Leading from the middle isn’t easy. To do it well, you must be able to manage up, down and sideways, juggling the demands of your boss, the needs of your direct reports, and the collaboration desired by your peers. You need to understand the company vision and strategy while at the same time be able to manage the details of your department. You must handle the pressure of needing to be all things to all people and balance the competing priorities within the organization.
The key to succeeding in a middle management role is to stay focused, communicate often, and don’t take things personally. You can make a significant difference in your organization by figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of the company structure to get things done. And when you lead well from the middle, you’re not likely to stay in the middle for long. Here are some tips.
Communication is Critical
In most organizations, communication has a trickle-down effect and the ‘why’ gets diluted the further it gets from the top. Do not let this happen to you. Great middle managers know how to ask for information and then distill it down to actionable tasks that his or her team can execute. Make sure you are on the same page as your boss, ask for advice when appropriate, and talk to your team as often as possible.
Great managers are honest and direct in their communication. Both your manager and your employees should always know where you stand. To give feedback effectively be clear, be positive, focus on the behavior rather than the person, be specific, and make it a two-way conversation.
Giving feedback is hard to do and great managers take it like a champ, making it as easy as possible on those who are forward with constructive criticism. Show your willingness to take feedback by listening closely to what’s being said. Ask clarifying questions and refrain from making excuses or getting defensive. Say thank you and then take action to show that you heard and valued the feedback.
Middle managers must be able to handle stress, uncertainty, and setbacks with grace as shifting priorities and miss-communication can put them in difficult situations. Don’t take setbacks personally...they are part of the job. Treat every problem as part of your learning process, don’t over dramatize the issue, find a positive outcome, and then move on.
Stop talking and start listening. To be a great middle manager, you need to understand what your boss, your employees, and your customers are truly saying so you can make better decisions. There are nuisances in every conversation and if you catch them, you’ll be better able to navigate office politics. Pay attention to your employees’ feedback and suggestions; act to show that you can effectively solve problems.
As management guru and author Kenneth Blanchard said, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." To get things done, you must be able to influence those around you. While being a manager gives you a certain amount of influence, you can be more effective if you take the time to build trust and prove that you want to help others succeed. To cultivate influence, learn about others’ working styles, goals, and priorities, be personable, and listen mindfully. Get out of your office and engage.
Great middle managers know that they must work well with their peers to break down silos and get big projects done. Forging ties with management peers enhances individual success and improves the company’s bottom line. Seek out opportunities to connect with your peers, bridge gaps between departments by being helpful, share information and follow up often.
Do Your Work with Integrity
Effective leadership is all about getting results the right way. Do your work with impeccable integrity and intention. Don’t cut corners, cheat, violate values, or step on others to get the job done. If you make a mistake, take ownership of it. People who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable.
More than ever, great managers are needed at every level of an organization. Be bold and accept the challenge of middle management. You’ll emerge a far better leader and you’ll create new opportunities to stretch yourself and your team.
As always, thank you for reading! I welcome and encourage likes, shares, and comments.
There are many attributes and qualities that can be assigned to good managers such as being a decent listener, accountable, organized, motivating, honest, and having a positive outlook on life. While these are all important, they are the minimum requirements of good management.
So what makes a manager GREAT?
In developing my own managerial skills and helping others to do the same, I have found that accomplishing these six things will help a good manager become a GREAT manager.
1. Connect Through Regular One-on-One Meetings
The best way to build strong relationships is to have regular one-on-one meetings with each team member. Most people want to share certain aspects of their lives and appreciate when their boss takes the time to get to know them better, especially when it comes to personal and career aspirations. Use these one-on-one meetings to ask good questions, discuss professional development and performance, solve problems, and review priorities and projects. Effective one-on-one meetings will result in more effective relationships.
2. Right Seat on the Bus
It’s not enough to have talent on your team; your employees must be in the right seat on the bus to do fantastic work. Great managers recognize their employees will be at their best when their talents and strengths are in alignment with their roles. It takes time to gain meaningful insights to what makes your employees tick, but doing so will help you create, tweak, or change roles to help them do what they are best at every day. This will result in happier, more productive and engaged team members who enjoy their work.
3. Continuous Improvement
There are many ways to make an organization better and great managers are committed to always improving. They understand that the intentional pursuit of honing processes, teamwork, goal-setting, cultural issues, communication, collaboration, and quality and content of work product will reduce obstacles that frustrate employees and in turn, make the organization stronger.
