Weeds and Wishes

Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Over the weekend I heard the story of a mom who, when asked what moments were bringing her joy as she endured the COVID-19 stay at home orders, shared a photo of her young daughter blowing the top off of a dandelion in their backyard. The mom, according to the story, found herself lost in the pure enjoyment of her child as they watched the seeds spread in the wind. And, just for a moment, she was able to put aside the impacts physical distancing and isolation have had on her and her family.

In reflecting about the experience, she recalled that only a few days before, she and her husband were marveling at their lovely, weed-free lawn. Now with her daughter spreading hundreds of dandelion seeds, she watched as the dream of a weed-free lawn drifted away and was struck by the contrast in perspectives. For her, the dandelions represented an intrusive weed but, for her child, those same weeds offered the promise of a wish.

The idea of weeds and wishes really stood out to me in reflecting on my journey as a leader both at home and in the “office.” As we move beyond our current circumstances, I think the ability to see things from different perspectives will be the hallmark of successful leaders in the new world of work. And, if I’m honest with myself, I often see only my weeds rather than the wishes of others. If you, like me, need to grow in this area, here are some key areas to focus your personal development energy.

Empathy – A 2015 research study by DDI found that empathy was the most critical driver of overall performance in every aspect they explored. And, in 2019 Business Solver’s State of Workplace Empathy report suggests that empathy matters now more than ever – a statement that’s likely even more true with the pandemic. For a leader, having the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and truly appreciate their perspective is critical to building an inclusive and engaging workplace. Increasing your capability to empathize with others is possible with practice. Here you can find a few easy practices that will help increase your empathy so you are able to more readily see other people’s perspectives.

Humility – The first key to seeing things from another’s perspective is creating an environment where they will share. Authentic humility is a necessary precursor for creating psychological safety that enables people to share different points of view and drive creativity. When leaders understand the limits of their expertise and are truly open to challenge, their teams are willing to risk sharing different perspectives. But, as humans, we tend to be overconfident in what we know or the transferability of our knowledge base to new areas. If you don’t believe me, just check out how many pandemic experts there are on Twitter! So, if you want to build a culture where people are willing to let you see when they have a different perspective, you’ll need to be genuinely humble. Fortunately, like empathy, humility is something you can work on. If you want to practice more genuine humility, here are a few quick tips:

  1. Spend time listening to others. Demonstrate that you value them by investing your time in hearing what matters to them most.
  2. Ask for help when you need it. Successfully achieving things through stubborn self-reliance can easily become a form of pride. While its good to be confident in your ability to solve problems, being willing to ask for help is a good way to demonstrate that you know the value others can add through their unique capabilities.
  3. Practice self-reflection. Take time to critically review your interactions, the language you use, and how you approach working with others.

Appreciation – Last year Paul White published a great GovLoop article on why employee recognition programs aren’t working. In it, he encourages leaders to shift from recognition to authentic appreciation. Among other things, White notes that authentic appreciation focuses on performance plus the person’s intrinsic value. By expressing appreciation, leaders acknowledge the unique capabilities of each individual and the value that those capabilities create for the team and the organization. Practicing authentic appreciation requires leaders to look more closely at what their team members are accomplishing. And to validate the underlying capabilities each individual brings to the team. This careful examination leads to better understanding and an improved ability to recognize when someone may hold a differing point of view.

I’ve heard a lot of hopeful predictions about the lasting effects of the pandemic on making work more human. And, I sincerely believe that we’re experiencing a shift in ways of leading that will continue to acknowledge the bottom-line benefits of human-centered organizational cultures. If you want to hone your capabilities to lead in this new era of work, starting with empathy, humility, and recognition are great first steps.

This article originally appeared on GovLoop.com

Essential Leadership in the New World of Work

Since March, our world of work has changed more than any of us ever would have imagined. Now organizations are starting to explore a phased return to previous work arrangements. Last week I shared some thoughts on practices leaders should employ to help their teams successfully navigate their return.

But, for teams and organizations to thrive in the long run, leaders will need to embrace new skills and new ways of leading. And, while there are numerous areas you could focus on developing, here are three key capabilities that will help better prepare your team for future disruptions:

Authenticity – A recent literature review on team resilience suggests that team identity is a key enabler of teams that can successfully recover from disruption. Strong team identity requires a leader who engenders trust through authenticity. Authentic leaders are genuinely self-aware and inspire loyalty and trust by consistently being who they really are. And research has shown that authentic leadership is the single biggest predictor of employee satisfaction. As your team slowly returns to more typical ways of working, you have the opportunity to show up in a more authentic way. Practice openness and true humility. Be honest about the challenges and opportunities you are facing as a leader and as an organization. And, create a safe space for your team to do the same. Read More…

Making a Comeback: How to Lead Your Team’s Post-COVID-19 Return to Work

While we are not out of the woods with COVID-19 yet, many organizations are beginning to plan for gradual return to office work. For some employees, this will be a welcome relief from the isolation of remote work. But, for others, it will be a disruption that could feel even bigger than the shift to working at home.

Regardless of where you and your team fall on that emotional spectrum, as a leader you should see this change as an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and strengthen the connections that can help drive high performance. Here are some key practices that will help you lead your team through their return to work: Read More…

Accelerating the Impact of New Government Leaders

Navigating leadership changes can be a difficult challenge for teams and organizations. New relationships, new ways of working, and shifts in strategic priorities can derail even the most successful teams. And with many organizations already struggling to meet performance expectations, it is imperative that leaders quickly make an impact on key mission priorities. So, how can new leaders more quickly assimilate?

Formal New Leader Assimilation

Most existing new leader assimilation processes trace their roots to original research conducted by John Gabarro first published in 1985. Gabarro studied the succession of 14 general managers to understand the challenges of taking charge of a new organization. Using longitudinal studies and historical case reviews, Gabarro examined successions covering:

  • Functional and general managers
  • Organizations ranging in annual sales from $1.2 million to $3 billion,
  • Turnarounds and normal situations
  • Successions that failed as well as those that succeeded.

In Gabarro’s work, he found that it typically takes 13 to 18 months of learning before a new leadership is ready to significantly impact the organization. Given the amount of time and resources invested in finding and placing a new leader, waiting a year or more to see a return on that investment is a daunting proposition for most organizations. As such it is no surprise that Gabarro’s work spawned tremendous interest in finding ways to significantly reduce that timeline. Read More…

Leadership Lessons From Unlikely Authors: Part 2

Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa wrote, “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”

I’ve certainly found this to be true as I’ve been packing for our move. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about procrastinating from packing by rediscovering lessons from past reads. And, that particular procrastination has become my go-to activity of late. So, I thought I’d finally post the follow up to that blog and share a few more of the leadership lessons I’ve found in unexpected places.

  1. The best leaders celebrate the unique way each individual contributes to their team. I read Jackie Robinson’s autobiography, I Never Had it Made, many years ago. As a lifelong baseball fan, the stories of those who made the game great always something I enjoy. And, of course, Robinson’s impact on baseball and the country can’t be understated. Early in the book Robinson recalls his conversation with Branch Rickey about joining the Dodgers. He shares a pivotal thought that was a driving force in his decision to take on the challenge of breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. As Robinson wrestled with the motives Rickey had for offering him a spot on the Dodgers and whether the pain and hardship would be worth the opportunity, Robinson remarks, “The most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anybody has, is his personal dignity.” It was Robinson’s belief in his own dignity, his unwavering knowledge that he was worthy of honor and respect – even at a time where so many were saying just the opposite – that, at least in part, drove him to join the Dodgers. As I read the passage, I was struck by the idea that it wasn’t just a desire to play the game he loved, or to challenge the league’s racial divisions that made Robinson take on this particular challenge. It was also the fact that not doing so would mean sacrificing some of his own sense of dignity, agreeing with the voices that said he wasn’t worthy of the honor of playing professional baseball. I believe that just as baseball offered Robinson the chance to affirm his personal dignity, all people work, at least in part, for the same reason. Our jobs offer us the opportunity to affirm our own belief that we can make a difference for others, that our skills and capabilities are of value, and that who we are can contribute to the benefit of others. Being the best leader you can be means respecting what every member of your team brings to the organization. It requires you to see and celebrate the worth of their contributions. And, it also requires that you provide the feedback they need to maximize the use of their unique talents.
  2. The best organizations focus on building a community, not building systems. As a consultant, I’ve learned a lot from the work of Peter Block. His book, Flawless Consulting, was already somewhat of a classic when I started my consulting career, and many of the ideas I found there influenced the way I approach my work. But, the most important lesson I’ve learned from Block’s work actually comes from his 2008 book on revitalizing American communities, Community: The Structure of Belonging. Writing about the importance of rediscovering collaborative association, Block says, “Systems are an organized group of funded and well-resourced professionals who operate in the domain of cases, clients, and services. Systems are capable of services, but not care.” While Block was focused more on the larger notion of community, I think what he says is also true of how to best organize our places of work. There is clearly value in optimizing your organization at the system level, but if you want to truly care for your team, your shareholders, customers and the broader ecosystem in which you operate, you have to build community. Further, Block notes, building community requires groups that don’t just work in parallel, but relentlessly pursue the type of collaboration where each individual and group contributes their unique capabilities towards achieving a common goal. As a leader, if you want to build a team and organization that is resilient and sustainable, you have to build a community.
  3. Building a team that focuses on others is critical for sustained success. There’s been so much talk in the last several years about the impact of technology on jobs and the workforce. As I was trying to make sense of all that’s been written, I stumbled on Jeff Colvin’s book, Humans are Underrated. If you want a realistic assessment of how humans and machines are likely to collaborate in the workplace of the future, I’d highly recommend this quick read. But, my biggest takeaway wasn’t really about technology. Instead, it was about how to cultivate a team to provide sustained competitive advantage. According to Colvin, “For producing innovations that organizations actually value, intrinsic motivation isn’t enough..people who are intrinsically motivated as well as other-focused produce the most creative and useful ideas.” Colvin points out that building a team that consistently produces ideas that drive organizations, requires finding people who focus beyond themselves. This notion is central to the concept and process of design thinking. In design thinking building deep empathy for customers (or others) is the first step in innovation. The foundational activity of building empathy is all about putting the needs and desires of others in the driver’s seat. And only through deep connection with those needs and desires can you develop a product or service that will be really useful to the end user. Useful innovation is the hallmark of teams and companies that thrive in rapidly changing conditions.

