Brenda's Blog

All articles from the 'Coaching' Category

Do You Fall into This Trap? When Strengths Become Weaknesses

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Ahhh, September! Depending upon where you are, this month may mean dropping temperatures and leaves turning various shades of red and orange. For others, it marks the advent of spring, flowers blooming, and the anticipation of warmer weather.

Here in Singapore, no matter the date on the calendar, we are so close to the equator that the temperature is always about the same. (In fact, I read somewhere that one of the most boring jobs in the world is to be a weather forecaster in Singapore. That makes sense!)

Personally, I love the year-round warm weather. No need for cumbersome coats or boots, no pain of chapped lips or falling on slippery sidewalks. But I admit that living in warm-weather climates for the past 16 years has definitely made me a bit of a “wimp” when it comes to traveling to countries in the wintertime.

This lack of adaptability has an analogy when it comes to self- and career-management, too. There comes a time when you need to ask yourself: Am I getting too complacent with one particular leadership style? Am I too comfortable with my most-used means of communication? Do I depend too much on one or two “signature strengths” on the job?

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Given the fast pace of today’s changing world, there are dangers in becoming “stuck” in day-to-day work patterns. So, how do you know if you need to become more adaptable? Well, that’s what this blog post is all about!

 

 

 

Have Your Strengths Become Weaknesses?

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As an Executive Coach, people often ask me: “What should I focus on most… building up my strengths, or working on improving my weaknesses?” Based on my years of experience, I had my own thoughts and opinions on this topic, but first, I wanted to get an understanding of what research tells us. So, I went in search of the answer.

The clearest research I found follows…

How Strengths and Weaknesses Impact Your Executive Leadership Brand

A study of 6,000 leaders focused on whether people possessed strengths or weaknesses and how that impacted each individual.

The first group consisted of leaders who had one or more serious weaknesses or fatal flaws. They were seen to be performing at the 18th percentile in the eyes of their peers, direct reports, and bosses. This was true even if they had many strengths. It only took one serious fault to put them at the bottom.

The second group consisted of leaders who had neither strengths nor weaknesses. (This seems to be true in general of about one-third of leaders.) They performed in the middle of the curve at the 50th percentile.

The third group of leaders had one or more prominent and clear strengths, and they were seen as performing at the 81st percentile.

What does this tell us? If you have a clear strength, don’t abandon it! It will help you stick out for sure. The key is not to rely on it too much. After all, a one-legged stool has nothing else to stand on and will eventually fall, right? Instead, I encourage you to make sure you are balancing that strength by focusing on improving any obvious opportunities for development as well.

So, What Does This Mean For You?

When I coach leaders, I often conduct verbal feedback sessions with their colleagues, direct reports, and bosses. Then, I recap the feedback with the client, making note of what was said, starting with what I heard most and working my way down to what I heard least. Usually, two or three very clear strengths emerge for each executive, along with two or three clear opportunities for development.

But occasionally, I run across leaders who have such prevalent and clear strengths that these positive behaviors or skills have actually turned into weaknesses as they’ve progressed in their careers.

How can this be true? Often, when you’re younger, certain behaviors are admired and useful – they help you get promotions, increased compensation, and bonuses. But as you find yourself at increasingly higher levels of your organization (from middle management upwards), these same behaviors can be described as “derailing.”

Here are just a few examples of behaviors that can start out as strengths but later become weaknesses:

  • Being “too” passionate or ambitious. The higher up you get, the more a calm, confident Executive Presence will get you where you want to go.
  • Being excellent at execution, but not very good at strategy.  At the lower levels of leadership, execution is important. As you rise in the ranks, however, you do less of the ground work and more of the strategizing that moves the company forward.
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  • Volunteering to go above and beyond. This is an excellent trait early on in your career, but as you take on higher ranking positions, you start to appear like someone who simply can’t say “no” – and that could mean a lack of self-leadership.
  • Managing down very well, but ignoring “up” and “across.” Younger leaders spend the majority of their time managing “down” to their teams. The higher up you go in an organization, though, the more critical it is to manage up and across (to your superiors and your peers).
  • Being “too” democratic.  Earlier in your career, being democratic helps build relationships and forge ties. But sometimes, as a more senior executive, you simply have to take charge and make a decision. This is exactly why leadership at the top can be so lonely.
  • Being excellent at building business but not at people-leadership skills.  Many leaders rely on their outstanding business results to get them moving up the ladder. That may work earlier on in your career, but failing to pay attention to the importance of relationships often causes leaders to fail at the upper echelons of an organization.

Do you recognize yourself in any of those descriptions?

