Leadership Challenge: Launch Your Drone!

Observing and adjusting in real time the impact you’re having on other builds influence, rapport, and engagement. Put simply, if you worked for a leader who would be attentive to impacting others in positive ways versus someone who was unaware of their impact on others, which one would you rather follow?

I work on this with almost every tenured executive and young leader I coach because it’s a great tool, one that many leaders with strong followership use effectively.

As one client put it, “Oh, so you want me to launch the drone!” Yes, exactly.

How it’s done: “Launch the drone”

Try this: Lift a part of your attention—say 10%—above each live conversation you have for the next month or so.

Like a drone, you float it just above your heads, watching yourself and watching how the other person is (or people are) responding: zoom in on what they’re “saying” both verbally and non-verbally including words, tone, body language, and expressions. Then adjust what you’re saying and not saying, and how you’re expressing yourself, in real time to steer toward what is needed here to have the most powerful and effective conversation.

So for July’s leadership challenge, I’m asking you to launch your how-I’m-impacting-others-assessment-and-adjustment drone. In each meeting 1 on 1 or in a group, monitor your impact on the other(s)—what do you notice? What adjustments do you need to make to have the impact that moves people into what’s needed for their good, and the best for the organization, your team, the communities you impact, and others.

Let me know what you discover!

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Leader Challenge: Test Your Blind Spot

Are you game to try something new in terms of how you lead this month?

Try this: ask a single blind-spot clean-up question of each of your direct reports over the next 30 days. For example, “What do I need to pay more attention to when it comes to your workload?” For other blind-spot clean-up questions, take a look at sample questions here.

Remember — when you get their answers, don’t react or explain or defend or rationalize. Just take it, say “thanks,” and think about it.

And, don’t forget to let me know how it works for you!

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

A Time to be Hands-On, A Time to be Hands-Off

Whether you supervise one person or lead 10,000, being deliberate and consistent about when you are hands-on versus hands-off with your team’s work is one of the most meaningful skills a leader can master.

Most executives I coach need to work on this balance. Much like being right- or left-handed, we tend to default to being more hands-on or hands-off, and either extreme can be a problem. Leaders who default to being overly involved in their people’s work may demotivate them and cause dependency, rather than autonomy. Leaders who are too hands-off can miss impending meltdowns, allow under-performance to linger, and create confusion about roles and responsibilities, organizational goals, and roadmaps to achieve them.

Knowing when to be more or less involved in your people’s work is a balancing act—one that requires dynamically responding to individuals and changing conditions in a consistent way.

Through my many years of leading and coaching other leaders, I’ve pinpointed seven guidelines you can follow to ensure that your team is operating at the highest level of autonomy:

1. Tenure and experience: What is your staff members’ professional experience and how long have they been in their current role or a related role? The less tenure and experience they have, the more you need to be involved.

2. Results: Do they have a pattern of success in executing and delivering good results on time and within budget? Is their work, and that of their team, accurate? The stronger their track record, the likelier it is you can be informed rather than involved.

3. Capability and capacity: Do they demonstrate innovation, creativity, common sense, critical thinking, and problem-solving capabilities? The weaker they are in these areas, the more involved you’ll need to be. If a problem stems from a temporary situation, like their current workload is overwhelming, then you can adjust accordingly. Otherwise, you may need to make a change.

4. Fit: Are they a good fit in their role and in your organization? When people are a good fit and they’ve met many of the other standards on this list, you can likely default to staying informed rather than being involved.

5. Jeopardy: Is there a level of crisis or peril within the organization or in an employee’s specific project or area of responsibility? The greater the jeopardy, the more you’ll need to be hands-on.

6. Savvy: Do your team members have proven ability to navigate interpersonal nuances and organizational complexities? Can they influence and garner support? How much do they inspire confidence in you and others? The less savvy they are, particularly in more complex organizations, your involvement will likely be more necessary.

7. Impact: How much would their potential failure impact the organization? If their failure would result in a material issue for your organization, then you’ll likely need to be more involved.

Develop and consistently stick to your own guidelines for when to be hands-on versus hands-off. Maintaining that balance will help your team work more independently, make you an effective leader, and allow for a more scalable and smarter organization.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Deliver a Tough Message Well

A sharp message and tone-—used sparingly, privately, and deliberately—-is a necessary and powerful leadership tool. If, as a manager or leader, you haven’t yet found a “sharp edge” that suits you, you’re probably overly nice or overly harsh. Both can cause problems for you and your team.

