How to Get Ahead When Life’s not “Fair”

Have you ever worked with someone who incessantly whined about how unfair things are, how bad, how wrong or how irrational? When people constantly whine and complain, they inhibit any chance they have for impacting the future. Their managers view them as annoying, and their direct reports and co-workers view them as inept.

Nobody wins.

In the words of the late Peter Drucker, “Every decision that impacts our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision – not the ‘right’ person, or the ‘smartest’ person, or the ‘best’ person – make peace with this fact.”

As simple and obvious as this statement may seem, I am amazed at how few (otherwise intelligent) people ever deeply ‘get’ this point. When your child comes home from school and complains, “It’s not fair! The teacher gave me a ‘C’ and I really deserved an ‘A’! We, as parents, should say, “Welcome to the real world, kid! In life you have to accept the fact that decision-makers make decisions – and that you are not always the decision maker.” We will always have bosses, teaches, analysts or Boards who give us ‘grades’ that we disagree with.

What can you change, and what is beyond your control?

On the surface, acceptance—that is, changing what we can change and being realistic about what we cannot change in our lives—should be the easiest thing to do. After all, how hard is it to resign yourself to the reality of a situation?

You assess it, take a deep breath (perhaps releasing a tiny sigh of regret), and accept it. And yet acceptance is often one of our greatest challenges. Rather than accept that their manager has authority over their work, some employees constantly fight with their bosses (a strategy that rarely ends well).

Rather than deal with the disappointment of getting passed over for a promotion, they’ll whine that “It’s not fair!” to anyone who’ll listen (a strategy that rarely enhances their image among their peers or gets them that promotion).

Rather than take a business setback in stride, they’ll hunt for scapegoats, laying blame on everyone but themselves (a strategy that rarely teaches them how to avoid future setbacks).

When enthusiasm fades, the initial cause is often failure to accept what is and get on with life.

A few years ago, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune asked me if managers today are more abusive than any time in history (a logical question in a discussion of executive behavior).

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “We still have many inequities and bad bosses, but life is much better than it was two hundred years ago. We used to have Kings, minimal worker rights, and human beings who were ‘owned’ and had no rights at all. In the developed world it can be bad today, but human beings are making some progress.”

We’ve come a long way. Most major companies now believe in certain “inalienable rights” at work. We have the right to be treated with respect. We have the right to be judged by our performance and character rather than by a fluke of lucky birth. If we’re women, we have the right to be paid as much as a man for doing the same job. When inequities such as these arise, they’re worth arguing over. These are the battles that we should be fighting.

But a lot of small stuff remains. A colleague gets a promotion we thought we deserved. The boss showers a rival division with money, ignoring our area. We’re given a hiring freeze while others get every new person they ask for. This is the stuff that still makes us howl, “It’s not fair!”

Such “equity” moments resemble one another in one clear way: A decision has been made that we disagree with. What’s worse, we believe that we are not getting a good explanation—although that doesn’t stop us from re-asking, which is the same as arguing over it. And when we do get another explanation, it’s not good enough for us.

Arguing that “It’s not fair!” doesn’t change the outcome. It doesn’t help our organizations or our families or ourselves. It only lowers our passion. By recognizing this classic trap, we can better determine which battles to fight—and which ones to avoid. At work, and even more so at home, even if we succeed at winning with this whine, it’s not worth the cost.

Once we make peace with the fact that the people who have the power to make the decisions always make the decisions – and we get over whining because ‘life isn’t fair’ – we can become more effective at influencing others, making a positive difference, and even become the person who makes the decisions!

We can fight the battles that are really worth fighting, and quit bugging the world because, “The teacher gave me a C!”

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Do You Love What You Do or Are You Living in New-Age Professional Hell?

Do you love what you do or are you living in new-age professional hell? This may be the seminal question of our age.

In yesterday’s world, people worked 40 hours a week and took four weeks of vacation. This question was practically moot. If you didn’t like your job it was practically part-time anyway, the benefits were glorious, and it just wasn’t that bad.

