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Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Leadership Q & A

ProblemSolutionID-10082460I respond to many questions about leadership in different forums and the questions and answers below are representative of many of the questions asked.

Q. How do I gain leadership qualities?

KW. Leadership and communication skills evolve over time and we only develop options by learning, discussing and using what we learn.

Developing leadership and communication skills is a combination of learning about emotional intelligence, situational leadership, different aspects of communication methods and practicing what you learn.

  • Create a reading list on different perspectives on leadership and different methods of communication then set out to read them and discuss what you are reading with others.
  • Look for resources (books, articles, seminars, webinars) that focus on leadership and communication and absorb what you learn.
  • Be curious about why different perspectives and styles may or may not work in different situations.
  • Engage in discussions with other people about what you read and learn and listen carefully for their perspective on the material.
  • Seek out people whose leadership style you admire and learn from their experience.
  • You will gain a broader understanding of how people think and decipher information when you make a point of seeking diverse opinions and ideas. This will serve you well over time.


Q. What is the most important thing you learned about leadership?Image003

KW. There isn’t one thing that stands out as the most important. Learning about leadership has been an ongoing process. Maybe that is the answer, that there isn’t an endpoint.

My leadership priorities are:

  1. Values matter. Know what yours are and test them for sustainability.
  2. Resilience is non-negotiable. Be aware of what you need to do to keep yours intact and rebuild when depleted.
  3. Emotional Intelligence will be your best friend. Take the time and effort to strengthen yours.
  4. One size does not fit all. Remembering this fact is one way to improve communication skills.


Q. How do you convince a prospective employer to hire you in a leadership role when you don’t have leadership experience?

KW. It can be difficult to convince a prospective employer that doesn’t know much about us that we can deploy leadership skills when we haven’t the experience to support this. It is sometimes easier to do this when we already work in an organization and have proven ourselves and then apply for leadership roles in the organization.

New leaders in any organization have a steep learning curve and when coming into a leadership role from the outside this curve becomes steeper. Without experience to demonstrate that you have proven leadership skills your ability to present yourself as capable becomes critical.

What you can do right now is to look back over everything you have done so far in your education, work experience and volunteer work experience and identify the skills you used that relate to leadership. Ask people who worked with you and know you fairly well if they can identify what you have done that demonstrates leadership skills and add that to your own list. Then formulate how this can be implemented into a new environment and how you know those skills will work in the new environment. At the same time you are listing your developed skills you must also identify your development needs. What leadership skills have you used but can be strengthened? What leadership skills have you not used yet and what will you start doing now to develop those skills? All effective leaders are constantly in learning mode and this is a useful approach to adopt for yourself.

Be absolutely sure this is what you want to do if you obtain a leadership role with a prospective employer and that you are prepared to learn what you need to in order to be successful.


Q. Should I focus my attention more on authentic leadership rather than team leadership?

KW. Focus on developing leadership skills that apply regardless of what context you use them in.

Don’t get distracted by marketed theories on leadership.

There are skills that make good leadership possible and that is where you pay attention.

Understanding theories may be helpful in getting an overall sense of how leadership might show up in different situations but you don’t become a theory-you become a leader by having the appropriate skills.


Q. How important is training for ‘bottom tier’ employees?


KW. The question to ask about training is who needs what and why, then how is the best way to accomplish it. Rather than segregating employees by ‘tiers’ consider that succession planning requires that you identify and close gaps in available skills and that regardless of where in the organization en employee is right now they often have or are developing skills they may not be using in their current role. Peter Senge offers an interesting point of view on this that is worth reading.

Regardless of where in the organization one works training matters:

  • Quality of work output
  • Safety of co-workers and customers
  • Upgrade or expand skills to meet changing technology
  • Having a prepared workforce for succession needs
  • Ensuring a common understanding of policies and practices
  • Error reduction.


Q. With so many successful leadership books on the market why are so many companies poorly managed?

KW. Successful leadership books become successful through smart marketing efforts more than anything else.

Leaders or managers who run companies don’t necessarily read those books.

They may read them but disagree with them.

They may read them but not know how to apply what they read.

Books are necessarily somewhat generic in the advice. Companies are anything but therefore a book is not a source of leadership development beyond some basic ideas.


Q. Why do we talk about culture fit while recruiting people? Why does culture fit matter?

PeopleDialogueBubblesKW. Culture exists and is driven at different levels in any organization. Managers do drive culture to a significant degree. However, in each team a sub-culture exists which is essentially defined as “the way we do things around here” and this sub-culture should be recognized but not assumed to be the defining culture of the whole organization.

Changing a culture is quite challenging and can not happen in isolation or through one person. Culture change happens in phases and is partly caused by external factors such as technology advancements, globalization and shifting market realities. Culture change can be partly caused by internal factors as well. For example, a CEO may sees the need for change for the survival of the organization. Mergers and Acquisitions significantly alter cultures as well.

There are many different ways that cultures begin to shift and change and many are not obvious but nevertheless drive change.

Acknowledge that it takes collaboration, co-operation, communication and patience in abundance to effect sustainable change. Understand that the more flexibility you build into an organization the better able the organization is to adapt as needed and remain sustainable.

