Category Archives: leadership

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Before I reached the point of being okay with my son and I hiking The Pass Mountain Trail on Usery Mountain in Arizona at our own very distinct paces, I was angry. Very angry.

Angry that I couldn’t keep up with him.

Angry that he wasn’t waiting for me.

Angry that we weren’t having a mother-son bonding moment on the mountain.

Angry that his flight back to Minneapolis was leaving in just a few hours.

Angry that we technically didn’t have time to do the full 7.1 mile hike.

And most of all, angry that we hadn’t made a plan before we set out.

How many times has it happened that you assumed the other person was of like mind about a situation when, in fact, you had very different ideas about how things would go?

I assumed there was no need to make a plan because we would be together. And, based on our speed and the time of day, we would together decide when to turn back.

If I was with my best friend or my mom, that would have been the case indeed. But there are very few others who can read my mind.

And so, we set off without an agenda.

Without a plan, my assumptions took hold and ran the dialogue that played in my head: “I’m the parent here, I should be in charge. I am the responsible one and I need to make sure we get to the airport on time.  He’s flying Spirit so I’ll need to feed him before he gets on the flight. How can I be in charge if he’s a half-mile ahead of me?”

A simple plan – before we set out – would have alleviated a great deal of angst for me (and eventually for him after he summited and reached the bottom, wondering where I was and whether he’d catch his flight).

A simple plan would have taken just under a minute to hash out in the form of a few simple if/then statements.

If we get separated, then A.

If it is noon and we aren’t at the summit, then B.

This simple, straightforward plan would have saved me 30 minutes of agony. Fortunately, it was only 30 minutes of agony. Given that he is my son, I’m predisposed toward forgiveness. Given that I quickly realized I didn’t want to waste the day being upset (30 minutes is pretty fast, at least for me), I found peace with our varying paces. And in my shift away from anger and toward the mountain experience, I assumed positive intent: he was just enjoying himself and the climb.

It is easy to waste an entire day to frustration with our colleagues and clients over assumptions we are making in the absence of a well-communicated plan.

Here are three steps for turning it around:

  1. Assume positive intent.
  2. Lean toward forgiveness.
  3. Vow never to spend an entire day (or even an hour) upset about something.

 

Catch the full series of blog posts of my Lessons on Leadership from the Side of a Mountain.

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    Usery Mountain #1

    Not long ago my 17-year-old son and I went on a hike on Usery Mountain just north of Mesa, Arizona. We took on the Pass Mountain Trail, a seven-mile loop around the mountain which summits about two thirds of the way along the trail.

    It wasn’t a particularly arduous climb but the intensity was elevated for us because we were pressed for time: he was catching a flight back home to Minneapolis in just a few hours. We had less time to do the hike than we would have liked.  As I raced across the mountain, numerous leadership lessons surfaced.

    In the coming weeks I will document twenty of them.  With titles like “You will probably not crash to your death” and “Sometimes it is best not to look down” and “Appreciate occasional and unexpected lushness,” I share the leadership lessons that showed up for me on the mountain.

    These leadership lessons will help you communicate and lead more effectively whether you lead from the board room or the lunch room.

     

    Leadership Lesson #1:

    Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will end together.

    My son Andrew and I started the hike together.  This was before he told me that his spirit animal was a mountain goat. I didn’t know he had a spirit animal. I didn’t even know he was that, well, spiritual.

    We weren’t three minutes from the trail head when he and his long, lean legs began to outpace me. Considerably.

    For the next 30 minutes, I struggled to keep up. At 6’1” he’s got a solid seven inches on me and it’s mostly in his legs. He’s also got minus 29 years on me.  And while I like to think I’m in shape, this boy runs cross country, cross country skis, and could skip lithely over the rugged terrain in a way I could never do. Not even at his age.

    Those 30 minutes were pure agony.

    I huffed.

    I puffed.

    I willed him to slow down.

    I worried about him.

    I worried about me.

    I tried so hard to keep up.

    I tried even harder not to be mad at him.

    As I saw him round a corner at least a half mile ahead of me, his neon yellow tank top a stark contrast to the greys, beiges and soft greens of the desert terrain, I realized he wasn’t waiting for me to catch up. Loping along at a comfortable pace for his long legs, he didn’t appear concerned with me at all.

