Friday, February 27, 2009

Facebook Free-for-All - Mentoring change of heart

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer at a Systems Engineering class at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. It was a chance to give back and help the local professors bring business executives on campus. Whenever I do this at high schools or universities, I provide my unsolicited public service announcement to the student population that most progressive companies now do a social media search during their hiring process.

When I shared the insight I provided with my wife (herself a SVP of HR at USIS), she gave me an interesting perspective. There was no doubt that most companies are now performing a social media job candidate search. But rather than coaching students to clean up their Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, YouTube and Flickr (etc) postings, the right coaching is to teach them how to manage these sources to create the positive image that potential employers are looking for. Make sure it includes accomplishments, trips to academic events, photos of awards and other positive things.

Have you had the opportunity to coach and mentor on this topic? What advice are you giving?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Caveat Emptor - Hiring Lessons Learned

We have all done it at some time in our careers. You have a position opening, develop a slate of qualified candidates, interview, select the ideal candidate and then find out that everything was not as it seemed. I did an informal survey over the last couple of weeks asking trusted colleagues if they had ever made a bad hiring decision. If they had (and they all had), the thing that caused a problem later would have been discovered during the due diligence and selection phase.

I was quite surprised how many colleagues admitted that their error was as simple as not talking directly to the prior manager when hiring an internal candidate. Others shared stories of not evaluating past performance reviews, development plans and salary adjustments. Of course it is somewhat more challenging for external hires, but the best interviewers I spoke to felt far more confident than those that treated the interview as a “meeting” to get to know the candidate. The Wall Street Journal stated that “thirty-four percent of all application forms contain outright lies about experience, education and ability to perform essential functions on the job.” (Source – Wall Street Journal). Today, there are thorough background screening companies to assist with this (yes, a shameless plug for HireRight).

What techniques have you successfully used to improve your candidate success rate?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Exit with Grace - How should a leader exit?

Is there a right way to leave a position? Do you owe remaining people anything?

If you subscribe to the basic premise of Beverly Kaye & Sharon Jordon-Evans’ book “Love ‘em or Lose ‘em,” then you could presume there was some reason for the exit. A person is typically progressing to something better or exiting something less than desirable. Whether you are moving internally from position to position or to a new company, is it your responsibility as a leader to make sure past management knows what really caused the exit or is protecting bridges the top priority?

What about the people who remain? Should you be the martyr for the sake of helping improve their work lives? Would it work if you tied?

I’ve been coached to always exit with grace.

What do you believe is the general rule of advice for an exit?


Friday, February 20, 2009

Is it all about $$$? - Leadership Recognition

Somehow over a period of time, the actions associated with recognizing good performance became the sole domain of management. Things like performance reviews, raises and formal appreciation recognitions have become a “downward looking” role. What if it were the true leader that equally looks up, over and down when they recognize?

I had the humbling opportunity to accept the 2008 Global Diversity Change Agent Award from The Boeing Company last night. While it may appear top down, it was not. Individuals at the lowest levels of the organization can nominate anyone they would like. The nominations are then reviewed and the awards are sponsored by the company. Over the course of my long career, I’ve been given plenty of good reviews, raises and appreciations from management. I can tell you first hand the honor of subordinate recognition beat them all.

So what’s the leadership lesson? Particularly early in your career you must develop a rhythm of consistently recognizing and thinking good performance. Look for “people doing good.” Find achievements. Send hand written notes and emails to people you know when you hear they completed something significant. Don’t assume bosses get recognition from their leaders. Step up, pull the team together and thank them. You’ll be amazed at the result.

What ways have you developed to make recognition a regular activity? Have you ever recognized a boss?


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

40 Years of Success vs. 40 More Years of Success

This is your opportunity to mentor a growing leader in need.

We will call him Duncan. Duncan called me the other day for advice, and I believe this blog community can help him. He is a schooled engineer, ten years into his career and has recently been hired by a well-established precision sheet metal firm to build and grow the sales and marketing organization. Just prior to this assignment Duncan spent a couple of years working in the Silicon Valley where he learned the speed of business, partnering styles and the need to stay current or die. He was asking me how he can influence his company’s leadership to change the way they view the future when they are sitting on a comfortable 40 years of success. It seems that every new idea is too risky, outside the comfort zone, working with partners that they never worked with before or just not their niche.