4. Good Decision-Making
Leaders who make good decisions and who empower their teams to do the same are highly regarded in most organizations. Good decision-making builds trust and credibility and creates success. While your team might not always agree with your decisions, it’s hard to argue when they turn out to be good ones. Improve your decision-making skills by slowing down, listening more, and considering all possibilities. Ask questions and obtain as much input as possible. Recognize that you (and everyone else) are full of biases that cloud your judgment. The more you expose your biases, the better decisions you will make. Read my blog on bias here for more insight on better decision making.
5.Rally Teams Around the Bigger Picture by Tying it to the Daily Picture
A job is just a job (aka a paycheck) when you can’t see how it’s tied to the bigger picture. Great managers understand that most of us want to be part of something greater than ourselves and tap into that motivation by ensuring every employee understands and cares about the company strategy and vision for the future. The key is tying strategy to the work a person does each day including well thought out and communicated departmental plans, KPIs, work prioritization, and individual goals. Be transparent, talk about and get feedback on the vision and strategy often, engage more than just the usual suspects in vision and goal development, and celebrate small and big wins often. The more connected your team is to the bigger picture, the greater chance for success.
6. Radically Candid
I saved the most important for last; if you must pick only one of these points to work on, improving how you give feedback should be at the top of the list. Great managers are always candid and address performance issues directly and timely. They show they care by being honest, compassionate, and holding their team accountable to high standards. They never take the easy way out by putting off tough conversations, sugar coating bad news, or letting their desire to be liked to get in the way. They understand that every person on their team deserves to know how they are performing, what they need to do to improve, and how they are perceived within the organization. You cannot be a great boss if you are not giving regular, candid feedback. Repeat this mantra over and over. If you want to get better at giving feedback, I highly recommend reading “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” by Kim Scott. It’s a game changer.
Mastering these six points will not only help you become a better manager, but more importantly, will help you develop good employees into great ones. And that’s the legacy all rock star managers should want to leave behind.
Thanks for reading. As always, comments, like and shares are appreciated so please do so if you are inclined.
Deflection: How to NOT Shrug off Responsibility and Pin Poor Performance and Decision Making on Someone Else
Accountability is the cornerstone of authentic and inspirational leadership. True accountability means you understand and accept that you and only you are responsible for your attitude, actions, decisions, communication, and health of your relationships. It’s hard work, requiring vulnerability, humility, integrity, and a willingness to put your ego aside. It’s uncommon to find this kind of accountability; for some reason these qualities are labeled as signs of weakness. I believe they are just the opposite.
Rather than hold oneself truly accountable, many people use deflection to shrug off responsibility and pin poor performance and decision making on someone or something else.
Deflection may sound something like this:
We shouldn’t tolerate this type of behavior from ourselves and from those around us.
So how do you stop yourself from being a deflector?
It starts with awareness. Think back on the times you were given tough feedback. Did you own it or did you blame someone or something else? Did you say thank you for the feedback or did you minimize your role in the situation? Be honest; you can’t make changes unless you embrace the hard truths about yourself. It may seem like silly advice but the only way to be accountable is to start being accountable. The only way to stop deflecting is to stop deflecting. When you hear yourself saying things like, “yeah, but” or “you always do XYZ” or “it’s not my fault” stop immediately and instead say, “I was just about to deflect blame and I don’t want to do that. Thank you for this feedback.” Then listen.
Next, take ownership and focus on the things you can control. Sure, there could be many reasons why something happened; it’s natural to want to look for causes outside of yourself, but the only way to improve a situation is to own your part. Don’t let yourself off the hook. And really, if everything is everyone else’s fault, then what part do you play in your own life? Do your actions not have any consequences? Are you truly powerless over the decisions you make and the outcomes that are a result of your decisions? I didn’t think so.
Now it’s time to create a new habit; an accountability habit. Ask someone to call you out when you start to deflect. Look for opportunities to take more ownership when things aren’t going perfectly. Pay attention to what triggers your “blame something else” mechanism so you can gain more insight around when you start to deflect. Apologize when you slip up and blame someone else.
Now how do you deal with a person who deflects all the time?
