Becoming a Feedback Warrior

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In my last post, I reasoned that people are not getting enough performance feedback in the workplace today. Although research consistently demonstrates that feedback is a fundamental human need and we desire more of it (even the constructive kind), managers are simply not giving enough of it. This is resulting in a loss of human potential, disengagement, and mediocre results. So what’s the solution?

Managers Must Learn to Embrace Their Warrior Spirit.

Sure, I could start this article with five steps for managers to deliver better feedback. You might read through them and nod your head in approval. You may even say to yourself, “I am going to try to do point number three more often.” Yet, the reality is that you probably wouldn’t make any real changes. Our default operating systems are hardened through years of personal experiences and unconscious adherence to beliefs/values. We can talk all we want about learning new skills; however, if we don’t change our mindset first, we won’t make any lasting shifts in our behavior.

So then…what does it mean to embrace your Warrior Spirit? Let’s first identify what the warrior represents. Warriors have been a necessary part of all cultures and societies throughout the ages. The purpose of a warrior is to face conflict. A warrior is never eager to fight; however, they realize it is sometimes necessary. The warrior is often revered because they take personal risks on our behalf. They may even sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose. The best warriors embody values like duty, loyalty, courage, respect, and integrity.

The Feedback Warrior 2019

While it’s an ancient archetype, it still lives within us all today. Some of us express our inner warrior more often than others, yet we all can learn to bring forward the warrior spirit when needed. This is especially relevant for the modern-day manager. If we learn to become a Feedback Warrior in the workplace, we can unlock potentials in others and inspire superior results.

Let’s take a look at the warrior’s values and how they serve us when delivering feedback:

1.    Duty – Warriors willfully face obstacles because it is their duty. They welcome responsibility and exhibit the discipline necessary to do their job. Likewise, a manager must own their role fully. It is their duty to provide feedback! Ask yourself this…“If not you, then who?” Where is the feedback going to come from? Do you get feedback from peers? Maybe. How about from your direct reports? Not likely. Most of our feedback comes from our supervisors. If you accept the title, own the responsibility as well and think of it as your unconditional duty to give specific, actionable, and timely feedback.

2.    Loyalty – Warriors declare their allegiance to a purpose bigger than themselves. When I served in the U.S. Military, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. As did all my fellow servicemen and women. That oath bound us together, and our loyalty to both common purpose and one another was unwavering.

Managers, today, need to think similarly when working with their teams. A loyal manager thinks of his or her direct reports like a brother or sister. They should feel an allegiance to support them, even giving difficult feedback if necessary, because they genuinely care about them and their success.

warrior pose

3.    Courage – Conflict is scary because we are uncertain of the potential outcome. Nevertheless, warriors do not shy away from it. They realize that avoidance of conflict often exacerbates the problem and postpones the inevitable. Warriors, instead, train themselves to handle conflict quickly and efficiently.

This does not mean that the warrior does not feel fear. A warrior understands that courage is taking action despite fear. The same applies to managers, today, when delivering feedback. We don’t know how it will be received and the other person may have a strong emotional reaction. However, we have to work with this person, and we don’t want it to jeopardize our relationship. What if we don’t have our facts straight? We may even be perceived as being sexist or racist!

There are many reasons we feel anxiety about giving feedback. A Feedback Warrior will find the courage within themselves to maintain focus on the task and deliver the feedback despite their emotional energy telling them to do otherwise.

4.    Respect – If you visit a traditional Japanese Karate Dojo, you will immediately notice the emphasis placed on respect. Not just respect for the authority (Sensei), but for the art’s lineage, the customs, and for one another as Karateka practitioners. This is to instill a respect for the powerful gift you are receiving in training. With power comes responsibility. Students learn that karate is for self-defense purposes and to use proportional force against a threat. In short, you learn to respect your opponent.

The same goes for managers today. A Feedback Warrior will seek to create feedback conversations that feel dignified and respectful. They deliver constructive feedback in a private setting, never in front of peers where they might cause undue embarrassment. They, also, will invest in countless instances of providing positive feedback beforehand, to create a strong relationship of mutual respect.

