5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of August 8, 2017

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Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

Workplace Culture and the KISS Principle by Gerald Wagner

Being from the Midwest, I’m used to people talking in plain and simple terms. And now that I practice in the field of organizational cultures, all the papers, blogs, books, workshop, conferences, videos, software, and other spin offs can make me dizzy. So, I wanted to give a few thoughts on how to simplify the culture maze with plain talk.

My personal drive for simplicity comes from my days as a computer software entrepreneur. My teams and I built software using the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. Here are a couple of third grade equations that keep key terms simple…

My Comment: While I’m a big fan of making things as simple and easy-to-implement as possible, some attempts at simplicity can actually reduce your ability to act. In this article Wagner provides some of both. For instance, he suggests that the seeds of a ‘best places to work’ culture are found in an environment that nourishes the employee as a whole person. That is totally true, but you have to take care to define ‘whole person’ to include a focus on results. I’ve seen several “whole person” cultures that didn’t focus on the whole person at all, but rather, used the term as a placeholder for the relational and spiritual aspects of life. These are important, but isolated from results and productivity they won’t create a Winning Well culture.

There are some great suggestions that call you back to common sense. I recommend you tread carefully, however, when reading “Stop chasing mythical ‘best practices’. They don’t exist.” Perhaps this one needs more context – there are certainly well-researched, evidence-based practices regarding employee engagement: connect what to why, help your people to grow, encourage them, and ensure they have some control or influence over their work. These are fundamental. As are some fo the “soft stuff” that Wagner calls attention to: compassion, kindness, listening, dignity, and love. I wonder if what he calls “mythical best practices” are company-specific tactics. If so, I totally agree. For example, I worked with a supervisor who used to cook his team an annual Italian feast. He was an amazing cook with passionate Italian heritage and his team loved it. This same “best practice” would not work for another leader who didn’t bring the same passion, heritage, and skill. The principles always hold true, but how you implement them varies by context.

How Filter Bubbles Distort Reality: Everything You Need to Know by Farnam Street

Read the headline, tap, scroll, tap, tap, scroll.

It is a typical day and you are browsing your usual news site. The New Yorker, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, BBC, The Globe and Mail, take your pick. As you skim through articles, you share the best ones with like-minded friends and followers. Perhaps you add a comment.

Few of us sit down and decide to inform ourselves on a particular topic. For the most part, we pick up our smartphones or open a new tab, scroll through a favored site and click on whatever looks interesting. Or we look at Facebook or Twitter feeds to see what people are sharing. Chances are high that we are not doing this intending to become educated on a certain topic. No, we are probably waiting in line, reading on the bus or at the gym, procrastinating, or grappling with insomnia, looking for some form of entertainment.

We all do this skimming and sharing and clicking, and it seems so innocent. But many of us are uninformed about or uninterested in the forces affecting what we see online and how content affects us in return — and that ignorance has consequences.

My Comment: While not directly related to leadership and management, this is an important article with important ramifications for how you lead. We all live in an online ‘filter bubble’ that is created by the algorithms behind the scenes. This results in an echo chamber where you forget there are different opinions and perspectives, and you lose touch with the elements of truth in their positions.

As a leader, you need to be aware that every organization has its own filter bubble. There are ways of thinking, seeing the world, and communicating that are unique to your company. These can be good as you’re building culture (eg: this is how people like us act). But there is a danger when you get trapped in the echo chamber of your organization’s bubble. You can lose perspective; fail to stay abreast of a changing environment; or be blinded to your own vulnerabilities.

An early leadership mentor of mine had a great saying: “Never believe your own press release.”

Just like it takes work with your news feed to ensure a diversity of voices and prevent an echo chamber, you’ve got to do the same work with your leadership. Trust the trenches: listen to the people on the front line and what they have to say about your customer, service, or product and how to improve things. Connect with leaders outside your industry. Attend industry conferences and learn from what other people are seeing and doing.

It turns out that having an open mind takes some work.

Effective Leadership for Work-from-Home Employees and Virtual Teams by Mary Kelly, PhD, US Navy Ret.

It is a rising trend across a variety of industries. Companies are using remote employees — some exclusively — for a wide variety of operations. Everything from data input, SEO, strategic planning, IT, business development, law, medical practices, systems analysis, research, technical instruction, marketing, and advertising is evolving at an exponential rate with respect to remote personnel production.

Architects, engineers, systems engineers, content developers, teachers, professors, marketing managers, lawyers, heavy equipment fleet-managers and operators — even doctors — are beginning to understand the future of working remotely. Companies and corporations are adopting the bottom-line financial benefits of having supervisors, managers, and directors working remotely as well.

It is fair to predict that some entire industries will be dominated by remote employee production.

My Comment: I believe in the power of remote work. (After all, Karin and I wrote Winning Well while living 1700 miles apart.)

Remote workers need all the same fundamentals that on-site workers do – only more so. Connection, clarity, sense of growth, and essential for engaged employees, wherever they may be. When employees work remotely, you’ve got to be more intentional (and often creative) about how you provide these things. Don’t let out-of-sight-out-of-mind thinking erode your team.

I love one of the examples Kelly shares:

“She will never be promoted because she works from home” I heard this statement about an employee named Sally this week. I asked, “Why not? If she is doing the work, why do you care where she is working?”

The supervisor said, “If I have to be here, then she has to suffer here, too.” This is antiquated thinking. Worse, it means that supervisor KNOWS the workplace is toxic! No wonder Sally is more productive at home!

Let Them See What You Believe by Scott Mabry

Our actions may be confusing or appear contradictory if we leave it to people to guess our intentions. When we help others understand the beliefs behind our motives and actions we give them the benefit of context and build trust. To make this possible there are important steps we can take.

Be intentional about your beliefs.

As leaders, it’s important that we make the time and effort to learn what we believe. This is different from what we think we believe. It requires close examination of our actions, reactions, and emotions followed by careful reflection.

My Comment: This is a great article. Short and to-the-point, Mabry calls you to share your beliefs, live them out, invite others to share theirs, and get feedback about how your behaviors align with your stated beliefs. That is incredibly strong leadership transparency and credibility. As I said in my first book: “If you want your team’s hearts to be connected to their work, they’ve got to see yours.”

Do You Have a Recipe for Employee Engagement? By Art Barber at SmartBrief

At the Servant Leadership Institute, we help leaders around the country change their leadership beliefs from the control model to the service model. All leaders have a common desire: to engage their employees at the highest level possible. Most realize that how they are leading today needs to change.

We have all been in meetings where those in attendance have lost interest in what the leader is saying. It took me some time to understand when people were looking down at their papers, playing with their pens and doing everything to avoid eye contact, it was my own behaviors that drove their response.

My Comment: Barbers asks fundamental questions that every leader would do well to examine once a quarter: Do you inspire your employees? Do you invest time in your employees? Do you trust your employees? Do you model what’s important?

Straightforward, but oh-so-powerful. I am reminded of CEOs I’ve worked with who, when asked these questions, said “no, and I’m not going to.” My sad reply, “Well then you’ll never have the employee engagement, retention, or productivity that you want.”

None of us are perfect, but we can recalibrate and continue to grow in our ability to inspire, invest, trust, and model. Be the leader you want your boss to be.


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