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How are you doing today? Great? Pretty well? Just okay?

What if we asked you how you’ve experienced today? It’s a lot harder to answer this question in one or two words –  and, according to Russ Rausch, founding partner of Vision Pursue , the answer you give is both revealing and important to understanding something critical.

HOW YOUR MINDSET IMPACTS YOUR LEADERSHIP

Russ explained that when people were surveyed on how they experience a typical day, the average of over 2,000 responses revealed that about 80% of experiences were characterized by stress, annoyance, monotony, or consisted of “escape” activities like drinking, watching TV, or engaging in online distractions. What’s most illuminating about these responses is the mindset they reveal.

It turns out that our minds are actually biologically wired  to produce thoughts and emotional patterns that create this negative life experience. Russ and his partners explain that humans have evolved to react this way in order to survive. We’re programmed to recognize the worst-case scenario, and the resulting emotions are designed to instruct us how to act in self-preservation. For example, if I’m not sure whether an object is a stick or a snake, my mind will most likely tell me it’s a snake so that I fear the snake, run, and preserve my life.

The problem is that if you show up at work (and home) feeling that life is stressful, annoying, and a means to an end from which you need to escape, you’re not going to lead anywhere near your best. The good news, according to Russ, is that your mind can actually be trained to respond differently to these automatic thoughts and emotions. This allows you to experience the day from a more grounded and even positive perspective, while still recognizing the importance of “negative” emotions designed to help you  survive. Vision Pursue calls the outcome of this training a “Performance Mindset.” It enables you to respond to challenges more effectively, increase your focus, improve sleep and resiliency, and results in a more enjoyable and productive life.

While leading a large corporate group in his previous role, Russ wasn’t aware of how the brain worked and how he could train it to improve his leadership. He didn’t pay attention to his automatic thoughts and emotional patterns – or how they distracted him from optimally performing (and enjoying) his job.  He is now convinced that with the right mental training to improve his internal perceptions,  he could have in turn improved his external experience, especially in regard to relationships.

When your mind is oriented to connect, contribute, and create, you’re able to authentically strengthen relationships at home and at work. After all, business and life are full of decisions and obstacles that involve other people. When our minds create a lot of repetitive drama around even every day, natural circumstances, we waste a lot of energy.  In Ray Dalio’s book Principles, the concepts of “blind spots” and “trying to be right” are two major shortcomings that, Russ believes, prevent many leaders from connecting better and making optimal decisions. Mental training can help leaders use others to shore up their blind spots and switch their focus from “being right” to “getting it right.”

LEADING WITH A QUIET MIND

Russ and his partners started their work on the Performance Mindset with professional athletes, like the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Mariners, and the San Francisco 49ers, and have subsequently expanded to training corporate clients. Russ sees a salient connection between athletes and leaders; both must consistently produce results in a highly competitive, transparent, and critical world – while a lot of things remain out of their control. Because top performers are “succeeding” in their field, they can be unaware of how poor their life experience is. It’s easy to confuse achievement and financial success for having an enjoyable life. Leaders in both sports and business experience the same hindrances to productivity: struggling to be present and listen, having trouble sleeping, and experiencing a hyper-critical voice in their heads that replays things over and over again. However, Russ argues that you can’t improve these things through sheer willpower: you have to train the mind.

Our world changes rapidly and is ever-increasing in complexity; there’s more distraction and noise. The more complicated your external circumstances become, the more you need to get your mind “right.” In other words, the more noise there is, the more important it is to quiet the mind. Effective leadership begins with the leader managing his or her internal behaviors (i.e., thought patterns, reactions to emotions) to come across as present, authentic, and connected in complex environment. Integrating Vison Pursue practices can enable leaders to enjoy – and be at their best in – the process of leadership.

ADVICE TO LEADERS

When asked to provide his top advice for leaders, Russ shared the following:

  • Expect the expected. Align your mind’s expectations for the way the world actually is versus the way it should be. For example, there will likely be a traffic jam at 4pm and someone will likely do something annoying during your commute. This should not provoke a sustained cloud of emotion because you know it will happen.
  • Learn to separate from and embrace your emotions instead of suppressing or getting lost in them. When traffic grinds to a halt, recognize your frustration at the situation, acknowledge it, and let it go. There’s nothing productive to be found there.
  • Focus on controlling the controllable. No matter how angry you get, you can’t exert influence on the traffic jam, but you can control your reaction to it.

If you do these three things, you’ll reduce mental noise, improve clarity, and focus on the things that are important.

Do you have any mindfulness practices you’ve found beneficial to your performance as a leader? Tell us in the comments below!