Now that my bookshelf is packed, it’s time for me to go find some new sources of leadership inspiration. I hope after reading this, you’ll also be inspired to look for leadership lessons in whatever you chose to read.

And if you want to expand your reading list, GovLoop is curating a list of helpful resources for telework, here. Or check out the Washington Post’s top reads for 2020 so far.

This article originally appeared on GovLoop.com

Stepping Away From “Hurry Sickness”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my attempts to take a day off from being busy. Since that post, a lot has changed, and the challenge of unbusying is harder than ever for some.

Between the shift to remote work, increased responsibilities to care for the kids, a spouse/significant other, aging parents, etc, and the need to plan and adapt, I know for many of you, time is still a very scarce resource.

In fact, despite having fewer commitments due to physical distancing requirements, I’m still not doing a great job of being less busy. For all the really hard things this season is bringing, I’ve decided to commit finding some good by taking advantage of the opportunity to reset my schedule.  Here’s why I think, for me at least, now is a perfect time to make the shift to being less busy. Read More…

Virtual Onboarding For Remote Employees

virtual onboarding

Last week OPM issued new guidance providing flexibilities for agencies to onboard new workers using remote tools. The memo lays out a few key activities that agencies can now perform using teleconferencing tools and encourages HR and IT leaders to work together to find the most effective ways to complete the administrative requirements of onboarding.

The new options are intended to enable agencies to continue meeting their staffing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, while the memo addresses remote delivery for the administrative elements of onboarding, agencies may be struggling to effectively connect new employees to the new organization. And, with one recent study suggesting that a negative onboarding experience makes new employees two times more likely to look for a new job, it’s clear that effective onboarding must be a priority.

Here are six things to consider as you are working to quickly shift to virtual onboarding: Read More…

Leadership Lessons From Unlikely Authors

leadership lessons

I’m currently in the process of prepping my house to go on the market and our real estate agent has issued the edict that I have to box up some of the books in my office. So, I’ve been reluctantly working through the shelves, trying to decide which ones I can live without until we move sometime in the summer. Despite my initial resistance, the packing process has actually turned out to be a really good thing. In fact, I’ve discovered two really important things:

  1. I have a lot of books. In fact, I may have a problem. Even after donating a few to the local library, I’ve still got far too many, if I’m perfectly honest.
  2. Nearly each book on my shelf has been the source of a valuable piece of leadership insight that has helped me on my journey of continuous learning.

Read More…

Healthy Leadership Practices to Cure What Ails You

Healthy Leadership Practices

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months (and perhaps that’s where we all ought to be moving to right now!), I’m sure you’ve been inundated with updates, plans, and preparations for COVID-19. There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you know what to do as we move into a new way of working and leading. And there are plenty of experts out there with tips for building resilience and adaptability while leading under crisis. Folks like the Center for Creative Leadership and ProHabits have great resources available or on the way to help. But, I thought I’d share a few key practices that you may have overlooked in your efforts to lead your team through this current or any future crisis. Read More…

Building Empathy To Address Critical Talent Gaps

organizational empathy

Talent challenges continue to be a priority for most agencies across the federal government. Frequent turnover, hard to fill roles, and shortages in mission-critical skill sets are all too common in most federal agencies.

There are countless strategies and approaches agency leaders can, and have, tried to address these complex challenges. But, building organizational empathy may be just the tool HR leaders need to make a near term impact.

Building organizational empathy is a strategic element for organizations trying to hire and retain top talent in an increasingly tight labor market. Research by the benefits technology firm, Business Solver in their State of Workplace Empathy report reveals that empathy is a key driver of retention, motivation, and productivity. More than 90% of employees surveyed indicated they were more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. In fact, respondents were even willing to trade off hours and pay in favor of increased empathy.

In an increasingly competitive talent environment, building a culture of empathy should be a key part of the people strategy in all organizations.

Read More…