When dealing with deflection in the moment, the best technique I have found is to bring the focus back to the person by saying something like this:
Handling deflections in such a way does two things; first, it acknowledges that there are extenuating circumstances to every situation which may deserve digging into and second, it shifts the conversation towards accountability which is where solutions can be derived.
I also suggest giving honest and direct feedback. The deflector may not realize how often he or she does it and with a little coaching, could change the habit. Have a few concrete examples prepared and say something like this, “I want to share some feedback with you, if that’s okay. I’ve noticed that anytime we discuss the issues with this project, you shift the blame to someone else. For example, when you say things like “this project was handed to make like this” or “I wasn’t part of the team when that happened’ it makes you sound unaccountable and undermines your credibility as a leader and team player. I know that this is not how you want to be perceived so that’s why I wanted to bring it up. Were you aware that you’ve been doing this? Is there something going on that you want to get off your chest?” Show you care by courageously giving feedback.
Sometimes though, it may be best to ignore the “blame game” and focus on finding a solution. While shifting gears without addressing the deflection doesn’t solve the issue, it can be more productive than getting the other person to accept responsibility. There are times when you just need to move past the “what happened and who did it” phase to the “how are we going to fix it” phase. But even in those times where giving feedback in the moment doesn’t make sense, I always recommend circling back and having the conversation. No one can improve without candid feedback and we shouldn’t be fearful of giving it in a kind and helpful way.
My only other advice is to not take things the blamer says personally and don’t get defensive; I know dealing with deflectors can be frustrating but remember, their blaming isn’t about you, even if it feels like it. I also suggest trying to limit your interaction; habitual blaming can be a form of narcissism and most narcissists (at least the ones I know) have no interest in changing because they don’t think they are doing anything wrong.
There is nothing more honorable than accepting responsibility for your actions and decisions. Don’t be afraid to admit your role in tough situations. Show gratitude and compassion when others admit their own faults, too. We should encourage and applaud each other when we show up with sincere, honest accountability.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from American writer Ralph Marston:
Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you.
Thank you for reading. Please share, like and comment if you are so inclined. Click here to sign up to receive my blogs in your inbox.
I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago today and I believe it's even more prevalent now than it was back then, so I am sharing it again. In a country and world as polarized as ours, and with leaders who seem to think this is a good thing, it would behoove us all to stop and question why we, too, think separation is really the answer. This dramatic change...transformation really...starts by each of us questioning our own thoughts and belief systems with the understanding that there is validity to all view points, even those we may vehemently disagree with. The only thing that is for sure is that there is no such thing as THE right way or THE truth. I hope this piece allows you to pause and see your thoughts from another perspective.
Have you ever stopped to question your thoughts? Where did this thought come from? Why do I think this way? Is this thought even true? It’s a pretty powerful moment when you wake up and realize that the way you think might not be the truth. In fact, it’s probably not THE truth.
Here is a perspective…as you read any one of my posts, you are having thoughts about it. You love it, it resonates with you, and you can grab hold of something from a post and take action right now! Those thoughts are based on your experiences, your preferences, your judgments, your emotions, and most likely your feelings and/or perceptions about me as a person/leader (whether those perceptions are true or not).
Someone else reading my post is having a completely different experience. She hates it, thinks I am writing nonsense, and can’t find anything in any post worth trying to implement. She thinks I'm just a "fill-in-the-blank" insult.
Both experiences feel like the truth to each person, but who's truth is right? The answer is neither and both.
We live in an age where we tell ourselves that being RIGHT is worth fighting, even killing for and where tolerance, acceptance, compromise, and admitting that you are wrong are signs of weakness. But here’s the kicker: WE ARE NEVER RIGHT BECAUSE THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY. There are 7(ish) billion people on this Earth which means there are 7(ish) billion different ways to think about everything there is to be thought about. That’s mind blowing! So if there are 7(ish) billion different ways to think about the thought you just had, how can you be so sure that yours is the truth?
Questioning your thoughts is extremely powerful. Yes, it can create discomfort, especially when you challenge your own belief systems (you can read why I think discomfort is a good thing here) but it is also eye opening and life changing. Not believing that your thoughts are true…that your way is the only way…can lead you to new perspectives, new ways of thinking, to stretch yourself, and most importantly as a leader…to making better decisions. Not believing everything you think allows you to make room for other people’s ideas and solutions. It cultivates tolerance, acceptance, and compromise. It helps you be a better person, parent, and leader.
