“You’re amazing!” How to win this rare praise

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Cheryl Bachelder.

Gallup has been reporting for nearly 20 years that employees rarely hear the words “thank you” from their supervisors. Similarly, I can assure you, CEOs rarely hear the words “you’re amazing …” from the people they work for either. If you are a leader, you know this already -- appreciation is in short supply.

But I’m a realist and a former public-company CEO. If I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath for the “you’re amazing” email from your board or your supervisor. But I do want to encourage you wherever you serve as a leader. There is a way to be appreciated and valued in your role. It’s simple, but powerful. Here’s what you do: Serve the people in your company well.

Here are three ways you do just that. And your team will thank you for it.

Choose a bold strategy to win

Your team wants to win big. It’s just more fun than small, slow improvements. But too often, the turbulent times breed fear of bold strategies. Leaders at every level choose the “less risky” path – so we don’t have to convince our bosses to make the big investments. It’s easier to do the closer-in, incremental improvements, that everyone is more comfortable with.

Your team hates this idea of the “safe” strategy. They know the truth. Without the brave strategy to win, they lose. Slow success doesn’t yield “the land of opportunity” for the people. So why not give them the big, bold plan to win, risk and all?

Here’s just one example of a bold strategy to win from the restaurant sector. Former CEO Patrick Doyle led Domino’s Pizza through a bold strategic move -- shifting from a pure delivery advantage to a technology advantage and the results have been amazing. Domino's is now the “Google” of pizza companies and years ahead of their competition. Restaurant owners and employees will proudly tell you how good it feels to be part of this win.

Invest in people capability

Your team wants you to invest in their potential. They think that will have an incredible return. Iimagine bringing out the best performance of every human in the enterprise. How cool an idea is that? And have you read all the best-selling books, boss? It actually does have an amazing ROI.

You understand ROI, right? If you needed to build a new factory to keep up with the cost structure of the competition, you would promptly develop the business case with proven ROI. Why not make the case for an investment in your people?

Best-in-class people capability in the restaurant industry? Chick-Fil-A. They make the investment. And you can see it in the results. Best ROI in the industry.

Have courage of your convictions

Your team wants to know what you truly believe, whether it's in work and this world. What are the unchanging truths that you rely on in leadership? What are your convictions about the game-changing actions required to get results? They would love it if you’d be really transparent about these views. It’s easier to follow leaders we truly know and understand.

My observation is that it is tough to maintain the courage of your convictions in leadership. It’s a battle to stand up and defend your convictions to all the different stakeholders you face. It can feel like an unwinnable battle, perhaps even a waste of time. But don’t listen to those voices in your head; listen to your team.

My friend Bob always says, “The people are looking for your weakness -- and praying for your strength.” There are always people on the sidelines criticizing your leadership. But your team, they are praying that you are the superstar they’ve been waiting for to drive success.

Let’s answer those prayers and lead with the courage of our convictions. Your team will be the ones who tell you “you’re amazing!” when you show them the path to superior results.

Serve them well.

 

Cheryl Bachelder is the CEO who led the turnaround of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen from 2007-17. She is the author of the best-selling book "Dare to Serve: How to drive superior results by serving others." She blogs at Serving Performs.

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4 compelling reasons you need to be more self-aware

In the FBI Academy, we trained how to run down and tackle individuals who resisted arrest. I was a lousy runner and came up at the rear of every race. The idea that I could run down or even catch up with a suspect produced snarky comments and rolled eyes from my classmates.

My ego took a big hit, but I also knew my competence as an FBI agent must be grounded in reality. I needed to be self-aware so I could make an honest assessment of my skills and strengths. Only at that point could I plan for ways to grow my strengths so I could manage my weaknesses.

How important is self-awareness? A study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University examined the performance of 72 executives from a variety of companies. It found that “a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”

As entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders, self-awareness is essential to your success. It’s stupid to pretend that you don’t have flaws or weaknesses. Instead, be smart and get ahead of them so they don’t sabotage you when you’re confronted with a stressful situation.

Here are four compelling reasons you need to be more self-aware:

1. Understand how you come across to others

The way we perceive ourselves is distorted, but most of us are not self-aware enough to recognize it! If we don’t want to be known as stingy, arrogant or self-righteous, we don’t look for those qualities in ourselves. Of course, we readily identify those qualities in other people! If we want to be perceived as competent, polite and generous, guess what? Those are the qualities we find in ourselves.

