Freeing yourself from “Tin Man” leadership

I recently had a conversation with the leader of a nonprofit about how we so easily become mechanical in our work, especially when we are in positions of leadership. The man I was talking with made a quick, off-the-cuff reference to the story of the Tin Man, and then moved on, but the metaphor really stuck with me.

Do you remember the story? From the "Wizard of Oz"?

The Tin Man was built up from scrap metal by an inventor. He was very efficient and relatively dependable -- well, at least when he was well-oiled. Yet, although he had a great personality and seemed happy, he was empty inside.

In one of the most iconic scenes from the 1939 film, Dorothy knocks on the Tin Man's metal chest only to hear a resounding echo coming from within.

"The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart," says the Tin Man.

"No heart?!" repeat Dorothy and Scarecrow in disbelief.

In my years consulting and advising companies and organization across the world, I've found that there's a "Tin Man syndrome" affecting many leaders. We get sucked into an autopilot state at work: We go in, put in our time, keep our heads down from dusk 'til dawn immersed in work, and then punch out. It's like we have become robots. Which is quite ironic given the talk about how we are all going to be replaced one day by AI. We don't have to wait for that day — it's already upon us!

Yet here's the thing about machines: no matter how efficient, how reliable, how shiny, or how smart they become, machines will never have a heart. And if there's one essential characteristic a leader must have to thrive, it is having heart — heart for the team and for the business. 

Think about it in terms of music. Two pianists can play the same song and yet have a completely different effect on an audience. One sounds flawless but like the musical version of being in a museum or hospital -- just a clinical exercise of memorized motions.

The second can play exactly the same notes, same lines, yet pour her heart into the performance in such a way that the music sounds like it's coming straight out of heaven. That kind of magic doesn't come from the head; it comes from the heart. And if you look at the leaders and organizations that are successfully transforming industries and charting a path in today's competitive globalized economy, you'll see they work with this kind of passion.

So, you might be wondering, "I don't even remember when was the last time I felt alive at work -- can I be the kind of leader who leads with his heart?"

Well, here's the good news: You already have a heart. You don't need to find the Wizard of Oz to get one, but perhaps you do need a defibrillator to shock it back to life. What usually happens is we just check our hearts at the door when we get to the office, and we become little more than walking, talking scrap metal wrapped in nice suits. We need to shake off the rust and loosen the squeaky joints.

Here's how you lead from the heart:

  • Harmony. Leading from the heart begins with setting a tone of harmony in your team. Think of it as a team putting playing music together. For the music to be good, they have to be unified, focused and know and understand each other's role. Each person has to play her part to the fullest and have the desire to contribute to something bigger than herself. You are the conductor and your job is to bring the harmony that makes the music possible.
  • Empathy. Part of having a heart means having the desire to constantly learn and understand — both people and the work itself. When you can empathize with others, you'll be able to see what is it that drives and energizes them.
  • Adoration. In popular culture, the heart symbolizes love. We should have a sincere appreciation for our companies, jobs, teams, clients and communities. You'd be surprised the kind of positive effect thankfulness can have on your work life — even on the stormy days.
  • Renewal. Having a heart requires recognizing that you're not really a machine, but a human being made of flesh and bones who needs rest. Too many leaders bring damage to their teams and companies because they don't take the time to recover and burn out or lose their temper. You might not think of it this way, but taking care of yourself is also taking care of those who are around you.
  • Trust. A leader who leads from the heart is someone who can be trusted and counted on. Just as body depends on the heart for the lifeblood that keeps it alive, so does your team depend on your leadership. People know they're being led by a good leader when they can trust him. No matter where you are in your job, career, or leadership journey, you can never go wrong by putting more heart into your work. So, when you head to work tomorrow morning, please do me a favor: don't check your heart at the door. It's the one true “organ” that powers the organization. Your career life can never thrive without it.