Here are some questions I ask myself when I am feeling passionate (ok, defensive) about the way I think or feel about something or when I am being judgmental about a person or a situation. Sometimes I can detach from my thoughts and sometimes I can’t, but this process always helps me put things into perspective and helps me be more open and compassionate.
Why do I believe this? Why are my feelings so strong?
What if I believed something different? What would change?
What story am I telling myself about this person or situation? How do I know that story is true? What other stories could also be true?
What assumptions am I making?
What would happen if I just let this thought/feeling go and it never crossed my mind again?
Is this how I really feel or is my ego getting in the way?
Why am I being judgmental?
Most of us can agree that the world would be a better place if we weren’t always arguing, judging, defending, and warring. If we want to change this about our world, we must change it within ourselves first.
Thank you for reading today. Please leave comments or share if you are so inclined. To check out more of my blogs, please go to my home page and scroll down to the bottom.
We all know that trust is the key to any successful relationship. There are many ways to build trust but I believe one of the most impactful ways is to be transparent. If you aren’t transparent, it will be much more difficult to create the kind of long lasting relationships you desire.
While transparency is important in all relationships, it’s the cornerstone of businesses who want to create a culture of happiness, engagement, high performance, and mutual respect. Employees in any organization have a deep desire to know what’s going on and why. They want to give input and be heard. They don’t want to be scared of the future and scared of change. But the only way to reduce fear and motivate them to be their best is to be transparent.
What is transparency in business? One business dictionary defines it as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”
Simple enough concept to understand but how do you do it? Here are some ways to be more transparent as a leader, manager, and company:
Have a True Open Door Policy
It’s easy to say you have an open door but if you don’t have anyone walking into your office to ask hard questions, give you feedback, discuss strategy, or share concerns, your open door policy isn’t working. It’s difficult for employees to bring up issues so you have to do everything you can to make them feel comfortable doing so. Never get defensive, listen closely, ask questions, take action, follow up, and always say THANK YOU!!!! If your employees aren’t proactively coming to you, invite them in to talk. Ask easy questions at first. Say things like, “I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who aren’t speaking up about some of the issues we have here. I really need some insight so I can make things better. Can you tell me what you see?” You will probably get a softened truth as the person feels you out but this is how you start to build better relationships with your employees. If you handle yourself appropriately, take action, and be consistent, you will start to see people taking advantage of your open door policy and your organization becoming more transparent.
Get Out of Your Office
Don’t expect everyone to come to your office; take your open door policy to them. Walk around the facility and talk to employees…even those who report to other managers. Ask questions about their work, the issues they face, what they need in order to do their jobs better. Give them updates on what’s going on in your department. Share a customer story. Tell them about an issue you are dealing with and ask for their opinions. Even better, ask people to go for a walk. There is something magical about walking meetings and it’s a great way to share and learn information without the pressure of sitting in a cramped office, loud cubicle or cold conference room.
Talk (Truthfully) to Your Employees Often
At StoneAge, I hold regular Town Hall meetings to encourage questions and give my employees deeper organizational insight. A different department is scheduled each month. Every person within that department submits anonymous questions ahead of time and I answer them candidly during the meeting. Nothing is off limits. We also hold monthly company meetings where we share all major issues and wins. If a mistake is made, we publically talk about it. If we aren’t performing, we talk about it. We share financial information, give strategic updates, talk about changes we are going through, and initiatives we are planning. We are clear when something is confidential and must be kept that way; we show our employees that we trust them to use good judgement with the information provided. And we always answer questions from the floor.
Seek Organizational Feedback
There are lots of informal ways to get feedback from across the organization. All managers should be working with their teams to understand what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Whether it be one-on-one or in team meetings, you should always be asking for organizational feedback. I also recommend doing a formal, anonymous survey of employees. We recently did one at StoneAge and it was incredibly helpful. Sure, some of the feedback was painful but we were able to put together an action plan that addressed the issues brought up and our employees we incredibly grateful we asked their opinions.
Be Honest About Why People Leave
There is nothing that clouds transparency faster than misleading your employees about why someone is leaving the company. I have learned this lesson the hard way. There is a fine balance between protecting the privacy of a terminated or quitting employee and telling your employees the truth. Honesty is always the best policy. Assume they will find out the truth anyway. Plus, if you don’t tell the truth, they will make up their own stories about what happened…stories that are most likely far worse than what really went down. It may be hard for some employees to hear the truth but at least they know you are being honest and you reduce the chance that they will live in fear of “I am next.”
