Cultivating A Performance Culture Of Respect

There are few things more important for a leader than fostering a culture where people feel safe to contribute their ideas. In a psychologically safe workplace, people feel free to take risks without fear of any negative consequences for speaking up. I’ve seen firsthand the lengths involved in identifying, preparing and promoting talent when I ran a management assessment center. To spend plenty of resources for that purpose and then not use the talent is a terrible waste.

Amy C. Edmondson has written the latest sine qua non about psychological safety in the workplace. If you didn’t know, Google’s study on what makes the best teams was influenced by Edmondson’s early research. Google ranked psychological safety as the first and far and away the most important of factors vital for team success. But getting it right can get messy.

If you as a leader insist on high performance standards but neglect psychological safety, employees will want to speak up about quality or safety concerns, but they’ll feel anxious because they know that their observations and general input to make something better will be ignored or ridiculed. Their contributions, most of the time, aren’t welcomed, so they don’t offer input, and so on it goes. I’ve seen examples of this, and as an executive coach, I’ve heard of many more from my clients who share their stories. There have been situations where a senior leader demanded ambitious goals thinking it would take ambitious efforts, and then modeled bad behaviors such as a raised voice, throwing things and humiliating others with their words. The leader wanted to stretch the elastic band of possibility in an uncertain market, but their actions kept people silent, dampened people’s drive, encouraged cautiousness and promoted fear.

On the other hand, lowering performance standards and relaxing consequences isn’t the way to go about it either. When you do this, all you get is a “nice” culture at the expense of one that promotes challenge and innovates. Letting go of holding people accountable reduces people’s motivation to take risks and set ambitious goals. It reduces engagement.

If, however, there’s a high bar for performance and attention to promoting sensitivity when people take interpersonal risks, the environment will be productive, and people will feel open and ready to disagree. The Goldilocks principle is at play when this combination is exactly right. In a psychologically safe workplace, there’s challenging work to do in ways that are mutually respectful so that when people fail and recover, they do so without reprisal.

But let’s be careful not to oversell psychological safety. It doesn’t have the muscle to go all the way to motivate people to collaborate with one another, and that’s key because collaboration is how work gets done. Psychological safety is a hygiene factor, not an engine. When it’s absent, boy do we notice.

The Dynamism Of Trust And Collaboration

We also need to notice how psychological safety interacts with collaboration. What’s important for leaders to recognize is that trust is foundational. We can’t cultivate purpose without it.

We know that having a view beyond ourselves, to the group, the team, the enterprise and the higher mission opens our appreciation of what we are working towards and gives us the energy to work interdependently.

Collaboration without trust isn’t genuine or effective. The stepladder to effective collaboration begins with trust, so it’s disappointing that executives in a large study rated building trust very low in relation to the other factors of instilling purpose and generating energy. This news is hard to swallow and suggests that we still will be facing a trust deficit for some time.

I feel good about the leaders I know who read about management concepts with the intention of raising their leadership game. However, I’ve noticed as we hunger to learn, we can inadvertently overemphasize a useful concept like psychological safety, believing it can deliver more than it can. We can also slip up by overlooking the importance of trust in creating effective collaboration. Understanding and applying both go a long way towards creating a flourishing culture at work.

 

This article was published first on Forbes.com Thank you to Rodion Kutsaev for the photo.

Leadership As An Infinite Game

If life is a game, you need to know whether you are playing an infinite game or a finite one. It’s especially true now as we sit still in our homes and reflect on our work and leadership. As Simon Sinek and others have pointed out, if you play the games of leadership and business as though winning is central, then you are playing a finite game. However, if the point is to keep the game going, then you’re engaged in a different game — an infinite one. Forming new habits of leadership is definitely playing an infinite game, and that’s a vital distinction.

It can be humbling when you realize the goal you’ve set for yourself to become a better leader hasn’t been accomplished. We feel worse about ourselves each time we don’t succeed at closing the gap between what we want to achieve and where we are now. It just might be because of the way we come at it.

Consider your last 360-degree feedback report. You studied the feedback, sorted through what you wanted to work on and then began. But here’s the secret that many know from experience but others haven’t yet learned: Goal-setting is overrated.

It isn’t that goal-setting is bad or not needed. It is. Starting with clarity about what leadership behavior you want to work on is vital. You need parameters and to start small. But goal-setting alone won’t get you very far.

Too many people start with the problem and then rush into correcting it. A more effective way to start is with the outcome you want to create. To genuinely create, you need to do better than react to feedback or a problem you’ve identified. So how do you set out on a path to become a better leader without it being a reaction? By getting very clear about the leader you want to be. Let me explain what I mean.

