Active Listening

The Power of Candid Dialog and Active Listening

My father (1920-2003) was a student of the philosophers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. It was, therefore, no surprise for me when going through his things, I found this artifact. Though mis-attributed to Virgil (the quote was originally penned by Cato), my father apparently liked it so much that he hand-painted it and kept it prominently displayed in his workshop.

There is much we can learn from the moral advice offered by these philosophers. Benjamin Franklin counted Cato’s works among his favorites.

There are at least two ways to interpret this quote. The second part of the verse implores us to listen carefully. When we as leaders listen to our employees – and anyone for that matter – we are better served when we listen actively. This means that we seek common ground to establish rapport, ask questions to better understand meaning, and create a foundation upon which we can further our leadership.

On the other hand, the first part of this verse is troubling. One measure of organizational health is how directly we can communicate with one another. If we speak with each other “with caution,” we risk masking our meaning. We mask our meaning by using general terms or flowery language. This does not further the cause. If, instead, we are open and direct, we build trust, which in turn creates an environment where people can move faster in the pursuit of organizational goals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

 

Alignment Autonomy

How Collaboration improves Alignment and enables Autonomy

With so many people now working from home, aligned autotomy has never been more important.

An underlying benefit of employees working together in an office setting is that it is easier to promote alignment. When employees are aligned on purpose, it’s easier for them to work independently. Now that we’ve driven millions to work from home, we’ve lost “environmental alignment.” It takes more deliberate action to ensure alignment.

The challenge for leaders is to adopt new ways of leading that promotes greater collaboration, particularly at a time when collaboration is more difficult than just walking over to your co-worker’s office.

How do leaders promote improved collaboration?

  1. As I’ve shared many times, clear purpose with clear outcomes is vitally important. Particularly now with a physically disconnected workforce.
  2. Your role as a coach becomes more important than before Covid-19. Employees working from home are dealing with many new and different distractions. Coaching them through these unchartered waters is one of your key roles.
  3. Your influence has always been critical to your success. Our new reality demands you practice even more of this as you work with your employees, your leadership teams and your board.
  4. Even though we are physically disconnected, employees are more connected than ever with social media. Any hint of impropriety will spread rapidly. Now is the time to ensure you are squeaky clean.
  5. Enroll employees. Find new and creative ways to engage/enroll employees. Use Zoom or other technology to bring employees together to discuss opportunities and find solutions.

All these ideas come together to promote greater collaboration, which in turn creates greater alignment. When leaders and employees are aligned on the overall work, it’s easier for them to work independently toward your goals.

Sounds like an oxymoron. You need to spend more time together, so your time apart is more productive, and aimed more toward the goals of the organization. The effectiveness of your time together has a direct impact on your productivity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’m announcing three new free resources available for you today!

Leadership Self-Assessment. My NEW ACTIVE leadership model focuses on effective leadership behaviors and includes collaboration as one of its underpinnings. The model and free self-assessment are located on my resources page.

Coaching. I’m offering two free one-hour coaching sessions to help you lead through these challenging times. Contact me for details.

Team Health Checkup. A free one-hour facilitated team health activity built on Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player. Contact me for details.

Enroll Leaders

How to Enroll Your Leadership Team

“We are too busy now…”

I have heard this so many times in the last couple of weeks. And rightly so. This pandemic has thrown almost every organization and its leaders into new and uncharted territories. In times like these, perhaps more than any other, it is important to ensure your leaders are enrolled and aligned.

This video outlines five simple steps you can follow to ensure your team is aligned and marching forward. Especially now as you might need to adjust your purpose and your plans, these steps can make the difference between an aligned team and one that is disjointed and cross-functionally dysfunctional.

Please share your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

Boeing, the 737 Max, and Cross-Functional Dysfunction

Boeing, the 737 Max, and Cross-Functional Dysfunction

Cross functional dysfunction is the root cause of the issues Boeing is facing with the 737 Max.

A brief history.

