RRGwrites

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Posts Tagged ‘Leading a Team

Four Thoughts On Leadership…

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Effective Leaders & Their People Assets…

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Effective Leadership - RRGwrites

Written by RRGwrites

May 22, 2016 at 11:51 PM

Do You See Strengths In Your Team-mates?

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I am a big believer in the concepts of working and building upon strengths; instead of only working upon my weaknesses. It works for me each time, and helps me become stronger and better. In one of my earlier blogs, ‘Do You Work on Your Strengths?’, I have written on this piece and many of my readers agreed with me.

As a leader of a team, I have always tried building and nurturing a heterogeneous team – no two people are alike! I keep a close eye on their strengths; what they are good at. It helps me more than merely focusing on each individual’s weak areas. It also helps me channelize capabilities where they fit and deliver best. It also enables me improve the teamwork and it’s productivity every day. It is one of the building blocks that, according to me, makes a team ‘work’.

Let me explain it a different way. I meet a lot of people manager, leaders and leadership-aspirants, who keep talking about being inspirational to their teams. They try achieving this by putting forth the length & breadth of their own experience & domain-expertise. They also try resorting to the ubiquitously available, off-the-shelf, motivational tools; sometimes provided by the human resources function. As a talent management person, I find this quite interesting. Inspirational leadership, which has been a talk of the town for some good time now, denotes something else to me. Accordingly to me, a truly motivating leader is one who has an eye and willingness to observe the best in each individual and recognize & work on their strengths.

In her recent blog on LinkedIn, The Secret to Becoming An Inspirational Leader, Jen Roberts, an executive coach, wrote a brilliant and befitting piece: “A truly inspirational leader sees the best in each individual and the gifts they possess. Inspiring, in this sense, is a way of stimulating and lifting people to a new level of creativity and energy. It’s about seeing the greatness and value in someone and going the extra step of sharing this with them.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

Recently, I wrote few sentences on each of my directs. Qualities that I find inspirational and admirable in each individual…

I penned them down and shared with the team. Here it is:

myTeam - Strengths As I See It - RRGWrites

I didn’t enumerate these qualities and strengths in a jiffy; these are drawn upon from my detailed diary notes, which were based upon my interactions, experiences and above all, my observations of each one of my teammates in last 12 months.

I admire these and find them inspirational… And it was important for me to share what I think with the team – not only to recognize the good, but also to make each individual appreciate the strengths of each other and leverage them.

Do you too work on your team’s strengths?

A Leadership Crucible – Managing Below-Expectations Performance

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image

Almost everyday, we hear the phrase – ‘performance-improvement plan’ or PIP, as it is famously, or rather infamously, known as. This is a scary word, most of the times, for the employee in question. And if we are talking about an employee who is either new to the company or role, and is not found doing as well as it was envisaged, the phrase becomes all the more grave – again for the employee, i.e..

But what about the role that the supervisor need to play in making this employee successful? Aren’t her stakes as high as the employee himself? And more importantly, what is the role the senior leader(s) play in this entire episode? Because for them, the task is two-pronged – one, to ensure fair chance be given to the employee in question, and two, to make the supervisor and other seniors in the hierarchy learn to deal with this crucial leadership challenge, thereby in the process making them better leaders… and the team-leader has to tread this double-edged sword without losing the sight of organisational goals of result-orientation and productivity. Some challenge, this is!

I have faced this challenge many times in my career as a HR leader. And experience has taught me one thing – there is no shirking of responsibility that can happen, if the leader really wants to make his team successful, in all aspects.

Few years ago, one of my lieutenants came to see me with his subordinate, who was herself a young, promising people-manager. They were perplexed with a similar challenge, as I discussed above. Her predicament was – a newly inducted subordinate of hers, who showed a lot of promise at the outset, was struggling within 6 months of joining. Despite a lot of coaching and guidance by herself and even her own supervisor, this new team-mate’s performance wasn’t up to mark. And worse, the business had started to feel the heat…

A long discussion ensued in my office. For my readers, I am sharing a note that I wrote to this manager, outlining my thoughts and an action plan.

