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.

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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…

The Calm in the Center of the Storm

calm in the center of the storm

As we face today’s challenges and uncertainties, we are all experiencing emotions and thoughts that we have seldom, if ever, confronted before.

Life indeed throws challenges our way.  And those challenges have varying degrees of uncertainty.  The end result is a sort of disorientation that, to most of us, can be downright scary.  It’s akin to being on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea, or an airplane experiencing severe turbulence.  Few of us have been in such situations and therefore cannot know either the duration or the outcomes that might occur.  Consequently, we can become lost in our own thoughts and emotions, filled with recurring worry about the future.

And we can feel alone.

These are the times that each of us needs to take a turn being the calm in the center of the storm.  And it is not just the leaders in organizations that can and should do it.  It is everyone. 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.

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Learning To Work In New Ways Amidst The COVID-19 Pandemic

remote work

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak an official pandemic. Subsequently, the U.S. stock market looks like a more epic roller-coaster than Space Mountain, Americans are making a run on toilet paper, and citizens are beginning to feel the pressure of cancellations of a wide variety of gatherings. While the situation is certainly dynamic and messaging around the situation seems to be constantly evolving, many business owners are coming to grips with a world of work that spans from mildly inconvenient to completely debilitating.

Businesses that rely on in-person customer purchases (restaurants, sports venues, concert halls, etc.) and their employees, many of whom do not have the benefit of being paid when they are not working, seem to be facing what could be a cataclysmic fate made worse by the fact that many large U.S. employers are forcing employees to work from home. Thankfully, my own two companies largely utilize remote work models so my teams are well-versed in working out of their homes. In situations like we face currently, I realize that we are the fortunate ones and that there are some lessons we have become accustomed to that may be of value to those of you who are struggling to adapt to a new, remote way of working together. Read More…

A Study in the Art of Servant Leadership

“Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.”

“Employ your Marines in accordance with their capabilities.”

These are two leadership principles the Marine Corps instills into its leaders at all levels, regardless of rank or seniority. These principles are taken seriously, as they can mean the difference between mission success and failure, life and death. Despite the stakes being different in the business world, these two concepts are vital to a leader’s success and, more importantly, that of their subordinates.

In our technologically infused, fast-paced world of business, the speed and amount of information available to us is unprecedented. Transactions now move faster, decisions are made quicker, and we’re able to collaborate and complete tasks more rapidly. However, leaders have largely missed one important side effect that can degrade the performance of their teams. Behavioral scientists call it the cognitive load, and it takes a toll on our teams more than we realize.

Simply put, the cognitive load is the mental “work” needed for any thought or action. Every task, conversation, email, project, meeting, etc. has a cognitive load price tag, and we all have a different capacity for what we can take on. This is why we spend hours refining our presentations to our leadership – there’s just too much information for them to consider and they want you to reduce the cognitive load required to make a decision.

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Are Your Employees Ready For The “Superjobs” Of The Future?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of David Epstein’s Range, his 2019 counter punch to the drive for specialization, often represented by the 10,000 hour rule, as the best path for achieving future success. In his book, Epstein pushes back against the idea that deeper and deeper specialization is the best way to achieve success, especially in rapidly changing and unpredictably complex environments. “We are often taught that the more competitive and complicated the world gets, the more specialized we must get,” Epstein notes, but according to his research, given that most business environments today are not governed by standard rules and predictable patterns, maintaining a competitive edge will require organizations to hire or train generalists who are often more willing and better able to find solutions to novel challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, many business leaders see the trend towards needing more employees who are capable of taking on diverse and varied job tasks. According to the report, a vast majority of respondents expect that the increased adoption and use of technology will mean that jobs in the future are far more multi-disciplinary than they have been. And that as artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotic process automation take hold, there will be a trend towards “superjobs”, or jobs that combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles – these jobs will span the hyper-specialized areas of expertise of many current workers. Read More…

8 Books That Will Inspire Your Workplace Culture

leadership lessons

The team at gothamCulture recently put their heads together to curate a list of book recommendations that will inspire your workplace culture and leadership development. Consider choosing one of these for your office book club. We hope you find these helpful!

