The DNA of My Leadership Heroes

Image

I’ve worked with some amazing leaders. Some I reported to, others I collaborated with and others I watched from afar. There are seven people represented below. These are the characteristics of theirs which I admire:

  1. She is genuine.
  2. She trusts her team to make decisions.
  3. Under fire, she is calm.
  4. He is flexible.
  5. They are confident.
  6. She’s crafty.
  7. He knows how to stretch his team without overwhelming them.
  8. He is fair. All employees are equal as far as his actions go.
  9. She’s a great presenter. If she says it, you’ll believe it.
  10. He cares about his team members’ professional development.
  11. He never lets himself get comfortable, and by default, he never lets his team get comfortable.
  12. Even when she doesn’t agree, she’s graceful.
  13. She shows a personal interest in the people she works with. If you’re sick at home, you can count on a visit.
  14. She pays attention to the details. All of them.
  15. He knows how to build consensus. Before it’s all said and done everyone thinks the plan is their idea – and it is.
  16. He uses competition to motivate the team.
  17. She believes in keeping everyone informed about what her team is doing.
  18. Her laugh comes easily.
  19. They are consistent.
  20. He embraces the unique personalities of each team member.
  21. They protect their teams.
  22. And this I can say of every single person who has ever hired me, from age 16 to now: They gave me a chance.

 I put this list together as a road map for and reminder of the type of leader I aim to be.

What’s the DNA of your leadership heroes?

How Would Your Employees Answer the Question: “How Was Work?”

Image

“If all the people leave the building there is no organization left in it. The organization is the people, their relationships, their motivations, their energies, their values, their aspirations or lack of them. It’s a living breathing thing. A successful organization is one that reciprocates with its environment and one that helps to enrich the environment upon which it depends. When that relationship is broken the organism dies.”  – Sir Ken Robinson

On a typical day, how do you think your employees would answer the question: “How was work?” Be honest. I think the answer would reveal some things about your company culture. Now…how do you WANT your employees to answer the question: “How was work? I think your response here would start a conversation about the type of culture you want.

 

What if we based our goals around company culture on that one question? You probably get asked this question on a regular basis. Perhaps even daily. It’s as routine as “How are you?” or “Good morning.” The answer can go either way depending on the situation. It could be good, bad, or neutral. A series of recent events led me to wonder about the prevalence of this question and about its relation to company culture. Below is one of the events that sparked these thoughts.

 

A Conversation with My Stepdad, Max.

“Hi Shida. I was calling to see how your first day at work was. Mine was FANTASTIC.” My stepdad left this message for me on the evening of October 28. We both started a new job on this same day. We were both excited about our new opportunities and spent the week before getting ready in our own way. For me, that meant getting my car fixed, doing some reading, and getting lots of rest. For him it meant getting his work-related supplies organized, getting a haircut and also getting rest. The night before our first day we checked in with each other. Coincidentally, we’d both signed up to arrive at 7:30 a.m. So by the 9 o’clock hour on the night before, we were preparing for sleep.

 

On the evening of October 28, he called to see how my first day was. His was FANTASTIC. And over the past couple of weeks we’ve continued the check-ins. It was pretty coincidental that we’d resigned around the same time, had some time off in between, and started on the same day. These events have made each of us a little more interested in the others situation. Others have been interested in my new adventures, too. During my first two weeks on the job, friends and fam called every day. The words they spoke were: “How was work today?” But the tone of their voices said: “Do you really like your new job? We really hope you do because we’d hate for you to have made a bad decision so…you like it for real?”

 

I’ve started new jobs before, and each time my loved ones focused on something different. This time around they have been really focused on my contentment – with the office environment, with my team and with the work. The last time around they were concerned about whether or not I could learn from the position. And rewind back to 2007, they were all just happy I’d found a J.O.B. Regardless of the situation though, their probing usually begins with a “How was work?”

 

Keep in mind that this is probably the case with many of your employees, too. So as you continuously muse on your workplace culture, consider that you might be able to cut your meetings on the topic in half by starting with the one question that touches just about everyone: HOW. WAS. WORK?” Once you figure out how you’d want your employees to answer that question you’re halfway there.