 

Mark Nation is a globally recognized management expert, leadership consultant, executive coach and speaker. His focus is discovering what makes individuals and organizations amazing – those elements which drive their heart and soul. His upcoming book, "Made for Amazing: Finding Your Song in Work and Life," helps people to identify and sharpen their unique talents.

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Leadership traits taken from a career with the FBI

I loved being an FBI agent because there was a sense of meaning and purpose every time I walked into the office. The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States. There was a sense of meaning and purpose every time I walked into the office.

I worked hard to solve complex problems. You might be imaging movies, gunbattles, and running down bad guys. In truth, a lot of what I did as an agent wasn’t all that different from many of the challenges you face as entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners.

I was good with a gun, I admit, but most of my time was spent working with people who had different opinions and a conflict of interest. This created problems I couldn’t just shoot. Instead, they required people skills; I suspect many of you can relate.

Today's business world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. If you want to move your career or company forward, you have to know how to lead yourself and those around you.

The FBI does not hire new agents based on their skills. Instead, they hire by the traits and values exhibited by applicants and then train new agents with the skill sets they will need. If an agent has the right values, traits, and abilities, they can learn anything.

This is where most businesses have it backward. Instead of hiring people because of their traits and values, they hire skill sets and then try to backload the company’s culture and values.

If the goal of leadership is to empower people to make their own decisions, then here are seven FBI traits that will make you a better leader:

1. Confidence

Boosting confidence is the primary goal of the FBI Academy -- before they send agents out with a gun and badge.

As a new agent, there were days when my heart raced and my palms sweat just thinking about the new challenges that faced me. But I learned that success would not make me confident; rather, confidence in myself and my abilities would make me successful.

If you don’t believe in yourself, how can others believe in you? It took a bit of acting on my part in the beginning, but the more I acted confident, the more confident I became. Feedback from others was positive, which in turn, gave me more confidence!

Tip: Cultivate ways you can signal your confidence to others, especially using body language. When our brain receives a clear image of confidence and competence, it takes that good impression and makes a snap judgment. This allows the brain to move on to other issues.

2. Humility

A few years back, my squad was set to arrest a fugitive known to be armed and dangerous. Since I was the case agent, everyone assumed I would be the one to make the arrest. The fugitive was a big guy with broad shoulders and sure to resist arrest, but defensive tactics had never been my strong point.

It is humbling to admit to yourself, or others, that you are not the best person for the job. It’s OK to admit it and turn to another person more experienced or better prepared and ask for their help.

You may not need help in arresting a fugitive, but you may need to surround yourself with people who are more experienced or better prepared and ask for their help. The best leaders are confident enough to surround themselves with people who are smarter and more talented.

They are also humble enough to learn from these people because they understand they will get a better outcome as a result of their involvement. Such leaders are willing to listen to, but not be dominated by, the talent around them.

Tip: If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

3. Good values

For insiders, FBI also stands for "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity." These are the values that drive the organization.

Leadership is not a skill set; it is rooted in who we are and what matters to us. Our values are defined by what we are willing to struggle for when the chips are down. It’s doing the right thing and doing the best we can because that is who we are.

Ultimately, our values define our struggles. When we choose better values, we get better problems to solve. We need to be motivated by something more important and greater than our own happiness. If we are not driven to take our life to the next level by something more than our own selfish desires, we are the definition of a narcissist.

Tip: When you prioritize good values, it produces true confidence and genuine humility. Decisions are easier because the answer is always “do the right thing.”

4. Kindness

Not all FBI negotiations involve the barrel of a gun. The most successful agents find ways to get along with people, pure and simple. It is rare that an agent can dictate how a relationship is going to unfold.

In the movies, we hear lines like, “OK, this is what you’re going to do for me.” In reality, we need to look for what’s mutually beneficial if we’re looking to cut a deal or negotiate.

The best way to accomplish this is to find common ground, and this is accomplished by being sensitive to the needs of the other person. Bullying, extortion or browbeating rarely gets constructive results.