Actions to take:

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1. If you have a clear strength, it will show up consistently in the feedback you receive. Think about what you’re really good at – the #1 compliment you tend to hear. What would happen if you were too much of that?

  • Too outgoing
  • Too smart?
  • Too respectful
  • Too adaptable/too flexible

2. How balanced are others seeing you right now? If it has been a while since you received feedback, be sure to get some 360-degree inputs soon to determine if your strengths are still strengths. Get clear on how others perceive, think, and feel about you so that you know the condition of your brand as a leader.

3.  Use the “circle exercise” to gauge how balanced you are in terms of a specific behavior. Let’s say you need to assess whether you’ve managed down too much and not enough up and across. Draw a circle on a plain sheet of paper, and look at your calendar over the course of any given week. What portion of a typical week do you spend with your team, as opposed to grooming relationships with peers and bosses/superiors? Divide the circle into a pie chart, with one section signifying the total time you spend managing your team, another for the time you spend managing peers, and another for the time you spend managing bosses/superiors.

  • How do the three sections compare? Are you devoting enough time to developing good connections with all stakeholders, or do you spend more of your time with one group than others? This is an extremely important perspective to keep in mind and will help you make sure you are balancing your self-leadership energies at the appropriate amounts with the right stakeholders.

4.  Focus on developing one or two core areas of development, while maintaining the powerful strength or two that you already have. Find the balance between keeping your signature strengths and adapting them for the position you now hold.

5.  How do your strengths need to be adjusted as you move up the ladder? What do you need to do differently for your next desired position? For clues, be sure to observe successful leaders in higher positions. What can you learn from them?

I’m also excited to share with you that my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of self-leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, will be released January 2, 2017! In this companion book to Would YOU Want to Work for YOU™, I share the top 15 self-leadership mistakes I regularly see in my coaching practice, and provide you with dozens of tips and tools to help you immediately correct them and advance in your career. If you have found this blog post helpful, I think you’ll love Leading YOU™! In the book, I provide many more techniques and suggestions for how to deal with the most prevalent self-leadership challenges.  Click here to read an excerpt from Leading YOU™.

An Excerpt From My Next Book, Leading YOU™

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My new book, Leading YOU™, will be released before year’s end. You may have read another one of my books, Would You Want to Work For YOU™?” which focused on the top 15 damaging behaviors I see when coaching leaders of others. Well, this new book – Leading YOU™ – outlines the 15 damaging self-leadership behaviors I regularly see and offers tried-and-true tips, tools, and techniques to help correct them.

One key skill that almost all of the world’s top leaders have in common is powerful self-leadership. They have learned how to rein in their least effective traits and harness their best attributes to their advantage. After all, great success isn’t just about leading others. It’s first and foremost about leading yourself.

To give you a taste of what’s to come, read the excerpt below!

“Keeping Your Eye on the Target: What’s Your End Game?”

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
-Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle

These are interesting times in the lives of business leaders. Technology is changing the game every day, finding a new job can be difficult, and the international economic climate is as fickle as the weather in London. If you are like most executives, it’s hard to find the time to sit down and contemplate where your career is going. But how can you be a good self-leader if you don’t know exactly where you are leading yourself to?

It takes time and conscious effort to focus on your future, and most executives I’ve worked with have found that it’s just easier to live from one moment to the next rather than make any kind of plan. But the truth is, if you don’t make the time to determine your future, who will?

You’re no longer at a level where you can leave your fate to “the powers that be” at headquarters or to your immediate boss. If you wait for something outside of your control to change, you could end up waiting a very long time. So, in reality, there is nobody better than you to look at the big picture and set the direction for the next move within your career.

Take my client, Scott, as an example. A very successful lawyer in a large multi-national firm, Scott hadn’t taken the time to look at his career in a “big picture” way. Don’t get me wrong – he was progressing up the ladder, and quite nicely at that – but not in a strategic way. He was simply moving along from job to job. He had no long-term perspective because he had gotten too caught up in each position’s “specific set of responsibilities” and only focusing on how to move forward to the next one. He had never thought about how each job could actually position him for much longer-term success.

Scott said to me (and I hear this a lot), “The truth is, Brenda, I’ve just been lucky all my career. The companies and opportunities have simply come to me; I didn’t need to plan or strategize.”

If this sounds familiar to you, I understand why. Early in your career, it isn’t unusual for the next opportunity to just land in your lap. You produce, you deliver, and that results in more jobs, opportunities, and choices that appear on the horizon.