The Culture Code: Daniel Coyle explores the question, “How is it that some groups add up to be greater than the sum of the parts, and others do not?” The book is based on research over a period of four years, looking at some of the best/most successful team cultures. The discussion is organized into a presentation of three skills known for generating high-performing groups: (1) Build safety, (2) Share vulnerability, and (3) Establish purpose.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:  a book about how to change things when change is hard. It can be about you, a job, friends, or even family. Change is very difficult and hard to do without a little motivation. The book helps you to look at things in a different way than you had before. Seeing the good things about why you should change and why it was better before. Read More…

The Unseen Backpack

Man with backpack

I was driving down the street the other day, dutifully following the GPS instructions, which wended me through neighborhoods, built-up areas and a variety of other places.  At one point, a driver suddenly pulled out in front of me and proceeded to move forward at no more than ten miles per hour.  I couldn’t see the driver and I felt for a moment that I should get irritated that someone had the audacity to hold up my very important (or so I thought) trip.

Then I saw the building the person had pulled out from.  It was a local hospital.  My mind shifted from some level of irritation to a feeling of embarrassment and compassion.  The driver might have just left the bedside of a loved one, or received a diagnosis that was life-threatening.  Or maybe a relative, friend or neighbor might have just passed away.  I thought about such times in my life and instantaneously wrote a narrative of understanding and empathy for the driver.

In life and the business world, we often don’t get such stark reminders of our own need for emotional intelligence, appreciation, and understanding of another person.  So we are prone to draw conclusions that are judgmental, perhaps giving us a high level of justification for our own feelings and a near-certainty that the other person might just not care or is oblivious to our needs or the needs of the business.  Doing so can serve as a sort of misplaced validation of our own importance or our own instincts, I suppose.  At least I know I have felt that way at times. Read More…

Why Your Kid Needs A Side Hustle

Kids side hustle

This year, my son gave me the best gift an entrepreneur could ever ask for. Of course, my second grader, like nearly every other eight-year-old in America, has mastered the ability to influence others to get what he wants. With summer kicking off in full swing, these talents typically revolve around spending an inordinate amount of mental capacity figuring out how to get more screen time. Last week, rather than vying to get a few extra minutes of screen time or finding creative ways to get out of practicing his guitar, my son convinced his friend that they should start a business.

After some cajoling, his friend agreed and they went through the process of deciding what type of business they should embark on. A short while later, the boys settled on a car cleaning business (interiors only mind you). After dedicating their attention to touting the virtues of such a business and the benefit that it would bring to the local community, the boys turned their attention to creating posters and fliers that they attached both to their wagon as well as the community mailboxes in our neighborhood.

Loading up their wagon with their (read my) supplies: a shop vac, dash cleaner, leather cleaner, Windex, paper towels, and rags and were ready for business. They quickly realized that not only did they need something to keep their millions in as they moved from house to house but that they needed a pricing structure. Without missing a beat, they immediately dove in and made it happen.

In order to make sure they had their act together, they asked if my wife and I would be willing to let them practice on our cars, something we promptly agreed to. And then it happened. Something in my son sparked. While I intentionally minded my own business, all the while keeping a rather close eye on them as they worked, I could see a sense of pride swell up in the boys. They were doing something for other people. They were taking great pride in ownership and they were making sure we were satisfied with their work. As they worked, they chatted and their conversations were both surprising and inspiring.

After a short while, our cars were clean and the boys added their first revenues to their kitty, a mason jar with a handwritten sign on it sitting haphazardly in their wagon. With beaming smiles, they began their trek from house to house, knocking on doors and pitching their potential customers. With the confidence only an eight-year-old can have, they let rejection slide off their backs with ease, they took future appointments (which they noted on a small pad), and they moved on to the next house- each stop an opportunity to perfect their pitch.

We’re now a few days into their business and they are still going strong. They have made a surprising amount of money and with summer vacation rapidly approaching, they are already strategizing how to expand their operation into other neighborhoods as well as hiring and training new employees in order to expand.

Why am I telling you this?

It is not uncommon for young children to start a business. Lemonade stand. Mowing lawns. Manicures. (Yes, manicures). It almost seems like a right of passage for many kids in America. I recall multiple businesses that I myself ran as a child with fond memories. All of them, opportunities to develop skills and practice new behaviors that I could take with me the rest of my life.