Take me, for example. As a young leader, I knew that I needed to delegate more. There were times that I was delegating, but then I’d fall back on my old habits of doing it myself. With more ups and downs, I did what most people do: I worked harder to ensure I had the right processes in place to make delegating likely. That new approach didn’t stick, either. Then something unexpected happened. I was beginning to lose interest in my goal, likely an expression that I thought my situation was hopeless. So I wrote out all the strategies I was using to see what was missing. Once done, I asked myself whether I needed more strategies. Nope, that wasn’t it. Instead, I refocused by asking myself a fundamental question that eluded me even though it was hidden in plain sight. I considered what sort of leader I wanted to be, and here’s what I learned: I wanted to be a trusting leader. Now I had a workable outcome to aspire to.

As Robert Fritz, an expert on structural dynamics for behavioral change, has written, the way to achieve a goal is to think of outcomes we want to create, not to simply react by thinking about how to remove the problem, because that doesn’t often work. With the insight about the kind of leader I wanted to be as my outcome, I resumed the game with the stakes far higher and engaged in the game far deeper than before.

Don’t Confuse The Scoreboard For The Outcome

Learning is often a game played with goals and scoreboards. Measures are helpful to know how you are doing, but we can often confuse the personal scoreboard with the outcome, and that can lead us to take a detour right back to playing a finite game where it’s about winning.

Many people know the story about Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity hack of marking an X in his calendar for each day he writes a joke and maintaining an unbroken chain of X’s. Even though he has disavowed the claim that it was his system, nevertheless, it’s a great approach for some people. But if the measure of the X’s becomes the goal, as often the measure can if you aren’t careful, it will replace the outcome of becoming a joke-writing comic. Getting and then maintaining a winning streak of X’s isn’t the same as writing high-quality jokes, for example. Too many people confuse the measure for the outcome, and that’s when they get derailed. Getting back to leadership and the skill of delegating, running a perfect streak of days delegating could mean I’ve reached my outcome of being a trusting leader, or it may not if I wasn’t mindful of also matching the work I assigned to people’s strengths and making resources available so they succeeded.

This is where identity-based habits are so vital. Those are the habits we form with deliberation that change our self-concept. The centrality of winning is not the main concern for those playing the infinite game. Playing this game shifts your mindset from winning, a place where you may have started, to building a new habit by deepening your understanding of yourself. It’s a game played outside in the world with new behaviors — and inside yourself, too. You take action while watching yourself, as I did, as an observer at the same time. I wanted to be a trusting leader; what was undermining my trust in others? How could I address it? How could I set expectations well when I delegated? These questions can show up and need addressing.

There’s a powerful myth that strong leaders come ready-made and fully developed. Maybe that’s why people think that strong leaders are born and not made. Yet people are growing around us all the time.

When we look at leadership development as the infinite game it is, with identity-based goals and not as a problem to be solved, we can experiment with who we are and how we show up with greater freedom.

A Simple Handbook to Living and Leading in Uncertain Times

Living and leading under emergency conditions is a skill set on its own. We quickly become aware of the gaps in our experiences when we face a situation where we have no choice but to navigate well, yet feel wholly unprepared to do so.

This crisis is different than a routine emergency. It’s existential. Potentially life-threatening. Global.

I’ve put together a simple guide to be helpful while we live under the dark shadows of COVID-19. It’s a compilation of information along with my own experiences that I want to share so that you are better able to deal with the transitions of loneliness, disruption and online life. It’s by no means complete, but a start.

Click here to download the Handbook.

Stay healthy and safe.

Image credit: Matthew Henry

A Leader’s Guide To Using A Stylist

Leaders have long known that the way they dress makes a difference in how they are perceived. I recently wrote an article about the ways in which leaders can misstep with their wardrobe. A new job, a promotion, new fashion trends and changes in body weight can make choosing clothes for work a challenge when we want to make new selections in keeping with how we see ourselves. For those who need a little help, an image consultant or stylist — I’ll use the words interchangeably here — can offer guidance.

I’ve used stylists at different times in my career and have offered advice to the executive leaders I work with about how they can get the most from hiring one. Here are a few pointers:

Stylists are only as good as how well they know you.

Just as you suspected, despite what they all claim, some stylists steer clients into being copies of themselves instead of selecting clothes that are an expression of you. Some employ questionnaires to learn about you at the start or interview you to learn about your needs, your role and your industry and profession. That’s all useful. Whatever their approach, what matters is that they appreciate your workplace culture and learn your style and the different audiences that you are in front of.

In my case, I was on high alert that I didn’t want anyone to push a style for an executive coach, a vague job title that conjures up images of conservative power suits. The consultant I chose got to know me and my personal brand well enough to present terrific options that were expressions of me.

Here are a few distinct ways you can benefit from a wardrobe review.

Start slow and small. Try them out first.