But as you move up the ladder to increasingly senior positions, the sheer number of jobs at that level diminishes. It becomes important to shift from being reactive – simply choosing from among the various positions that come your way – to being proactive. When you’re proactive, you ask yourself important questions that can change the trajectory of your professional life for the better: What do I want long-term? Is my current position likely to lead me there? In order to reach my long-term goal, what makes the most strategic sense for my career short-term, medium-term, and long-term?

Click here to read more.

What Do All Great Leaders Need? An Objective Perspective

It’s that time of year again when the world celebrates International Coaching Week, which is next week, May 16-22. It’s exciting to see how this relatively young profession has grown by leaps and bounds! If you’ve worked with a coach, you will hopefully have experienced what a difference coaching can make, both in your career and in your personal life.

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The original definition of the word “coach” is a vehicle – usually horse-drawn – that took someone  from one place to another. More and more people around the world are recognizing that this is metaphorically what they can gain from an executive or leadership coach as well – a means of getting from where they are now to where they want to be.

Statistics bear this out: In a study of 370 participants who had worked with executive coaches, the group went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 93rd percentile. Amoco Corp./BP evaluated the impact of executive coaching over a ten-year period and discovered that managers who were coached received 50% higher average salary increases because their performance was so much better. So, there is a lot to celebrate this week, if you ask me!

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What do successful leaders Oprah Winfrey, Jack Welsh, and – yes, even Donald Trump – all have in common? They each credit a part of their success to having had a good executive coach at some point in their careers. Let’s face it: When you reach a certain level, it’s hard to get an objective perspective. Everyone you turn to for advice has a hidden agenda. No matter how hard they may try, these stakeholder perspectives just can’t help but be “biased.” This includes your spouse, your children, your boss, your Board of Directors, your subordinates, and your peers.

This is where an executive coach comes in. There’s an unfortunate myth that coaching is only about “fixing problems.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Coaching isn’t consulting, counseling, or therapy. It isn’t about regretting a past that cannot be changed. It’s about focusing on a future that can be changed. Executive coaching helps leaders who are already successful overcome any roadblocks in their way to achieving even more in the future. Many of today’s organizational leaders understand that the skills that enabled them to be in their current positions may not be enough to advance their careers or even keep them competitive at their present level. Here are just a few of the top reasons that executives turn to coaching:

  • Drive peak performance
  • Develop stronger, more inspiring leadership skills
  • Transition successfully into a new position
  • Help high-potential employees succeed
  • Foster better self-leadership behaviors
  • Learn to influence without direct authority in today’s matrixed world
  • Strengthen conflict management skills
  • Find a truly objective sounding board for ideas and issues
  • Successfully implement a specific new strategy, vision, or direction
  • Reduce / better manage stress
  • Improve time management and work / life balance
  • Create a more positive workplace environment
  • Achieve greater overall business success

An executive coach is a skilled professional who develops an ongoing relationship with you and focuses on helping you take action toward your stated goals. A good coach doesn’t provide solutions. Instead he/she draws out solutions from you. As an already successful leader, this helps you achieve positive, lasting changes in behaviors so that you can transform yourself and your team, ultimately leading to better overall business results.

Finding Your Coach

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So, how do you find the best executive coach for you? First and foremost, do your research. Search the internet, and/or look for certified coaches. Interview a few coaches until you find one who feels right. Ask to see training certificates and testimonials. Talk to past clients, if possible, and request a free trial session. A coach may be very talented, but the chemistry between you needs to be spot-on in order for you to achieve your goals.

Make sure you get a good return on your investment. Two large-scale independent studies among thousands of executive coaching clients across the world reported that the return on their investment was anywhere from 600-700% of the cost of the initial investment. Nonetheless, take the time to quantify the results of hiring an executive coach.

If you do the research and find an executive coach who is a good “fit” for you, the benefits can be life-changing. In honor of International Coaching Week, why not try it for yourself?

Celebrate International Coaching Week with Me in Person!

If you’re in Singapore, come to the International Coaching Week events which will be taking place May 16-20! I’ll be giving the keynote speech to kick off the all-day Symposium on the morning of Wednesday, May 18 – “Value in Coaching: The Choice is Yours” – followed by a full day of enlightening presentations. The evening ends with a dinner with Marshall Goldsmith (who endorsed my book Would YOU Want to Work for YOU?). It should be a great event!

To find out more and buy tickets, visit this site, and choose “Wednesday May 18” in the drop-down box.

I hope to see you there!

The 15 Most Important Characteristics of Executive Presence

I am often asked, “What is the most popular topic clients request when it comes to leadership development?”

Boost executive Presence

My answer? “Presence” — specifically Executive Presence. I have found that Executive Presence is that “special sauce” which separates good leaders who “do well” from outstanding leaders who catapult to the top of their organizations.

