Do You Ask or Tell?

I was asked to observe a leadership team meeting to watch the dynamics and provide some insights as to why a number of people on the team did not actively get involved in the meetings.  As I watched from the back of the room I noticed that the CEO had a very unique approach in the way that he led the meeting.  

Once his direct report shared their weekly update, he would quickly tell them what they should do.  Rather than asking his people for their perspective, he fell into the old school pattern of a traditional leader that just sprays their people with information.  The impact on the meeting was very apparent. Because of this approach the message he was sending to his staff (very senior leaders I may add), was that they did not have the capability to address issues or challenges within their department.

It makes me think about how often we tell when we should be asking.  If you think back to the leaders that you may have had over your career the inspiring ones are the ones that often had an ability to engage you in conversation.  Often they would start by asking you a question that would get you to think a bit deeper, sometimes even stretching the way you think. But they did it in a way that inspired you.  

When leaders just tell their people what to do it often devalues their knowledge, skills, and experience.  Sometimes being told what to do also feels like a bit of interrogation, further disengaging people.

So remember the next time you are talking with your people think about how to start the conversation.  Start with an ‘Ask’ or a question to get them involved and draw out their ideas and then further enhance their response with your expertise to let them know you are there to support them.  If we had more leaders operating this way, I believe that team meetings would improve and the productivity and outcome of the meeting would definitely lift.  

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Do you have a Champion Team?

My over 35 soccer team played in the Grand Final. We were playing a team that had won almost every game and we had previously lost to them – twice. With most of us playing on this team for the past 5-8 years we all knew that we had the ability to lift our performance and win. The week before the match the number of messages on WhatsApp skyrocketed. There were plenty of excited comments, strategy recommendations, and a few jokes. Even before we stepped onto the soccer field I could feel the support from the team.

It made me think of a recent conversation I had with a Leader that was having issues with their staff at work. “They just don’t work together as a team, they seem to do their own thing” was his comment. This is a common challenge that many organisations make. A Leader labels their department a “team” but does not do anything to create a positive team culture.

When I asked what activities the Leader was doing to encourage a sense of support and camaraderie, he responded that they did not have time to do anything because their workloads were too busy. And this is the problem.

There are 8 key characteristics to every high performing team (my Masters Thesis was on why most teams fail expanding on Larson & LaFasto’s Team Excellence Model). To create a successful team, a Leader needs to create shared experiences that enable the following to occur:

Clear Elevating Goal: One of the most important characteristics is a clear, elevating goal that 1) challenges the individuals and the team and 2) has a sense of urgency due to the performance objective to be accomplished.

Results Driven Structure: Clear channels of communication, monitoring and providing feedback to individual performance, fact-based judgments and clear roles and accountability for actions comprise a results-driven structure.  

Competent Team Members: The best-equipped people to accomplish a task are seen as being competent. These team members have the technical skills to achieve the desired goals as well as the ability to work effectively with others in their interpersonal interactions.

Unified Commitment: ‘Team Spirit’ is often the sense of enthusiasm or pride that is felt by team members that are committed to achieving a common goal. This includes complete involvement and a balance between individual differences and group unity.

Collaborative Climate: Creating a climate that inspires productivity and commitment to agreed-upon goals is necessary for an effective team to exist. This ‘trusting’ environment is described as having: 1) honesty, 2) openness, 3) consistency 4) respect.

Standards of Excellence: A standard consists of expectations to achieve a required level of performance. Standards represent the minimum level of performance needed for a team to accomplish a goal. This also includes the continuous improvement principle of adapting and change standards over time.

External Support & Recognition: This exists primarily if the team is given the resources needed to achieve their goal. Although it is not necessarily the determining factor of being successful, research has shown the lack of external support and recognition was a common reason why teams failed. This also acknowledges the need for the reward and incentive structure to be viewed as appropriate and fair by the team members.

Principled Leadership: It is readily understood that effective teams have effective leaders. For this to happen within teams, the following 3 things occur: 1) the team members know what to expect from the team, 2) it is understood what the team leader should expect from team members and 3) leadership principles that establish a supportive decision-making process that encourages team members to contribute.

When a leader is aware of these 8 key team characteristics they can build a true team culture that creates incredible results.  

And for those of you that wanted to know…..we ran our hearts out at the Soccer Grand Final and worked together, ending with a win of 1-0. Yes, I am a Grand Final Champion on a great TEAM!  

