Some of your decisions are bigger than others, and so to be considered successful on your terms as well as the terms of others means you must make more good decisions than bad decisions when the stakes are highest.
What’s your decision-making process?
There are 10 questions leaders must answer—either intentionally or intuitively, either alone or collaboratively—when making big decisions.
At the heart of sound decision-making is being crystal clear about what you stand for.
Because no matter how much more complex the world seems to become and no matter how much more quickly we race to outrun others, great leaders operate from a set of principles they use daily as filters for making decisions.
Your mettle as a leader is not truly tested until your principles have the potential to cost you something. Money. Power. Position. Lives. Reputation. Your beliefs form the bedrock of your character. And your character drives your decision-making.
You also must know very clearly what you want. It’s hard to be committed—especially to an outcome that may stretch your abilities as well as those of your colleagues—if you’re not clear about what you want. And what you don’t want.
Goal clarity helps you minimize distractions and gives you confidence to make the necessary—and sometimes difficult—decisions that will allow you and your team to remain focused on your desired outcomes and remember why those outcomes matter. Clarity equips you to overcome obstacles, endure sacrifice and withstand setbacks as you press on toward realizing your dream.
And so the next time you’re facing a big decision, ask and answer these 10 questions:
1. What are the facts?
2. What is our objective?
3. What—precisely—is the problem or set of problems we must solve to achieve our objective?
4. Who should be involved in helping reach a decision?
5. What are all of the possible solutions?
6. Are the possible solutions aligned with my (our) core values? Eliminate those possible solutions that are not.
7. What are the consequences of each of the remaining solutions?
8. What’s the best possible solution?
9. How must we communicate this solution to our stakeholders?
10. Who will do what by when?
As you think about your personal leadership style and how you’ll apply these decision-making guidelines, recall the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “There are many ways of moving forward but only one way of standing still.”
So when you postpone a tough decision—when, in effect, you fail to decide—you are actually making a decision to do nothing.
It’s logical when facing a momentous decision to want to gather as many facts as possible, play out as many scenarios as you can devise, test theories, engage in conversations with confidantes and trusted advisors, and spend time alone soul-searching. You owe it to yourself and those you’re leading to be thoughtful about big decisions. But avoid the temptation to postpone a big decision simply because you don’t want to decide. Leadership requires you to make the tough decision and get your team moving.
The word “decide” is derived from Latin decidere, meaning literally "to cut off," from de- "off" (de-) + caedere "to cut" (-cide).
“Decide” shares the same partial origin as the words “homicide,” “pesticide” and “suicide,” which essentially means that to decide is to “cut off” or “kill off” other choices or options in order to choose a course of action.
Sometimes you must choose between several bad options. But choose you must.
Failure to act saps time, money and energy. Failure to act can hurt your customers and help your competition. Failure to act confuses and discourages your colleagues. Your colleagues are looking for a commonsense approach where trust, discipline and good old fashioned hard work gets things done. Confidant decision-making accompanied by decisive action is a one-two punch that’s important to any leader whose team is eager to contribute to success.
Once you decide, move forward.
"Don't make the same decision twice,” cautions Bill Gates. “Spend time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don't revisit the issue unnecessarily. If you're too willing to reopen issues, it interferes not only with your execution but also with your motivation to make a decision in the first place. After all, why bother deciding an issue if it isn't really decided?"
What big decisions are on your horizon? What options must you “kill off” in order to make your next big decision?
About the Author: Greg Bustin is an executive coach, consultant and speaker who has delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. www.bustin.com Greg advises leaders at some of the world’s most admired companies, and his views about leadership have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Chief Executive, Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Investor’s Business Daily, Leader to Leader, and other major publications. He’s written five leadership books. His newest book, How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices (Sourcebooks), examines decision-making in history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies.
Leadership is one of the most regularly used words in the world of business, and arguably one of the most important. But what does it really mean, and is it delivering what it promises in organisations?
Leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation”, and there are two important things to note:
Firstly, leadership does not necessarily require an official title.
Whilst leading the organisation does often come with a title – like CEO or Managing Director – leading a group of people does not. The latter, because of its lack of position power, implies the ability to influence without it. Whilst some people consider both forms to be leadership; others differentiate between the two, saying that a manager has the title, whereas a leader has the people, i.e., the first form is not true leadership, but management.
