For Your Development

I was recently catching up with a friend, and the topic shifted to work. “How have things been going?” I asked. “I’m getting frustrated. For over a year, they have been piling extra projects on me, telling me it is ‘for my development,’ and that I am getting ready for the next level. It feels to me like they are just giving me extra work because there is no one else to do it. There is no talk of what skills I need to develop, or any communication about when they think I will be ready for that next level.”

I suggested that he ask for a meeting with his boss to understand what skills he needed to build, get feedback on the work he had completed, and start a dialogue about his development strategy.

Providing special assignments, such as leading a cross-functional team or mentoring, is a fantastic talent development strategy. Ambitious employees gain an opportunity to grow and shine while meeting a business need of the organization. Often, the recipient gains increased exposure to leadership, an occasion to expand professionally, and a chance to demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond.

However, if not managed appropriately, this practice can go south, mainly if it is frequent, and create frustration for the employee. For best results:

  • Set the foundation with a development conversation. Ask the employee to articulate his/her career goals. In return, provide honest feedback about the development that will best serve the employee to reach said goals. Establish additional assignments as a vehicle for growth and discuss how they benefit both the person and the company.

  • At the onset, clarify expectations and illustrate how the employee will benefit.

  • Support the employee through the duration of the project. Provide guidance and feedback. Doing so is especially important if the assignment is a stretch for the employee.

  • Be appreciative.

  • Call a spade a spade. If it’s not a development opportunity, but merely extra work that needs to be done, do not misrepresent.

Taking these steps also ensures that everyone is on the same page, and that open two-way communication ensues, creating a win-win situation.

Single Point of Failure

Several months ago, a friend of mine took a new position as a project manager with a large company. I ran into him last week and asked how things were going. “I like what I am doing,” he replied, “but the manager who hired me is now in a different role, and my new boss…well, he’s a real piece of work.”

I asked him to elaborate.

He went on to tell me about one of his peers, who was battling a severe disease and was needing to take medical leave. “I heard my manager refer to this guy as a ‘single point of failure.’ And if I heard him, others did as well.”

Clearly, this manager did not consider how his words might impact others on the team.

As leaders, we need to remember that it is not just what we say to people; it’s what we say about others. Everything we say and do is observed by others, scrutinously. We build the best teams by using this stage to empower the team through humility and doing the right thing.

Simple Credos from a Life Well-Lived

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"Tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Forgive. Stay the course." This was the life code of George H.W. Bush, according to Jon Meachum in his December 5 eulogy for the 41st president.

The language is plain. The lessons are simple. And these qualities really matter to people when being led. No matter your politics, a leader who lives by these words creates the intangibles of a great team: trust, purpose, and community.

A few thoughts about each:

“Tell the truth.” Truth and kindness are not mutually exclusive. Sharing the good, bad and the ugly may be uncomfortable in the short run, but it ultimately builds trust. If I know that my boss will always tell me the truth, I can follow him/her, without worry of some hidden agenda.

Don’t blame people.” Own it. Learn from it. Apologize when necessary. Think about what you will do differently the next time.

“Be strong.” Remember that on the other side of any challenge is an outcome and a better result.

“Do your best.” Be all in, or don’t be there.

“Forgive.” We are all united in our humanity. We all make mistakes. We can only control what we do. When we don’t forgive, we carry on the negative emotion.

“Stay the course.” The course and direction may not be linear, but that’s okay. Put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

At the end of the day, we want to feel confident that we have led others in a way that makes a proud. We want to reflect upon “a life well-lived.” Following these simple credos is a big step toward leading and living in a meaningful way.

Holding Time and Space for Your Team

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In the educational publishing world, where I spent the first 20+ years of my career, we would generate almost 70% of the business for the year during the spring. January through April was like running a marathon, necessitating 60 to 65-hour work weeks. It was the nature of our sales cycle.

The first week of March represented the halfway point in this race. It was also the time of our “spring meeting,” where we would convene to review what was/was not working and map out our strategies for the rest of the spring.

Some years, at the same time in my northern geography, the weather would break, and the smell of spring would permeate the air.

Unconsciously, I began rewarding myself in some way each March. The first year, I purchased a Coach station bag, classic black with the aroma of good leather. It was an extravagant purchase for 24-year old me, but carrying it put an extra skip into my step. A friend of mine planned a 3-day ski weekend each year to accomplish the same.

As I grew into a leader, I, even more, appreciated the spring “midpoint” and the accompanying spring meeting. We would spend a precious couple of days, not just strategizing, but slowing down the pace, recognizing our hard work, and celebrating our team. A nice dinner, lots of laughs, and “let’s make sure to wrap up by noon so that you guys are all home to start your weekend early” demonstrated that I valued their well-being and had their backs.

As a result, they, too, had a bit more skip in their step during the second half of the race.

The most talented and dedicated teams, when immersed in a long and arduous project, will be laser-focused on the prize, and will work, work, work, even to the point of exhaustion. Holding time and space for folks to come up for air and experience joy reinvigorates the team so that best results ensue, while morale and loyalty build.

