The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Latest "Leadership during COVID19" Posts

I’m sure you all can relate to the fact that many of the goals I set for my business at the start of 2020 look nothing like where we’re going to land on December 31st  (just 106 short days from today). For the companies I work with, I know their 2020 visions also did not include anything remotely close to a cease to all travel, live events, and in-person meetings.

I believe the companies who have the best chance to survive this cataclysmic event, and any future global pandemics, are the ones that already have a set long-term vision for their organization. While your vision may not solve all of the urgent problems you are facing in the present, it will keep you focused on having a better future, even in the worst of times. This is because the vision serves as the guide for you and your teams, in good times and in bad. Think of it like a north star.

In researching this article, I found countless resources on “how to write a vision and mission statement,” “how to execute a vision and strategy,” and “why you should have a vision statement.” I found no articles on how to create a vision in the first place.  An organizational “vision” too often is a set of action items that preserve the status quo. The vision doesn’t simply show up. You have to take action and be thoughtful to have vision and create a vision.

Organizational Vision Connect the Dots

“What do you want your footprint to be?” That’s the question my friend, Susan, was asked when she started her position leading a key government agency in Canada. They went on, “If you were leaving this job in five years, what footprint would you leave behind?” Good question.

As Susan and I organizational vision, we realized that vision requires you as the manager or leader to connect the dots. That means you need to first see the dots and have time to step back and think about how they connect.

Let’s start with seeing the dots. In this case the “dots” are trends, organizational competencies and opportunities that are uniquely filled by your organization. The organizational vision is the place where the three intersect.

Trends. To consider trends necessitates that you zoom out and see the world through a telescope. Zooming out requires accessing and assimilating information from a wide variety of sources. Read news articles, trade journals, magazines, and books. Listen to podcasts, news programs, industry conference sessions, radio and thoughtful people. From that information, look for common threads, emerging issues, and high-level movements. Here are some questions to prompt your thinking.

  • What trends are impacting your industry?
  • What trends are shaping other industries that are tangential?
  • What’s happening at the fringe of the data that may foreshadow the future?
  • What are thoughtful voices talking about?
  • What data can you collect?
  • What is your initial impression of the data? What are different interpretations of the same data?
  • What threads shine through the articles you read in trade journals and the news?
  • For what products or services are clients and customers starting to ask?
  • What is happening in industries outside of your own that point to related trends?

What is the core competence of your organization? Whether public agency, private company or educational institution, your organization serves a function within the bigger industry. When I ran a government office, our role was to incentivize action in areas that would not be fulfilled by traditional market forces. A company I work with has a core competency in the manufacture of highly reliable electronics. Your vision lives at the intersection of trends, competencies and opportunities. What is it for you?

  • What is your organization known for?
  • Does your organization have a specific mandate? If so, what is it?
  • What special role does your organization play within the industry or within a larger organization?
  • What are the key skills that support your organization’s business?
  • How will these skills need to evolve in the future to keep up with the trajectory?
  • What makes your organization stand out from others?
  • How can the core competence be used in new ways?
  • How can core competencies be used for new clients or customers?
  • What niche does your organization uniquely fill?

Now, connect the dots. Project the trends along with your core competency to search for opportunities that your organization is uniquely positioned to fill. There may be a role to be played, a product or service to be created, or spokesperson who needs to speak out.

  • Where are the gaps likely to occur in the future?
  • What will be needed in the future that aligns with your core competencies?
  • Who will need it?
  • Where is leadership needed?
  • What should you do that makes the most impact in terms of revenue or influence?

Don’t constrain your thinking too much with the practical realities needed to implement the vision. That comes next as you refine the vision and the steps needed to create an organization that can execute every day drawing a little closer to your vision. With your vision in mind, consider these three factors that are necessary to implement a vision.