An even better distinction comes in the differences between transactional and transformational leadership – a term brought to prominence by James McGregor Burns in the political sphere and then adopted in business.
Transformational leadership is a style that can be used to inspire others to follow, and to create change in organisations, through a strong belief in a cause, inspiring people with a big vision, connecting with them as individuals and challenging their thinking.
Secondly, to lead in the sense described above requires influence, but this requires confidence. Leaders need confidence in themselves, and to be able to inspire it in others, and the two are intrinsically linked.
We follow people when we trust – that what the would-be leader says is in line with our own beliefs, and that what they say will be acted on, and become our reality.
If the above is true, why then do we never discuss confidence in business?
In high performance sport, confidence is a topic on everyone’s agenda, because the sports world knows what business has been slow to pick up on – that confidence is the secret to performance.
You can be the most talented person in the race, but only confidence will get you to the starting line. Without it, you won’t leave the locker room, and with it you’ll step out of your comfort zone – the only place where potential can be realised.
All of this is relevant to your C-Suite, because these are the people you absolutely need to lead the organisation, and even with their official titles, they still need to be able to inspire a whole organisation.
Transactional leadership will lead their people to perform to expectations, but only transformational leadership, with that additional ingredient of inspiration, will get performance beyond it.
And in today’s turbulent and tough business environment, do we expect any less than this?
It’s also relevant to all of your employees.
Whilst having your C-Suite lead is imperative, you also need your employees to lead – to champion your change agenda, and speak out for and uphold your company’s standards.
To do so requires confidence in all its facets.
Your employees need a strong sense of self and their place in the world, an ability to project confidence to others – through their body language, voice and words – and to be resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.
In companies, we sometimes offer our people training in presentation skills, which help them to project confidence to others. What rarely gets attention, however, is our employees’ sense of self and their place in the world.
We trust they will either figure this out for themselves, or cover up for a lack of it by projecting a veneer of confidence in the workplace. Indeed, many of us have become adept at this, but without the layers of confidence beneath it, something is missing, and others can see it.
Transformational leadership is the most powerful form of leadership, because as its name suggests, it has the ability to create wholesale transformation in your company.
To deliver it, we need our leaders to have the natural charisma that comes from internal and deep confidence, when the leader is clear and congruent on who they are and what they believe in.
This type of confidence is long-term and highly effective, especially when combined with the ability to project external confidence to others.
Investing in it will allow your employees to lead within your company, even when the winds of change are threatening to batter down its doors.
Some say that leadership is only really tested when the going gets tough, and without confidence in all its forms, how do we know our confident leaders will stand strong and tall, and handle whatever turbulent times throw at them?
The people in your organisation may already be of high calibre, but confidence is a part of being human, and peaks and troughs affect all of us, even the high performers.
Confidence is a subject that is more complex than most of us imagine, but with a little more knowledge, we can start understanding the role it plays in leadership.
And with a daily investment in building and maintaining it, we can start reaping the rewards.
Let’s also remember that corporate environments sap confidence from our people on a daily basis – another reason to make it a focus. And to make sure this newfound confidence is able to take root, we need an equal focus on a culture that enables it to thrive.
With confidence such a critical part of leadership, and leadership key to unlocking the potential of your people and the organisation, isn’t it time to make the unspoken spoken?
Karen J. Hewitt is a multilingual “”Engagement and Culture Change specialist with proven credentials in creating cross-border leadership movements within organisations. She is the author of “Employee Confidence – the new rules of Engagement”, finalist in the Leadership category of the Business Book Awards 2019.
Cornell University professor Dr. Tony Simons’ powerful article, “The High Cost of Lost Trust,” appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2002. In that piece, he described his team’s efforts to examine a specific hypothesis (“Employee commitment drives customer service”) in the US operations of a major hotel chain. They interviewed over 7,000 employees at nearly 80 properties and found that employee commitment drives customer service, but, most critically, a leader’s behavioral integrity drives that and more.
Simons’ team defines behavioral integrity as “managers keeping their promises and demonstrating espoused values.” Their research methods and analysis discovered:
● When employees believe their bosses have behavioral integrity, their commitment goes up.
● Employees are more proactive, more present, and more productive with the application of their discretionary energy.
● Employee discretionary effort is visible to and highly valued by customers. Customers respond by staying more frequently, staying longer, eating on the property, etc
● Those customer behaviors generate higher profits. Significantly higher profits!
