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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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.

_____________________

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

Power Up Your Interpersonal Awareness Skills

Interpersonal awareness: The cornerstone of effective leadership

Consider colleague feedback I collected from an executive’s team several years ago: “I don’t get the impression he’s aware of how he comes across to others,” offered one employee. “I don’t think he’s tuned in to how sharp, harsh or dismissive he can be,” said another.

It’s normal to hear doubts from my client when I share this type of feedback. We discuss the notion that an effective leader doesn’t have to win any popularity contests — but it’s key to not communicate in ways that discourage your colleagues or team from doing their best, or that blow back on you and harm your ability to lead.

If you don’t pay attention to the impact your style of communication has on others, over time, you’ll shut people down — and that can turn them against you. The good news: It’s avoidable and fixable.

Once my client takes in the feedback they will ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”

“Communication perspective”: What’s your point of view?

In every conversation, there are three points of view: how things look through your eyes; how they look through their eyes; and how they look through the eyes of an impartial observer. Think about it like an author’s narrative perspective — first person, second person, and third person. Here we could simply call it a “communication perspective”:

  • First Position: My own point of view — my ideas, questions, and opinions.
    “I think you should do X.”
    “I’m confident this project is going to complete on time.”
    “You need to revise that projection.”
    When our own expertise or opinion is called upon, or our ego gets the upper hand, or we need to “prove ourselves,” we are taking the first position point of view. First position may be summarized as, “It’s about me.
  • Second Position: I take your point of view — try to see the world through your eyeballs: your ideas, questions, and opinions.
    “I can see you think I should do X.”
    “If I were you, I may be worried about that project.”
    To negotiate effectively, deal with an opposing view, or simply empathize with another, taking second position is a powerful tool. Second position may be summarized as, “It’s about you.
  • Third Position: I take the observer point of view, like a satellite hovering overhead, watching me interact with you. I’m asking myself, “What needs to happen?” and adjusting my actions and words to draw out your best.
    “I was dismissive with him, and need to acknowledge that.”
    “I should stay quiet here; that will encourage my team to figure this out for themselves.”
    Third position may be summarized as, “It’s about how I impact you.

How to use this insight to improve your leadership communication skills

Leaders who need to upgrade their awareness of how they impact others tend to overuse first position, and avoid third position. If that sounds like you, then your homework is to practice in third position, as described below:

In several upcoming meetings and one on one discussions, take a small piece of your attention, and (metaphorically) float it in the air above the room, like a satellite, for the duration of the meeting. Imagine it’s observer-you … watching you, the other(s), and your impact on them. As you do this, silently ask yourself these four questions:

  • How am I coming across here?
  • Is that going to help what most needs to happen in this discussion?
  • How am I helping — or getting in the way of this person being at their best?
  • How should I adjust what I’m saying and doing to draw out their absolute best?

Ask yourself these questions, and adjust how you participate, once or twice during the discussion. The result may be that you say less, or say more, or read others more carefully, or ask different questions. Try again in the next meeting.

Interpersonal awareness is difficult — but keep at it!

Just like any new mindset or behavior, this will take practice. You will lose awareness of it, try again, regain it, etc. Keep at it! When new to it, my clients say practicing communication perspective is like learning a new language — exhausting and headache-inducing.

To find and maintain your best impact on others is to embody leadership at its best. You will be surprised by what you discover — and do differently — from the third, or observer, position. Many clients have told me that learning to use third position deliberately was an extraordinary upgrade to their leadership and business communication skills. It’s one which I hope you will find equally useful.

____________________

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

Effective Email Writing: 12 Pro Tips to Elevate Your Executive Presence

Effective email communication is hard — especially in a leadership role

How do you demonstrate executive presence over email? Surely, this is important — after all, the majority of us spend hours of our workday receiving hundreds, or even thousands, of messages, pounding out responses quickly and hitting SEND, thereby multiplying email for all involved.

Based on my experience coaching many executives, I’m sorry to report that really bad email habits are the rule rather than the exception. Just ask anyone whose email has ever been made public. But fear not. With some simple guidance, and by breaking a few bad habits, you can use email as an instrument of greater influence.