The only way to be transparent is to be vulnerable. Humans need to connect on a deeper level to build solid, high functioning relationships. It’s hard to connect with someone who you know very little about. I’m not saying you need to disclose your deepest, darkest fears but be willing to share some of yourself and always admit when you don’t have the answer or when you screw up. The better people know you, the more transparent you will be perceived to be.
To build a high performing organization, transparency is essential. It takes time to build trust so take it slow and be authentic. Be honest about your efforts to be more transparent. Ask your employees for feedback and to make a commitment to be more transparent themselves. Be forthright with information, keep your promises, and always tell the truth. It’s a worthy endeavor as employees who feel like they are in the loop and can voice their opinions are much more likely to be engaged, happy, and productive.
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments, likes and shares. To receive my blog in your inbox, click here.
Candidness is such a rarity today; maybe it always has been. We say we want it but tend to become defensive when we get it. Fear of negative reactions, conflict, and hurt feelings cause us to not want to be candid. But without it, so much goes left unsaid leaving missed opportunities to see new perspectives, course correct, and improve.
What exactly is candidness? Merriam Webster Dictionary has a simple yet articulate definition: the free expression of one’s true feelings and opinions. Candidness is the quality of speaking with honesty, authenticity, and directness.
But in my (candid) opinion, what’s missing from these definitions is the fact that effective candor is a two way street. It not only involves expressing your true feelings and opinions, but also listening (and considering) what others are saying. It’s not about “just telling it like it is” and walking away. It’s about engaging in meaningful conversation or debate about topics that matter to those involved. Candor is a dialogue, not an opportunity to stand on one’s soap box pontificating, lecturing, or spewing hurtful opinions (think Donald Trump). When candor moves away from individual points of view, it opens the door to honest communication where you can explore meaningful, opposing, even uncomfortable, ideas and perspectives.
It’s simple…without direct, honest feedback, no one and no organization can improve. Smart ideas are left unexplored when people are too intimated to speak up and share their thoughts. Assumptions go unchallenged leading to poor decision making and failure to anticipate what might go wrong. A lack of straightforward communication affects every relationship and every organization. Candidness is essential to solving the problems we face on a day-to-day basis.
The Decision to be Candid is a Personal Choice
No one can make you be candid. It’s 100% up to you to decide whether or not you are going to engage in thoughtful, honest, mutually beneficial communication. Sure, some people make it easier to be candid than others, but ultimately, it’s your responsibility. It might be messy at first…there is always a learning curve when you are figuring out how to effectively communicate with those you live with and work with, but it’s worth the effort (and pain). Like any skill, candor takes practice and self-evaluation. When the delivery of your message isn’t well received, it may seem easier to shut down and clam up, vowing to never give feedback again, but this is the opposite of what you should do. Evaluate yourself. Was your tone to harsh? Did you have poor timing? Did you try to sugar coat the message? Which leads me to…
How to Be More Candid Without Damaging Relationships
We all fear being too candid. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or make them mad, we don’t want to be viewed as a jerk, we fear that our words will be held against us, or that we may be passed up for a promotion because we shed light on a problem. These are all excuses. Candor can be done in a way that improves relationships, builds trust, and helps you be more successful. Here are some suggestions…
Candid feedback does not mean cruel feedback. Remember that the person in front of you is a human being (rather than an obstacle) with hopes, dreams, fears, and feelings…just like you. Being direct can be (and should be) done with compassion. Candor is not about attacking, blaming, shaming, or finger pointing. It’s about authentically sharing your thoughts and feelings to improve a situation. This means being clear on your intentions, motivations, and objectives. Make sure they are in the spirit of building up rather than tearing down. That being said…
2.Don’t Beat Around the Bush
Candor requires direct, straightforward speaking. Say what you think, say what you mean. Sugar coating the message minimizes your impact and it leads to misunderstandings. But…
Remember that what you are about to say is your opinion and as much as it feels like the absolute truth, you might not have the whole story (read my blog on not believing everything you think here). You may be flat out wrong. Being candid is about creating a dialogue; remaining objective helps to keep the door open rather than slamming it shut. To do this…
4.Have Specific Examples
The worst kind of feedback is unanchored feedback. Without specific examples to support your opinions, it’s hard for anyone to gain deeper insight or take you as seriously as they could. Plus without them, immediate defensiveness is created. I’ll give you an example: “I believe this this is a bad idea” vs. “I believe this is a bad idea. We don’t have enough information to proceed. Recall the last time we made a knee jerk decision…we had to undo 6 months’ worth of work and start over.” And when it’s over…
5.Ask for Feedback
As I mentioned above, being effectively candid takes practice and the best kind of practice involves analyzing what went well and what went wrong. Plus getting the opinions of others on your candidness gives you the opportunity to get better at receiving feedback, showing that you truly value candor, even when it’s directed at you.
