Tanveer Naseer - Leadership Coach, Speaker and Writer
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.
One of the common concerns most leaders have revolves around employee engagement. Of how to encourage employees to be fully committed to the organization’s vision and long-term goals. Without question, this is a critical factor to an organization’s success and long-term growth. And yet, what’s curious is how many leaders don’t apply the same kind […]
The following is a guest piece by Shelly L. Francis. Are you passionate about your work or cause, but trying to sustain yourself in the midst of heavy demands and the urgency you feel about making a difference? It’s the question I found myself facing while recovering from a severe case of vertigo that laid […]
The following is a guest piece from my friend, author and Forbes columnist, David Amerland. Neuroscience has captured our attention right now because, like every new field of knowledge, it promises to give us hidden insights and reveal secrets that will help make something difficult much easier, and there is nothing more difficult than creating […]
Which comes first: a distinctive business identity or its underlying culture? That’s a trick question. The culture that drives recognition has no beginning or end point, but is instead a continuum. Every company that’s serious about branding defines its unique selling points. And every business that emphasizes healthy workplace culture lives the uniqueness that defines its identity.
Both of those actions put companies in control—they command how they are perceived by employees, who then internalize and project this image. And this lets businesses control how they are perceived in the marketplace, which is a big driver of performance.
Given the choice, wouldn’t you want to be the one who calls these shots? Of course. Then you should strive to define your company’s unique culture, today and every day.
It’s important to understand the cyclical nature of culture and identity. No business is stagnant. It changes and grows, as do its people. Think of your workplace culture as evolutionary, just as your business is. Commit to an ongoing effort to celebrate the unique aspects of your employees, your teams, and your brand.
Businesses adopt brands in order to draw clients and customers through trust. Goods and services may, indeed, be unique, but they have finite appeal. Trust seals relationships. Offering clients information about your company’s mission, vision, and values—expressed in a brand—gives them a better understanding of how and why you operate. And this builds confidence in you.
So, how to get that information out there? By allowing your company culture to project it. This means choosing employees who can reflect your mission and vision. It means forming teams that act on those values. And it means walking the fine line between being consistent and being fluid in a changing marketplace.
Unique at the Individual Level
Celebrating uniqueness at the employee level not only serves to strengthen your brand but to increase staff engagement with their work. Engagement helps you retain your best people as it furthers a distinct cultural awareness, perpetuating the cycle. Engagement also indicates a company’s respect and appreciation for the individual, increasing the motivation to perform well.
In my research into what fosters great culture, I found worker engagement to be fundamental. A 2017 Gallup survey of 31 million businesses pegged overall employee engagement at just 33 percent, compared with 71 percent of self-described engaged employees among the “world’s best organizations.” Those who fell into the last group felt that:
• their input was valued • their personal integrity mattered • their talents were put to good use
These results come from listening to the stories that individuals tell. Every employee brings life experience as well as skill to a task. Accommodating the different ways in which people think, work, and learn enriches the company’s larger skill set.
Does a direct report coach a youth sport? Encouragement and leadership will be strong suits. Is another employee a gifted illustrator? Tap that talent to add life to written reports or whiteboard sessions.
To leverage the unique abilities of your staff, set out to identify what sets individuals apart, and then seek to augment or complement those qualities in new hires.
Unique as a Group
Assembling a cast of talented individuals automatically confers uniqueness on your business. Invest in their passions. Offer to match fundraising efforts for their Little League team. Showcase their art or their volunteer organizations at informal events.
Joining your staff’s pursuits raises your visibility as a community-minded business, or simply as an employer who cares about its people, at or away from work. This brings you all closer as a team.
In fact, your shared experience offers a good opportunity to speak the same language, which can also define your culture and business identity. Take Walmart, for example. As part of my review of top cultures, I visited the corporation’s Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and learned that a proprietary language creates a sense of teamwork among the retailer’s 2.5 million employees in more than 10,000 stores.
This is a way to highlight cultural uniqueness that doesn’t cost a dime. It can be using acronyms as shorthand for common phrases, as Walmart does for “every day low prices” (EDLP). Or it could be classifying meeting priorities with memorable animal names, as my company does. Through consistent use, my whole staff instantly knows the level of urgency—from low to high—when a “cockroach,” “tiger team,” or “ostrich” meeting is called.
A common shorthand brings workers of all designations together and adds to group identity, which, in turn, helps define the brand it promotes.
Unique as a Brand
Culture, these days, has moved beyond workplace trappings, like Amazon’s famous pet-friendly offices or Google’s well-publicized bean bag chairs. The best companies take what is unique at the individual and team levels and pour it into their brand identities. Their cultures have moved from the literal to the figurative. That’s a plus.
After all, uniqueness is not cut-and-dried. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it. It may even be stronger as an attitude, a feeling.
To arrive at this existential state, return to your company’s building blocks, its mission, vision, and value statements. You will know that yours are alive—not just posters on the wall—when all of your employees can identify the concepts they contain and demonstrate how these are expressed in their work. It is up to team leaders to keep them at top of mind, refer to them in meetings and conversations, and ask employees to find ways to incorporate them daily.
The trickle-down effect will become a tidal wave. People will bring up unique phrases and company philosophies in the break room and during off-hours. Vendors will be brought into the loop. Customers will notice subtle differences in their relations with your company, versus competitors.
This brings us back to the unique selling points of your products or services. Those are concrete—you can list them. Maybe they are convenience, good value for the price, or superior quality. In today’s crowded marketplace, lots of companies might claim those features. Add to them the unique story threads of your employees and organization, however, and you have got a brand that will always be a fresh and new as your culture.
Of the many issues leaders have to address, failure has to be one of the most challenging. No doubt this is why we love sharing motivational quotes about failure, like this one from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
It’s easy to see why these quotes are so compelling as they almost transform failure into a positive experience that propels us to keep pushing ahead.
Perhaps this is why the idea of “failing fast” has garnered so much attention – that while failure is inevitable, it doesn’t mean we can’t get over it quickly.
Of course, the problem with these quotes and this notion of “failing fast” is that they address a singular aspect of failure. Namely, the easier part of failure – one where we learn from our mistakes to become stronger.
The truth is the hardest part of failure is grappling with those feelings of not living up to what we thought we could do or be [Share on Twitter].
Indeed, what makes failure so painful is how it makes us second-guess ourselves – our knowledge, our insights, our perceptions, and with it, whether we really have what it takes to succeed.
But the answer to this is not simply to tell our employees to “fail fast”. Rather, it’s to shift the conversation we have with them about it, and consequently, how they themselves frame this emotional experience and what they’ll do about it.
To illustrate what I mean, I’d like to share a personal story of how I helped my daughter Malaika recently through her own moment of grappling with failure to find her way back.
For the last few years, Malaika has been pushing herself to not only achieve a high academic record, but to be very active in various extracurricular activities, including being elected this year as Student Council President.
Coming off last year with an over 90% average and a diverse range of extracurricular activities, she was eager to get that acceptance letter for the Health Sciences program when she graduates from high school next month.
A few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, Malaika got the news that she was on a waiting list to get in the program, while a few of her classmates who had slightly higher grades but no extracurricular activities were given immediate acceptance.
She came home from school that day completely dejected, trying to hold back her tears of frustration as she blurted in exasperation what was the point of working so hard and being so active in school if all she got for it was being on a waiting list.
After giving her space to vent her frustration and her fears of not getting in, I looked at her and said for the next two days we’re only going to do one thing – “we’re going to own the suck.”
And that’s exactly what we did – over that weekend, whenever she needed to share her frustrations over not doing better, or her fears of what will she do if she doesn’t get accepted, I’d just remind her that’s it’s okay to feel crappy because “today, we’re owning the suck”.
But at the end of that second day, I went over to Malaika and told her “Okay, for the last two days, we owned the suck. Now … what are you going to do about it?”
While she didn’t have an answer at that moment, about an hour later she came to me and told me how she had some ideas of what she could do. She could apply to a similar program in another educational institution. Or she can go into her second option and re-apply during the winter semester and do the required courses over the following summer to catch up.
In the end, Malaika came up with three different tactics to give her options of what to do, which ultimately proved to be unnecessary as two weeks later, she got word that she had been accepted into the Health Sciences program after all.
In sharing this story, what I hope to demonstrate is that while it’s understandable that we’d want to soften the blow of failure, sometimes the best thing we can do is “own the suck” [Share on Twitter].
That we give our employees – and sometimes, ourselves – the permission to accept the negative emotions that swirl around us in those moments of failure.
After all, this is what emotional intelligence is all about – it’s not just deciphering our employees’ emotional state, but empathizing with what they’re going through. Of what their reality is and how that’s impacting them, not just in terms of their productivity, but in terms of how it’s affecting them personally.
Not only does this give our employees the emotional space they need to deal with the pain that comes with failure, but as I did with Malaika, it sets the stage for us to help them gain clarity about what they can do about it going forward.