Let me share upfront; this is a rather long note, which I felt was required to cover my thoughts on managing performance and developing a high-performance team. To assist in your reading, I have made necessary modifications. Other than me, the other three characters in the case are:

  1. Ms.ABC – the young people manager;
  2. Mr.JKL – her manager, also my deputy;
  3. Mr.RST – the employee whose performance is being discussed.

Here goes the advise that I gave her:

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Dear ABC

Yesterday, we discussed at length the performance & aptitude challenge that we are currently managing with RST. I heard both you and JKL, and shared my thoughts too. I am writing my notes, as under, to encapsulate my thoughts on this critical leadership challenge that we have on hand.

I have always firmly believed in the gospel of ‘making everyone successful.’ Having said that, to do so is indeed a daunting task for a leader; for multifaceted as the team is, no one ever seems to behave & perform like the other! Out of the lot, the toughest ones to manage are those, who showed a lot of promise & capability while being inducted into the job, but have slipped off the performance charts somewhere.

Now, it requires meticulous thought and concerted action, to bring such team-mate back to where he belongs – road to success for self and team.

Firstly, let me thank both you and JKL for showing commitment towards your team-mate’s development. This is by no means a small act – requires a lot of honesty and courage to stand up and say, “Hey! My team needs to do better, and I am game to make them better, whatever it takes.” Thank you, for recognizing the need for improvement and showing the promise to do better.

Our first step with such a below-expectation performer is to figure out what went wrong. Something did go wrong. Nearly all employees start their new job with positivity, enthusiasm and are raring to go – we all know RST did start like that. Maybe, something along the way diminished his enthusiasm. Or, he killed his own enthusiasm; both are possible in the workplace. Ascertaining the primal cause of this poor performance is the key if you are committed to help teammates like him become, not a poor performer, but a contributing member of our team. No employee decides to have a miserable day at work and feel failure as he leaves the workplace daily. Even an otherwise incompetent or misfit employee wants to do well for himself!

Very importantly, you need to ascertain if RST has his intentions right; for, if he is really a work-shirker, there is little hope for improvement. However, you have all hope if he really wants to succeed. That said, whatever conclusion you arrive at about why he is a below-expectation performer, you must try your level best to turn him around. Start by assuring him that you have faith in his ability to succeed. Inspire through showing the big picture – help him see the what fruits his efforts shall bear – why should he strive to succeed and improve. Guide him and make him set several short-term, achievable goals; which should be time-bound, with clear outcomes about which you agree. Once the goals are set, track execution and progress. And don’t forget the power of daily engagement – make sure he gets an opportunity to record small daily wins; that should take care of the morale front.

We also discussed yesterday the need of a written performance monitoring document. For those who feel that the team-mate who needs a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) will never succeed, I have many success stories to offer – we have seen so many of them succeed. In fact, I have used this to my benefit many a times, in making my team successful. So, I am a believer in the power of a well-planned, measurable PIP that is reinforced by well-intentioned and demonstrated support and encouragement provided by the manager.

We discussed at length yesterday the key ingredients of such a PIP. Some points that I wish to reiterate:

  • Clearly outline parameters of expected improved performance. Please be objective in setting these parameters and explain clearly, leaving no room for ambiguity.
  • State the minimum expectation level of performance. Ensure there is an appreciation of consistency of this improved performance. This is crucial as sporadic spurts of improvement aren’t really sustainable.
  • Discuss and agree the upon feedback mechanism. Specify the time and periodicity of performance reviews. Set the documentation mechanism of each review stage.
  • Ensure he understands measurements of improvement evaluation.
  • Specify what role you shall play in order to make him successful.
  • Explain upfront if he needs to make any changes in behaviour or attitude towards work. Share examples.
  • Focus on ‘what if’ – clearly outline what is the road ahead if expected performance levels aren’t achieved on every parameter, at various review-stages.

With above seven parameters considered, you’d have a robust PIP document ready. With this, ensure you provide any other support, resource, training, et al, which will help him expedite his improvement.

Let me say, I’ve always regarded problems as opportunities to do better, gain experience, and learn more, just to be a little bit smarter and perhaps wiser on how to handle life issues and situations. After all, as they say, we learn best, not by being taught and not by studying or reading, but by experiencing and then reflecting on what we did and what happened and then drawing conclusions and experimenting.