Think of your own experiences…we tend to be more open to constructive feedback when it comes from individuals we admire and respect. Feedback Warriors earn their authority to provide others with constructive criticism.

Integrity GNS Quote

5.    Integrity – A warrior always strives to act honorably and understands that having personal integrity is one of the highest measures of one’s honor. Webster defines integrity as 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, and 2) the quality or state of being complete or undivided. A Feedback Warrior embodies both aspects of the definition when having feedback conversations.

First, integrity is speaking honestly and fairly. Communicate with absolute candor, while also acknowledging that this feedback is your own perception/understanding/ reaction. A Feedback Warrior recognizes that feedback is as much about the giver as it is the receiver. We all have our own lens and biases, which impact our effectiveness at evaluating others’ competency. However, in speaking to your personal truth, you can help to limit defensiveness. For example:

Instead of: “You are not answering my emails in a timely manner. I need you to be more responsive.”

Try: “I’ve noticed that it took several days to get back to me on this important email. When I don’t hear from you in a timely manner, it makes me feel as if we are not on the same page and we may inadvertently mix up our messaging to the client. I realize that we all can get overwhelmed with email sometimes, yet, can we agree to be more responsive in the future?”

Second, integrity is being undivided in your communication. A Feedback Warrior does not “beat around the bush” or “sugarcoat” things. Often, managers will offer a “feedback sandwich,” to help alleviate their own anxiety. This is giving a compliment, then some constructive feedback, and then ending it with another compliment. This can confuse people as to what’s really important in this conversation and what they need to focus on.

My hope in sharing this article is that more managers will embrace their inner warrior and provide more feedback to their team. Yet, higher levels of performance don’t come from simply providing feedback. In my next article, I will share how managers should develop a Servant’s Heart in order to coach next level learning. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blog posts.

PS. Are you personally getting enough feedback to learn and grow as a professional? If you are a busy executive…probably not! Check out my powerful 360 Feedback Review process by clicking here.

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David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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Can I Give You Some Feedback on Your Feedback?

Scared Guy

Hi there,

I know we don’t know each other very well, but do you mind if I give you some feedback?

Well, I don’t know how to put this. It’s never easy to talk about. Uhm, I’ll just cut to the chase…

You suck at giving feedback.  

Look, it’s not just you. Most managers are pretty terrible at it. Still, you can do better and you should work on it.

Ok? Great. Well then…good chat.

Oh yeah, your coaching stinks too, but we can talk about that later.

Ugh. Sound familiar? Most of us have had a few of these conversations with a boss throughout our careers. There is something our manager wants us to get better at, and they awkwardly stumble through giving us feedback on our performance. They are either too direct or too soft. So blunt that they trigger defensiveness in us, or so indirect that they outright confuse us. They lack details and examples. They don’t help us to see a clear path to improvement.

We leave the conversation feeling sad, pissed off, and perplexed. We don’t improve, and our relationship with our manager is often damaged.

The irony is that while this example is horribly executed, at least it’s feedback!

Most of the time, managers just avoid the discomfort of performance feedback altogether. If you are lucky, they might comment on things you are doing well, but you rarely get constructive feedback and coaching. Consider these recent findings:

  • PwC employee study found that nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under the age of 30. Additionally, more than 75% of respondents believed that feedback is valuable, and about 45% of respondents also valued feedback from their peers and clients or customers. Yet, less than 30% said they receive it.
  • Leadership experts Zenger and Folkman’s study of 900 global employees found that 69% of respondents said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognizedMoreover, 92% of respondents agreed that when managers delivered constructive feedback properly, it was effective at improving performance.
  • Management research firm CEB confirmed that 77% of HR execs believe performance reviews aren’t an accurate representation of employee performance.

That last stat is quite telling. Managers, today, do a lousy job of giving feedback and coaching throughout the year, then performance review time comes around and acts as a forcing function. Yet, even then they “fluff it up,” avoiding the tougher conversations that might unfold by offering an honest assessment.

Or worse, they tell you all the things they should have told you months ago! You get surprised. Your ratings are not as high as you think they should be. Then, any semblance of coaching arrives way too late for you to do anything about it. The toothpaste is already out of the tube…you can’t put it back in, and you’re left with a mess.