Tip: Mentally tough leaders who are kind know how to inspire their people in a way that, in turn, creates a commitment for their mission.

5. Tough

It may seem that kindness and toughness are contradictions, but they are actually very compatible. There are times when a leader needs to hold people accountable and draw a clear line that differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Great leaders don’t worry about being unpopular or making everyone happy. They’re always reminding themselves that their job is to improve the organization.

While rules and standards provide structure for people, tough leaders are not afraid to buck the system to get what they want. They know how to interpret the cultural norms of the office or company and are respectful, yet persistent, in presenting new ideas for projects.

It is the mixture of toughness and kindness that opens doors without alienating the standard-bearers who have calcified in their corner offices.

Tip: Successful leaders stumble and make mistakes as much as anyone, but they are tough enough to take control of their reputations and manage the ways they are perceived.

6. Listening skills

I didn’t know what to expect when the FBI sent me to a training course on hostage negotiation. As an unassuming man stood in front of the class and welcomed everyone in dulcet tones, I was looking around for the hardass who had talked down a terrorist in New York the week before. The man spoke politely, but I didn’t listen because I wanted to hear from the hostage negotiator!

Guess what? He was the hardass hostage negotiator. That week I learned the key to agreements, whether you are negotiating with a kidnapper or a client, is that they happen only when both sides are willing to listen.

When we listen, we get insight into how other people think, feel, and behave. It is counterproductive to be aggressive, pushy, and demanding. Instead, good listeners are likable and create an environment that feels both safe and comfortable. They are secure enough that they are not threatened by listening to someone who may have more talent or experience.

Tip:: It’s a good idea to repeat what you think you heard the other person say. It lets them know you really are listening and gives you an opportunity to let their words soak in.

7. Emotional intelligence

The FBI is not a touchy-feely organization; agents prefer terms like competence and persistence to explain their success. The words emotional intelligence rarely escape their lips. Yet face-to-face interviews remain the FBI’s top investigative technique.

Emotional intelligence is an ability to walk into a room and understand what others might be feeling, and through that insight, communicate to them in effective ways. Awareness and curiosity about their own emotions, as well as those of others, place leaders in a stronger position to not only recognize the negative ones but to anticipate how they could spin out of control.

Tip: Emotional intelligence allows us to build on relationships with others and then use those relationships to accomplish our goals.

“I actually have come to learn that the way to evaluate leaders is not from skills through abilities to values but to actually start the other way. If a leader has the right values and the right abilities, they can learn anything. If you hire and promote backwards and start with, ‘so what are their skills? What jobs have they had?’ you may miss the fact that they don't have the abilities you need and the values you need.” ~ James Comey, former FBI director, in 2016

 

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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When you’re feeling burned out, how do you handle it?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

When you're feeling burned out, how do you handle it?  

  • I take time off. 36.7%
  • I power through the burnout and know it will pass. 32.3%
  • I say "no" and prioritize better. 18.6%
  • I look to change roles or jobs. 8.4%
  • I delegate more work. 4.0%

Breather or burnout? There seem to be two distinct camps here: those who take time off and those who power through those difficult times. The third camp says “no” and prioritizes more diligently. Each approach has its pros and cons. Those taking time off run the risk of coming back to a larger crisis or being further behind when they left. Those powering through could run themselves into the ground and completely burn out. The middle path of prioritizing more rigorously seems to be a prudent balance between those two extremes. The next time you’re feeling burned out, evaluate what’s on your plate. Assess how much time you can afford to take off to recharge. Ask if you really have it in you to power through the painful period. If not, maybe it’s time to try an approach of more rigorous prioritization.

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."

A mensch of a leader


SmartBrief illustration by James daSilva

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

I love a good bagel, and moving from Chicago to San Francisco, I found it hard to find one on the West Coast. So, what did I do about it? Nothing!