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Why You Need to Be at Fathers Day Breakfast

My daughter is in her last year of high school.  Last week as I was about to step out the door to go to a client meeting and she asked, “Can you make Father’s Day breakfast at school?  It will be my last one.” Of course, she said it with a smile that let me know she really wanted me to be there.

Like many schools, the students help to prepare breakfast for Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day).  The challenge was that I had already booked a series of meetings interstate leaving on Wednesday and returning on Friday night.  The thoughts raced through my mind, what should I do? On one hand, I had made commitments to work and on the other, it would be the last time my daughter and I would be able to share this experience.  

So I changed my plans.  I rearranged the meetings and switched my flight to get back late Thursday evening.  It did cost me a little more and I had to work a bit harder to reorganise, but it was definitely worth it.

As I stood next to my older daughter and my younger daughter I noticed them smiling proudly as their friends and their fathers walked by (of course my younger daughter was stepping away and joking around with her friends, but she would keep coming back to me).  We ate the bacon and egg rolls together and talked about the last school assignments and about the tours we have planned at a few Universities this weekend. And the hug that I gave both of them at the end was just a little bit longer, letting them know that I loved them.

Now I am not perfect and I have missed my share of Father’s Days breakfasts at school, but this was one I am glad that I made the extra effort to spend time together in this little ritual that will provide memories for them in years to come. In fact, I think we need to make time to share more experiences with the ones that we love. We need more family rituals that create a common touchpoint or experience that let them know that we care.  After all, in the years to come what will you be thankful you did? Attend another meeting or having taken the time to be with your kids?

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Where Are Your Priorities?

Our soccer team made it into the Semi-finals, which is so exciting.  I have played with the same group of players for the past 8 years and this is the goal that we have had from the beginning to become Grand Champions.

I had a busy week out of Sydney and after arriving home around 9.30pm,  I was excited to spend some time with the family. Then it happened. As we were talking, my wife let me know that my daughter had her year 12 HSC Chinese Exam and also it was the Open day for Macquarie University the next day.  The challenge became who would be able to drive her throughout the day the 90 minutes each way between these two events.  

My wife is a dancer and choreographer who had a massive rehearsal that involved over 100 people that she was madly working on getting ready before opening night.  This meant she really couldn’t be there. So I had to re-examine my priorities. I really wanted to play in the soccer semi-final, but I knew that this was an important moment in my eldest daughters life and she needed someone there to support her.  

After trying to look at multiple creative options the writing was on the wall.  I said that I would miss my semi-final match. When I shifted my priorities something inside changed.  At first, I was a bit upset, but then I started to look forward to spending this one on one time with her as she starts thinking about where she is going to study for the next 3-4 years of her life.

Sometimes I think we get so busy that we forget what is important and we mix up our order of what is important in the ‘big picture’.  This can be at work or it can be at home. Oh, and by the way, my team won the semi-final and I am now playing in the Grand Final tomorrow morning!  Funny how things seem to work out the way they’re supposed to.

If you are looking for strategies to help you focus and get more things done so you have time for the important things, pick up a copy of my latest book. Leadership Hacks:  Clever shortcuts to boost your impact and results. 

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Leaders Need to Mobilise People

This week has seen the final of the Australian Future of Leadership series for 2019 finish in Melbourne with my last presentation on Why Leaders Need to Delegate (and how most stuff it up!)

During the break, a senior level leader was buying a copy of my book and started a conversation about the different generations.  She had heard my talk about how many leaders complain about the younger generation and how they think and operate differently. She mentioned, “When I grew up we were taught that if we had a job we should be thankful and do whatever we could to be a good employee, but younger staff just don’t seem to have this same belief system.”  

I have to agree that many of the younger generations think differently, however part of that is because they have grown up in a world that is constantly connected 24/7 with access to all things on the planet at once (pretty amazing and daunting at the same time!)  I believe that one of the critical tasks of a leader, regardless of the age of their staff is to mobilize their people.

How do you mobilize your people?

I think that today’s leaders need to get their people active and engaged. There are 3 key steps to make this happen:  

1) Share the vision with your people 

2) Ask for their insights and how they can help implement the vision

3) Involve them in specific projects that help them know that they are making a difference and making progress toward the vision.  

Although these may seem simple, they are often the steps that many leaders miss when they want to start a movement (for a detailed step by step guide check out chapter 7 Team Mobilisation).

If you are looking for strategies to help you mobilize staff, pick up a copy of my latest book. Leadership Hacks:  Clever shortcuts to boost your impact and results. It is the smart leader’s guide to getting more done in less time.

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