Make no bones about it, candor doesn’t come easily. As Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, states in his book ‘Winning’, “we are socialized from childhood to soften bad news or to make nice about awkward subjects… people don’t speak their minds because it’s simply easier not to. When you tell it like it is, you can so easily create a mess –- anger, pain, confusion, sadness, resentment.” We must let go of these fears to become truly effective communicators. We must be willing to the hard work.
In my experience, the deepest, most valuable relationships I have are with those who are candid with me and whom I am candid with in return. Effective candor = effective relationships.
Thank you for reading and as always, please feel free to share, like, and comment. You can also sign up here to receive my blogs in your inbox…just scroll down to the bottom of my home page and submit your email address.
Receiving feedback can be tough, but it’s critical to grow personally and professionally. How can you improve if you don’t know what to improve upon? Unfortunately, many people get defensive and make excuses when they get feedback. Reacting in this manner shuts down any curiosity about the perspective being shared and is a missed opportunity to grow as a person, better understand your impact on others, and improve in your job and relationships. Plus, handling it poorly increases the chance that you won’t get honest feedback in the future. This may sound ideal but it’s not. I can guarantee that people have feedback for you….they just don’t want to tell you. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear but feeling something different.
My goal is to be a fantastic manager and an inspiring leader and the only way to do that is by getting feedback, both good and bad. It’s very important to me that people feel comfortable telling me the hard stuff. To achieve that, I’ve had to develop feedback-taking skills. Here are some of my tips…
Just Say Thank You
The first thing I say when I am receiving feedback is, “Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing this with me.” This does two things. First, it puts the person who is giving me constructive criticism a little more at ease. It is never easy to give feedback and I can bet with high certainty that whomever is giving the feedback is nervous about my reaction. Second, it gives me time to process before haphazardly blurting out something that could make the situation go south. The key here is to listen actively and refrain from building your case as to why the person is wrong.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Because there is so much room for miss-interpretation in stressful conversations, asking good questions allows me to make sure I have a deep understanding of what is being shared (please read my blog here on how to improve your questioning skills). It also helps me pull more information out of the conversation. Because it’s nerve-wracking to give feedback, some people talk circles around the real issue or sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. It’s a shame to walk away with something left unsaid, mixed messages, and an unclear path forward. Consider your tone when asking questions; you should be inquisitive and open not defensive or sarcastic.
Don’t Make Excuses
Depending on the feedback, it may be appropriate to explain myself. For example, further clarification may be required if someone misunderstood what you were trying to say therefore an explanation is helpful. But many times, giving an explanation can sound more like an excuse. There is a fine line between explanation, justification, and excuse making. Tread carefully here…sometimes it’s best to just say thank you and incorporate the feedback into your work or life without offering justification for your actions or behaviors. Interjecting with excuses is a sure-fire way to be labeled as unaccountable.
Ask for Time to Process
If I feel myself getting defensive and I can’t get it under control with a few deep breaths, I say, “this is a lot for me to process right now. May I have a bit of time to think about what you are saying and come back later to talk through it?” Most people need time to process feedback and it’s completely reasonable to ask for space to think. Plus, taking some time to ponder the feedback can help you assess its validity. Just make sure you set a time to circle back. You don’t want to blow off the person brave enough to share constructive criticism. Have an open mind and heart and resist the urge to defend yourself.
After receiving feedback, I try to be hyper-mindful of exhibiting these behaviors. There are always opportunities to stop doing or start doing the critiqued conduct. For example, if you were told you interrupt people, pay close attention to yourself when conversing with others. Notice when you find yourself wanting to interject…how do you feel and why do you want to add your $0.02? Were you able to stop yourself? If not, did you take accountability for interrupting and apologize? Being mindful and making in-the-moment course corrections are great ways to improve.