In 1997, Boeing with its engineering culture purchased McDonald Douglas. The latter had a bean-counter culture. Over time, market and investor pressure won out and the newly formed company became more focused on financials than it did on engineering. Soon, all ideas were scrutinized for financial viability. The 737 Max was designed to hold more people without a major change to the base design – rather than start from scratch. An attempt was made to resolve some design issues with software, but these failed. As problems started to surface, employees faced great pressure to keep costs down. A few who tried to express concerns were squelched. Passenger safety was sacrificed.

Since last year, Boeing has lost over $60 billion in market value. That’s a lot of beans.

Volumes have been written about this, and undoubtedly many more volumes are yet to come. My perspective? Boeing’s culture needs to change to focus more on listening. Sounds easy. No. This leadership team now needs to begin to  build a culture where people trust one another to speak up and offer their ideas. A culture where they can challenge each other, regardless of hierarchy, to make better – and safer – decisions. This takes work. It means people put aside their egos. It means having a willingness to accept and act on difficult feedback. It means listening. Not listening to judge, or listening to speak, but listening to hear..

What’s the lesson for all of us? Stop. Be quiet. Listen. Do what’s best for the customer.

Especially if their lives are in your hands.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

 

How to Quell Detractors

How to Quell Detractors

Are you in the middle of a big change, or thinking about starting one? If so, watch this video to learn my five-step process to learn about and leverage those who might resist your change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this video. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Thank You

Thank You

Every week for more than two years now, I have published my thoughts about leadership, transformation and change. During this time, my readership has increased exponentially, as more and more people seem interested in what I share.

This week, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to you. Thank you for your interest in my work. I am especially grateful to those of you who have taken time to reflect and comment.

My goal is to keep this a valuable resource for you. It is my hope that you find these weekly posts interesting and useful.

Wishing you the best for a restful, reflective holiday season, and a successful 2020.

“Gratitude, warm, sincere, intense, when it takes possession of the bosom, fills the soul to overflowing and scarce leaves room for any other sentiment or thought.” – John Quincy Adams

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

 

How to Build a Team

How to Build a Team

I recently had the opportunity to speak with my friend and colleague, Jim Burda. Jim is the Executive VP and Chief Revenue Officer for GF Sports in New York. We discussed the transformation he is currently leading as GF Sports moves from owning sporting events to purchasing and operating a sports team. That team is the professional lacrosse team, the New York Riptide. Their opening night is December 28 at NYCB Live, home of Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Jim: There are several elements to this. You must recognize that you do this with your team both individually and collectively. You are taking your team on a guided discussion to create a new culture. You help them move out of their respective comfort zones by sharing the why’s and then the how’s. Listening skills are critical. It’s also critical to keep a positive attitude.

Steve: Tell me how acquiring and integrating Riptide was particularly challenging or rewarding for you.

Jim: As with any transformational change, it begins with having a clear vision of success. In this case, we wanted to create an organization to support the Riptide and help it be hugely successful. There were setbacks such as temporary poor office space, marketing challenges, and technology issues. I instituted a program from a previous role dubbed “PS2” – “problem spot / problem solve.” We created a problem-solving culture, as only problem spotting creates complaining without solutions.

Steve: How did you clarify purpose?

Jim: I’m a fan of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, particularly “begin with the end in mind.” We collectively defined that the goal for 12/28 was not just to have a financially successful first event, but to have a collaborative culture in the organization. We discussed why this was critical to our success, and then we identified how we would achieve this. By doing this collectively I was able to engage the entire team.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address it?

Jim: I had an advantage since I was building the organization from the ground up. When I hired new team members, I looked for basic technical capabilities, but more importantly I looked for key traits. Did they demonstrate a willingness to work collectively? Were they humble in their approach?

I also meet one on one with every team member. I listen non-judgmentally which in turn allows people to express themselves and feel confident about their work. This supports the notion of enrolling each employee individually. This also allows me to address issues that I don’t even know exist.

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Jim: The parent company, GF Capital, has been highly successful for 20 years. In creating this new division, we perceived their expectations that we resolve issues faster since they had a long-established team. This was not the case at all. They helped with problem-solving. They demonstrated a human side suggesting we are all in this together. Sometimes our perceptions prevent us from seeing and acting on reality more quickly.