The post What It Means to Train Your Mind to be a Better Leader appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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Teams are complex – “lots of moving parts,” as the saying goes. But focusing on one or two underlying aspects of team functioning might make that complexity more manageable. For instance, how often do leaders consider working on empathy (or social connectedness) in teams? The research would suggest it’s an integral component in effective teams – and it might not be getting the attention it deserves.

LOW EMPATHY AT WORK

While working with an executive leadership team recently, we had a discussion about what was hampering the team from operating at the highest level. Most of it will seem familiar to any executive team: Not having enough time to focus on strategy and vision. Prioritizing the many tasks executives have in front of them daily, if not hourly. Ensuring that the teams below them are hearing the messages from the top and are motivated to carry out the company’s mission.  None of this was surprising.

What was more interesting, and perhaps more fundamental to this team’s effectiveness, was how the team was interacting. They weren’t listening to each other. They were talking over each over. Social cues seemed off. Some people weren’t speaking while others were dominating. Comments that should have sparked conversations weren’t picked up on.

It became clear that this, not a focus on strategy or fixing fire drills, was the team dynamic that we should be talking about. How this team communicated and collaborated with one another was arguably more important than all of the business priorities we’d been discussing.

EMPATHY AS A TEAM TRAIT

We are finding in our work and research with teams that this concept of social connectedness is quite powerful in team effectiveness. Teams who lack empathy and exhibit poor communication patterns won’t be able to successfully get at their business priorities. They won’t build the required trust to discuss the real issues in a constructive way. Team empathy is the price of admission and little of importance can be accomplished by a team seriously lacking this quality.

A study at MIT analyzed teams that were exceptional at decision-making. When looking at what differentiated these teams from teams that struggled to perform, they noted that the effective teams were consistently more able to read one another’s subtle cues in mood and demeanor. Essentially, the teams that had more empathy and time with each other were more effective.

We tend to think of leaders who have more empathy as being able to more effectively build relationships with others and connect with their teams, but this capability is rarely discussed as a team trait.  Being alert to one another on a team can help with understanding what each team member needs to be effective and how to view things from the other’s perspective.  Team empathy makes the team more resilient and better able to tackle problems productively.

The MIT study also alludes to another conversation: how related is the amount of quality time team members spend with each other to their degree of empathy? Does one foster the other? How does this affect global teams? Remote teams?  This will become more and more relevant for teams and the leaders who foster team communication.

BREAK SILOS TO DEVELOP EMPATHY AT THE TEAM LEVEL

One of the elements of our High Performance team model is the concept of shared accountability – each team member should care passionately about the team’s shared success, and his/her role in making it happen.  When looking at our benchmarks of executive teams, this is without a doubt, a key factor in the team’s effectiveness. But fostering this dimension, especially when the team is struggling to break free of silos, is no easy task.

One way to build empathy on the team is to have a leader share her vision and priorities with one of her peers.  The peer shares the vision with the rest of the team as if it were his own. Not only does this allow a leader to step into someone else’s shoes, it allows the team to hear the leader’s priorities and goals from a different perspective, and ideally see the impact on the broader enterprise.

The process known as “job empathy” can also help foster empathy as a team trait and a sense of shared accountability. In this process, people spend some time in another person’s role. For example, someone in assembly spends a day working in the shipping area. They come to learn what they could do to make the work of others easier and more productive. A variation on this is to periodically attend another team’s weekly meeting to learn what is important to them and then report back to his/her team. This experience can also have effects beyond building empathy. Seeing how others work can bring about new ideas and improvements in the team member’s original role as well.

As team work and collaboration become more and more critical, and more and more complex, having stand-out teams is of increasing importance to the success of any business. Understanding and developing the underlying factors that lead to team effectiveness, such as empathy, can go a long way toward achieving this goal.

How have you experienced team empathy (or lack thereof) in your organizations? What have you done to promote it?

The post Trying to Develop an Effective Team? Don’t Overlook This appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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Great leadership requires courage of convictions, courage to voice a dissenting opinion and the courage  to ask an unpopular question.  And sometimes, leaders must have the courage to step into an uncomfortable situation.

It’s not always easy to summon the courage to take a stance that you know runs the risk of damaging your standing in your organization, but, as a leader, it comes with the job description. The headlines today are filled with examples of instances where integrity failed and leadership courage needs to come to the forefront.  Even if your workplace isn’t grappling with headline-grabbing issues, leadership courage is still necessary. And the impact of acting with courage can have ripple effects that expand farther than you might imagine.

To underscore the importance of leadership courage and the difference it can make, I always return to this story from my career journey that still resonates with me years later. It occurred when I was the HR Manager for a Regional Marketing and Sales district.

My first meeting with this group was their annual off-site sales meeting. At the pre-meeting dinner a sales manager named “Joe” was noticeably overserved. As the evening wore on, he became loud and belligerent. No one confronted him because apparently this drunken behavior had become accepted by the group as simply “Joe being Joe”.