  1. Staff. As you project the trends, consider the evolution of skills needed in the future. What staff skills are necessary to execute the vision? Will existing skills be obsolete or replaced by machines and artificial intelligence? How many staff will be needed? What shifts are necessary to position the staff resources to be ready and capable to drive the vision forward? Do the current staff have the core skills and interests to grow into the future? How can you start now to develop the necessary skills? How can you pique the curiosity of the staff so that they see the needs of the future and respond to them?
  2. Structure. By structure, I mean the processes, procedures, and resources needed to achieve the vision. Are the existing structures adequate to support the vision? Or, are they antiquated and designed for a time that has come and gone? Do they support the type of customer interaction needed for the future? What performance benchmarks will be important in the future?
  3. Culture. I no longer remember where I read it, but it stuck: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Basically, the best laid strategy is useless without a companion culture. As you consider your footprint five years into the future, what culture exists in your office? How does it feel to work there? How do the staff describe the work environment? Is it cutthroat, collegial, trusting, suspicious, collaborative, competitive, fast-paced, considered? What behaviors are indicative of the desired culture? What rewards exist that are tied to the behaviors that are tied to the culture?

Leaders are masters at connecting the dots. They see with a microscope and with a telescope. They are keen observers of their environment and are constantly thinking about the big themes and the implications on their organization. And, there is one more element essential to creating vision. That element is quiet time to consider, digest and think. Collecting and connecting the dots can’t happen in the midst of hurried days, jam-packed schedules and frantic work assignments. Thoughtfulness and creativity live in quiet places: a walk, mowing the grass, driving in quiet, sailing, running, cooking, or anything that allows your mind to wander. To create vision, you need reflection time to discover the footprint you wish to leave in your organization.

How do you ensure there is quiet time in your work for visioning?

 

Remember back in early March, when every single decision and idea we had was met with fear and doubt, because none of us knew for certain what to expect, or how bad things were going to get? Now, after several months of settling in to so many “new normals,” perhaps it’s time to reflect on what we learned and give consideration to what strategies worked best for us in the face of adversity.

I’m fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time on the water.  While COVID-19 may have been my first time ever in a pandemic, it was not the first time I’ve been tossed around by a violent storm and lived to tell about it – I mean this figuratively and literally. The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions. Here are four important things I learned…

It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, or exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Have you been able to weather the storms that hit you both professionally and personally, this year? What about your finances or your relationships? The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions.

Next time you’re dealing with the raging winds and powerful waves of the storms surrounding your business or your personal life, keep these four anchors in mind!

Is learning something new the best way to combat “pandemic fatigue?”

I don’t know about you, but since mid-March I’ve now seen, heard and read at least a gazillion advice columns and podcasts from “experts” all telling us ways in which we could be improving and enhancing our lives during the pandemic. Whether it’s by organizing the garage or challenging ourselves with new and better habits like baking bread or launching a new career path, these lists of what we “could” be doing are seemingly endless.

As a coach and business mentor, I do find it interesting that experts think the best use of our time in lockdown is to go “outside-of-the-box.” While discovering if you’re good at kneading dough or brewing your own beer will pass the time, it’s not likely going to change who we are as people and our view of the world (Because, are you really going to stop buying bread at the store now?).

On the other hand, what I teach clients to do in their “down time” is a different kind of exploration. It’s one that doesn’t require you to seek out brand new ways of doing things or embracing a totally new way of life. What my coaching program does is it teaches you how to look inward to bring about real change. Neuroscience shows us not only what filters are clouding our view of the world, but also how removing these filters can change everything.

What are the drivers behind your behaviors?

Imagine a Ferrari. It looks sleek and fast. Now imagine a Ferrari with a Ford Focus engine. It still looks sleek but its performance is impacted by the mechanics under the hood. It’s not so different for you. The influences “under your hood” dramatically impact your performance, your work style and communication style. Assessment tools give insight into your workplace behavior; however, they are less helpful for identifying other factors that exist under the hood particularly your stories and filters. Values also have a key influence on your behaviors and are linked to stories and filters. We aren’t going to work on values today, but you can refer back to my previous article to refresh your memory.

Today we dive under the hood to identify and learn about the impact of your filters and stories.

Filters. Filters are the screen through which you see the world. They come from your background and provide your context.  Filters color your perception and impact your decisions, judgements and connections. For example, I’m from a small farming town in Texas, the oldest daughter of a disciplinarian father and polite mother. We attended the Baptist Church every Sunday and always did our homework. Some of these filters showed up early in my engineering career when I worked for the Texas Department of Transportation. An engineer from New York State came to Texas to learn about our projects. As we drove from project to project together, I politely answered his questions, “Yes, sir…” “No, sir….” After a few exchanges, he grew agitated and said, “Why do you keep saying, ‘sir’?  Are you patronizing me?”  I was stunned. When viewed through my filters, I was being respectful by saying “sir” but viewed through his filters, I was patronizing.