    In that moment it hit me: We could both enjoy this hike (which I hadn’t been up until this point!) while being on the mountain simultaneously, each at a pace that suited us individually.

    After this mountainous realization (pun so very much intended), I relaxed my pace and found my groove. I started to enjoy myself and take in my surroundings. And there, in that moment, the first leadership lesson appeared: Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will finish together . . . or should even keep the same pace.

    Whether it is a freshman year roommate, grad school colleague, or someone who started with your current employer on the same day as you, that’s all it means: You started together. It doesn’t mean you are going to keep pace and it certainly doesn’t mean you are going to end together.

    Letting go of feeling that we had to stay together and that I was supposed to keep up (or that he was supposed to wait up) was liberating.

    I let go of comparison.

    I let go of self-flagellation (at least about the hike).

    I let go of judgement.

    And I began to enjoy the hike.

     

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    20160118_105205

    Not long ago my 17-year-old son and I went on a hike on Usery Mountain just north of Mesa, Arizona. We took on the Pass Mountain Trail, a seven-mile loop around the mountain which summits about two thirds of the way along the trail.

    It wasn’t a particularly arduous climb but the intensity was elevated for us because we were pressed for time: he was catching a flight back home to Minneapolis in just a few hours. We had less time to do the hike than we would have liked.  As I raced across the mountain, numerous leadership lessons surfaced.

    Watch for new posts each day. In the coming weeks I will document twenty of them.

    Here is the full list to date:

    Lesson #1: Starting together means nothing

    Lesson #2: Make a plan; do not assume

    Lesson #3: Sometimes faster is safer

    Lesson #4: You will probably not fall to your death

    Lesson #5: Rest for a moment in a scenic spot

    Lesson #6: Enjoy the easy parts

    Lesson #7: It’s lonely at the top

    Lesson #8: Look for how things naturally fit together

    Lesson #9: Don’t look down

    Lesson #10: Don’t worry about who’s ahead of you

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    shoe

     

    shoe

    My daughter had a major meltdown on the second day of school.  Over shoes. She’s six. (Yikes!)

    We arrived at school without her “high-heels” pictured above. They’d made their debut appearance on the first day of school. She reported back that her teacher said high heels were not allowed in first grade. Based on that information, I removed said shoes from her backpack before we left the house on Day 2.

    Upon arriving at school and learning that the coveted shoes were not in her backpack, my beloved daughter responded with great drama. Now, drama is drama. Whether it is at home or office (or school), it really takes something to not get immediately sucked in as a full-fledged participant, being equally dramatic.

    In the shoe debacle, it was hard to keep from being unduly influenced by the unfolding drama of a first grader in tears. Not tears of sadness (that would have been much, much easier to empathize with and comfort), but rather hot, angry, raging tears. Much as I tried to remain calm, I admit it, I got sucked into the drama a few times.

    Emotions are contagious. I’ve written elsewhere about that recently.

    When I felt my exasperation overtaking my empathy and my attempts at being rational, I took a few steps back (literally, I needed the distance) and breathed deeply. This is a skill I’ve been working with my daughter to develop, too.  Whether we are six, the mother of a six-year-old, or working with those who are 26, 36, 46, 56, or 66, things don’t always go our way. We suffer set-backs, road blocks and rules that we balk at.  And so do the people around us.

    The more we can keep our head on around others who may, for the moment, seem as if they’ve completely lost theirs, the faster they will come around.  For every moment that I expressed my exasperation, it took twice that time to calm my daughter down.  The more I could be calm and rational, the more it created a space for her to be calm and rational. My emotions are contagious on her, too.  And that’s important to remember when emotions are running high and hot.

    Resolution came in the form of recognizing each other’s needs. I acknowledged that she had a “need” to have her high-heels with her at school that day, despite not being able to wear them. She “needed” them in her backpack.  I needed to get to the office, a need she had little care or concern about. But in order to get my need met, it was critical that I acknowledge her perspective, validate her concern and commit to future action (she could take the shoes to school tomorrow).

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check that her shoes are in her backpack!

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    20150814_143829

    I recently went kayaking and while I was out on the water, I had these observations about the similarities between kayaking and having a difficult conversation at work:

    1. Do the hard part first. In the kayak, paddle into the wind first, if you have a choice. Size up the waterway, the wind, and any other environmental factors you are aware of and chart your course accordingly. Focus on the most difficult part first, paddling into the wind if you must.