Let’s face it – most leaders have good enough technical skills, business acumen, and all-around smarts to achieve a certain level of success in an organization. But, a powerful sense of “presence” – that je ne sais quoi – is often what’s missing, and that is what can hold back many leaders from advancing in their careers.

What is Presence? And, more importantly, how do you get it? The way I like to define Executive Presence is a certain set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills which – when combined – send the right signals, influence others, and ultimately drive results. When you develop powerful Executive Presence, you automatically strengthen your Leadership Personal Brand, i.e., the way others perceive, think, and feel about YOU™, which is a critically important foundation of success.

YOU(tm)

“That sounds appealing,” many clients have told me, “but can Executive Presence really be developed?” Absolutely. Let’s face it: No one is born with Presence – it is a learned behavior with multiple facets which is strengthened through intention and practice.

What is the essential first step in developing your own Presence? It’s getting clear on how well you currently fare with the various aspects that make up Presence.

With that in mind, I’m sharing with you below a self-assessment that highlights some fundamental facets of Executive Presence. This will help you review the state of your own Presence, both in your personal and professional life.

In addition, further below in this newsletter, you will find a link to more complimentary tips through dozens of articles I have written on Executive Presence and leadership branding.

Assess the State of Your Own Executive Presence

Take this quiz, and see how well you are doing on these key facets of Executive Presence, which can in turn impact your Leadership Personal Brand.

test taking

On a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 the lowest score and 6 the highest score, rate yourself in the following areas. (Be honest with yourself!)

  1. I have a strong positive influence on my family, my team, coworkers, colleagues, and superiors.
  2. I manage my emotional reactions well at home and in the workplace, and I stay calm under pressure.
  3. When I need to let someone know I’m unhappy with a situation, I speak to them calmly and assertively. I don’t express my feelings in a passive-aggressive way.
  4. I am resilient when pressure builds at home or on the job.
  5. I speak up in very important meetings and when in the presence of more senior leaders.
  6. When I am attending a gathering or a meeting, I am able to focus 100% on the topic at hand, without distracting thoughts or checking my phone for messages.
  7. Based on the way others relate to me, I believe I exhibit charisma both at home and on the job.
  8. I have inner self-confidence, and I believe in myself.
  9. When team members and others push back on my decisions, I manage the situation in a professional, balanced way so that the best choice is made without harming workplace relationships.
  10. I’m capable of thinking on my feet when under pressure.
  11. When conflict arises, I manage it steadily, without damaging personal or professional relationships.
  12. I am aware of and effectively manage my Leadership Personal Brand, not just within my organization, but also externally within my industry.
  13. I know how to maneuver office politics, as necessary.
  14. When I’m called upon to make a presentation, I do so powerfully, engaging my audience from beginning to end.
  15. I use storytelling as a means of engaging others when I communicate

Obviously, if you rated yourself a “5” or a “6” on all 15 of these Executive Presence attitudes, behaviors, and skills, good for you – well done! Based on my experience though, that would be rare. It’s not unusual to have room for improvement on a fair number of these attributes.

So, take a moment to review your self-scores, and write down two or three aspects of Presence that are the most important for you and which you would like to improve.

Action Steps

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Sit back, and assess your scores. Where did you do well? In which areas did you score lower?

On the statements where you scored well, ask yourself what allows you to do that. What makes you think those are areas where you exhibit strengths?

Now, look at the statements where you ranked lower and choose a specific aspect of Executive Presence that you would like to strengthen the most.

  1. Find a role model (boss, peer, colleague) whom you think embodies that particular aspect, and seek their advice on how they have managed to succeed in that area. You might even ask them if you can observe them in action and take note of what they do to really excel at that particular Executive Presence characteristic.
  2. Check out the articles I’ve written on various executive and leadership topics. These articles can be found here.
  3. Lastly, consider having an “accountability buddy,” someone to help support you in developing your presence, and share your plan with them. Ask if that person would be open to following up with you on your plan as well as giving you honest feedback as you progress.

Are YOU interested in the topic of Executive Presence?

I regularly present keynotes and offer interactive, live-learning programs on the topic of Executive Presence to audiences around the world. These programs, which are popular with corporate clients, have been proven to drive lasting mindset and behavior changes in leaders.

Click here to learn more about our Executive Presence keynotes and other popular programs we offer, or feel free to contact me at Brenda@BrendaBence.com.

Of course, I also work one-on-one with individual coaching clients to build and strengthen Executive Presence. You can find out more by visiting www.BrendaBence.com/Coaching.