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This really isn’t all that surprising. A recent study by CareerBuilder.com shows that a massive 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training.Most managers in the workforce, today, are promoted due to their technical competence, not because they are innately capable of leading others. Making the people around them better requires a distinct set of skills that (typically) must be learned.

This is why after a decade of training managers in primarily Fortune 500 organizations, I’ve come to believe that the two most critical skills a manager must master are: 1) delivering feedback in a way that inspires learning and 2) coaching people to solve their own challenges. When done consistently well, great things happen. Individuals grow. Teams excel. Organizations thrive. Sure, managers need to be well-versed in a myriad of other skills as well. Yet, time and again, I keep reaching the same conclusion. Feedback and coaching is what separates the best from the rest.

Why? Well, the whole point of management is to help maximize organizational resources. People are every manager’s greatest resource. When a person receives timely, transparent, and relevant feedback, and is then coached on how to bring their highest-best-self to their work, they are being fully “maximized.” Not only do they deliver better results, but also they feel more engaged.

Still, easier said than done. It’s personally taken me the better part of my career to figure out how to artfully deliver feedback and coach people to their full potential. This is not exactly intuitive stuff! I want to help managers to expedite that learning curve, and here is the secret as I see it….

Spirit and Service

Okay, stop rolling your eyes. No, really, that’s it! All the skills of excellent feedback and coaching stem from these archetypical underpinnings. How you think determines your actions. When a manager learns to embody these values, his or her actions cannot fail but to inspire.

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First, we must cultivate our Warrior Spirit and deliver performance feedback by recognizing our duty, finding our courage, and speaking with integrity.

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Next, we must find our Servant’s Heart to coach others to their full potential. We do this by embracing humility, exercising empathy, and generating possibilities through curiosity.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more on how you can learn to bring more of your Warrior Spirit and a Servant’s Heart to your feedback and coaching skills. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blogs.

Example_15David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

3 Coaching Mistakes Managers Make

Manager

How do you motivate people to bring their best effort to the workplace every day? Most managers will say it’s all about shaping behavior through strong incentives and rewarding positive outcomes, while also establishing appropriate consequences for poor performance. No doubt, a well-designed performance management system is imperative. Yet, talented people need more than carrots and sticks to reach their full potential. According to New York Times Bestselling Author, Dan Pink, smart professionals require three things; autonomy, mastery, and purpose to be intrinsically motivated in their jobs (1). This is why the critical skill of coaching separates a good manager from a top manager in today’s workplace.

Managers who are skilled coaches help their people to grow and develop beyond their current capacity, execute self-directed plans, and bring their unique gifts to the world in a purposeful way. Conversely, mangers who do not coach well set their reports up for stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement. Many managers, today, understand this, and are genuinely interested in becoming a better coach. As such, I’ve made coaching skills development a top priority in my leadership programs for years. After nearly a decade of training thousands of people, I’ve noticed a few common coaching mistakes many managers make that I’d like to share with you.

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1.    Trying to Solve the Problem – Bar none, this is the single biggest mistake most managers make when coaching their people. It makes perfect sense. A report comes to you with a workplace challenge, and aren’t you supposed to provide them with solutions? Not if you’re coaching them! The best managers will resist the strong urge to provide solutions straightaway and instead ask smart and powerful questions that unlock learning. Then, as ideas emerge in conversation, the report is more intrinsically motivated to act on them because they are their own. Why do we as managers find this so difficult to do? It’s about identity. You are likely defining your value as a manager as a fixer, a doer, an expert in your craft. Instead, try shifting your identity to one of a facilitator. Your true value is in your curiosity, and in your belief that your reports are more creative and insightful than they (or you) might possibly imagine.

I offer you subscribe to the 80/20 rule to stay on track as a coach. A good coaching conversation is 80% your report talking, and 20% you asking smart questions that create momentum. If you pause and notice that this ratio is out of whack, it’s likely because you are trying too hard to personally solve the problem. Step back and regain perspective on where your true value lies.