There is enough ego in all of us to produce a flattering self-image that might not be congruent with how others see us. The way we see ourselves is often an illusion, and it can be a dangerous one if we misjudge how we come across to our colleagues and supervisors.

Conversely, if you suffer from a lack of self-esteem, you could be undermining your position and chances for advancement as you navigate the quagmire of office politics.

How to make It work for you: Be mentally tough enough to keep your ego in check. Ask trusted friends or colleagues to give an honest evaluation of how you come across to others in a variety of situations. Don’t take the easy route and ask for feedback on your best behavior. Let the good, the bad and the ugly hang out, and be brave enough to push for honest answers.

2. Become aware of your deepest needs

Since we all possess a somewhat muddled and inaccurate image of how we come across to others, it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that we tend to justify our motives through rose-colored glasses as well. In fact, psychologists believe it’s important that our brain sees a clear connection between our thoughts, emotions and behavior. This strong connection leads to good mental health. However, thinking or feeling one way and then behaving in a different manner causes cognitive dissonance, and we experience anxiety and stress as we try to justify the behavior.

Behavioral science has proven that human beings are motivated by several needs. At a basic level is the biological drive to eat, drink and sleep. Another motivator is reward and punishment, such as when we work for a salary and are rewarded with a paycheck. It is the third motivator that requires self-awareness -- the things we pursue because they bring us joy and contentment. Shelley E. Taylor, UCLA psychology professor, has argued that we are wired to nurture others and care for their needs.

These are the hidden needs that ennoble the human spirit, but they also take effort and time to process because they are complicated and complex drivers of our behavior. Too often we settle for a fleeting emotion such as happiness because it’s both instant and a popular meme. But, at the end of the day, our deepest need is to make a contribution to society that is meaningful to us.

How to make It work for you: You can move toward a deeper and enduring sense of what motivates you if you are self-aware. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Another great question to ask yourself at the end of each day is this: "Was I better today than yesterday?" Again, ask trusted colleagues or friends for feedback, but make sure it is honest and constructive.

3. Create a mindset that wins

If you think of yourself as flexible and resilient, you will do much better in both business and life. Your image of who you are influences how you behave and thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford University has determined that if we view a trait as mutable, we are inclined to work on it more. On the other hand, if we view a trait such as IQ or willpower as unchangeable, we’ll make little effort to improve it.

Dweck is well-known for her work on “fixed vs. growth mindset.” People with a fixed mindset believe their basic abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed traits. They have a certain amount of talent and nothing will change it. People with a growth mindset, however, believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence.

If you create a growth mindset, you have the mental toughness to learn from criticism rather than ignore it; to overcome challenges rather than avoid them; and find inspiration in the success of others rather than feel threatened.

Self-aware people can create a growth mindset that’s focused on personal growth because they believe they can improve and develop their skills.

How to make It work for you: The best way to change the type of person that you believe you are is through small, repeated actions. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Don’t worry about how to write a best-seller; instead, commit to publishing your ideas on a consistent basis. It’s not about the result. It’s about how to create a mindset that enjoys the results. 

4. Prevent self-deception

According to psychologists, our tendency for self-deception stems from our desire to impress others. We convince ourselves of our capabilities in the process.

Human beings are masters of self-deception. We lie to ourselves about why we like to wear designer clothes, drive fast cars and climb the corporate ladder. Most of the time, we’re completely unaware of the deception going on in our minds.

Companies lose serious money every year due to their employee’s lack of self-awareness. Inaccurate self-assessment leads to sales targets that can’t be met, deadlines that can’t be carried out and performances that are promised but not delivered.

Interestingly, most of us have no trouble seeing through the delusions of our colleagues! We recognize the bumbling idiot who postures for a promotion or the incompetent supervisor who mumbles in meetings.

If we are self-aware and see ourselves with greater clarity, we are more likely to land on our feet when confronted with the unexpected

How to make It work for you: Honesty is the best tool to combat self-deception. It means we will need to look in the mirror and take responsibility for who we are. Honesty requires a deliberate effort on a daily basis. We must learn to observe our emotions, thoughts and behavior without judgment or evaluation. If we are self-aware, it is easier for us to focus our mind, concentrate and direct our attention toward activities that will give us the opportunity to change.

