David Dye - Winning Well - CEO Reads

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of March 13, 2017

David Dye - Winning Well - CEO ReadsEach 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.


Are Servant Leaders Obsolete by Eileen McDargh at Lead Change Group

It’s a question that has many of us in the leadership resiliency field pondering with great uneasiness. The current public personas of people whom we would title “leaders” are a far cry from the model Robert Greenleaf developed during his 40 years with American Telephone and Telegraph (now AT&T).

After decades in corporate America, Greenleaf’s research led him to a growing suspicion that the power-centered authoritarian leadership style so prominent in U.S. institutions was not working. In 1964 he took an early retirement to found the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

My Comment: If you’re at all concerned about leadership, you’ve probably pondered McDargh’s question. I know I have. How do we reconcile what we know about effective leadership with political happenings? Are the models wrong? Is the research around how to best connect with and energize people wrong?

In short: no, they’re not wrong and Winning Well (along with servant leadership, character-based leadership, and human-centered leadership) is alive, well, and as important as ever. If you wonder how to reconcile healthy leadership with what you see on a political stage, keep two things in mind: first, popular politics is theater. It bears as much resemblance to real leadership as television “professional” wrestling does to Olympic wrestling. The second is that, at least in the US political system, choices are often made between two artificially created alternatives that are picked through their ability to command attention, not necessarily influence people and organizations personally.

The reality is, were you to adopt the insecurity, lack of integrity, or berating style commonly displayed by some politicians, you will likely find yourself bereft of followers and you won’t be able results.

Why the Millions We Spend on Employee Engagement Buy Us So Little by Jacon Morgan at Harvard Business Review

Organizations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on employee engagement programs, yet their scores on engagement surveys remain abysmally low. How is that possible? Because most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot. A perk is introduced to boost scores, but over time the effect wears off and scores go back down. Another perk is introduced, and scores go back up — and then they fall again. The more this cycle repeats itself, the more it feels like manipulation. People begin to recognize the short-term fixes for what they are.

When organizations make real gains, it’s because they’re thinking longer-term. They’re going beyond what engagement scores are telling them to do in the moment and redesigning employee experience, creating a place where people want, not just need, to work each day. But what does that mean, and what does it look like?

My Comment: I look at employee engagement scores as something like a grade you receive in school. The grade is a general measure of how you’re doing. It’s useful to tell you if there is a problem and whether or not you’re making progress. The problem with engagement scores and report card grades arises when you put your focus on the score and not what it represents. You certainly remember students (maybe you) lobbying the teacher, “How can I raise my grade?”

That’s a short-term question that isn’t focused on what matters. Focus on learning the material and your grades will take care of themselves. Similarly, focus on things like healthy leadership, a good employee experience, clear, shared commitments, and your employee engagement scores will take care of themselves. This is what it means, as we say in Winning Well, to ‘play the game, don’t game the score.’

5 Traits Leaders Need for Virtual Teams by Mary Kelly, PhD, CDR US Navy (Ret)

The remote workplace in the U.S. is more popular than ever, with as many as 37 percent of employees telecommuting regularly. That statistic isn’t surprising given the number of benefits that come with telecommuting. In Microsoft’s white paper, Working Without Walls, remote employees cited better work-life balance, less stress, flexible work times, no commute, and a quieter atmosphere as some of the main benefits of working from home.

While there are many perks to the virtual office, organizations often struggle with the challenges around leading remotely. Managing team members without daily face-to-face interaction has its own unique set of challenges. However, leaders who focus on cultivating these five skills in their virtual interactions with employees tend to excel at remote leadership.

My Comment: This is one of the most common questions that comes up in our leadership workshops. Kelly’s suggestions should look familiar – the truth is, leading remote and virtual teams requires the same characteristics and traits as any other team. After all, these are still people. However, working out these traits often requires more intentionality. You may, for instance, be a very communicative person, but fall prey to ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Communicating well can no longer be left to chance encounters, but must be strategic and intentional. The good news is that with a little creative thinking, you can be an incredible virtual team leader, and enjoy it.

Ten Unmistakable Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace by Liz Ryan at Forbes.com

I did not know what a fear-based workplace was the first time I started working in one. At first, I thought the problem was me. Maybe I didn’t have the right clothes or know the right business jargon. I walked on eggshells at work. I went home anxious and discouraged every night.

Gradually it dawned on me that it wasn’t just me. My co-workers were uptight, too. No one was having a good time in our workplace. What made everyone so nervous and fearful?

It can take time to realize that you work in a fear-based environment. We can’t bear to think that we took a new job in a broken company! A fear-based workplace is a place where fear is the predominant energy. A healthy workplace is one where trust is the predominant energy.

My Comment: Like Ryan, I’ve also worked for a fear-based company. It’s exhausting. You waste so much energy avoiding the punishment that it saps the creative energy and motivation that helps people ‘skip to work’ and be more productive.

I appreciate the approach Ryan takes: the opposite of a fear-based culture is a trust-based culture. If you’ve created a fear-based culture on your team, how can you begin extending more trust to your people? Often, fear-based leaders struggle with trust because they haven’t done an adequate job of defining expectations and creating mutually shared commitments. If this is you, begin to commit with clarity and you’ll find your ability to trust increases as well.

The Best Bosses Say These 9 Things by Kevin Sheridan

Employee engagement is always greatly heightened by excellent communication. That’s why the most tremendous bosses use these 9 statements on a regular, and in some cases, daily basis. Start using these phrases regularly and watch your success as a manager take flight:

My Comment: This is a great list of phrases that will help you cultivate better relationships, trust, and collaboration with your team members. Ultimately, they will lead to more productive employees. Many good ones, but I’ll draw attention to #7: “I’d like your opinion on something.” Show your people you value their perspective, experience, and input. And…use it.


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