Banded2.    Ignoring Emotions – Most coaching conversations have a strong human component to them. Perhaps a report is having a problem influencing a decision-maker, challenged by a co-worker’s personality, or uncertain of what the next stages of their career might be. Yet, many managers distance themselves from the messy emotional stuff and immediately move to generating options for a technical solution. Human challenges require us to exercise a little humanity first. Your report is experiencing emotions as a result of these challenges, so meet them where they are and help them to feel heard first.

Use reflexive listening techniques like, “What I am hearing is that…” and “It sounds to me like this is a (frustrating, disappointing, overwhelming, etc.) experience for you.” In helping them to hear their own voice, and then naming/validating their emotions, you are demonstrating presence and emotional intelligence. You are also creating the conditions for success. Whereas before, emotions may have clouded their vision for available options. In leading with your humanity first, you’ve helped them to process these emotions and move on to rational problem solving on their own.

Hook3.    Taking the Bait – Many managers, especially those new to coaching, are so eager to help that they accidentally “collude” with their report on their problem they face. They are doing all the right things like deep listening, exercising empathy, and helping their report to hear themselves. Yet, in doing so, they are only seeing the challenge through their report’s eyes, and losing objectivity. Great coaching is often about holding multiple perspectives simultaneously, and helping your report to see alternatives.

You may need to be provocative and ask your report, “How did you contribute to this mess?” We often believe our problems exist outside of us rather than within us, and this is one of my favorite questions to help a coachee see the impact of their own behavior. Or, maybe, you pretend to bring the other party “into the room” and ask “if John were here right now, what might he say?” As a general rule, begin with strong empathy, yet remember there are (at least) three sides to every coaching conversation; 1) your report’s story, 2) the other side’s story, and 3) the truth. Great managers help their reports to see more of the truth, so they can choose more influential actions.

The good news is that most managers tend to overcome these three coaching mistakes rather quickly. All it takes is a little training and deliberate practice. If you are interested in helping your managers to become better coaches, contact me directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn about our management development programs.

BookDavid understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his Amazon Bestselling book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

(1) Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

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Activate Yourself to Crush Mediocrity

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Things need to change! You’ve known this for some time now. Others on your team understand this as well, yet, for various reasons, no one is acting. You are officially mired in mediocrity.

Perhaps people feel that implementing a change will be too difficult, or too risky. Or, maybe, they feel they don’t have the skill to lead a successful change effort.

So, now the hard question…what are you going to do about it?

In previous articles on the VUCA Proof© Leader, we determined that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective in our VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world, leaders must overcome their learned tendency to display heroic leadership, and instead focus on being more passionatebold, and mindful. Then, once you’ve made the effort to get Aligned, it’s time to get to work by becoming Activated.

Activated Main Model

An Activated leader leverages their passion to boldly challenge a team (or organization) to change for the better. It’s their rare combination of energy and courage that ignites others and becomes a powerful force for transformation. Specifically, there are three activities that an activated leader takes to create the conditions for change to occur.

Activated LeadershipActivated leadership starts with planning for change within the context of your environment. Assess the key stakeholders. Who are your allies? Who is likely to be in opposition? What are the hidden assumptions, values, and mental models that are contributing to being for or against your change initiative? I use Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis as my preferred tool to help frame these difficult-to-identify dynamisms.

puzzleNow, make no mistake, if it’s a big-enough change, this will be a struggle! Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets. In any change, there will be winners and losers. Thus, you need to anticipate and prepare for resistance. In the military, we called this “prepping the battlefield.” We never wanted to engage in conflict on other’s terms. Instead, we did things like emplacing shaping obstacles, causing opposition forces to change direction to where we held the advantage. Translation…understand who has the most to lose with your proposed change, and try to predict their next steps. What can you do to mitigate opposition? Perhaps you need to have (meetings before the meeting) to ensure public support from your allies. Or, maybe you need prepare concessions that will make losses resulting from change more tolerable to others. “Wargame” how things could play out, and prepare accordingly.