    At work, get the hard part of the conversation over and done with first. If you’ve got difficult news to deliver, be direct and be swift (and diplomatic, of course!). You’ll also come across as more sincere. It leaves a bad impression when you make small talk for 15 minutes and then deliver bad news.

    2. You have to steer to get where you want to go. The kayak won’t naturally take you where you want to go without you being cause in the matter. You may have to paddle hard to the right to explore the cove you’ve spotted up ahead.

    And in conversation, you can’t expect it to naturally go where you want it to when you have a specific topic you need to discuss. A hope and a prayer won’t get you there.  You have to take conscious, deliberate action to move the conversation to where you need it to go.

    3. Coasting is unpredictable. Sometimes in the kayak you need to rest. Or you want to. Whether your arms ache from paddling or you just want to soak in the moment, coasting is important. But it is incredibly unpredictable. Even if you think you’ve accounted for the wind and the waves and you think you know where they will take you, you don’t.

    Likewise in conversation: when you take your eye off the target and lose focus on where you want the conversation go, you will most likely end up in unfamiliar territory.  You might really enjoy where it takes you. Or, you might find yourself treading water on a dicey topic. It can be fun. It can be dangerous. It can be both – at the same time!

    4. It will be messy. In the kayak you will get splashed. Even if you are an experienced kayaker, be prepared to get wet. Water drips from the paddle, it splashes from the waves, it seeps into your shorts and soaks the magazine you brought along to read when you found that “perfect spot.”

    The conversation will go somewhere unanticipated. It will be uncomfortable. It will be difficult. You will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, be misinterpreted. Despite your best intentions. But the trust and respect that comes from taking on a difficult topic will deepen the relationship and make the mess worthwhile.

    5. The “other guy” doesn’t have it as easy as it seems.  The guy who passes you with a friendly wave from his sailboat, looking like he has the wind at his back and hardly has to do anything to zip past you has had his own share of challenges. Sure, he makes it look easy, but there’s a lot of hard work and effort that went into that.

    And the person at work who makes salary negotiation, giving critical feedback and conducting performance reviews look easy has had to work hard to develop those skills. For most people, effectively conducting difficult discussions does not come naturally. Honor the work that has gone into learning the important skill of facilitating tough conversations.

    6. There will be unexpected surprises. You will be paddling along in the most peaceful part of the lake. You will be thinking deep thoughts or no thoughts whatsoever. And a big fish will jump right near your kayak, startling you practically out of the boat.

    The conversation will be going swimmingly. And then your counterpart shares some unknown facts or some difficult news.  Or perhaps it’s good news. Either way, it may knock you off balance. That’s okay. It’s bound to happen.  Steady yourself, take a deep breath, and listen deeply. You’ll know what to say next.

    7. Take risks. Be vulnerable. Take the life jacket off. Live a little. What’s the fun of going all the way out into the middle of the lake if you don’t enjoy the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders?

    In conversation, take a risk.  Say what you need to say, even if it may not be well received. Be courageous and speak up. Deliver the difficult feedback to the person who would benefit immeasurably from knowing. Step up to the challenge.

    8. You can go farther than you think you can. Your arms may be sore from paddling. The hot sun may be beating down on your back and bouncing off the water onto your face. You may be tired, but you can always paddle one more stroke. You really CAN make it to the other side of the lake or miles upstream or wherever you’re headed. And even farther.

    You can build more trust and more respect into that conversation and take it farther than you thought it could go. You can learn more about the other person, disclose more about yourself, and see where the conversation takes you. You can go farther in one conversation than you ever thought you could.

    9. You don’t have to be an expert to succeed. A beginning kayaker gets out onto the water and experiments. The mere act of getting in the boat, learning to paddle and making the vessel glide through the water, with even moderate proficiency is a huge success.

    And in conversation, you don’t need to be an expert at facilitating dialogue to get great outcomes. You took on a tough subject, raised a sensitive issue. That alone is something many people shirk from. You are a success because you had the courage to take it on. Bravo!

    10. It is rewarding. In the kayak, you can go places you’ve never been. And you can see sights you’ve seen thousands of times from a new perspective. You came. You paddled. You saw. The rewards are limitless.