12 ways to upgrade your executive presence over email

In the heat of the moment, you may have hit “send” on one or two emails — and thought better of it later. Or perhaps, “in the interest of time,” you may not have given enough thought to how you were communicating.

When was the last time you re-read a sampling of your sent email, to assess its impact on your colleagues or team? This is an experiment that some of my clients have tried — and that works to bring new self-awareness to how you use email as a tool.

Carefully select a sample of, say, 20 of your sent emails. Make sure they represent both smooth and stressful times, as well as a spectrum of recipients. As you carefully reread your sample, start to reinforce the following tips in your mind:

1. Don’t blow off your subject line

Take the time to write a subject line that gets the correct attention and priority. Your email lands on long lists, and your most important recipients don’t have time to decipher your code or infer your meaning. Be creatively concise on the headline and, if appropriate, the time frame. “Project X Phase 2 Needs Your Approval by 5/15” works better than “Project X Follow Up.”

2. Don’t bury the lead

Your subject line has grabbed their attention. Now what? Why should your recipients care about this message? What do you want from them? If it takes more than a sentence or two to figure out why you’ve written the message and what’s most important, you’ve buried the lead — and your email executive presence along with it. Put your most important message(s) right up front, in the first sentence or two.

3. Be brief — very brief

If you need to write more than a few paragraphs, and certainly more than one email on the same topic, then there’s a problem: you’re likely trying to avoid, spackle over, or substitute for a conversation that needs to happen. Keep your emails short and sweet. If you can’t, then start an IM, pick up the phone, or go face to face. If you have a lot of information to deliver, do them the courtesy of putting it in an attachment (and follow these tips on the cover email).

4. Don’t confuse an email chain with a conversation

A string of emails and replies shouldn’t be considered a substitute for a conversation, a brainstorming session, or a decision-making process. It’s a series of “tells” with varying lag times that often lead to unnecessary churn. Voice to voice, face to face, and even IM are much better forums for important interactions.

5. Don’t use email to confront, vent, process, or punish in public

If you have a complaint, concern, or issue with Sally or her team, then the explanatory email that “tells it candidly” to Sally (or to Sally PLUS other colleagues–ouch!) is a bad, bad idea!  It’s the last thing you want to send. Lasting damage to executive presence springs from this mistake. As a therapist might say, “Write the letter and don’t send it.” Email isn’t the place for processing an issue, venting, or confronting. Since email lacks interactivity and the nuance and body language needed for deeper understanding, it will make thorny issues thornier, and rarely if ever solves anything.  Sending a “here’s what’s wrong” email to Sally, especially copying others, is a sure way to diminish or destroy trust.

6. Follow the “New York Times rule”

You’ve heard this one before — now believe it: Email is barely communication. It’s certainly not a forum for risky disclosure. (And unlike a conversation, an email doesn’t die.) Don’t put anything in an email today you wouldn’t be OK reading in the New York Times tomorrow. All emails could be (and perhaps are being) read by others. They are also subject to discovery in case of future legal action.

7. Check your grammar and spelling, and avoid text-speak in emails

Executive presence degrades with poor quality communication. Check your spelling. Read your email out loud. Look for words spelled correctly but in the wrong place, such as “here” versus “hear,” “affect” versus “effect,” or “your” versus “you’re.” Using text-speak like “FWIW,” “ur,” “btw” and “LOL,” even when sending from your smartphone, degrades your executive presence. Double-check for all of these before sending.

8. Reread the message you received carefully, before sending your reply

Too many people scan and reply in a rush, and miss the point. Before replying to a message, read it twice. Think. Prioritize. Then, BEFORE SENDING, read the original email and your reply together. If you don’t have time for that, wait until you do, or connect with the recipient by another method.

9. Don’t be lazy about forwarding emails

We’ve all done it: forwarded emails without double-checking what lurks below, earlier in the chain. Before sending, please scroll all the way down and read the full chain. Delete irrelevant, outdated, or recipient-inappropriate stuff. You’ll not only better serve your recipient with a crisp, relevant communication, you might also spare yourself a world of trouble.

