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The Case For Quiet Leadership

Is the way we promote and define leadership today a disservice to the everyday leadership that happens without acknowledgement, without promotion, without shiny advertised rewards?

Maybe because my work focuses on leadership skills I see what seems like a never ending stream of articles and promoted events about the ‘who’ of leadership. And lately, the ‘who isn’t’ in leadership positions, seemingly primarily gender based.

Is the list of ‘who isn’t’ in leadership positions misleading? Is this because the way we define leadership insists that a title go along with it? We insist that the role be publicly acknowledged as leadership? There are countless numbers of people who quietly go about their lives providing amazing acts of leadership that are never acknowledged. And they are just fine with that.

Do you know that line about ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it-does it make a sound’? Do we focus on publicity or celebrity at the expense of recognizing true leadership? Do we truly understand what leadership is?

The response I most often hear is that publicizing leadership acts matters because it can inspire others to also take on leadership roles. Yet, it can also leave people feeling like nothing they do is ever going to be enough if their acts of leadership are not inspiring others in a publicly acknowledged way.

And that is the reason we need to recognize that quiet leadership is vitally important. We need to recognize that it is important that leadership that is not distracted by the need to ‘show up’ or celebrate in public is the foundation of what keeps us functioning.

That we must also include a definition of leadership that doesn’t have the shiny celebrity status that sells books and speeches and courses but does on a day-to-day basis make a significant and positive difference in the lives of others. We need to recognize leadership that doesn’t come with a title yet makes a very big difference in the lives of others on a regular basis.

We need to do this because it is that kind of leadership that inspires others to do what they can within their own capabilities. And to do so because contributing individual leadership to our communities, be they local or global, is the kind of leadership that will make the biggest difference to the world we live in.


Managing Negativity, Angry Outbursts & Hyper Critical Behaviour At Work


People who tend to negativity and find fault often with others are sometimes unaware of how they may be creating or contributing to the problems they complain about. They may feel a sense of control in pointing out what is wrong as if it is the responsibility of others to solve all problems or conflicts. That behaviour is likely feeding an unmet need to control their environment and distance themselves from situations where they feel they have little control.

In workplace cultures that function effectively it is fine to report an issue. It is important to note that the leaders in these organizations require that to do so the person bringing the issue must also bring a viable solution. This is an additional opportunity for managers to coach employees to look at solutions rather than problems and to learn to seek information that supports their solutions, both of which are valuable skills.

Do This

When a complaint or problem focussed discussion starts, redirect everyone involved toward a solution. If needed take a break, while establishing that the discussion will resume when everyone is able to stay focussed on a solution. Negativity, frequent complaining, and criticizing are not productive nor should it be tolerated. This behaviour has a tendency to ‘creep’ outward and affects others in non-productive ways creating needless stress.

These questions help redirect discussions that get off track:

  • What are you really committed to doing [to solve this problem, to achieve this goal etc.]?
  • What has to be true for success to happen?
  • What outcome do you want to see? Why?
  • What do you need to move forward?
  • What are you missing?
  • What do you expect of me?
  • What other ideas do you have that might help?
  • What input have you gathered from others that might help?


Listen, Ask, Listen

Understanding how a person is motivated, how their personality style affects their information processing and how their emotional intelligence drives behaviour, provides a leader with guidance to influence more positive behaviour. Leaders get busy and may lose touch with what is driving behaviour in their workplace. When a client is telling me the story that relates to the topic they want to discuss I always ask them some form of ‘what the individuals involved would tell me about the situation’ and it isn’t unusual for the hesitation, then, the acknowledgement “I am not really sure” to follow the question. This is a signal that it is time to spend more time listening, asking and listening some more.

Leaders are both role models and guides to acceptable behaviour in the workplace, the more you understand what drives behaviour, your own and others, the more adept you will be at increasing productive and positive behaviour.

Act Quickly 

Many leaders I have worked with report that having to have problem behaviour discussions or to let an employee go is a very difficult decision to act on and thus delay taking this step. My own experience in this situation means I can relate to that, yet that same experience reminds me that there is a significant cost that grows exponentially, to delaying taking action. Ask yourself what the cost of the situation continuing is to the business, to the employee, to other employees, to customers and to yourself. Delaying acting on such situations results in having to deal with a much bigger and messier problem later on. Accept that acting on such a decision will always be difficult and remind yourself of the cost of not acting on it.

Use Emotional Self-Awareness

The MHS EQ-i 2.0 defines emotional self-awareness in this way: includes recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. This includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and the impact they have on one’s own thoughts and actions and those of others.

Leaders need to pay attention to their own emotional state. Be aware of your own triggers and be aware of a pattern of behaviour with the person complaining. When a negative pattern has already been established the leader must first communicate the change-that discussions going forward must be solution focussed and stay on track.

Develop Emotional Intelligence

It is counter-productive to simply utilize managerial skills without well-developed emotional intelligence skills. Cognitive, social and emotional intelligence skill development are all necessary components of effective leadership. The ability to see any workplace situation through the perspective of others and to step outside ones own reactions aids in reaching better solutions. Learning to respond [objective, solution focussed] to situations rather than reacting [firefighting] allows leaders to create positive and productive workplace environments. Removing negativity and problem focussed criticism reduces stress and negativity creep.

