Monday, January 31, 2011

No Excuses EVER

What IS the most important characteristic of a leader? Read any leadership book and you will find tens of possible answers: character, strength, a genius IQ. Our research led us to this answer: no excuses. The technical term for this might be “accountability” or “responsibility” but we like “no excuses” because it conveys the real, raw truth of the matter.

The real, raw truth is that a fantastic executive is able to make things happen and she never makes excuses when she can’t do it.

Take the stories of these two real-life executives. One, the CEO of a technology start-up, ran into trouble with her company. The idea of her company was a unique and ingenious one, but she just couldn’t get any traction in the market. A fantastic executive herself, she ordered an immediate review of herself, with interviews from all of her investors and a harsh but truthful look at her executive skills. She found several deficiencies in herself such as a weak financial background and some difficulties in PR and marketing. She instantly hired a consultant to help her with her PR and marketing, and she found a part-time CFO to fill in her financial gap. She started really kicking the market in the teeth and got on the cover of a major magazine.

Another CEO, head of a $35 million technology company that was in the transition phase from startup to mid-size found himself losing the buy-in of his executive team. He lost his VP of Sales and his Chief Engineer before he called us. Then, when we arrived, he went on and on for hours about how the problem was the founder of the business. The only problem with his excuse was that the founder had been around long before the exodus had begun. It just didn’t add up. This CEO was completely unable to look at his own contribution to the recent problems.

The difference between these two types of leaders is a simple one. The first CEO was a no excuses CEO! She was able to face up to her weaknesses and charge ahead with solutions, unfazed by any critical or difficult feedback she might have gotten. The success of the company was more important to her than her personal pride. The other CEO, unfortunately, was so involved in finding who to blame that he couldn’t even see beyond his own nose.

A “no excuses” executive does not judge his company or his team by whether everything is perfect. That would be the wrong standard. The question is whether he can look at his company or team and, despite everything that is wrong, still make things turn out right. In the process, such an executive might even find that he or she has much to learn or many changes to make before all is well. Despite these difficulties, a no excuses executive charges ahead.

If you aren’t sure if you are a “no excuses” leader, take this short quiz:

1. When something goes wrong, do you usually search for who is to blame?

2. First thing in the morning, do you look at the day ahead and see only problems?

3. Do positive people annoy you?

4. Do you wonder why everyone around you is so much dumber or lazier than you?

5. Do you blame any recent career or job failures on the “bad economy”?

If you answered “yes” to more than three of these questions, you are having a tough time being a “no excuses” leader. You may need to take a longer leadership assessment test to determine why you have a tough time taking responsibility.

We are the first to admit that being a “no excuses” leader is not easy. On rough days or around tax time, we all might wish for a good scapegoat. The hard, unfriendly truth of the matter is that those who have the most success are the ones who can look at any situation and determine how they caused it.

So if you are looking at a financial disaster in your company, or a human resources nightmare, or any of the myriad problems that can occur, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and consider this:

1. Just because you are “no excuses” does not mean you should engage in self-pity or blame. Just acknowledge the situation and get moving on a solution.

2. A good analysis of how the problem occurred goes a long way toward solving it. If you can’t figure it out, get a professional in the area to help you.

3. Don’t get distracted. Just because something is unpleasant does not mean you should avoid it. Put on your riot gear and attack!

4. There’s nothing better than getting it DONE! So take that big, hairy problem, tackle it, get it done and move ahead!

Finally, remember this brilliant quote from Thomas Edison: “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

So go find some opportunities! No excuses!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is He Coachable?

We have all worked with the guy we avoid at company Christmas parties and functions, the one who gossips about everyone, or steals others’ ideas and passes them off as his own and pretends he doesn’t. As he exits his yearly performance review, we watch carefully, hoping he has somehow come out a changed man. Over and over, we are disappointed. Why is that?

Let’s start with some basic data about leadership development. A person develops certain habits or patterns that he or she thinks help him to survive in the workplace. Those patterns are engrained early on because at some point, they worked.

Example: Joe steals some presentation data from a co-worker and gives the best presentation of his life. He gets promoted as a result. Now, he has found a reason to keep stealing data, hasn’t he? Four or five jobs later, he is still stealing others’ ideas even though it no longer works and others shun him. This is an ethical problem for him.

What can we do for this workplace problem child? How can we help him?

Remember this: In the absence of ethical behavior, no leadership development can be done. Ethical problems shut off the ability to learn. So if you have your eye on someone who “just doesn’t get it” or never changes, you have your eye on someone who needs an ethics tune-up. He just is not coachable yet.