Dr. Simons’ team created an assessment that measured behavioral integrity on a five-point scale. Their analysis found that a 1/8 point gain on this scale generated a profit gain of 2.5% of annual revenues . . . which translated into $250K for each hotel! This study made an important link – one that had not been demonstrated before: manager behavior, specifically keeping promises and demonstrating company values, generates hard dollar profits. (Simons’ work continues at The Integrity Dividend with a book, programs, blog, and more.)
Whenever the trust of workplace leaders in the USA dips, employees consequently plan to look for a new job, citing low trust of their workplace, senior leaders, direct bosses, or even co-workers as a primary driver.
Two research studies have noted this “age of mistrust.” According to Deloitte’s 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey, one-third of employed Americans planned to look for a new job when the economy stabilized. Of this group, 48 percent say that a lack of honest communication from company leaders was their primary reason for that decision. This survey also reports that 65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives who were concerned with the upcoming “talent drain” believed trust is a factor in this voluntary turnover.
Maritz Research’s workplace study echoes the Deloitte findings. According to the Maritz poll, only 11 percent of American employees strongly agree that their managers show consistency between their words and their actions. Only 7 percent of employees strongly agree that they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interest (!) and only 7 percent believe their co-workers will do so.
The Maritz poll also found that about 20% of respondents do not believe that their company’s leader is completely honest and ethical; fully 25% disagree that they trust management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty. Of those employees who do not trust company management, only 3% look forward to coming to work every day!
Sharon Allen, Deloitte’s chairman of the board, notes that, by focusing on talent management and retention strategies, “executives may be able to reduce attrition.” She goes on to state, “Establishing and enforcing a values-based culture will ultimately help cultivate employee trust.”
What is the degree of trust in your workplace? What are you willing to do to measure that level of trust and improve in in the months to come?
S. Chris Edmondsis a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com. Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here.
You arrive at work one morning, take the elevator up to your appointed floor, amble down the carpeted hallway staring at your shoes and wondering what the day has in store for you, open your door…and there sits a ferocious lion. As startled as you are, the lion roars a mighty roar.
If you are like most people, in the blink of an eye you slam the door, turn tail and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
In the blink of an eye: You saw a lion where a lion shouldn’t be; You absorbed the implications of there being a lion, untethered, mere feet from you; You thought about what to do about that; You decided on a course of action; and you implemented that course of action with haste. In the blink of an eye.
The sensing, absorbing, thinking, and deciding functions that you just processed were extremely efficient, and so you were able to get to action right away. No confusion, no mixed messages, no need for consensus-building or alignment, no persuasion necessary – just a very, very smooth path from sensing to fleeing.
The Actual Lion
Now, rather than the lion, substitute a defining business challenge licking its chops on your desk. Ask yourself which people, from in and around your organization:
· Play a sensing role with respect to this lion;
· Act as absorbers, picking up stimulus from those sensors and translating them into implications;
· Gather and think about implications and translate them into options;
· Consider the options, weigh them, and produce decisions; and
· Ultimately, implement or drive the actions that will enact those decisions.
In most corporate settings, the answer is probably a large group of people.
The response to your metaphorical lion doesn’t happen – can’t happen – in the blink of an eye because those functions are played by a lot of people, distributed across and, sometimes, outside the organization.
Sometimes, the response won’t get triggered at all (or gets triggered far too late) because business challenges don’t usually present themselves so plainly as our lion.
Take a new competitive threat for example…
(SENSE) Sales people might hear and observe their customers’ reactions to that threat – as might your market researchers, call center folks, external market experts, and even your finance team as they watch the erosion of market share and revenue.
(ABSORB) Some of those people may also absorb the implications of what they’re seeing, and there are also likely others whose job it is to explicitly look for trends like this and consider what they might mean.
(THINK) When fed an alarming trend, management will think about what to do about it (ideally, informed by the sensors and absorbers), and/or may outsource the thinking to experts and/or consultants.
(DECIDE) Those same managers may also decide on a course of action or bump it up the ranks to decide.
(ACT) And a team may ultimately be launched to implement the resulting action plan, together with a steering committee and supported by project managers, communications people, and so on.
… and months pass…
Meanwhile, the lion has eaten your lunch.
