The Applause of a Single Human Being

This post is an excerpt from my new book Ignite Your 
Leadership Expertise, which is available on Amazon.com.

Recently I had an idea for one of my corporate leadership programs that has over 6,000 leaders enrolled. In an attempt to make the program communications more personal, I included an insightful reflection one of the participants “Mark” had shared at the bottom of the email message. I didn’t have to wait long for a response, but I was surprised who it came from. Within minutes an email reply appeared from our company president. He had cc’d me in a reply directly to Mark and included Mark’s entire executive chain of command. Our president began by thanking him for his engagement in the program and leadership in his function and ended with a “proud to have you on the team!”

I don’t know anyone busier than our company president, but he still found time to give a personal kudos. I don’t know Mark personally, but I bet he went home walking on air with a story to share with his family over dinner. “That was really fun to be a part of,” I thought. “I want to do this again.”

One of my favorite quotes of all-time comes from the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson, who observed, “The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.”

Each of us are “single human beings.” We qualify. Your applause is of great consequence, and so is mine.

Celebrating the success of others is definitely a “nice” thing to do, but if we think a little deeper, it has some real benefits for us as well.

4 Pitfalls of High Competence

We all know that competence is one of the main requirements for effectiveness. But can you become so competent that it actually becomes a detriment?

The answer is yes. If you’ve developed a high level of competence in a particular area, you’re actually in a danger zone. If you don’t identify the pitfalls, it’s likely you’ll fall into one. Here are four to keep an eye out for.

Developing a Servant Leadership Strategy

I first heard the term “servant leadership” in high school. Since then, I’ve seen and heard it referenced over and over again in books, presentations and casual business conversations. One of my initial aversions to the term was that while it sounded nice, the connection to results was soft or overlooked entirely. In other words, it felt like a “nice guys finish last” strategy. After all, leaders are expected to deliver results or they won’t last long.

The more I’ve studied business and leadership effectiveness, the more I’ve learned that servant leadership is a supportive, inclusive and empowering style of leading others. In short, it puts the needs of others above the needs of self, but without sacrificing the underlying needs of the organization.

Many leaders want to grow in servant leadership. I know, because they tell me so. But sentiment isn’t enough. What we all need is a strategy. These four items are a good place to start.

My #1 Productivity Tip (and 5 Others)

As you continue to grow as a leader, the invariable happens. You get put in charge of more. Whether you’re promoted to a higher position or have your level of responsibilities expanded in your current role, there’s simply more to oversee. In fact, as unemployment rates fall and Baby Boomers continue to retire, there is a good chance your new leadership opportunities will come before you feel ready.

Receiving a promotion or an increase in responsibility usually comes as good news. It’s positive recognition of a job well done. But with it can come an uncomfortable anxiety: now what? How am I going to find the time to get everything done?

If you’re in a situation with more responsibility than than you know what to do with, let me share my number one productivity tip – and a few others that will help you manage the load.

Should I Focus on My Strengths or My Weaknesses?

If you have goal to grow as a leader, you’re on the right track. If you have a plan of how to get there, you’re doing even better. But where have you put your focus?

Many leaders choose to focus their development energy on areas they think (or have been told) are their weak areas. But is that really the best strategy?

If you’re going to invest the effort into becoming a stronger leader, it pays to make sure your focus is in the right place.

Top 10 Posts from 2017

6 years. That’s how long this Everyday Leadership blog has been running. I hope you’ve seen your leadership awareness and effectiveness grow over this time – as have mine.

Below I’ve compiled the top 10 posts of 2017. You can also view the Top 10 list from past years.

If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up to receive my free content in 2018 and I’ll send you my ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor as well!

5 Ways to Take the Pain Out of Giving Feedback

One of the most distasteful activities leaders face is giving negative feedback. The reason? When done well, it can still ruffle feathers. When done poorly, it’s a disaster. No one likes engaging in activities that often aren’t appreciated.

Giving great feedback isn’t easy. It’s tricky, it’s not much fun and to top it off, none of us were born knowing how to give great feedback. We have to learn how over time – often the hard way.

If you’ve struggled with giving feedback before, here are some tricks to get you pointed in the right direction quickly.

The Person on the Other End of Your Leadership

What comes to mind when you think about leadership responsibility? Taking charge? Casting vision? Setting strategy? Getting results? Every time I get to ask this question in a workshop setting, the list gets long very quickly.

Let’s make it more personal with this sobering question: are the people you lead better or worse off because of you? What is the experience of each person on the other end of your leadership?

Since there are so many leadership responsibilities, let’s focus on just a few that have enormous implications for the people in our wake.

Simplify or Petrify

I had a chance to work with a couple new vendors recently. The contrasts couldn’t be more stark. One is a time-tested and respected brand and product. Another is a semi-recent start-up with an innovative concept. But the differences didn’t end there. Right from the get-go, one required some initial planning and then essentially ran itself. The other became a second job to actively manage. One required a few decisions that could be made quickly. The other required many complicated and lengthy decision points. One had a simple system with self-service reporting. The other had a complicated system that required customized reporting.

In many ways the products were comparable, but it wasn’t long before I started caring less about results and more about my own self-preservation.

The main issue wasn’t quality or customer service. It was simplicity. From top to bottom, one was simple, the other was complex.

In today’s marketplace, simplicity is currency.

As you look to increase your leadership effectiveness, make sure simplicity is part of your equation. Here are a few tips to get you started.

12 Crucial Questions to Better Decision-Making

Decisions fascinate me. Occasionally they come easily. Sometimes they are difficult. Oftentimes they’re stressful. Some have huge implications. Most have a variety of influencing factors. Some decisions turn out perfectly. Some blow up entirely.

Leaders are responsible for making important decisions that by nature aren’t easy. In fact, in a certain sense the essence of one’s leadership is the sum of the decisions he or she has made over time. Unfortunately, many leaders struggle with the decision-making process. I’ve written before about the need for leaders to have the courage to step up and make the tough calls. I’ve also shared an insightful decision-making process I’ve found.

Fortunately, decision-making skills are a lot like public speaking skills. The more you step up when others shy away, the greater your influence will become.

Below, I’d like to include a variety of factors I consider when making decisions that will have significant organizational impact. These are factors I often use – and encourage those I’m responsible for to use as well.

When to Coach… and When Not To

“How can I get my leaders to do a better job coaching their teams?”

That’s a question I frequently field from the executives and HR partners I support. I hope you’ve asked that question for yourself as well, because it means developing your team is high on your radar. I’ve shared the key skills of coaching as well as my favorite coaching conversational model GROW. That said, a new question arises, which is when should you coach and when shouldn’t you?

If you get this question wrong, you’re likely to either confuse your team or neglect to use your coaching skills to their maximum effectiveness. But if you get it right, you’ll grow as a coach and so will your employees.

Here are three situations when you should not coach and five situations when you should.

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Over a decade ago I received a DVD of a past Chick-fil-A franchisee seminar. As I watched, the late founder Truett Cathy took the stage to deliver his opening remarks. They weren’t what I expected. He opened by saying, “If any of you has something against someone in this room, I want you to make it right.” Then he promptly left the stage and approached someone in the audience for a conversation. After an initial silence, almost every person in the audience got up and found someone to talk to. Soon the whole place was abuzz for quite sometime.

Watching the seminar footage, I couldn’t help but muse, “You just don’t see that every day….” It was just so… different. Contrast this with a scenario that played out a few years back on my team. I had received some feedback on a project that I didn’t agree with and had defended myself a little too aggressively. The next day, I decided I owed my team an apology. Even so, I remember pacing in my cubical for several minutes before I could muster up the will to admit I’d been wrong.

What is it about apologizing that is so difficult? And what makes it so important – in terms of cultural capital, influence and effectiveness?

Here are my observations.