Five Tips for When the Going Gets Tough

Tackling issues requires different — and often multiple — leadership approaches. The complexity of the situation will dictate the response. While routine problems are generally solved through experience and expertise, complex issues tend to be tackled more effectively with innovative solutions. Ronald Heifetz, Harvard professor and co-founder of its Center for Public Leadership, encourages leaders to: Openly acknowledge the complexity of the issues head on, without attempting to minimize the difficulties involved. Research has found that ignoring or oversimplifying complex challenges does not work. Avoid authoritative (top-down) solutions. Shift responsibility for problems from the leader to the primary stakeholders. Consider how individuals’ differing values influence their views and behaviors. This is not a “right” or “wrong” analysis. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as everyone views situations differently, buy-in necessitates a multi-pronged approach. Consider the challenges that you are facing. What is and is not working? Map it out. Think about how you are communicating with your teams. Heifetz suggests those who are cognizant of and incorporate the concepts above manage more effectively. Try these five tips for when the going gets tough: Confront the problem. Don’t dodge the issue. Acknowledge it openly. Reject absolutes. Get comfortable with the idea that there is no “right” answer. Avoid expressions of power or dominance. Promote and encourage an atmosphere in your teams that is conducive to cooperative thought and execution. Celebrate differences. Acknowledge that differences are vital to a full appreciation of issues and their most effective resolution. Recognize your own built-in bias. No one person’s ideas will ever represent an absolute truth — and that includes you. There is no...

Bad Leadership

There are plenty of books and quite a few blogs that focus on good leadership. They talk about what needs to be done and when, they discuss decision making, strategy, team building and collaboration. But what about bad leadership? It seems that when it comes to bad leadership, there is very little to be found. However, over at Michael Krigsman‘s blog, Mike Kavis has a guest post on bad leaders. And while he is writing about IT project failures, there is still much for the aspiring, experienced and even bad leader to learn here (in fact, a failed project may be the single strongest learning experience of one’s career). Mike provides a ten point list of why large IT projects fail, but sums it up as follows: This list boils down to three categories: technology, business, and people. You can probably count on one hand the number of folks that you’ve come across who excel in all three areas. The challenge for leaders is not so much straddling these competencies — for sure, even the best leaders cannot master every leadership skill. And, anyway, there is no need — as long as our village is strong. As Mike points out, success lies in communicating vision, managing change and aligning the project (yes, it could be any project) with business outcomes. Not delivering in any one area is likely to see your overall project fail. But if bad leadership boils down to these three elements, surely is makes it easy to be a good leader? Not so. We are measured mostly by our successes — and those successes generally take...

Choosing the Urgent over the Important

Every person must make choices in their lives. These choices may be monumental or insignificant, they may be personal or they may be professional; but every day, our choices and our decisions measure in the thousands. Consider for a moment, the most mundane of tasks — having breakfast. Think through your process of decision making. You have to assess your level of hunger, determine what you feel like eating, select the bowl / plate to use (will it be your favorite bowl or the one most convenient to you at the time) and so on. Each of these micro-decisions add up. With every choice and every decision that we make, there is a corresponding cost. On a personal level, most of us are aware of these costs — for example, having dinner with friends means that I can’t spend the time finishing the book I am reading — but what happens when these decisions are professionally based? What do leaders consider in the making of decisions? Wally Bock has an excellent article on choice that looks at work-life balance as a process of decision making. There is an accord here, between what I call “life continuum” and the need for all professionals (and particularly leaders) to actively prioritize: … choice isn’t between balanced and unbalanced. Instead you have to choose among a number of things to do at any one time. And the choice isn’t between work and life; it’s between different ways to use your time that make up all the parts of your life. You choose among the options available. You can stay late and work on...

Maintaining The Momentum in Tough Times

In good times, it is rather easy to keep employees motivated to “ride the wave.”  This goes without saying.  However, business leaders are not hired to lead only during good times.  In fact, true leadership reveals itself in times of difficulty.  Martin Luther King Jr. put this perspective into great words when he stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” As the economy in the U.S. is slowing and companies must persist in their efforts to achieve solid performance, true leadership is being put to the test.  Generally speaking, during the past several years, businesses have ridden a wave of economic success with low unemployment, stellar stock market performance and overall global economic growth.  However, as the costs of the Middle East wars accumulate, the real estate and subprime crisis continue to maintain a stranglehold on the U.S. economy, and demand for commodities outpaces supplies, countries and businesses across the globe are experiencing significant pressures. It is at such a time that business leaders must rise to the challenge that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of and display their true measure.  As employees feel pressures due to corporate cutbacks and prospective customers postpone purchases, business leaders are faced with the tremendous challenge of maintaining high morale, not only for those that work for and around them, but within themselves just the same.  To be sure, this is by no means easy to accomplish.  In fact, many leaders must suspend personal concerns and find a way to put the...

What Leaders Can Learn from Britney

Britney’s brain is toxic Originally uploaded by bowbrick She is in the airport lounge. She is in the inflight magazine. When you walk past the duty free store there are perfumes. There is music and there are film clips. And she is all over the newspapers and magazine racks. Let’s face it, no matter how busy you are, Britney Spears is bound to have made some kind of impression upon you. Believe it or not, there is plenty for leaders to learn from Britney Spears. In fact, she makes a great case study on how to deal with a crisis. Consider for a moment: What management techniques can be employed to manage a crisis such as Britney’s? What communications strategy should be followed? How do you turn around a bad situation? While we all may be fascinated by Britney Spears and her professional and personal downfall for voyeuristic reasons, there are actual, real life lessons that we can benefit from. On a personal note, I surely enjoy reading the tabloids and reading about celebrities and their trials (sometimes literally their court trials) and tribulations. For me, however, it is not about watching a car wreck for the purpose of seeing a car wreck, but rather, it is about learning how these folks, with all sorts of professionals to help them, deal with the situations they encounter. Selfishly, I like to learn from the mistakes of others so that perhaps I can avoid them all together, or at least know better how to handle them should they, or similar situations, occur in my life. So, back to Britney. I think...