10. Check and double-check recipients

Avoid over-sharing! That means overusing cc: and bcc: to send the wrong thing to the wrong person, or to more people than needed. Before clicking SEND, check and double-check your recipients. This may seem obvious, but it’s a step too often overlooked. And like the unchecked forward, it can lead to all kinds of unnecessary headaches.

11. Be thoughtful about timing and response time

Don’t send emails in the middle of the night or on weekends–as a leader, that telegraphs an expectation of response in kind.  Put them in your drafts folder and send them later.  Also, no one likes an e-stalker. When you send follow-up emails too soon after the original (e.g., “did you have a chance to review my email from earlier today?”), you’re degrading your executive presence. If you’re going to need a response that quickly, you probably shouldn’t use email in the first place.

12. Effective business communication is interactive

When in doubt (e.g., “Should I do this on email?,” “Why am I having so much trouble writing this?”) delete your draft, and pick up the phone, open a video session, IM, or if in walking distance, add a few steps to your daily count and have a conversation.

Stellar executive communication starts with self-awareness

As suggested above, self-test a sample of your previously sent email from time to time. What do you need to change? Answer that, and you can transform email from a weakness into a vehicle to enhance your communication, strengthen your influence, and build your executive presence.

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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

Effective Leadership Skills: The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff

What are the qualities of a good leader?

What is great leadership? Ultimately, there is no right or wrong definition. Across my 30-year career I’ve discovered it’s many things — a dynamic and evolving set of skills, competencies and qualities.

But one thing is clear: at its best, effective leadership manifests as a growing awareness of ourselves and how we impact others. And that cannot exist without carefully honing “soft” skills. True leaders have the ability to take in feedback, to learn, to constantly improve — and to help others be at their best — through calm and stormy seas alike.

The ROI of openness: Mindful leadership can pay big dividends

In stormy times like these — when uncertainty and upheaval seem to be the rule rather than the exception, and when basic civility itself can feel like it’s under assault — it’s never been more important for you as a leader to decide, and live, what’s most important to you.

I would suggest that one leadership quality is more important now than ever: the ability to value others, and to truly listen to them and their ideas, particularly when they’re different from your own.

Of course, this kind of “mindful leadership” doesn’t mean you have to soak up others’ ideas, or let them dilute your own direction. You are the one being held accountable as a leader, after all.

But here’s the point: when it comes to being open to those you would lead — to welcome opposing views and learn from those around you — the payoff can be far greater (not to mention, more sustainable) than just driving your people to implement your ideas, make the numbers, or a deadline, or a quarterly goal, or some other fixed star.

Long-term, sustainable performance and success: these are the areas where management soft skills ultimately prove their value.

Embrace these soft skills — and put some Namaste into your leadership

In a world of change, fear, misunderstanding, and doubling down on our differences, it’s up to leaders to welcome the diversity (and diverse ideas) of the individuals who support them. In a healthy organization, everybody has an essential role to play in the success of the endeavor.

Put another way, success takes the full orchestra, not just the will of the conductor.

In real, pragmatic terms, that means taking the time to listen to, understand, and appreciate others, their ideals, their points of view — even if that includes the need to help them through some level of negativity.

Viewing the world through their eyes, if only for a moment, and treating new ideas as if they were your own: with respect.

There’s a word for that: Namaste — a recognition and appreciation of the divine spark, the inspiration, in every person.

If “I bow to the divine in you,” is the soft stuff in your book, then I’ve got news for you: the soft stuff is the hard stuff — and never more so than in stressful times. Without harmony — a harmony grounded in a common mission and nourished by mutual respect — you can hit some targets, sure, but at a steep price. Sustainable success is out of reach.

So take the time to really listen to, and learn from, your people, and you’ll be endowed with the ability to make better-informed decisions — decisions that will benefit, and inspire, everyone. Hone your management soft skills, and in so doing, you’ll soon become your own best definition of a leader.

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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