I remember visiting the corporate headquarters of one of the world’s most successful companies at 5 p.m. sometime in the early 80s. There was almost no one there! You could fire a cannonball down the hall and not hit anyone. Those days are gone. It was much easier to find meaning and satisfaction in activities outside of work when we were under a lot less pressure and worked far fewer hours. Not only did people have more time, they weren’t as tired.

Today’s professional has much different experience. Almost all of the professionals I work with are busier today than they ever have been in their lives, working 60 to 80 hours a week. They feel under more pressure than ever. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops tether us to our work wherever we are whether we like it or not. Put it all together and you quickly realize – if you don’t love what you do, you are in the new-age of professional hell where you spend your days waiting for a pause in the steady flow of work so that you can take a break. Let me tell you, that day never comes!

Making the Move to Loving What You Do

Life is too short. It’s not worth it. In the new world, we don’t have to love everything that we do, but we need to find happiness and meaning in most of our professional work. One of my coaching clients, Vicky, has a mind that races at about 1,000 miles an hour. She’s extremely creative and entrepreneurial. Vicky was working as a division president in a large, somewhat conservative company. The people who hired her believed that they wanted someone who would “rock the boat” and “make waves.” Once they began to experience “waves” and “boat rocking,” though, they decided that this might not be such a great idea after all!

Although I was hired to help her fit in with the existing culture, it was just a bad match. She was becoming frustrated with her life and was frustrating many of the executives who were running the firm. Summing it up in one sentence, she groaned, “I feel like a racy Ferrari that’s being asked to act like a Ford pickup!”

As her coach, my advice was simple: “Leave.” She had beaten me to the punch, replying, “I just did!”

There was nothing wrong with Vicky. There was nothing wrong with her company. She just didn’t belong there. When she asked herself, “Do I love what I do?” her answer was a clear, “No, I am living in new-age professional hell!”

Vicky’s time off for reflection after leaving her job didn’t last long. She’s playing a key role in an entrepreneurial startup, she’s on two boards of nonprofits doing a lot of good things for her community, and most important, she’s having a lot of fun. She has successfully made the move from new-age professional hell to loving what she does. And, you can too!

 

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Are You Full of Mojo or Nojo?

Last week, I shared with you how to get a handle on your identity. You should now have the answer to the question: “Who do you think you are?” If you don’t, take a few minutes now to go back and review “Why You Should Get a Handle on Your Identity”.

Why is understanding your identity so important? Because your Mojo depends on it. To understand how you are relating to any activity, person, place, or thing, you need to understand your identity—who you are. To change your Mojo, you may need to either create a new identity for yourself or rediscover an identity you have lost.

What Is Mojo?

Your Mojo is “that positive spirit toward what you are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.” The most striking evidence of Mojo is to compare it to its opposite, what I call Nojo, which is “that negative spirit towards what you are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.”

The contrasts between Mojo and Nojo are so daunting that I wrote them down on a cheat sheet:

MOJO-NOJO-attributes

How’s Your Mojo?

How can we recognize Mojo or Nojo in ourselves and in others? Start by evaluating yourself and the people you meet on their Mojo or Nojo qualities, using the table above. What is your attitude toward what you do? Is it positive or negative? What do you radiate to others? Think about this a bit.

When I think about the truly successful human beings that I have met in my journey through life—the people who are succeeding at both what they do and how they feel about themselves—I realize they all have MOJO. We see people with MOJO in every occupation and at every level of an organization. I was recently working at a health-care organization. I watched as their CEO gave awards to employees who best demonstrated their organization’s values. I was amazed at the great attitude—the Mojo—shown by award-winners in such diverse occupations as cafeteria workers, technicians, nurses, and administrators. These people were all demonstrating Mojo.

While I enjoyed observing these exuberant and motivated people get their awards, I thought about the thousands of people in similar jobs around the world who don’t demonstrate Mojo, the people who had a negative spirit toward what they were doing. That, too, starts from the inside and is apparent on the outside.