I asked some basic questions such as what sets them apart from their competition and do they have strategies, objectives and tactics to achieve them. His answers were less than clear because he said the senior leaders want him to develop these and bring them forward. When he does, they give the answers we mentioned above. He is clearly working with more of a leadership cultural item than a sales and marketing challenge. I provided some ideas but this might be a great opportunity to start to test the strength on this blog.

What advice would you provide Duncan?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Communication and Culture Top Virtual List

Virtual leadership challenge survey results are in.

Thank you to everyone that took the time to submit your ideas, insights and personal stories of the challenge of leading virtual teams. There is certainly a lot of passion on this topic.

While I should not be surprised, it was very interesting how closely the challenges aligned with the more standardized team maturity assessment categories. Topics such as communication, engagement, culture, relationships, trust, loyalty, roles and responsibilities and goal alignment are important for the success of any team, virtual or co-located. Note the similarity to Cynder Niemela’s “Leading High Impact Teams” and Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” criteria. The difference I felt in reading and interpreting your responses was the amount of passion and the criticality of the attribute. For example, trust is important to a co-located team, but it is essential to a virtual team and will not evolve without overt effort. The learning I got from these “similar” topics was the need to deal with them in a far more forthright manner.

There were topics that are not as commonly mentioned for co-located teams. These included topics such as common tool sets, processes, times zones/holidays, leadership training and understanding non-verbal communication. These were interesting to me because I always considered them mechanical in nature and a decision away from being solved. There is clearly more to it than I gave credit. Looks like the virtual world will reinforce the need for strong leadership.

What observation do you see in the pareto chart than I might have overlooked?


Friday, February 13, 2009

If you slow down, you’ll see Gary - “take time to make time”

Whether it was to save gas or because it was beautiful outside, I decided to ride my trusty beach cruiser downtown to do an errand. I peddled briskly and directly to my place of business, straightened out a billing error and then returned to my bike. I unlocked it from the rack and thought to myself, it is too nice to rush back home. It occurred to me that if I peddle slow enough down Main Street, I bet I will run into someone I know.

I was now 90% of the distance down Main Street and saw a couple of folks I sort of knew. Seeing the end, I slowed down even more and then it happened – a now retired colleague was walking down the street with his daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. Gary was a knowledgeable, professional, trusted, people-person that I had not seen in years. He does not live anywhere near where we were and said he was visiting on a whim based on his daughter’s invitation that morning.

This was a great reminder to all leaders that we lead people. We need to slow down every once in a while to make sure we are connecting and have real relationships.

Have you ever surprised yourself of the value of “taking time” to touch base with your team?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hanging with the “Jones” - Leaders and Followers take note

Have you ever felt like you are too young to be a Boomer, but too old to be a Gen X?

I would be a case in point – I bounce between the stereotypic traits of Boomer and Gen X. Like the Boomers, I’m dedicated to my career, drive a conservative car, have low debt and try to be environmentally conscious. But then again, I am into all types of technology, listen to current music and active in the community as do the Gen X. A couple years ago, a diversity conference speaker said a person will tend to demonstrate a particular generation’s traits the closer they are to the mid-point of the generation’s year span. Perhaps there was an explanation – I was not at the mid-point of either generation.

WWII = 1928-1945 / Boomer = 1946-1959 / Gen X = 1960-1980 / Gen Y = 1981-2001

Then enters Jonathon Pontell and his identification of Generation Jones born between 1954 and 1965. Finally, I have a home. But more importantly, so do most of the leadership stepping into the important jobs of industry, community and politics. The term comes from the phase “Jonesing around with my friends.” Meaning – The Jones are hanging around with the Boomers and Gen X’ers, but not really part of them. For example, Barack Obama is our first Generation Jones president.

Whether you are leading the Jones or a follower, there are significant lessons for you here.

What might you do differently as a leader or follower knowing about the Jones?