Make Culture Count

Strong, sustainable and productive organizations deliberately create a culture that is defined by a clear set of values. Values drive decisions, create organizational culture and reduce uncertainty. Leaders must deal with a negative employee quickly or other employees may view them as condoning bad behaviour or as a lack of respect for the employees who find themselves subjected to this behaviour. How employees and customers view the business is significantly influenced by the behaviours that are condoned, supported or allowed to continue unchecked. To retain the culture that created and maintains the success of the organization dealing in a timely and effective manner with negative behaviour is critical. A cohesive understanding of the values and culture throughout the organization, regardless of size, also helps in times of change, especially during growth periods, to reduce uncertainty. If you are experiencing negativity, angry outbursts and hyper-criticism in your organization, changing this will not happen overnight. Patience, commitment and determination are required to shift the behaviour to a more positive approach which also means the leader needs to keep their own emotional well-being intact.


Improving Performance-A Value Proposition

Welcome to our new readers and my appreciation to those of you who have returned for more! As promised this post is about improving performance by making it the centre of attention through consistent and timely communication.

Executive coaching focuses on helping us find results based solutions through the process of our own growth and skill development. As we evolve we take that new confidence into the workplace and begin to help others improve their performance. It starts with us, and one of the things that executive coaching offers is insight to how we learn and change that will help us in guiding others through their own performance improvements.

I have experienced performance management from many different angles and so many different methods in my career so what I am proposing here based on years of experience, observation, research and outcomes. Optimal performance is critical to the success of any organization, if you get the performance conversation right, the ‘engagement’ factor that is garnering so much attention lately will take care of itself. Engagement is not a program, it is an outcome of a workplace culture that understands and values the contributions of the people who work there. Create a culture of accountability, trust, and consistency and make sure that performance is a natural part of the workday chat.

There are three absolutes that have been consistently proven to create the best outcomes in my adventures in performance management:

(1) Your communication style will make or break effective performance discussions.

(2) Timeliness is not optional.

(3) Participation by all parties is mandatory.

Do the three absolutes resonate with you? Do you practice them consistently at work?

Try this exercise:

  1. Jot down the number of times you have interacted with an employee in your organization (regardless of where in the organization) in the last three days and offered some form of performance related comment. Consider colleagues, peers, boss, support staff etc. And, jot down when someone else in the organization offered some form of performance related comment to you.
  2. Who were they? What was the nature of the comment?  What response did you get from the employee you spoke with?
  3. Now think about the last time you conducted (or was the recipient of) the annual or quarterly or semi-annual formal review-what did that communication feel like?
  4. Did anyone seem surprised by what you communicated? Were there disagreements about your review content? Did anyone express appreciation for how helpful they found your performance communications over the previous period in their work?
  5. Does performance review time feel like a burden in your workplace? If you were unable to recall even one performance related discussion in your workplace in the previous three days it is time to get started.

How committed are you to changing that going forward?  


Kick Start Performance Today!

Even when we work in organizations that have traditional performance review programs we can easily create our own practice that works well despite those programs. The key is within the absolutes, and that is something that you do have control over. It begins with you changing how you view and approach performance results in your work every day. And it requires consistently operating with the core values in mind.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Values Based Leadership ROI

Welcome back. As promised we are going to talk about operating outside our comfort zone. Most leaders operate outside their comfort zone at different points in their career and how successful the outcomes are depend on how prepared we are to take that leap into the unknown. It requires us to accept that we will be inviting some degree of distributed leadership to be available. It also requires that as a leader you must expect accountability from others and be clear and consistent on that.

If that sounds like a recipe for increasing stress, read on!  One of the best arguments for values based leadership in organizations is that it creates a culture of accountability and allows for distributed leadership. Leaders who operate primarily from a control format, putting rules and policies into place in an attempt to reduce the unknowns will feel quite challenged by this idea.

Values-Based Leadership Delivers ROI

The rewards for creating a values-based leadership practice are significant and the process for shifting an organizational culture to one of accountability and values based decision-making requires a commitment to change. The rewards are significant. Values-based leaders find they are free to attend to the responsibilities of their role, keeping the vision focused forward, making important connections, and creating strength in the marketplace. They are able to trust that the employees in the organization are providing the customer service that is expected and required. They are comfortable with a defined level of distributed leadership because they are committed to the core values and have ensured that the values are communicated, understood and utilized throughout the organization. They trust that decisions are made based on the core values.

In a recent talk at a meeting of local business owners in Vancouver, WebNames President Cybele Negris credited much of her executive success and the growth of the business to values-based leadership. She noted that because she is able to trust her team to be accountable she is free to focus on continuing the growth of WebNames.Cybele strongly believes in values-based leadership and the continued success and growth of WebNames is a testament to the return on investment of this executive style of management.

In our next post we are going to talk about improving performance by making it the centre of attention through consistent and timely communication.Be sure to join us next week and share your thoughts on the state of performance management in organizations today.

Questions To Consider:

How often do the leaders in your organization use the core values as the decision point for actions? Do employees in the organization observe that decisions, both positive and negative are true to the core values? Are the core values and how those values are experienced in action understood consistently by everyone in the organization?



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