Noah Alper, unlike me, did. He started Noah’s Bagels in Berkeley, Calif., and grew it from one store to 38 in just seven years, selling it for $100 million. He is a successful serial entrepreneur, author of “Business Mensch" and has been involved in entrepreneurship and the food industry for over 40 years. His core belief is that being a mensch (a Yiddish word for a person of high integrity) is an important key to success.

In this interview, I asked him about the roots of that belief and the other lessons he learned along the way. With wisdom and good humor, he offered some great advice for current leaders and entrepreneurs.

How is being true to oneself critical to success in business?

Noah Alper
Photo provided by Noah Alper

“Looking around the landscape of business leaders, it seems like those who are invested in their product in an emotional way, if you will, seem to have a better shot at success than those that are just doing it for the money.”

Alper went on to add, “There are a lot of people that do things that they're not really invested in personally, but they do it for the money. That was never the way I did things. It was always the idea itself that was a passion for me, and then the next logical step was to monetize it. It's been the way I've done business, and it's been successful for me.”

What have you learned about connecting with, motivating and engaging people?

“It sounds very elemental, but basically putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand how they're looking at the enterprise instead of how you're looking at them looking at the enterprise. Feel their emotion, their pain, their interest, their needs, their wants and try to meet them and serve them as you would a customer or a vendor or anybody else that you're doing business with.”

“At Noah's, I would go around to the stores and ask the employees how they liked the store and what improvements they thought could be made.”

“They were shocked when I did that. What they thought about and what mattered to them was very important because they were living the business day to day on the front lines and I wasn't, so I could learn from them. But moreover, giving them that kind of respect and honor resulted in tremendous loyalty.”

How did you deal with doubt?

“If it was a major decision, I'd want to speak to a lot of people before I would make a decision. That would sometimes result in delaying the decision longer than it really should've been delayed. That can be a real serious problem, but at the end of the day, once the decision was decided upon, then I didn't go back.

That's something I learned from my dad, who told me, ‘Make the decision. That's the important thing.’ Right or wrong, you'll learn from your mistakes, but waffling and not being decisive can really kill you, especially in business."

What advice would you offer young leaders and entrepreneurs?

“Get input from others at every step in the path and not to try to do everything themselves and to really try to bring in the best talent they can.

“I’d also advise them that talent can take the form of hiring individuals, but often, especially for the small and the undercapitalized, that's a luxury that they can't quite afford. But, for the price of a lunch, you can take out some pretty smart people and pick their brains and really learn a ton. If you're willing to put yourself out there and learn from others who know more than you.”

When did you start to sense it was time to go and what did you start doing?

“Well, we didn't do anything. What happened was that a company called Einstein Bros. Bagels, which is now quite well known, was rolling up independently operated bagel chains across the country. They were offering them a piece of this big pie if you will. I was realizing, look, I love to start businesses and I love to critique businesses, but being involved in an ongoing day to day role was not something that I loved. I was feeling a little bit restless.

“Einstein Bros. came along and offered to buy our company. The first offer was just stock, and we rejected the offer. We weren't confident that these guys were going to be successful. They were moving fast, and they just did not have the same business philosophy that we did. We rejected the offer, and what we decided to do was to take them on and to expand at a more rapid pace than we had intended to.”

“That plan was on the drawing boards when less than a year later they came back to us and offered us a very good price. It was an all-cash offer, and we took it, and we were out. We weren't really intending to do it, to sell that fast.”

Any regrets?

“No, no, no. I certainly don't have a regret about holding on that extra year, although I must say, it was a white knuckles year because this was a big, big company that was very well funded. It was going to put us into a very high-risk situation to take them on. We had had very little competition opening on the West Coast, and taking on a national competitor was a whole different league. That was a source of some nervousness but we felt, myself included, we could handle it. So, no regrets.

 

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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

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Great leaders focus on one important thing

From small shops to giant corporations, we know that great leaders everywhere are on top of any number of important facts and figures, deadlines and other business information. They have the knowledge, the expertise and the drive to succeed -- often in very different ways. The best leaders, however, all share a common trait: they prioritize relationships.