Enter “Amanda,” the Sales Director for the group and Joe’s boss. She was reasonably new to her role, and this was also her first experience with Joe in a group setting. The next morning,  Amanda immediately sought me out to discuss Joe’s behavior, making it clear that she wanted to address the situation as soon as possible.  In short order we agreed to an approach, and, despite our nervousness, called a meeting with Joe. We offered him EAP assistance and, in no uncertain terms, made it clear to him that such behavior would no longer be tolerated.

Now, it might seem that Amanda’s course of action was pre-determined and didn’t require much leadership courage. However, Amanda’s two predecessors had witnessed the same issues with Joe but decided to avoid interceding because Joe was both well-respected professionally and delivered great results.  Since Amanda was new to her role, she was aware that confronting Joe could cause problems in building relationships with the rest of the team.  She easily could have avoided the matter by simply passing it along to her replacement as had happened previously.  But she didn’t. She addressed the situation directly because –  well, she knew that is what a leader does.

The results were amazing. Several months after Joe’s “episode,” he became sober, his team collaboration skills improved significantly and everyone in Joe’s life benefited, including – and perhaps most importantly – his family. A few months after the intervention, Joe’s wife connected with Amanda to thank her for making such a direct and positive impact on their family. Joe eventually retired from the company after a successful career. His wife thanked Amanda again at the retirement party for how she’d helped change their lives.

One small act of leadership courage not only improved an employee’s performance, it had huge ramifications on all the others, inside and outside the organization, who found themselves in Joe’s path of destruction. It would have been easy to do nothing. But being a great leader is anything but easy. The underlying premise to this story is that no matter the situation, being courageous is a mandate that leaders must accept.

How have you displayed leadership courage in your career? What courageous acts have had an impact on your life? Tell us in the comments below!

A slightly different version of this post appeared on Duncan’s LinkedIn profile.

The post Leadership Courage in Action: How a Simple Decision Can Have Far-Ranging Effects appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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Can you remember the days when no feedback meant good news? When not hearing from your boss meant you were doing a good job?

Well, that’s not so much the case today. Feedback is widely recognized as a key tool for coaching, developing, and engaging employees. Receiving feedback has been shown to influence outcomes such as employee motivation and engagement, increasing self-awareness, enhancing maturity, and improving overall performance and results – to name just a few.

At Vantage, we’ve learned from our roundtable discussions with emerging leaders that Millennials prefer to work for a boss who provides them with “transformational feedback and coaching”. Similarly, in our Best Boss research, the most impactful bosses are the ones who provide pervasive feedback – that is, the really great bosses “consistently provide timely, constructive and respectful recognition and feedback.”

Despite all these positive effects, why do some people still react to feedback with resistance? Tough feedback is called “tough” for a reason, but it has immense benefits.

What differentiates feedback that is feared from something that’s actually received as a gift? 1. Consider your end goal.

What is the reason that you’re delivering the feedback? Is it to make someone feel bad about themselves (it shouldn’t be!) or is it to help them be better at something (their job, a particular task, etc.)? Remind yourself that you are ultimately delivering this feedback for the other person. This will help you set the stage for the conversation in a favorable light.

2. Be in the right mindset.

Most individuals do not like to give constructive feedback. It’s not meant to feel enjoyable. You can set yourself up for success, however, by making sure you deliver feedback when you are at your best.

If you’re feeling stressed, distracted, or unprepared for the conversation, that’s probably not the best time to sit down and deliver a potentially difficult message. Give yourself time to prepare for the conversation – that is, document specifics and behaviors, practice out loud beforehand, and anticipate potential push-back and defensiveness. This approach will put you in a better frame of mind. Once you’re in the conversation, be sure to minimize distractions and stay present.

3. Build trust.

Use an approach that feels authentic to you. Although you want to be prepared, don’t feel like you have to follow a particular script when delivering feedback. Rather, ask open-ended questions to gather your employee’s perspective. Rephrase your understanding of their message to demonstrate that you have heard their side of the story. Where possible, identify ways to build a connection or relate to your employee. If you already have an established relationship with them, utilize their personal motivations, interests, and aspirations to make the message meaningful to them.

4. Stay positive.

Even when providing less-than-favorable feedback, it is possible to maintain a positive stance and remain calm and composed. Consider starting the conversation with positive feedback. What does the person do well? Then move on to describing what behaviors need to change, why, and how you can support them in that process. Try to make sure the person leaves the conversation feeling hopeful, not defeated.

5. Allow time to reflect.

Realistically, feedback is difficult to hear and take in. No one wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. It’s also often very common for someone to get defensive, upset, sad, or offer an excuse, particularly if the message relates to a pain point for them. Recognize that this may happen regardless of the approach you use. Pay attention to their reaction to gauge whether they want to continue talking, or whether they just need some space to digest the information. Give them time to reflect and follow up in a week after they’ve had some time to sit with your message.

