Why Good Parents Make Great Leaders

I need to come clean with you.  Open kimono.  Full transparency.  The naked truth.  Here it is:

I’m tired. 

I’m cranky.

I have less patience with others. 

And I’m a better leader and person today than I used to be. 

parents-leaders-425“What are you talking about Brandon?  What could have happened to you?  After all, you used to be so ‘nice’.”  My answer is three words: I HAD CHILDREN, three of them – a girl (Abbigail, 13) and two boys (Noah, 10 and Aaron 8).  Through my own journey as a parent, I have become convinced that parenting can be one of the best training grounds for leadership.  It is a trial like no other.  It forces you to determine what you stand for, defend those beliefs, set boundaries, make sacrifices, consistently and clearly communicate your expectations and hold others accountable on a daily basis.  Sounds a lot like leadership, huh?  And like leadership, most people are not very good at it.  The unholy truth is that there are many more ineffective parents than there are effective ones.  Go to any public place and you’ll find more lazy or failing parents than you’ll find parenting rock stars.  How can you tell?  Easy.  Just look at their kids.  If you see children exhibiting any of the following behaviors, you’ve got clear signs of ineffective parents: rudeness, anxiety, disrespect, whining, paralyzing fear, abuse, self-centered attitudes and demanding “prince and princesses.”  These are all signs of parents that do not lead.

Want to avoid all that stuff and be an effective leader at home?  Consider the following traits of parenting rock stars:

Effective parents:

  • Set a culture of what is acceptable and not acceptable clearly, consistently and regularly
  • Are not afraid of initiating conflict and must always be prepared to lecture, punish or deliver time-outs at the drop of a hat.
  • Must be prepared to hold the line. A parent’s authority will be challenged on a daily basis.
  • Are committed to their leadership team first and foremost. The most effective parents are committed first to their spouses and second to their children.  Parenting is not a democracy where everyone has an equal vote.
  • Focus on developing their children and recognize that they will likely have to adjust their development approach for each child in order to be effective.
  • Are master cheerleaders.  They love their children unconditionally and let them hear and feel that love on a daily basis.
  • Communicate what is going on in the world and what it means to the family in a way that reinforces values and lowers anxiety.
  • Raise their children so that the role of parent is no longer necessary. Effective parents strive to raise healthy fully-formed adults that contribute to society (and others) positively.

Is leadership in any business or organization materially different?   And yet, we rarely give parenting its proper due.   In an effort to be politically correct, we tend to downplay the role of parenting as if it is equivalent to some sort of hobby to be taken up on the weekends like adopting a puppy or joining a skeeball league.

Parenting is hard.  Leadership is hard.  Over the next few posts, my hope is to make you more efficient and effective on both fronts.

In the meantime, get off my lawn.  I’m taking a nap.

 

“My direct report is dysfunctional”

direct-reportIt was my fourth call with Theresa in a week and I was beginning to feel like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Theresa’s direct report, Steven, had been causing her headache after massive headache.  “Steven just doesn’t get it,” she blurted.  “What’s the latest this time?” I asked.  Like each of our recent calls, Theresa would open by rattling off a laundry list of “doesn’t get it” items that would make any manager cry.  From failing to participate during leadership team meetings (Steven preferred to slouch in his chair with his arms crossed) to passive aggressively sabotaging change initiatives, Steven had become Theresa’s nemesis.  And at this stage in the game, “fed up” didn’t do Theresa’s level of frustration justice.  As we neared the end our call, Theresa abruptly stopped talking leaving a prolonged silence in her wake.  Wondering if we had been disconnected, I began to ask if Theresa was still on the line when she broke the silence with one simple and profound statement.  “It’s either him or me,” she said.

Theresa’s story

Over the last three months, Theresa had been growing increasingly frustrated with Steven.  Tasked with changing a struggling business unit’s performance, Theresa had been sent by corporate to lead the turnaround effort.  And as corporate’s reigning change master, this wasn’t Theresa’s first rodeo.   After leading a half dozen turnarounds, Theresa had developed her own playbook for successful change.  Once she arrived and assessed the situation, she consulted her trusty change playbook and began executing step one – getting her team on board.  Over the next several months, she spent time taking members of her leadership team out to lunch, getting to know each of them personally and ultimately moving them to a place of trust and buy-in.  One by one, she was successful in winning over her team, all except for Steven.

Steven’s grudge

Prior to Theresa’s arrival, the business unit had undergone several consecutive years of declining earnings.  The former leader of the unit had been going through a nasty divorce and, as a result, had been consumed with personal problems.  In that vacuum, Steven had emerged as the informal leader of the unit.  As the VP of sales and with a tenure of nearly 30 years in the group, it made perfect sense.  With Theresa’s arrival, however, there was a new sheriff in town.  From the moment the decision was announced that Theresa would be leading the group, Steven began voicing his displeasure.  He thought that should have been his job.  Now, not only was there someone sitting in the seat he wanted, she was making decisions that went counter to what he would do and had been doing.  He wanted Theresa gone.  As a result, he made it his goal to make her as miserable as possible.  To make things more complicated, Steven had been the only shining star in the business.  He and his team brought in tens of millions of dollars in reoccurring revenue annually through his long-term relationships with key clients.  Simply put, if it wasn’t for those long-term relationships that Steven had cultivated, the business would have been shuttered years ago.  Letting him go could pose a risk that Theresa (or corporate) might not be willing to take. 

If this was a Harvard Business School case, Theresa would look out her office window and sip her coffee as she wondered what to do next.  We as the readers would contemplate, discuss and debate.  But this isn’t an HBS case.  This is real-life and Theresa has a major problem facing her each and every day she walks into work.  This problem is rife with emotion, tension, anxiety and anger.  There is no escape and no time to waste.

My direct report is dysfunctional

This month is all about dealing with this very problem: the dysfunctional direct report.  My goal is not to discuss or to debate, but to give you some tangible actions you can take to fix the problem ASAP.  Among other topics, we are going to address:

  • Signs you’ve got a direct report problem.  A real direct report issue can not only cause you sleepless nights, but it can cost you performance and talent on your team.  Is your problem nearing nuclear meltdown or is it a minor blip that you need to manage?
  • Are you the problem?  Sometimes the direct report issue is not a problem with the direct report.  It is a problem with the manager.  I’ll give you the “self-diagnosis” check-up you need to ensure the problem isn’t actually the person staring  in the mirror staring back at you.
  • The nastiest direct report patterns and the corresponding treatment for each.  From the saboteur to the incompetent direct report, there are a handful of common direct report ailments that each require a custom treatment plan.   Using the right approach for the situation is the difference between success and failure.

When it comes to dysfunctional direct reports, time is not in your favor.  The longer you wait, the bigger the cancer grows.  You must move swiftly, precisely and with complete commitment to your plan if you have any hope of turning things around.  And in the end, you may end up facing the same choice as Theresa, “It’s either him or me.”  We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

 

“Death by meetings”

meetings_graphic317Manuel stared blankly at his calendar.  It was a Wednesday, the middle day of the week in the middle of a typical month.  9:00am – meeting, 10:00am – meeting, 11:00am – meeting, 12:00pm –working lunch meeting, 1:00pm meeting, etc…  It was 8:37am and shortly Manuel was going to start another day that comprised of nothing but meetings.  According to his calendar, from 9:00am until 6:00pm he was in meetings without one break.  At this realization of another day lost and out of his control, Manuel should feel some level of anger or resentment but he numbed himself to that anger long ago.  As one of a handful of Directors of Information Technology at a University, Manuel had seen his role become more and more critical over the last 5 years.  Budget cuts combined with massive change in higher education made the need for increasingly better technology platforms a must.  On top of it all, it was a University.  Administration needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Faculty needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Staff and students didn’t seem to have much say, but they needed to be involved in the conversation anyway.  As a result, there were meetings.  Lots and lots of meetings.  One week Manuel estimated he spent over 42 hours in meetings This didn’t include all of his time spent preparing for the meetings and following up after meetings.  Manuel’s real work day was beginning to look more and more like one of his early IT jobs, 6:00pm to 12:00am.  If that wasn’t bad enough Manuel had a team of four managers and 30 support staff under them.  The only time he could coach and develop them was after 6:00pm.  That meant that they were staying late at work, away from their families, longer than should be necessary.  Family.  Manuel tried not to think of family this early in the week.  He needed to at least hold out until Thursday afternoon to let himself go there in his mind.  He bit his lip in an effort to distract himself.  His calendar came back into focus and Manuel suited up for another wasted day filled with meetings.

Meetings own a special place in my workplace dysfunction Hall of Fame.  They are the flagship exhibit at the end of the hallway set aside for “most common workplace dysfunctions that shouldn’t exist.”  Think of it as the workplace equivalent of the measles.  There are simple antidotes and inoculations, and yet, almost every organization is guilty of this pervasive dysfunction.  There is no damn good reason for it.  Unlike a dysfunctional boss or an unhealthy culture, meetings can be easily reworked, restructured and managed to prevent dysfunction.  This month, I’m loading you up with all of the booster shots, vitamins and antibiotics you can handle.  We’ll make sure we hit the following:

  • What’s the purpose or objective?  If you can’t articulate one, you shouldn’t call one.
  • Who should attend?  Meetings are NOT a party.  More is not merrier.
  • How long should the meeting be?  Meetings shouldn’t be marathons.
  • What are the ground rules for the meeting?  Gotta keep those emotional vampires in check.
  • What’s that post-meeting hygiene?  How are you gonna ensure that stuff actually gets done?

Simple enough, but I have yet to have attended a meeting run so well that I could check off all of those boxes.  Ridiculous.  We’re gonna change that starting today.  Just imagine living a world where meetings were all done right.  No wasted time.  No soap-boxing.  No pointless blather.  No fuzziness on why you’re there and what you need to do.  No politics.  No dysfunction.  I know, I know.  It sounds too good to be true.  But what option do we have?  Death by meetings?  No thank you.  

Here’s a teaser on what we’ll be covering this month.  Have a taste:

 

“Senior management is dysfunctional”

mgmtdysfunction_graphic317Sometimes dysfunction at work isn’t obvious. Sometimes we just feel the dysfunction. We know in our gut that things are not right but we can’t exactly put our finger on it. It’s not our boss, at least not most of the time. Our coworkers definitely aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t make them dysfunctional. It’s not them. And our job is fine. In fact, if this other “thing” could be removed, we might actually really love what we do. Sometimes dysfunction is the result of the actions and behaviors that are performed at the top. Sometimes senior management is dysfunctional.

This month, I’m going to take on this challenge – dysfunction within the ranks of senior management. I wish I could say that this dysfunction is less common than ever. Unfortunately, my experience is that the opposite is true. Today, senior management dysfunction is more common than ever.

Are you curious if you are suffering from this all-too-common affliction? Here are some good back-of-the-envelope signs that senior management at your organization is dysfunctional (check off as many that apply to you and if you are senior management, take note if believe any of these apply to you):

  • You feel a general level of anxiety at work and you can’t quite place your finger on “why?”
  • Long periods of time lapse before you see or hear anything from senior management.
  • When senior management does communicate, it is either in business jargon or it seems out of touch with what’s really going on with the business .
  • You don’t know what the strategy for the organization is and neither does anyone else that you ask.
  • Senior management doesn’t seem interested in listening to other’s opinions.
  • Senior management micromanages their direct reports and doesn’t seem to trust anyone in the organization to deliver.
  • What senior management says are the values of the organization are very different from how they behave, operate and reward.
  • Mood swings from senior management are legendary. Senior management may need medication.

How’d you do? Half the battle is acknowledging there is a problem and identifying what it is. If you are a senior leader and some of the above are all-too-familiar, hold tight. Prescriptions are on the way for curing what ails you. If you find yourself working under a dysfunctional senior manager(s), there’s hope for you too. Regardless, we are going to do our very best to cure this dysfunction in 3 weeks or less. Ambitious? Why not…

Got a unique senior management dysfunction that you want me to tackle this month?

Simply shoot it to me via e-mail, comment below, text me, tweet me, leave me a voice mail, send up smoke signals, yell loudly, etc… One way or the other, get it to me and I’ll throw it in the mix!

 

“I don’t have any goals”

nogoals_graphic‘Tis the season of resolutions and goal-setting. First, let me come clean and tell you that I am a big fan of setting goals, both personally and professionally. And I’m not just your average fan. I’m one of those face-painting, rabid kinda fans. Goals keep us on track and focused. And to be frank, had I not set some ridiculously crazy goals in my life (some might argue delusional), I wouldn’t have accomplished half of what I’ve accomplished. While I may be a bit on the extreme side as comes to goal-setting, I would want for you the same satisfaction of setting a vision and realizing it. This month is about filling the “no goal” void with some aggressive and focused goals in order to get you closer to your picture of perfect.

The School of No Goals

Before we go too far down the path of goal-setting, I need to attend to the recent trend of anti-goals. Many of you might have encountered this school of thought. This doctrine posits that both individuals and organizations shouldn’t set goals because in this new fast-paced world, too much is out of one’s control and thus failure and frustration are inevitable. They argue that the real way to approach growth and progress is to focus on one’s behaviors and hope for the best. My opinion on this particular school of thought? Simply put it is wrong-headed “excuse-making” clap-trap. Garbage. Junk. Not much better than some cheap “feel good” fix you might buy off the street. Of course, I can clearly see the appeal of the “no goals” philosophy. It frees one from guilt and failure. Why? Because one never sets a bar(a goal) so naturally there’s no “falling short.” On the flip side, “accomplishment” never happens because “success” is never defined. Without goals, we are simply buying lottery tickets hoping “something good” happens. What that “something good” is we aren’t sure but we hope we’ll like it. I don’t need to remind us of the odds of winning the lottery.

The Tip of the Spear

As I alluded to earlier, goals serve a very important role. They give us a direction. They provide the tip of our spear as we move forward personally and professionally. They paint a picture of the world we are trying to create. Without goals we are just taking action without a clear expectation or vision of where we want to be and the life we want.

This month we are going to talk about goal setting. My job in this is twofold:

  1. Give you a menu of differing types of goals for your consideration (a rich menu of personal and professional)
  2. Get you to pick one (the fewer the goals, the easier it is to focus and to guarantee progress)

Packing for Next Year

One final perspective on goal-setting: it is not about achieving the goal you set in the timeframe you define (Ex: goals for 2013, etc…). The objective is to make as much progress as you can toward the goal in the time in which you allot. For example, if you set out that your goal is to make $1M next year and unfortunately, you fall short and only make $800K or perhaps you decide to lose 50lbs. and you only lose 40lbs., those are not failures simply because you didn’t hit your goal. Those are clear successes because you moved far down the path toward your desired end state. Contrary to popular belief, in reality most goals are realistic. It is the timeframe we define in which to achieve them that is arbitrary. Our “goal” for next year is to use goals to focus our actions and see how much we can get accomplished. So, as we get ready to pack our goals for the coming year, guilt and fear of failure are not allowed in your suitcase (nor are they permitted in your carry-on bag). They won’t get past any TSA check-points. Leave ‘em both at home… with the lottery tickets. We’ve got too much to do.

 

“How do I get others to change?”

Are you facing one of the most challenging tasks in the history of mankind – to get other people to change? Whether you need to get your employees, your colleagues, your client or your family members to change, getting others to change is just plain hard. Unfortunately, this challenging task is becoming more and more common place as the world around us is evolving at such an exponential rate. Industries that have traditionally attracted people who are “change averse” are facing huge mandates – change or die. Think of healthcare, education, government, retail, traditional publishing, television / radio, etc… Heck, you name it and the industry is likely facing some kind of huge paradigm shift… all right now.

How can you smile?

A few weeks ago I was having this very discussion as part of a class I was teaching for a group of Executive MBA students from Austria who were visiting the States. During the breaks, one of the participants came up to me with a very serious and distressed look on his face. He set his gaze on me and sternly asked, “With all of this change in the world, how can you be smiling?” Other than generally being a “smiley” guy, I did have a good reason for smiling at that moment. My response was simple. I said to him, “You are correct. The world is changing at a speed and pace that no one can predict or know, nor have we ever seen such a pace of change throughout history. So, as I see it, we have two options. We can let the change happen to us and react to it or resist it. Or we can be the authors of that change. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the author of the world I want to live in rather than have someone else decide that for me.” His reaction? He smiled and walked off.

Authoring change

This month is about helping you to author that change and to persuade others to follow you. Amongst other things, we’ll be talking about some of the fundamental elements of getting anyone to change, from our most senior employee who is set in his / her ways to our eldest child who still lives at home well after they should. To that end, this month we’ll tackle:

  • How do you create a compelling vision for change?
  • What are the best ways to light a fire under others and create urgency?
  • What’s the best way and time to deliver an action plan for others to follow?
  • How and when do we support others while they take on change?

Change is hard. Change is even harder when we have no real control over the people we are trying to change. We have to cajole, persuade, convince and inspire to get others to face some of their greatest fears and make that leap of faith. In the end, we have to make such a compelling case that they see our path as the only one. Hold on for a crash course on people change 101.

My goal this month is simple: By the end of the month, I want you to come out prepared to author the future of the world in which we live. Ambitious enough for you?

 

“I don’t have work/life balance”

Ah, work/life balance… We all want it and very few of us actually have it. To make matters worse, the strain of the economy has forced most of us to “do more with less.”  Many of us are underpaid and overworked. In the end, our work/life balance ultimately pays the price. And depending on what is out of balance, we may end up seriously and permanently hurting aspects of our lives that mean everything to us. From our most valued relationships to our physical health, work/life unbalance has definite costs.

 

This month, we’re talking about work/life balance. We’ll be covering the following as I help you think about how to get and keep your life in balance:

  • What are the signs I’m out of balance?
  • Where do I start if I want to get balance back?
  • How do I set boundaries and say NO?
  • Your prescription for getting and keeping work/life balance

 

Before you strap yourselves in, know that it could be a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. A few caveats about work/life balance:

1. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Work/life balance differs from individual to individual

2. It’s always changing. You may find balance, and then something in your life changes and “bam!,” you are out of balance. From getting married to having children and then seeing them leave you with an empty nest, seasons change and so does balance.

3. Some professions are more difficult to get balanced than others. If you are an investment banker, traveling consultant, high-paid attorney, a young resident physician, (insert your profession here), etc… balance does not exist in the traditional sense. It’s really a question of what is unbalance costing you and for how long are you willing to pay the price?

So before you strap in, ask yourself: “what’s out of balance and how am I going to start to get balance back?”  It’s gonna be bumpy but with some effort and intentionality, we may just land smoothly and a little more balanced in the end.

 

“Performance Reviews”

Performance reviews. Need I say more? There is nothing as dysfunctional and as predictable as the annual performance review. From vagueness to politics, from personal attacks to overall managerial disinterest, performance reviews are inherently nasty and rarely done well. Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, has a wonderful perspective on performance reviews. To quote Bob, “if performance reviews were a drug, they would not be FDA approved… About half the time performance goes up after a performance review conversation and about half the time performance goes down.”

Whether you are a manager and have the responsibility to conduct performance reviews with your folks, or you are on the receiving end of a performance review conversation (or both), knowing how to manage that conversation is a tricky and critical task to both your effectiveness as well as your happiness. Amongst other topics, we’ll be covering:

  • What are some of the most dysfunctional ways that performance reviews are commonly delivered?
  • How do you deal with a performance review conversation that has turned unhealthy and unproductive?
  • If you are a manager, how can you ensure that you are doing all you can to make the performance review process healthy and productive?

Do you have a performance review story you are willing to share? Send me your stories of your experiences with “less than healthy” performance reviews and I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty).

And in case you want an additional teaser to the month, here’s a radio segment I did recently on performance reviews. Who knows, maybe at the end of the month when we’ve covered this dysfunction thoroughly we’ll rate each other on how we did and see if our ratings match up. Oh, I can’t wait…

Performance Reviews. Always Dysfunctional.

 

“My team member has a bad attitude”

“Bad attitude.” We all know what this means. We see it every day when we navigate traffic, call into customer service for help or simply try to get stuff done at work. In each case, the same thing is true – we are doing our best to get something accomplished despite someone else’s bad attitude. At best, those with a bad attitude are unhelpful and irritating obstacles in our daily lives. At worst, they actively try to sabotage anything that we may want to get accomplished. They’ve crossed the line from bad attitude into cancerous. So, what can you do?

This month we are going to take on this dysfunction: “My team member has a bad attitude.” Amongst other things, we’ll address the following:

  • My employee has a bad attitude. What do I do?
  • I’ve got a co-worker who has a bad attitude. What can I do?
  • I’ve got a bad attitude. How do I shake it?
  • What are the signs that their (or your) attitude is beyond repair?

In the end, attitude is all that really matters. Talent is overrated. Attitude isn’t. Keeping your attitude positive keeps you fast-tracking to the top. When attitude turns, it’s the beginning of the end.

So, where’s your attitude headed?

 

“I need some inspiration”

What better way to end a year than with a little inspiration. After all, who doesn’t want to be inspired?  I was working with a client recently who said to me: “I just feel flat. Nothing in work excites me, my personal life is just ‘blah’ and I don’t see anything changing. When I was younger, this was not how I pictured my life turning out.” Can you relate? Have you ever felt as though there was an enormous wet blanket draped over your shoulders, dampening any spark you might have once had? Have you ever felt you were just going through the motions, wondering “what is the point?” …Is this you right now?

This month is about inspiration.  Getting it and keeping it.  Amongst other things, we’ll be tackling the following important questions:

    • Have you forgotten who you are?
    • Why does the world need you more today than ever?
    • What if you had only one year left to live? What would you do?
    • What are you going to start saying “no” to?

We’ll be looking at some of the most inspirational stories I/we have come across to not only help us answer some of these questions, but to give us the spark and courage to make it happen. My hope is that at the end of this month you can say three things about yourself and the life you are building:

    1. You feel “the spark” of inspiration inside of you
    2. You can see the path towards the life you want to live
    3. You are beginning to act in ways that are inspiring to those around you

Inspiration is contagious. This is one “germ” you need to catch, feed and actively spread.

So, are you living a life full of inspiration? Do you want one? Hop on board and let’s get there together.

As a teaser, If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs’ commencment address at Stanford, it’s a must.

 

“I thought I was a rock star”

I thought I was a rock star...until they let me go.This month’s dysfunction deals with an all too common problem: not being told where you stand at work often resulting in being blind-sided with bad news. Do you know where you stand at work today? Are you seen as a rock star? A loose cannon? A future leader? No longer relevant to the organization? Too often, our position changes and we aren’t even aware of it. For many of us, there was a time when we were rock stars. We had a loyal fan base and sold out venues. But, as it happens with most rock stars, over time people stop coming to our shows until one day, to our surprise, our fans are gone. The worst part – no one bothered to tell us along the way.

This month, we will tackle this dysfunction: not being told where you stand at work often resulting in being blind-sided with bad news. Throughout the month we’ll cover, amongst other things:

  • What are the warning signs that I’m losing my fans?
  • What are the land mines I need to avoid?
  • What can I do proactively to get a read on where I stand today?
  • How can I “sell more tickets” and keep myself relevant?

Every Monday, I’ll kick off our conversation for the week by addressing one of these big questions. Throughout the week I’ll share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in. By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!

So, write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject. I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).

…And off we go!