I work hard at being coachable, approachable and at taking feedback with grace. It’s not always easy and I certainly have screwed up my share of conversations because I let myself get defensive. But I’ve gotten better at it because I’m committed to growth and development as a person and leader. Just like any skill, you have to practice to get better at it. Looking back over the constructive criticism I’ve received, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have cared enough to share it with me. Each time, they have offered me a golden opportunity to take steps towards becoming the person I want to be. To all of you, I say, “Thank you for the feedback.”
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments and appreciate likes and shares.
Leaders are everywhere. Some are easy to spot…they are C-level executives, presidents, managers, directors, coaches, and team captains. Others are not as obvious…they are individual contributors on a team, counselors, teachers, and volunteers. Leaders change our world, whether at a macro level or micro, for the good or bad.
Fortunately, there are many good leaders out there. Unfortunately, there are just as many bad ones.
Many attributes are used to define a great leader…honest, authentic, confident, a good listener and communicator, inspiring, committed, and hardworking, to name a few. But in my opinion, there is no attribute more important than accountability. Deep-rooted, blame-no-one, the-buck-stops-with-me kind of accountability. The kind of accountability that says, “I take complete ownership of what just happened. It’s my fault and no one else’s.”
Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a perfect leader. Every one of us makes bad decisions, says the wrong thing at the wrong time, gives poor direction, reacts badly, goes into denial, and screws up every now and then (or perhaps often). What separates the best from the rest is how a leader takes ownership for mistakes…not only of those he or she personally makes, but those of his or her team and organization as a whole.
It’s easy to fall in to the trap of blaming people and other outside forces for a given situation.
While all of these excuses might have some merit, they are just that: excuses. And if it isn’t your role as a leader to overcome these types of obstacles, whose role is it? If it’s not your responsibility to ensure that you’ve developed (or are part of developing) a high performing team, then whose responsibility is it? If it’s not your job to lead, then whose job is it?
Most of us understand the value of be accountable, but we stop short of true ownership because we put conditions on it. We are willing to take ownership as long as others do, too. We will take responsibility for part of the mishap, but only our part, because someone else screwed up, too. We convince ourselves that taking full ownership isn’t fair or that we shouldn't have to because it wasn’t 100% our fault. And even when we fess up and take our share of the blame, we justify why it happened with explanations and excuses. This is conditional ownership, not true buck-stops-with-me ownership.
The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their own jobs, lives, and mistakes; they take responsibility for everything that happens to their teams and organizations, no matter what. They don’t look for people or events on which to pass blame. They look within themselves. It’s the job of a leader to create conditions of success and if success is fleeting, it’s ultimately his or her responsibility to fix it. You do it by refusing to make excuses, taking full responsibility for a lack of clear and strong leadership, surrounding yourself with smart and committed people, rolling up your sleeves to develop a plan of action, and fixing the mess that was created under your watch. There is no other way to lead then by being truly accountable for everything you say, do, and lead.
So the next time you find yourself blaming the market, management, or your less-than-high performing team, remember that leadership starts and stops with you. If something isn’t working, take action to fix it. Coach, mentor, and performance manage your people, but if you have to make the hard decision to remove someone who doesn’t have what it takes, make it. If you team isn’t on board with a new direction, ask yourself if you effectively shared “the why” (see my blog post on the importance of the why here). If senior management doesn’t “get it,” sit down with them to ask more questions, share your concerns and offer to be part of the solution. If morale is low, take responsibility for poor decision making and deficient communication and then make things better immediately. If the market tanks, accept it as a challenge to succeed despite it; come up with Plan B, C, and D and execute the least bad option. Make no excuses; take true ownership.
It takes an exceptionally strong leader to give his or her team full credit when all is going well, letting them bask in the glory of success while standing in the background. It takes and even stronger leader to say “this is my fault and only my fault” when things go wrong and the team or organization fails. The buck stops with you. Are you willing to fully own that?
Please feel free to share and like…it’s always appreciated. And thank you for reading!
Do you know how to ask good questions? Really good questions? The kind of questions that get straight to the heart of the matter, that unravel the true meaning behind vague statements, that get people to share their fears and vulnerabilities, and that help you paint a truer picture of a story?
