Hiring Future Leaders

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Everyone you interview has the potential to be a future leader.  The problem is we often want to hire people who are the leaders today.  Not only that, we want them to have 3 PhDs and 15 years of experience in each field.  I just read a wonderful article from Liz Ryan, the founder of Human Workplace.   She discusses how so many HR departments are posting job ads for people that simply don’t exist or, if they did, they certainly wouldn’t work for the salary being offered.  


When I hire, I look for those future leaders, the people I know will be great with some coaching.  I search for passion, integrity, and drive to improve.  Training is so easy and 90% of any job is on the job training regardless of how much relevant experience the person has.  Your systems, culture, and team dynamics are always going to be different from what they were doing before.  In short, a person’s potential is often far more valuable than their actual experience and qualifications.

The plaintiff if Liz’s article above illustrates another common situation, especially here in China.  Management is way behind on deadlines they shouldn’t have set in the first place because they don’t actually have the staff to deliver.  Then they decide they need some mythical wizard that magically takes over a role and does the best job ever to deliver on time and to specs.  Of course, this person can’t be found (and even if they could, they certainly have a job already and wouldn’t be sending in applications to web ads) and then, instead of reexamining their assumptions about deadlines, capabilities, and hiring requirements, they blame the poor recruitment manager for not finding the right people.  I’ve seen this more times than I can count.

Real leaders set realistic goals for their teams and make sure they have the staff and resources available before promising the moon.  They also know they will need to hire good people and develop them, not expect to be able to find some wizard to clean up the mess they’ve put themselves in.

Look for those people who would be a great fit for your team.  Give them your time and your attention . Pretty soon, you’ll find you built a team of incredible people, people who are loyal to you for the help you’ve given them.


Rating Your Team

Just read an interesting article over at HBR Blog about Microsoft removing it’s rating system for staff management.  Certainly a bold move and one I’ve contemplated for a long time.  The most critical point the author makes is that the best leaders work with people as they are, not against some set of supposedly objective competency criteria.

Your team will always have strengths and weaknesses and your job as a leader is to help those people use their skills to the best of their ability.  This can mean coaching them to play to their strengths as much as it may mean developing a weakness.

I see this all the time when coaching teachers. There is a certain way that I teach and, of course, that will influence what I consider best practice in the classroom.  However, my teaching team is always made of a number of educators with very diverse backgrounds, experiences, and personalities.  They certainly won’t always teach the way I do and what works for me, may not work for them.

I remember a conversation I had with one teacher during probably our 4th feedback session after a class observation . He stated, “You know, I’ve seen you teach and I value your feedback.  However, I realized that it’s not about me teaching like you, it’s about me teaching to the best of my ability in a way that works for me and my students.”  This was a key point in his development and I think this is a common stage in learning and coaching.  First you try to emulate, but then you internalize ideas and practices to make them your own.

I think you also know you’ve done your job as a coach when your team is comfortable enough to tell you that they aren’t taking your feedback and this is why.  When you can help your team draw on their own strengths, it sets them up for success.  In learning, it’s always about finding where a person is and then helping them get to the next level.  This means that real development comes from understanding your team, not necessarily comparing them to a so-called objective set of criteria developed by someone else.

What do you think?  As common sense as this may sound, is it practical to apply at an organizational level?  How do you deal with talent management, pay increases, and other HR processes generally tied to performance management systems?

Empathy & Authenticity First

I once worked with a manager who never had a negative thing to say about anything.  Everything was always, “amazing”, “super”, or “exciting”.  Her belief was that this fostered a positive culture and encouraged happy team members.  Many of us that worked under her were not so sure.  The thing was that her communications with us and others did not come across as authentic.  It’s as if she was putting on a face and her real thoughts lay behind it.

This was especially pronounced in meetings.  There were never any problems, difficulties, or reasons something might not work.  These were all classified as “excuses”.  Was your location poor yet you still had similar sales targets to every other store?  Well, then you needed to “get creative”.  Were you short staffed and HR had not provided you with any interviews in over a month?  Well then, you should find your own people.

These answers are not necessarily wrong.  The advice is useful and great leaders do get creative and find their own solutions to problems rather than getting dejected by difficulties.  However, the problem was that people did not feel understood or valued.  By not empathizing with the team first, it was as if our manager didn’t care about our situation and certainly didn’t seem to understand the challenges we faced.  This also resulted in an eventual failure to even bring up challenges.  In this way, communication break-downs resulted and the manager couldn’t make accurate predictions or judgments as much of the information needed to do so was missing.

As leaders, we want to encourage forward thinking, solution-oriented, and accountable teams.  But, our teams are still human and humans are emotional, not logical.  We often don’t want answers or advice first, we want to be understood.  Listening to your team, empathize with how they feel and how they understand the situation.  Once that connection has been created, then you can start looking at solutions together.  Sometimes as leaders we forget that we are part of the solution, not just the person dispensing advice from on high.

Whether it’s from my own experience or from watching others, I’ve noticed time and again that the leaders with the most authentic communication, the ones who understand their teams before pitching in to find a solution, are the ones that inspire the greatest results.

Own the Email

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One of the most frustrating experiences at work is when you send a routine email or request for support and it comes back to you as “that’s not my job” or even worse, no response after several follow-ups.  Finally, when you get a hold of them on the phone or track them down face to face, they state that it wasn’t they weren’t responsible for that, so didn’t bother to respond.   This lack of ownership and teamwork is a culture killer.  It should be everybody’s job in the organization to help get things done and it often takes longer to type an email saying it’s not your job than to forward it on to the correct person for help.

Countless times when I get these kinds of responses from people, it turns out it actually was their job or that the person they thought was in charge of it was not.  Not only are they wasting your time, but they are depriving themselves of finding out the real answer.

Helping a person solve a problem not only creates goodwill in the organization, but it creates organizational learning.  Something as simple as forwarding the email onto the correct person and ccing the original sender both lets the sender know who to go to and both people will be part of the response so they can assist further should the same situation arise again.

Influence without Authority

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Even as leaders, we often don’t actually have the official power to accomplish what we want.  We are tied to other departments, 3rd party organizations, and managers of all shapes and sizes.  One of the hardest things for me to learn as a growing leader was how to get things done without actually have any decision-making power or authority in various areas.

The very interesting thing you learn is that the strength of your idea and usefulness to the organization is probably one of the most unimportant factors in accomplishing a task.  It depends much more on if you communicate the information in a way that makes people want to hear it and the strength of your relationships which determines how much they’re willing to support your idea.

I once had a manager tell me that you should want the outcome of any conversation for that person to want to hear more.  While this is not always possible, it’s a good rule of thumb in trying to get things done.  One savvy trick I quickly learned when working for a very large organization was to send feedback, suggestions, and ideas up through people with influence.  Maybe you don’t have your manager’s ear, but your friend in accounting might.  Sending the idea through your friend rather than yourself makes it more likely to be heard and your friend gets some credit too if the idea is successful.  The truth is, your relationships are much more a key to your success than any ability or knowledge you possess.

What Happens When We Die?

Blog - Angel StatueYou may be asking yourself, how does the afterlife fit into a blog on business and leadership.  However, it could be one of the most important questions to ask yourself in a business situation because it provides a compass for your actions and decisions.  When your standing at the pearly gates, you can rest assured that you won’t be asked how much money you made for your company in the first quarter of 2013.  Even if you don’t believe in judgment after death, how do you want people to remember you?  Do you think anyone will give a eulogy related to your business’s profit margins or do you think instead they’ll talk about your character and how you did or did not help others?

If you ever find yourself saying, “You need to think about the business” to justify a decision that you would otherwise consider unethical or not undertake in your personal life, you might want to stop and rethink your decision.

The Face of Your Organization

Blog - Service with a SmileThe face of your organization is your team.  Your front-line staff may appear the most important and certainly they have the most direct contact with your customers, but everyone in your organization has some impact on your front-line staff and sets the tone for your culture.  The formula is simple:  Happy workers make happy customers.  Your people can be your biggest advocates or they can bring down the entire organization.  Would you go back to McDonalds if you always had to deal with disagreeable or unhappy people?  Definitely not.  Have you ever been in an Apple Store and infected by their enthusiasm for their products.  That doesn’t happen by treating employees as a business expense.  It happens by treating them with respect, involving them in the organization, and making them proud of what your organization is offering.

Treat your team with respect.  You’ll not only feel good about how you’re putting a little happiness into people’s lives, you’ll also be investing in the people that have the most power to make or break your organization.