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Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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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Managing Transitions – Letting Go

Monday, January 24th, 2011

A longtime client has requested some help with managing change.  So, I’m pulling out my most trusted reference: Managing Transitions by William Bridges.  Anytime I support a client with change issues, this book is part of my toolkit.  Bridges makes an argument that I think is key in dealing with change:  “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”  Simply put, change is situational, yet transition is psychological.  It’s critical to manage the psychological part of change, and that’s often the part that is overlooked by leaders.  In the diagram above, Bridges illustrates the three phases of transition:  1.  Ending, Losing, Letting Go, 2.  The Neutral Zone, and 3.  The New Beginning.

As Bridges makes clear in his book, every transition begins with an ending.  There is some form of “letting go” that accompanies a successful transition.  No matter whether the change is positive or negative, change begins with an ending of something.  For example, a new process means letting go of a strong sense of familiarity and feeling of competence with performing daily tasks.  Or, a promotion means changing peer groups and letting go of daily interactions with people who you’ve grown to know and count on.  Personal changes come with transitions as well . . . moving to a new neighborhood or city means letting go of your physicians, neighbors, and a strong sense of community.  Even when changes are good, there is letting go to do.  Leaders must allow time and space for the psychological process of letting go.

It is possible to create an environment where people are able to deal with losses openly, without it turning into the proverbial whine and moan session.  Bridges offers lots of suggestions.  Here are my favorites that through my work with clients have proven to be very effective:

  1. Accept the Reality and Importance of the Subjective Losses.  In other words, everyone deals with loss differently.  What you may consider easy, someone else may consider wildly difficult.  Learn as much as you can about someone’s perception of loss.  It will make it much easier for you to address it.
  2. Don’t Be Surprised at Overreaction.  The key here is to understand that if somone’s reaction to change is stronger than yours, you’re likely to call it an “overreaction”, when in fact it is simply someone’s reaction.  Loss can, however, be incremental.  That is, an initial reaction to change can be layered with another reaction to something else coming down the pike, and so on.  So, what you may view as an overreaction, might actually be reaction “overload”.
  3. Acknowledge the Losses Openly and Sympathetically.  An empathic leader is a powerful leader.  So, bring losses out in the open and make them safe to discuss.  Invite others to share their feelings of loss, and share yours as well.  For example:  “I know these changes are going to pose challenges for all of us.  I’m sorry about that.” Or,  “I’m feeling a bit like a duck out of water myself.  It’s hard to learn a new process.”
  4. Expect and Accept the Signs of Grieving.  People process change differently, but like stages of grief, you’ll likely notice anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness or confusion.
  5. Give People Information, Again, and Again.  Leaders cannot overcommunicate, especially during times of change.  Even if you don’t have an update, that’s information your team is likely to appreciate.  Keep them informed.
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Is the Annual Performance Review a Waste?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Today I read a provocative editorial on the Yahoo! Finance page.  The title was:  Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews.  Here’s the link:  So, the premise of Samuel A. Culbert’s editorial is that performance reviews are damaging and bogus.  He argues that while every corporation and HR Department touts performance reviews as a “plus” they are actually a drain on any organization.  Don’t hear him say thinks performance evaluations are bad . . . he’s not saying that.  He’s just saying that employees need performance evaluations they can trust and act upon.  He thinks performance evaluations should happen every day through conversation.  Yep, conversation.   Dialog between a manager and employee that includes asking and listening, on both sides of the desk.  A fabulous idea.

I really appreciate his perspective.  Now, I’m not saying that annual performance reviews need to be ditched, as Colbert suggests.  I think there is great value in having documentation of performance management activities.  But, the annual performance review is often treated like a necessary task dictated by HR instead of an opportunity to take a solid look at an employees strengths, accomplishments, and understanding of what he or she should do more of to be even more successful in the coming year.  I have been one of those leaders at the end of the year scrambling to complete all the boxes on all the forms for all my employees and having all those one-on-one discussions before the HR-imposed deadline.  UGH!  That process feels forced and fake, and it often translates to employee feedback that is not authentic, and worse, not actionable.  Colbert argues that performance reviews focus too much on what’s “wrong” about an employee’s performance.  Whether they are completed annually or not, I agree with him . . . they would be much more valuable if they focused more on what the leader/manager can do to help the employee succeed. 

So, what’s a leader to do?  In most organizations performance reviews are non-negotiable.  A leader doesn’t get to say, “In protest I’m not going to do them.”  Nonetheless, a leader can make the process infinitely more valuable.  To do so means having discipline and commitment to an employee’s development.  It takes time, thought, and a little planning.  Many leaders might argue they don’t have the time.  I respectfully reply, “You must make the time because employee development is one of your top responsibilities.”  Leaders are required to lead.  And, performance management is an important part of leading.  When coaching and training  leaders, I offer these tips for making performance management an on-going and routine versus a once-a-year-phenomenon:

Schedule 30 – 60 minute one-on-one sessions with your team members every week during which time you ask them a variation of the questions below.  Your objective is to get a sense of what makes them feel strong and effective.  You also want to discover what they need from you to perform at their peak.  Finally, you must listen to what they have to say and make sure they see you listening.

  • How can I help you bring your best to the job at hand?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding your work when you feel the most competent and the most effective?
  • What tools do you need to be even more successful?
  • How are you solving problems you encounter?
  • What barriers or obstacles do you need help in overcoming?
  • Who do you rely on and partner with to get your job done?
  • What questions do you have of me?

Before you end the conversation, after listening intently and discussing different approaches to problems, it’s really important that you provide them some feedback on what you are noticing about their performance.  This kind of feedback can either be positive or constructive.  The key is that it is timely and genuine.  Your team members need to know where they stand with you.  What’s working and what’s not?  What do you want them to do more of?  What makes you proud?  What would you like to see them do differently (and how do you intend to help them do so?)  Finally, say” “Thank-you.”  This expression of gratitude is a great way to let them know you appreciate what they bring, that they care enough to talk with you weekly about their performance, and that you honor their commitment to continuous improvement.

So, as I already mentioned, this takes discipline and commitment.  When you do it, it will pay off every day.  And, it will pay off at the end of the year when you’re required to document the performance evaluations for HR.  You will breeze through them because you will have had weekly conversations with your team members that have kept them engaged and informed throughout the year.  The annual process will become more of a formality than a forced event.

So, is the annual performance review a waste?  Not if you do your leader work throughout the year and make employee development a daily priority.  When that happens, the annual performance review can be a time when you get to celebrate that your daily work has created solid results.

With respect,


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