  • Can one person change the atmosphere in a team for a period of time? Yes.
  • Can one person effect true culture change in an organization in isolation? No.


Q. As an introvert, how do I become more inspiring to others?

KW. Some of these tips apply to people with a preference for extraversion as well.

  • Have a clear vision and be able to articulate it clearly.
  • Listen well and check assumptions.
  • Observe carefully.
  • Care about others as much as you care about results.
  • Offer the opportunity to others to learn and grow beyond their roles and know when this is appropriate and they are ready.
  • Learn to ask questions that inspire others to think, share, innovate, and create.
  • Be clear when you need quiet alone time to renew your energy and be clear when you are fully available to listen or to respond to others. Remind yourself that in the absence of information from you other people will assume based on guesswork.
  • Let others know who you are in regards to your communication style so that they can communicate with you more effectively and understand what to expect from you.
  • And be clear what you mean by ‘introvert’-there are some weird and misleading definitions floating around about what being an introvert means. You do have to define this for others to avoid assumptions.


Q. I am going from not having a leadership role to leading a team of 8 people, how do I do this?

KW. Incorporate reading about leadership and management as part of your ongoing learning process.


Managers, whether new or experienced benefit from learning how and when to use a coaching approach and when it is more effective to use other leadership styles. This is often referred to as ‘situational leadership’ as it helps to manage various challenges that arise for all leaders.

  1. Listen more. Talk less.
  2. Seek feedback from team members.
  3. Asking team members what they want/need from the team leader in order to do well at their jobs.
  4. Admit when you don’t have the answer and what you will do to get the answer.
  5. Admit when you make a mistake and what you will do to correct it.
  6. Clear, concise, informative, 360 communication is key.
  7. Be clear what your goals/mandate/vision is for the team.
  8. Be open and upfront about your expectations of team members and what team members can expect from your leadership.
  9. Act on performance issues quickly, fairly, compassionately, appropriately, and ensure clarity on what the issue is rather than what your perception may be.
  10. Offer positive feedback quickly, fairly, appropriately, regularly.
  11. Find a mentor and use the mentor wisely with well thought out questions.

Books, articles and blogs by any of the following authors will set you on the right track:

  • Daniel Goleman and Travis Bradberry-Emotional Intelligence.
  • Marshall Goldsmith-Coaching and Management.
  • Peter Senge-learning and team dynamics.

Really Important Books To Read:

Truly understanding the idea of systems in an organizational setting will make a significant difference to how well you are able to apply what you learn about leadership.

  1. The Art of Systems Thinking-O’Connor/McDermott (1997) but still relevant information.
  2. Seeing Systems, The Art of Unlocking Organizational Life-Barry Oshry



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.


What Is Your Innate Talent?

As I work with the Striving Styles Personality System (SSPS) more often with others it prompts me to think back to my own style and how often an idea would seem like a good one at the time and through different reactions came to land on the growing pile of things I left behind.

I remember attending the ballet at the theatre as a young child and thinking how wonderful it would be to be a ballerina. Being able to dance like that seemed like a worthwhile goal for a six year old although at the time I had no idea just how hard it is to accomplish. The grace of the ballerinas, the costumes and even the ballet slippers all added to my fascination, the dedicated effort to earn all that did not even enter my mind.

I did not understand my real motivation for thinking being a ballerina would be ideal. I did learn quite quickly through my own ballet classes that it was a tedious, difficult and boring process for me. My ballet teacher agreed although I think her version was something like “doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t practice, blah, blah, blah” Well, that was the end of my ballet career-I still love to be in the audience but I have no desire to be on the stage.

Similar inspiration and attempts in the fields of music, drama, and sports followed a similar path. The good news is that I tried a lot of different things and that habit has followed me throughout my life. I learn by trying things out, it helps me understand what it takes for people in other professions or careers to experience and to achieve their success and certainly increases my respect for those who succeed. I know what I do well and what is best left to others quite clearly.

On the question of whether I agree with Malcolm Gladwell’s premise in Outliers that anyone can achieve what they want with 10,000 hours of practice , my response is not really. My belief is that for some things an innate talent is part of the equation. This isn’t something I can prove with artfully displayed data but I believe it for the same reason that I believe that truly effective leaders start with some innate talent. It is that most of us can learn the mechanics of how things are done. The mechanics of how to lead, how to move like a ballerina, how to play guitar like a rock star are things that we can learn from others, from books, from observation and through practice.  The ability to imbue these roles with the beauty that takes us beyond the mechanics into our imaginations –that innate talent to invoke positive emotions in others through our art-that I believe requires innate talent as one part of the puzzle piece.