Taming the Lion
Organizational SATDA – sensing, absorbing, thinking, deciding, and acting – is slow and unwieldy because so many people are involved and they’re all over the place, physically distant, and too often siloed. This is a first principal, universal truth. And this is why it’s so hard to keep up with the pace and scope of the metaphorical lions which, contrary to the popular song, don’t sleep at night (they’re too busy keeping you up.)
Recognizing this, what’s a great leader to do?
First off, accept the basic truth that this is just the way things are. No amount of reorg-ing, incentivizing, agiling, design thinking, change management, or outsourcing is going to undo this truth. At some point, to act quickly, the sensors, absorbers, thinkers, deciders and actors need to be brought together.
Next, convenethat group and equip them to join forces in executing all of the SATDA functions as part of a focused, non-linear effort, all at once: Get them in the same place; Orchestrate their interactions so that every individual bumps into every other individual meaningfully and repeatedly; Impose rules and roles at those collision points to diffuse hierarchy, self-interest, and polite conflict-avoidance; and weave those interactions together within a closed network. Just like neurons in a single brain; like your brain, when you saw the lion and ran.
When you’ve done this right, the result is very efficient, human parallel processing:
· Sensors (and everyone else) talking about what they sense, while
· Absorbers (and everyone else) are exploring both good and bad implications, while
· Thinkers (and everyone else) are developing ideas and weighing options, while
· Deciders (and everyone else) are choosing and developing the best options, while
· Actors (and everyone else) are building the right plan of action.
Finally, you need to trust in and commit to the results of their effort. If you’ve done a strong job of getting the right cross-section of people together, and if you’ve equipped them well, they will get to a shared understanding of the lion, clarity on what has to happen, and alignment on the importance of making it happen. You need to share in their shared understanding and their clarity, and you need to make the resulting action plan top priority.
For this reason, to truly believe they’re right, you need to go back a step and add yourself to the group while they’re figuring things out, not after.
When there is strong alignment and mobilization amongst the Sensors, Absorbers, Thinkers, Deciders and Actors (and you!), the lion won’t stand a chance.
CAVEAT: This approach won’t literally get you to action in the ‘blink of an eye’; you’ll need a few days of shared effort and a few weeks to get going on implementation. Which, on second thought, really is the organizational equivalent of the ‘blink of an eye’.
Guest post by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams:
We all look up to the great leaders among us—the men and women who seem to have a knack for creating inspiring visions of the future while building company cultures that bring out the very best in employees. And while individual leaders are key to an organization’s success, collective leadership effectiveness carries the day. This means that companies are poised for even greater success when they scale their leadership, that is, when they grow leaders throughout the organization and align them into a collectively effective leadership system.
Leadership is ultimately about scaling the capacity and capability of an organization to create outcomes that matter most and to fulfill the vision of its desired future. However, the ability of an organization to scale its leadership is in great degree limited or enhanced by the dynamic between the two most common kinds of leaders revealed by our many years of research: Reactive and Creative.
Reactive leaders emphasize caution over creating results, self-protection over productive engagement, and aggression over building alignment. These self-limiting styles overemphasize the focus on gaining the approval of others, protecting oneself, and getting results through high-control tactics. Reactive leadership inhibits collective effectiveness and does not scale leadership.
Creative leaders, on the other hand, are less self-centric and are much more about developing the capacity and capability of others and the organization. They are approachable and skillful in working with people, listen well, build high-performing teams, mentor and develop capability in others, and empower their people. Creative leadership is built for scale.
To build organizations that are more agile, innovative, adaptive, and high performing in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, Creative leadership is required. These new organizational designs simply cannot boot up on the Reactive Operating System most leaders are running. Reactive leadership is, simply stated, inadequate to creating these kinds of cultures.
Leadership scales capacity and capability in others, through teams, and in the organization by putting in place these six conditions:
1. Creative leadership. This condition requires that the leadership system of the organization undergo a fundamental shift from Reactive leadership to Creative. Creative leaders inspire commitment and loyalty to the organization and its mission. They also build an open, honest, authentic, optimistic, generative, and innovative culture where the best ideas can emerge, be implemented, and where everyone is encouraged to develop.
2. Deep relationship. Scale requires being in deep relationship based on the firm foundation of trust, transparency, and honesty. Great leaders foster deep relationship. It is foundational to courageous truth-telling, getting the best thinking on the table, and innovating creative solutions to challenging problems.
3. Radically human. Leaders who scale leadership start with themselves. They let go and then learn out loud (publicly) while embracing the vulnerability of not knowing. This requires more than simply learning new skills. It requires maturing in the inner game of leadership, which requires a profound shift of mind and heart.