What are your filters? Consider your background, family norms, your geographic area and more. All those factors color your perceptions and judgements. Without your awareness, they work from under the hood to sway your view of the work world.  Here are questions to aid you in identifying a few of your filters.

  • Are you from the big city, small town or countryside?
  • Are you the oldest, youngest, middle or only child?
  • What religious tradition were you raised in (if any)?
  • What educational background does your family have?
  • What cultural background were you surrounded by?
  • What hobbies were your family involved in – sailing, camping, music?
  • What hobbies are you passionate about?
  • What did your parents or family do for work?
  • What type of work did you do early in your life?
  • What was your family community involvement like?
  • What political philosophy you were surrounded by?
  • What other environmental factors color the context of your life?

How do these filters impact your world view, your perceptions of others and, possibly, even your decisions? Pay attention to notice their subtle – or sometimes not so subtle – influence.

Stories. Stories are our perceptions of “truths” we internalize from parents, family, teachers, friends or other influential people in our life. The stories stick in the brain and, sometimes when we aren’t even conscious of them, they sway your behavior. Here are a few of my stories:

  • Be nice
  • Work hard
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Play fair
  • Don’t impose
  • Do as you’re told

Stories are powerful influencers from under the hood. For example, I struggled to terminate an under-performing employee because “be nice” echoed in my head. Jumping into a high-energy conversation to express my idea was hindered by the “don’t interrupt” soundtrack. I couldn’t ask for help from a colleague for fear of “imposing. Stories like these get in my way until they are identified and  you develop the skill to consciously choose if, when or how they apply.

One of my coaching clients struggled to overcome his story when applying reflective listening skills. Reflective listening is when you reflect the content from another person to ensure that you understand correctly. You use a phrase such as, “What I hear you saying is….” This client had a strict upbringing by a mother who tolerated no backtalk at all. When he reflected a statement back to a colleague, it sounded like backtalk to his brain. His “no backtalk” story created a block to his communication skills until he diagnosed the story and neutralized its power.

Many stories sit just under the surface so don’t be surprised if they don’t quickly pop to mind. Here are some techniques to aid you in uncovering your stories. Let the questions sit with you and then observe your behaviors and thought processes. What stories or rules are at work under the hood?

  • What “truths” that you were taught by parents, teachers, family or other authority figures stuck with you?
  • What personal “rules” do you adhere to in everyday life?
  • What beliefs do you hold that put boundaries on your behavior?
  • What situations trip you up needlessly? Why? (An example: I couldn’t ask my neighbor to feed our cat while we were on vacation because I didn’t want to impose.)
  • In what situations do you hesitate for seemingly no good reason? Why?

What stories live inside your head? Some may immediately come to mind as mine did. Others take quiet observation and insightful questioning.

According to a June Gallup poll, 54% of workers surveyed said they are currently not engaged, meaning they are “psychologically unattached to their work and company.”

Another 14% said they are actively disengaged, meaning they “have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues.”

The number of engaged workers dropped 7% from the month prior, which counted as the most significant dip in employee engagement over the last 20 years.

If you’re currently struggling to lead your team under strange new circumstances, you’re clearly not alone. Often times people think leadership training is learning how to manage or control what other people think and do – i.e. how to motivate them, how to get them to listen better, get along with each other and perform at a higher level.The truth is, a lot of the work I do is actually focused on getting individuals in management to better understand themselves.

Yes, leadership is being able to motivate a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. However, what most people often don’t realize is that we must get to know ourselves, first, so that we can understand how our own thoughts and behaviors are (or, aren’t) influencing the people within our organizations.

How do you behave at work? What work style and communication traits are associated with you?

There’s an African proverb, “The camel never sees its own humps, but that of its brother is always before its eyes.” Others see your style. Do you?

Over the years, I’ve found that technically skilled people (like me – an engineer) do not often have an innate ability to be self-observant. We’re like the camel. We see the humps of those around us but not our own. As a manager, you need to know your work and communication style. Thankfully, there are tools like DNA Behavior, DISC, Strength finders, Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that provide insights into your behavior. If you don’t naturally observe your behavior, these tools can be particularly helpful. Even if you are self-observant, these tools still offer aha-moments about yourself.

Today, let’s examine your strength and communication style.

Strengths.

What’s your go-to strength? Your strengths come naturally to you. So naturally, in fact, that you may not even notice them. When I work with coaching clients, we do exercises to identify strengths and I frequently hear, “Wow. I didn’t know that was a strength! I thought everybody could do that.” Your strength is hiding in plain sight, but it’s hiding. Let’s find it.

Pretend that you are faced with a difficult work problem. It’s a dilemma. How do you approach it? When you get stuck, on which behavior do you consistently fall back? For example, when I’m perplexed by a problem I think, “Okay. Let’s take a step back and see the big picture. What’s the goal and the steps to reach the goal?” My ability to see the big picture and dissect the problem into core elements for action is a key strength for me. I thought everyone could do this but I was wrong. It’s my superpower. What’s yours?

What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you:

  • Dive into the research
  • Gather all the details
  • Collaborate so that all are engaged
  • Start with the big picture
  • Create a step-by step process
  • Seek to know the people involved
  • Network
  • Consider the personalities
  • Assess the office politics
  • Look for trends

Your natural approach to a tough situation likely reveals clues to a key strength. What is it for you?

Advanced consideration: Overused strengths.

For those of you who want more advanced consideration, take your strength to the next level. You should feel good knowing your strength as it is always available to you. That’s good news. However, you probably heard the saying, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s the case with your strength. You will try to use it ALL THE TIME whether it fits or not. As I mentioned, my strength is being goal driven…every day. That’s been a formula for success most of the time but not all the time. I learned a hard lesson when a staff person came to me in tears thinking that I didn’t like her because I never spoke to her. I never spoke because I was wrapped up in prioritizing goals in my head each morning as I walked past her desk. I over-used my strength.

What about you? Are you a great collaborator but collaborate so much that you miss opportunities? Are you exceptional at managing office politics to the point that you can’t be candid? Are you skilled at gathering and analyzing data to the point of analysis paralysis? Where have you over-used your strength?

Communication styles.

Your communication style is another “hump” or trait that is on display everyday. What is your natural communication style? Here again, assessment tools (DNA Behavior and DISC, for example) give clues to your communication styles. Without self-awareness, you are likely to use this style whether it suits the situation or not because your natural style is the easiest for your brain to enact. In order to manage your approach, you first must be aware of it.   Consider a time when you were under pressure. How did you communicate to others or what type of communication worked best for you?

Are you:

  • Quick or cautious
  • Direct and candid or tactful and polite
  • Drawing visuals or writing words
  • Collaborative or in control
  • Quick to get to the point or prefer to chat first
  • Conceptual or data driven
  • Considered or hasty
  • Speaking your mind or holding your tongue
  • Intense or restrained

Advanced consideration: Your communication style from other perspectives

You’ve considered your communication style but how does that style come across to peers and staff? They experience your communication style every day. It may not be what you think.

You think you’re being succinct, and they see it as brusque. You think you’re being flexible, and they see it as wishy-washy. This is where 360 tools can bring compelling insight. Consider your last interaction. How would you describe your communication style? Now consider it from other’s perspective. How might they have perceived it differently? Is there someone you trust with whom you can ask – “How did that conversation come across?”

By examining your strengths and communication styles you move past the proverbial camel. You have a sense of your “humps” and that makes all the difference.

If you see the power in knowing yourself, you may be interested in my mini-coaching program. It uses a simplified self-assessment tool followed by an individual session with me. Clients walk away with a surprising amount of information about their strengths and communication style. As one client said, “The results…opened up new ways to see myself and position myself for future positions. The bottom-line impact is greater confidence and that’s critical.”

Click here to contact Shelley for more information

 

Reference

Harter, Jim. (July 2, 2020). Historic drop in employee engagement follows record rise. Gallup. Retrieved from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313313/historic-drop-employee-engagement-follows-record-rise.aspx

In times of uncertainty, be certain of what your team needs from you

As a leadership trainer and coach for over a decade, I can’t help but consider how significantly this ongoing pandemic has pulled back the curtain to reveal some of the most effective and glaringly ineffective fundamental principles of leadership.

