SGR leads City Council retreats that enable cities to develop strategic plans that focus on outcomes that are 20 years away. We often ask the question, “How will your city look in 20 years?” Let’s adapt that question to make it more personal and ask it this way: “What will outstanding leadership look like 20 years from now? How will outstanding leadership be different then from outstanding leadership today?”
In many ways, future leaders will have to do the same things that great leaders do today. Things like modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, communicating effectively, and building effective teams are going to continue to be really important for leaders. Those things aren’t going to change. However, the impact of more advanced technologies and the speed at which they are introduced will bring unique challenges to effective leaders.
- Leaders must be educators. Leaders will need to educate followers, as well as Councils and Boards, on the important ramifications of various technology changes. As the pace of change increases, leaders will need to show the way that organizations and societies can maximize these improvements. Mediocre leaders will complain that people “just don’t get it!” Great leaders will communicate effectively so that people will see it for themselves.
- Leaders must be calm. Change causes a drop in self-esteem at just the time a person needs self-esteem the most. There are many reasons for this, but the important thing to note is that as technology continues to grow and change more and more things at a faster and faster rate, one thing we can predict is that people will sometimes feel overwhelmed by it. As exciting as these things are, one possible downside is that people will feel like they are in a constant stage of agitation. Great leaders of the future will need to be very sensitive to this and find ways to keep people calm without becoming reactionary to the advantages of technology.
- Leaders must be better. Speed creates danger. Things are changing faster and faster. That’s not going to stop. The reality is that when you are driving down main street at 20 mph, you need the same skills that you need when you are driving 65 mph down the freeway. However, a mistake at 20 mph down a sleepy little main street is not as threatening as a mistake at 65 mph on the freeway. The same will be so for leadership. The speed of change will mean that although the basic leadership skills that we need today may not be that different for the future, it will be even more important that leaders master the basics and execute them with precision.
If you keep up with SGR’s Facebook page, you would have known that we had an all-team mini retreat at the beginning of the week.
We all stay pretty busy around here, so it was a good time to sit down as a group and make sure we are all on the same page.
We talked about the company’s mission, values, culture, how to instill these values and keep the culture within the team, and then there was a part of the meeting where new ideas were introduced.
When one idea was introduced, another person would add on to it, which branched off into another suggestion, and then another idea would emerge from a mix of murmurs in the corner…
A mushroom cloud—that’s the best way to describe what we had when it was all over. And that’s the way a majority of meetings go.
The team gathers around to analyze the problem; suggestions are made to fix it; ideas start bouncing off the walls; and then everyone leaves feeling good that the problems have been addressed.
This is what I like to call a Meeting High: the feeling of euphoria after having a meeting that dismisses with everyone on the same “hoorah” page.
But days later, the high starts to wear off and ideas are forgotten. All those great concepts become a distant memory because a very important step in most meetings is lacking—a call to action.
Which ideas are staying? Who’s in charge of implementing them? When’s the deadline to see progress on each of the ideas?
Without delegating the next steps to ideas, they’ll never come into fruition. Luckily, we have people on our team who take initiative and get the ball rolling on their own; but not every organization is fortunate enough to have that.
Don’t waste another meeting on empty talk. Be ready to take the next steps to put that talk into action.
Listen to almost any sector of our society and you will hear the same thing. “Changes are happening faster and faster, and we need to prepare tomorrow’s leaders.” The only problem is that in too many ways, we are merely preparing them for yesterday. A yesterday that will not come again.
Of course the problem is that things are happening at such a blurred time-warp speed right now that it feels futile to try to predict what tomorrow will look like. Tomorrow is becoming yesterday faster than ever. So, maybe it’s more a matter of not committing some fatal flaws of leadership development. I don’t know what all of those are, but here are some ideas on how to avoid what I see as the most daunting ones:
- Start now to prepare leaders.
And start today…seriously. Joel Barker, author of The Five Regions of the Future, says, “No one will thank you for taking care of today if you fail to prepare for tomorrow.” I am amazed at how many organizations have no real plan for succession. The highest level of leadership is strategic leadership. Strategic leadership is not about today. It’s about the future. It seems self-evident that if you are making little or no attempt to develop leaders for the future, you are failing miserably at your responsibility to lead strategically. Even a poor leadership development plan is better than no plan at all.
- Embrace the reality that the only constant is change itself.
And even change isn’t constant in that the rate of change keeps changing! Yet, I interact with many leaders who seem to believe that it is acceptable to put people in leadership positions who are change resistant. I am an optimist, not a pessimist. I truly believe that societies, cities, organizations, and people can and will adjust to the pace of change. However, I also believe that leaders have the responsibility to honestly define reality. To paraphrase from a not-so-well-known part of the well-known Serenity Prayer, we need to “…take this world as it is, and not as we wish that it were…”
- Model what it means to be a “Life-Long Learner.”