There’s no doubt that the best way to get to know a stylist is to begin working with them. Yet I find people go from zero to full-tilt far too quickly, purchasing an entire package of services at the start. Consider beginning small to discover how they work. Many have showrooms with clothes, and some have a retail store. Others accompany you while you shop. Ask yourself if you admire their style. Were their suggestions on point? Do they have a talent, or are they just a bit better in their selection than you?

I hired an image consultant for the first time when I was asked to speak at a large event and had a bit of a meltdown about what to wear. I’ll never forget how she nailed it out of the gate when she proposed a suit that had a flattering cut for my body and fit my style and the occasion. I loved it.

Invite them to review your wardrobe before you shop.

Once they’ve earned your trust, have them over for a wardrobe review so you can repurpose and update what you already own. Do this first, if you can, before you go shopping. Many people use image consultants to weed out clothes that they don’t have the courage to discard, which helps them to decide what to keep or donate.

In my case, I wanted to introduce her to all my styles, through casual and formal wear and across seasons. The value I received from her visit far exceeded my expectations. Here are a few distinct ways I benefited from a wardrobe review:

• Sorting out what no longer fits and pinning it for the alterationist. Stylists are typically more in touch with trends than some alterationists, and so having your consultant do the fitting is an advantage.

• Selecting clothing that needs updating. We shortened the sleeves of a favourite blazer for a summer skirt suit and changed over the buttons to breath new life into it. We also pinned the width of the leg on a winter suit pant to update it.

• Coordinating clothes into outfits in ways I found surprising. People tell me that I have a style of my own and I know I have a taste for fashion. Nevertheless, my consultant amazed me with a creative assemblage of my clothes that I never thought to pull together in the ways she did.

• Coordinating jewellery and shoes with a few outfits. This was helpful, mostly because we both noticed what was missing from my shoe collection.

• Identifying which clothing items were missing. For example, I could use several colours of pants to go with some sweaters to stretch my wardrobe. I also recognized that I had overly invested in business clothes for the winter and needed to shift my attention to my summer work wardrobe with a few more dresses.

Until I engaged one myself, I imagined that stylists were “dressers” for politicians and movie stars in preparation for an event. They are. But they are also an affordable luxury for many of us, and they can bring tremendous value if the partnership is right.

I’ve worked with several image consultants at different times in my career. Each worked in their own way and had their strengths. One had a standout talent of assembling outfits, and another had a knowledge of fit that only a clothes designer like herself could have.

My advice? Image consultants can be invaluable whether you enjoy fashion and know your style or you wonder what the fuss about clothes is all about. There’s so much you can learn from an expert about dressing for work when you want to make good choices in step with a change.

This article first appeared in Forbes.com. Thank you to Sarah Dorweiler for the photo image.

Four Ways Leaders Misstep With Their Wardrobe

It’s a tender topic and one I approach with care. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not referring to clothes that aren’t in good condition, unattractive or meant for the beach. When it comes to dressing as a leader, missteps can be far more nuanced than that.

Our perception of leaders is often influenced by how they dress. Our work attire telegraphs so much about who we are and how we lead. But it can also inhibit career progress.

In my work as an executive coach, I often conduct 360 interviews with a client’s peers, direct reports and senior leader. Sometimes they say that my client’s clothing needs a rethink. Interestingly, some even express frustration borne out of a perception that a leader ought to know better. Here are four wardrobe missteps, illustrated through real-life examples.

  1. You might not have allowed your wardrobe to grow with you.

I worked with a banker in wealth planning who was a strong leader but created confusion because her clothing did not align with her level of seniority. Her wardrobe consisted of traditional business attire, specifically multiple navy pantsuits. Many of her peers felt she portrayed the look of someone who had just graduated, not an experienced executive. Her wardrobe needed more variety and modernizing to become contemporary.

Initially, she responded to the feedback by asking questions to gain clarity and then shrugged it off, relaying why it wasn’t important to her. Then, she disclosed that she had created a self-imposed moratorium on shopping for clothes until she knocked off a few added pounds. That sounded reasonable enough.

This story has a surprising ending. After she had time to digest the feedback, she told me that the feedback had been transformative. It changed how she saw herself. It wasn’t just that she freshened her wardrobe but she also recognized that she was due to make bigger changes in her life, including at work.

  1. You may not be dressing with your audience in mind. 

Dress codes vary by industry, but standards can be different even within departments of the same company. I was asked to work with a high potential insurance executive principally because his career ambitions were stalled. He was recognized by senior leaders for his talent for innovation, but we learned from interviews that his casual attitude and clothing were a hot button: He was seen as a rule breaker in a very conservative insurance culture.

To be fair, he worked in operations where the dress code was casual. He didn’t interact directly with clients, and interactions with other stakeholders were limited to the phone. In those instances, his casual dress was appropriate. But he also regularly traveled downtown to headquarters for senior leadership team meetings. Showing up regularly without a blazer made his superiors hesitant to promote him because it would mean greater visibility and more face-to-face interaction with stakeholders.

He surprised me when we met for our next coaching session. He showed me the three new blazers that he kept behind his office door for when he needed them. People around him didn’t expect that he would be willing to flex in this way, and his new wardrobe choices sent an important message about his adaptability to the right people.

  1. You stand out, but maybe not in the way you hoped.

Many of us like to express our personality through what we wear, but sometimes in the interest of standing out, we can go too far and alienate people we work with. I coached a marketing whiz in a large telecom company who dressed untraditionally in colored suspenders, fashion-forward shoes and edgy haircuts. The common view held by those he worked with was that it was pretentious and too quirky for their culture.

When he and I talked it through, he recognized that he was dressing for where he wanted to be and not where he was. He had fostered the sort of look common in an advertising agency, not a telecom company. He impressed everyone by switching up his wardrobe and finding a balance between fun, serious and eclectic. He could see the difference it made to be perceived as approachable.

  1. You haven’t yet optimized your wardrobe to save time and space. 

Naturally, our desire to change the way we dress doesn’t always originate from other people’s constructive feedback. Sometimes we initiate a change because of our own needs.

That is the case with my current client, a strategic planning executive for an international company. With her promotion to vice president, her travel commitments accelerated and she found that she was spending too much precious time coordinating travel outfits for different weather, seasons and cultures. It was getting in the way of her feeling productive and it was frustrating. On more than one trip, she brought too much clothing with her and it created an inconvenience. That’s when she decided to engage an image consultant to help her create capsule wardrobes. Comprised of a select number of clothing items that can be used in a variety of ways, this streamlined approach makes it easier to identify pieces that work together, and thereby reduced her closet, saved her time and minimized her luggage.

It’s important to be mindful about your clothing at work and consider your needs and the expectations of the workplace you are in. My hope is that by being aware of these missteps, you’ll be able to adapt and lead, confident in what you wear.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com here. Photo credit: Cleo Vermij.

 

Good Habits: What’s Lacking In Leadership Development

There’s something wrong with how we develop leaders. Learning what we need to do to step up our leadership, whether it’s because of a recent promotion or leading a disrupted marketplace, is helpful. But we don’t always do what we are convinced we should. Old habits get in the way.

Knowing what to do isn’t the same as doing it. Enjoying beautiful photos of food in a cookbook when you’re hungry is not the same as making those meals and satisfying your appetite. You’ve read the recipes but your stomach is still growling. What we want to do and know to do doesn’t always translate to action.

When it comes to forming new habits, we aim to behave in ways that will stick. Making behaviours automatic is what a habit is.

Employers have taken us partway there. Companies have worked for decades betting on the leadership competencies and behaviours that will lead a business to future success. They evaluate their leaders’ performance against these same behaviours. But it often stops there because, although people know what’s expected of them, what’s still elusive is how to continuously make the change.

As humans, we are naturally inconsistent and persistently habitual. You may have weekly Monday morning meetings with the team or run a meeting in a routine way. This can be useful if it’s valuable, but it can also be maddening to be consistent when you want to form a new habit.

I’ve spent years learning how to form habits with deliberation, and I’m learning to see myself as I am. I’ve noted where I went off the tracks and where I’ve thrived, revising what I know about myself as I go. That’s how you can determine your profile as a deliberate habit creator.

A few important things you’ll need to learn about yourself to master the game of habit building include how you motivate yourself, your strategies to succeed, your strategies for self-sabotage and the strengths and limits of your own willpower.

The Confusion About Habits

Like others, I first read about habits in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Successful People. First published in 1989, it was a bestseller and still has a hold on people’s imaginations. Covey’s habits were habits of the mind, such as being proactive and seeking to understand and be understood.

Today, we live in an age where research in brain science and neurology and a strong interest in healthy lifestyles have captured our attention, and it’s advanced our understanding of the mechanics of habit creation. Furthermore, knowledge about the self-limiting behaviours that hold leaders back from their full effectiveness makes turning our attention to changing our habits very appealing.

Although we are told in books and movies how successful people got to where they are so we can do the same, copying their formula doesn’t work. One size doesn’t fit all. We aren’t motivated in the same ways, nor do we all enjoy the same rewards. So, here are a few vital keys to make you the potter of your own clay:

1. Focus on smart design, not just willpower.

Habits that sync up with your goals don’t get formed without a deliberate strategy. I guarantee that leaning into your willpower as your single strategy won’t get you there. When starting out, we aren’t as clear about our drivers or even when we can lean into our willpower, so it’s key to be patient with yourself as you learn what works for you. Be sure to write down any information or insights about yourself, as you will be building your own habit profile.

2. Shape your environment by creating cues. 

A cue is the start of the design. It sparks the sequence of actions you will follow. So many people know they need to expand their internal networks but don’t “find the time” to do it. Counting on your memory as a reminder doesn’t help. You need reliable cues.

At 12:30 p.m. each day, a leader I coach grabs her lunch in the company cafeteria where she starts a minimum of one conversation with someone she doesn’t know. This is a big win, especially because she dropped her long-standing habit of eating a quick lunch at her desk.

3. Get it out of your head and into the world.

Too many executives I’ve known start habit building with an intention they keep locked up in their head. It may work for a day or even a week, but then it disappears. The secret is to get it out into the world.

For example, a hospital foundation CEO wanted to resist getting distracted from her daily priorities. So, she began creating a daily list first thing every morning and sharing it with her executive assistant. She sorts the urgent from the important and refers to prepared questions she habitually goes to when she’s considering deviating from the list.

4. Determine whether you need to make it social. 

Are you someone who will forge a new habit on your own, or would you prefer it to be social? When an accounting firm partner I know wasn’t taking care of her health, she pledged that she would walk the stairs at work. And then she didn’t.

Although she saw herself as autonomous, she didn’t expect that making this activity a social one with a buddy was necessary. If you’re in a similar boat, consider finding a habit buddy who is equally committed to their goal.

When we change our habits, we take ownership of our behaviours in visible ways. Learning to turn leadership behaviours into habits is what’s missing in leadership development.

A version of this article was published by Forbes here. Thank you for the image You X Ventures.

What To Do When You’re Overworked

“No one takes their foot off the pedal when they’re in the game.” 

Be forewarned, this idiom tells us, you need to go full tilt without letting up if you’re going to be successful, meet the deadline, or delight the client. As the belief goes, maybe those people who slow down “just don’t think like champions.”

That’s what a new client of mine said was the reason why he was exhausted at work. It resonated with me because my own work ethic used to be driven in this way. When I used to work intensively for years, I didn’t see the point of pausing or celebrating my milestones. It just slowed me down. When people around me insisted I take better care of myself or leave time for other interests beyond work, I felt they were distracting me from getting things done. My resistance seems nonsensical to me now, all this time later, but for many, this is still their reality.

For so many leaders, keeping your foot on the accelerator is an admonition not to slow down no matter what. Although giving up may not be a great idea, the belief in going without stopping can be dangerous. I’m not referring to the few who end up fully burned out and hospitalized, but there’s an agreement in the workplace that ceaseless change and churn will never stop, and we all know that it’s unsustainable. Just yesterday an executive told me that although it was crazy at work, he was going to take some time off to re-energize because “it never stops.” The charged-up velocity of change has many more people lamenting and asking themselves how much longer they can go on this way. The “slow season” is no longer. There’s only one season — it’s full-on.

Leaders often say that they don’t want to pull back because they want to model productivity. Ask yourself what you are really doing when you stay at work yet again dragging yourself from meeting to meeting with your head down, shoulders rounded, and maybe even shutting yourself away to “get work done” in your office. It’s easy for others to see when someone is working late most of the time and is tired and frustrated. Your emotional skills as a leader are what we know now as a social contagion. This means that if you are grouchy, showing stress and frustration, you’ll soon see it spread and reflected in the culture.

You don’t need an executive coach to tell you that this is real. You or someone you know probably lives this. The question on leaders’ minds is what to do about it. There are many good strategies to consider. Consider these three.

  1. If you’re feeling that you are doing too much, you most likely are. Capture your activities in an audit of your own making, documenting how and with whom you’re spending your time. I’ve observed many leaders discover that they have been over-involved with their team, for example. There’s an opportunity to pull back and nudge your rock stars forward without your full involvement. Too often, CEOs who are new to the role or leaders who have assembled a brand new team have let close stewarding go on for too long. Think about efficiencies for you while nurturing those around you. Where else can you elevate yourself to fly at the right altitude doing high-value work while providing new opportunities for others?
  2. How do you start your day? Do you set yourself up to be hooked by urgent matters? If you’re searching for business problems and urgent matters, as many do, you are looking to be helpful, but ask yourself if your work is really moving forward. Instead, begin with your strategy and then reverse engineer it so that your daily to-do list sets you up to achieve strategic objectives.

A client of mine was a fastidious list maker and then gave it up, priding herself that she could store her to-do’s in her head. It was one thing she started doing before she became a CEO for the first time. Then when she took a job as CEO, she continued to keep much in her head until she realized that she was prioritizing fighting other people’s fires. Without a written list she committed to of what she wanted to accomplish each week and day, she was easily taken off track.

She’s back at list-making now, and it didn’t take much effort to restart the daily habit. They say that our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction. It can be much easier than people imagine. Consider the productivity hacks that have worked for you and assess if it’s time to bring them back. Winging it just means you are receptive to whatever comes up. There’s not much strategic thinking in that.

  1. It’s necessary to give yourself a break, no matter how strong you enjoy your black coffee or how long you claim you can keep going on with little sleep. What often holds leaders back is their belief that they’re indispensable. Don’t believe your own good press. You wouldn’t tell your own team to postpone their vacations indefinitely, would you? Or encourage them to avoid organized social activities at work because it’s busy? Start planning so that you can absent yourself from a meeting or take the two-week vacation you are owed.

Perversely, if you don’t let up, you’re likely underperforming and dragging your people with you.

This article was first published here on Forbes.com. Photo credit: Matthew Henry.

Leadership: Why Execution Alone Isn’t Enough

“Being social at work is a waste of time.” When I heard these words from a leader regarding their approach to working with people in the workplace, I instantly recognized it to be a commonly held view, notwithstanding that it’s rarely said with the same degree of bald clarity.

It’s the belief of those who are driven to deliver yet haven’t yet updated their approach from when they were a single contributor. That’s a problem for them and their organizations. Without strong, trusting relationships, success is only temporary and limited to when things are going well. Watch out for when situations become problematic.

I attended the opening of a major exhibition of Brian Jungen’s art, the ingenious visual artist known for eviscerating Nike sneakers to create colourful indigenous masks. When the museum’s CEO took the microphone, he shared that the exhibit was only possible because of the lengthy relationship between the curator and the artist. Museums trade on relationships just as much as they do knowledge and taste. The artist and museum’s interests may be mutually beneficial, but it might surprise you to learn that without longstanding trusting relationships, many exhibits wouldn’t have happened.

Just as in the art world, relationships in any workplace are the grease that makes the wheels turn. It’s the social linkages — not just hard work and a dogged determination — that make it all possible, even in situations of mutual benefit.

So why do so many get stuck making it all about “getting it done” with their heads down and their proverbial sleeves rolled up?

To answer that, you’d need to look at who gets promoted inside of workplaces. I’ve worked with leaders whose careers rose swiftly, principally because of their ability to execute brilliantly. It’s no small feat to build a reputation for getting things reliably done and on time. The trap for emerging leaders is that it’s easy to have a hard focus on delivering and forget the importance of relationship building because results are what many businesses value.

A client of mine in the biotech industry earned a reputation as a formidable producer. Nevertheless, she felt frustrated that the cross-functional teams weren’t working as well together as they could. With the focus on results and the expectation to collaborate too, the missing puzzle piece was the lack of strong interpersonal connections.

What’s more, speed in some cultures is the name of the game, and what gets lost is the need for deliberate trust-building across the silos. When mistakes happen, people get blamed. Rooting out who is at fault is the first priority rather than collaborating for problem-solving. This scientist came to see that she and her peers can have a positive impact on the team climate with greater availability and openness that would reduce persistent misunderstandings. The solution didn’t rely on process clarity alone, but on trust-building too.

Let me tell you a story. A fundraising campaign pitch for a youth leadership summer camp I attended as a young girl found its way to my inbox. I knew I wanted to contribute funds and revive an old community to enroll others to do the same. So I sent an email to three people from the greater community. I’m not a professional fundraiser, so I leaned on what I knew about people, relationships and getting results. Two said yes to the request and showed enthusiasm, a sign of commitment. I didn’t receive a reply from the third person, and he didn’t donate. That’s because trust and rapport had long disappeared with time. Whereas my email requests showed competence with the ask, that was table stakes. Rapport and a relationship were the difference between results and none. Social persuasion depends on a foundation of both to gain commitment that produces results.

Language gives us access to ways of thinking that may be hidden from us. With that in mind, here’s a helpful vocabulary and a list of useful approaches to get work done more effectively. Each is vital to good leadership.

  1. Take on social fluency. Engage and get proficient in interpersonal relationships that are mutually satisfying and that include give-and-take, trust, and the expression of compassion.
  2. Develop an affiliative leadership style. This is the approach to leadership where people come first. You do this by taking an active interest in the whole person, developing connections between you and between others, and doing what you can to create a harmonious climate.
  3. Lean into vulnerability. Admitting when you don’t know (but will find out) is a means of building trust. When I’ve coached leaders who have fudged the answers more than they should, they’ve learned from their multi-rater reports that in fact, others often knew they were pretending to “know” and it eroded their credibility. It’s amazing how winning it can be to show what you don’t know.
  4. Bring joy to it. Most of us have serious jobs, and people rely on us to do well. But being serious at work as a default without play and joy leads to disengagement on the team and a workforce that puts time in without feeling satisfied.
  5. Become more likeable. Yup, this can be learned. The way to grow your likeability is to be friendly, connect over shared interests, be genuine, ask questions of others and show empathy.

Leaders who rely on their expertise alone and make do with transactional relationships lose out on being included in the trust network. By seeking out social linkages, there is an opportunity to become a collaborative leader. These leaders know how to create a climate where people talk openly about mistakes and letting go of silos. Those who show strong managerial ability and foster quality connections create cohesion where there isn’t any and make genuine collaboration possible.

The key to creating a collaborative leadership culture is the shared belief in the mission, the expression of mutual support, and strong connectivity, a requisite for the practice of holding honest conversations. Executing alone doesn’t get you there, but the expressions of genuine relationship-building can.

Image creds go to Patrick Fore. This article was first published at Forbes.com here.

 

Before You Leave Your Job: An Eight-Step Checklist

When I look back at the transitions in my career, I admit that I didn’t always know how to leave well. The blend of excitement I felt about the possibilities in the future, and my hope and nervousness about how it would work out took me away from paying full attention to what to do in the last few weeks before departure.

It’s tough to keep your feet on the ground and your focus on the work after submitting a resignation. But it isn’t impossible, and what’s more, it’s vital for you and your organization.

Here are dos and don’ts to keep in mind once the exit clock starts clicking:

1. Do have the right mindset.

It’s leaderful to do an exemplary job finishing up right before you leave. You need to have your wits about you to resist submitting to the temptation of believing that the years of work you’ve given should be enough and speak for themselves. Take the long view, and spend time finishing up with deliberation and grace.

2. Do review any incentive, bonus or other monetary compensation agreements.

Understand what the impact of your resignation will have on your monetary entitlement. Experienced executives and employment lawyers worth their salt will tell you that failure to review your contract could result in an unwelcome surprise of relinquishing entitlement to bonus, stock vesting, or other compensation. This is a case of “what you don’t know might really hurt your pocketbook.”

3. Don’t check out and disengage.

It’s easy and even natural to place your focus elsewhere when you know you’re leaving, but it’s unfair to your branch, department and division since you are still their leader. Leaving a legacy is less of an abstract notion and more tangibly real when the end of your time in the role is close. Carry yourself as a professional and be mindful of your legacy. If it’s a less-than-agreeable ending, once you’ve resigned, it’s important to manage your emotions. After all, it’s your reputation at stake, and that is far more important than your short-term emotional state.

4. Don’t leave the work of separating your personal property to the last minute.

Take care of ensuring that your personal data is separated from corporate documentation. Bring it home with you before your last day to avoid delays in retracting that personal information, especially if it’s information that is housed on a company cell phone or a company laptop. There’s not much worse than being unable to access personal information when you need it because it’s stuck in a bureaucratic labyrinth. Getting it untangled is no one else’s priority other than your own.

5. Do what you can to navigate relationships down and across.

Consider what your team needs to know from you. Create a checklist, and stick with it. And what about your horizontal alliances with colleagues? With a month to go before a marketing leader I know left her job for another employer, she made a point of meeting with each chapter of the inclusion groups in the company network she pioneered and where she had an outsized presence to encourage them to carry on doing their important work without her. When she shared this with me, I admired her commitment to take the time to ensure continuity. When I think about leaving, well, I often think of her.

6. Do keep your boss updated.

You know your boss and what she worries most about. Is the bench strength of your team well-positioned for the future? Assure her that all your approvals that have been in the queue are signed off. Draft a multi-page document of everything you do and discuss it. It may sound odd, but your boss is likely to be surprised by much of what’s on that list, especially if they are located far from where you are. Don’t forget to add to the list what you’ve been doing as a cultural ambassador.

7. Do spend time with your successor to set them up for success.

Ask yourself what you can do for the transition to go smoothly. Run through the strategy and budgets with an eye for identifying the watch-outs. Offer your insights about the informal networks and who the decision-makers, allies and advocates are. So much of this history can’t be read in a manual or in a series of emails and takes a long time to figure out, such as the history of the team and its relationships with those in adjacent functions. Above all, be a confidence builder, letting your successor know that they are ready for the role as you lead alongside them.

8. Do show appreciation.

If you aren’t the type of leader who regularly acknowledges the people with whom you work, it may be too late to start now. However, you should still resist telling your entire career story at the goodbye party, and leave time to personalize your acknowledgements for the people who contributed to your success. The way you thank people will leave a lasting impression and show you to be the people leader you are. Appreciating others makes it more likely that they will want to stay in touch with you at your new place of work. Beyond continuing the friendships, it can be very useful to maintain contact and include them in your strategic network.

There is lots to do, but it’s far more than a tidying up list (although leaving everything organized is a big part of it). When you plan your exit, you are showing that you care about continuity and the success of the business. Demonstrate that you know how to let go.

Your departure date is an exciting and risky time. It’s important to be mindful to sidestep the pitfalls you will be facing so that you leave well. Finish just like you started: strong.

This article was first published on Forbes.com here. Thank you to @autumnstudio for the image.

How To Stop Ruminating And Build Your Confidence As A Leader

While working with a senior leader I was surprised to learn that what was stopping her from taking on a new sizeable challenge at work was her incessant rumination about a situation that happened long ago. She was overthinking it, and it was undermining her confidence.

Rumination is the habit of hanging on to the negative things that happened in the past and retelling the story to yourself again and again. According to Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith in How Women Risewomen often blame themselves for what they did (or didn’t do) in the past, while men tend to show anger and lay blame on others. Rumination can be tough to detect in both women and men who do it because it operates as an internal monologue that we can’t hear. Most corporate leadership development programs don’t address rumination, but its impact on leaders is nevertheless real.

Why Do We Ruminate?

There are many reasons why we repeat unpleasant stories to ourselves. In the moment, we may think we’re doing something purposeful by extracting the learning from a situation by going over it repeatedly. Yet after a while, the learning stops, and the self-criticism can exact a toll on our confidence. Or we continue to go over the negative story because we don’t feel we should let ourselves off the hook for something we regret. We may believe it’s right to feel bad about ourselves.

Still others may not be aware that they’re ruminating. It’s understood that girls start to ruminate in adolescence, so it can be the air that they breathe when they reach adulthood. That’s the impact of perseverating over something negative.

In their book, Helgesen and Goldsmith offer amusing and memorable commentary on the meaning of the word “rumination.” Ruminants are cows, goats, deer and other animals that eat only plants and work hard to extract the protein from them. They predigest their food, and then they chew it before it’s finally digested. That’s essentially what we do when we return again and again to “chew the cud” of our negative stories: We turn them over and over in our minds.

In the case of my client, she was ruminating about a situation that happened six years ago when she was criticized at the start of her new role. During our coaching sessions, I encouraged her to catch herself each time the situation came to mind, and she learned that she did it far more often than she’d estimated. When I first asked her whether she ruminated about the situation, she said no, but as her awareness grew, she recognized that she did and expressed an interest to work on it so rumination would no longer restrain her.

With time, she came to see that the story was acting as a cautionary tale that impaired her ability to view herself objectively when faced with the decision of whether to accept a new assignment. She feared that she would disappoint herself and others from the very start and that history would repeat itself with the same players. Does that sound familiar?

Getting Unstuck

It’s easy to read about self-limiting behaviors and think that we can self-manage them by simply spotting the behaviors. But it takes resourcefulness and action to lead ourselves in a healthier direction. Men and women all ruminate to some degree, but there are strategies that can help stop the ruminating before it gets out of hand and hardens the way we think about ourselves and our capabilities.

There are many ingenious ways to stop the ruminating early to avoid getting stuck. Here are three:

1. Identify what’s at the root of the story.

We can blame ourselves even when it’s unjustified. Is the root of the story about being criticized or your quest for perfection? Figure out what’s really bothering you.

2. Consult others, especially those who were involved.

Others who are part of the story may be more objective about what happened than you are. There’s a time when I wish I had consulted others. Early in my consulting career, I conducted a workshop helping people identify the psychosocial barriers to medical rehabilitation. Some people pushed back loudly on the content. It wasn’t until years later that I was recognized by someone in that training session who told me how transformative the training had been. I was caught off guard by her praise. She picked up on my surprise and said that the resistance I received wasn’t noteworthy in their culture and that the resisters often challenged new information. I remember thinking about how much time I’d wasted because I’d been needlessly ruminating about the experience.

3. Talk it out to gain a new perspective.

Even though my client returned again and again to her story about being criticized and knew that she wasn’t to blame, it wasn’t until she talked it all out that she could view it from a new perspective and say that she was ready to let it go. And she did.

Rumination And Self-Reflection

Rumination and self-reflection can be confused with one another, but they’re different. Rumination is unproductive and occurs when you have involuntary thoughts that linger far longer than what’s needed to problem solve. As you ruminate, you’re likely adopting a fixed mindset about your potential where you come to believe that you’re either good at something or you aren’t and that there’s nothing you can do to develop yourself. The impact of ruminating often is taking fewer risks, so making safe decisions becomes the game.

Self-reflection is part of the thinking process where we adopt a growth mindset and appreciate that with more effort and practice, rather than withdrawal and feeling bad about ourselves, we can succeed. The impact of reflecting on our effectiveness is a healthy appetite for risk that’s often necessary for learning, creativity, general well-being and leadership.

This blog post is revised from the original, published by Forbes.com. Thank you to Matt Thornhill for the photo.