Promoting Your Superstar to Manager

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You are a business owner or leader, and you are looking to hire a sales leader. You might be thinking, “This is a no-brainer. I’ll promote my top performing sales rep. He’ll train everyone to do what he does, and sales will go through the roof!”

Not so fast. More often than not, this is a catastrophe waiting to happen, as the two positions require very different skill sets and motivators.

Over the years, I have known many highly successful salespeople who have jumped into a sales leadership role thinking it to be the “next logical step,” and quickly found it to be the wrong fit.

“All I do is deal with drama…I didn’t sign up to be HR.”

“Why don’t they just listen!”

“I’m tired of being a babysitter.”

“I just want to be responsible for myself.”

I’m not trying malign salespeople. I love the selling environment for many reasons and have surrounded myself with these folks my entire adult life. But let’s face it, many salespeople march to the beat of their own drum, like to create their own rules, and are a bit egocentric. Those qualities, while extremely helpful in sales, do not an effective sales leader make.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before making this jump and potentially putting the right talent into the wrong seat.

Does s/he find joy in helping others? A strong sales leader loves to teach and relishes in the success of his/her direct reports.

Is s/he a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person? I’m not looking for Pollyanna, but sales leaders must be optimistic and solution-oriented. No whining and no dwelling on problems.

Does s/he build genuine credibility with others? A foundation of trust is critical. This person tries to do what is best, and not just what is in his/her best interest. S/he is known for “having everyone’s backs.”

Is s/he self-aware and able to self-regulate? People are people and people have personal “stuff.” It’s essential for a leader to understand this notion and take things in stride without displaying frustration.

An effective sales leader learns how to amplify the employees’ strengths and mitigate their shortcomings. S/he wants the best for his/her people and makes them want to give their very best in return. Doing so requires advocacy, optimism, humility, and emotional intelligence. These words may or may not describe your sales superstar. Proceed judiciously.

"Take A Load Off, Inner Roommate..."

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We all “get in our own way.” We all, consciously or unconsciously, engage in behaviors that hinder our effectiveness, our results, our level of satisfaction…you name it. People do this to themselves in a variety of ways.

If we try to give constructive feedback to an employee when we’re angry and irritated, we’re getting in the way of our message.

If we do not return the phone call of an angry customer because it is uncomfortable, we’re getting in the way of resolving the issue.

If we make a batch of brownies when we’re trying to shed pounds, we’re likely getting in the way of our weight loss.

Often, we get in our own way by letting our mental chatter or head trash get the best of us. “That person seems annoyed. You must have done something wrong,” I tell myself. Or “you’re never going to get that proposal out in time!” We talk to ourselves all day long, often with a very critical voice.

I recently came across a mantra. “Take a Load Off, Inner Roommate,” it said. How profound!

The way that we talk to ourselves has a tremendous impact on how we show up, how we perform at work, and how we parent our kids.

If we can quiet, ignore or better yet, laugh at that inner roommate when he/she not serving us, we will find ourselves in a much happier and more productive place.

Interested v. Interesting

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In July, for the first time EVER, I attended my high school reunion. It had been 30 years since I had seen most of these folks, and the contact was limited to Facebook. During my formative high school years, I never really “gelled” with my class, which undoubtedly contributed to my choice to forgo previous reunions. Now, in 2018, thanks to a family vacation in close proximity to the event, as well as plenty of coaxing from my mother and sister, I decided to attend. I was pushing far out of my comfort zone and I.WAS.NERVOUS.

After some thought, I realized that my nervousness could completely derail any enjoyment of the event if I were not careful. I made a conscious and deliberate effort to shift my perspective. Rather than worrying about whether it would be awkward, people would remember me, etc., I decided to set a goal of making every conversation at the event meaningful. I would approach each interaction with a purpose—to learn all about the adult version of the person I knew in 1988 and to make each feel like the most fantastic person in the room….no matter what vibe I received. I would use the same level of engagement, curiosity, kindness and thought that I strive to bring to my coaching and business life.

As we approach opportunities and contacts, we are at our very best if we focus on being interested rather than interesting. Whether it be a sales prospect or a new colleague, we should let our curiosity guide us and seek to understand. In so doing, we facilitate a deeper personal connection, naturally build trust and transfer positive energy to the other party. The higher the stakes, the higher the importance. If we lay the right foundation, we always have the opportunity to follow up and continue the conversation at a later date. If we make the wrong impression? Not so much….

As for my reunion? Not one regret. As it turned out, there was no reason to be nervous.

Leadership: Why I am Grateful to Millennials—Part Deux

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A few months ago, I wrote about my appreciation of the millennial generation, and how their needs (purpose, authenticity, clear expectations) and their critical mass (38% of the workforce as of 2017) are requiring us to be stronger, better leaders. As the self-proclaimed “leadership safety patrol,” (I possess zero tolerance of poor leadership), I am thrilled to see that leaders need to step up their games to attract and retain talent.

From time to time, I speak to groups about Leading Millennials. Recently, I “spruced up” my talk to starting discussing the entry of Gen Z into the workforce, and how they are similar to/different previous generations. Some distinguishing characteristics of Gen Z include the need for security, strong work ethic, and competitive drive. As I discussed these traits, someone (Gen X) in the audience gave an audible sigh of relief. “You mean they are more like us!”

I am sorry, fellow member of Gen X…but you are missing the point! No matter the generation and their defining characteristics, strong leadership is simply non-negotiable.

This means:

1. Leaders clearly state expectations.

2. Leaders are authentic, transparent and selfless.

3. Leaders communicate and provide ongoing feedback

4. Leaders provide learning and development

For companies to grow and sustain results, they must lead in a way that is meaningful and motivational to their talent. Do so, and the results will reflect it.

2018 Goals...It's Not Too Late!

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My “New Year” commenced a little bit late this year….on January 16. On the one hand, it was fitting, as I was celebrating the one-year anniversary of Thrive to Lead.  On the other hand, the truth is that I just was not ready to rock on January 1.

I fully intended to begin the year on January 1. Earlier in the fall, I thought that I would use the last two weeks of December reflecting upon the year, internalizing my lessons learned, and using them to formulate my goals for 2018. Not my idea--I had read it somewhere. Perfect!

Lesson learned.

I surmised (around December 27) that originator of the two-week reflection period was not a mom with two school-age children on winter break, was not hosting multiple Christmas gatherings, and did not have obligations to clients during these two weeks. I had no time for reflection during the final 14 days of 2017. Going forward, I will select another time.

Fortunately, thanks to a fantastic peer group, I had drafted and refined my goals for 2018. I only needed to ink them. Once on paper, I broke the goals down into quarterly chunks and weekly benchmarks (with accountabilities) for vital activities.  I took this from Gino Wickman's book, Traction.

Finally, thanks to a weekend retreat with my dear college friends, I was able to slow my pace to reflect on 2017 and re-energize myself for 2018.  The time with these girls made me laugh and fed my soul. The slower pace and lack of demands brought reflection and rejuvenation. I got out from under the “OMG it’s January 12, and I’m already behind!” I was ready to go!

My advice to you: If you raced into 2018 without a chance to reflect, to set a few well-thought goals and determine how to measure your progress, it is not too late. You need not wait until 2019 to hit the reset button. Carve out a few hours, breathe and be intentional about what you want to accomplish this year. Put it in writing and break it into chunks.

You can always start your new year on February 1.

If you would like help setting and achieving your 2018 goals, I’m here to help!

 

Hiring in Sales? First, Some Dos and Don'ts

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Looking to hire a salesperson or sales team to grow your business?

Fantastic!

Hiring the right salesperson, even for the experienced hiring manager, can be tricky. After all, salespeople SELL….so it stands to reason that they should be pretty darned good at selling themselves.

When interviewing a candidate for a sales role, consider the following “Dos and Don’ts”:

DO ask questions about the following:

1.       Drive/Motivation—why does s/he get out of bed in the morning? Does s/he exude energy? How does s/he set goals and plan to achieve them? Consider using a high-quality assessment tool to measure drive and motivation.

2.       Work Ethic—does s/he do whatever it takes to get the job done, or do they take the easy road? Most candidates will tell you that they have what it takes to get the job done. Probe about difficult experiences and how they handle adversity.

3.       Curiosity—the easiest way to evaluate this is the caliber of the questions s/he asks YOU about the role and the company. If s/he does not ask thoughtful questions, s/he will not do so with a potential customer.  

DO ask about track record. Dig in. Check for missing data. If the performance includes a downturn, is there a solid explanation? How did s/he perform compared to peers?

DO ask for specifics and examples in every question. “Tell me about a time when….” is a great way to frame each question.

For example, use “tell me about your greatest sales achievement and what you did to secure the business,” instead of “why are you successful in sales?”

Listen for specificity and for “I” rather than “we” in the response.  If you hear “we” follow with “tell me about your individual contribution.”

 

DON’T gloss over the tough questions (or worse yet, hire) just because the person is “likable.”

DON’T rush the process because you want to get somebody in place. Hiring the wrong person is NEVER better than hiring no one. If you find yourself thinking “s/he will probably be fine,” it is not the right hire.

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DON’T forget to ask for references. By all means, call each source!  Does a former boss give a glowing testimonial? Awesome! Conversely, if the reference is vague, or if the person does not call you back, it is a bad sign.

Consider asking for references from their two most recent employers. Be sure to speak directly with their direct supervisor.

Finally, DON’T hire unless the candidate asks for the job, or closes you. If he/she does not ask for the job, s/he will not ask a potential customer for the business.

Making the wrong hire is costly. Consider the time lost in onboarding, training, recruiting, morale, etc. This can cost up to three times the annual salary.

For professional guidance in hiring top performers, I highly recommend Alec Broadfoot at VisionSpark.  http://visionsparksearch.com/

If you would like professional support in getting your salesperson off to a fast and $$$ start, give me a shout!

Good luck!