The Two Best Bosses You’ll Ever Have – Continuing Lessons from My First Sergeant

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was sitting with another G.I., commenting about my commander in the military.  The animated discussion I was engaged in was with a non-commissioned officer – a “NCO” –  commiserating about actions my commander had taken and how I wish he could somehow be different.

The NCO, a U.S. Army E-8, listened intently and heard my complaints – and my venting – for long minutes.  When I finally stopped, he simply smiled and asked,

“So who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have in your career?”

Non-plussed by the question, I sat there in silence, not really knowing what to say.  By then I had spent enough time in the Army, though, to realize that a senior NCO draws on a lifetime of experience leading people.  For those open to learning, top sergeants are always ready to provide perspectives, often in the form of parables or aphorisms.

The First Sergeant let his question sink in and then restated the question more succinctly:

“Who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have?”

As he continued to smile, he provided an ample pause for thought and then slowly offered this answer:

“Think about this, it’s simple:

The guy who just left and the one who’s coming next.

We hardly ever see the current boss as the person who meets all of our needs.”

My first reaction was that the first sergeant was playing games with me.  I laughed and told him that it didn’t make sense.  He grinned and just stared back, challenging me to think about what I had just heard. He slowly sipped on the black coffee contained in his favorite mug, stained from years of use, patiently letting his message sink in.

The meaning of that first sergeant’s message came to me slowly that day.  And I’ve often thought about it in the years since.  Our perspective as human beings is so often shaped so much by the wish of what we really want or need that we don’t take the time to appreciate what we have.  And we spend so much time wanting our boss to change (or our co-worker, our friend or even our significant other) that we don’t realize that while we can’t change others, we can always change how we react to them.  We can become so hardened in our position that eventually we come to believe that the best solution is that the boss simply “should” change.

I know that many readers have examples of “yes, but” that includes their own “impossible bosses,” who make life miserable for others or just don’t know how to lead.  There are indeed situations that may well be untenable.  In such cases, there are limited options for a person, including suffering through it or, if possible, leaving the job.

And yet so often it is valuable to realize that the boss has his or her own capabilities, just as we do.  And his or her styles might well work for most people.  Understanding how our boss approaches the world is indeed the most important step we can take.  To do that, we must first “meet them where they are.”  That involves making human contact and connection with the coworker who happens to be your boss.  And that may well be the most difficult step, especially if we are fundamentally different in our approaches to the workplace and the communication inherent in it.

An important thing to remember is that we can feel resistance in ourselves when someone is different from us.  That resistance must be met with curiosity about what we are truly feeling.  By naming it – be it discomfort with communication styles or even values – we can help ourselves name that discomfort.  And understanding that the boss can feel resistance towards you is of equal importance.  Again, curiosity is our best approach to lean into the resistance we think we feel from the boss.

I have worked with clients who avoid their supervisor or manager because they feel their boss doesn’t understand them.  Initially, this might help us cope, but it can’t help us understand how we can change the way we react to them.  It’s best to lean into what we feel as resistance and use curiosity as our best tool in such situations.  Think carefully about how you word questions to anyone and especially your boss.  The open-ended “What communication style works best for you?” opens up possibilities, while something binary like, “You don’t like my emails do you?” can foreclose any connection or growth.  So too, the statement “I’d value time with you,” is an opening to a larger conversation that can be filled with development of the relationship.

There will always be bosses with whom you just “click.”  And there will be others where you have to work hard in establishing how you react to them.  My guess, based on that old first sergeant’s advice, is that one of those will be the best boss you ever had.  It’s your choice.

This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.

 

Going Slow To Go Fast

Going Fast to Go Slow

In a recent discussion with one of my colleagues, she compared the work she is doing with teams to rebooting her computer. Every once in a while, we realize that we have opened so many files, folders, web pages, and software programs in the course of our work and life that things just aren’t operating as smoothly and quickly as we might expect. To get things back in working order, we need to carve out some time to reboot- to close everything out and to start over. To go slow in order to go fast again.

[LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION WITH MY COLLEAGUE HERE]

When this happens, and it happens to all of us, you have a couple of options. First, you can ignore it and muddle through, hoping to avoid the dreaded “blue screen of death”. You can shut the computer down and walk away. Or, you can take a pause, reboot, and clear the decks of all of those things that are no longer serving you well.

Rebooting your team.

This counter-intuitive notion resonated with me quite deeply. As a business owner and the leader of multiple teams navigating through the disruptions of the last few months, I have the relentless voice in my head telling me to be decisive. To move, to execute, to push through. But what if this self-imposed reaction to all of the “chatter” in my life wasn’t something to try to simply push through but, rather, they were signals that it was time to reboot?

What if the fastest and most effective way to get to speed was to slow things down? What if we pressed pause as a team, assessed the current operating context, and worked together to realign in order to enable us to work faster in the long run?

What does a reboot take?

Realigning or rebooting a team takes time and effort and requires bringing people together to engage in sense-making and dialogue. This may mean a series of shorter, video-based, meetings over the course of several weeks, or months, that help your team reset for success in this next chapter.

When preparing to reboot your team there are few critical areas that you should consider in order to ensure that you can move forward with clarity and alignment.

RECLAIM YOUR PURPOSE:

In any change, it is important for teams to reassess their purpose to ensure that it is still relevant to their internal as well as the external circumstances. Gather your team and ‘meet the moment.’ Capture where you are and recalibrate your collective purpose as a team in response to the changes.

REESTABLISH TRUST:

The shift of how work gets done between people on a team, such as a shift to remote work and virtual teaming, can trigger some uncertainty around whether or not people are getting the work done and holding themselves mutually accountable to results. Acknowledge these issues and engage the team in agreeing on ways to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

BRIDGE ACROSS GAPS:

In order to fulfill a team’s purpose, members need to have the right knowledge and skills to do so. Ask your team to reflect on their collective skills and knowledge, and to be creative with how they are leveraged. This is a great way to acknowledge and celebrate the many gifts the individuals on your team can bring to the table.

James Sasser, CEO and President of federal government contractor GovStrive describes some of the unique bridging and relationship-building challenges that his clients working through which are especially challenging during the current COVID pandemic- “We are working with large federal agencies that are faced with the need to onboard new hires remotely, and these employees not only need job-specific training, but also want to establish personal relationships with their supervisors and peers and desire to learn more about the agency mission, culture, and values, so they can be productive on day one.”

FOSTER COLLABORATION:

Team collaboration can feel very different in person than it would online. Without properly revisiting what virtual collaboration might look like for a team, members can feel more siloed, and efficiency can drop. Have your team look into various collaboration tools and techniques and bring their recommendations to your next meeting.

“Our clients have been forced to accelerate adoption of virtual technologies. Many of our clients have been pleasantly surprised by how well employees have embraced virtual collaboration through video platforms,” says Clyde Thompson, Senior Vice President at GovStrive. “We’ve worked with our clients to develop remote webinars and engagement platforms for new hires and have deployed personal messaging campaigns that develop and enhance the employee-supervisor relationship well before the new hire’s first day, so they feel like they’re part of the team at the onset of their new job,” adds GovStrive’s Director of Marketing and Change Management, Joe Abusamra.

RESOLVE UNPRODUCTIVE CONFLICT:

Even in real time, managing conflict can be a daunting task that people might feel is better avoided. In virtual work, the ability to identify let alone address conflict becomes even more difficult. Borrowing from the research on delivering feedback, conflict is best managed when it is timely. And although uncomfortable, conflict doesn’t have to be feared or negative.

PAVE A CLEAR PATH FORWARD:

There will always be obstacles that stand in the way of any successful change, whether there are planned or unplanned disruptions. Invite your team to reflect on what they have learned through their experience of this disruption/pandemic, and to share any potential roadblocks they envision encountering as the team continues to work together. Then have the team collaborate to design a plan to overcome them.

Michelle Boullion PhD, Director of Executive Education at Louisiana State University’s Ourso College of Business, suggests that leaders must, “Always be thinking like a futurist.” As many business leaders continue to struggle to effectively adapt to working remotely Dr. Boullion advises that leaders can pave a clear path forward by, “Getting out of the mindset that employees can’t be trained to work remotely.” Though it may be difficult to make this change in such a dramatic and all-encompassing way as a result of COVID, there are lessons that leaders can take from this experience. What is the next challenge your organization may face as things evolve around us? How can you prepare your teams to be ready to adapt quickly to whatever the future holds?

Reboot coaching.