Not long ago, I had a person who was training to become a mentor to millennials say to me, “I don’t do technology.” Excuse me? Frankly, I don’t know what to feel more disturbed about: the fact that he was going to mentor someone, or the fact that another leader thought that he was qualified to do so. Either way, it’s not good. Not at all. Technology may not be the answer for everything, but we desperately need leaders who are not afraid to master it, lest it master us.
In the two previous blog posts in this series, we explored unethical behaviors that all local government appointed and elected officials and employees should avoid. We are confident no one enjoys reading about things we should not do, but in local government, the stakes are high and this refresher will hopefully spur a re-commitment to highest ethical standards. Our list continues…
- Favoritism – Public sector employees cannot show favoritism to fellow employees, citizens, or stakeholders regardless of the situation. Always follow established policy and procedure. If there is no policy, immediately consult with your supervisor if a situation arises when favoritism may rear its head.
- Fighting – It is highly unlikely you will make it through your career without strong disagreements with a co-worker or stakeholder. Resorting to physical violence is never the appropriate response. It is not only unethical; it will most likely result in the loss of your job and jeopardize future employment possibilities.
- Gifts – It is unethical to accept gifts that influence your decision-making processes. In the event that a gift is dropped off (for example: a fruit basket during the holidays), the best response is to share with everyone in your department.
- Gossip – It is unethical to spread rumors about an employee behind his/her back.
- Harassment – Workplace Harassment in any form is unethical. In order to make sure your employees know what is and is not appropriate, Strategic Government Resources recommends Preventing Workplace Harassment, an online course developed in partnership with the City of Plano, Texas. For complete details, visit SGR’s website.
- Lack of Communication – It is unethical to make decisions based on incomplete information resulting from lack of effort to gather or provide complete information.
- Part-Time or Additional Job – The ethical/non-ethical application to an additional job depends on your position, your organization’s policies, and the demands of the additional job. For example: A firefighter may also own a window cleaning business that he/she operates on his/her off days. That is not unethical. If, however, the firefighter is awarded a contract for cleaning the city’s windows, that is unethical. Working an evening job is not unethical, unless you drive a local government-owned vehicle to the job, leave early to get to your other job on time, use local government resources while at the other job site, etc. It is also unethical to hand out business cards or literature for your “other job” while you are “on the clock” with your local government job. Many organizations prohibit additional employment depending on the position. When in doubt, check with Human Resource.
We will share more unethical behaviors to avoid in our next post.
If you learn something, and then do it, and keep doing it; and then you learn something else, and then do that, and keep doing it, and then you keep repeating this pattern… I just want you to know I come really close to envying you.
For those of us who are native non-techies—you know, born in time to see the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan the night it actually happened—we have a disadvantage. We did not learn while we were still young how to keep doing new things, tackling new technologies.
I, like so many others, never did learn how to program my digital video recorder. If I wanted to record something, I had to be in front of the television, and hit record as the program started.
A few months ago, my wife’s coffee pot died. She gave me very clear instructions: “Find me a pot with an on-off switch. Nothing else. No digital timing programming thingy – just an on-off switch.”
In other words, we learned how to do something, and then it pretty much never changed on us. Life was so much simpler… so easy to manage.
Not anymore. About the time I get used to one operating system on my iPhone, they (the evil “they”) change it… again!
I think that the younger digital natives kind of learn to live this way: learn something, do it, keep doing it, now learn something else new; repeat.
Now, my problem is kind of the classic “knowing-doing gap” problem.
I have presented synopses of many business books, and I probably look for a quote or two from a specific book handout nearly every day.
I have had a humbling realization lately. I will be scrolling through my book handouts and see one for a book that I “remember.” And, time after time, this is my discovery: “You know, I read this. And I was going to do ________ after reading this book. And, I never quite got into the habit.”
In other words, I did not truly learn what I thought I had learned.
This hit me recently as I glanced at my handout for the terrific book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. He wrote:
Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior. But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time.
And I remember thinking, “I’ve got to get out there and meet people more. Network more. Get in the mix.”
I presented this book in 2006. That “decision” to get out there more had fallen by the wayside.
In other words, I read it. I can tell you why it’s important. But I haven’t done it—certainly not enough.
What have you learned that you have allowed to fall by the wayside? Time to get back at it!
So, get back at it!
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Last week, I was at a community event and saw two teenagers with t-shirts that had a tongue-in-cheek message printed in huge letters: “Let me drop EVERYTHING and help you with YOUR PROBLEM!” And, judging by their enthusiasm, I think they meant it, too. I don’t want to be too hard on teenagers because we’ve all been through the teen years, which can be like the terrible twos on steroids.