Now, it’s time to act! An Activated leader will next engage in the activity of pot-stirring. Like a stew that’s become cold and stale, you need to get things moving and heat it up if it’s to become appetizing again. Thus, this is when you “say what needs to be said.” Speak from your heart and authentically articulate what change is needed. It may be uncomfortable, as people try to escape from, avoid, or delay the hard conversation. Hold strong to your beliefs and continue to mix it up. Ask questions of the group like, “What risks do you see in continuing along the same path?” Or, make a provocative interpretation like, “It amazes me that we all just bury our heads in the sand when we see these same mediocre results…is that because we don’t care anymore?” People may sigh at your “ridiculous” statement. Good. The idea is to get people talking when they prefer not to. Keep on stirring until, as Dr. Robert Marshek might explain, all topics, behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that are considered unacceptable or questionable for discussion “move from under the table, to on the table” for discussion[1].

9 Activities ActivatedWhile you may need to be a lightning rod for a moment to help generate healthy debate, I offer you never do it alone, and there will come a point where you should transition to the final Activated leadership activity, which is bridge-building. This is when you focus the group by creating unity of vision and direction. Rather than concentrating on the differences, pay attention to their commonalities and shared values. A year from now, what is a better outcome that we’d all value? What should we be doing to make this vision a reality? Who needs to be included to bring diverse perspectives on how we should get there? What are the small baby steps we can agree on that will enable clear progress? These are example questions that an activated leader might use to facilitate powerful discussion. The path forward does not need to come from you directly, in fact, it’s better if it emerges from the group. While the heroic leader “tells then sells” their vision, the VUCA Proof© leader consults, delegates, and builds consensus. This ensures the greatest amount of team buy-in, which is imperative to leading change in a VUCA environment.

Preparing, Pot-Stirring, and Bridge-Building are the activities that ensure we are practicing Activated Leadership. In my final VUCA Proof© Leadership article, I will address how we can stay Attuned to ensure change efforts progress as planned, which is essential to moving away from a heroic leadership style, and towards a more effective VUCA Proof© style.

Interested in training your team to adopt a more VUCA Proof© leadership style? You can download my white paper here and the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

[1] Marshak, R. J. (2006). Covert processes at work: managing the five hidden dimensions of organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

 

Setting the Stage for Your Leadership Success

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It’s a new year, it’s a new you! For many of us, January is our customary transition time. A period of lofty aspirations and making positive changes. You may be saying to yourself, “This is the year I will finally lose that 10 pounds, spend more time with the family, or (insert your own reliably missed goal here).” That’s right…we tend to start out strong with our goals, but lose momentum as the reality of life sets in. Nowhere is this more apparent than at your local gym. Right about now, the place is fully packed with hopeful and motivated people. Yet, give it about three weeks….the place will be a ghost town as the difficulty of consistent self-discipline slowly sets in. While setbacks in personal fitness aspirations are normal, and, relatively harmless, there are some goals you can’t afford to miss. Namely, your leadership goals.

With leadership comes tremendous responsibility. Others are counting on you to be your highest-best-self as a leader—everyday. They need you to bring your strengths, mitigate your challenges, and embrace continuous learning. You can’t give it your best in January and, then, just take a few months off. As a leader, you are always on a stage. Always performing. Always being evaluated. If you expect your people to deliver rock star results this year, you need to be the example. As such, the best leaders have a plan to continuously grow themselves.

Stage

So, do you have your leadership goals for the year already established? If not, where should you start? Here are a few thoughts to help spur some ideas.

Thumbs Up and Down1.Inventory Historic Feedback – Reflect back on last year. What consistent feedback did you hear? What strengths did others value? Any weaknesses that are impeding your success? Try to list two to three answers to each of these questions. If this takes you more than 5 minutes to complete, I offer that your most important leadership goal for the coming year may need to be diligently and consistently collecting feedback on your leadership performance.

Vision on Mountain2. Imagine Team/Organizational Success –Take a moment and envision you’ve just fast- forwarded to December. It was an amazingly successful year and you are proud of your team and organizational performance! See the results in your mind’s eye. What are your clients, teammates, and reports saying about the year? Now, who would you need to become as a leader for this to be a reality? How would you personally need to change?