Results come from great teams, and great teams start with a strong coalition. If you know relationships could be your key to getting ahead, but you’re struggling to get it right, read below to learn how coalition building can help you succeed in any workplace.

Broaden your supporters

It is great to have a group of people who know you well, especially if they include your immediate team, your boss and your regular contacts in the business. Over time, managers tend to build long-term, loyal and like-minded teams who all know how to work together and get the job done. It’s a good start, but don’t forget to include those who aren’t so much like you. People with different perspectives, different job experiences and different working styles not only add great value to the team, they often have the ear of totally different people.

Want your message heard? Enlist the help of people less like you and your current group of go-to supporters.

Balance your relationship energies

Relationships old and new require energy. Building rapport, trust and common ground with new supporters can be challenging and time consuming, even if it is exciting. Be sure not to forget about your existing relationships while you forge new ones, however. Existing relationships need and deserve the care and attention required to keep them strong.

Embrace the challenging relationships

It can be tempting to focus on the relationships that come easily to us -- the ones where there is a natural kinship and it’s almost effortless to build rapport. Whether it’s because we have a similar style, a complementary skillset or a shared interest or background, sometimes, some relationships practically build themselves.

It can be more difficult to make ourselves do the hard work of building trust with someone who is less like us, less obviously connected, or with whom we’ve had a rocky road in the past. Those supporters, however, can be some of the most valuable; they often have a different circle of influence, and their diverse perspectives can add weight and value to your message by assuring others it checks out from all angles. Learn to embrace these challenging relationships.

Address interpersonal issues directly

If you’ve had clashes with others in the past, push beyond the desire to just avoid working with that person and address those issues directly. It’s not necessary to be friends with everyone in your organization, and sometimes a working style isn’t our (or someone else’s) cup of tea. Still, tackle the topic head on and have a respectful conversation. Chances are you’ll find some common areas of respect and ways to work together. These people may not be your supporters, but you can ensure they aren’t your detractors, either, with open, honest and direct communication.

Foster the message

Your supporters carry your message for you. Whether you are simply conveying a recommended tactic for a specific project at work or broadcasting the larger message of your brand as a good leader in your organization, the importance and the effect is the same. When you build a coalition with the people around you, you create buzz and enhance your visibility. By fostering and maintaining your diverse relationships, you raise others awareness of your abilities.

Great leaders prioritize building consensus not because they’re more important than results; they prioritize relationships because great results will follow. Look at how you might be struggling with coalition-building in your organization and find ways to build relationships that will be the key to your future success.

 

Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. 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 FulfillmentATWork newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!

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You oughta be in sales

Is there any business process more despised than sales?

But if sales is held in such low esteem, then how are customers supposed to come to us? Do they magically appear like Christmas presents under the tree?

Sales is that five-letter word no one wants to mention. Too bad. All of us need to be in sales. What you are selling is YOU.

So if are not selling, it means you lack faith in self and faith in what you can do to help others.

Re-framing sales then means re-thinking what you do. Very basically, consider sales as everything you do for a client -- service, execution, follow up and re-engaging the process.

Selling your commitment is something that anyone with whom you work with can appreciate. Ultimately, sales is a reflection of your and your work. Use it to your best advantage.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2017, Trust Across America named him a Top Thought Leader in Trust for the fourth consecutive year. Global Gurus ranked John No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named John to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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Persist or pivot? 8 questions to determine how to move your plan forward

Planning is a cornerstone of leadership and a foundational competency required for success in today’s complex and uncertain business environment. Love it or hate it (and plenty of managers and supervisors do hate it), planning is a non-negotiable priority for anyone responsible for driving results.

Yet, this key activity that ensures alignment, appropriate resource allocation, risk mitigation and organizational support is fraught with challenges. Field research over the past two years highlights the most persistent planning problems facing leaders.