If we drew a pyramid of important items necessary to career development, it would have a base labeled "ethics" and the upper part of the pyramid would contain all the various parts of leadership development.

A strong ethical foundation is necessary to truly develop a leader. A person who has to lead others cannot do so unless he has others’ best interests in mind. A person who has ethical trouble thinks only about himself and pits himself against everyone else. The easiest way to spot a person with ethics problems is that he chooses himself over everyone else. It’s what you are really complaining about when you complain he “doesn’t get it”.

The good news is that ethical troubles can be fixed! Please do not waste your time trying to develop a leader when his ethics are all a mess, though. Handle the ethical problems first.

Tips for handling ethical problems:

1. Don't go it alone. If you approach someone complaining about his self-centered attitude, you will end up on the wrong end of the battle and you could be the one in trouble. Instead, start documenting the problem behavior with very specific examples. Write the examples down and submit them to your HR person. If you do not have an HR person, see the article entitled "The Real Purpose of HR" (in my section on Biznik) and give a copy to the person in charge of hiring.

2. Keep help in mind. Remember that a person with ethical problems is going to be very defensive, so tread lightly and keep your intentions good. Expect to be seen as a troublemaker, at least at first.

If you have trouble or your first encounter is like taming a dragon, call on a professional coach or HR person who can dig in deep and get to the root of the matter in a helpful and thoughtful way. Then, when the person is really ready, give him a development plan that will allow him to soar.

Monday, January 3, 2011

You Want It, You Got It

Influence is the power to affect people or events, the capacity to be compelling. With influence, you can achieve your goals and win in your business. Without it, you will be frustrated and upset, tired and apathetic about how the world affects you. In short, influence is the bridge between where you are now and the life of your dreams.

Think for a moment about something you got that you had wanted for a long time. Think of another example of something you achieved that you had wanted for a long time. What do these two things have in common? You had to communicate and influence to get them. None of us can achieve anything in life without communication and influence.

Think now of something that you would like to have. Why haven’t you gotten it yet? What if you knew the right person or event to influence? What if you knew the key to influencing any person to achieve any outcome you wanted? How valuable would this information be to you? Read on to discover the factors of influence.

First, let’s start with some basics of communication. As much as you might not like to hear it, other people are different from you. Their perceptions are not the same as yours. As a result, you have to make a concerted effort to understand them and their points of view. Without this basic knowledge, you will get nowhere in influencing others. Others know if you are spending the time and effort to understand them. Take the time. Make the effort. This is the most basic first step of influence.

If you are uncertain about how to do this, try first by asking some basic questions of the person in the area you are discussing. For example, if you are attempting to influence your boss to give you a promotion, ask some questions about the budget and the future outlook of the company. Find out what he thinks about the company and the outlook for the next year. With this step, simply try to achieve understanding. Do not ask for anything yet.

After you have taken some time to understand the person you are trying to influence, try next to develop some admiration for the person. Find something you can like about him or her. Expand on that as much as possible. If your boss loves the same type of music you do, get the idea that you really agree on this topic and expand on it as much as possible. A quick warning: you will occasionally run across someone who does not respond well to admiration. Although this is more difficult, it can be overcome with some customized help. If you have encountered this situation, get some help from HR or a coach.

Keep in mind that the development of admiration starts first with you. It has to be genuine and you have to develop it yourself. If you find that you have a hard time creating admiration for others, you may also have a hard time influencing others. If this is the case for you, seek out some help for your critical nature. This cynicism could be your downfall. If on the other hand, you find it easy to create admiration for others, you are well on your way to getting whatever you want.

Your next step is to achieve certainty about what you want. Again, this is an internal step. Set your mind about what you want. Any doubt you have will show up in your communication to others. Root it out. Once your mind is set, start getting agreement from others about what you want. Say it is true. Explain how it can be true. Remind yourself and others daily that it is true. Spread the word about it. If you are going for a promotion, start acting as though you already have that position. Yes, you should use some caution on this that you don’t step on any toes. The most important part is the mental step of internal certainty. If you can follow this with a skillful use of communication to get others to subtly see you as already in possession of what you want, you are home free.

To sum it up, influence starts with you and your mental state. How much do you like others? Can you listen to them? Can you understand other viewpoints? Can you make up your own mind that you will achieve something? If so, you are well on your way to influencing others. Start close to home and you will find it easier and easier to expand your sphere of influence.