I’ve written before that while we might admire the achievements of successful people, it’s only through learning about their failures that they become relatable because we all know what that feels like, and in particular, how it makes us question what we’re capable of and what value we can create.
That’s why when it comes to failure, we can’t simply gloss over the pain. Sometimes, we just need to own it to help us truly grow and become stronger going forward[Share on Twitter].
Perhaps Brené Brown said it best when she wrote “When you numb your pain, you also numb your joy.”
As much as we might be conditioned to block out those emotional dark skies that failure casts around us, as leaders, we need to give our employees that space to live in that moment, to empathize with them that yes, this hurts. And as I told my daughter, that in that moment, we’re going to own the suck.
And by giving employees space to own the outcome of failure, they will find within themselves the resolve to do something about it [Share on Twitter].
In so doing, we not only create conditions for them to ultimately learn from this failure, but we help them discover their own courage, their own story. A narrative that will not only fuel their drive to press ahead, but will serve them well the next time they encounter failure, especially after seeing how we truly have their backs in wanting them to succeed and thrive under our leadership.
“What do you do about the meeting after the meeting?”
That’s a question I was asked recently in one of my Q&A sessions held after a corporate training event I conducted recently. I’ve been rolling that question around in my mind ever since, not because there’s anything particular unique about it. On the contrary, it’s because of how familiar the underlying answer I gave to this question is to another workplace problem I was asked about.
This other question surfaced during a working session I had with another leader a few weeks prior who wanted my thoughts about something he referred to as the “dour face syndrome”.
In this case, this leader shared how the Great Recession had hit his organization hard, but over the past 3-4 years, they had not only turned things around, but the company was growing at a faster rate than before. As he put it, “we had not only returned to greener pastures, but the grass was now better than it had ever been.”
But every day when he went to work, all he saw were “dour faces”. So one Friday afternoon, he decided to throw a company BBQ party, where employees were given company T-shirts and baseball hats:
“Everyone was having a great time, laughing and playing these various games we had set up around the company parking lot. It really seemed to turn things around. But then, come Monday when I walked in the door, those sullen faces had returned and I found myself once again leading a team suffering from dour face syndrome. So what am I supposed to do to get rid of these gloomy faces and the negative mood it creates?”
I’m sure some of you can probably relate to this anecdote with your own version of a “dour face syndrome.” What’s interesting for me, though, is how both these scenarios reflect a misplaced focus on the part of both leaders. And that is how they’re trying to cure the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause.
In both cases, these leaders were focusing on behaviours that garnered their attention as being problems that required immediate correction. And while they may succeed in putting a stop to these problematic behaviours, they haven’t dealt with what’s the underlying cause that lead these behaviours to show up in the first place.
And sadly, this narrow-focused approach is a lot more common than we might think, even amongst the most well-intended of leaders.
After all, in our pursuit to “get things done” – or in some cases, to just get through the day – it’s easy to limit our focus to those symptoms churning on the surface of our organization. That we look for that magic pill to silence issues that distract us from the work we’d rather spend our time doing.
Unfortunately, all this serves to do is shift our efforts to healing symptoms that affects us negatively, as opposed to the real pain points that affect our employees in terms of how they view their role within our organization, and with it, what they’re willing to contribute.
In other words, if we are to be true in our leadership, we can’t make our focus be about what bothers us, but rather the adverse conditions impacting those we lead [Share on Twitter].
Granted, it’s almost a commentary of our times that examinations to understand the deeper causes behind the issues we see bubbling on the surface are often met with resentment, under the guise that doing so only serves to divide than heal and unify.
It’s a problem that as leaders we can’t afford to disregard, especially as we continue to operate in an environment where things are not only moving faster than before, but where there’s a growing tendency to view the world in terms of how we choose to see it, as opposed to how it really is.
That narrowing of our collective viewpoints is particularly dangerous for leaders of today’s organizations as, with this impeding war for talent that’s now creeping upon us, it’s critical that we demonstrate that our leadership is not limited to what’s important to us, but to what matters to those we have the responsibility to lead.
The truth is our leadership should be about resolving the issues that prevent our employees from delivering their best, and not simply the things that get under our skin [Share on Twitter].
Only then can we move from a state of perpetual reaction, of racing to put out one fire after another, to truly embracing the vision that binds our collective efforts together and what we need to do next to make that vision our new reality.
While there’s little question that organizations need to be more responsive change, the real question today’s leaders need to address is are they at ease with taking risks, and more importantly, are the risks they’re taking the right ones? This question lies at the heart of my conversation with my guest Doug Sundheim in this latest episode of my leadership podcast, “Leadership Biz Cafe”.
