The Best Leaders Tip #7 – Be a good leader, not just good at your job

This is my 7th of 12 posts about how to be among the Best Leaders.  In these, I provide inspiration for everyone seeking professional and personal growth as a leader of people, projects, groups, teams and organizations. I welcome your comments and feedback.  Visit my website for more information.


Best Leader Tip #7          Be a good leader, not just good at your job.  People get promoted much of the time because they’re proficient at the core business of their organizations.  CPAs become CFOs, engineers become project managers, journalists become executive producers.  Organizations need to do a better job at making sure the core requirements of these promotions include expertise related not just to technique, but also to people.  This includes getting educated and experienced in areas like interpersonal communication, motivating teams, creating and communication an organizational vision, providing formal and informal feedback, holding effective meetings, predicting and managing change, and so much more.  conducting evaluations, giving and receiving feedback, and self-awareness, which is the foundation of all of this. (For one example, click here for a New York Times article about 360-degree evaluations.)


The Best Leaders Tip #6 – Get Smart: Effective listening is not passive

This is my 6th of 12 posts about how to be among the Best Leaders.  In these, I provide inspiration for everyone seeking professional and personal growth as a leader of people, projects, groups, teams and organizations. I welcome your comments and feedback.  Visit my website for more information.


Best Leader Tip #6          Listening isn’t passive.  Effective listening is active, in which the listener participates by asking questions, summarizing what they’ve heard, and clarifying.  At the same time, they refrain from assuming, interrupting, cutting the speaker off, arguing, and making it about them.  How do you know if you’re listening enough?  After your next meeting, ask yourself what specific points of information you gained. If it’s fewer than three items, chances are you’ve spent most of that meeting talking, not listening.  A bonus:  Listening shows you’re interested in people.  And the best leaders are all about their people.

Diversity & Inclusion: Steps to Creating an Integrated Strategy

  1. Make sure you understand your organization’s mission and business goals and strategies
  2. Become an expert on your organization’s D&I goals and strategies
  3. Collaborate with those in charge of D&I programs to solidify relationships, ensure mutual inclusion in respective strategies.
  4. Create D&I goals and strategies as part of your communication strategies, integrating them fully
  5. Start with internal strategy and work your way out to external strategy
  6. Include clear metrics and results
  7. Report and celebrate results!

steps to strategy slide

Diversity & Inclusion: Strategic Recommendations for Leaders

diversity fishOperationalizing
-Define and refine D&I for your organization. Remember diversity of background, professions, work environments.
-Create a clear, articulated, and measurable D&I strategy that is enterprise-wide and consistent, tied to business goals.
-Invest company resources and demonstrate your commitment.
-Create measurement tools (scorecards, etc) that emphasize accountability.
-Tie to bottom line, including performance objectives and bonuses.
-Look at leadership teams and pipeline for senior management.
Embedding Into Culture
-Emphasize culture and mindset transformation (more than actions and behaviors).
-Communicate all D&I positioning and programs clearly and often to employees – internal to external.
-Develop leadership behaviors up to mid-manager level.
-Learn from and partner with clients, suppliers, others in your system.
Self Awareness and Improvement
-Gaining the key competencies for leading a diverse team, and being a successful contributing team member who can serve multilingual and multicultural customers
-Acknowledging individual frames of reference, and understanding how different perspectives impact personal and business objectives of both clients and employees
-Acquiring skills for working productively and respectfully with all team members and customers
-Leveraging the talents, skills and experience of everyone to meet individual and organizational goals

Communication inspiration from MLK Jr

people art“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I heart work

radiating heartIn most workplaces, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with work. (In fact, it can be downright distracting to watch co-workers get deliveries of flowers, balloons, and chocolates, especially if you’re wondering when your turn is!) The reason? Love isn’t really considered a professional emotion.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article (I just Work Here, January 20, 2014), Rex Huppke says that’s a shame because although office romances can be complicated, love’s broader meaning of kindness, respect, and empathy should play a central role in everyday interactions at work. I wholeheartedly agree.

Huppke cites a study by management professors Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill. They have conducted a study that shows how “a culture of companionate love” is good for employees and clients and is one of the basic emotions of human experience.

The study defines companionate love as the sense of warmth, affection and the friendly connections that bind us. Barsade said she believes our inability to separate the idea of passionate love from companionate love is the reason love is so often overlooked in the workplace.

They said employees who felt they worked in a “culture of companionate love had less absenteeism, were better at teamwork, were more satisfied with their jobs and experienced lower levels of emotional exhaustion.” Further, they found that “people who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.”

So if your workplace lacks companionate love, how can you improve? It’s up to leaders to create a culture where compassion, kindness, civility, and sympathy are encouraged, modeled, and rewarded. And it’s up to all employees to put this into practice, so that companionate behaviors are deeply embedded into the organization.

Know of any organizations where a companionate culture is thriving? Let me know! Meanwhile, I wish you a heartfelt day.

Four things that make companies great in 2014

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Forbes recently published the Glassdoor 2014 Best Companies to Work For – one of the intriguing lists that gets the full attention of engagement and communication pros like me. We want to know how to get our clients on those lists, yes – but also we want to find the secret to creating happy employees, and being happy ourselves! We’re not alone –  ‘best company’ lists and articles usually get a lot of traffic.  Everyone wants to know if there are better jobs or better companies out there.

In the spirit of improving the companies where we already are,  I borrow from Erika Andersen.  In a recent blog, she quotes Samantha Zupan, a spokesperson for Glassdoor, who says:

Andersen agrees with us when she says these four elements come up time and time again her engagement-related work. She says, “People want to build and work for companies that 1) have a strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose, 2) offer real chances to grow professionally, 3) provide the opportunity to work with people they like and respect, and 4) offer work that requires them to stretch their brains and skills.”