The question left from all this experiential activity mentioned earlier is why I was so attracted to activities that I had little interest or motivation to do the required work in. I thought it was simply satisfying my curiosity and offering some insight into the work experience of others-which is part of the overall picture. The SSPS offers another piece of that puzzle and one that took me some time to understand and accept. It wasn’t just wanting to be able to achieve or create something of beauty-it was wanting to be recognized for achieving something out of the ordinary. And in my youth I had no real idea of what my innate talent was. That would begin to show up in small but not very clear ways as I started attending a leadership program as a teenager and would take much experience, reflection, learning and consideration to fully become clear later on. Working with other people to help them unleash their own talents and those activities and choices that help move them to self-actualization was my innate talent and one that took a long time to recognize. It took experience, practice, reflection, questioning, curiosity and an unrelenting seeking of information, and of learning to recognize it.

What is your innate talent? What are you inspired and motivated by to the degree that you will focus your time and attention on it long enough to acquire the skills that make the innate talent something that can be expressed externally?


Top Ten Books-Understanding Humans and Organizations


Books offer a world of knowledge.

The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain, Daniel Goleman.

I find that the more time I take to bolster my thinking brain the better my decisions are in business and in the other aspects of life.  Reading books from a range of authors offers me a better way to think, connect ideas and see the bigger picture.

The following list is for anyone in a professional and/or managerial role that is looking for a less bumpy way to evolve through the shift to the [connected/digital era] we are experiencing now. Some of these books were published more than twenty years ago and some were published this year. Some of the older publications have updates and you may prefer to read those. They are all related and they all provide a picture of the workplace to come. I have listed them in the order that I think will most benefit you to read but you can choose your own way through them.

(1) The Art Of Systems Thinking (1997)

Joseph O’Connor & Ian McDermott

This little book is a gem for anyone struggling to understand how and why things happen in any organization. If you want to influence the decision makers in your organization to buy on board to your workplace ideas, start with this book. Being prepared to answer the Why, What, When, Who, Where questions will be easier once you understand Systems Thinking.

(2) The Fifth Discipline (1990)

Peter Senge

Still the best starting point to grasp a reasonable understanding of the value of knowledge in organizations. If you haven’t read this don’t wait – it is as relevant today as it was when first published.

(3) Emotional Intelligence (1995)

Daniel Goleman

Since Daniel Goleman first wrote Emotional Intelligence a number of other authors have published perspectives on Emotional Intelligence in the workplace. I believe that starting with Daniel Goleman’s work offers the reader a solid place to begin to understand how EI affects many aspects of organizational success.

(4) Who Are You Meant To Be? (2013)

Heather Dranitsaris-Hilliard and Anne Dranitsaris PhD

Anyone who has experienced one or more of the many personality or competency based assessment tools in their career will appreciate the work that Heather and Anne have done to bring actionable meaning to the awareness the other tools offer. If you have developed a cynical or resistent attitude towards such assessments based on past negative experiences,  put it aside just long enough to understand the value offered here. Understanding this work will serve you well in any aspect of your life.

(5) Flourish (2011)

Martin E.P. Seligman

Martin Seligman has a friendly, let’s talk, way of writing about psychology. In this work he says: Coaching is a practice in search of a backbone. Two backbones, actually: a scientific, evidence-based backbone as well as a theoretical backbone. Positive psychology can provide both. And that, for this executive coach sounds like great common sense. Even if you are not a coach, this book will provide a nice little positive mood swing, something we can all benefit from.

(6) Immunity to Change (2009)

Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey

I like this book as it fits neatly into my own research and work on change and resilience. If you have responsibility for strengthening the outcomes of change in your organization it can be a useful tool to add to your toolbox. I don’t see it as the answer but it does offer some thoughts that help when working through change with diverse teams. The more tools we have to work with the less chance of falling into the ‘one size fits all’ method of change management.

(7) Clear Leadership (2001)

Gervase Bushe

This is an interesting work, somewhat more complex in the ideas inside it that the title suggests. However, it is worth having on your book shelf to refer to once in a while. It has a way of offering clarity when the fog rolls in.

(8) To Sell is Human (2012)

Daniel Pink

I appreciate the work that Daniel Pink has produced, while Drive certainly struck home with many, is it possible that To Sell is Human is more practical? I think so, and I would like to know what you think once you read it.

(9) The Connected Company (2012)

Dave Gray & Thomas Vander Wal

“To keep pace with today’s connected customers, your company must become a connected company. That means deeply engaging with workers, partners, and customers, changing how work is done, how you measure success, and how performance is rewarded. It requires a new way of thinking about your company: less like a machine to be controlled, and more like a complex, dynamic system that can learn and adapt over time.” I always prefer reading authors who have tested their theories and research through their own hands on efforts, it lends a level of credibility that makes all the difference.

(10) Flat Army (2013)

Dan Pontefract

An unobstructed flow of corporate commonality.

Dan has deftly connected the wisdom of many other organizational behaviour and business research authors, added his own brand of organizational dynamics, and woven in his experience of employing these ideas in currently successful businesses. A rarity in leadership writing, offering the theory, research and practical application from the cyber desk of someone who can say, I researched it and also applied it. If you are not familiar with the other works on this list, I suggest you read them first as a way to ease into the groundbreaking work offered in Flat Army.

And that is my Evolve Top Ten List that offers much to consider about organizational life! What are your suggestions? What books have helped shape your thinking and how did they make a difference in how you went about your work?

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