These tips make sense, but they can be a bit overwhelming to think about as you navigate the day-to-day requirements of your work environment. In order to organize and expedite the realignment process, it may be helpful to obtain the guidance of someone who can help organize the effort. Not only does this allow for you to manage all of the balls that are in the air at one time but it affords you with the opportunity to be an active participant in the process with your team as opposed to having to balance the roles of participant and facilitator. Your coach can be a respected peer or colleague, an HR business partner, or an external resource. Whatever path you choose, it is essential that you identify a coach who has the facilitation skills necessary to productively navigate some potentially challenging and emotionally charged discussions.

Regardless of what sector or industry you may be in, the events of the last few months have undoubtedly created some dynamic disruption to the way you get things done. Before diving headlong into the breach and relying on what worked in the past to get you through the current situation, it may be an opportune time to consider slowing things down, reevaluating the current operating environment, and realigning your team to move forward with clarity and purpose.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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

The Path to Reopening: Leadership in Times of Crisis

In the past two months, I have had the opportunity to witness teams facing the most challenging situations they have ever experienced. It is an honor to be working with such remarkable leaders during these times, be they involved with companies, governmental groups, or non-profit organizations.

Daily, I learn how they regularly meet the challenges of this crisis.  The teams and their leaders do it with ingenuity, caring, and a focus on problem-solving and learning.  While each story is unique, there is a remarkable consistency in how the best leaders and the strongest teams approach the situations they are now facing.

The path to reopening is a subject that is both fraught with emotion and shaded with a multitude of opinions.  The teams that meet the challenges seek to embrace and understand those aspects of the crisis and then bring to bear tools that serve them in any circumstance. Read More…

Podcast: Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

In this episode, Shawn Overcast interviews Michael Margolis, CEO of Storied, a strategic messaging firm that specializes in the story of disruption and innovation. He is also the author of a new book titled Story 10x: Turn the Impossible Into the Inevitable.

Organizations in every industry, across the globe, are experiencing perhaps the greatest disruption of our time, with the pandemic COVID-19. We haven’t experienced a public health or economic disruption of this scale in our lifetimes. And yet, (strike this – over the past 20 years), individuals and the organizations that we work in have been no stranger to the experience of serial disruptions. Whether that be the way (italicize to emphasize these words) we work – through advancements in technology, where we work – with the continued expansion of globalization, and with whom we work – and the growing workforce demographic to include 3-4 generations working side-by-side. Michael discusses strategies for how leaders can “meet the moment” and evolve their narrative. In this podcast, we learn practical ways to move our teams and organizations from the story of the past to the story of the future, by first recognizing and reflecting on what comes with the place of ‘no story’ – the place of in between.

Released: May 20, 2020

 

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…

Former POW Shares Thoughts On Surviving And Thriving In Difficult Times

The last few months have fundamentally changed the way many people live their lives day-to-day. Over the last few weeks, in particular, I have noticed an increase in a variety of what might normally be considered “unhealthy” behavior during my interactions with people.

Some individuals seem to be taking one of three paths as they attempt to make sense of their new realities and as they come to grips with being thrust into a reality where they have limited control and where the situation is rapidly changing-

  1. Finding false hope. These people keep finding a date that they hang their hopes on when things will “return to normal”. The challenge is that every time one of those dates comes to pass and things have not returned to normal, they pick a new date, each time seeming to lose a piece of themselves.
  2. Losing hope altogether. These people really seem to be struggling. They seem consumed with every news story and conspiracy theory that they come across. They feel like the sky is falling and they are beginning to (or have) lost hope that things will get better.
  3. Finding resilience. The rest seem to acknowledge their new reality and face facts without losing hope that things will get better (a concept articulated by Admiral James Stockdale called the Stockdale Paradox). They don’t hang their hopes on the next date that things will be fine and they don’t fall into a pit of despair. It is these folks who seem to be best adapted to survive and thrive in environments where they have little control.

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…

Podcast: How to Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Times: Lessons from a former POW

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer, and POW and Executive Director of JDog Foundation.

The loss of control and isolation that many people are feeling globally as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them in a variety of ways. Some people seem to have lost hope while others seem to hold out unreasonable hope that things will “go back to normal” on a certain date only to be let down when their hopes aren’t realized. In this episode, we talk to Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer who found himself shot down over North Vietnam and who then served as a prisoner of war for 14 months before being freed. Ralph shares his perspective on what people may be feeling during this time and how to draw upon the internal and external resources you have to not only survive but to thrive in uncertain times.

Released: May 5, 2020

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…