How Colin Powell Translated his Political Life into a Book of Leadership Lessons

Colin PowellI am not a political person. I get most of my political news from twitter, mixed in with conversations about #Catfish, #Scandal, #CommunityManagement and #shitblackgirlssay. I get a little more serious about politics on some Sunday mornings as I catch up by watching Meet the Press with Dick Gregory. What I don’t know, I learn there.

That being said, I was surprised when after browsing four aisles of books at the library, I stopped at Colin Powell’s book: “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” They had it propped up on a stand – something they do to market “featured books of the week.” It worked. I checked it out, and to my surprise, it wasn’t a book about politics. While he used many examples from his military and White House days, this is simply a book from a man sharing lessons he learned on the job over the years. There were many great examples and stories in the book – here are a handful that stayed with me:

Get Mad, then Get Over It.

Getting mad makes you human. Get mad, if it’s appropriate communicate that anger in a respectful way, then get over it. Blowing up and holding grudges will get you nowhere.

 

Avoid Having Your Ego So Close to Your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It.

Sometimes we believe in an idea so much that when we fail to sell it, we take it personally. Hey, you win some and you lose some. If you lose one, that doesn’t make you a loser, it just means this time around your idea wasn’t the winner. Back to rule #1 – get mad, then get over it.

Check Small Things.

“Success ultimately rests on small things, lots of small things. Leaders have to have a feel for small things – a feel for what is going on in the depths of an organization where small things reside. The more senior you become, the more you are insulated by pomp and staff, and the harder and more necessary it becomes to know what is going on six floors down.” Walk around, talk to people, make them comfortable, and stay connected.

Share Credit.

“When something goes well, make sure you share the credit down and around the whole organization. Let employees believe they were the ones who did it. They were. Send out awards, phone calls, notes, letters, pats on the back, smiles, promotions – anything to spread the credit. People need recognition and sense of worth as much as they need food and water.” And if the shit hits the fan it’s your fault, not theirs. You are responsible. Figure out how it happened, fix it, and keep things moving.

Busy Bastards

The “Busy Bastards” – as Colin calls them, are people who create work for the sake of creating work, just to appear busy. You’ve seen them: they never leave the office. They come in on weekends. They come in at the crack of dawn and start flinging emails left and right. And if they manage a team, they alter everyone else’s schedule and work pattern because people are trying to work on their time. “I pay my employees for the quality of their work not the quantity,” says Colin. He expects his staff to work normal hours and get home at a decent time. He wants them to have a life outside the office. This is an interesting topic that can trigger lots and lots of conversation and sentiments because people and leaders have different ideas about it. I don’t know where you stand, but I’m with Colin on this one.

Potential Matters Too, Not Just Performance.

“Past performance alone does not adequately predict someone’s future performance…The leader must understand his subordinates, an imperative that includes identifying, training, watching, mentoring, encouraging, and evaluating the next generation of an organization’s leaders.”

Never Walk Past a Mistake.

Just because you act like something didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it disappears. Colin encourages us to call out mistakes immediately and make on-the-spot-corrections. This not only shows attention to detail and reinforces standards, it also encourages others to have the moral courage to speak out when they see something wrong happening.

Tell Me What You Know , and Tell Me Early

When things go wrong, the first instinct is often to hurry up and fix it. Once it’s fixed you can either share the news with your organization’s leaders and tell them to fret not because it has been handled. Or, you can keep mum. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Colin says, “Wrong.” He advised his staff to follow the following outline when delivering news:

  • Tell me what you know
  • Tell me what you don’t know
  • Then tell me what you think
  • Always distinguish which from which

And don’t wait to share bad news – share it immediately so everyone can come together on determining a solution.

The Indispensible Person

“I have run into too many people in public life who think they turn the sun on each morning. If not for them there would be no light and heat.” He said a mouthful right there. The bottom line is, the person who you think is indispensible, because without them nothing can be done, may actually be holding your team back. With them jumping up to do everything, others on the team start to fall back/slack off. Do what you will with that piece of information.

 Be Gone.

“When you’re done pumping, let go of the handle.” Many people retire or leave a company for other opportunities but refuse to let go. Whether it be through honorary, emeritus or similar positions, or by holding on to relationships with people at the former organization for the sake of staying in the loop, they find ways to stay connected. Once you leave a company you have no loop to stay in, and you should let go. Don’t let go of the meaningful friendships and relationships you developed, but do let go of the ones you hold on to for the sake of still being involved.