When There’s No Mojo

When you get the chance, observe two different employees doing exactly the same job at the same time. One could be the embodiment of Mojo while the other is the poster child for Nojo. Case in point: flight attendants. For 32 years, my work has taken me around the world. On American Airlines alone, I just passed the dubious milestone of more than 10 million frequent flyer miles! All this flying has given me the chance to interact with thousands of flight attendants.

Most are dedicated, professional, and service-oriented. They demonstrate mojo. A few are grumpy and act like they would rather be anywhere else than on the plane. They demonstrate Nojo. I’ve seen two groups of attendants doing exactly the same activity, at the same time, for the same company, probably at around the same salary, yet the messages that each is sending to the world about their experience is completely different.

Mojo Living!

By increasing our understanding of our identity, we can increase our Mojo. We can learn how to get Mojo, how to keep it, and how we get it back if we lose it. We can let go of what does not create happiness and meaning in our lives, and strive for what really matters to us—we can live a life full of Mojo, meaning, and purpose!

 

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Why You Should Get a Handle on Your Identity

Who do you think you are?

Take your time. This is not a test with one correct answer. And it is very important because how you define yourself will impact how successful you are at your job, how good a friend, partner, or parent you are, and even how happy you will be in life. Answering this question, becoming aware of your identity, who you think you are and how it coincides (or doesn’t coincide) with who you want to be, could be the beginning of a behavioral change that could alter your life in unimaginably wonderful ways!

Identity is a complicated subject. You may be inclined to look back to the past for signal events, memorable triumphs, or painful disasters to answer the question. You may rely on the testimony of others, a boss or teacher’s positive review, a parent’s approval of your energy and prowess in certain areas. Or you may project into the future defining yourself based on who you want to be or who others have told you that you will be rather than who you actually are. All of these are important, because they make up the essence of who you are.

How do we know who we are? Our identities are remembered, reflected, programmed, and created. These four sources of our identity can be defined like so,

1) Remembered Identity: How do you know who you are? Because you remember events in your life that helped form your sense of self. It’s not so important that these are sometimes inglorious moments or events you’d rather erase; you can’t forget these touchstones, good or bad. For better or worse, they’ve left an impact—and when you write a profile of yourself, these moments inevitably get reported.

2) Reflected Identity: What do people tell you that they remember about you? Other people remember events in your past and they remind you of them, sometimes constantly. It’s one thing for the executive to admit to poor follow-up. But if her boss or partner or customers tell her the same thing, it reinforces the picture that she already has of herself. You might know this as feedback. Feedback from others is how we shape our reflected identity.

3) Programmed Identity: What message do people give you about who you are today or who you will become in the future? Your programmed identity has many sources. It can be influenced by the profession you enter, or the culture you grew up in, or the company you work for, or the entire industry you work in, or the people you select as your trusted friends. Each of these can shape your opinion of yourself, some more vividly than you may realize.

4) Created Identity: Who do you want to be? Our created identity is the identity that we decide to create for ourselves. It is the part of our identity that is not controlled by our past or by other people. The most truly successful people I have met have created identities to become the human beings that they chose to be—without being slaves to the past or other people.

Now that you have a basic understanding of identity, my suggestion to you is simple. Review the various components of your current identity. Where did they originate? How do they impact how you see yourself today, and, who you would like to become in the future? If your present identity is fine with you, just work on becoming an even better version of who you are. If you want to make a change in your identity, be open to the fact that you may be able to change more than you originally believed you could. Assuming you do not have “unchangeable” limitations, then you, can create a new identity for your future without sacrificing your past.

So, I’ll ask you again. Give it some thought. Who do you think you are?

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2 Life-Changing Lessons No One Ever Taught You

Lesson #1: It’s easier to see our problems (let’s call them behavioral challenges) in others than to see them in ourselves. For instance, often when I become self-righteous or angry about some perceived injustice, I realize that the deeper issue is often not with “it”, but in me.