Propensity for action

A natural bias for action on the part of many leaders teamed with a time-starved workplace conspire to create a sense of urgency to get moving and do something. As a result, many leaders don’t believe they have time for planning. They find themselves consistently approaching work in a "fire, aim, ready" fashion. And they can justify their action (versus planning) with a line of reasoning that’s hard to argue with: “It’s just going to change anyway.”

The planning puzzle

In an effort to ensure that appropriate planning actually happens, many organizations have developed sophisticated systems to support leaders including software, portals, prompts, and more. But these "helpful tools" are frequently too complex and time-consuming to operate at the speed of business today.

Planning as an activity versus a process

In an effort to complete ever-increasing volumes of work, may leaders have found that survival depends upon boiling even complex tasks down to fit a checklist mentality. They recast planning as an activity to be crossed off their lengthy to do lists. As a result, they miss the point that the value is not in the plan itself but rather in the planning.

Planning makes perfect

Still other leaders have been sold on the value of planning to the extent that they believe that the perfect plan will produce perfect results. So, they work, tinker, iterate, massage and refine it eternally in an effort to get it just right while others become immobilized by the pressure of perfection and do nothing.

Post-plan dilemma

One of the most frequent and dangerous problems leaders face has little to do with the initial planning effort and everything to do with what happens -- or doesn’t happen -- after the plan is put in place.

Leaders are trained to develop the plan. They learn how to critically consider the future and lay out paths to reach it. They explore effective strategies for allocating resources and anticipating risks.  They acquire skills in scenario and contingency planning. Many go on to master the technology to support the plan with tools like PERT, Gantt and even Microsoft Project.

But there’s little training on or discussion about what happens to the plan after it’s submitted and underway. Leaders are confused about when to persist with the plan and when to pivot or change direction. After all, you don’t want to bail at the first sign of trouble. (In fact, adversity and challenges can strengthen resolve, enhance team relationships and build capacity.) Neither do you want to stick with a plan beyond its usefulness.

Unfortunately, there’s more art than science to all of this. Gathering data, monitoring the environment and picking up on cues from stakeholders, customers and employees can help inform the ‘persist or pivot’ decision. So can considering questions like these with your team:

  • Is the plan complete -- with the necessary objectives, actions, milestones and results outlined?
  • Have we really been working the plan? Has it been executed as envisioned?
  • Is there a quantifiable gap between intended and actual results?
  • What does the trend line look like?
  • Have underlying assumptions changed?
  • Is there new information about the customer (internal or external) or related requirements?
  • Has there been a change to the available resources?
  • Have new competitors or strategy changes within existing ones significantly altered the competitive landscape?

Effective leaders understand that the plan itself is just a small part of the more important and ongoing planning (and re-planning) process. They engage in an open dialogue with others and consciously balance their commitment to what they’ve put down on paper with nimble and appropriate responsiveness.  And as a result, they benefit from flexible plans that teams enthusiastically implement and are still willing to change when necessary.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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Persist or pivot? 8 questions to determine how to move your plan forward

Planning is a cornerstone of leadership and a foundational competency required for success in today’s complex and uncertain business environment. Love it or hate it (and plenty of managers and supervisors do hate it), planning is a non-negotiable priority for anyone responsible for driving results.

Yet, this key activity that ensures alignment, appropriate resource allocation, risk mitigation and organizational support is fraught with challenges. Field research over the past two years highlights the most persistent planning problems facing leaders.

Propensity for action

A natural bias for action on the part of many leaders teamed with a time-starved workplace conspire to create a sense of urgency to get moving and do something. As a result, many leaders don’t believe they have time for planning. They find themselves consistently approaching work in a "fire, aim, ready" fashion. And they can justify their action (versus planning) with a line of reasoning that’s hard to argue with: “It’s just going to change anyway.”

The planning puzzle

In an effort to ensure that appropriate planning actually happens, many organizations have developed sophisticated systems to support leaders including software, portals, prompts, and more. But these "helpful tools" are frequently too complex and time-consuming to operate at the speed of business today.