Early in my career, I was the recipient of some incredibly effective constructive criticism, and I’ll never forget it.

I was then a corporate executive. At one point, I was managing a multimillion-dollar project that had hit some major stumbling blocks. One evening, Chuck, who founded the company and was its CEO, happened to get on the elevator I was on. It was just the two of us. He was an icon in the industry, in part for being “nice.” After a pause, he looked me in the eye and said, “I hear your project has some issues.” He paused, and I nodded. Then he added, “We both know too many people who left this company the fast way when they over-promised and under-delivered. I’d hate to lose someone as promising as you that same way.” Pause. Wow. “Make it work, and let me know what you need.” Silence. “Thanks, Chuck.” Super long pause. Ding. Off I went.

It worked. While it was hard to hear, I took it as “fuel” to get my project back on track. The message was effective because it was sharp, authentic, and he offered not only consequences but also support. It was neither mean nor rude. It was clear.

These days I work with many executive clients who have yet to master their sharper edge. It’s actually a rampant problem. They’ve gotten feedback that either they’re “too mean” or they “need to be liked.” As their coach, I’ve discovered three tactics that help improve both styles:

1. Use toughness sparingly. In the example, Chuck wasn’t prodding or micromanaging me. He left a sharp sting, but it only needed to be delivered once. It’s 18 years later and I still remember it verbatim.

2. Deliver the tough message privately. No one else was on the elevator. It was NOT in front of my team, his team, or anyone else. It was one-on-one, which is the way I recommend my clients deliver critical or even tough messages. Praise in public; punish in private, as the saying goes.

3. Be thoughtful and deliberate—and not reactive. Critical or sharp-edged messages delivered in the heat of the moment are always a mistake. Chuck had clearly thought about his sharp edge and was good at using it. If you’re offering criticism, you owe it to the recipient to carefully consider your words.

Find your tough but fair (and non-reactive) self. Use it with authenticity; offer consequences, and support, as needed; and deliver criticism sparingly, privately, and deliberately. Once you’ve honed your sharp edge, it will help you cut to the heart of the matter with clarity and empathy.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Are You a Starter, Builder, Fixer, or Runner?

We spend most of our days at work solving problems.  It follows that liking—or even loving your job hinges on picking roles that require you to solve your “Happy Problems”—the ones you most enjoy tackling.  Here’s a way to help you know what those are for you, so you can be one of “the lucky ones” who love what they do.

Coaching seasoned executives and young professionals alike, I see each person is magnetically pulled toward one or two types of problems they like to handle and prefers to avoid (or gets bored with) the others.

Think about “happy problems” in four categories: Starter, Builder, Fixer, and Runner.

In brief: Starters are the people who love solving the problems of starting new things. Builders seek out the issues of growing something from smaller to larger. Fixers prefer turning around a troubled situation and get bored once that’s done. Runners—the Steady Bettys and Eddies—are happy solving the issues needed to keep things on track – with muted highs and lows. More detail about each of these follows below.

By now I’ll bet you have an idea about which one or two is/are the most you?  It’s so great to figure that out and know that about yourself!

If it’s not immediately clear to you, take a look back at the happiest times in your career or life, and the least happy times, and you will see your pattern. What types of problems were you solving consistently among the better times? The worse times?

Of course, a Fixer at times may need to be a Starter and vice versa. In fact, over time our careers will call for us to be and do every one of these things. To be at your best and do your best work consistently, you need to understand your natural preferences and align/realign with a matching job and organizational need.

Looking at the Four Preferences

As you consider each of these preferences, ask yourself: Which one or two is/are the most “you” at this point in your life? Which of the challenges give you your biggest thrill, or sense of fulfillment at the end of the day? Which would you rather avoid? Which would you like to spend the majority of your time doing? Are you doing that now? If not, what needs to happen? 