 

LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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Have you ever taken a role you weren’t thrilled with rather than continuing your job search?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

Have you ever taken a role you weren't thrilled with rather than continuing your job search?

  • Yes. I just needed a job immediately: 45%
  • Yes. I was getting sick of the job search process: 20%
  • No. I've only taken roles I really wanted: 35%

UPDATE Seeking professional help. While 25% of you have had good or better experiences with a coach, the vast majority of you haven’t had the experience at all and a preponderance of you would like to. The word “executive” can make coaching seem out of reach but coaching may be more accessible than you believe. There are many outstanding and reasonably priced coaches out there. If your company won’t offer you a raise, maybe you ask them to fund a coach for you to fill your development needs. And if they won’t fund it, perhaps you invest in yourself. The results can clearly be worth it according to your peers who answered that way in this poll.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

The importance of big-picture thinking

“If you just focus on the smallest details, you never get the big picture right.” -- Leroy Hood, American scientist

Most of us begin our careers working through the ranks of people executing tasks -- early success comes from correctly completing work while focusing on quality, time and budget. Doing a good job at the duties that were assigned to you is what first got you noticed by those in charge. Eventually, however, we all must learn to not only see the day-to-day details of the job but also to also consider the larger impact and overall plan of our business or organization.

This can be a difficult shift for some, transitioning into letting go -- just a little -- of all the habits and tricks that have always worked so far. If you’re looking to take that next step and become known as a big-picture thinker, read on to check your habits and better plan on a larger scale.

Habit No. 1: Overanalyzing

Being someone who is ready with all the data and analysis is great -- it’s even good to be fully aware of what the data says at a high level. Your decisions can be guided by solid data, but you shouldn’t be living and dying by it. Analysis is fine when it comes to improving process and even in setting direction, but leave the deep dives to others and then have them present the information to you quarterly. You can use the numbers to course-correct and steer your larger-picture plan.

Habit No. 2: Fixating on results

Having a strong drive toward achieving results can serve you well early in your career – managers appreciate a desire to deliver ever-increasing quality and yield. While this is admirable early on, not every problem can be solved or every business goal achieved simply by doing more. Leaders must be able to take a step back from grinding out the daily performance metrics and hand the small projects over to others. Build a team that you can trust to deliver peak results without micromanagement, so that you can invest your energy on a broader focus and higher value tasks.

Habit No. 3: Managing reactively

It can be invaluable in day-to-day activities to be quick on your feet – a nimble thinker and someone who is able to adjust to every situation, tweaking and adjusting your strategy as you go to get the job done. On a larger scale however, constantly reacting to every change and bump can leave you seeming panicky, indecisive and too focused on the minutiae of the day. When you’re looking at the big picture, small issues only factor so much into the overall plan. When your vision spans months or years, what happens once on a Tuesday morning is only of minor concern. Be sure your head is in the bigger game, and you’re thinking about the long-term strategy you’re trying to achieve.

Habit No. 4: Going solo

The independent go-getter who single-handedly completes projects is who everyone thinks of when they think of promising new employees. Being skilled and effective on your own is key, but creating a big-picture plan often requires thinking out loud. Don’t go it alone; find yourself someone you can think with, brainstorm with and bounce ideas around with. It’s a lot easier to think about bigger goals and a long term plan when you have other people to discuss with and to challenge your thinking.

Habit No. 5: Overfilling the calendar

It’s easy to spend all your time on everyday activities. Sometimes it can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, much less set aside time to consider the future. If your habits tend toward being 100% busy every day, don’t forget to take a step back. Put a few hours a week in your calendar for planning and strategy. Whether you spend the time alone or with others, the key is to set aside critical minutes for big-picture thinking. It may even become second nature to you eventually, but in the meantime, be sure you’re taking those moments to dream big.

There’s no need to completely abandon the skills that were the foundation of your career – many of the traits that served you well will still be useful and will help you manage a strong, effective team. Just don’t forget to let go a little and allow yourself to imagine the larger possibilities. As your responsibilities grow and change, the better you will do if you can let others take care of the daily details while you steer the course toward the big-picture goals of your organization.

 

Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach. He recently conducted a Newly Promoted Coaching Program in which he worked with a leader who was recently promoted and had to shake the overanalyzing habit and focus her energy on building a stronger, more strategic team. He has written seven books, including "Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level." More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!

