Tips to Move Away from Internally Based Competitors

A leadership team whose members view one another as competitors is one with dysfunction. When members are not on the same page, battling internally, protecting turf and working at cross purposes become dominate priorities. Conflict runs rampant. Frustration is an epidemic. And moving things forward is next to impossible.

In this environment of competitors, silo versus silo becomes the operating norm. Community doesn’t exist, and innovation can’t thrive. Alignment around a common vision and strategy for the organization is not feasible. Professional satisfaction and rewarding results seem unattainable.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Turning competitors from internally based to externally focused is possible while establishing a community of leaders. Two factors are key to this turn-around: commitment and clarity.

Commitment to reject internal competitors

First, leaders must acknowledge that leadership doesn’t revolve around one leader or a couple of functional areas. Rather it is built upon a recognized and respected team, one where the individual silos are woven together to form a community.

This community comes about from a realization that not any one leader will have all the answers. To flourish today, a one-company mindset must be inherent in the company’s value system. Leadership must be distributed, leveraging the creativity, know-how and dedication of all leaders on the team.

Distributing leadership also capitalizes on diversity – the unique business acumen, experiences and perspectives of each leader along with his or her capabilities from functional responsibilities. Embracing and honoring this diversity helps shape a culture of strength not just in terms of its cohesiveness, but also for its vulnerability.

When leaders plant the one-company mindset in their core, they know they must commit to having each other’s backs for the benefit of the whole. Asking for and receiving help emerges as strength in the organization’s culture. It is required to get the work done, solve the problems, fight the competition and stay on top of market trends.

Clarity to eliminate internal competitors

Second, leaders must know what is expected of them. They must have clarity on the vision, strategy and leadership expectations. With well-defined success metrics, personal accountability and responsibility become grounded for each leader and expanded into the team as a whole. Included in that clarity is an obligation to hold others to the same high standards for making leadership and community a differentiator for the company.

When expectations are discussed and agreed upon, playing by the old rules is no longer be feasible. Instead the new way of being in the leadership community and acting with the one-company mindset takes a firm hold. Those who choose to adhere to the internal-competitors approach will not be tolerated.

Leaders must not allow a few lame leaders to poison the collaboration. With transparency, there is a duty to give feedback and challenge others on the team. It’s a duty steeped in what the team needs to be successful with employees, customers and stakeholders. Those who opt not to adapt will self-select out or be asked to leave.

It’s hard work to build trust and create the mutual support required for this level of commitment and clarity. And it doesn’t happen over night. I know from first-hand experience that grit and resolve are required to make the shift. I also know that it is extremely rewarding work to create a leadership community and feel a part of something special.

It’s only too late if your team doesn’t begin now. Ask yourself what part you will play in changing the culture to include a community of leaders.

Boundaries – 3 Steps to Establish for Effectiveness

As a leader, an important skills to master the art of setting boundaries. Why? Because boundaries enable prioritization on what  matters most and effectiveness to meet commitments on those priorities. They lead to focus and engagement for you and your team.

Years ago as a new leader, I experienced being pulled in a thousand different directions. As a result, I was managing too many priorities. My effectiveness was not what it should have been. And I was overwhelmed and exhausted.

This experience was one I brought on myself. Because I did not want to disappoint, I said yes to everything. At the time, I did not have boundaries. People saw that, so I was “fair game“; the target of “dump it on her and know she’ll do it.”

When things reached the breaking point, I knew it was time to make a conscientious effort to assert myself and take control. I had to let go of the “disease to please” and the myth of “the more I do, the more promotable I will be.” I had to get smart about my effectiveness on the job and re-engage with a life outside of work.

I hired a coach to help me navigate the choppy waters of being a new leader. I loved my work and wanted to ensure I had the energy required for its demands. The first thing we focused on was developing a backbone and establishing boundaries.

The three-step process we developed served me well back then and continued to serve me as I moved up the ranks. It enables greater value to what matters most – customers, employees and stakeholders.

Here are the three steps:

Acknowledge that boundaries are healthy and productive

Established well, boundaries do not conflict with flexibility and adaptability. Nor do they impact the importance of being a team player. Instead they can enable a higher degree of productivity and success. The key is to establish boundaries around the priorities of the organization.

Focus on boundaries for the sake of the organizations’s priorities.

Boundaries help you give your time and attention to what matters most. Questions such as the following can help frame your boundaries, putting context around whether you accept, decline or negotiate what is requested from you.

  • What are the strategic priorities requiring your attention?
  • What are the most pressing needs right now?
  • What are the key projects?
  • What measurements are driving your work?
  • Where do your people need your help?
  • What can you do to make their work more productive?

Recognize that boundaries help with options: yes, no, negotiate.

Boundaries give you options. Is it a fit or not? Or is something, but not everything, about it a fit?

First clarify the request. Get curious about what is being requested and why it is important. That way you are able to map it against your priorities. When you are clear on your priorities, you are able to think rationally about the request. You can frame consideration in terms of how those priorities will be impacted or enhanced. Make your decision relevant to the organization’s objectives – as a whole and to the team you are leading. Once you have decided, be succinct and confident with your response.

As a leader, you have an obligation to lead with boundaries established for the sake of clarity and commitment. Knowing what you need to do for your customers, employees and stakeholders enables you to move your organization forward. With resolve to take on the hard work as long as it is the right work, you will be more deliberate with your time. That leads to a less overwhelming workflow and higher levels of productivity and effectiveness.

How might the lack of boundaries be impacting your leadership? What boundaries based upon priorities do you need to establish?

3 Principles to Avoid Being an Empty Chair Leader

An empty chair leader does not hold the best interests of the organization to heart. Instead he puts his own interests ahead of all else. And by doing so, he instills a lack of credibility in his leadership and thus operates from a disadvantaged position.

These truths rang loud and clear when I met a senior leader whom I’ll call George. George was an empty chair leader, failing to see a more effective way to lead. With a few changes in approach, he could have filled his seat at the table. Moreover, he could have had an engaged team sitting around the table with him. How?

George was new to the organization, pulled in from the outside by the CEO to lead a business unit that had recently been acquired. While he may have been a fit for past assignments, he did not have skills to engage his new team and the wherewithal to understand a different business model. From day one, George was ineffective.

Behind the scenes, he was known as the empty chair leader. And because he was not equipped to engage, he set himself and the organization back. He was a struggling leader with a frustrated team.

George didn’t get the hard rules and the changing dynamics of leadership today. He had an old playbook. That playbook was not serving him, the team he led or the business for which he had responsibility.

3 Principles to Avoid Being an Empty Chair Leader

Be servant-first instead of leader-first – George valued self-interest above service to others. My first introduction to him was at an off-site meeting. He awkwardly barged into that meeting and hijacked the agenda.

With no regard for the leader facilitating the session or the importance of the topic at hand, he created a new agenda on the fly. This agenda was all about him.

George let the attendees know how important he intended to be at an upcoming event and dominated the day with his desire to shine on stage. This approach may have been sound in meeting his one need, but it was ill conceived for the long-term. In a few short hours, the team uncovered his insecurities and identified his self-interest.

Good leaders put their needs aside in favor of the larger group. They choose to make sure they are meeting the highest priorities of those they are leading. Their focus is on the productivity and health of their organizations. One of their core beliefs is that this focus enables people to perform as highly as possible.

Be knowledgeable about the people – George was uninterested in those he led. He exhibited no curiosity about them and did not asked questions such as:

• Why do you come to work?
• What is your backgrounds?
• What values are at the core of who you are?
• What motivates you?
• What leadership style do you employ?
• What do you do outside of work?

Because he didn’t know answers to those basic questions, he used a “one size fits all” style for leading. And he masked his indifference with tactics such as brushing people aside, leaving active listening skills behind and cutting people off to control the conversation. George had no means to understand what help his leaders needed and how the help could best be provided.

Good leaders who know their people are adaptable and flexible with their style. They recognize that “one size fits all” leadership is not the best approach. Depending upon the situation, they are able to adapt according to who they are interacting with and what is needed in the moment.

Be present to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – George had a few men on the team who were his go-to guys. These guys were the ones he sought out for advice, counsel and decision-making.

He managed with a select few. By doing so, he missed out on diversity of thoughts, experiences and backgrounds. And without diversity, he did not make sound decisions. As a result, his credibility suffered.

George failed to understand that most of his team had previously been in a “community.” He could not see it, so he could not leverage it. Many on his team were close-knit colleagues who knew each other’s functional organizations well. They had a real sense for collaboration and knack for helping each other.

Good leaders create an organization that is about the collective whole. The organization becomes a community where people:

• Show up to be at their best.
• Participate with a sense of collaboration
• Know they are supported and in turn support others
• Purse excellence

Within a year, three of George’s key executives submitted letters of resignation. Others were on the hunt for something new. Why? Being a part of his organization was exhausting.

George failed to do the hard work of leadership. Apathy set in. Frustration levels reached the breaking point. His team members knew there was a better way.

Before George took the helm, the leaders in his group had passion. Their people mattered, and they mattered to each other. Their customers counted. And they had mastered the art of accountability and responsibility for results through collaboration.

Maybe if George capitalized on what was already there and used the three tactics highlighted above, he would have avoided the reputation as an empty chair leader.

How well do you serve others, know your people and believe in the power of the whole?

Change the Scenery and Get Moving for Impact

A first-time manager (I’ll refer to her as Lisa) made a brilliant choice to diffuse an uncomfortable situation. During an awkward meeting, she reached a quick decision to change the scenery and get moving. The impact of this decision turned the meeting from ineffective to productive. Lisa’s decision is worth sharing.

As Lisa and I prepared the announcement of her management position, we identified a potential stumbling block. We considered the possibility of resentment on her new team. There was one individual who might feel he, not her, was deserving of the promotion. To address this potential issue, we ensured my talking points were solid for why Lisa was the right fit. We also role-played scenarios that could come up during her meeting with him.

Our intuition was right. During the team meeting, this individual’s resentment was clear. While he acknowledged the points I made to answer why Lisa, he had not totally bought-in to the new structure. He was on the fence. Thus, I knew a productive meeting with her was essential to ensure he was on board.

Just as we anticipated it might be, their meeting was awkward. The energy was uncomfortable. Tension permeated the space. His body language was closed, and his energy was low. Discussion was laborious, not flowing with any ease. The meeting was doomed unless something changed.

Recognizing she was not going to make progress in this atmosphere, Lisa asked for a change in venue. She suggested that they bundle up for the winter weather and take a walk around the campus. Once outside, the energy around them shifted. It was lighter and more vibrant. As they walked at a brisk pace, conversation began to flow more naturally.

By changing the scenery and engaging in physical movement, a safe and courageous field emerged between them. They were able to open to one another, articulating what each felt and needed from the other. Creativity emerged as ideas were shared. Those ideas were then built upon. Enthusiasm for what was possible began to come forth.

The meeting turned into a productive one. In fact, when she suggested they move back into a warmer place, he declined. He said he was enjoying the walk and the conversation.

As this story illustrates, changing the scenery and incorporating movement can have a positive impact. Here’s why:

  • Movement helps burn off and thus reduce nervous energy. The body / mind connection is real, so shifting the way the body feels through movement can alter the state of mind.
  • Movement changes the breathing pattern. Walking helps the body create more carbon dioxide naturally. This results in more efficient breathing. Adjustments to more efficient breathing can help restore balance in emotional energy.
  • Movement provides sensory distraction. The cold temperatures, the wind, the crunch of ice, and feet on the ground – These distractions help the brain process new things. Processing this new information makes it harder to hang on to what had been experienced. By letting go, the freed mental energy can be applied in a new direction.

Along with the benefits of moving, the side-by-side position while walking suggests, “I am by your side. I am on your side.” This position can help disarm defensiveness and engage relaxation. It evens the playing field, so to speak. By evening the playing field, an opening for new ways of working together can develop.

Try changing the scenery and incorporating movement in your meetings. In addition to the physical and psychological benefits of movement, you might find yourself tapping into new ways for thinking creatively. Tensions may dissipate. Openness may be more readily available. Communication might start to flow with more candor. Increased energy levels and shifts in moods could result.

Why not give it a try? What do you have to lose?