Here is more explanation of each of these, adapted from Andersen:

A strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose.  ’Culture’ has, too often, come to mean ‘perks.’ But while a ping-pong table in the break room and coupons for burgers are fun – they’re not the core of a great culture.  What people are looking for is an environment that supports and rewards excellence, honesty, mutual support, and fair dealing; where people get great results and they’re treated well….and neither is optional.  Truly strong cultures are supported from the C-suite on down: the employees report that their boss – and their boss’ boss, and so on – live by the espoused values.  People also want to feel that their strong culture exists to support meaningful work.

Real chances to grow professionally.  Although great companies focus on providing substantive growth opportunities for their employees, this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘career pathing’ in the traditional sense. Good managers in excellent companies look for ways to match employees’ skills and passions with the organization’s needs.  They do this through good old-fashioned observation and conversation.  They observe what needs to get done at the company that’s not getting done, or not getting done well.  They talk with other managers and leaders to find out about new initiatives or projects that might need people.  They observe  what the employee is good at doing.  They converse with the employee to find out what he or she is interested in learning or doing, and how he or she would like to see his or her career unfold.

The opportunity to work with people you like and respect. This one has both a universal and a personal aspect. The universal: excellent companies generally have a firm “no a**hole” rule. They don’t hire people who are dishonest, narcissistic, abusive, prejudiced, lazy, etc. Beyond that, “people you like and respect” is more individual.  For instance, some companies tend to hire fun-loving, informal, uninhibited people.  Other companies hire more serious, reserved, intellectual people.

Work that requires you to stretch your brain and skills. Human beings are wired to overcome challenges; it’s a deep survival mechanism that has allowed us to successfully adapt to new environments again and again over the millenia.  So it makes sense that we want this in our jobs, too: we like to figure things out, to get good at things, to crack codes and solve problems and make breakthroughs.  Great companies don’t assume that people are slackers who just want to do the least possible to get by: they recognize and call upon this built-in human attraction to challenging work.

It seems simple when you lay it out like this: a great company is a place you can do great things while having a great time, with others who want the same.  But it’s not easy to create this simple, powerful thing – it requires real focus and consistent effort on the part of the company’s leadership to build the needed structures, processes and systems; to hire the right people with the right attitudes and the rights skills; and to inspire and hold people accountable every day to the high standards you’ve set.

But that investment pays off tremendously: you end up with a company that attracts the best talent, creates excellent products and services, and figures out how to do it better, faster, and smarter than the rest.


Diversity & Inclusion: Impact on Brand (a new series)

globe and two handsAlthough research is still catching up, experience working with many types and sizes of companies and organizations shows that diversity and inclusion (D&I) are important to the brands and reputations of those seeking to recruit and retain employees, create satisfactory relationships with suppliers, attract lucrative business partnerships, satisfy requirements of government and legislative bodies, and excel in overall reputation. Communication professionals have a unique opportunity to lead D&I strategy for their organizations, since we are in charge of corporate reputation and branding, and we know how to influence and monitor opinions of stakeholders, and using that knowledge to create effective business and reputation strategies.

This post is the first in a series about D&I. Let’s start with a definition… although there are many definitions, every organization must create their own – one that makes sense for their business and industry, type of organization, mission and business goals. A good starting definition:

Diversity Management: Establishment of a comprehensive organizational and managerial process which supports a corporate culture in which open expression of diverse perspectives and approaches is respected and leveraged for the benefit of the business, the employee and community. (Courtesy of Alice Leong, President, ALuminescent Consulting)

High performing cultures require diversity!

A high performance culture (as measured in research conducted by PA Consulting Group and reported in a recent Bulldog Reporter article), is one in which:

  • There is a clear mission and vision, deriving directly from the organization’s strategy.
    The organization is highly adaptable and responds rapidly to the influences of the external market place and customer needs.
    People are aligned and engaged and there is a “team” orientation
    Values, systems and processes are in place and aligned to support performance.


How to achieve a high performance culture:

  • Begin by reviewing the organization’s operating model, reward system, and its mission and purpose.
  • Build talent from within and challenge roles. Lack of diversity must be rooted out on the road to executive leadership, and this means the next challenging role has to be visible and achievable.
  • Look to the future.

There is a link between how clearly an organization articulates its mission and the percentage of women in executive roles. This link is vital to the long-term engagement of the best female talent.


Organizational culture the key to gender diversity

A recent study, reported by the Bulldog Reporter this week, discusses that to dramatically improve performance, companies need to be sure they have healthy percentages of women on their executive leadership teams and Boards, and that their corporate cultures include traits traditionally thought of as “female.” The article cited a research report from PA Consulting Group.  This shows that gender diversity and organizational culture can play a critical role in achieving “performance magic”—which is having both strong financial results and a high performing culture. The research demonstrates that performance is inherently linked to inclusive culture and gender diversity.

PA Consulting Group analyzed the public reports of 50 U.S. and U.K. companies over a six-year period to reveal that the ones with female leaders generated higher total shareholder return (TSR). The report’s key findings:

  • Firms with women on the board generated up to 600% TSR, while those without women generated less than 100% TSR.
  • Organizations that had performance magic also had the greatest percentage of women (50%) on their executive leadership team.
  • What creates a successful, inclusive organizational culture is not merely having women on the senior executive roster, but rather is also allowing and integrating those traits that have been typically thought of as “female”—such as: collaboration, listening skills, focus on development, and valuing different opinions.

See my next blog post for this article’s valuable discussion on high performing cultures.


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