Doug is the president of the The Sundheim Group, a consulting agency that focuses on strategy execution and team development and whose clients include Time Warner, SAP, International Baccalaureate Organization, and Morgan Stanley.
The following is a guest piece by CEO David Mattson.
Over the years, we’ve worked with a lot of CEOs and others in senior leadership positions, and I’m often asked what the very best corporate leaders have in common when building their teams. The answer is simple: Great leaders are always recruiting for tomorrow, rather than just for today.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Mediocre or poor leaders recruit only when there’s an unexpected, immediate opening that they must quickly fill. They’re basically in damage control mode, focused only on the short term. But when the emergency of that sudden vacancy passes, they once again put recruiting aside.
Superior leaders, by contrast, are always in recruiting mode, and always thinking in the long term about the talent they need to attract and retain. They constantly ask themselves whether a new business contact could make a contribution at their organization. They never stop looking for people who can help them achieve their vision for where the company will be in three, four or five years in the future.
Great leaders also know the difference between “willing” and “able.” They look objectively at their current staff, and identify what the specific talent requirements are going to be – not just for today, but for the company’s next level of growth. They ascertain all the organization’s talent gaps, and then they look closely at the existing team.
What they usually discover is that some people on the payroll are able to help them close those gaps, but unwilling to do so. These team members present extremely limited growth potential within the company and may even present a cultural mismatch.
Some employees, when supported over time via a personalized learning and development plan, will grow dramatically and be able to help close the talent gap; others won’t. The key is to identify which is which, and to find the best way to utilize and grow the internal talent.
When we take into account our current staff’s potential for growth, though, we typically find that there are still major gaps we need to fill to move our organization where it needs to be within three to five years. And that’s where the “always be recruiting” mindset really applies.
To be a truly successful leader, you need great people. And to get great people, you need to constantly focus on building your talent bench. Whenever you meet a talented, highly motivated person who looks like a good match with your organization’s culture and its major goals, you need to be prepared to start the networking, recruiting, and interviewing processes … and to involve others in your organization in that process.
Great leaders know that an organization’s talent pool is everything. They also know that the interview process is a key element in the sales cycle for leaders. They manage a continuous pipeline of high-quality recruitment discussions. As a result, they build deep, broad networks of potential employees and allies who are both willing and able to help them move forward the organization’s long-term goals.
These leaders not only create a competitive edge for their organization over time – they also reduce their own stress levels, because they have plenty of “back-up talent” in place. That means that the departure of a key contributor isn’t necessarily a crisis that threatens the whole organization, but an opportunity to hire a new star with the potential to shine.
A healthy relationship with feedback exists when you can unemotionally assess the results of your business and then rationally determine what inputs or actions you need to change.
Denial is a very frequent manifestation of an unhealthy relationship. It’s important to honestly evaluate and improve your relationship with feedback before you implement them. Otherwise, you can spend time and money and still not eliminate the cause of your frustration or transform your company.
1. Time to Take Stock The key to unlocking the starting gate is getting a triangulated assessment of your relationship. Is it healthy or unhealthy, and to what degree? If you have an unhealthy feedback relationship, you will need to do some work before you can benefit from implementing any business alignment tools.
With a verified healthy relationship, however, you have an important key to exit the circle of frustration. You can use a number of tools to assess your relationship with feedback. These include monitoring your internal dialogue, searching for emotional no-fly zones, looking for missed feedback, and asking others for their perspectives.
2. Monitor Your Internal Dialogue Start listening to your internal dialogue. How do you respond when you learn things didn’t go according to plan? Do you react emotionally, with declarative statements, or do you look for the root cause of the problem, using objective, truth-seeking questions?
Write down your internal dialogue, exactly the way it plays in your head. After a week or two, revisit it objectively, as though you were reading a published diary from a historical figure. Do you find emotional statements or truth-seeking questions—especially when you receive unexpected feedback? Does it honestly match the internal dialogue you remember before you started monitoring it?
While you listen for your internal responses, you can search for emotional no-fly zones.
3. Search for Emotional No-Fly Zones Listen to your internal dialogue during meetings. If it were recorded, what would the transcript look like? Do you fend people off from opening certain issues for discussion? Are people afraid to engage, ask questions, and probe assumptions?
Don’t worry if you start to do this and you’re a little shocked. It’s a good sign if it is easy to determine that you have a poor relationship with feedback, because that is the condition keeping you stuck in the circle of frustration in the first place.