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What Mr. Dunbar got wrong

It was 1977 when an 18-year-old Mike Rowe, future host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, sat down with his high-school guidance counselor, Mr. Dunbar, to discuss his future. Rowe told Dunbar that he was considering community college. Dunbar, distressed by Rowe's plans, pointed to a poster of two men that hung on the wall of his office.

One man, Rowe explained, held a diploma and was smiling while the other man held a wrench and was "looking down at the ground like he's some sort of vocational consolation prize." The words "Work smart, NOT hard" were printed on it. Dunbar asked Rowe which of the men he wanted to be.

The guidance counselor's question frustrated Rowe. He was young, had no money and no idea what he wanted to do. Community college seemed a responsible solution—an affordable, logical way to figure it out. Dunbar disagreed.

"It's beneath your potential," Dunbar said, according to Rowe.

This pretentious mindset has widened the skill gap and created unnecessary financial burdens for people, Rowe said. "What we've basically done is laid out a roadmap that says the best path for the most people is the most expensive path," he said. "We've convinced ourselves that that's the truth. And we've convinced this generation that that's the truth."

Rowe pulled no punches as he shared insights on blue-collar jobs, the myth of following passion and why we need to stop picking on millennials, during his opening keynote address at this year's HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.

Going Commando

Rowe opened his talk with a story about a segment he shot on a ranch in Texas that raises Brangas beef, through artificial insemination. In the segment, Rowe artificially inseminates 75 cows and collects the semen of a large Brama bull named Hunsucker Commando. "It's wildly inappropriate but it's really, really interesting," he said.

Executive producer Gina McCarthy, who was expecting a segment on artificial intelligence, was not amused. Rowe defended the content.

"Artificial insemination is a critical part of feeding our country," he explained to McCarthy. "Steve and the people who work on this farm—and countless other people—they're doing a job that's really, really important." After much discussion, McCarthy allowed the segment to air but ordered show editors to pixelate the bull's private regions.

Not long after Hunsucker Commando's debut, the US economy crashed and Rowe saw a new conversation about work begin to emerge. Daily headlines screamed about rising unemployment numbers but as Rowe filmed his show around the country, he saw a proliferation of "Help Wanted" signs.

It was 2008 and 2.3 million jobs existed that nobody wanted, Rowe explained. "It seemed to me [that] another narrative was maybe going on in the country," he said. "It seemed to me that some of these opportunities were being pixelated."

The situation prompted Rowe to launch his foundation, mikeroweWORKS. The foundation provides scholarships to people who want to get training in specific skills.

"All sorts of other opportunities have been pixelated, along with the trade schools that are out there," Rowe said. "We need to get the pixels out of the way, not so we can behold Hunsucker Commando's glory, but so we can simply see the opportunities that are right in front of us. Because there are so many and they're everywhere."

Les is more

Telling young people to follow their passion is bad advice, said Rowe. "Passion is terribly important--too important to follow," he said.

Rowe told the story of Les Swanson, a former behavioral scientist turned septic tank cleaner who lives in Wisconsin. The two spent the day in "very grimy pits of despair" and Rowe marveled at Swanson's enjoyment of the grimy work.

"The pumping station that he took me to on the side of the road was unlike anything I'd ever seen--15 feet deep, five feet deep of sewage," Rowe said. "And this guy whistles while he works! Literally, he just loves his job."

Swanson did not follow his passion into a septic tank, Rowe said. After years of working with people, Swanson decided to "hit the reset button and see where everybody was going--and then he went the other way," Rowe said. "He just took the reverse commute."

Swanson, like the other people profiled on Dirty Jobs, were passionate about their work but none of them started that way. "They didn't start by being told, 'Identify the one thing that can make you happy'," Rowe explained. Swanson got trained, purchased a truck, worked for a couple years and then "figured out a way to be really good at it—he figured out a way to love it."

"We all want to wind up engaged, doing meaningful work, passionate about what we do," Rowe said. "It's just a question of what route you want to take."

Be nice to the snowflakes

Millennials are easy targets, said Rowe, referencing common stereotypes of "snowflakes", crying closets and safe spaces.

"We shake our heads [but] we are the clouds from the snowflakes fell," he asserted.

We set millennials up for their messy situation, according to Rowe. "We did this," he said. "We told you that if you went the other way, you would be a sad sack, holding a wrench, looking at the ground and regretting your every decision. If you don't go to college, you're going to be that guy."