    After the conversation you’ll be proud of yourself for initiating it. And the rewards will last long after the conversation is over. You’ll reap the rewards through your increased confidence, your track record, and most likely, a successful resolution to a difficult situation. Paddle on!

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    strategy-acronym

    Having a clearly defined business strategy is at the top of the list of important priorities for most senior leaders. But overwhelmingly, that strategy does not trickle down to mid-level managers and individual contributors. In fact, research has shown that, on average, 95% of employees are not aware of or do not understand their company’s strategy.

    In a recently released study in the International Journal of Business Communication, researchers set out to learn if using visual models when communicating business strategy would make a difference in employees’ understanding and retention. They had a hunch it did make a difference, but an empirical study had never been conducted until now.

    Turns out, images (as opposed to a list of bullet points), make a big difference.

    Three key findings emerged from the study.

    1. A visual depiction of the strategy is far superior to a list of bullet points.

    The experiment in their research tested a list of bullet points against a visual metaphor (think “crossing a mountain” as business strategy with the mountain image used to depict the journey) and a temporal diagram (geometric shapes that show how processes interact with one another). Participants in the study paid more attention, were in greater agreement with, and retained information better when a visual representation of the strategy was used (that is, no bullet points!).

    2. The temporal diagram was slightly better than the metaphorical image.

    Findings were similar on several measures, but the temporal diagram scored significantly better when people’s comprehension of the strategy was checked. My guess is that the abstraction of the metaphor got in the way of a full and detailed understanding of the message. Employees might have been thinking more about the mountain than what the mountain stood for.

    3. The presenter was thought more highly of when visualization was used.

    Using a compelling visual model in communicating the strategy goes far beyond the message itself. What I find to be the most interesting result from the study is that the perception of the presenter was significantly higher when a visual representation (either metaphor or temporal) of the strategy was used instead of bullet points. That is, the presenter was rated as more prepared, more credible and more persuasive when visuals were used in communicating the business strategy. What corporate leader wouldn’t want to be perceived as more prepared, credible and persuasive?

    To be fair, it’s not easy to develop compelling visual representations of abstract concepts like strategy. But when the stakes are high and quarterly results are riding on your strategy, getting the implementation of the strategy right is of the utmost importance. Implementation begins with communication.

    >> Bullet points are easy.

    >> Text is lazy.

    >> Good design is priceless.

    Especially when your business strategy hangs in the balance.

    Want help with your strategy presentation? Contact Working Conversations today for a consultation.

     

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    Millennials

    A new research report issued by WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory group, and Virtuali, a leadership training firm, identifies why Millennials want to lead and what they need to be equipped to lead effectively.

    #1. Millennials want to lead.

    An overwhelming majority of Millennials see themselves as future leaders. Of the 412 Millennials surveyed, 91% aspire to hold leadership positions sometime in their career. More than half (52%) of those who plan to lead are women. This is good news for the leadership pipeline in most organizations, at a time when research shows that only 14.2% of the top five positions in S&P 500 companies are women.

    #2. Millennials aspire to be transformational leaders.

    63% said they wanted to be transformation leaders, defined in the study as seeking to inspire and challenge followers with purpose and a sense of excitement. This is consistent with their desire to empower others, with a full 43% reporting that empowerment is their biggest motivator for leading others. By contrast, only 5% reported money as their top motivator and a mere 1% reported power as their top driving force.

    #3. They need leadership training.

    And they aren’t getting it.  More than half (55%) reported dissatisfaction with the leadership development opportunities offered by their company. With the first Millennials hitting their mid-thirties and a glut of baby boomer retirements on the horizon, companies would be wise to heed Millennials warning and get them the leadership training they need.

    #4. They want to learn online and with mentors.

    Millennials reported wanting to learn online, when asked what type of training would be most effective.  A full two-thirds (68%) reported that online training would best suit their needs.  More than half (53%) said they would like to learn from mentors.

    #5. Communication is the most important leadership skill.

    58% of the Millennials surveyed reported communication as the single most critical skill for leaders. Other research has shown that Millennials want to make the world a better place and value that over extrinsic factors like money. Being able to clearly communicate the values and mission of your organization can make all the difference in attracting the top talent the Millennial generation has to offer.  And then provide them with the communication training to lead the organization to carry on.

     

    Question:

    What leadership training is your company offering for Millennials?

     

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