Here’s to YOU™!

The Secret to Avoiding Failed New Year’s Resolutions

I spend a large part of the year in Asia, so this is one of my favorite periods of time. We’ve come off of the busy-ness of calendar year-end holidays and we’re approaching the end of the festivities of the Chinese New Year. The energy is great – people are having fun, celebrating with family, sharing oranges, and spirits are generally lifted!

But, no matter where you are in the world, this is also the time of the year when one seemingly-universal phenomena has taken place: Those calendar year-end New Year’s Resolutions – which everyone was so intent on achieving on January 1 – have by now fallen by the wayside.

The statistics around failed New Year’s resolutions are not pretty. In 2013, Forbes magazine stated that only 8% of resolutions are actually met, which means 92% fail. U.S. News had a slightly more positive take, reporting in 2015 that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. No matter which source you refer to, those are high rates of unfulfilled goals!

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What is the reason behind so many of us “falling off the wagon” when it comes to achieving what we wanted at the beginning of the year? Multiple studies have tried to answer that question, but in my experience as an Executive Coach, I believe there is one critical yet overlooked cause of our inability to stick with what we set out to do.

It’s not that we don’t want those goals to come to fruition. We definitely desire to lose weight, exercise more, be better organized, stop procrastinating, listen better, delegate more, and on and on. So, it’s rare that a lack of motivation is the true cause of resolutions going off track.

Instead, I believe the heart of the issue is our belief that if we just “do” things differently, all will be well.

For example, I often hear, “Once I get my calendar under control, I’ll be more productive.” Or, “Once I make more money, I’ll be happier.” Maybe you’ve made a similar statement in the past?

But, in my experience coaching executives across the globe, those types of “if-then” statements rarely become reality. And, when you don’t achieve your resolutions, you’re likely to feel more angst and frustration than you did before … not to mention feelings of failure. That just makes it even harder to set and achieve new goals in the future.

The “Ah-ha!”

So, what do I think is the biggest reason that such a large percentage of New Year’s resolutions aren’t achieved? It’s because the types of goals we set tend to focus on what we hope to “do” rather than how we need to “be” to achieve what we want.

a ha moment light bulb

We must first change how we are “being” before we can truly alter what we’re “doing.” After all, we are human beings, not “human doings,” right?

Let’s look at an example: Put yourself in the shoes of a leader at work. Your stakeholder feedback reveals you have a tendency to “tell” more than “ask,” and this behavior is having an impact on your success. Since you’re simply “telling” your team what to do, they aren’t developing as they should. If you asked powerful questions instead, you would develop their thinking and leadership capacity.

You’ve been told that your own career will stall if you keep this up because you won’t have developed a successor who can take your place. So, this behavior is not only preventing your direct reports from moving up, but it will also hold you back from moving up progressing, too.

Knowing this, you’re now very determined to make this change! You set a goal for yourself to ask more powerful questions rather than to tell subordinates what to do. You even go so far as to establish a measure – you’ll ask 60% of the time and tell only 40% of the time, at least as a start. (That’s a big shift from where you are now, which is 90% telling and 10% asking).

behavior change

At first, you do well with changing your telling and asking behaviors. But then, pressure builds up at work, and you think it takes too much time to ask. So, within weeks, you’re back to your old self, telling your subordinates what to do 90% of the time. You’ve gone full circle, and you’re back where you started.

Get to the Core

The goal of “telling less, asking more” is an example of a “doing” goal. If you only stay at that level, you haven’t yet reached the crux of the issue. It’s fundamental to ask yourself: What is at the core of my need to tell so much?

That core is about how you are being, feeling, and thinking. At the heart of every desired change in behavior is a deeper state of “being” that must first be addressed.

Target into Bulls eye

In our sample case, what’s driving the need to “tell?” It could be many things. Two possibilities are: (1) a need to display all that you know so that people think you’re smart; (2) a “need for speed”

and a strong desire to get things done quickly because you believe it takes less time to tell someone what to do.

Let’s work through this second perception. How can “being,” feeling, and thinking differently result in different outcomes that create long-lasting, positive change?

A Case in Point

My client, Augustina, always wanted to get work done quickly, and felt that telling her direct reports how to do it (as opposed to asking them to discover ways to do it for themselves) was a more efficient way to meet deadlines.

So, we addressed this issue with the use of my “Think-Feel-Behave-Results” triangle below, starting from the bottom and working our way up.

First, I asked Augustina to tell me what she “thinks” about telling direct reports what to do, versus asking powerful questions. Her answer was, “Telling them what to do is faster and more efficient than asking questions.”