Many leadership books talk about leadership in general. Colin’s book on leadership kept me engaged because he tells real life stories from out in the battlefield, from boot camp, from our White House – stories that put you right there in the moment with him, and show examples of how the lessons he’s sharing played out in real life. Reading through his examples made me think about how his lessons can also play out in my real life.

#incapableoflivinginthemoment

Bride

When Conan O’Brien told people watching the 2013 White House Correspondent’s Dinner from home to live-tweet the event using hashtag: #incapableoflivinginthemoment, it stung.

 

It stung because I was at home, live-tweeting the event. Nonetheless, I thought his directive was a good one, and used the long hashtag every chance I got. The next day, I pulled up snippets of the #WHCD on YouTube for a friend to watch. I got a chance to catch the jokes and moments I’d missed because, you know, I was live-tweeting.

 

It’s true. Social media and the Internet have taken over our lives. I too am guilty of being Internet-dependent. But I make myself feel better about my Internet addiction by taking 1-3 day technology-free sabbaticals here and there and putting my gadgets away or face down during dinner (my dinner mates rarely reciprocate the gesture). And I guess because I’m not exactly a digital native – I grew up using typewriters, word processors and pagers – I am still appalled at some people’s inability to disconnect no matter what.

 

This vent isn’t random. Here’s my story.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a wedding.

 

The last wedding I attended prior to this took place before social media took over our lives. To sum my experience up I’ll say: “Things ain’t what they used to be, no.” I used to live for weddings. I’d come ready to cry, laugh and celebrate. Some were weddings of close friends and family, some were friends of friends of friends who I barely knew. It didn’t matter. I loved them all equally. I was always touched by the happiness and emotion present at these events. People arrived early for a prime seat – right on the aisle – so they could see the bride walk to the altar. The bride and groom had that happy look in their eyes. When it was over, we’d tell (not tweet) our friends and family who weren’t there all about it. Today, it’s a different story. While I’m sure that all weddings are not created equal, until I attend another one to prove me wrong, I’ll stick to my theory that even at an event as special as a wedding, we are #incapableoflivinginthemoment.  

 

At this wedding, the first sightings of the picture and videos devices happened as the bride and bridal party came down the aisle. People wanted to capture the moment. That was pretty normal.

 

The second sighting happened during the ceremony. One of the groomsmen decided to capture a video of the event unfolding before him because…I guess the videographer and photographers who were paid to document the event wouldn’t produce a good enough videos and images. Since he did it, others in the bridal party figured they could, too. I’m not sure where the ladies had stored their devices, but soon there were videos being recorded by both bridesmaids and groomsmen, while the pastor did his thing. They held their gadgets up through the end of the ceremony.

 

During the vows, the groom referenced to Twitter. It was cute. “Thank God this isn’t Twitter,” he said. “Because 140 characters would not be enough for me to explain how much I love you.” I was cute, and as a twitter-head I totally understood the essence of what he meant. But the old woman inside of me cringed a little. The youngsters laughed, but no one else got it.  

 

Then there was the reception, and the selfies that came with it. As the bride and groom worked the room, thanking everyone for attending, people clamored for a chance at a made-for-Instagram shot with them.

 

No one seemed to care. It all seemed normal. But as someone who is constantly thinking about the effect of technology on human interaction, it didn’t seem normal to me.

 

You can’t change what’s already happened. Technology will forever be a part of everything we do. People expect it, want it, and are disappointed if you don’t include technology into every process and experience.

 

It is what it is, yet still I vent.

 

And to be perfectly honest, I participate in this movement all the time. I participated at the wedding, too. I might not have whipped my phone out to record the wedding procession, but before I left the church I was dead set on blogging about it. Instead of getting lost in the moment of the wedding, I was crafting paragraphs in my mind, proving yet again, that we are all for the most part – #incapableoflivinginthemoment.

Staying in the Loop of Informal Office Chatter

Image

For many years I watched no TV at all. On top of that, I had (and still have) no interest in sports.

By the time I entered college, the Internet – my new-found friend – gave me no time for TV.