Planning as an activity versus a process

In an effort to complete ever-increasing volumes of work, may leaders have found that survival depends upon boiling even complex tasks down to fit a checklist mentality. They recast planning as an activity to be crossed off their lengthy to do lists. As a result, they miss the point that the value is not in the plan itself but rather in the planning.

Planning makes perfect

Still other leaders have been sold on the value of planning to the extent that they believe that the perfect plan will produce perfect results. So, they work, tinker, iterate, massage and refine it eternally in an effort to get it just right while others become immobilized by the pressure of perfection and do nothing.

Post-plan dilemma

One of the most frequent and dangerous problems leaders face has little to do with the initial planning effort and everything to do with what happens -- or doesn’t happen -- after the plan is put in place.

Leaders are trained to develop the plan. They learn how to critically consider the future and lay out paths to reach it. They explore effective strategies for allocating resources and anticipating risks.  They acquire skills in scenario and contingency planning. Many go on to master the technology to support the plan with tools like PERT, Gantt and even Microsoft Project.

But there’s little training on or discussion about what happens to the plan after it’s submitted and underway. Leaders are confused about when to persist with the plan and when to pivot or change direction. After all, you don’t want to bail at the first sign of trouble. (In fact, adversity and challenges can strengthen resolve, enhance team relationships and build capacity.) Neither do you want to stick with a plan beyond its usefulness.

Unfortunately, there’s more art than science to all of this. Gathering data, monitoring the environment and picking up on cues from stakeholders, customers and employees can help inform the ‘persist or pivot’ decision. So can considering questions like these with your team:

  • Is the plan complete -- with the necessary objectives, actions, milestones and results outlined?
  • Have we really been working the plan? Has it been executed as envisioned?
  • Is there a quantifiable gap between intended and actual results?
  • What does the trend line look like?
  • Have underlying assumptions changed?
  • Is there new information about the customer (internal or external) or related requirements?
  • Has there been a change to the available resources?
  • Have new competitors or strategy changes within existing ones significantly altered the competitive landscape?

Effective leaders understand that the plan itself is just a small part of the more important and ongoing planning (and re-planning) process. They engage in an open dialogue with others and consciously balance their commitment to what they’ve put down on paper with nimble and appropriate responsiveness.  And as a result, they benefit from flexible plans that teams enthusiastically implement and are still willing to change when necessary.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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Leadership: It’s what you make of it

This post is adapted from "Becoming the New Boss," a new leadership book by Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach). He became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog.

 

Leadership is the ability to not only understand and utilize your innate talents, but to also effectively leverage the natural strengths of your team to accomplish the mission. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, answer key or formula to leadership. Leadership should be the humble, authentic expression of your unique personality in pursuit of bettering whatever environment you are in. – Katie Christy, founder, Activate Your Talent

A parable is told about a pencil-maker who was preparing to put an important pencil in a box. Before doing so, though, he took the pencil aside. “There are five things you need to know,” he said. “If you can remember these five things, you will become the best pencil you can be.”

You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to in someone else’s hand.

  1. Sharpening is painful, but it is critical if you want to write sharply.
  2. Since you have an eraser, you can correct most mistakes you make, though some may be harder to erase than others.
  3. Remember, it’s what’s inside that’s most important.
  4. Whatever surface you on, make sure you leave your mark. No matter how hard, rough, or easy, you must continue to write.

This parable shares powerful lessons for every leader:

  1. Be humble. You can achieve greatness, but not when you go it alone. Allow yourself to be taught and coached by others and identify the strengths of those around you to help advance the cause.
  2. Stay sharp. Strong leaders find ways to keep learning and sharpening their skills. Feedback can be painful at times, but without it, you will become dull.
  3. Accept mistakes. We all err. Though mistakes may make for challenging moments, they are ultimately part of a process of becoming a better leader. Embrace your mistakes as opportunities to learn, erase, and become better! As John Maxwell once said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
  4. Your best is what’s inside you. You may be good-looking, dress well, and have a great personality. But what makes you who you are and the person with whom others want to connect is your character. Seek to continually grow and refine your character so that you can lead and serve with utmost integrity.
  5. Stick with it. There will be times when you think that you’re making no imprint and that your actions are not having an effect. But people will still depend on you, so you need to keep on going. Hold to your vision and your dreams, even when it seems they have dimmed.