Asking good questions is the best way to gain powerful insight…the kind of insight that helps you understand yourself and others better, get more out of your relationships, improve your decision making, and have a more open mind. Knowing how to ask good questions is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your toolbox.
Sadly, most of us are terrible at asking questions and we don’t even know it. We ask easy questions when we should be asking hard ones. We keep it superficial when we should be going deeper. We stop asking questions way too soon…just when the answers are about to get interesting. We get tongue-tied, chicken out, make up excuses, give up, and don’t ask.
Asking good questions will improve your life, relationships, career, and business. They allow you to get the most out of every interaction. Better questions equals more insight, information, and knowledge. Who doesn’t want all of that?
Want to improve your question asking skills? Here are some of my tips.
I have found asking good questions has made me a better leader and person. They allow me to get past superficial answers and surface-level relationships and truly connect with those around me. These deeper connections have enriched my life and world. I have built the strongest of relationships through being curious about others. I have met amazing people in unassuming places because I am not afraid to make a personal inquiry. I have been able to help people in times of need and pain because I can ask questions that help them get to the root of the problem. I have increased self-awareness because I am not fearful of asking for feedback that gives me deeper insight into myself and my effect on those around me. And I have gained valuable knowledge about my world that helps me make better business and life decisions.
“Ask and thou shalt receive.” I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for reading and as always I appreciate comments, likes and shares.
I recently had a conversation with a bright young woman about her deep need to realize her own potential. Her current job was a fit for her skills, talents and needs in some ways, but she felt underutilized in others and that several of the job requirements weren’t a good match. She loved the company she worked for but she believed that her immediate career path was limited because there wasn’t a clear role for her to move into. It was hard for her to see the possibilities of what didn’t yet exist. No job description, no open position, no job, right?
But the fact is that new jobs are created every day. At companies across the globe, jobs are being established as leaders implement new strategies, enter new markets, create new business models, and develop new technology. And forward thinking companies are creating new roles that are designed specifically for highly capable people, fully utilizing their talents and helping them reach new potentials.
Early in my management career, I was inspired by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently.” In their book, Buckingham and Coffman explain how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience and motivate him or her by building on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. This leads to high performance, deep engagement, and what I like to call “rock star” employees.
This message resonated deeply with me. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a great manager and create an environment where “rock stars” could invent themselves and thrive. To do this, I had to learn more about my employees. What motivated each of them? What parts of their job did love? Hate? What were their personality styles? What caused them to step up and take on new challenges or the opposite, retreat? At what did they excel and when did they underperform? What would be the perfect role? Over the last 9 years, I have been able to train myself to see the talents of others and ask the right questions to reveal fears, desires, talents, capabilities, motivations, and weaknesses.
With this knowledge I can then either tweak or create new roles that fit their unique set of talents and better guide them as they grow in their careers. This has not only led to new opportunities within the organization, but we have happier, more engaged employees who enjoy their jobs because they get to do what they are good at every day. Engaged employees help to cultivate positive culture and it’s well known that great workplace cultures lead to higher productivity and retention. Here’s a great HBR article with a lot of data on the subject.
I am a big believer in designing roles for my employees, especially those who have high potential and demonstrate the desire to grow personally and professionally. I have seen how powerful it can be when a person who is highly capable but under performing due to a talent-job mismatch is moved into the right position. Over and over, it has made a profound impact on the company’s performance and the employee is happier because he or she is thriving, motivated, engaged, and doing tasks that are enjoyable….well on the way to rock stardom.
All of this sounds great, right? But how do you do it? How do you deeply understand your employees and position them in the right roles? Here are some of the things I do:
It takes time, commitment, and some trial and error to really get to know your employees, especially in the context of true strengths. I’ve had great success in developing employees by modifying and creating roles…but also some failures. I have become too emotionally invested in helping struggling employees find the right roles within the organization. It’s painful on both sides when it’s time to admit that there just isn’t a fit that mutually works. But the time, energy, and emotion spent is worth it. Having engaged and happy employees in roles that play off their strengths and talents makes the employee, organization, and you better. I believe there is no worthier use of my time than spending it to sincerely understand and appreciate the strengths and talents of my team, helping them to become rock stars.
Thank you for reading and comments, likes (you can click on the buttons below) and shares are always appreciated.
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.