4. Systems awareness. Highly Creative leaders think “big picture.” They see and design systems for higher, more durable, and more agile performance in a fast-changing world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Design is the primary determinate of performance.
5. Purposeful achievement. The very best leaders call us, individually and collectively, to a higher purpose. They inspire us to give our discretionary energy to a cause greater than ourselves. Being driven by purpose, they turn that purpose into a clear, lofty, strategic vision that translates into strategy and execution.
6. Generative Tension. Tension is a component in each of the conditions for scaling leadership. Generative Tension is the gap between our aspirations and our current reality. Great leaders cultivate this tension at every level. They establish it by committing to what matters most, and by fiercely and compassionately telling the truth about current situations.
The seeds of growth are buried deep within every leader, but this growth can’t occur without the right conditions and environment. It takes the right kind of leadership—Creative leadership—that can scale and grow as these organizations themselves scale and grow. Creative leaders get a large multiple on their leadership by developing and scaling leadership all around them.
By putting these six conditions into place, any leader in any organization can build and scale a Creative leadership culture—leveraging the tremendous benefits that are certain to be unleashed.
Imagine for a second that your boss is miles away from the day-to-day. A sufferer of Corner Office Syndrome he or she continues to make command decisions without consulting the team. The decisions are astounding to you and you start to question these far-off choices.
Now, your attention isn’t on doing the right thing for the business, but on how to stop the wrong thing your boss has put in play. You have two options. You could bite your lip and go with the flow. …Or …try to address this head-on which is no easy feat.
It could be too big of a risk to put your livelihood at stake. Your mind drifts again — pondering if this company is the right place for you. You wonder why you care so much. The easy thing to do would be to care less.
The truth is your faith in the business has splintered.
This inner conversation happens to many of us. When it does, you are officially not a believer anymore. You are transgressing into a fake believer.
When you lose belief, or don’t have something to believe in, it’s easy to fake believe.
But as Navy SEALs Jocko Willink & Leif Babin remind us in their book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead & Win”, “They must believe in the cause for which they are fighting, they must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.”
Building a cultural rocket ship is more rocket art than rocket science.
If your responsible for hiring talent in your company, then you already know it comes down to creating, retaining and sustaininginternal believers.
Why is this so important?
Because believers aren’t just wanted—they are needed in order to create the necessary conviction that makes your organization thrive.
Consider these questions for a second: Do you often feel like you are on an island alone in your company? Do you have coworkers you can genuinely trust? Do you feel you’re being sucked into corporate politics? Are you in a Watch-Your-Back Culture or a Got-Your-Back Culture?
These are the questions that need to be openly talked about with your teams. And these are the types of conversations that are welcomed by true leaders.
This might be a good time to share a truth. I have a major gripe with the word leadership. Make no mistake that I believe we are in dire need of courageous leaders. However, I’ve seen too many poor leaders turn leadership into cheerleadership.
Poor leaders start ra ra’ing to their employees, which may work with some of your workforce, but your elite producers can see right through it. Internal discord starts the minute you send staff down inside themselves questioning, wondering and calling out a faulty decision.
Management guru Ken Blanchard is spot on when he writes……“It takes a whole team of people to create a great company but just one lousy leader to take the whole business down the pan.”
Making Believers all starts at the top with what I call your Believership.
I’m sure you noticed the world choice. The clear mission of leadership is to transform into the company’s Believership. The Believership’s job is to create believers in all directions: making believers out of your employees, your prospects, your customers and, when appropriate, your board.
One final reason I like calling it a “Believership” is because successful leading is not simply about one person. There’s a checks and balances system working together at the top – if you’re lucky, that group shares values but brings breadth of experience to the table. Courage and business are both team games.
Having an aligned Believership makes it easy for employees to believe. They set the vision for the company, deliver the truth (no matter how hard the circumstance) and create trust – the most essential ingredient – that unlocks a successful team.
RYAN BERMAN is the author ofRETURN ON COURAGEand the Founder of Courageous, a creative consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains organizations through Courage Bootcamp. Berman also founded Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that supports causes around the world by “socking” problems and spreading awareness.
A few decades ago, when time was still a gentle concept, companies just rocked along in their comfortable hierarchies, everything centralized, proposals moving up the chain of command and decisions moving down at approximately the speed of glue.