I have attempted to offer guidance to you, the new leader, as you assume your leadership position. By now, one thing should be clear: Leadership is not easy. It takes much effort to position yourself to achieve a leadership post, and perhaps, even more, work to build a sustainable leadership platform.

But it is doable. And the world needs you.

In a 1913 address to students at Swarthmore College, Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

The fact that you have been promoted into leadership means that you have the tools and energy to make it happen. Things will get in your way, but if you continue to believe in yourself, you can become the leader that everyone around you hopes that you will be.

Leadership blogger and Minister Brian Dodd summarized the roles and opportunities of a leader as follows:

  1. Leaders provide vision and offer direction.
  2. Leaders believe in others and give them confidence.
  3. Leaders stretch others’ thinking and make them look at things differently.
  4. Leaders sharpen others’ skills and help them become better at what they do. 
  5. Leaders support others and provide what is needed to be successful.
  6. Leaders make hard decisions. They pay the price so others don’t have to.
  7. Leaders take the bullets and bear responsibility. 
  8. Leaders create experiences that help others see things in a new and different light.
  9. Leaders raise others’ self-image and make them feel better about themselves.

These are many of the opportunities that leaders have each day to impact those around them.

As much as I have endeavored to support you in your leadership journey, it bears repeating that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, answer key or formula to leadership. Each leader finds his or her way to the top and must determine what style and approach best suits him or her, as illustrated by this powerful story (quoted in "Living Forward," by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy).

High in the Himalayan mountains lived a wise old man. Every so often, he ventured down into the nearby village to entertain the locals with his special knowledge and talents. One of his skills was to use psychic powers to tell the villagers the contents in their pockets, boxes, or minds.

A few young boys from the village decided to play a joke on the wise old man and discredit his special abilities. One boy decided that he would capture a bird and hide it in his hands. He knew, of course, that the wise old man would know that the object in his hands was a bird.

The boy came up with a plan. He would ask the old man if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said the bird was alive, the boy would crush the bird in his hands and kill it. If the wise man said the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird fly free. In this way, the boy would prove the old man to be a fraud.

The following week, the wise old man came down from the mountain into the village. The boy quickly caught a bird and cupping it out of sight in his hands. He walked up to the wise old man and asked, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?”

The wise old man said, “You have a bird,” and he was right.

The boy then asked, “Old man, old man tell me, is the bird alive or is it dead?”

The wise old man looked at the boy and said, “The bird is as you choose it.”

This is the essence of your leadership journey. The path that you take and your ultimate destiny are in your hands. The question is, what will you do with your opportunity?

 

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How successful are you at getting business cases approved?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How successful are you at getting business cases approved?

  • Extremely -- My business cases always get approved. 8.3%
  • Very -- I get most of my business cases approved. 66.9%
  • Somewhat -- I occasionally get business cases approved. 20.3%
  • Not very -- It's not often I get a business case approved. 2.3%
  • Not at all -- My business cases never get approved. 2.3%

Getting to “yes” requires focus. Business cases are the heart of investment decisions. While many of you get most of your cases approved, there are likely opportunities to make your cases more effective. Three key components of your business case -- defining the problem, explaining your idea, and articulating the benefits -- do more to get your case approved than anything else. The more clearly you can spell out these three sections, the higher the likelihood of idea approval. Reflect on cases that weren’t approved. Look for flaws or weaknesses in these three areas. Understanding what you missed in a disapproved case can help you craft a more effective case the next time around.

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."