It's time to change that message and mentality, Rowe said. "When we start promoting one form of education at the expense of the others, then we put ourselves on a track we might as well all bend down and hold the cup while somebody else turns the nob," he said, referencing his time with Hunsucker Commando. "This is gonna get weird, man. It's gonna get really, really weird."

Kanoe Namahoe is editorial director for SmartBrief Education and Workforce.

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Seen and heard at HR Tech

HR leaders and professionals gathered last week at the 2018 HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas to network, learn and peruse the latest developments in workforce-related technologies. SmartBrief was there taking it all in. Here is a quick roundup of what we saw.

Survival tactics

Typhoon Jebi struck western Japan September 4, slamming it with wind, rain and chaos. Reports call it the most powerful storm to hit mainland Japan in 25 years.

Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, likened the HR technology market to Typhoon Jebi, calling it a "gigantic, whirling, swirling ecosystem." Bersin presented interim findings from his 2019 HR technology report during a one-hour session on the opening day of the event. The goal of the report, according to Bersin, is to help understand the changes in the industry.

And there are many, he says. Premium pass holders can register to get a free copy of the report when it's made available later this year. In the meantime, here are highlights from the data:

  • Members of Generation Z are entering the workforce with different expectations than their millennials peers. Interestingly, they look more like traditionalists, says Bersin. They want stability—in the form of earning and job security—and a sense of rationality in their lives.
  • Baby boomers don't want to retire. The trend has many employers scratching their heads as they try to figure out the hiring model for this group.
  • Workers want more from their employers—a lot more, as it turns out. Yoga, wellness programs, free food top their list of demands. "People want employers to be like their parents," says Bersin.
  • Employees are exhausted; they can't keep up. If you're buying technology to improve productivity, you better make sure it's doing its job. If the tools you're buying aren't boosting performance, or not moving you in that direction, "you are not solving on the of the biggest problems you have," says Bersin.

HR technology buyers are increasingly baffled by the choices they see on the menu. Bersin offered these suggestions for easing the process:

  1. Consider your culture as you shop for tools.
  2. Look for vendors who cater to your market and companies your size.
  3. Take careful stock of vendor personality. Sometimes great technologies go out of business because they're from bad companies. Avoid vendors with rigid compliance cultures. Go with ones who listen to you.

Are we there yet?

With AI, that is. According to Arya by Leoforce's Sarah Beth Maronpot, the answer is yes. "Six months ago, [HR managers] had to make the case for AI," she said. "Now they're coming to us with 'We need it now.'"

Finding talent quickly was among the top issues attendees discussed with Arya team members. With unemployment at a low right, many HR managers say they are struggling to find candidates who have the right skill sets. They're looking for tools that can help fill this gap, said Maronpot. "It's about attracting applicants, making sure you are where people are looking for you—passive talent that you need to be reaching out to," she said.

So how does AI fit into this picture? According to Maronpot, AI can help bring together systems and sources in a way that lets employers better engage with talent.

"AI learns," she says. "Systems like ours learn about you from you. Real value comes from over time use."

Engaging humanoids

HR leaders are wrestling with low engagement when training employees, says Falguni Bhuta, director of marketing at Kahoot.

"People don't read stuff anymore," Bhuta says. "They want something interactive, especially millennials."

According to Bhuta, many HR managers say they are looking for ways to not just engage workers but also build a more human connection among staff. And they want to do it via mobile devices.

"Employees are always on their phones, even during training," she says. Tools like Kahoot! let employers leverage mobile devices, but in a way that builds team spirit and camaraderie. "[They] have to be looking up to see questions; only when they are answering are they looking down at the device. The platform is designed to maintain human touches."

Interactive games. Having fun. Team competitions. Is all this really necessary, just to engage employees? According to Bhuta, it is.

"Today's workforce is looking at work as not a place to clock in and clock out, but also as a place to live and build relationship," she says. "Workers are spending more time at work. [HR managers] want to make that experience more enjoyable."

All aboard!

You've applied for the job, done the interview and are now waiting for word. Finally, the phone rings. It's the HR manager calling to say you got the job. You do a happy dance and mentally plan your celebration dinner as she runs through the details of salary and benefits. You agree on a start date that is one month away. You thank her and hang up the phone.

And that's the last you hear from them until you report for your first day of work. Just crickets.

Unfortunately, this experience is not uncommon, according to Patrick Rooney, director of marketing at Click Boarding. "Companies spend some much time attracting talent but then it stops," he says. "It's the Dilbert experience."