Although there is no perfect way to deliver feedback, these suggestions will help you better prepare for and organize your next feedback, whether professionally or personally.

What else has worked for you when delivering feedback? What are techniques others have used with you when giving tough feedback that you appreciated? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

For more information, check out Vantage’s other blogs on giving feedback, such as:

The post 5 Tips for Giving Tough Feedback Like the Gift It Is appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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When it comes to managing teams, how do you balance?

It has been some time since I ran track personally, but the experience developed my ongoing appreciation for the sport – particularly the relays. Given the inherent individuality of track and field, relays demand a type of collaboration that most track athletes are not familiar with. No matter how fast each individual athlete is, if the baton is not exchanged smoothly within the exchange zone parameters, the ultimate success of the team can be negatively impacted.  Case in point: the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which both the men’s and women’s US 4 x 100 relay teams dropped the baton and were disqualified – during a year in which they were both strong favorites.

This scenario perfectly contextualizes the trade-off between individual performance and team performance. From the perspective of a coach, it begs the question: were the baton drops a consequence of insufficient individual development or insufficient team development? In my experience assessing leaders of high-performing teams in organizations, the inherent trade-off between developing individual members and developing the team constantly comes up.The most effective approach is to strike a balance between the two, though leaders can struggle to do this.

Individual Development

In most organizations, there is considerable support for (and expectations around) individual development. As a leader, when considering how to help a struggling employee – or even a high-potential one – several strategies likely come to mind:

  1. Creating individualized development plans. Within a team, managers quickly realize how different each of their direct reports are. While some are motivated by the idea of taking on increasing responsibility and eventually managing their own direct reports, others likely want to continue developing their technical skills and hone domain expertise. Having conversations with your employees about their goals and identifying developmental activities that would enable their accomplishment are critical for employee engagement. These plans should include measurable goals and a realistic timeframe that can be referenced.
  2. Leveraging stretch assignments and opportunities outside of their job function. Stretch assignments provide great opportunities for growth. Used in conjunction with rotations outside of the employee’s primary function, they also provide an opportunity for the employee to gain perspective on the organization more broadly.
  3. Formal training and learning programs. Formal training includes anything from classes on crucial conversations to “Lunch and Learns” on a new software.
  4. Individualized coaching. Coaching describes any combination of activities aimed at helping the employee realize his or her developmental goals. As a manager, encouraging open communication about progress and derailers, providing timely, constructive feedback, and serving as a mentor and resource is invaluable to developmental progress.
Team Development

But what about team development? Most of us are aware of Gestalt principles asserting that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Certainly, for track and field relay teams, getting that record time is about more than each individual member running his or her fastest. When considering how to develop and create a truly high-performing team, the available resources to leverage are not nearly as expansive but can include any of the following:

  1. An initial team talent review. What are the strengths and capabilities of your team? This strategy works in conjunction with the creation of individualized development plans discussed above. Do your individual members bring complementary skills? They may be committed to their individual development, but are they similarly committed to the team as a whole? Do they possess strong work ethic? Are there any weak links? This assessment may result in the consideration of recruitment and retainment strategies.
  2. Helping members understand their role relations. It is important that team members understand how their roles are connected and dependent on each other for accomplishment of a common goal. Are your team members aligned around what needs to be achieved? Most importantly, do they understand how their skills and efforts support the team’s mission?
  3. Providing team-level feedback. Much like continuous feedback is important for individual development, teams benefit from consistent and timely feedback. It is useful to leverage performance metrics to give the team a way of assessing their progress. Have you identified team performance standards and clear measures for tracking them?
The Balancing Act

It seems that in practice, leaders tend to focus on one aspect of development, which can hamper success. By focusing on individuals, you run the risk of not realizing the synergistic effects of a truly high-performing team (though you may likely have some exemplary stand-out performers). However, when a relay loses, no one ever says, “But look at the best time the third leg clocked!” By focusing on team development, you may miss the opportunity to engage individual employees, strategically delegate assignments, and help them reach the next level.

Consider the following strategies to help encourage this necessary balance:

  • For leaders: Have you considered your vision for high-performing team success? Do you have the right people on your team to realize this goal? How can you work with the team collectively to achieve it? How can you most effectively engage your individual team members? Do you understand their motivations and their individual goals?
  • For organizations: What team development resources are available to your managers? How are managers supported in their development efforts of both individuals and teams? What do you ask of your leaders in terms of development plans? Are they required for individuals and teams?

What are your strategies for achieving balance? Tell us in the comments below!

The post In the (Exchange) Zone: Balancing Individual and Team Development appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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I was recently coaching a leader, tasked with the creation of a development and coaching plan in response to 360˚ feedback. As we fleshed out his plan, he was impressively quick to identify action items that would improve his leadership and move the needle on areas of focus. When we turned to discussing the ways in which success is best measured, however, he began pondering which of his business KPIs would be a good measurement tool. Although these metrics are critical to understanding business performance, even the highest-ranking individual executives (such as a President or Vice President) can have only a marginal impact on these indicators. This wasn’t new to me—I have often found myself counseling leaders on how to best monitor their behavior and measure the modifications. I offered advice and tips to help track his progress against developmental goals. Then, he mentioned something that changed the way I thought about executive development: “This is helpful. It’s hard to know how to measure the intangible.”

Give the People What They Want

This was a light bulb moment for me. Ever since a large “Voice of the Customer” study that our Vantage team undertook last year, I have been thinking about what type of support executives really need in their professional development. When interviewing our customers, I was surprised to learn how frequently the leaders we’ve assessed and their reporting managers desired more touchpoints with their assessor/coach. These are successful executives, I thought. They don’t need their hands held as they improve themselves. They have the game plan, now just go and execute! In many cases, execution is what these folks do best – and why they are so successful in their careers. In working with us, each leader was  already receiving in-depth assessment feedback and, in many cases, an alignment session with his or her boss to draft a straw man developmental action plan. When executives said they wanted more time with us, I saw an opportunity to improve how we serve our customers’ needs – but first, I needed to find out more about what kind of support would be most valuable for them.

The Quantification Conundrum: How to Measure and When

The importance of setting measurable goals is well-established as a mechanism to increase the likelihood of success in creating and sustaining change. After all, the old adage of “What gets measured gets done” has long been applied to the business world and leadership. We need that feedback loop about our performance to help us adjust as we change. The executives we work with are no strangers to this phenomenon. They are constantly monitoring and refining to improve business performance. This is why it is so common for leaders to falsely expect their own leadership development goals to be quantifiable in discrete, measurable terms. The problem with this assumption is that there is no easy litmus test for leadership. Progress is no longer measured in speed, accuracy, and performance metrics. Even workforce engagement indicators are often only surveyed annually, making them insufficient for helping leaders track and learn from their effectiveness over time. Leaders at this level cannot simply take a course and consider themselves improved —development happens every day in the building and maintaining of new habits. It’s about nuance, adaptability, and ability to choose the right approach for the situation and audience. Because this comes down to perceptions, impact, and interpersonal skillsets, the complexity of what we are measuring creates inherent challenges. Addressing these challenges head-on increases the likelihood behavioral improvement will be long-term and sustainable.

As my coachee pointed out, if you don’t know how to track behavioral change, it will be difficult to get it to stick. His comment about measuring the intangible helped me make sense of our “Voice of the Customer” study results and provided clarity that allowed me to improve our customers’ experience. I’ll share some measurement techniques for use with common “intangible” goals. I find these tools can be effectively applied across a variety of different developmental needs, and frequently make these recommendations to my clients.

Finding the Right Tools

To help you coach executives or develop your own soft skills, consider employing these 4 tips to help you track progress:

  1. Establish triggers and feedback mechanisms with an accountability buddy. When we are trying to change our habits, it is important to be present in the moment so we can intercept and adjust our automatic reactions. Distractions get in the way, and when we are not at our best or moving too quickly is when we are most likely to slip up and fall victim to old behaviors. Creating a partnership with someone who sees us in high-pressure situations and can redirect us or provide feedback frequently and immediately is a valuable mechanism for changing and also tracking progress. Over time, you’ll know you’re improving when you need your accountability partner less and less because you’re able to notice your triggers yourself – and respond accordingly.

2. Keep a journal. When we look back over time and evaluate our effectiveness, we are biased to focus on the negative events and minimize the positive events. To maintain a more accurate picture of your performance, it can be helpful to keep a log. For instance, if you are working on building your influencing skills so you can contribute to important decisions, you might write about what went well and didn’t after team meetings and other forums where decisions are made. Over time, you can track progress by pinpointing themes in your log or journal. Doing so will help you focus on those key moments when you are still struggling, and give you the confidence of knowing what venues you are effective at influencing in. Consider how the themes of your performance change over time, and determine what needs to be done to continue to advance your skillset.

3. Realize your own perceptions are valuable data. Often, the first step to improving our performance and effectiveness is to improve our comfort with some type of exercise or behavior. For example, one will not become a strong public speaker if they are afraid to get on the stage. Before concerning oneself with effectiveness at public speaking, we must build the willingness and comfort to get out there in the first place. Therefore, success against these particular goals occurs when your internal reactions to the event stabilize. To measure comfort levels, you could ask your audience for their perception of your comfort level. But the most direct way to measure this would be to rate your comfort level yourself after continued exposure to the task. For goals that are internal, your own perceptions can and should be considered a reasonable mechanism for measurement.

4. Remember that multiple measurement is best: Above, I mentioned the nuance and complexity of behavior change at the executive level. It therefore stands to reason that one technique for measurement will not fully encompass the distinctions of the behavior or skill. Using these techniques together, and in conjunction with other more traditional forms of measurement (i.e., feedback from your boss or other key stakeholders, engagement or leadership ratings from staff, formal performance evaluations), will help you further refine your understanding of your leadership effectiveness and impact.

What tips do you use for development planning and responding to feedback? What effective ways have you found to measure behavior change and track progress? Have you ever had a goal you couldn’t stick with because you struggled to establish a feedback loop? Sound off in the comments or reach out to discuss. We would love to hear your experiences.

For more on developing yourself as a leader check out Vantage’s other blogs on professional development and measurement, such as:

We would also like to offer a sincere thank you to our client organizations that participated in our Voice of the Customer study and the individuals who were kind enough to speak with us about their experiences!

The post Measuring the Unmeasurable: Tracking Your Development as a Leader appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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Vantage Leadership is exploring the challenges that leaders will be facing as they “lead into the future.” This is another in a series of articles where we will share some insights on the trends that we see taking shape. As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and reactions.

I was recently driving from Chicago to Milwaukee when I wound up stuck in a traffic jam. So, finding myself with some involuntary reflective time, I turned to my phone and found a TED Radio Hour podcast. One of the people featured was Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor and world-renowned psychologist who has focused much of her research on why people succeed and how to foster success. A major area of Dr. Dweck’s studies examines the differences between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.”  According to Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe qualities like intelligence and talent are inflexible traits. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that talent and capability are not solely predetermined, but can be grown through dedication and hard work. This creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Much of the podcast discussed children and the vital role that teachers and parents play in shaping the young brain. It was amazing to hear how a simple choice of words can push children towards either a fixed or growth mindset. As Dweck mentioned: “Teachers might, for example, intentionally praise student effort and perseverance instead of ascribing learning achievements to innate qualities or talents—e.g., giving feedback such as ‘You must have worked very hard!’ rather than ‘You are so smart.’” If you feel you missed this formative opportunity, not to worry – fixed-mindset adults can still switch to a growth mindset. This nugget of information got me thinking about the role that leaders play in helping their employees develop more expansive ways of thinking.

So, off to Google I went, and quickly found a 2016 Harvard Business Review article entitled “How Microsoft Uses a Growth Mindset to Develop Leaders.”  As I read, three things stood out. First, the initiative is being driven by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, who is intent on differentiating the organization by establishing a culture of learning and creativity. Second, smart risk-taking is encouraged and rewarded – even if it is unsuccessful.  Lastly (and maybe most groundbreaking), is the broadening of Microsoft’s talent development processes.  While the organization has a traditional process where it identifies and develops a small group of high-potential leaders, there are also processes built to tap and cultivate potential throughout the organization, like “hackathons,” “moonshot” projects, “Talent Talks,” and more. This is because [Microsoft] assume[s] that everyone has potential, and that talent is neither predetermined or static.”

Reflecting upon this story, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the findings from our Best Boss study and the goals of Microsoft’s “Growth Mindset” culture. Our study taught us how Best Bosses “activate potential” by assuming everyone has unique capabilities. These leaders then believe it is their obligation to support individuals in the development of their talents.  The study also showed us that Best Bosses help people pioneer by encouraging and rewarding risk-taking, while never punishing failure.

It is a given that leaders of the future will be expected to identify, coach, and develop high-potential talent. As organizations grapple with the need to continually innovate in our fast-paced world, companies such as Microsoft will require leaders to foster a learning mindset culture, so that everyone has the chance to reach their potential.

What do you think?

Does your organization possess a learning mindset culture? Is so, why is this important?

What competencies will leaders need to create and sustain a learning mindset culture?

The post Totally Mind-Growing! Leadership and Learning Mindset appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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Living in Chicago, I (like many) was captivated by the Loyola Ramblers during their NCAA run this year.  The storyline made for great TV: the timeless allegory of David and Goliath(s), the playful banter between team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt and CBS commentator “Sir Charles” Barkley…what wasn’t to love?!

What made this basketball team unique was the way team members came together when it mattered most. They played with true selflessness: a stark contrast to many of the traditional power programs and star players who can seem more focused on their individual performances and future professional contracts. It was refreshing to see members of Loyola’s team thinking about each other and their shared objective.