As a coach, I’ve practiced this method with considerable success; it helped me build and develop stronger teams. I am quite inspired by this leadership nugget that I read long ago – ‘the tactics espoused by great managers of people are very simple, they select people based on talent; when setting expectations for the team, they establish the right outcomes; when motivating an individual, they focus on strengths; and, to develop an individual, find the right job fit for the person.’ As we speak, you are currently managing the second and the third aspect, and what will make you successful is the willingness to make your team successful. I am sure; you have it in you do so.

Please do reach out, should you need any support from me.

Happy leading!

RRG

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A rather long note, wasn’t it? However, it helped me manage the challenge at hand. Let me tell you, this worked for all the characters in the story above, it helped each one of us become better. This helped the struggling employee receive a fair chance to demonstrate improved performance, guided and backed by her supervisor’s encouragement and intention to make her team successful. It helped her supervisor learn the leadership lesson in managing poor performance; and helped my lieutenant resolve a crucial team-managing issue and not miss out on either productivity or morale of his team. Given the fact that both these managers were young professionals, they learnt the invaluable lesson on people leadership and taking responsibility for their teammates in an utmost well-intentioned manner, unlike a lot of managers who consider PIP only as route for creating documentation and exiting the employee. What did I get? Well, I got three super-engaged team-mates in return! What more should have I asked for 🙂

Do you agree with my approach? Have you too experienced or observed a similar approach to managing below-expectation performance? Or have you witnessed poor leadership doing the irreparable damage? Do share your thoughts…

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Image-credit: whatisonthetable.wordpress.com

5 Things You Should Say Today As A Team Leader

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LeadershipWhen I wrote my recent blog on ’10 Mean Things You Shouldn’t Say To Your Star Performers’, many of my readers, friends and colleagues, who were team-leaders themselves, asked my views on the things they should be saying to their teams. That made me think… for there isn’t any dearth of to-dos on this subject. Try googling, and you will get a laundry list of things leaders should be saying to their team-mates.

However, after much deliberation and digging into my own experience of observing leaders and managers and managing large, diverse teams, I am of the view that as a Team Leader, you should be saying these 5 things to your team, given the opportunity, daily:

  1. I am observing the efforts being put in by you. Thank you and keep up the good work. I am sure many subordinates don’t get to hear this sentence from their Team Leader. And worse, at time when they do hear it, it is mostly a lip-service done. Authentic and timely recognition is what a team looks for from their manager.

  2. Hey, all conflict is not necessarily negative. Let’s use it constructively to get better as a team. At times, two or more teammates, either in their pursuit of excellence or otherwise, enter into conflicts of all sorts. Affirmation from the leader that all conflict is not necessarily negative, will not only bring positive energy, but will also help teammates connect better, resolve the issue and not confuse conflict with personal vendetta or mala fide intentions.

  3. It is great that you disagree with me on this subject. I am sure It will bring a different view, let’s understand what you have in mind. This one’s a real big gap today. Leaders often have and/or demonstrate, sometimes inadvertently, big egos. Allowing your teammate to disagree with you is not only helpful in building an open culture, it also saves you from falling prey to the ‘The Boss knows it all syndrome.’

  4. Let me know if you need any help; I am there. All of us look for help from our leaders, and the need is all the more crucial when we fail or make mistakes. When the team hears its leader say that it is OK to fail, and that she will help if they do, it does wonders to the team’s morale and output.

  5. Hey, I told you that I will call you back when you reached out to me. Sorry, mate, I was not able to. Let’s connect quickly now. We all know boss is always busy; but if he is so busy that he forgets to call back most of the times, disconnects start. Even if you say this sentence once a day to one of your team-mate, albeit authentically, not only he, but others will also appreciate your leadership.

Are you a team-leader? Then do you agree with above? Please tap into your experience feel free to add to the above list.

Do you work with Team Leaders? Do you hear above sentences from your leaders? Do share your experiences.

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Post-script: You would have observed the extra stress I have laid on the word ‘Authentic’. Well, that is the real key in leadership & communication. You may read about it in detail here (‘Are You An Authentic Leader’).

Do You Too Like To Work With Your Clones?

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Clones

“I would like my team to think like me.”

“I am proud of my team’s bonding – they are all like-minded people.”