By identifying it, you are already improving your relationship with feedback. Seeing the situation accurately is more than half the problem.
4. Look for Missed Feedback—the Silent Killer If you aren’t finding any feedback to use to judge your reactions, you should be concerned. Feedback always exists, but sometimes it is unspoken.
Missed feedback is the silent killer. Pay attention the next time you propose an idea. Does your team withhold feedback? It’s not uncommon for subordinates to avoid giving feedback to someone who has a poor relationship with feedback. It’s a survival mechanism.
When customers are boiling angry, many will provide feedback. But have you ever been a disappointed customer and just thought it was easier to find another provider, rather than tell the company what you thought? Or when you were an employee, was it easier to just leave a company rather than say what the boss didn’t want to hear?
Once your team becomes more comfortable giving you feedback, you can then take the most difficult step: asking them to describe your relationship with feedback.
5. Ask Others for Their Perspectives This is the true test. You have listened internally to assess your relationship with feedback, and you’ve observed your team’s reactions. In a way that encourages candor, you can now ask the people around you how they view your feedback relationship.
First, think about what you expect to hear. When you ask others to describe your relationship with feedback, how do you think they are going to describe it? Could you handle an unexpected description?
Answer the following questions honestly. No excuses or rationalizing it. If people felt they could respond openly, without “hurting your feelings” or burning a bridge with you, how would they answer these questions about you?
How do you respond when things don’t go according to plan: with emotional statements or with questions seeking to find the cause?
How do you respond when someone tells you something that conflicts with your perspective on an issue?
Do you have sacred cows or emotional no-fly zones?
Do people feel comfortable bringing up any legitimate business issue with you?
Now think about whom you will ask. Who can answer and is in the position to state his or her opinion without fear of upsetting you? This may include members of your leadership team, trusted advisors, your former employees, or even your spouse.
It can also be helpful to have an independent third party perform this assessment. This allows participants to respond more honestly, because feedback can be delivered in aggregate. Again, these answers may be hard to hear.
But the bigger the variance between your perception and how others perceive your relationship with feedback, the bigger the anchor keeping you stuck before you even cross the starting line. And the good news is that once you’ve done it, now you know. You have started to confront reality by giving yourself an unobstructed view of it.
6. Assess Your Team An organization is generally a reflection of its leader’s habits and decisions. That said, once you improve your ability to confront reality, you need to make sure the people around you can as well. Look at your team and identify which people have unhealthy relationships with feedback. Who defends the status quo? Who addresses problems by asking rational questions about the root cause of a problem, rather than reacting with emotion? Which team members seem the most open to learning and growing their skills and capabilities?
It’s important to identify both the people who confront reality and the people who avoid it. Those who confront it will support you on the journey ahead, when change gets difficult. Those who avoid it will likely want to stop the process and turn back. You will need to talk to this latter group before you begin to transform your company. Let them know that you are committed to making this change.
You will very likely lose some people during this process. However, keep in mind that you are going to lose either the A players who want to work on an aligned team or the people who are okay with the current environment. Whom you keep is up to you.
7. Pull It Together Because you are the leader, your personal starting position will inevitably be very close to your organization’s overall starting position. Once you have verified your starting position and that of your team, you can now start to prepare for the alignment journey ahead.
Based on the assessment process already described, you may have discovered that you have a poor relationship with feedback. Let that sink in. Can you handle that? Or do you want to deny it and put the book down? Things will not get better until you change this relationship.
8. Cross the Line Take a good, hard look at yourself and your relationship with feedback. Be honest, and spend some time and consideration figuring out exactly where you are stuck, the position of your team, and, ideally, the current state of the company. Once you’ve identified your position on the starting line, congratulations: you’ve found the personalized starting line to transform your company.
Alex Vorobieff is the author of “Transform Your Company” and the founder and CEO of The Alex Vorobieff Company, a premier business-transformation company specializing in helping large companies get their team members on the same page to achieve desired outcomes.
Let’s face it, all of us want to be inspired at work. So why do studies show that over 70% of us feel uninspired about the work we do? And more importantly, what can we do about it? Those questions serve as the focus of this engaging, insightful, and at times humorous conversation with former Proctor&Gamble executive, Scott Mautz.
Scott is the CEO of Profound Performance – a keynote, workshop, coaching, and online training company that helps you “Work, Lead, & Live Fulfilled”. Scott is also a former Procter & Gamble executive who ran several of the company’s largest multi-billion dollar businesses.