Lesson #2: Although we may deny our behavioral challenges to ourselves, they may be very obvious to the people who observe us. There is often a great discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self the rest of the world sees in us. If we can listen and think about what others see in us, we can compare the self we want to be with the self that we are presenting. Then and only then can we begin to make the real changes that we need to make to align our stated values with our actual behavior.

Let me give you a personal example:

As a Ph.D. student at UCLA in the 70s, I had a self-image of being ‘hip.’ I believed I was involved in discovering deeper human understanding, self-actualization, and profound wisdom. One of my teachers, Dr. Bob Tannenbaum, had invented ‘sensitivity training’, published a popular article in the Harvard Business Review, and was a full professor. I was impressed!

In Bob’s class, we could discuss anything we wanted. So, for three weeks, I did a monologue about how ‘screwed up’ people in Los Angeles were. “They wear sequined blue jeans; they drive gold Rolls Royces; they are plastic and materialistic; all they care about is impressing others; they don’t understand what is important in life.” I ranted. (I’m not sure how growing up in a small town Kentucky had made an expert on LA people, but evidently it had.)

After listening to me babble for three weeks, Bob looked at me quizzically and asked, “Who are you talking to?”

“I’m speaking to the group,” I said.

“Who in the group are you talking to?”

“I’m talking to everybody,” I said, not knowing the treacherous path of self-discovery down which I was being led!

“When you speak, you look at only one person and address your comments toward only one person. You seem interested in the opinion of only one person. Who is that person?”

“That is interesting,’” I replied. After careful consideration, I asked, “You?”

“That’s right, me. There are 12 other people in this room. Why aren’t you interested in any of them?” he asked.

At this point, I decided that digging my hole deeper was better than admitting defeat, so I said, “Well, Dr. Tannenbaum, you understand the significance of what I am saying. You know how ‘screwed-up’ it is to try to run around and impress people all the time. You have a deeper understanding of what is really important in life.”

“Marshall, is there any chance that for the last three weeks all you’ve tried to do is impress me?” Bob asked.

I was amazed at Bob’s lack of insight! “Not at all!” I declared. “You haven’t understood one thing I’ve said! I’ve told you how screwed up it is to try to impress other people. You’ve missed my point, and I’m disappointed in your lack of understanding!”

He scratched his beard and concluded, “No. I think I understand.” I looked at the group and could see them nod and agree.

For six months, I disliked Dr. Tannenbaum. I devoted a lot of energy into trying to understand why he was so confused. Then one day, it clicked! The person with the issue about impressing other people was me. I was the one who had been trying to impress Dr. Tannenbaum. That day, I looked in the mirror and said, “Dr. Tannenbaum was right.”

So, let me ask you: Can you see in yourself what others see in you, or do you see in others what you don’t see in yourself? What are you going to do about it?

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It’s Showtime! One Key to Continual Motivation

Let me start with two well-known phrases:

  1. All the world’s a stage” is the phrase that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You like It.
  2. The show must go on” is a phrase in show business, meaning that regardless of what happens, whatever show has been planned still has to be staged for the waiting patrons.

Until recently, I always had a dilemma regarding the “stage” of business. As an executive educator, who helps successful leaders achieve a positive change in behavior, I, in a way, teach people how to act.

So here’s the dilemma: When is acting being professional? When is acting being phony? I want to help leaders learn how to be great performers, but I never believe that they should be phonies. How can I, as a coach, understand the difference?

And what makes you “buy” your boss’s, colleague’s, subordinate’s, or even a salesperson’s “act?” The answer is we buy someone’s act when they truly love their profession. We are with them when their “act” is part of the fabric of who, and what they are – and we can feel it in our interactions with them.

Let me give you two divergent examples.

First, one of the greatest leaders I know is Frances Hesselbein, the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America and now chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute. I am not alone in my assessment of her talents. Peter Drucker once noted that she was perhaps the most effective executive he had ever met. As a tribute to her leadership skills, President Clinton awarded Frances with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian.

I am deeply honored that Frances is also one of my best friends. Like all humans, Frances faces the same problems we all face. She has lived through health problems, tragedies with friends, and family issues. And, like all great professionals, when it is time for Frances to work, she is always there. I have seen her turn down an invitation from the U.S. president because she had already committed to a talk (at no fee) for a non-profit organization in a small town. When she makes a commitment, if it is humanly possible to be there, she delivers. It doesn’t matter that a “better deal” came along later. She not only makes an appearance, she is upbeat and positive, she is inspirational, and she gets the job done.

For Frances, the show must go on, and she takes the stage with love, heart, and passion.  She believes in the core of her soul in what she is doing and anyone around her feels it and knows it. Simply put, everyone buys her act – because her act is truly Frances.

My second example is my client Ted, who helped me answer my dilemma question. I worked with him for a year, trying to help him fit in a corporate culture where he really didn’t belong. At the end of the year, I finally said, “Why don’t you leave? You are so miserable that you are starting to depress me!”

He saw the light, left the company, and is now doing something he loves. There was nothing wrong with the company. There was nothing wrong with Ted. He just didn’t belong there. It wasn’t him.

In the case of Ted, when his show had to go on, he was simply going through the motions. When he took the stage, people around him did not truly buy his act – and Ted did not really buy his own act.

I learned through Ted that despite his greatest efforts, he was being phony when he did not love his work.  And loving your work is what makes great performers rise to the occasion.

On Broadway – Their Act Is No Act

This is why great Broadway performers are able to pour their hearts into each production. At times they overcome headaches, family problems, and more. Because, the show must go on.

Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. And we are inspired (or buy their act) because they are 100 percent invested in their work and the cause.

Believe in Your Act

If you are in the right job in the right company, and you are learning how to perform to the best of your ability, you are being a true professional. If you are in the wrong job in the wrong company and you learn to act so that you can better fit in, you are just being a better phony. It still isn’t you out there.

Today, Ted is a lot happier. He spends his time thinking up creative ideas in his new company, and he’s having a ball. He is not only adding value for the company, he is also adding value for the world.

Think about your job. As a professional, is your job consistent with the person you want to be?

If the answer is “yes”, be like Frances Hesselbein. Put on a great show. Be the consummate professional. Learn to keep developing your ability to perform, so you can get even better than you are today. If you love what you do, a great coach might even help you get better.

Every day we all take the stage. And, when you take the stage and the show must go on – are people buying your act? And, most of all are you buying your own act?

If the answer is “no”, change jobs as soon as you can. Why bother to become a better phony? Even if you do get a coach and learn to modify your behavior, it won’t count for much. Why? It won’t really be you.

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What I Learned About Influence from Peter Drucker

“The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe’ them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they ‘should have.’ As a result they render themselves ineffectual.”—Peter Drucker

You can make a positive difference, even when you do not have direct line authority.

Here are 11 guidelines that will help you do a better job of influencing decision-makers, whether these decision-makers are immediate or upper managers, peers or cross-organizational colleagues.

1. Accept the Facts: Every decision that affects our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision, not the “right” person or the “smartest” person or the “best” person. Make peace with this fact. Once we make peace with the fact that the people who have the power to make the decisions always make the decisions and we get over whining that “life isn’t fair,” we become more effective in influencing others and making a positive difference. We also become happier.

2. Realize You Must Sell Your Ideas. When presenting ideas to decision-makers, realize that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy. In many ways, influencing ultimate decision-makers is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don’t have to buy—you have to sell. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products. While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours blaming management for not buying their ideas. A key part of the influence process involves the education of decision-makers. The effective influencer needs to be a good teacher.

3. Focus on contribution to the larger good—not just the achievement of your objectives. An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, “You need to buy this product, because if you don’t, I won’t achieve my objectives.” Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs. In the same way, effective influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

4. Strive to win the big battles. Don’t waste your energy and psychological capital on trivial points. Executives’ time is very limited. Do a thorough analysis of ideas before challenging the system. Focus on issues that will make a real difference. Be willing to lose on small points. Be especially sensitive to the need to win trivial non-business arguments on things like restaurants, sports teams, or cars. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues. You are not paid to win arguments on the relative quality of athletic teams.