“In this team, we do things in the same tried and tested way. Our experience says that always works.”

“Why can’t my teammates think and behave like me?”

“Can you hire for me a person who can do this exactly the way as I?”

Chances are, you would have heard at least one of the above statements quite recently from a team-leader or a manager around you.

Often, I meet employees who work in a team and are unhappy with the way the leader behaves or operates, with the culture of the team, with lack of respect and recognition, and many other similar gaps leading to their poor engagement at work. However, one striking aspect that makes them most annoyed and disengaged is the leader’s expectation of them having & displaying same operating style and similar thought process as him. Not respecting diversity of opinion and styles of working, to my mind, are the biggest elements behind poor engagement of any team. I concede that it is the leader of the team who decides the path ahead and selects the team-membes to execute that vision. However, it is an abundantly misplaced notion that a great team is one in which everyone was hired for similarity of style, attitude and experience as the leader. In all my experience of building & leading high performance teams, I learnt that a strong team is one where everyone brings diversity of traits, experience, operating style and interests.

Let’s take an example of a Gardener, who, let’s say has space for planting about fifty small plants. To achieve a lush, blooming garden, will she sow the same species of flowers or plants in her garden? And then give every plant the same type of soil, same quality of manure and amount of sunlight? Or will she water all of them in the similar fashion? And then expect the garden to bloom with flowers of all colours? Won’t that be naïve?

Think of it; if a team is expected to behave just like the leader and is rather built with an intention to mirror the leader’s thinking and execution style, who would perform the quintessential task of raising questions or bringing different perspectives while dealing with a situation? Now, won’t that be too risky a proposition?

A really effective leader is one who has developed a skill of managing a diverse team, and I am not only referring to the diversity of gender, but diversity of thought-process, experience and interests, style and attitude. And then nurture and lead them all into forming a strong, cohesive unit, delivering consistently superior performance.

I am leaving you with my favourite quote on team-leadership:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 Do you know leaders who like to work only with their clones? Do share your experiences…

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Photo-credit: theideabrand.com

Are You An Authentic Leader?

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AuthenticityOften in the corporate world’s setting around us, we hear the magic word, ‘trust’. There isn’t any dearth of literature on this subject, especially when it comes to importance of ‘trust’ in relationships at work; more so, in the manager-subordinate relationship.Trust me, please’ is writ large over every leader’s forehead; you must have observed nearly every leader wanting to secure his team’s trust; so much so, that we HR folks often end up conducting developmental workshops, engagement surveys and what not more around this area of organizational effectiveness.

I agree that trust can be easily termed as one of the most important pillars of organizational effectiveness. However, to my mind, there is an even more crucial aspect to work-relationships – authenticity. Being trustworthy and being authentic are often confused as the same attribute. It isn’t so, in my opinion; they are two distinct behavioural attributes that impact anyone’s leadership quotient.

While everyone loves the idea of a ‘trustworthy’ leader – both leaders and followers share equal appeal for it, very few appreciate the need of genuine leadership traits – ones that begin foremost from every leader knowing and acting ‘true self’, reflecting one’s true personality and thought process in everyday actions. What organizations need and what followers look for are authentic leaders who are themselves aware of who they are, what is their vision for the organization and how to make followers relate to them so as to help them transform their vision a reality.

Over last couple of years, I have extensively researched about what is authenticity and how this attribute plays a pivotal role amongst other leadership traits. In my last year’s blog of the ‘Leadership’ series, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led By You’, one of the 12 questions that I asked the leadership aspirants was – Am I an authentic person and appear one too?’ Having spent some good time exploring this closely, putting the learning to test and subsequently experiencing the results it brings, I have come to a conclusion that this is the most primary trait of leadership.

Laying down the ‘necessary’ nine skills required for the practice of great leadership’ in his outstandingly simple and practical work, ‘Unusually Excellent’, John Hamm speaks at length about the credibility and character as a primary leadership imperative. He further splits credibility into following three dimensions – a leader being compelling, authentic and trustworthy.

Defining ‘authenticity’, he says,

“Being authentic – knowing who you really are, and holding true to yourself in the most difficult moments – is ‘ground zero’ of leadership credibility… Knowing who we are at the core is the project of awareness, courageous introspection, and thoughtful reflection.”