From world leaders to business leaders, one’s ability to provide empathy, patience, decisiveness, focus and transparency – which, by the way, are all qualities that my research indicates are the most desired and least common traits among engineering leaders –has never been more needed.

Right now, many employees are being asked to juggle a lot and still perform at the same high levels. This after some have experienced pay decreases, have no access to childcare, are feeling “Zoom fatigue ,” social isolation, and much more. Plus, we’ve all become heavily reliant on digital communication tools instead of traditional face-to-face contact, which always increases the risk if false assumptions and misinterpretation of one’s intended tone.

It is in these times that your staff needs you to be all of the things that make the best leaders great.

So, I have to ask…How are YOU making an effort to stay engaged with your virtual teams? And, do you know what it is they wish you knew about them?

When you download a new app, buy a new phone or acquire the latest cool technology like Alexa, you learn to use it. You explore its capabilities, you learn how it works, and over time you learn how it can assist you.

Do you make that effort with your staff? Do you learn their capabilities? Do you know how they work best? (We explored that in the last newsletter.) Do you know what they enjoy? Do you know what gives them joy? Do you know what makes them tick?

Your staff work better in an environment that values their humanness. That means working with people who know more about them than the due date for their next deliverable. Like learning a new app, it takes time, but it doesn’t take THAT much time if you have a few astute questions at your disposal.

Here are five questions you can use today to give you more insight into what makes them tick.

  1. What’s new with your kids (grandkids)? Most people love to talk about their kids or grandkids. Use this as an intro to learn about them. If the child excels in math, ask, “Did she learned math from you?” If the grandkid plays baseball, ask, “Did you enjoy baseball as a kid?” This opens a conversation that gives you more insight about your employee. For example, early in my career, as a young woman engineer, I needed to work with an older gentleman known to be brusque and grumpy. No matter the topic, it was like working with a stone wall. One day we met in his office and I noticed photos of children (see question 5). Without thinking I said, “Who are all the kids?” His demeanor transformed instantly. He relaxed, smiled and even glowed. “Those are all my grandkids!” Thirty minutes later we started our work conversation but, this time, it went smoothly and achieved results. Our professional relationship was better from then on.
  2. What are you doing for a vacation? Why did you choose that? One staff person tells you they went on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas and another person says they went to Tibet and meditated with the monks (my last vacation). That information alone gives insight into what makes them tick. Your next question is, “Why did you choose that?” Or, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” This peeks into the attributes they value. The Bahamas cruiser they might say, “I loved traveling to a new place without worry.” The Tibet traveler might say, “It recharged my soul to sit quietly and reflect.” You hear hints of the inner clock that makes them tick.
  3. How did you decide to work here? If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? The answer may tell you that this person stumbled into the job, or they had family connections, or they passionately pursued the position. In any case, there will be an interesting tidbit. Your follow-up for more information: “If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing.” And if you’re really curious ask, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” You may be surprised at the answers! (Broadway performer, for me…in case you’re wondering!)
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do outside work? One of my staff was an acclaimed lacrosse player in college. Who knew? I didn’t until I asked about her hobbies. She coaches girls lacrosse. What do your staff outside of work? One of my clients participates in a mud run every year. It’s a connection to his Marine Corp roots. This is a simple question that opens new lines of conversation and indicates a sincere interest in a world beyond work.
  5. Tell me about these photos (or anything you notice in their office). It looked like a black and grey lump on the corner of my bookcase. The occasional astute observer would notice it and ask, “What’s that?” It was a chunk of asphalt. “Why do you have a chunk of asphalt?” It was a going away ‘gift’ when I left my highway job in North Carolina. In that short exchange, the guest gained insight into my background and knowledge they never expected. What do you observe in the office of your staff? Ask them about it. Even the décor will spill the beans about what makes them tick. Maybe there’s a Ravens ball cap, a photo on a mountain top, a beautiful lamp positioned just so. All are conversation starters to give you more information about your staff.People aren’t that different from a well-designed, intuitive app. Clues about what makes your staff tick are in plain sight if you ask. Ask, so that they know your interest in them goes beyond businessClick here to download a pdf checklist to learn about your staff and others.