That's where companies like Click Boarding come in. Focused on improving the onboarding experience, these companies are creating tools aimed at filling in the gap between when a worker is hired and his or her first day of work.

"It's about continuing the conversation," says Rooney. "Going back to the reason the person joined in the first place. It clicked with them—they bought into the culture or the team or the boss. How do you maintain that enthusiasm when the start date is two months off?"

Click Boarding has launched a new webinar series called "Level Up: Smart Conversations + HR Technology." The series, which debuted at HR Tech, features discussions with HR experts on various issues including talent acquisition and retention, bias and diversity and extending the employer brand, among other topics.

The webinar series aims to help change the conversation about onboarding, according to Rooney. "[It] has been about forms and compliance," he says. "We all expect more; we're savvy consumers. Our expectations about how we interact with an organization has changed. We want to reset expectations. Onboarding is the first step for the successful employee."

Kanoe Namahoe is editorial director for SmartBrief Education and Workforce.

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5 leadership strategies that cultivate cognitive diversity

Diversity is among the most critical issues and opportunities we face today. Conscious efforts abound, both in business settings and the world as a whole, to combat prejudice and improve inclusion.

The focus has been, to date, on such factors as race, gender, age and religion, all of which are important. But what about different perspectives, information-processing styles and ideas? Cognitive diversity is one factor that has been largely overlooked in our effort to honor differences.

Certainly, one reason that cognitive diversity might not get the attention it deserves is that, whereas other differences are generally obvious to the naked eye, how someone thinks or approaches a problem is virtually invisible. The issue also meshes seamlessly into and around people's communication styles, further disguising it.

But obscured visibility is only a small part of why cognitive diversity is frequently overlooked. For instance, many organizations have a primary or dominant style (frequently following that of senior leaders). Hiring decisions are made in the image of these leaders. And those in the organization are subtly (and not so subtly) reinforced when emulating that style. As a result, we unintentionally contribute to cultural Darwinism -- survival of the similar.

Additionally, the sheer cadence of business can undermine our ability to value and tap cognitive diversity. Time is among our most precious resources. And its short supply means that important decisions and actions often can’t wait, even when broad collaboration would be valuable or is truly necessary to leverage different types of thinking.

Despite these daunting impediments, cognitive diversity is too important to be sidelined. Making the most of the rich differences within an organization means elevating how people think and process information to the same level as other elements of diversity. It also means equipping leaders with skills and practices designed to honor, value and leverage cognitive diversity. To get started, consider the following.

Check in with yourself

Watch for and combat your own personal biases relative to how people think, process information and solve problems. Treat this just like any other diversity factor. Take the time to recognize and process your own reactions; but don’t allow them to affect how you interact with others.

Convene teams that think differently

Consciously create cognitively diverse teams. Recruit people intentionally to ensure a rich mix of thinking styles and different points of view. Intentionally seek out others who approach problems differently than you do.

Sell the team on the value of cognitive diversity

To make the most of cognitively diverse teams, it’s important that members understand and appreciate the value of the differences. Doing so will help others confront their own biases; but it also gives each person permission to bring their most unique selves to the effort rather than trying to conform as is expected in many organizations.

Build confidence with having and addressing different points of view

Since some people are uncomfortable or unskilled in this arena, leaders may need to provide additional structure and support. For instance, assigning a devil’s advocate whose job it is to be a contrarian provides permission and practice offering different perspectives. Modeling and supporting curiosity also go a long way toward creating a culture that values diversity of all kinds.  

See something, say something

Addressing biases, cognitive or otherwise, requires sustained attention. As a result, it’s critical for leaders to remain vigilant. They must be willing to identify and draw attention to situations where diversity is not being valued. Conversely, they need to recognize when it is and take the time to celebrate that as well.

Given today’s volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous world, we need as many different brains and approaches on problems as possible. Leveraging cognitive diversity enables teams and organizations to respond more agilely to ever-changing conditions, tap everyone’s best thinking, support innovation and disruption, solve increasingly complex challenges, and engage every employee. Because after all, who knows where that next great game-changing idea will come from?

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications.

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Decide what (and when) to delegate

In our last post on delegation, we focused on situational leadership and how it affects the role a leader plays in transferring work and responsibility to others. In this post, the focus will shift to when one should delegate and when one shouldn’t.