A virtual “thank you” - Survey still open

Thank you to all who provided their top five virtual leadership challenges to the posting - “The Disappearing Team.” The responses will be summarized and posted next week. If you have virtual leadership insights and would still like to participate – please click here and add your comments. They will be included in the summary.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

“I’d rather be grounded” - Leaders must listen

Wednesday afternoon’s Triple Threat youth basketball practice went pretty much normal. Focus on fundamentals, lots of running and a zeal for teamwork. Having coached a long time, I learned to talk about executing to our potential versus wins and losses. So, having lost 4 games in a row, it was quite unusual for me to ask the team if they were as tired of losing as I was. I received a universal yes. Then Cameron said “I’d rather be grounded than lose again” and the impact of this mid-season slump became very clear to me. I listened to this short statement, heard a lot and we adjusted the practice plan and intensity (and won Sunday).

Doc Rivers (Celtics coach) had a similar success last week when his team asked him to stick with his original play and Ray Allen hit a three pointer to win in the last seconds over Philadelphia. Leaders are in a constant balancing act. We must be visionary, strategists, team builders, task masters and teachers. In the middle of all that, we need to be intuitive enough to know when to step back, listen to the team and make adjustments based on their ideas. And, do this in the heat of competition.

When was the last time you adjusted something you really believed in based on insight from your team?


Friday, February 6, 2009

The disappearing team – Virtual Workplace Survey

What are the most significant challenges leading a virtual work team?

Suppose you were invited to be a featured speaker at a
very prestigious university’s executive management program. You were selected based on your years of experience leading virtual work teams and your role was to talk from the practitioners’ standpoint. It is a priority that you do not embarrass yourself or waste time and money of this high powered group. This is where I find myself and I thought there is no forum as open to gathering ideas as the internet.

QUESTION: What are the five (5) most significant challenges in leading a virtual work team as compared to one located in one geographical area? (Short answers are fine)

I would like to chart as many answers as possible, compare response commonality and present it to the conference and back to you on “Leadership is a Verb.” Short brainstorm type answers are perfect. You can provide more fidelity and/or ways to overcome the issues if you have time (do not feel compelled).

Thank you in advance for your help and I look forward to sharing the results with you.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thunderbolt (Leaders vs. Leadership)

How do you define leaders vs. leadership?

The sun was shining and we were in the middle of nowhere in the San Louis Obispo county hills on motorcycles. There was Mike on a BMW, Dick on a big Gold Wing and Barbara and I on the Harley Street Guide. It is hard to top a beautiful day and riding motorcycles on a clear country road. We pulled over for a short break and the Thunderbolt Winery logo on the map made us curious so we followed our passion. As always when you leave the well travelled path, you meet fantastic people and experience something new (we’ll talk about staying out of the white aisles in a future post).

One of my favorite finds during this side trip was the sign on the back wall of the tasting room which said - “I’m not going to sell you a bottle of wine, I’m going to help you buy one.” We all like to be taught and experience new things and tend not to like to be “sold” things. It occurred to me as we continued our ride that this is true of leadership too. While being good leaders is important, it focuses on the individual. Leadership has a cultural element. Truly great leadership helps everyone develop their skills to be leaders. Like our expert wine host, we all left Thunderbolt enlightened in some small way.

Have you considered the difference between being a leader and enhancing leadership? How do you encourage this expanded meaning?


Monday, February 2, 2009

Missed by 7.38 Seconds - Leadership goal, or nice to have?

Have you ever wondered why some difficult goals are achieved and other easier ones not?

Every year I run in the Surf City Half Marathon. Every year I set a few basic goals. This year it was 1) finish with no injuries, 2) finish without walking, and 3) finish under 2 hours. The first two objectives went just fine. Unfortunately, I completed in 2:01:36 which was 96 seconds over the goal. Across a 13.1 mile course, I only needed to go 7.38 seconds faster per mile to have met this last objective. That seems pretty easy.

I’ve run the half marathon under two hours plenty of times in the past so why did I miss the goal this time. Simply put – the two hour milestone was really not a goal – it was a “nice to have.” “Wouldn’t it be cool if...” For this reason, the pre-race training was not desperation and achievement focused, but it was interest, health and fun oriented. I could have met the third “desire” if I really wanted it. As leaders, it made me wonder how we are presenting “goals” to our organizations. We’ve heard it said that organizations in deep trouble make the effort to change. The leaders must have communicated the desperation of that goal. The other teams can never seem to make that extra effort. I believe it is all in the goal communication and the ownership it creates.

Looking at your own teams, how have you moved goal setting and communication from a desired level of performance to a target the team needs to achieve?


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