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Sponsorship is a Powerful Leadership Strategy

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Last month, I attended the annual fundraiser of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.  The keynote speaker was Marie Wilson from the The White House Project.   The White House project is a national, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization with the aim to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors, up to the U.S. presidency.  To advance this mission, The White House Project strives to support women and the issues that allow women to lead in their own lives and in the world.  Marie was a passionate and dynamic speaker who made a compelling case for, among other things, women sponsoring women.  The theme of her talk was sponsorship and the role that women MUST play in sponsoring other women.  I was moved by the idea . . . and respectfully argue that the concept applies to both genders.  Sponsoring others is a powerful leadership strategy.  Whether they are emerging leaders, leading indivividual contributors, high potential team members, or someone who clearly demonstrates an interest in self-development, it’s important to reach out and help lift someone up.

Sponsorship involves 4 actions:

  1. Encourage.  Express your belief in his ability to succeed, both passionately and frequently.
  2. Support.  Look for all the ways you can help her get where she wants to go.
  3. Authorize.  Create a culture of “yes” so he can explore what is possible.
  4. Introduce.   Make sure you’re not the only one who knows who she is, sees her potential,  and recognizes her results.

When I was 23, I had a sponsor.  She made sure I was involved, connected, visible and responsible for just a little more than what was in my job description.  I loved it.  I felt engaged and I truly believed I could succeed.  I credit her with getting me a leg-up in a great 10 year career with that company.  Her faith in me and commitment to my success made me want to work harder, be more accountable, and get better results.  That’s typically what happens when someone is sponsored – they are driven to live up to the faith that is placed in them.  That’s one reason sponsorship is a powerful leadership strategy.  Another reason is that sponsorship begets sponsorship.  When you reach out and lift someone up, it increases the likelihood that she will do the same and the resulting culture is one where people help others and share in their successes.

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The Soft Power of Influence

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Recently, I read a blog post by Vineet Nayer at the Harvard Business Review on Women and Soft Power in Business.  According to Joseph S. Nye Jr., the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, soft power is defined as the ability to influence or lead through persuasion or attraction, by co-opting people rather than coercing them.  Nayer argues that women tend to have a greater capability for soft power.  But he also, rightly, points out that soft power is not an exclusively female characteristic.  Influence, or “soft power”, is a much-needed and under-used skill in the workplace.  Nayer’s point, and the point of my blog here, is that organizations benefit greatly from developing the influence skills across its employee population – men and women alike.

Influence is an essential leadership skill.  You need it to sell ideas, enroll others, and create change.  Influencing others involves appealing to three different sensibilities:  logic, emotion, and cooperation.  In other words, when you influence effectively, you connect with someone’s head (thoughts), heart (feelings), and hands (action).  As you might have experienced from time to time, different people require more emphasis on logic in order to be enrolled in your project.  Others might want to feel a stronger connection to their heartstrings before being pulled into your idea.  Still others might prefer to move to action right away and learn how they can contribute tangibly.  Think about how you like to be influenced and that will help you understand what I mean here.  When someone is making a case that requires a commitment from you, do you notice that you pay most attention to:

  • Logic – facts, figures, and evidence pointing to personal and/or organizational benefits?
  • Emotion – feelings, experiences, and concepts that reinforce an emotional connection?
  • Cooperation – action, roles, and responsibilities that define alliances and relationships?

Perhaps all three are important to you when considering the value of a proposition or initiative.  It’s important to understand the needs of those you are attempting to influence and enroll because it will help you to be more effective when making your case.

To prepare for an influencing session with others:

  1. Set your goals by considering what you need from others and what you want the outcome to be.
  2. Identify benefits and challenges by reflecting on the relationships you have with others, their position of power as compared to yours, and what skills and knowledge they possess that you could benefit from.
  3. Develop your plan and script by outlining how you’ll appeal to the logic, emotion or cooperation sensibilities of others, anticipating their objections, and planning your counter-arguments or responses.

It’s important not to underestimate the value of planning when you are intent on influencing others.  The more time and attention you invest in planning, the greater the liklihood you’ll achieve your desired outcomes.  And, once you’ve conducted your influencing dialog, record and reflect your perceptions and key learning.  The best way to learn how to influence is to practice influencing, and then taking notice of what worked and what didn’t.

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If you think the rules do not apply to you . . .

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

. . . then they probably do.  That is a coaching phrase that I have used for years in conjunction with a good old standard teamwork game:  Broken Squares.  It’s an activity that requires teams to work together to achieve results and generally brings out both the best and worst behaviors on a team.  Some of the best behaviors are collaboration, innovation, creative thinking, sharing, supporting, and celebrating.  Some of the worst include competitiveness, control, self-absorption, hoarding, judging, and quitting.  It’s a fascinating insight to what makes people tick.

There are lots of rules for the game, and it doesn’t take long before someone breaks one or more of them.  As the teams work in silence (one of the rules), I observe them gesturing and making faces to try to communicate to another team member (against the rules).  And, I say: “If you think the rules do not apply to you, they probably do.”   I never just say it once, because in spite of making the rules really clear, someone always seems to think it’s okay to break them.  Generally, when I facilitate the game, I say the phrase a lot.  I think it is one of the most profound coaching phrases I ever use, with others and with myself.  I don’t just use it when I facilitate Broken Squares.  I use it when talking about accountability because we often look at everyone else to see if they’re being accountable and tend not to look at what we’re doing.  We think accountability isn’t an issue for us and that the rules about accountability don’t apply.  I also use it when talking about collaboration.  We often think of ourselves as the easiest people to work with.  We’re open, we’re honest, we share.  Certainly the collaboration rules don’t apply.

I notice that when I am positively convinced that the rules do not apply to me, it’s likely that I’m working really hard to rationalize, deflect, and avoid taking responsibility for my own actions.  Unfortunately, I mostly notice this after the fact . . . when I’ve already been stubborn and a bit full of myself.  I’m doing my best to shift the trend.  I think if we all looked at how well we are living by the rules instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, things might go a lot more smoothly in our work and personal lives.

Just a thought:  “If you think the rules do not apply to you, they probably do.”

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