  1. The “Starter”is the serial founder or (if internal) person who volunteers for that new office, post, or project. She or he loves the challenges of the blank canvas, or likelier the empty whiteboard. If that sounds like you, then you see it as an invitation to innovation, invention or creation, and like to paint the vision and roadmap ahead. You probably have more than one domain name, patent, or trademark at the ready. You may have a few VC’s or Angel Investors on your short list of friends. You have the soul of an entrepreneur/instigator and the energy to go with it. As you get through the formative stages, and people around you start talking about “leverage” and “scale,” your interest tends to move on to your next big idea on a (no doubt) long list of them. 
  1. The “Builder’s”mantra is “take it to the next level” or “build it bigger,” and s/he loves the challenges of growing something to a larger (or even hyper) scale. Is that you? If so, you’ll be dancing when the volume, sales or client, or other metrics are spinning up – and your hands are turning those wheels. You love applying cleverness and skill to balancing resources versus constraints versus high demand and are happiest with the “nice to have” problems of too much on the plate, versus not enough. Over time, as the growth line inevitably begins to flatten, you’ll probably be ready for a change. 
  1. The “Fixer” loves the challenges of something or someone in need, and the promise of making a big difference by dealing with a gnarly issue or problem. If that sounds like you, you are intellectually stimulated when things aren’t right. You likely want to get into those issues right now — the tougher the better. You’re sure of your ability to resolve, fix, and instigate change, even when others see a blank wall or daunting puzzle. You’re happiest when applying smarts and skills to make a big impact that leaves thing far better than you found them. Once done with that, you’re probably not one to stick around for too much longer.  It’s time for the next new challenge. 
  1. The “Runner” loves the subtler mysteries of the long game. If you’re a runner at heart, you enjoy the stewardship or caretaker role, ever keeping a steady hand on the wheel. You’re attracted to mature organization’s who’ve figured out who and what they are, and are not, and are less likely to want to change things over any short period of time. You may make more nuanced course corrections that keep things on track as needed. You appreciate the opportunity and role to ensure smooth sailing as a blessing rather than a burden. When and if things become more turbulent, and that’s prolonged, it’s probably time for a change.

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Ultimately, it’s not only essential to understand your preference(s) here, but also to help others know theirs, and (when hiring) to bring in people who match the role, and the needs of your organization, which of course, are dynamic and evolving.

The big reveal here is that it doesn’t need to be “luck” that allows you to do the work you love or that you were meant to do; it’s focus, self-awareness and courage.

Focus on your happy problems, take the time to reflect and know yourself, and have the courage to make job and career choices that fit you best.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

What Every Awesome Leader Should Ask Their People

Asking better questions makes better leaders.

There are questions we could ask the people who work for us that we simply don’t think to ask.

For example, when was the last time you asked someone on your team, “Is there anything you’ve tried telling me that I don’t seem open to hearing?”

Ask your people excellent questions about things that are not readily visible to you—what’s in your blind spots–and listen (and DO NOT debate them!) more than you talk. Applaud their honesty, and they will say what you need to lead, rather than what you want to hear.

If you’re an exceptional leader, you may already ask many or all of these.  You may read through them and not find some of them very useful. It’s up to you to pick the ones that fit you, your team, and your organization.

Ask, then listen carefully to what you hear, without judgment or defense—if you feel embarrassed, surprised, or startled, I suggest you follow the 48-hour timeout rule.  Put it aside and come back to it fresh a day or two later.  Again, just don’t debate what they are telling you because if you do, they will conclude you’re not serious about getting the feedback.

  1. What energizes you the most about your work these days?
  2. What stresses you out or do you find draining, about your work?
  3. What should I know about your workload that we haven’t discussed (or that I may not understand)?
  4. Where are we hitting and missing the target on opportunities to improve our results?
  5. Where are we over-investing and under-investing (time/money/energy/resources)?
  6. What’s one thing you and I can each do to work together better?
  7. What do you not want to tell me, that really needs to be said?
  8. How would you like your colleagues to describe what it’s like to work with you?
  9. What are you finding hard to understand or address about the feedback I give you?
  10. What do I not seem to be noticing or paying enough attention to that I should focus on?
  11. Is there anything I’m doing — or not doing — that’s dampening your motivation or enthusiasm?
  12. What can I do to help you more than I have with your career / professional growth?
  13. Where am I overconfident or hearing what I want to hear more than what I need to know?
  14. Where am I / where are you holding on to something or someone for too long?
  15. How could I build more engagement/commitment from our most valued people?
  16. What do we need to stop doing that’s wasteful?
  17. Is there anything you’ve tried saying to me that I’m dismissing?
  18. Where do we as an organization tend to repeat the same behavior and wish for a different result?
  19. What will give you the greatest satisfaction to achieve in the year ahead?
  20. What am I not asking you that I really should ask?

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Bottom line: questions expand possibilities, and leadership is about turning possibilities into realities. If you’re doing more telling than asking/listening as a leader, then you’re missing what you need to know to lead effectively.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck