The school bus just picked up my youngest child for his first day of middle school orientation. As we all gear up to go “back to school” I thought I’d do a quick sweep of the national “theme” weeks and the primary theme for September. What I found was a mishmash of days and weeks for different awareness efforts. It felt like the people in charge of this month where caught in the same swirl of activity as our household and threw something together.
I did find a commonality, however. The themes that spoke most loudly to me had the thread of getting back to basics; for example, September is National Courtesy Month.
This month I’ll share a variety of topics that help us get back to basics when it comes to our businesses and our lives. I’ll share curated content on my Facebook page that support the themes of the month as well. If you’re interested, please “like” and you’ll share in the content too. I always appreciate comments and answers to questions I may pose.
Here’s a list of topics that got my attention:
National Courtesy Month
Patriot Day (Sept 11)
Step Family Day (Sept 16)
World Gratitude Day (Sept 21)
International Day of Peace (Sept 21)
Business Women’s Day (Sept 22)
Let’s all get back to basics and share what we learn this month.
At 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 I just finished my first experience judging the #MNcollegiateDECA state competition in Mankato, MN. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. I judged six students on their ability to read a case study in the restaurant and food service management area and present their solutions to an ethical and operational dilemma facing a fictitious restaurant chain. The details of their case is not important. That students chose, at such an early hour of the morning, to let their skills be judged — that’s the important point.
When I brought Rasmussen students to the competition two years ago my focus was on the top students. I wanted to make sure my students were among the top ranked: confident, well informed, professional, able to problem solve and think on their feet. My focus is different today. I want to talk about the students who lacked confidence, need more experience, and still pepper their speech with “like” and “stuff.”
The existence of these aforementioned students at the DECA competition lead me to be hopeful for employment candidates in the future. WHAT? How can that be?
These students took a risk and opened themselves up to true feedback. By title I’m judging them, their performance, and their ability at this point in time. Asking for feedback is never easy. Asking for feedback from strangers and intending to improve from that feedback shows true commitment to growth.
As business leaders, we have something to learn. Based on the example of these inexperienced, but dedicated, potential candidates, I recommend the following actions for our personal and professional growth.
Let your business and your contribution be “judged.” In DECA you are not approaching someone who will be judgmental. There is a different. Reach out to customers with whom you have the best relationships. Open yourself up to review from business peers, coaches, and mentors whom you trust to give you an accurate assessment delivered with love.
Review the feedback carefully, then put it away for a day or two. Our businesses are wrapped up in our identities. It’s understandable that we’d feel defensive or emotional over the feedback we receive. Don’t reject the feedback immediately or rush to make changes. Instead, let the emotions fade for a couple of days. Then review the comments again with a trusted mentor. Really discuss the merits, opportunities, and challenges of each point.
Create an action plan. What will you change, by when, and why? Make sure any changes are intentional and add value to your most important stakeholders. By the way; you are one of those stakeholders.
Set your action plan side by side with your business and personal mission statements. If there are areas that don’t align one of two things may be true: 1) your mission has evolved since you’ve looked at it last and needs updating, or 2) you need to revisit your action plan.
The steps outlined here go far beyond creating a to-do list. It’s your opportunity to transform yourself and your business. How often should you go through this process? I would recommend once a year, but if your business is in a state of rapid growth you might go through the steps more often.
The bottom line: Not everyone is at the top of their game at all times. The ones that will break through to success are the ones that will put their assumptions at risk.
Frequent and specific feedback is critical to learning. It’s even more important than when you’re coaching an intern, new employee, or employee with performance issues. Depending on the length and intensity of the training needs, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly scheduled feedback is necessary for growth and development. Don’t underestimate the power of impromptu, positive feedback as you notice your intern/employee doing work or behaving in a way that meets or exceeds your expectations. Catching someone doing the right thing is far more effective than jumping on errors.
When corrective action is necessary, use this quick process to make sure your feedback is focused on the development of your intern’s/employee’s skills.
Begin by describing the behavior you’d like to see. How should the report look? How does a professional employee act and dress?
Follow up with the behavior you have observed. Try filling in the following sentence(s), “I’ve noticed ________ and it’s important to ____________ because it will help you _____________.”
End by discussing (not prescribing) how to bridge the gap between what you’d like to happen and what you have observed. Make sure to include the intern/employee in the problem solving by asking for input.
It’s also important to open yourself to feedback. Coaching your intern/employee to learn to give feedback is as valuable as teaching them to receive it. Modeling the appropriate behavior is essential.
Listen without interrupting and without defensiveness. Take the opportunity to receive feedback as a growth opportunity for yourself and your business.
Ask questions to clarify the feedback. Guide the intern toward the example above. What did the intern expect to see and why? What did the intern observe?
Discuss what could account for the gap.
Thank the intern for providing feedback.
As managers and business owners we often develop tunnel vision. Using a clear process to coach an intern or employee is a great way to encourage an open flow of communication. Who knows what heights you’ll reach with a new set of eyes.
It’s poignant to remember the stages we went through as children and young adults. As infants, children, and teenagers we are expected to hit certain stages where we redefine our relationship to our world and our selves. What I’ve found is once we graduate from college or some advanced degree, we work as through we’re done developing in stages. Suddenly a plateau hits and I wonder – is it just me? Is this natural? How do I develop my leadership effectiveness?
Recently I read John Maxwell’s well known book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (PDF) and the first law, the Law of the Lid, summarized where I am at this point in my career. I’ve hit my leadership lid. Now, I could continue on and be perfectly effective, but to truly transform my relationship with my employees, my peers, my friends, and my family, I need to lift the lid.
There are two areas where I’ve begun to define what this means at this later point in my career; there’s no question I’ve been successful, but my growth requires a redefinition of terms.
Used to mean meeting people in order to expand my circle. I offered my skills and expertise in hopes of making connections with others.
Now networking means offering my skills and expertise in order to build my influence. Who can I count on to support my vision of both my personal growth and that of the organization for which I work? My networking must focus internally as much as externally to develop this influence.
You’ll notice I still offer my skills and expertise first. That has not changed.
Used to mean developing a personal brand. I needed to articulate my value in the context of organizational and needs. The focus was on my contribution and competitive advantage.
Now branding means develpoing a platform of ideas – a vision – that illustrates a future for my organization and its people in the context of internal and external competition. I’m particularly good at articulating my personal brand. Where I now need to focus it the development of my organization’s future.
My personal part in this vision is both forward facing (I’m literally the face) and secondary to the needs of others.
I’m struggling most with this one right now. Personally I’ve tended to define my value by how others see me. As an instructor and manager I’ve fought this impluse in order to be effective. If I want to be transformative, I must let go of this definition all together.
My value, with this redefinition, would be constructed not by other’s opinions of me (do they like me?) but by how valued my employees, friends, and family feel. I am not the primary source of delivering this value to them, but encouraging others to see the value they offer in the best light.
In a nutshell it doesn’t matter if people like me…do people express thanks to my employees for the value they’ve offered up?
In print these definitions are neat and tidy. In practice I feel like I’m in a game of dodgeball. As many of us know from our childhoods; dodgeball is both frightening and fun at the same time.
With all honesty, that’s what I’ve been the last six months or so, absent. I choose to let the circle around me that included my home, family, work, passions, all contract a bit to allow me to focus on the foundation of my life and work.
I believe leaders need to do this from time to time, however, when we do we are not leading consistently in all areas of our lives.
Where I’ve shown leadership:
With my kids: This is where my focus has been the last year due to personal priorities. I desire that my kids see that re-prioritizing and focus are good things. They saw me deal with considerable challenges and come away feeling that I’m not lost but renewed in my efforts to climb the right ladder to the right window. (If you’re unfamiliar with this image I highly recommend the book “First Things First” by Stephen Covey.)
With myself: I have some work to do personally so I can lead others well. A well-known principle of emotional intelligence is being able to delay gratification. For someone who has worked hard to shine at all times, it’s hard to admit that there is more work to do before I’m able to effectively lead others.
Don’t get me wrong, my business is healthy, my kids are thriving, I love my work, and my relationships are growing. It’s time now to take the next step. I’m fortunate to have mentors around me that will support me in that next step.
Here’s what I’ll commit to over the course of the next year. I’ll share with you what I learn as I journey toward the next stage of leadership.
I hope you’ll engage in dialog with me about leadership through comments as our journeys are not separate but interdependent with one another.