Trends Compass3. Note Environmental Trends – Perhaps you are already a high-performing leader and want to take your game to the next level. Look at how the world is evolving and seek opportunities to evolve with it. Here is a list of seven of the top leadership skills for 2020. For a more in-depth look at what’s ahead, the Center for Creative Leadership published this excellent white paper on future trends in leader development. My personal take on imperative leadership skills for the future include: ability to lead change in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA); emphasis on facilitative coaching skills as a manager; and internalizing a “service-before-self” mentality rooted in curiosity and humility.

Whatever you decide to focus on as a leader this year, I have one final word of advice…don’t go at it alone! Lean into your support system and seek out mentorship, coaching, and skills training opportunities. If you are interested in executive coaching, check out my Executive Edge Program. If you or your team are interested in becoming a VUCA Proof© leader, check out my VUCA Proof© White Paper and VUCA Proof© Executive Workshop. Great luck in the year ahead, set the stage and lead well!

Example_15(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of TheLeader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his new book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without authorized consent of the author.

Connect, Adapt, Collaborate: Applying Army Mission Execution Fundamentals to Business

Army Ops

The U.S. Army has a timeless and sticky saying it uses in order to drive home the fundamentals of mission execution. From the very first days of boot camp, a young Private will hear the Drill Sergeants yelling “you must learn how to shoot, move, and communicate if you want to survive on the battlefield!” They then go on to spend weeks mastering their personal weapon, learning how to low crawl and find cover, and practicing how to speak properly on the radio. Over time, one learns how important these skills really are. Yes, there are many more advanced competencies to learn over the course of your career, but if you can’t do these three basics consistently well… it might all be for nothing.

These ideas are not limited to the military and there is much that corporate leaders can take away from this simple saying as well. Successfully executing any strategy, whether it be on the battlefield or the boardroom, is often a function of doing the fundamentals consistently well. So how might the Army’s fundamentals of shoot, move, and communicate apply to the modern business environment? There are many similarities but I would translate the language to connect, adapt, and collaborate.

TargetConnect – Just like the Private learning how to “put steel on target” at the weapons qualification range, business execution requires one to master their resources and connect them with distant objectives. Specifically, there are three connections to be made that foster better execution. First, master an awareness of your personal strengths and connect these innate talents with the team’s objectives. Ask yourself: what are my exceptional gifts to the world and how can I provide the most value in day-to-day execution? Next, smartly connect to the infinite resources outside of you. Who can do this challenging activity much better than you can? Savvy leaders realize their boundaries and connect with others that compliment limitations. Finally, fully connect with your customer’s needs and expectations. Little is more frustrating than executing well on something that is no longer in the greatest service to your key stakeholders. Like the bullet seeking its target, the energy of connecting with your customer is one of laser-like focus. Don’t wait for feedback; be proactive and purposeful in continuously reaching out to clarify how things are going.

mud soldiersAdapt – Successful execution is becoming less of a formulaic process, and maintaining flexibility and agility is increasingly important. In essence, we must practice our ability to move with our shifting environment and change plans as necessary. In the Army, we might rehearse a complex mission for weeks on end. Yet, we lived by the rules of “the enemy always has a vote” and “no plan ever survives first contact (with that enemy).” A more relevant example might be at Google, where the culture promotes the concept of “design and iterate.” Googlers see strategy and execution as being one – a continuously refined process of trial and error that speeds up results. We might intuitively understand these concepts; however, many find them difficult to implement. We frequently become wed to our brilliant plans or overly comfortable with stale execution processes. The key to overcoming these barriers is to cultivate a “beginner’s mind” and learn to approach potential change from a place of curiosity. When we already “know” how to execute best, we resist things that do not reinforce these beliefs. Yet, when we lose our rigidity and get curious about possibilities, change becomes a way to simply get better.

military-560475_1280Collaborate – Great execution today requires increased communication and collaboration. It seems simple enough, yet why can it be so hard to collaborate during execution? The answer lies in the two very different energies required to do these equally imperative skills. When we are personally executing, our heads are down, our eyes narrow, and we concentrate our energy so that we might overcome obstacles and complete our tasks. When we are collaborating, we pick our heads up, we open our eyes wide, and seek to see the bigger picture around us. Executing and collaborating well is an ebb and flow of contraction and expansion. We collaborate to build intent, execute initial steps, communicate needs, execute some more, check-in on collective progress, drive towards results… it’s a rhythm we all know well. Yet, we all seem to do much better at the personal execution part than we do at the collaboration part. Key to becoming a better collaborator is becoming aware of when you contract. When do you tend to put your head down and get overly focused on your piece of the execution pie? For me, I contract when I have made a personal commitment and am up against a tight deadline. In these moments, I can be a lousy communicator as I focus myself on fulfilling my promises and shut down to others in the process. Stress in general can make us all contract, so recognizing when we are stressed is a tell-tale sign that we need to communicate our needs and collaborate more with others.