Next, I asked her how that thought made her “feel” about telling when the need to do so arises. Augustina said, “I feel productive and in control, and satisfied things are getting done quickly.”

“So, how does that emotional reaction make you behave? What are the actions you take as a result?” I asked her. “I quickly tell direct reports what to do without wasting time,” Augustina responded.

Lastly, I asked her about the outcomes of this behavior. She thought for a moment, then said, “Well, it’s true that things do get done on time, but my team doesn’t grow, and I won’t progress in my career long-term if I keep that up.”current - what you think

When I asked her to sit back and reflect about the overall impact of this behavior on her individual brand as a leader, she admitted that this probably made her look like an ineffective leader. She agreed that wasn’t the outcome she wanted.

Let’s Shift the Thinking …

In order to alter that result, we went back to the beginning and changed the way Augustina was “being” – how she thought about telling people what to do – keeping in mind that “what you think is what you get.”

This time, I asked Augustina to come up with a constructive thought about asking powerful questions. This thought would replace her existing thoughts about telling. She responded, “Asking direct reports powerful questions helps grow my team and will help my future career success.”

“Great!” I said. “Now, how does the thought of helping grow your team and your own future career success make you feel?”

“I feel empowered and proud. It feels good to think of being helpful by asking my direct reports powerful questions, and it certainly feels good to be more successful myself,” she said.

Identifying the feeling helped Augustina begin to behave differently than before. She would ask powerful questions far more often, no matter how much time it took.future - what you think

The ultimate result? Her direct reports would grow in their roles, which would lead to increased productivity, and Augustina’s ability as a leader would improve and be recognized, too. That, in turn, would end up providing more career opportunities for herself.

By simply changing the way Augustina was being and thinking about a limiting behavior, and by changing her feelings about that, she could immediately become a stronger leader. This would, in turn, improve her leadership brand.

Actions to Take:

Self check

Walk through the triangle exercise, from bottom to top, asking yourself about your thoughts related to a challenge you’re facing. How does that specific thought make you feel? How does that feeling cause you to behave? What outcomes does that behavior have on your success and on your brand as a leader? Sit back and reflect on how that underlying thought – how you are being – is impacting the results you get.

Then, work your way through the triangle a second time, this time thinking a positive, forward-focused thought about that same challenge. How does this new thought make you feel? How would this feeling make you behave? What result would you get from this new behavior?

Changing the way you are being and the thoughts you have create a powerful shift that will drive positive, long-lasting change.

Make a commitment to yourself that the next time a challenge arises in the workplace, you’ll remember to think differently about that challenge, and alter the way you are being/thinking/feeling. Ultimately, that’s what will result in greater short- and long-term outcomes … and, yes, successfully achieving your New Year’s resolutions!

Discover Top Techniques for Time Management

“My two toughest time-management issues are (a) dealing with emails and (b) juggling meetings. Can you help?”

clock

This is a very common question I get asked when working with leaders in my Executive Coaching practice. If this resonates with you, too, click here to listen to a radio interview I did a few months back. As a guest on Robyn Pearce’s “Getting a Grip on Time: Do More With Less” show, I shared a number of useful tips, tools, and techniques you can use to take charge of your time and gain back better control of your personal and professional life.

Does Being the Boss Mean You Get to Tell People What To Do?

Does Being the Boss Mean You Get to Tell People What To Do?

Leadership

It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, and you’re still at the office preparing for a presentation you’ll make to top management early the next day. You have just hung up the phone after speaking with your spouse, and the annoyed voice on the other end of the line still rings in your ears. “Missing dinner again? The kids are starting to forget what you look like!”

Still, you face at least two more hours of work, and you’re tired, hungry, and stressed. Just as you begin to dive back into preparing for Friday’s presentation, Leiza, one of your direct reports, walks in and interrupts.

 

“Boss, I’ve been working through a challenge over and over in my head. I’ve narrowed the solution down to two options: Option A and Option B. Here are the pros and cons of each.” (Leiza briefly explains them.) “Which do you recommend?”

You’re busy; you don’t have time for this. So, you answer quickly, “Go with Option B.”

“Okay, thanks, Boss, that’s great. I appreciate your help,” Leiza says as she heads out of your office, ready to implement Option B.

You chalk up the exchange as yet another excellent leadership decision you’ve made. Her appreciation reminds you of the power you have to make decisions on the spot and the fact that people will follow your direction. In fact, it gives you an emotional boost at the end of a long day. Your direct report needed you, and you were able to deliver. Job well done, right?

Not so fast. Let’s rewind this scene and play it out in the way a highly successful leader would approach the situation.

Just as you begin to dive back into preparing for Friday’s presentation, Leiza, one of your direct reports, walks in and interrupts. “Boss, I’ve been working through a challenge over and over in my head. I’ve narrowed the solution down to two options: Option A and Option B. Here are the pros and cons of each.” (Leiza briefly explains them.) “Which do you recommend?”

“Leiza, assume you choose Option A today. Fast forward in your mind to six months from now … what would the outcome look like, and how would that affect everyone involved? Then, do the same for Option B. How would the outcomes differ?”

Leiza pauses, looking at you puzzled. You’ve never asked her a question like that before, and she isn’t sure what to do. The silence grows, but you smile patiently, waiting for Leiza to gather her thoughts.

When she continues to look puzzled, you encourage her further. “I’d like to know your point of view on that. You may need some time to think about it. When could you get back to me with your assessment?”

Leiza raises her eyebrows, intrigued and excited by the challenge of visioning the future. She responds, “By Monday morning,” and leaves your office with more energy than before, feeling empowered and pleased that her opinion is valued.

Time for Questions

I can almost hear you say, “But it’s already late! I’m looking at two more hours in the office before I can get home. I don’t have time to ask Leiza any questions. It’s faster just to tell her what to do.”

Estimate the length of time it took to give Leiza an answer compared to the time it took to ask her a few questions. You probably only added one or two minutes to the encounter, if that. If you don’t have time in the moment to discuss the solutions with Leiza, set a time to do it after she has had an opportunity to mull over the various options.

Are the questions you're being asked too simple?

The best way to develop your team is by asking powerful questions. Yes, it’s true that this can take a little bit more time than immediately telling employees what to do. But, if you don’t make the time to ask questions of your team members, you will end up being the one answering all of the questions and doing more work than necessary. This is a sign that your team has become dependent on you. And you’ll never step out of this never-ending cycle unless you make the decision to change your behaviors and begin asking questions instead of telling others what to do.

Empowering Your Team Members

Asking instead of telling is a fundamental behavior that differentiates the most successful leaders from those that can’t seem to advance beyond a certain level. The strongest leaders are those who don’t respond to queries from their staff right off the bat-that is, they don’t choose Option A or B and then send the employee away to implement the plan. Instead, they ask powerful questions that get team members to stop, reflect, grow, and challenge themselves.

Remember the old adage: “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” Giving your team members the “right” solutions by answering their questions is like giving them a fish for a day-it’s a shortcut that only takes care of one matter at a time. Teaching them “how to fish” by asking powerful, thought-provoking questions may take slightly longer in the short-term, but will save you a significant amount of time in the future. Team members won’t keep coming back to ask you as many questions later; they’ll develop their own ability to think through challenges.

This is ultimately how you empower your team members to move away from “taking orders” to “taking charge.”

Sound off! I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think it takes to be a great leader in today’s 24-7, non-stop world.

The Single Worst Question You Can Ask at Work: The Power of Eliminating “Why”?

shutterstock_44541121Asking direct reports or coworkers questions rather than always telling them what to do is an important way to develop their abilities, help them grow, strengthen engagement, and improve relationships. But, there is one question-word in your tool chest that I suggest you eliminate entirely:

“Why?”

If you think about it, the very nature of the question causes defensiveness. Even the most seemingly innocent questions like “So, why are you wearing that tie today?” or “Why did you go to Frankfurt last month?” can cause the most mild-mannered individuals to feel as though they need to defend themselves.

There’s nothing positive about the defensiveness that results when a “why” question is asked. In fact, depending on the specifics of the question, asking “why” can actually imply blame, create suspicion, and break down trust. It fosters an immediate “you vs. me” feeling and can even subconsciously put people into fight-or-flight mode. When shadowing executives in the workplace, I’ve seen “why” questions create antagonistic relationships and even cause otherwise dependable employees to hide important information from their bosses.

“Why” questions also tend to keep you in the past. Try asking a “why” question that is focused positively toward the future. I think it’s impossible! That’s because “why” is most often about what happened yesterday or about a problem happening today. It’s rarely about what can be done to find a solution to a problem or move toward a positive future state.

For example, questions like “Why did you do it that way?” or “Why are you late?” are destructive because the recipient of the question will no doubt feel put down and guilty as a result. These questions do nothing to motivate people to find constructive new ways of thinking and acting in the future.

“What” and “How” Questions

So, how do you get past asking “why?” when you want to achieve better understanding?  Achieve better results by replacing “why” questions with forward-focused “what” and “how” questions. Here are a couple of examples of how to turn an accusatory “why” into a more forward-focused “what” or “how” question. You can hopefully see how these types of “what” and “how” questions lead to powerful and innovative thinking, proactive planning, and visioning for the future.

“Why” Question: “Why isn’t this work completed yet?”   Replace with…

“What” or “How” Question: “What resources will it take to get this work done on time?

 

“Why” Question: “Why did you do it that way?”  Replace with…

“What” or “How” Question: “How will the approach you chose help us reach our objective for this project?”

 

Do be careful, though. “What” and “how” questions can sometimes be “why” questions in sheep’s clothing. For example, nicer-sounding phrases like “What’s the basis of your thinking?” or “What caused you to be late today?” might start with the word “what” but are simply “why” questions in hidden form!

The Power of Eliminating “Why”

Deborah was the head of internal audits for a large multinational corporation. She wasn’t happy in her job, and the morale of her team was also way down. She felt that she and her team had fairly combative relationships with other departments in the organization.

Just like a root canal, everybody throughout the organization dreaded the arrival of the auditing team. After all, it was the auditors’ job to investigate what everyone else might be doing wrong and then tell them to correct it. The entire company knew that the team sometimes had to report big discrepancies to the Board. As a result, Deborah and her direct reports had been branded the “ugh people” because everyone said “ugh!” whenever the team showed up….

This might sound like an insurmountable problem, but it turned out that Deborah and her team relied primarily on “why” questions to carry out their auditing work. “Why did you take that approach?” and “Why didn’t you follow the agreed-to process?” were the typical questions asked.

Realizing that the way Deborah and her team were questioning others might be impacting the outcomes, they began to replace “why” queries with “what” and “how” questions. For example, rather than ask, “Why did you do it that way?” Deborah’s team of auditors asked, “What are your long-term objectives, and how does the procedure you used support them?” A question like, “Why didn’t you follow standard operating procedures?” was replaced with, “How well did the process work for you, given that it was not the standard protocol?”

whyWhen Deborah and her team shifted the way they interacted with their internal auditing clients, the results were almost immediate!  One by one, team members began reporting that company employees had a much less negative attitude toward them and began to see the team as there to help rather than judge. Within 30 days, members of the auditing department reported being able to build better, more trusting relationships across the organization. And, importantly, the morale of Deborah’s team improved.

As a big plus, the auditing team members shared with Deborah that they were even receiving more honest answers to their non-threatening, open-ended questions—the kind of information that helped them do their jobs better.

Be on the “Why?” alert!

If you are someone who uses “Why” questions regularly on the job, begin to catch yourself and make adjustments, rephrasing your questions to begin with “What” and “How.” You will no doubt find that your team members and coworkers respond much more positively once you say goodbye to “Why.”

Don’t Just Sit There!

SITTING is big news – well, at least the detrimental effects of too much sitting, that is. The scientific community has coined a new phrase to label it — “sitting disease.”  In short, as a friend of mine says, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

But as leaders, our jobs often require that we sit for many hours in a day, working on our computers, attending meetings, and talking on the phone. In fact, my executive coaching clients often tell me they spend so many hours working (and sitting) that they often don’t have time to fit exercise into their schedule.

The harsh truth is that too much sitting is killing us – slowly, but literally.

A few hard facts:

  • According to a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, sitting most of the day makes our risk of heart attack the same as for people who smoke.
  • James Levine, M.D. puts it this way, “Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression, and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.”
  • An American Cancer Society study found that women who were inactive and sat over six hours a day were 94% more likely to die during the time period studied than those who were physically active and sat less than 3 hours a day. For men, the statistic isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still dire at 48% more likely to die. And the physical activity levels of the individuals didn’t matter!
  • A study at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia found that we are 40% at greater risk of death if we sit for long periods. They also found that prolonged sitting disrupts metabolic function and decreases insulin sensitivity, causing blood sugar problems.

Walk While You Work

So, what’s the solution? Since exercising more may not even counter the number of hours we sit, you can either stand more while you work or do what I’m doing now – combine work time with exercise! You can improve your health without the need to find time in your calendar to write “go to the gym.” All you need is my new productivity tool – a Treadmill Desk!

I’ve wanted one for a really long time, but they weren’t available in Singapore. Then, we finally found a company that could offer one. Now, when I would normally have to sit at my desk to do work, I just hop on the treadmill and get in a good walk. I love it! I’m burning calories, staying active, and still accomplishing my “to do” list. It feels great!

“Sounds expensive?” you say? We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the treadmill desk I chose wasn’t as expensive as we thought it would be. In fact, if you are Singapore based, I can get you a good deal. Just email me at Brenda@brendabence.com if you’re interested, and get yourself moving!