This went on for about six years, until I realized that those who watch limited amounts of television and have no interest in sports get left out of about 70% of workplace conversations. One of my Twitter friends says sports accounts for 60% of the conversation at his office. Depending on your workplace, these percentages do shift, but you have to admit that in most workplaces, sports, TV and movies (and the weather) rule the water cooler talk and the chatter before meetings. If you’re not interested in sports or TV, you’re just not interested, and I don’t believe in feigning interest. But there are ways to participate in these conversations even if from the sidelines. After all, you don’t want to be the one who never has anything to contribute to the conversation.

When it comes to staying in the loop, these resources are your BFFs:

  1. Google is your friend. Even if you’re not a sports junkie, you can at least find out which teams make it to the Super Bowl. Or where the Olympics are taking place. Or which sister duo has been rocking the tennis world for years. This type of information comes in handy for general conversation and can save you from embarrassment. When Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl in 2000, I thought the game was here because the Falcons were in it. I didn’t find out they weren’t in the game until I asked this guy I kinda liked: “Are you rooting for the Falcons or for the other team?” Google could have saved me from that.
  2. Twitter is your friend. If you don’t even know what to google, how can you google it, right? If you don’t even know where to begin, Twitter is a great place to start. Go there to quickly get caught up with what’s going on. By scrolling through tweets you get a quick update on political happenings, sports, and general pop culture. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they get at least some of their news online, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. And out of all the social media sites, Twitter’s users are known for sharing the fastest, most real-time information.
  3. National Public Radio is your friend. I’m not sure exactly when I started listening to NPR, but I’m sure it was one morning as I sat in traffic, bored with the talk, music and commercials of the radio stations programmed on my dials. I didn’t want to hear another raunchy song, or about which celeb was doing what, or who to call if I got into an accident. So I landed on NPR and have been a fan ever since. When I listen to my local NPR station (WABE in Atlanta! – 90.1 on the dial!) I feel smarter and have more to contribute to conversations. From quirky pop culture, to pressing political news, to stories from everyday people just like me, there’s something for everyone, and you would be doing yourself a favor tuning in sometimes. 
  4. Young folks are your friends. When I say young I mean 25 and younger. For you, younger might be a different age bracket. But whatever “young” is to you, find those people and talk to them. There’s always something to learn.

Everyone wants to “stay in the loop.” Whether it’s staying in the loop about a project or an upcoming change, no one likes to be left out. The same goes for the conversations we consider to be non-business. After all, the more connected we are, the easier it is for us to do business with each other, and the personal connections often start with the casual stuff. Your interests do not have to mirror everyone else’s (how boring would that be?) but find ways to participate as much as possible. Even if you find yourself on the sidelines of some conversations, at least you’re there, which makes it easier for you to jump into the game when an opening appears.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Nudge: How She Helped Revive an Old Debate

LeanInSheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was released on March 11. That was two months ago, but somehow I feel years behind the Lean In conversation, because since its release, masses of people have weighed in online, in print and on broadcast about what this book means and how they feel about it.

When the book dropped, I enjoyed the debates from afar. Some women thought Sandberg’s account was candid and relatable; others thought she was on another planet, that they could never relate to her because she has millions and they do not.

When a group of women at work planned a Lean In book discussion, I found my way to Amazon.com and purchased a copy. I picked the book up expecting not to see myself in Sandberg’s account, because after all, I don’t have millions either. But that was not the case. By the end of it I was thinking, “Way to go Sheryl, for reigniting an old conversation.”

There were no “Aha” moments here; most of what she writes are things we’ve heard before. But what she did was nudge us to pick this conversation up again, and keep it going. This simple book, which recounts one woman’s experience as a mother who works outside the home, was to me what the gung-ho trainer is to the tired athlete. “You’re tired? Lean in! You’re frustrated? Lean in! You feel stuck? LEAN IN!!!” Lean in, because only quitters lean BACK.

It was by no means perfect. One of my critiques of the book is that she speeds through her career path as if it were boom boom boom. “I was in politics, then I jumped to this company and that company, then to Google and now I’m at Facebook.” It would have been great to read more about the path she took to get to where she is today. Also, with her being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I would have hoped to hear more about the challenges women in the techn industry face.

But her intent was to share her experience, give her thoughts on how women should strive for success in the workplace, and encourage both men and women to do better when it comes to equality in the workplace and equality in the home. And she backs much of her points up with facts – which was a plus. It was a cross between self-help and academic.

Sandberg’s intent was to start a conversation that would hopefully lead to results, and I believe she was successful. Every woman I know who read the book walked away with a to-do list. One said she would make a conscious effort to hire more women onto her team; she works in male-dominated industry. And although she didn’t think she would make it a requirement for her staff to do the same, she had committed to at least bringing it to their attention. Prior to reading the book, it was the norm for her to be the only female in the room, and because that is how it traditionally is in her field, she rarely questioned it.  But Sandberg’s nudge is making her think twice.  

It made me think twice too – about how I view myself, the gender stereotypes that I disagree with but sometimes help to perpetuate. But in addition to shifting my thoughts, it has also moved me to take some actions, too. 

My To-do list:

  • Learn how to do better sitting at the table. You are there for a reason. So instead of listening to the voice in your head that says you’re not competent, or that no one cares about what you have to say, you should remind yourself that you DO bring value.
  • Don’t quit before you quit. Don’t check out of a job because you THINK your future (family) will get in the way of your career and vice versa.
  • Choose the right partner. If you’re involved with someone who you KNOW is not supportive, who you KNOW would not make your life as a woman who works outside the house easier, don’t make that person a life partner. You will regret it if you do.
  • Find a mentor. And when you do, make it a meaningful experience for you both.  

That’s where my nudge took me – What did Sandberg nudge you to do?

Crucial Conversations: How Mastering Dialogue Can Change Your Life

crucial-conversation-1In 2012, I read three books that changed my life: Crucial Conversations, Sacred Spaces and Eat that Frog. These books deal with areas I’m continually working to improve: establishing peace and comfort in my home, getting organized in my work and improving my communication with others. These goals are not unique to me; almost everyone has one or more of these goals on their radar. With this in mind, I would like to share the lessons I walked away with after sitting with at least one of these books: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High.

We have crucial conversations every day – many of which we handle badly. These failed dialogues are ruining our relationships. By learning how to have effective dialogue, we can come to decisions that everyone agrees with and our ability to influence others increases.

The authors define a crucial conversation as a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. When we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things: We can avoid them, face them and handle them poorly, or face them and handle them well.

So what leads to the majority of the bad conversations we have?

We often hold things inside by going silent until we can take it no longer—and then we explode like a bomb. In short, we move between silence and violence—we either don’t handle the conversation at all, or we don’t handle it well. We may not become physically violent, but we do attack others’ ideas and feelings.  The authors cover tactics that will help us become skilled at dialogue when it matters the most. Here I will focus on two of the tactics.

  1. When going into a crucial conversation focus on what you really want. Beginning high-risk discussions with the right motives will keep you focused on your goal. No matter what direction the conversation goes in, you must ask (1) What do I really want for myself, (2) what do I really want for others?, and (3) what do I really want for the relationship. Once you’ve asked yourself what you want you must then ask: How would I behave if I really wanted these results. The next time you’re having a crucial conversation, instead of striving to look good, win an argument/discussion, or achieve some other unhealthy objective, keep your eye on the goal.
  2. Don’t tell stories. We’ve all done it. Someone acts, then we react – making assumptions along the way. “My coworker sets up private meetings with the boss to discuss projects we’re working on – I know she’s trying to outshine me and make me look bad.” “My boss doesn’t keep me informed about important information or about projects he’s working on. He obviously doesn’t value my opinion or contributions to the team.” “My spouse has been distant lately – she must be bored with the relationship.” When we become upset, our most common reaction is to defend ourselves and place the blame on someone else. As convenient as it is to blame others for pushing our buttons and causing us to become upset, it’s not exactly true. The key to how we feel lies in the stories we tell. These stories consist of our guess as to why people do what they do.

What we leave out of the story is our contribution to the situation – what did we do to help cause this problem, or what did we not do to help stop this problem? Those are the questions we have to ask ourselves.

The good news is I now try to interact with others with an end goal in mind: (1) What do I really want for myself, (2) what do I really want for others?, and (3) what do I really want for the relationship. The bad  news, though, is I now recognize stories that me and others tell and because of that, conversations just aren’t the same.