In a recent interview with David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, basketball commentator Dick Vitale articulated the personal connection so many of us experienced with this team: “Here are a bunch of kids playing together, with pride and passion, with emotion and feeling, and you can go from a three-star player, which they were, to being a five-star player any given night and that’s what they’ve been doing –  they’ve played like five-star players.” Loyola’s achievement was an inspirational example of a team coming together to perform at its full potential. While sports analogies don’t always hold up when applied to business, Loyola’s journey in the NCAA tournament provides a relevant example for business teams  aspiring to excellence.

Vantage Leadership Consulting has done extensive research on high-performing teams, and we have found five factors that need to be present for teams to elevate their performance from good to great. These teams have a Shared Commitment to Vision and Goals, Shared Accountability for Results, Transparent Communication, Constructive Conflict, and Mutual Respect and Camaraderie. Let’s see how Loyola’s basketball team embodied some of these crucial characteristics during its run to the Final Four.

Shared Commitment to the Goals and Accountability for Results

In our experience, two factors that matter most for teams to perform at the highest level are a Shared Commitment to the Vision and Shared Accountability for Results. Both the goal of winning the championship and the high-pressure nature of the NCAA basketball tournament required  these factors to be in play. Each of Loyola’s players was committed to the cause, focused on a stretch goal, and believed in each other. Case in point: in its five tournament games this year, Loyola had a different leading scorer each time. Thus, the burden to score was not placed on the shoulders of one or two superstars; rather, the team came together and equally shared the responsibility.

Mutual Respect and The Role of the Team Leader

The team’s coach, Porter Moser, had a clear impact on his team’s success. While performance ultimately depends on the team as a whole, Moser set the tone for how his players  worked together. For example, Moser created a “Wall of Culture” in the Loyola locker room – a set of values and principles written on the wall that creates a shared understanding of what excellence means to them.  This is consistent with our research in working with management teams from various industries:  the stronger the leader, the stronger the team.

The results of our research also suggest one of the most impactful influences a leader can have on his or her team is cultivating an environment of Mutual Respect and Camaraderie. In doing so, the leader demonstrates concern for the well-being of the team, creates a climate of support and trust, and encourages others to takes risks to foster learning and growth. In return, the team goes above and beyond their normal day-to-day responsibilities to support the efforts of other members and facilitate successful organizational functioning.

Putting the Team First

In an insightful article, Chuck Culpepper from the Washington Post interviewed seven coaches whose teams played Loyola earlier this season on whether they observed anything that could have predicted the team’s tournament surge.  Coaches  largely credited the team’s cohesion and collaboration.  Andre Payne, the coach of Mississippi Valley State, noted that the big difference for this team is their level of camaraderie. “They’ve got so many people in the game that can hurt you. It was hard to identify who we needed to stop. They’re not afraid to give up a good shot for a great shot.” Scott Nagy from Wright State also noted, “You’ve got to have good players, okay? But if you have good players willing to put the team first, and [sic] that’s hard to do in this day and age.” This behavior is consistent with our research that great teams are comprised of members who continually place the goals of the team ahead of individual ones.

In sum, there were undoubtedly many factors that contributed to Loyola-Chicago’s enthralling tournament run.  In my opinion, chief among them was the level of cohesion and trust the team members had for one another, as well as  the nature of the relationship between Coach Moser and the team, such that he became a facilitator of exceptional performance.

Do you see Loyola’s teamwork reflected in your own high-performing teams?  What lessons did you take from their example? Tell us in the comments below!

The post Performance High: The Final Four Journey That Put “Team” First appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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At the beginning of the new year, J. Patrick Doyle, the current CEO of Domino’s Pizza, announced he would step down from his position. Corporate America is used to chief executives coming and going, but this time is a little different. Doyle has been Domino’s CEO since 2010 and has taken its stock price from $7.75 in December of 2009 to well above $200 per share by the beginning of 2018. During his tenure, he led Domino’s to overtake Pizza Hut as the largest pizza chain globally, with over 15,000 stores worldwide.  So why would he leave now?

In a recent interview, Doyle stated, “We could try to string things together but why [sic].” When asked about his future, he explained: “Let’s take these things one at a time and make sure that we finish things up great at Domino’s.” Doyle has said he realized CEOs have a shelf life when managing a large enterprise in the public eye. He indicated that CEOs might start to lose their edge after a decade of being at the helm. Further, Doyle expanded on how he and his executive team have hit their long-range goals for Domino’s, and Doyle feels satisfied with his achievements. Lastly – and most importantly – his successor is ready.

For Domino’s, a number of forces have aligned in planning for their next leader. Some organizations don’t have that luxury and find themselves under pressure to identify a successor quickly. When a job incumbent is not a part of the succession process, it is even more imperative that the board have a detailed plan for choosing its next CEO. In today’s world, CEOs are not tenured in their organizations as they were 50 years ago. The threat of them being recruited by a competitor, making a wrong decision, or mis-stepping is higher now than ever before. With the rise of hyper-connection through social media, mobile devices, and the internet, scrutiny for these high-powered professionals is everywhere. Additionally, with baby boomers retiring at a record pace, there are even more top spots opening up. In short: it is in a company’s best interest to have a robust succession plan.