Steve: Please comment on any organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Jim: By having one on one discussions balanced with team discussions, I demonstrated that I was going to be as open as possible. We made decisions quickly and encouraged everyone to be entrepreneurial. While all of this was positive, it caused some disbelief among new team members, so it took some time to convince them that this openness was real.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Jim: In the areas we were struggling I needed to ensure I am going through the same challenges. For example, we were struggling with ticket sales, especially with a late launch to our marketing, so I started making phone calls to sell tickets to experience the same obstacles. We had morning huddles with the group to discuss feedback we received from our calls. As we discussed these struggles together, it gave me a great deal of insight and it increased my credibility.

Steve: What is advice you would give to aspiring transformational leaders?

Jim: Trust your people yet verify their results. Don’t assume that no news is good news. Conversely, don’t assume that when you hear something that it means you have an issue. Listening and giving feedback shows that you care.

Steve: Jim, thank you so much for sharing your insight on transformational leadership, and best wishes for great success at your opening night, December 28.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Transformational Leadership Requires Repetitive Communication, Humility, and Belief

Michael Moyer is the Director, Wine and Viticulture Technology at Lake Michigan College (LMC) in Benton Harbor, Michigan. LMC boasts the only school of its kind in the Midwest to teach both grape growing and wine making. The operation, run by students, produces small batch wines. The program operates out of the new Welch Center, a new facility celebrated in an August 27 ribbon cutting ceremony.

Steve: Your history is fascinating. Please tell our readers a little about your entry into the wine business.

Michael: I attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. We had a study abroad program, and I opted to go to Dijon, France. At the time, all I knew about was mustard. I knew nothing about burgundy. I lived with a family there, and like most native French, there was a great deal of wine consumed. My first day there, the father took two five-gallon cans to town and filled them from big tanks. One red wine, the other white. This was their everyday wine. He had nicer wine in the cellar for guests and special occasions. I visited many wineries and barrel tasted many wines. I was hooked. When I returned home, I decided to enter the grape and wine program at the University of California – Davis. I began working in wineries in California and then Washington. I worked seven years at Walla Walla Community College, and then spent 5 vintages making wine for Figgins Family Wine Estates, producers of Leonetti, Figgins, and Doubleback (Doubleback has their own winery now).  I met the folks from Lake Michigan College while they were visiting Leonetti. They enticed me to consider working for their new grape and wine program. I was intrigued, but expected Michigan wines to be apple, cherry and sweet. They sent me a case of fantastic wine from three southwestern Michigan wineries and I was impressed. They were making high quality wines. I accepted LMC’s offer, and here I am!

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Michael: This is all about transforming the perception of Chicago wine consumers. This means transforming the way we do things in southwest Michigan, from vineyard selection and management to bottling our final products. I am passionate about the potential of southwest Michigan, and the opportunity to make world class wines is tremendous. This takes humility and requires teaching and coaching. You must be open minded and willing to try new ideas.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?

Michael: I was surprised at the culture here. Here we were conducting fund-raising events for our grape and wine center, and the organizers would not pour Michigan wines. I found myself repeating and reinforcing the notion that if we are trying to raise funds to raise the profile of our region, we ought to promote our own products. I had a few arguments about this but continued to “beat the drum” to bring folks along.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?

Michael: We are consistent about our identity and our mission. We repeat this at every opportunity. This requires a great deal of education, communication and repetition. It also requires us to focus on making quality product.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Michael: The leadership of LMC has generally been very supportive, but there were some exceptions that made it difficult. In addition to showcasing local wines, we also made it difficult for new students to engage with the program. College leaders were not convinced or aligned with the purpose of the program. We have resolved this with more repetitive communication.

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Michael: Within LMC I have a great deal of support. My leader lets me do my job. She recognizes that she doesn’t know everything and lets me be the expert in the room. I also have great support from local industry leaders.