It’s another story, however, when someone in a leadership position has that approach. You may not be wearing a t-shirt that says it, but it’s possible that you are sending the same message, and that it is coming through loud and clear. If so, it’s the wrong message, and here’s how to change it:
- Check your arrival time. Many times a rushed leader is a rude leader. If you are in a hurry, you don’t have time to worry about other people’s problems. And yet, an important part of your job is to be a troubleshooter. One way you can carve out space to make that happen is to get there early.
- Check your margins. You have to expect your schedule to be interrupted with problems and people and problem people. You can’t jam your day full of unreasonable deadlines and expect to have any margins left to deal with the unexpected, but completely predictable, problems that will arise. Since there is almost always more work to be done, this is really a matter of priorities. Good leaders make people their priorities.
- Check your mirror. I remember being in a meeting where a supervisor said that his employees were complaining, “Management wants us to treat customers ten times better than management wants to treat us.” One of the first practices of a great leader is to model the way—set the example. So, it’s pretty important to ask yourself, “Am I treating the people that I supervise the way I want them to treat customers?”
- Check your attitude. This may be self-evident, but I find that sometimes our self-awareness is so low that we miss the obvious. There are no tricks of the trade that can allow you to hide an attitude indefinitely. And when it comes to leading others, the saying is true, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” That’s why I believe in the principles of Servant Leadership. As Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner says, “Really believe in your heart of hearts that your purpose is to enlarge the lives of others, and you will find that your life is enlarged in the process.”
I used to run track in high school.
Our track meets were usually on Fridays, so Thursdays meant we were having a light workout. We’d stretch, jog a little, and practice our form. For the relay teams, that meant everybody had to practice how to receive and pass the baton (just in case we had to switch our running order around for the actual meet).
I’d take my stance and listen for my teammate to run towards me. When she reached a certain point, I’d start jogging, and she would yell, “Stick!” That was my cue to stick my arm back and sprint as fast as I could, once I secured the baton between my thumb and index finger.
Everything was easy so until I got to the part where I had to hand the baton to the next runner. That’s where everybody on the team had the most issues.
Either we’d run too fast and risk disqualification for exchanging outside of the passing zone, or we’d slow down too much and cause the other runner to lose momentum.
No matter how we started or maintained, finishing and helping the other runner start her leg of the race was the most difficult part.
In the workplace, we are so good at “receiving the baton” from a mentor, then sprinting with that wisdom to carve our own career path, but a lot of us are “dropping the baton” when it comes to handing off the knowledge to the next generation of people in our fields.
You can’t complain about the younger generation not knowing better if you’re not being part of the solution to teach them. It’s hard because it involves being selfless and helping someone else, but it’s necessary for the progression of your specialized industry.
When you reach what you believe is the pinnacle of your career (not the day before you retire), purposefully search for another person in whom you see potential, and help them reach greatness too.
Besides, if someone didn’t take time out to help you, you probably wouldn’t be where you are today.
Learn from a mentor, cultivate your skills, and then be a mentor.
Pope John XXII is credited as having said, “See everything. Overlook a lot. Correct a little.” This may be pretty good advice for coaching emerging leaders. On the one hand, a coach certainly needs to be attentive to what’s going on.
Organizationally, many coaches are set up to fail. I often hear a leader tell me that he/she is directly supervising ten or more people. When someone tells me something like this, the first two thoughts that come into my head are, “If you are really doing that, you don’t have time to be in this class,” and, “If you are really doing that well, you don’t NEED to be in this class.”
If you have ten or more people to directly supervise, it’s not likely that you are going to come anywhere close to what it would mean to “see everything.” If that is your situation, one option is to identify two or three of those direct reports who have the most potential and spend some extra time coaching them, so that you can formally or informally hand off more supervisory responsibilities to them.
Admitting that you cannot adequately supervise a huge number of direct reports may seem like a bad thing for your career, but a person who can coach three people into a supervisory position is more valuable than a person who can supervise fifteen people.
Overlooking things may seem to be counter-intuitive to successful coaching. You may be thinking, “That is something that belongs in the religious world, but not in the business world. Mistakes cost money.” However, my response is that the supervisors that I’ve observed who try to correct everything end up corrupting everything.
I don’t mean that they, themselves, are corrupt. I mean that human nature, being what it is, cannot easily tolerate a supervisor who corrects every single little thing. That sort of control-driven approach corrupts the most important thing that exists in the business: the relationship.
Corrupt the relationship and you have corrupted everything. That doesn’t mean that the relationship needs to be of the BFF variety—not at all! The key element in the coach/employee relationship is respect. But, if you critique everything you see, that respect will evaporate rather quickly.
Remember, too, that respect can also diminish if there’s no feedback. The employee who never receives critiques from his/her coach doesn’t always get the message, “My boss is pleased.” Neglect to give helpful feedback, and that employee will eventually interpret it as, “My boss is indifferent.”