Hamm makes a strong case for this inquiry and poses a strong question to leadership aspirants:

“What informs and creates our capability to lead with real influence?”

A leader needs to not only know his own self, but also listen to self. His experiences, value-system, how he sees the world, how he sees other people, his feelings & habits, aspirations, all count big when it comes to leading others. They all form an integral whole when it comes to shaping the character of a leader, and we all know, character of a leader makes or breaks the followers’ faith and inspiration in him.

John stresses on the need of followers to identify with the ‘True Self’ of their leader,

“Trust the power of allowing others to know you. Even through it can seem scary… The real you – no limitations or role-playing – is what people want to know, and the real you is the person to whom they will commit.”

So true this sounds, specially when we see a lot of ‘leaders’ trying too hard to earn the trust of their teams, without actually giving any opportunity whatsoever to let people know what really drives & motivates them, what are their passions, and even sharing their failures – areas where they failed and that it is indeed OK to fail. In short, I have seen most leaders trying to appear ‘perfect’! Now, if that is the case and if that’s the perception they wish to build, how would they ever receive any feedback from their followers?

Feedback comes when people relate to you, not when they see you seeing yourself, portraying yourself as perfect. Specially your followers, who wouldn’t just risk it. Think of it; if your followers wouldn’t know how ‘authentically’ you take your failures, would they ever share theirs’ with you or tell you your own grey areas? Chances are rare, I would say.

John shares this thought on importance of seeking feedback,

“Unusually Excellent leaders find the courage within to be authentic- and that takes knowing themselves, accepting the disappointment of their past, and actively seeking feedback form their teams.

Try to use it (feedback) diagnostically, to improve, not as a threat to your self-image, self-esteem or self-worth.”

If your own image is a portrayal of ‘perfectness personified’, and your followers see you trying to keep it that way, I am convinced feedback isn’t going to come your way. And deep down our hearts, we know that can be ‘Hara-kiri’ of sorts in the pursuit of leadership.

It is this willingness and pledge to authenticity that is the bedrock of becoming trustworthy. Authenticity is a primary skill, even before a leader moves on to establish his trustworthiness. Once we are accepted as ‘genuinely authentic’, then only our followers shall accept our equity as a leader.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, the celebrated authors speak about leaders need to essentially act as ‘authentic chameleons’, in their very well researched book, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?’. They argue for leaders to,

“…consistently displaying their true selves through out the changes of contexts that require them to play the variety of roles.”

In my view, by saying so the authors dispel the fear that leaders need to be a different ‘person’ in different situations; they rather display their true self in all situations and only ‘act’ differently as per the merits of the situation. That would go far in securing trust and gaining confidence of their followers that to keep them guessing.

Rob and Gareth state further,

“The demand for authentic leadership is there and growing. As traditional hierarchies disintegrate, only leadership can fill the void…CEOs tell us that their most pressing need is for more leaders in their organizations – not the consummate role players who seem to surround them… Authentic leadership has become the most prized organization and individual asset.”

“Can people trust you?” asks Linda Hill, the Wallace Bret Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She chairs the HBS Leadership Initiative; and poses this question in her widely acclaimed book, ‘Being The Boss’. When I read this gem of a book few years ago, this one question stayed with me and it has been instrumental in shaping my thought process on ‘why would people trust me in first place if they don’t know me? To my mind, this ‘Why’ is primary and fundamental over the ‘Can’ part.

To this point, Linda emphatically says,

“The quality of work they (followers) do, the care and commitment they devote, their willingness to expend extra effort, all depend in significant part on the kind of person you are.

To be trusted, you must reveal yourself in order to demonstrate your competence and character. To create trust requires that you take pain to be explicit what you value as a manager, how you work, what you want from others, and not least, who you are.”

Needless to say, I am more than convinced that people won’t trust you completely if they don’t know the real you. And that certainly needs you to put in special focus on ‘who you really are and do your people know the real you.’

And it is here where John cautions us in a rather straightforward manner,

Be careful about ‘trying’ too hard to be authentic. Being yourself should feel easier that being the image you think others want of you. Don’t be authentic in the way someone else is – do it your way.”

 

My message – don’t be a copycat leader; be you. It works better.

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Photo-credit: createpresence.com

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