Then in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, we had the tech bubble, and the old business model began to come apart. A pendulum tends to swing too far at first, and pretty soon we were in the second Wild, Wild West. With “clicks” and “eyeballs” as the watchwords, everybody began racing everybody else to get projects launched before the next guy did. They were just crazily developing things, business model be damned. They threw tons of money at things that went absolutely nowhere.
It could’ve been just a brief period of madness, like the tulip craze of 17th century Amsterdam. But in fact the tech bubble was a message from the future: Time now moves faster, and businesses must too.
In my long career, 45 years of it as a CEO, I’ve lived that change. In general, the old hierarchical structure and central leadership model that I knew as a young man at IBM has given way to a more nimble team concept, in which power resides within small, self-contained units. But the challenge for modern business leaders is to adapt and empower the kind of team-based structure that’s right for their particular businesses. That right model will evolve as the business evolves, so you have to keep adapting. But mission is key. And today, especially in tech companies, every mission involves innovation, and every innovation requires speed because of all the competition.
Our company, First Orion, builds scam blocking and caller ID solutions for mobile phone carriers. Our senior management just spent two days in a retreat talking yet again about organization and how best to continue to drive proper decision-making. Several years back we elected to go with a high performance business unit concept – that is, each business unit has its own overall mission and is comprised of several teams charged with achieving parts of that mission. We give each business unit as many resources – tech support, product management, marketing – as we can to enable them to operate as autonomously as possible.
But there’s always tinkering to be done. For example, if two or three teams within a unit are developing technology products, is it really efficient for each team to do their own product management internally? Or should there be a single product management group within the business unit?
There are problems both ways. If a team’s mission is to build a certain product, they want to hit the ground running. What they don’t want to do is have to wait around for some centralized product management group to tell them how to proceed. On the other hand, if every team is totally self contained, when you bring together all the product sheets from every business unit it’s like you’re five different companies. Wait a minute, you say, this is nuts – nobody is communicating, nobody is coordinating, nothing is consistent. Somehow or other have to bridge the gap between a central product management organization – which is slow and cumbersome but gives you nice, orderly product definition and growth – and the guerilla-like missions of autonomous teams, which sometimes take you back to the Wild, Wild West.
Anyone who spends time around businesspeople today will frequently hear some variation of the words, “I own it.” This speaks volumes about the difference between the old centralized hierarchical business structure and the new team models. In the old days, lots of employees spent their careers as cogs in a giant machine. They were there, often precisely from 9 to 5, just to play their small parts in the overall pageant of their companies’ business. Today’s small team members “own” their work, which means they accept the accountability that comes with the freedom to make their own decisions.
This change alone means that contemporary business leaders must approach their jobs differently than did business leaders of the past. A CEO today points the way, of course; but rather than sitting in an executive suite on high, he or she must be comfortable down among the troops, in the middle of the fray, moving at the speed of innovation.
Most people can handle just about any amount and type of work that comes their way. It’s not the work that puts them over the edge – its conflict with coworkers!
Conflict in the workplace – or anywhere - is inevitable. Conflict is part of being human. Some people are more comfortable with it than others, and some people tend to be “conflict carriers”.
Ultimately, it’s part of a leader’s job to deal with workplace conflict head-on. Ignoring it will only make matters worse, and will eventually impact team productivity, results, employee satisfaction, and the leader’s reputation.
Here are some ways to manage workplace conflict, so that little problems don’t fester into BIG problems:
1. Make the ability to collaborate an expectation. Establishing expectations start with the hiring process. Are you looking to hire lone wolfs, or employees that can collaborate with others? If it’s the latter, than you need to ask questions that uncover how well the candidate gets along with their co-workers. Look for red flag answers like, “Well, I have very highstandards, and sometimes get frustrated with others if they don’t meet those standards”. Which often translates to: “I thought my co-workers were idiots and we fought like cats and dogs.”
Make the ability to collaborate a job expectation for all employees, reward it, and make it a condition for advancement.
2. Recognize the difference between healthy and destructive conflict.Healthy conflict is making it OK to disagree, to debate the issue, challenge the process, and speak up. Destructive conflict is when it gets personal, gets in the way of working effectively, and has a negative impact on productivity, innovation, and ultimately, results.