As for Doyle, there is probably satisfaction in seeing a succession plan come together (which his team has executed well). A key to their future success is having a deep bench of executives who are ready for expanded responsibilities. Every succession event allows the organization to re-calibrate. It is an opportune time for the board to evaluate its long-term strategy, align to common goals, and help shape the future vision for the organization. Doing this in a disciplined manner is imperative to organizational stability. Further, as a new CEO settles into his or her role, the organization underneath adjusts to their new leader. When the new CEO is internal to the organization, he or she has a higher likelihood of succeeding. Internal candidates are familiar with the organization’s culture, habits, and how work really gets done inside the company. At Domino’s, this seems to be the case.

As for their impending transition, there may be mixed emotions in seeing Doyle leave. For Doyle – although he has taken a huge bite out of the competition – his Domino’s legacy may be in fact how well he has set up his successor to succeed.

The post A Slice of Succession Planning: Domino’s Passes the Baton appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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It’s the time of year when most of us are ready for spring, especially after these last couple of weeks of wintery blasts. It’s also the time most individuals take stock of their progress towards achieving their 2018 goals – and for those ambitious professionals out there, this includes career goals. Yet this is also where many people get stuck. It’s as if they find themselves trapped in an icy snowbank and can’t move out of it. The reasoning varies, so it’s important to assess the cause of getting stuck and then take action to overcome the developmental hurdles.

During my years as an internal talent and HR leader, I’ve coached numerous professionals on this issue. Based on my experience, I’ve found five primary reasons people find themselves “snowed in”:

1. “I have not received constructive feedback.”

I love the saying “Feedback is a gift.” What’s even more fantastic about this gift is that you can ask for it! Asking probing questions can be an effective way of gaining insight into how others perceive us and where we need to improve, as long as we vocalize our intent before asking for the feedback. For example, “I would like to improve my meeting facilitation skills. Can I get your feedback after our committee meeting this afternoon?” For other useful tips on this topic, see the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Ask for Feedback That Will Actually Help You.”

2. “I’m not exactly sure what I need to do in order to develop.”

This reaction typically comes from a professional receiving vague feedback, such as “You need to work on your communication skills.” This could be many different things! Therefore, start with seeking clarity by saying something like, “I am interested in understanding where I might be missing the mark with my communication skills. Could you describe some instances when I could be getting better results with my communication?” The goal is to narrow the development opportunity down to a specific behavior that can then be translated into an action and measurable result.

3. “My manager is not supportive of my development.”

Some of us are lucky enough to have a really great boss who supports our development. For those that may not be so fortunate, it’s important to first evaluate your options. What NOT to do is use a lack of manager support as an excuse to shift focus away from development. Evaluate whether there are other people you can add to your network who can support your efforts (e.g., an informal mentor). Additionally, you can seek external opportunities to cultivate key skills, such as taking a course or participating in a community organization. As you work through this hurdle, it may be helpful to reflect using GROW questions. These are typically used by managers to coach employees to determine a path forward, but can also be used as part of self-coaching.

4. “I don’t have time.”

Development is not all about taking full-day courses. Typically, opportunities to apply development techniques surround us every day, from projects to our interactions working with and leading others. We encourage individuals to increase their awareness of these opportunities and then leverage them. Remember, if you don’t invest in your development, who will? Commit to carve out some time on your calendar to focus on your growth priorities.

5. “I know my manager says it’s an issue, but it’s REALLY not.”

Do you know what your leadership blind spots are? There is a good chance the answer is “No!” By definition, we often lack awareness of our blind spots’ presence and/or severity.  They act as the black ice to our progress and are often referred to as “derailers.” To gain insights into these areas, seek feedback from those who can provide an objective perspective.  Then, assess what trends emerge over time. Ask yourself, “Have I heard similar feedback before?” If so, that tends to be the sign of a blind spot. Once we gain awareness of the issue, the next step is to focus action on improving in that area and continuing to seek feedback to ensure the effectiveness of your efforts. For more information, check-out Inc.’s “The Top 10 Leadership Blind Spots, and 5 Ways to Turn Them Into Strengths.”

Developmental progress can take some hard work and perseverance. As I look out my window at the daffodils that have already pushed up through the snow, I’m reminded of the persistence that nature holds and how it may serve as a reminder to all of us. With that, we wish you advancement and success in your development efforts this season!

Looking to take your developmental efforts even further? We recommend the article, “What Your Development Plan Says About You.”

The post Developmental Progress Stuck in a Snowbank? How to Spring Into Action appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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