Regarding the area wineries, however, there was some vocal opposition to us selling our wines – those that came from the program and made by the students. Some viewed us a competitor, not collaborators. If you look across the most successful wine regions of the world, it’s about cooperation and working together to market a region. It’s not about one winery being better than another. We have a huge opportunity to make a name for southwest Michigan. We need to work together. This is improving, though we have a way to go.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Michael: At LMC, I just keep doing what I am doing, and repeating the message. I help others realize the importance of our work. And I give them time to sort it out in their own minds.

About the area wineries, I don’t let the argument amplify. We can agree to disagree. I stay my course. I seek common ground where possible. Most are supportive.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral. (structural = team structure and make up; behavioral = trust, conflict, humility, etc.)

Michael: My mantra has always been to do what is best for the industry here in southwest Michigan. Sometimes I need to reflect on this and make sure I’m focused in this manner. This requires humility and introspection.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Michael: I believe in what we are doing. I believe in the mission. I believe the best way to achieve the goal is to be collaborative. Get along. Agree to disagree, but don’t be disrespectful, and operate from that platform. We must recognize that if we’re going to put southwestern Michigan on the map, we are dependent upon each other.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Michael: Be a good team player. Invest in the right people. Take care of them. You get what you pay for – extra investment goes a long way. Organizations sell themselves short when they skimp.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

How White-Water Rafting Illustrates Leadership Alignment

My son, grandson and I recently had the opportunity to enjoy white water rafting on Colorado’s Poudre River. It was a great experience – one we enjoyed a great deal.

There were six of us in our raft, guided by a young man named Dakota. Clearly Dakota knew what he was doing as he almost effortlessly guided us down the rocky waters.

As we began our journey, Dakota spent about 10 minutes educating us on our upcoming experience, and the various commands he would use to tell us how to navigate. “Back two” means to back paddle twice. “Right forward three” tells the people on the right side of the raft to paddle three times forward while us on the left do nothing. It was clear that Dakota understood clearly that how action on one side of the raft would affect the motion of the entire raft, and how it would impact the actions of folks on the other side of the raft.

As we floated rapidly down the rock infested Poudre, it occurred to me that this was a perfect example of aligning leaders to execute transformational change.

  1. It’s essential that everyone understand the purpose and outcomes related to the transformation. In our case it was a safe and enjoyable rafting experience where we all stayed relatively dry. Dakota made this clear.
  2. Your leadership team needs to know your expectations of them. Clear and simple direction about how to navigate through the transformation is required. Of course, in a business setting, you will more than likely collaborate to determine the course of action.
  3. Your leadership team needs to understand how change in one area of the organization will impact work in other parts of the organization. In this way they can course correct as necessary as you proceed through the transformation.
  4. Involve everyone. When you proceed through an organizational transformation, your entire leadership team must have a role. There’s no one on the sidelines. This extends to your full organization. To reach a sustainable outcome, everyone is involved.

I am happy to report that our rafting experience was 100% successful and 200% fun! There were no overturned rafts, or any injuries. I was a little sore the next day from all the paddling. It was clearly worth it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

 

 

 

 

The Three Most Frequently Asked Questions

Recently a colleague asked me to share the three questions I most often field from clients.

What is it that we are really trying to accomplish? In summary this is all about clarity of purpose. When leaders ask me this question, sometimes it’s rhetorical, but often, it’s a real question to help them sort out clarity for their goals. I’ve written volumes about this topic in this column, and in the Chicago Business Journal. Here is one of my personal favorites.

What stands in the way of our progress? Typically, this references resistance. Organizational resistance to transformational change can be a real roadblock. Yet it doesn’t have to be. You can learn from it and use it to help navigate your organization to the outcomes you desire. Here are a couple of columns that explore this in detail, and how to leverage it for success.

How to align the leadership team to the outcomes? Cross-functional dysfunction is more often rooted in misalignment at goals at the top of the organization. A recent McKinsey study notes that 83% of executives believe there are silos in their organization, and 97% believe silos create issues for their company. Read my column next week – it explores this further and provides simple guidance to follow to resolve cross-functional dysfunction.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask? Send me an email, and we’ll feature your question in this column.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.