3. Don’t ignore it – look for little signs that can turn into big problems. A manager needs to be having regular one-on-ones with all direct reports, as well as regular team meetings. These are the opportunities to ask questions, listen, and watch for subtle clues of unhealthy conflict. Most employees won’t want to tattle of their co-workers or be seen as a complainer – but you might pick up that they are going out of their way to work with another employee. Point out your observation, and ask why.
4. Be a role model with your peers. Many managers don’t understand the connection between how well they work with and talk about their fellow managers, and how well their own employees work together. Employees learn more from watching a manager’s behaviors than they do from what the manager says.
5. Learn a conflict resolution methodology. Most people shy away from conflict because it’s often messy and painful. If you’re not good at something, or you don’t like it, you’ll most likely avoid it.
However, if you learn and practice a consistent approach, you get good at it, and your world gets better as a result of dealing with it, then you’ll be more likely to seek out opportunities to deal with conflict.
I’d recommend taking a course in conflict management or reading a good book, like Crucial Conversations. A good course or book will give you a framework and set of tools, which gives you the confidence to confront conflict in a constructive, deliberate way. You’ll also be able to coach employees how to handle their own conflicts.
There are a lot of different conflict resolution models, but most of them have the following 5 elements:
1. Stay calm and dealing with the emotions first
2. State what is bothering you in a respectful and specific way
3. Listen to the other person’s perspective for complete understanding
4. Problem solving – look for root causes and win-win solutions
5. Agree on actions to be taken, and making mutual commitments
Any new skill takes time and practice before we get comfortable with it. The important thing is to have the right intention – which is to resolve the conflict, not to punish the other person.
6. Help your employees with their conflicts. Once you’ve learned how to handle your own conflicts, you can help your employees deal with their conflicts. There are two ways to do this – teach them a methodology (or have them learn the same way you did) so that they can handle on their own. In fact, some managers and experts say this is the only approach a manager should take – that is, they should never get involved in a conflict between two of their employees. While I can see the value of encouraging employees to handle their own conflicts without having to “run to Dad or Mom”, I still think are times when a manager needs to step in.
However – it’s important that the manager doesn’t get caught in the middle by having individual conversations with each employee and trying to mediate. Instead, the manager should sit down with both employees and coach the employees through the conflict resolution process.
Learn to proactively eliminate destructive conflict and deal with it before it gets out of control and everyone will be able to focus on their work, and not get caught up in unproductive and stressful workplace drama.
To improve innovation and growth, knowledge workers must be led, not managed. Too many policies born of bureaucracy are an enemy to creativity, so the more unnecessary distractions a company can remove from its employees, the freer they will be to contribute more creative ways. Management must reduce the administrative and on the job hassles for its employees by:
• Hiring people who are curious and knowledgeable about the job, the industry, the company;
• Limiting the number and length of meetings;
• Encouraging employees to network internally and collaboratively to continually seek the best and most efficient practices and solutions to problems; and
• Rewarding experimentation and avoiding penalties for mistakes made in
the pursuit of better solutions to customer needs.
Knowledge workers are self-directed, not other-directed, which means that they must be provided considerable autonomy. Out of respect for the knowledge they’ve gained over years, even front-line plant workers need freedom to “do their thing” as professionally as possible on their own. If they need help or clarification, they will ask for it.
People at all levels of a company, both degreed engineers and factory-floor craftspeople, are needed to design user-friendly new products and assemble prototypes that users can experiment with in the field. Today’s knowledge workers gain valuable information from every project and customer. They take their knowledge home with them every night and with them from company to company, including to competitors, if they feel mistreated. True knowledge workers are focused first on their professions and secondly to their current employer. Empowered knowledge workers make the best decisions for both their own development and for the good of the organization as a whole—because they realize that both will benefit from organizational health.
Although profits are the lifeblood of an organization, the financials come last. High costs and poor financial performance are lagging indicators, not leading ones. Financial viability is not a function of balance sheets and income statements, but the result of a focus on employee empowerment and engagement. Both drive higher customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to new customers and retention of previous ones. To quote Steve Jobs: Today’s leaders must think differently and shift their focus on their employees, not their financials. Be accountable first to your employees, not just to accountants. In short, by first doing your best to support and empower your employees, you’ll drive your organization to achieve its mission and purpose and it will achieve its financial goals as a secondary effect.
Walk around your plant and ask employees what things are causing bottlenecks, frustrations and disconnects. Request suggestions for how to improve processes, what customers are saying, and where communication breakdowns occur. Conduct annual employee engagement surveys, asking a wide range of questions, but be sure to follow up with actions that demonstrate you are listening and willing to improve anything in the culture that stands in the way of knowledge workers.
James Hlavacek, Ph.D., has over 40 years of global experience as a businessman, strategy consultant, and management educator. He has written five books including his latest Fat Cats Don’t Hunt. He has been a board member of both Fortune 100 companies and successful venture capital startups. http://www.corpdevinst.com/fatcatsdonthunt.html.
Congratulations! You’re a leader. If you’re reading this, you have either already heard this phrase or you aspire to hear it. Leadership is complex and demands are high. How do you continue to elevate your leadership game? What can you do to become a great leader?
Great leaders set a compelling vision. They develop, inspire, and motivate people. They actively listen and provide regular feedback. They recognize and reward talent. They work across organizational boundaries, handle conflict, make decisions, and they deliver results. Great leaders have a learning mindset. They continuously develop themselves and others.
The best leaders make all of this look effortless, but the great ones I’ve worked with are committed to getting better.
Much like physical fitness, you cannot neglect your leadership fitness and expect optimal results. The development choices you make will have a profound impact on your performance and it will also impact those you lead. It is easy to become consumed with all the demands that come with being a leader. After all, you have got a job to do and results to deliver.
Then again, isn’t one of your imperatives to be the best leader you can be? Somehow, that gets lost for some leaders and they wind up focusing on the never-ending tasks and initiatives that are immediately in front of them. Those projects certainly cannot be ignored.
What winds up getting neglected is a focus on development. Ongoing development – the learning, commitment, resilience, and effort – is often what separates great leaders from everyone else. However, when it comes to leadership development, the two greatest challenges facing leaders today are 1) finding the time to focus on their development and 2) determining where to start.
Today’s leaders simply have too many competing priorities. Making matters more challenging: as we move up the leadership ladder, demands increase and discretionary time decreases. Adding to this is the fact that there is an overcrowded leadership development landscape. The result is that too many leaders don’t pursue any leadership development activities or, worse, they pursue the wrong ones. The ‘wrong activities’ are those that are costly, time consuming or do not yield desired results. As a result of these challenges, it has become increasingly easy – perhaps even necessary – to drop leadership development from our growing list of priorities.
How can you navigate these inherent barriers toward becoming a great leader?
First, seek accurate feedback. You must know your strengths and development areas to ensure you are using your limited time most effectively. This occurs through a variety of types of assessments, and I recommend a good leadership 360 assessment. When done well, this will provide insights into how you are showing up as a leader. This allows you to be very precise in what aspects of leadership you want to improve. Have a plan that clearly spells out what activities you will pursue toward your development and how you will know you are successful.
When it comes to activities, here is your opportunity to shine – to elevate your game by building good, sustainable habits. Make sure the activities you choose are directly tied to improving the specific areas you outlined in your plan. You should do something to develop your leadership skills at least weekly. Time is of the essence, so it is imperative you remain laser focused on those activities that will help you improve. Lofty, one-time activities may be fine, but by themselves are limited in the impact they can have on your development.
For peak performance, you need repetition. I recommend a steady and balanced diet across numerous types of activities that are incorporated into your regular routine. Make sure you are contributing to a strong foundation of leadership by reading relevant business books and articles and listening to podcasts. Maintain your flexibility by actively engaging in a variety of on the job activities – shadowing, stretch assignments, task forces, teaching, and other such activities.
Remember that this is not about checking the box that you completed an activity. It is about applying what you learned, reflecting on the key insights, and refining your point of view and approach. Take this approach: learn, practice, get feedback, reflect, repeat.
So yes, you are a leader (or soon will be). Keep in mind that wanting to be a great leader is not the same as being a great one. Greatness requires effort and continuous improvement. Leadership development does not need to be costly or time consuming. There are opportunities for development all around us. We just need to know where to look and how to incorporate them into our routine.
Timothy J. Tobin is author of Peak Leadership Fitness: Elevating Your Leadership Game and a learning and leadership development professional committed to helping individuals and organizations reach their greatest potential. He is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees.
He was previously vice president of global leadership development at Marriott, and held leadership roles at Baker Tilly (formerly Beers + Cutler) and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he designed and implemented a variety of talent management solutions.
A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years at the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University, and George Washington University.