Execution is what translates ethereal strategy into tangible results. Yet, disciplined execution is a rarity in today’s turbulent business environment. Learn to embody the three fundamentals of connection, adaptation, and collaboration…and all will marvel at your ability to get the mission accomplished!

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

How to Get Your Leadership License

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What if you could only be a leader in your organization if you first passed a leadership test. Consider something like getting your driver’s license! Imagine this. On your big day, your proud mentor takes you to the Department of Leadership Certification (DLC). You are nervous as your number is called to enter a private booth and take a multiple-choice quiz on topics like emotional intelligence, teamwork, and leading organizations through change. You feel good about how things went, until your assessor calls for you to come and take your practical exam. You are then given a task and a team, and told to deliver results under challenging conditions. All the while, your assessor is scribbling notes on his clipboard about your performance. Hours later, you get your scores back…you’ve done it! You’ve passed your leadership test and earned your license to lead!

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, as crazy as this may sound, many people out there are waiting for someone to “certify” them as a leader. They may not be formally taking a test; however, they are lingering until an authority deems them “worthy” of handling leadership responsibility. These are the people who tell themselves, “once I get that promotion, then I will be ready to lead.” Or maybe it’s “once I get an M.B.A. from a prestigious institution, that’s when I’ll really start leading.”

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I’ve got a “secret” to share with you…No one can give you permission to lead; it’s a choice you make all by yourself. It doesn’t take a new title. It doesn’t require an advanced degree. However, it does require you to see yourself as a leader. That’s the real magic of getting recognized with a promotion or going through the ceremony of graduating from a credentialed program. These events change how we see ourselves. When leadership becomes a part of your identity, one starts to embrace leadership behaviors more.

So, how do we flip the switch and start to see ourselves as leaders? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Realize You Own the Power – Come on…Really? Yes, really. Recognize that leadership is not about the title and has nothing to do with your credentials. Instead, these things often lend us authority. Yet, authority is given to us whereas leadership is something you do all on your own. If something in your organization must change, begin with yourself and model the change that’s needed. Build your credibility and find others with shared values. Create strength through relational commitments and energize others through your passion. Then, work with authority (or artfully against it) to strategize outcomes and appropriate actions to bring about a new reality. Voila, you just led a movement. Not because someone authorized you to do so, rather because you chose to put in the work.
  2. Practice Your Confidence – So why don’t more people put in the work required to lead? It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s easier to not exercise leadership, and many just don’t have the energy or determination within them. They would rather someone just do it for them. The second most common reason is people are afraid they might fail. They say to themselves; “what if I put myself out there and nobody follows?” or “do I really have what it takes to make a difference?” There is only one way to know—give it a try. You build your confidence to lead by doing. Note also that it’s often in failure we learn our greatest leadership lessons. Every time you step into the arena, you are building your leadership skills, and in the process, you gain confidence.
  3. Be a Student of Leadership – The best leaders are insatiably curious and committed to life-long learning. They consistently pursue new knowledge and diverse perspectives on leadership. They read leadership books not only to gain fresh insights, but also to form their own opinions on what will work for them personally. They also try to surround themselves with other leaders and observe their behavior. Finally, they commit to their professional development. Whether it be signing up for a new training or working with an Executive Coach, they prepare themselves for the challenges of leadership.

If you hadn’t already bought into your own power to exhibit leadership, I hope this article has helped you to see things differently. If you know someone who has real potential to lead, yet hasn’t created that identity for themselves, please share this with them. With so many challenges today, the world need more leaders. Thankfully, we don’t have to get a license to do so; we just need to choose to lead.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

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