDEO offices are designed to encourage fun and freedom of expression, with employees often designing their own work-spaces.
Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Inc. has considered taking merriment at his car plants to a new level, with an idea to install a fully functioning roller coaster to shuttle employees around the Tesla factory in Fremont.
Today, we stand at the precipice of a new era. Future-shaping business leaders are re-discovering the power of humor as a vital driver of organizational success. “Stand-Up Strategists” are leaders who understand the utility of humor to boost creativity and innovation. The joke is on those who fail to seize the power of humor in guiding their organization’s ongoing relevance.
Catmul, E. (2008) How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity. Harvard Business Review, September, Vol. 86 Issue 9, p64‐72.
Huang, Li, F. Gino, and Adam D. Galinsky (2015). The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity for Both Exressers and Recipients. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 131 (November), 162–177.
Jamie Anderson is Professor of Strategic Management at Antwerp Management School, and Visiting Professor at INSEAD. A three-time TED speaker, Jamie has been named as a “management guru” in the Financial Times, and has also been included on a list of the world’s “top 25 management thinkers” by the journal Business Strategy Review. To learn more about Jamie’s work, visit his website: www.jamieandersononline.com.
Gabor George Burt is a leading business transformationist and creator of the Slingshot Platform, enabling organizations to overstep perceived limitations, re-imagine market boundaries, and achieve sustained relevance. To learn more about Gabor’s work, visit his website: www.gaborgeorgeburt.com.
In writing this leadership blog, I’ve had the opportunity to share several personal stories that help to illustrate some key insights into how we can succeed in our role as leaders. So it seems only appropriate to share here what will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my career – my TEDx talk that I gave on the topic of finding purpose in what we do.
In my TEDx talk, I share two personal stories from my work career that have helped to shape my understanding of not only what it takes to be a successful leader, but what it takes to achieve enduring success, and the motivation to always bring our best to the work we do.
Some of the personal lessons I share in my TEDx talk include:
Our sense of purpose is not simply derived by what we do, but by how we choose to view what we do [Share on Twitter].
We all long to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves; that we understand the impact of our contributions [Share on Twitter].
If we’re not fulfilling our purpose, how can our successes truly matter? Why will we care about these achievements once the glow has faded? [Share on Twitter]
Our real strengths push us to challenge ourselves to do and be better than we are today [Share on Twitter].
Our passion is a reflection of the sense of purpose we gain from the work we do, and the lives we choose to live [Share on Twitter].
Forget Passion - Purpose is the Real Spice of Life | Tanveer Naseer | TEDxConcordia - YouTube
The overall mission of TED is to offer “ideas worth spreading”. To that end, I’d like to end my piece with a request. I’d like to ask that you not only watch my TEDx talk, but that you share it with others, either by sharing this blog post or by sharing this link to my TEDx talk on YouTube.
I want to encourage you to share my TEDx talk not just with your work colleagues, but with your family and friends because I truly believe this is an idea that’s not only worth spreading, but can provide immense value to others to understand how they can achieve meaningful and enduring success.
With the New Year now well under way, many of us are understandably creating goals and developing plans for what we’d like to achieve over the course of the next 12 months. For myself, the start of a New Year also presents a unique opportunity to look back on the past 52 weeks to see which of my writings resonated the most with my readers.
It’s an interesting exercise because it not only lets me know what ideas and topics garner the most interest and engagement from my audience, but it also reveals some interesting patterns about what’s on the forefront on the minds of today’s leaders.
Perhaps most interestingly is the fact that – as was the case for the my top leadership insight in 2016 – the top leadership insight I shared last year came from a piece that revolved around a personal story of mine and the lessons I learned of how to be more effective in how to lead and serve those under our care.
In fact, the second most popular leadership insight also came from a personal experience, in this case from one of my daughters who took on her first leadership role last year and what that experience taught her about what it really takes to successfully lead others.
So, I’m definitely going to keep that in mind when it comes to what I plan on writing and sharing here on my leadership blog over the course of the next 12 months to come.
In the meantime, here are my Top 10 leadership insights of 2017 as chosen by you, the readers of my award-winning leadership blog. Enjoy!
Leadership Insight #10 – Becoming a leader is not about promoting yourself; it’s about helping others to succeed and thrive [Share on Twitter].
“Bringing this kind of intentionality to how we develop and support leaders is important, not only to how organizations select who will join the leadership ranks within their workplace, but in how our employees view and understand what they should expect from those in charge.
Leadership Insight #9 – The power to inspire others exists in all of us. We just have to choose to be present to use it [Share on Twitter].
“To illustrate what I mean by this, think about any leader who you look to as a source of inspiration. No doubt they’ve achieved remarkable things. But as you look past their achievements, what do see about them as a person? Are they someone you’d enjoy being around, someone you could learn from? Do you feel that they would see your true potential and encourage you to live up to it?
I’m sure for most of you, you’d answer in the affirmative. And this exercise reveals another important truth – to inspire others is to empower them to make that better version of themselves a reality.”
Leadership Insight #8 – To drive change, we have to craft a message that’s easy to understand, memorable and inspiring [Share on Twitter].
“One of the things every writer knows is that if you’re going to retain your audience over the long run, you need to create some form of a hook; something that’s going to motivate people to stay invested in tuning into your show every week, to picking up and finishing your book, or to reading the latest entry in your leadership blog.
Part of that hook requires that while we create this notion of a big payoff in the long run of sticking with it, there is also some tangible benefit the audience gets in the here and now. Something that reminds them of why they’re invested today and why they should continue ‘tuning in’ as things move forward.”
Leadership Insight #7 – Passion without purpose is a lost opportunity for us to do something that’s meaningful and enduring [Share on Twitter].
“Granted, when we start talking about creating purpose-led work, this can lead to some hesitation on the part of leaders and their organizations because of the misplaced notion that purposeful work has to be glamorous or exciting.
The truth, however, is that we don’t need work to be exciting for us to derive a sense of value or meaning from it. Rather, what’s needed is being able to see and understand for ourselves how our contributions are making a difference towards achieving our collective vision and long-term goals.
Leadership Insight #6 – Dealing with change is more than a process; it’s an on-going journey of exploration and discovery [Share on Twitter].
“This is that roadblock that impedes so many of us from taking those critical first steps in this journey of change. As there’s no guaranteed notion of what awaits us, how can we be sure it’s worth opening the door to see what’s on the other side?
As such, the question we face is do we have the courage to change, not just today, but as we move forward? Will we treat change not merely as something we’re willing to do today, but as something we’ll embrace going forward as new realities sharpen into focus as we continue on our journey towards achieving our long-term goals?”
Leadership Insight #5 – The questions we ask shape not only our conversations, but the relationships we have with others [Share on Twitter].
“If there’s one thing leaders everywhere share in common it’s working within an environment where they face increasing demands on their time and attention, while at the same being expected to make decisions as quickly as possible.
Taken together, these factors create conditions where it’s easy for leaders to resort to asking questions that require only a yes/no answer. While these answers can help us act quickly, the problem is that they lack context or insights that can help us make more effective decisions and choices going forward.”
Leadership Insight #4 – Trust is built on the belief that leaders have the best interests of others at heart [Share on Twitter].
That’s why our character is defined by the level of integrity we display – it’s not so much what you say about yourself and what you supposedly represent, but it’s the actions and behaviours you take that truly define for others who you really are and what you actually stand for.
Indeed, having integrity demonstrates that the actions you take are driven by something more than self-serving interests.
Leadership Insight #3 – Building relationships is about more than understanding others; it’s making people feel understood [Share on Twitter].
“The unfortunate truth is that we’re living in an increasingly divisive world – whether it’s because of our political viewpoints, because of our religious beliefs, or even because of where we or our parents came from.
And yet, the undeniable truth is that the longevity of today’s organizations is no longer dependent on what technologies you use, where you operate, or even what you create. Rather, your organization’s ability to adapt, evolve, and grow in today’s interconnected, global environment is dependent on the people who show up every day to help your organization move one step closer to achieving your shared purpose.”
Leadership Insight #2 – Our ability to grow as leaders is dependent on our willingness to get feedback from those we lead [Share on Twitter].
“One of the biggest concerns (my daughter) Malaika had early on was whether she was doing enough to support the 24 camp mentors under her care. Some times, she worried that she was speaking too much and other times, she wondered if she didn’t give her team enough insight or guidance on what to do.
To address her concerns, Malaika decided to speak to some of the camp mentors she didn’t know very well to get their impressions of how she was doing. As it turned out, the camp mentors were not only happy with the job that she was doing, but they appreciated that she wanted to know what they thought.
By being pro-active in seeking feedback from her team, Malaika sent a clear message to the camp mentors that she genuinely cared about their opinions and wanted to know if her efforts were as helpful as she thought they were.”
And this leads us to my top leadership insight shared here on my leadership blog in 2017, something that comes from a story of when I failed as a leader and the powerful lesson it taught me about how to become a better leader by becoming a better listener:
Leadership Insight #1 – Listening is not simply hearing what others are saying; it’s giving them space to contribute [Share on Twitter].
“Indeed, one trait all successful leaders openly exhibit is being inquisitive; that their focus is not limited to their ideas, their stories, and their experiences. Rather, they display a genuine interest to learn about those they lead and work with; to hear their stories and experiences that have shaped and informed their understandings and perspective.
That’s why being a good listener involves shifting our focus from trying to be interesting to being interested.”
And there you have it, my Top 10 Leadership Insights of 2017. It’s said that our ideas are a reflection of our times. If so, I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas come to mind in the weeks and months to come.
With just a few days left on the calendar, the time has once again arrived for that annual event of compiling retrospectives for the year that was. Whether it’s highlighting the top moments, the major trends, a look back at the various talented people who passed away this year, compiling and cataloguing what transpired over the past 12 months has become a standard feature of our contemporary lives.
Of course, these lists of the top moments of the past year invariably lead to much being written about what a bad year 2017 turned out to be, and of our hopes that 2018 will be better. It’s in these moments that I enjoy being a writer because in many ways, our writings allow us to travel back in time, peeling back the days, weeks, and months so as to revisit past perceptions and anticipations for what might come.
While most of us might not recall what made 2016 not such a great year, there’s little doubt that this year will not go down in our collective human history as being one of our finest moments in time.
With a rise in hate towards various racial, ethnic, and minority groups in parts of Europe and North America, the growing fear of a potential nuclear war alongside rising tensions in the Middle East, the onslaught of stories revealing the seemingly ubiquitous presence of sexual harassment and violence women endure in many of today’s workplaces, as well as uncertainties on the economic front has certainly left a bad taste for the year that was.
And yet, the simple truth is we’ve been here before. Perhaps in some ways, this is a product of the faster-paced, always-on nature of our digital society. That we inevitably feel this fatigue when reaching that one-year mark, fatigue which manifests itself in this hopeful expectation that a mere change in the calendar year will spring forth better times.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being hopeful, the fact is hope alone is not enough. Without question, our world is facing many critical issues, some of which can seem too daunting for us to address, let alone overcome.
But as many of us prepare for the impending arrival of a new year as a key motivator for change, we must reconcile with this truth:
We have a choice of letting change simply happen to us, or to adapt and learn from it to be stronger going forward [Share on Twitter].
Sure, we’ve all seen examples of our fellow citizens being at their worst, of succumbing to their fear of those different from them and spreading hate and fear in response. We’ve seen political opportunism take hold where politicians seem more interested in defending their behaviours and actions, instead of honouring their responsibility to first and foremost serve the best interests of every person who falls under their leadership.
But, at the same time, we’ve seen average people take on leadership roles to not only say ‘enough is enough’, but to offer a better way; a more positive and inclusive vision of who we are and what we can accomplish together.
Their examples have helped to fuel various social movements driving many societies to have those uncomfortable, but necessary conversations about who we really are, and what we need to do if we are to truly live up to those notions of what we claim to represent. Their actions also provide us with an important end-of-year message that leaders everywhere should be mindful to take hold of.
Namely, that as leaders, we need to encourage our employees to not only challenge what is, but what we could be going forward [Share on Twitter].
At the beginning of a new year, this sentiment is something that all of us can get behind, as many of us use the start of a new year as a motivator to start something new. To kickstart initiatives to eat better, do more exercise, and just in general aim to live a better, happier, and more fulfilling life.
While as leaders, we can tap into this warm embrace for change at the start of the year, it’s our job to make sure we continue to drive that effort forward so that 11 months from now, we’re not simply taking stock of another year that failed to live up to those hopeful notions we conjured up of what may lie ahead.
That’s why when reflecting on the past year, it’s important that we identify how we’ll move forward in addressing both what we got wrong as well as what we got right [Share on Twitter].
Again, it’s easy to fall into that hopeful trap that the fresh start we associate with the beginning of a new year will automatically translate into better times going forward.
But the truth is things don’t improve because we want them to. They improve because we care enough to invest ourselves to make that change happen [Share on Twitter]. That we’re willing to invest our time, energy, talents, experiences, insights, and even our hopes and dreams to ensure that the challenges, difficulties, hardships, and setbacks that mire us today will become a thing of the past.
In other words, we’re willing to give the best of ourselves because we believe in that vision of the better future we can create by stepping up to do our part in making it a reality.
So, let’s not look back at 2017 with all its numerous setbacks and faults and how so many times, we saw the worst in those around us. Rather, let’s learn from it so we can find our way to not only make things better, but live up to the awe and potential that our modern, digital age tells us is within our reach to attain.
That is, of course, only if we consciously make the choice to listen to our better angels and not to those who’d only serve to bring us down.
The following is a guest piece by former executive Anne Bahr Thompson.
Profound changes in cultural sentiment are shifting the landscape for business. An increasingly divided political climate has had many companies—large and small, new and legacy—across industries stepping up and taking positions on issues typically outside the realm of business.
Over the past year, the number of brands that have taken activist stances on topics in the public debate has grown significantly. Rather than decreasing the call for companies to behave responsibly, government policy appears to be increasing the pressure. More and more, the public is demanding that leadership brands declare a point of view on social justice, civil liberties, the environment, and even more.
Taking a public stand can be polarizing. Companies that do so run must weigh the risks of losing more customers than they gain, as well as angering employees, investors, and other stakeholders. Not everyone defines doing good in the same way. To minimize backlash and not violate trust with customers, employees, and other stakeholders, it’s crucial that a company only takes a stand that reflects its purpose, values, and, importantly, its operational practices.
Leadership is now intertwined with responsibility
Beginning as early as December 2011, my three years of research into brand leadership, good corporate citizenship, and favorite brands, which ultimately led to a five-step model of Brand Citizenship, demonstrated that leadership and responsibility can no longer be managed as separate from one another.
Step 3 of the model – Responsibility (behave fairly and treat employees, suppliers and the environment well) – emerged as the pivot point between being a brand that provides solutions to personal ME problems and needs and one that addresses generalized WE worries about the economy, the problems in the world, and the planet.
Participants told us that brands, which behave transparently and, even more importantly, sincerely, encourage us to bring out the best of ourselves and progress society. They considered these brands leaders. At the time, they identified issues related to social justice, civil liberties, and the environment as safe territory for brands to take up positions.
Fast forward to June 2015, legacy and newer brands alike, such as American Airlines, BuzzFeed, Honey Maid, Ketel One, MasterCard, Spotify, Target, and Uber, flew the rainbow flag for marriage equality. Later that year, Airbnb, Alcoa, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Monsanto, Walmart, and many others openly signed President Obama’s climate change pledge.
A turning point
The Breitbart controversy in November 2016, however, appears to have been a turning point. Allstate, EarthLink, Kellogg’s, Nest, Target, and Warby Parker pulled ads from the alternative-right media platform because of strong racist and anti-Semitic views. Steve Bannon, who became chief strategist to President Donald Trump after serving as his campaign’s chief executive, was a founding board member for Breitbart News.
While companies that supported the Supreme Court’s decision about gay marriage and Obama’s climate change pledge were generally praised, those that ended their relationships with Breitbart News, most notably Kellogg’s, faced repercussions.
On November 30, 2016, Breitbart News retaliated against Kellogg’s by posting an inflammatory article with the headline, “#DumpKelloggs: Breakfast Brand Blacklists Breitbart, Declares Hate for 45,000,000 Readers.” Highlighting Kellogg’s and labeling the “war against Breitbart News as bigoted and anti-American,” Breitbart News Editor in Chief, Alexander Marlow, angrily called for readers to sign a petition urging people to boycott all of Kellogg’s products.
In addition to disagreeing with Kellogg’s stance, many others were angered that Breitbart News’s values hadn’t troubled Kellogg’s and other brands until after Steve Bannon was named then President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist. For some, Kellogg’s decision was less about the brand’s absolute stance and more about the company’s inconsistent behavior.
Brand activism grows more overtly political
Throughout 2017, the number of brands taking overt political positions, most notably on immigration and climate change, has grown. While these two issues clearly reflect the areas participants in my research identified as safe for activism, a number of companies are now taking overtly anti-Trump administration stances.
Many tech giants expressed opposition to the Trump administration’s controversial immigration ban, which potentially impacts their workforces directly. Known for democratizing the hospitality industry and valuing equality, Airbnb went further than most tech companies setting a goal to provide housing for 100,000 people in need and contributed $4 million to the International Rescue Committee in support of displaced people worldwide.
And the ride hailing app Lyft surpassed its direct competitor and industry leader, Uber, in Apple’s App Store after Uber did not participate in related protests and a taxi strike at JFK airport. Lyft pledged $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union as it denounced the ban and the hashtag #DeleteUber trended on social media.
Former New York City mayor and business leader Michael Bloomberg has been spearheading the fight for the US to meet its Paris accord greenhouse gas targets. Across industries, corporations including Burton Snowboards, Apple, Campbell Soup, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Target, and Timberland, signed an open letter, “We Are Still In,” alongside elected officials such as mayors and governors. The letter publicly declared their support to meet commitments despite President Trump’s decision to pull out of it.
Ideals: the next logical step
The brands we choose are extensions of who we are. They act as badges for what we are about to other people. The acid test of a satisfying brand relationship is rooted not in grand gestures or even in constant chatter and interactions, but rather in thoughtful, empathic actions and small, meaningful deeds that both improve and enrich our daily lives and help us to feel as though we belong to a group of like-minded people.
Step 4 – Community – of the model of Brand Citizenship demonstrates how physically, virtually and emotionally, brands have the power to rally communities of like-minded people and influence to change our behavior for the better and fix social problems.
Over my three years of qualitative and quantitative research with more than 6000 people, many participants consistently told us that they felt better about themselves when they bought brands that “did good.” And that they questioned their brand choices when they learned a brand wasn’t behaving responsibly.
With a divided populace, it seems logical that people are now expecting the brands they buy to also reflect their ideals. After all, businesses have progressed from historically targeting audiences for their products and services based on demographics to psychographics, and they now micro-target based on people’s lifestyle aspirations and values.
Sincerity always wins our trust, especially over the long term
As distrust of politicians and longstanding institutions has increased, people accept little at face value. They are adept at seeing through crafted messaging, political rhetoric, and marketing hype. Like a sincere person, a sincere brand openly shares its point of view on the world. It does not aggrandize itself or take advantage of the latest news cycle.
To minimize the risk of violating trust – the starting point of good of Brand Citizenship—it’s essential that any stance a company takes reflects its purpose, values and operating principles and policies. As more customers and employees demand that brands take activist stances, companies that sincerely do so will be touted as leaders.
Without question, one of the common tasks organizations everywhere have to deal with is leadership development. Whether it’s due to an aging workforce or the growing numbers of Millennials now moving their way through the workplace, there’s no question that developing the next group of leaders will play a key role in an organization’s growth and success in the coming years.
But what measures should organizations be taking to not only create effective leadership development programs, but to support these new leaders to ensure a successful transition into these new roles in the organization? That’s the focus of my conversation with Dr. Naphtali Hoff in this episode of my leadership podcast, Leadership Biz Cafe.
Naphtali Hoff is an human and organizational psychologist and also President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting, where he works as an organizational consultant.
Over the course of our conversation, Naphtali and I discuss a number of key factors around leadership development and succeeding at leadership, including:
The key areas organizations should address to help prepare new leaders for what awaits them.
How organizations can create mentoring opportunities that benefit both new and experienced leaders.
How to help new leaders learn to effectively delegate responsibilities to their team members.
How both new and experienced leaders can “think positive and achieve” to drive their organization’s vision forward. Why organizations need to move beyond learning and create “a workplace of teachers” and how to go about doing this.
I’d appreciate it if you could help your support help support future episodes of this leadership podcast by taking a moment to rate my show on Google Play, Stitcher Radio, or iTunes.
As the clock starts to wind down on 2017, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on some of the recurring themes and ideas I’ve written and spoken about over the past 12 months. Among these various leadership topics and issues was the subject of finding a sense of purpose in what we do, a topic which also served as the focus of the TEDx talk I gave this past September here in Montreal.
With this in mind, I’d like to share the story of a student who attends my daughters’ high school and what his example reveals about the role leaders play in helping their employees find a sense of purpose in what they do.
At our school’s Governing Board meeting last week, we had two teachers who shared a new project they run for students who are at-risk of dropping out of high school. In this program, these students spend half their school day learning core curriculum subjects and the other half is spent learning vocational skills on-site. This way, when they graduate, they already have hands-on experience to help them enter the workforce.
One of the latest projects involves rebuilding and restoring bikes confiscated by the police. As we toured the bike workshop, I couldn’t help but notice how clean this machinery shop was, especially given the kind of work that gets done there.
I was told by one of the teachers running the program that at the beginning of the school year, one of these at-risk students told him “I don’t want to work on fixing bikes. I just want to work on keeping this place clean. I want to broom the floors, wipe clean the work surfaces, and take care of the garbage.” So, this teacher decided to give this student a pass on teaching him how to repair bikes and instead, guided him on how he could keep the place tidy and putting things back where they belong.
As I looked around the workshop, I couldn’t help but be impressed that the reason why this workshop was so clean was because one of the students had stepped forward saying the skills he’d like to learn were how to keep a machinery workshop clean and organized.
Since our board meeting, I’ve been thinking a lot about this boy; of how at such a young age, he had figured out an important truth about the nature of purpose – our sense of purpose is not simply created by the work we do, but through the choices we make [Share on Twitter].
In terms of leadership, what this means is that we don’t have to be spending our time creating purpose for our employees. Instead, we need to provide opportunities for our employees to do work that they themselves will see purpose in doing.
Consider again the actions of this teenage boy. He didn’t wait for the teachers to assign him work, hoping that he might find it more satisfying over being in the regular academic stream. Rather, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to do; of what would make him feel like he was making a difference within this specialized program for at-risk students.
And it was only because the teachers had this open mind of not slotting students into assigned roles, but giving them that flexibility to pursue what interests them that this student was able to do work that has motivated him to only show up for regular class periods, but to be more committed in doing school work that he once shrugged off.
In today’s faster-paced, ever-changing work environment, the easiest thing we as leaders can do is simply assign people tasks that will help us get things done. However, to succeed at achieving your goals, leaders need to truly listen and understand what their employees need to thrive [Share on Twitter], as this teenage boy does through his work keeping this high school workshop clean.
Of course, some might argue that their employees don’t know what their real purpose is. In fact, when ever I give talks around the subject of leadership and purpose, I often have people coming up to me asking how do they go about finding that inner sense of purpose I speak of.
In fact, after I gave that TEDx talk I mentioned above, one of the conference attendees came up to me during the cocktail party with this very question. Although she had a clear sense of what career path she wanted to take, she didn’t necessarily feel that inner sense of purpose I had spoken about.
And yet, over the course of our conversation where I asked her about her past work experiences and what moments she’d put in a “This is Your Life” spotlight reel, I saw this woman transform from not knowing how she could find that sense of purpose, to having an epiphany about what her life’s work really is and where she needs to put her focus next. And all of this happened in the span of a couple of minutes.
It’s a situation that I’ve encountered many times in my work and it just goes to show that all of us intuitively know what fuels that inner drive to push ourselves; to show up and deliver our best regardless of what conditions we face. It’s something we see in every successful person out there. Namely, that what successful people share in common is they know what their purpose is and focus all their efforts on only doing that [Share on Twitter].
So trust me when I say your employees know what their inner purpose is. They know what’s that internal catalyst that will drive them to deliver the best of their talents, knowledge, creativity, and experience towards helping your organization achieve its long-term goals.
For some, the answer is clear as day, but for others, some guidance might be needed from you to help them find their true north and how to align that with your organization’s vision.
That’s why if we want to get the best from our employees, we need to provide them with opportunities to deliver their best because they care about the work they do [Share on Twitter]. They’re invested beyond paychecks, perks, and status to help our organization to succeed because their contributions are directly connected to what matters most to them.
As the example of this high school student demonstrates, we can achieve this not by having to promise great things to our employees. Instead, we can accomplish this by allowing them to do what they see for themselves as being great work. And that’s something leaders everywhere have the choice to make in terms of the opportunities they provide to those under their care.