Choosing tasks to delegate can be trickier than it seems. There are some tasks, such as high-risk or crisis-related activities, that leaders should never delegate. Other responsibilities, including those that will be performed once or rarely and require much guidance and direction, should also not be included.

To determine when delegation is most appropriate, consider these key questions:

  1. Is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?
  2. Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  3. Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?
  4. Is this a task that will recur with some frequency, in a similar form, in the future?
  5. Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively and stay on top of things? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, to check in on progress, and to reimagine/rework when necessary.

Let’s look at an example.

John, the CEO, has become bogged down recently by vendor negotiations. When the company was in its infancy, this was something that he often did because he was good at it and every dollar mattered. As the business has grown, John needs to become more focused on strategy and scaling.

Mary, a relatively new hire, has been working with John on some negotiations and has demonstrated the qualities that make him think that she’d be a good delegatee. John also wants to build Mary’s leadership capacity for future areas within the company. He recognizes that to train her will take some time up front but believes that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term impact, so he pitches his idea to Mary.

This example answered all five questions above in a way that justified delegation:

  1. Yes, vendor negotiations is a responsibility that Mary can perform, though John will remain involved.
  2. Indeed, Mary is available to train to become more proficient at this task.
  3. Yes.
  4. This task is performed often.
  5. John committed enough time to delegate the job effectively and stay on top of things.

Here are some other related tips to consider when delegating.

  • Start with a small project, or one that doesn’t have to be completed in a specific way. Where possible, keep the stakes low. Look for small, relatively inconsequential projects that have some flexibility built into how it gets done.
  • Leave ample time for mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, especially for less-experienced colleagues. Allow added time where possible to ensure that mistakes can be identified and corrected in advance.

When not to delegate

As valuable as delegation can be, there are times where it’s simply not advisable. The following list presents when it’s better to not delegate but rather keep the project for yourself:

  1. The task has not been fully thought through. If you aren’t able to explain the task and its goals in concrete terms, then you have more work to do before handing it off to someone else to accomplish.
  2. The project must be done in a specific way. In some situations, such as an intricate project that you developed and possess intimate knowledge of, delegation may create more problems than benefits.
  3. It takes more time for explain what to do than to just do it yourself. This assumes that this is a one-off project that just needs to be done and taken off the list. A recurring project or one that will provide opportunity for meaningful subordinate development should not be included in this list.
  4. When you really enjoy doing it. There’s nothing wrong with doing some things that can be taken over by others but still provide you with a positive burst of motivation or excitement, such as greeting students and parents in carpool. But learn to limit these so that you can ensure that you’re still doing the work that you really need to be doing.
  5. You are the best person for the job. If it's something you know well and can add real value to, do it yourself.
  6. You could learn from making the decision yourself. This one is tricky. On the one hand, the best learning comes from doing, so we shouldn’t shortchange our own development by letting others take our place. Of course, this could be true for most anything. Wise leaders learn to determine the true value-add of new learning and weigh it again other considerations. 

But while leaders may choose to not delegate certain things, there are other items that they can never delegate even if they wanted to:

  1. Ultimate responsibility. The boss should retain final say on important matters that affect company function and direction. At the end of the day, the buck must stop with the leader.
  2. Vision -- the essence of leadership. Delegating their vision for workplace performance or culture is tantamount to delegating away their leadership.
  3. Leading transformational change. Any large-scale, transformational changes need to have the leader at the helm.
  4. Hiring decisions. Hiring talent is one of the most important things a leaders can do to be successful. S/he may not do the entire process themselves but should at the least join in on interviews and related tasks, as well as making the final decision of whether to hire.
  5. The onboarding and training process. Clear your schedule as much as possible in order to make time for new employees. This will build capacity and efficacy while boosting engagement and morale.
  6. Praise and recognition. Leaders need to find ways to personally acknowledge the good work that their people do.
  7. Discipline and dismissal. When things aren’t working, it’s the leader that needs to be able to say so. Anything less is completely disrespectful to the employee.
  8. High-risk activities to untested talent. Developing others is critical, but when the risk associated with a task or project is high, it is unwise and unfair to entrust it to unproven personnel.
  9. Modeling behaviors that express values and build culture. The leader needs to set the tone. Others can help, but the direction is set and then reinforced at the very top.
  10. Developing direct reports. A leader’s own reports need to be developed by the leader directly. No one else can be tasked to that responsibility, as they ultimately have to answer to the boss.
  11. Crisis management. As noted above, crisis situations demand leaders’ full attention and focus. They can get help, but responsibility lies entirely with the leader.
  12. Public relations. When it comes to public relations duties, it is advisable to not delegate at least the external components.