There’s no exact formula to go by in coaching people. Leadership is an art, not a science; but, as a rule of thumb, I think the Pope’s philosophy has a lot to offer.
In the previous blog post in this series, we explored a handful of unethical behaviors that all local government appointed and elected officials and employees should avoid. Let’s pick up where we left off:
- Sharing Confidential Information – It is unethical to divulge confidential information on any co-worker or citizen for personal reasons.
- Copyright Violation – Even though most public sector documents are public record, public sector employees should always give credit where credit is due and make sure copyrighted materials are properly annotated.
- Cyber-slacking – It is unethical to browse the Internet for personal reasons while “on the clock.” This includes, but is not limited to: online shopping, playing online games, checking your fantasy sport team’s stats, updating your personal social media site, etc.
- Discrimination –Title VI, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an organization is in violation, said organization can lose federal funding. Chapter VII of the Civil Rights Act, codifies Subchapter VI of Chapter 21 of 42 U.S.C . § 2000e, prohibiting discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII also prohibits discrimination against an individual because of his/her association with another person or a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Supplemental legislation has also been added prohibiting pregnancy, age, and disability discrimination.
- Email Abuse – It is unethical to create or forward any emails that are discriminatory, demeaning, abusive, and sexually explicit or contain sexual or racial innuendo. It is also unethical to send personal emails when you are “on the clock.”
- Endangering – Placing a co-worker, stakeholder, or citizen in a situation that threatens his/her mental, physical or emotional safety is unethical.
- Falsifying Time Sheets/Hours Worked – It is unethical to report hours you did not work. Additionally, you should never ask a co-worker to “clock you in” before you arrive or “clock you out” after you leave.
- Family Members – Some organizations will have nepotism clauses prohibiting simultaneous employment of members of the same family. Other employers welcome multiple family members. You should check with Human Resources to verify the specifics of your organization’s policy. Regardless, it is unethical to sway the interviewing and hiring process in favor of a family member.
A list like this may seem a bit overwhelming, but the truth is most of the behaviors are avoidable by practicing common sense. With that said, there are many pressures, both personal and work-related, that can cause us to lose our focus. Hopefully, this post (along with the others in this series) will serve as a lens for ethical service.
We will share more unethical behaviors to avoid in our next post.
Recently, I was surrounded by about a dozen folks around a table who, in way or another, were tasked with hiring the right folks, and then turning those folks into the employees and the teams that would lead to greater organizational success.
I started with three questions, which I adapted from the wisdom of a speaker I heard quite a few years ago:
- What kind of employee do you need and want?
- What kind of training produces this kind of employee?
- What kind of leadership produces this kind of training?
As we talked, we realized all over again that making the right hire, and then providing the right help/leadership, all in order to produce the right results, is one genuinely never-ending challenge.
Sometimes, it’s all about tone, management style, work ethic, etc—and all of this is after making sure that the right “hard skills” skill set is at hand.
Recently, I read a great article by Lou Adler. Here is some of what Adler asked a senior engineering executive at a high-tech Silicon Valley company.
“Do you consider the following to be soft skills?”
- Consistently completing high-quality work on time
- Making presentations to customers, executives, and other internal teams
- Persuading others to consider different technical points of view
- Coaching and being coached on technical and non-technical matters
- Working successfully for a variety of managers, each with their own unique style
- Remaining flexible enough to handle rapidly changing design requirements, yet still hitting deadlines
- Making tough decisions with limited information and often dealing with ambiguity
- Challenging conventional wisdom and authority
- Helping team members who are struggling
- Taking over without being told a project that’s in trouble
- Managing multiple projects to a timeline
- Prioritizing with little direction
And in the article, Mr. Adler added: “Let’s stop calling them soft skills. The squishiness of this minimizes their importance. Instead, let’s call them non-technical skills.”
Look carefully at this full list of challenging issues. I think we’ve got some training to do!
And, he may be right. Maybe we need a new phrase for these and other “non-technical” skills.
But this much I know: we want certain outcomes from our employees. If we are not getting outcomes we need/desire, we’ve got some training revamping to do. And it takes leadership to make those changes to our training approaches.
It’s obvious that no training, bad training, the wrong training, etc… does not work.
As close as I can tell, every accomplished person learned (was trained) in a multitude of ways. From good parenting, to formal education, to countless conversations, to mentors and coaches and sponsors, to self-directed learning and skill pursuits—we become more capable based on what we are trained to become and what we train ourselves to become more capable of accomplishing.
We just have to get better at helping others reach that level of expertise and accomplishment to provide greater outcomes.
And, whatever you call them, “soft skills” are clearly part of the mix… maybe the most important part of the mix.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis