Last Month’s 3 Key Points
1. To be a great leader, you must be a student of leadership. To overcome the imposter syndrome and to become a BEST BOSS EVER! you need to study and practice your style of leadership. Creating a plan to intentionally learn and not just wing it, is important. The old saying; “failing to plan is planning to fail” applies here. I like to learn by observing others. You could interview other great leaders and ask them what they do. You could ask people who the best boss is they ever worked for and meet with them. You could look more closely at your style of leadership and your strengths and investigate how you could more effectively utilize them to positively influence your followers.
2. All great learners “practice” exceptionally well. I love the leader who intentionally practices their art every day. Those who practice the most are those who grow the most. Those who practice consistently well eventually become the experts in their trade. Don’t be the leader who does their work without ever thinking about their leadership effectiveness. What skills could you practice that would make you more effective?
3. Effective practice requires reviewing your practice. Practice by itself without reflecting on what you learned doesn’t help as much as you might think. Leaders who ‘review their tapes’ of their practice will rapidly develop their skills and become a Best Boss Ever. I had one client who was perceived a good leader but not great. After 18 months of practice and reflection, the leader grew his leadership strengths by 10X! All he did was practice something every week and reflect on what he learned.
If you’re not interested in getting better, it’s time for you to stop leading. Patrick Lencioni
Point # 1 – A “Best Boss Ever” is a leader others choose to follow.
“A hallmark of high performance leaders is the ability to influence others through all levels and types of communication, from simple interactions to difficult conversations and more complex conflicts, in order to achieve greater team and organizational alignment.” George Kohlrieser
This month’s newsletter is dedicated to learning how to lead others successfully through discord and difficult discussions. Intense disagreements often divide people and diminish trust.
The U.S. has a political system divides us – we are polarized. Our politicians and political pundits role model how to go beyond disagreement and judge the other side as “bad & wrong.” We judge each other’s intentions as if we know them. Attacking one another with verbal bombs has become acceptable. Why is it okay to say whatever you want, however you want, no matter how hateful it is (especially on social media)?
The challenge at work is complex. Not only do your employees want to know where the company stands on social issues, they have strongly held beliefs about management. Not only do people judge a leader’s competence but (they don’t know what they are talking about), but they also judge their personal motivation (they only want to make more $).
All people want to be understood and appreciated. It’s a basic human need. If your belief is irrational, you don’t think it’s irrational – it feels like common sense to you. The challenge for a leader is to earn people’s trust by helping them feel heard and understood – even when there is disagreement.
The three emotional responses to high stress are embedded in our neurobiology, and great leaders learn to name, claim, and reframe them. An extraordinary leader does not allow a fight, flight, or freeze reaction to completely overtake them emotionally. It is your job to manage your emotions when strong disagreements occur and to step into conflict and challenging discussions.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln
Point # 2 – Great leaders prepare for difficult conversations.
What happens when our leadership is in jeopardy because of disagreement? Do we try to avoid the conversation – hoping not to step on a landmine? Avoidance says something (I disagree). When we choose to talk about our differences, your concern may be legitimate because the conversation could damage the relationship and reduce trust.
I don’t have all the answers and this topic is complex. However, I’ll share a few ideas that fit into the ‘art’ of leadership. Note that every situation should be assessed independently. When things don’t make sense and the stakes are high, you should consider following these leadership truths:
- Choose to step into their ‘shoes.’ Rather than trying to poke holes into their perspective or point of view, analyze your thinking first. I can fall into the trap of thinking about all the reasons they are wrong. Instead, start with an open investigation.
- “Do I have all the facts – what could I be missing?”
- Think about their point of view and try to understand it – don’t judge it, understand it. Judgment is not leadership.
- Assume they have a good reason to believe what they believe. Be curious about: “what must they be thinking such that their idea makes sense to them?”
3. Avoid the temptation to think binary – “either/or.” Use “both/and” thinking.
- Think about what the issue and analyze it as a polarity instead of a problem to be solved. Leaders reframe complex problems as polarities.
- Get clear about the purpose of the conversation. ‘Understanding their viewpoint’ & helping them feel ‘heard’ is not the same thing as convincing them to think your way.
“A mindful approach to entering difficult conversations keeps both parties out of the heat of emotions and able to explore the needs, wants and interests on both sides. Judgement is suspended and, with a strong bond, the mind is able to focus on and look for the mutual benefit of the common goal.” — George Kohlrieser
Point # 3 Be intentional about leading the conversation.
After you have examined yourself, develop a plan to facilitate a positive dialogue:
- Determine the best way to start the conversation without making them feel awkward or defensive. Start off by stating your purpose. Consider stating that you might get this wrong, but you want to take the risk because the relationship is important to you.
- What curious questions can you ask? It’s critical to demonstrate that you are authentically interested in what they are thinking and what they believe. Place special emphasis on clarifying what they say or more importantly, what they meant.
- What can you share about your beliefs without coming across as judgmental or defensive (after they feel heard and understood). Consider asking them to clarify what they have heard from you.
Always be prepared for uncomfortableness and tell yourself that is okay as long as no one takes it personal. Keep the dialogue open and focused on understanding each other. Have a ‘back door’ to get out of the conversation if it goes south.
Years of in-depth research by the Zenger Folkman company, shows one of the most important competencies of leadership is “Inspires and Motivates Others to High Performance.” One of the findings from the researchers was that Making an Emotional Connection is the best way to Inspire & Motivate. By stepping into difficult conversations and leading yourself and others to create a productive dialogue, you can gain trust & respect. You will be seen as a Best Boss Ever, because you took the risk and did it well.
“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” Dorothy Nevill
1. What conversations do I know I need to have but have been putting off?
2. How can I minimize my concerns by preparing for a successful conversation?
3. How can I lead the conversation to make a positive and strong connection?
1. Fierce Conversations – Achieving Success at Work & In Life
2. Courageous Conversations at Work – How to create a high-performing team where people love to work by Larry Reynolds
3. Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High