 

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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Tips for leading the late-career employee

The workforce is getting grayer, and it appears that business practices have yet to catch up to the trend. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers 55 years and older are the fastest growing segment of the working population. Pair that with the fact that less than 6% of companies have a specific plan to address the aging workforce, and leaders may be caught flat-footed when working with team members who are in their sixth (or seventh) decade of life.

People in their 50s and beyond have a lot to offer their employers. As Chip Conley, author of "Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder," observes, “there exists a generation of older workers with invaluable skills—high emotional intelligence, good judgement born out of decades of experience, specialized knowledge, and a vast network of contacts” who can pair with younger colleagues to create enduring business success.  

Research backs him up: a study co-authored by the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP found that 55-and-older employees were more engaged than their younger counterparts. Further, the study debunked the myth that older employees were more “expensive” due to payroll costs, finding that older employees increase “a company’s total annual labor costs by 1 percent or less.”

Are you making the most of your experienced talent? Here are some ways to ensure that you are doing more than just paving the way to a smooth retirement for your most senior staff members.

Assess your mindset

Are unconscious biases towards the 50+ population seeping into how you assign projects or consider promotions? The stereotype of middle-aged folks being out of touch or change-resistant is firmly entrenched. It is true that younger workers perform better on tasks requiring rapidly changing parameters, but more experienced workers have less variability in performance and are less likely to cause errors than their younger counterparts.

The takeaway? All ages contribute positively to the team, but in different ways. So examine your thinking to ensure that you’re not falling prey to inaccurate perceptions.

Capitalize on the wisdom that comes with experience

Conley describes the “Experience Dividend” that seasoned workers bring, citing their ability to have a positive effect on those around them. “There’s growing data showing that the presence of older workers increases productivity of younger workers due to the elders’ advice and guidance,” writes Conley. If you’re a younger manager, keep in mind that your veteran employees have been around the block a few times. That shiny new idea you recently pitched that tanked? It’s probably been considered before in various forms. Ask your experienced team members for feedback on why it didn’t work in the past and then work together to craft an improved strategy for this go-round.

Create a two-way mentoring system

Companies have had success with reverse mentoring -- pairing experienced and novice colleagues so they may learn from one another. Even if your company doesn’t have a formal program, you can put something in place for your department. Watch for employees of differing ages who have complimentary talents and pair them on a project. Tell them why you think they are a good match and what you expect each person to contribute.

When you employ this practice, you begin to extend leadership capability beyond yourself. As management consultant Tom Peters (who is an excellent example of a Modern Elder) says, “Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders.”

Set an expectation of valuing longevity and life experience

Leaders model the way with their actions.  So, set a standard that doesn’t tolerate ageism and instead values life experience. Start by asking yourself who in the company is a model for wisdom and lifelong learning. Hopefully, that list includes a few of your staff members. (If not, you have an excellent data point for the next job vacancy in your department.)

After you create that list of people, start by inviting them as guest speakers to department meetings. If they’re willing, invite them to mentor key people in your department. And, if your list comes up short, then look outside your organization for positive role models of continuous learners who are vibrant contributors to your industry.

Are you capitalizing on the wisdom from your most experienced employees? Don’t let outdated thinking or stereotypes keep you from making the most of your entire talent pool. Use these four tips to successfully lead the late-career employees on your team.

 

Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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What has your experience been working with an executive coach?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

What has your experience been working with an executive coach?​

  • It's been fantastic!: 13%
  • It's been good: 12%
  • It's been fair: 8%
  • It's been poor: 6%
  • I've never worked with a coach but want to: 38%
  • I've never worked with a coach and don't want to: 23%

Seeking professional help. While 25% of you have had good or better experiences with a coach, the vast majority of you haven’t had the experience at all and a preponderance of you would like to. The word “executive” can make coaching seem out of reach but coaching may be more accessible than you believe. There are many outstanding and reasonably priced coaches out there. If your company won’t offer you a raise, maybe you ask them to fund a coach for you to fill your development needs. And if they won’t fund it, perhaps you invest in yourself. The results can clearly be worth it according to your peers who answered that way in this poll.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."