5. Present a realistic “cost-benefit” analysis of your ideas—don’t just sell benefits. Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea.

6. “Challenge up” on issues involving ethics or integrity—never remain silent on ethics violations. The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity. I hope you will never be asked to do anything by the management of your corporation that represents a violation of corporate ethics. If you are, refuse to do it and immediately let upper management know of your concerns. Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.

7. Realize that powerful people also make mistakes. Don’t say, “I am amazed that someone at this level…” It is realistic to expect decision-makers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be anything other than normal humans. Even the best of leaders are human. We all make mistakes. When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.

8. Don’t be disrespectful. Treat decision-makers with the same courtesy that you would treat customers. While it is important to avoid kissing up to decision-makers, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction. Before speaking, it is generally good to ask one question from four perspectives. “Will this comment help 1) our company 2) our customers 3) the person I am talking to, and 4) the person I am talking about?” If the answers are no, no, no, and no, don’t say it!

9. Support the final decision. Don’t tell direct reports, “They made me tell you.” Assuming that the final decision of the organization is not immoral, illegal, or unethical, go out and try to make it work. Managers who consistently say, “They told me to tell you” to co-workers are seen as messengers, not leaders. Treat decision-makers the same way that you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. If you stab your boss in the back in front of your direct reports, what are you teaching them to do when they disagree with you?

10. Make a positive difference—don’t just try to “win” or “be right.” We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong than on how we can make things better. An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal: making a positive difference for the organization. Focus on making a difference. The more other people can be “right” or “win” with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

11. Focus on the future—let go of the past. One of the most important behaviors to avoid is whining about the past. Have you ever managed someone who incessantly whined about how bad things are? Nobody wins. Successful people love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future. By focusing on the future, you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, not what was not achieved yesterday.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent “perfecting your craft.” Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated. Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization. How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge? How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge to decision-makers so that you can make a real difference? My hope is that by making a small investment in learning to influence decision-makers, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization.

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Two Elements for Effective Delegation

Can Delegation Kill?

Many leaders think they need to delegate more to be more effective as leaders. This is frequently not true. Most often leaders don’t need to delegate more, they need to delegate more effectively!

When C-level executives are asked what change they could make to become a more effective leader, one of the most common answers is, “I need to delegate more!”

My caution to these executives is always the same: Inappropriate delegation can kill. Kill morale, careers, and even a company.

Delegation is not a quality like “demonstrating integrity” or “complying with the law.” Honest, ethical, and legal behavior is always appropriate—delegation isn’t. Inappropriate delegation can do more harm than good.

I saw an extreme example of the “empowerment is good” flaw in one of America’s largest companies. The CEO naively believed that his employees would always rise to the occasion and see the value of their learning through mistakes they made. He eventually promoted people to levels that were far beyond their capabilities. These people were not ready for the challenge. Perhaps they could learn from their mistakes when the mistakes cost thousands of dollars, but the company went bankrupt when the mistakes cost billions. Delegation killed morale, careers, and the company.

So what do you do, kill delegation? My answer is “no.”

Instead don’t delegate more. Delegate more effectively. So let’s examine what I mean by “effective delegation.”

Two Causes of Ineffective Delegation

When feedback from direct reports indicates that a manager needs to delegate more effectively, the dissatisfaction could come from one of two causes: The direct reports may feel that their leader is micro-managing or getting overly involved with subordinates, or the direct reports may not feel micro-managed at all, but see their leader engaged in tasks that could be done effectively by someone at a lower level in the company.

How to Ensure Effective Delegation

To help leaders ensure effective delegation, my advice is simple:

Have each direct report list her or his key areas of responsibility. Schedule one-on-one sessions with each person. Review each area of responsibility and ask, “Are there cases where you believe that I get too involved and can let go more? Are there cases when I need to get more involved and give you some more help?” When leaders go through this exercise, they almost always find that in some cases, more delegation is wanted, and in others it is not. In fact, more help is needed.

Ask each direct report, “Do you ever see me working on tasks that someone at my level doesn’t need to do? Are there areas where I can help other people grow and develop, and give myself more time to focus on strategy and long-term planning?” Almost invariably, direct reports will come up with great suggestions.

For example, for several of my C-level clients, team management has emerged as an area where letting go can both free up executive time and help develop direct reports. Too many top executives feel a need to schedule team meetings and then act as traffic cop during the meeting to ensure that the time schedules are met and that agendas are completed. This meeting management task can usually be delegated on a rotating basis to direct reports. This helps direct reports understand the agendas of the peer team members and allows them to develop their skills in building collaboration and reaching consensus.

In one example, a CEO was frequently traveling. He would not schedule any team meeting when he was on the road and was falling behind on some important projects. A team member suggested that he did not have to be present at every meeting and that the team could still get a lot done without him in the room. He was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Decisions that involved cross-divisional cooperation were made effectively without involving him. Another advantage was that his direct reports were getting on-the-job training that could help them take on larger responsibilities in the future.

On the other side of the coin, a division president learned that his employees consistently wanted more direction on one key topic. The company was operating in a rapidly changing environment. His direct reports didn’t need to be told what to do or how to do it in terms of technical details. They needed to know how their work was fitting into the larger strategy of the corporation and how their efforts were aligned with their peers both in the division and across the company. By establishing regular bi-monthly check-in meetings with each person, the president was able to increase the effectiveness of the team and help them build better relationships across the company.

What are your next steps? When are you getting too involved? When do you need to get more involved?

Ask yourself these tough questions. Then ask the people who are working with you. The answers may save your time and increase your team’s effectiveness.

If you don’t ask these questions, you might be delegating without input—and literally without a compass. You will be flying blind.

Instead, with input, you can delegate with your eyes wide open. Delegation won’t blindly kill—instead it will appropriately breathe new life into an organization and build morale, careers and a company.

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Stop Defining Yourself as a Jerk!

We all have that relative who is always late.  She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.”

Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes like Ralph Cramden. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.”

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say the wrong thing or always be late.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves positive and negative defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to our definition of who we are. I consider them a pile of behaviors that we define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

A CEO Who Refused to Be Phony

Some years ago, I worked with a CEO who was generally regarded as a great leader of people but was seen as lacking in the ability to provide positive recognition. As we reviewed his 360-degree feedback report, he snorted, “What do you want me to do, go around praising people who don’t deserve it? I don’t want to look like a phony!”

“Is that your excuse for not giving recognition?” I asked. “You don’t want to look like a phony?”

“Yes,” he replied.

We went back and forth as he desperately defended his miserable scores on giving recognition. He was very animated in articulating his defense. For example, he went into a tirade about when he shouldn’t give recognition that included the following comments:

  1. He had high standards and people didn’t always meet them.
  2. He didn’t like to hand out praise indiscriminately, because this cheapened the value of praise when it was deserved.
  3. He believed that singling out individuals could weaken the team.

While pointing out when he shouldn’t give recognition, he completely failed to deal with the fact that there were lots of times when he should be giving positive recognition. After his dazzling display of rationalization, I finally stopped him and said, “No matter what you say, I am not impressed with your excuses, and I don’t think that handing out praise makes you a phony. Your real problem is your self-limiting definition of who you are. You are afraid that if you recognize others, it won’t really be ‘me’ who is doing the recognition. That’s what the definition of phony is, not ‘me.’”

I asked him, “Why can’t doing a great job of providing positive recognition be you? It’s not immoral, illegal, or unethical is it?”

“No,” he conceded.

“Will it make people feel better?”

“Yes.”

“Will they perform better as a result of this well-deserved positive recognition?”

“Probably.”

“So please explain to me, why aren’t you doing it?”

He laughed and replied, “Because it wouldn’t be ME!”

That was the moment when change became possible, when he realized that his stern allegiance to himself was pointless vanity. He realized that he was not only hurting his employees’ and company’s chances for success, he was hurting his own chance for success!

He realized that he could shed his “excessive need to be me” and not be a phony. He could stop thinking about himself and start behaving in a way that benefited others.

Sure enough, when he let go of his devotion to a pointless definition of “me,” all his other rationalizations fell by the wayside. He realized that his direct reports were talented, hard-working people who did indeed deserve his praise. He finally understood that giving recognition when deserved didn’t damage his reputation as a leader who had high expectations.

The payoff was enormous. Within a year his scores on giving recognition were in line with his other positive scores on leadership, all because he had lost his excessive “need to be me.”

The irony was not lost on him. He accepted the fact that the more he focused on his employees, the more they worked to benefit the company, and that benefited him.

An Equation for Life: Less Me + More You = More Success

It’s an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false, and/or probably pointless, notion of “me.”

And when you see the boss, relative, or colleague who gives him or herself permission to be enclosed in a “prison of me,” remind yourself that you can be freed. And with freedom you’ll find endless possibilities!

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Your Boss – Seriously Successful or Downright Deluded?

Strangely enough, the answer is probably both!

One night over dinner, I listened to a wise military leader share his experience with an eager, newly minted General, “Recently, have you started to notice that when you tell jokes, everyone erupts into laughter—and that when you say something ‘wise’ everyone nods their heads in solemn agreement?” The new General replied, “Why, yes, I have.” The older General laughed, “Let me help you. You aren’t that funny and you aren’t that smart! It’s only that star on your shoulder. Don’t ever let it go to your head.”

We all want to hear what we want to hear. We want to believe those great things that the world is telling us about ourselves. Your boss is no different. It’s our belief in ourselves that helps us become successful and it can also make it very hard for us to change. As the wise older General noted—we aren’t really that funny, and we aren’t really that smart. We can all get better—if we are willing to take a hard look at ourselves. By understanding why changing behavior can be so difficult for our leaders, we can increase the likelihood of making the changes that we need to make in our quest to become even more successful.

Why We Resist Change

We all delude ourselves about our achievements, our status, and our contributions. We

  • Overestimate our contribution to a project;
  • Have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and standing among our peers;
  • Exaggerate our project’s impact on profitability by discounting real and hidden costs.

Many of our delusions come from our association with success, not failure. We get positive reinforcement from our successes and we think they are predictive of a great future.

The fact that successful people tend to be delusional isn’t all bad. Our belief in our wonderfulness gives us confidence. Even though we are not as good as we think we are, this confidence actually helps us be better than we would become if we did not believe in ourselves. The most realistic people in the world are not delusional—they are depressed!

Although our self-confident delusions can help us achieve, they can make it difficult for us to change. In fact, when others suggest that we need to change, we may respond with unadulterated bafflement.

It’s an interesting three-part response. First we are convinced that the other party is confused. They are misinformed, and they just don’t know what they are talking about. They must have us mixed up with someone who truly does need to change. Second, as it dawns upon us that the other party is not confused—maybe their information about our perceived shortcomings is accurate—we go into denial mode. This criticism may be correct, but it can’t be that important—or else we wouldn’t be so successful. Finally, when all else fails, we may attack the other party. We discredit the messenger. “Why is a winner like me,” we conclude, “listening to a loser like you?”

These are just a few of our initial responses to what we don’t want to hear. Couple this with the very positive interpretation that successful people assign to (a) their past performance, (b) their ability to influence their success (as opposed to just being lucky), (c) their optimistic belief that their success will continue in the future, and (d) their over-stated sense of control over their own destiny (as opposed to being controlled by external forces), and you have a volatile cocktail of resistance to change.

So, as you can see, while your boss’s positive beliefs about herself helped her become successful. These same beliefs can make it tough for her to change. The same beliefs that helped her get to her current level of success, can inhibit her from making the changes needed to stay there – or move forward. Don’t fall into this trap!

As the wise older General noted, as you move up the ranks and get that star—don’t let it go to your head. Realize that every promotion can make it harder to change. Always balance the confidence that got you here—where you are—with the humility required to get you there—where you have the potential to go.

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