Leader ID Blog

This blog contains articles, references and videos that help leaders create a sense of their own leadership identity, which allows people to lead ‘as themselves.’

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Marianne Williamson

3 ways leadership subtlety can improve your pace

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Senior leaders in today’s workplace are required to work quickly. Almost all the time. The expectation is that executives make often quite complex decisions, rapidly. Everyone has to iterate innovation at speed. Many senior leaders I am asked to work with are approaching exhaustion at the relentless pace of work. The challenge here is that the rate of change is not likely to slow down very much any time soon. So how can leaders learn to cope better in this lighting-fast environment? One way to achieve greater capability to work at this pace, is to develop leadership subtlety. In this post, we’ll explore what I mean by leadership subtlety; how it can improve your pace and how to develop the kind of nuance that the very best leaders demonstrate.
 

What is leadership subtlety?

For the purposes of this article, ‘leadership subtlety’ refers to leaders developing the capacity to respond to situations and to other people, in the widest range of ways. This flexibility of styles is a mark of mature leadership. Mature leadership is not a function of time in the role. There are plenty of examples of very new leaders who have the range of approaches available to them, that engages their team and ensures delivery of great performance. For the sake of balance, leaders who have been in post for a long time but lack the subtlety of leadership approach, are legion.
 
Leadership subtlety is the direct result of a developed leader. The human being that is the leader, has high levels of awareness, sophisticated worldviews that allow them to be comfortable with paradox, accept the views of others, even when (especially when) they do not accord with those of the leader. Leadership subtlety enables many views and truths to be held together.

What are the three ways leadership subtlety improves pace?

1. Leaders who display the sort of sophisticated thinking and action that we are talking about here, are more likely to focus on the job of leading because they don’t need to be operational. They are clear on their role. They avoid working at a level that is inappropriate to the job they have. This ‘role discipline’ provides greater impact and value across the organisation. Leaders focusing on leadership avoid getting wrapped up in the operational parts of their function. Not easy but vital.
 
2. Leadership subtlety is accessible to leaders who have a lower ego-need. Such leaders do not need to be the centre of attention, they encourage the ‘best people for the job’ to take control. Leaders who have lower ego needs tend to trust others more. Their ability to retain an idea of the ‘big picture’ allows them to remain more open to ideas and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ trap so many leaders can fall into.
 
3. Linked to the previous point, a highly nuanced approach to leadership allows leaders to be more comfortable with glorious failures. Brave attempts that do not produce the desired results, are not an assault on the identity of the leader. Nor are such lacks of success a prompt for criticising the originators of the idea and plan. In such subtlety of leadership approach lies the germ of risk taking, innovation, rapid iteration, agile work. Why? Because people led by such leaders are not scared to make a decision, try something out or just crack on.

Develop yourself to develop your leadership

Developing your ‘Self’ as a human being enables you to live a more fulfilled life but also allows you to lead much more effectively. Your ability to align your actions to your values and your role, improves markedly. Encouraging the creativity and uniqueness of others, maximises the resources of those you lead. Remaining squarely in your leadership role supports high performance and confidence in others too. You working on you, will aid your ability to succeed as a leader in these fast-paced times.
Dr Glenn P Wallis is the Director of Wallis Partnership Ltd a specialised leadership consultancy. When your organisation is ready to make effective leadership a business imperative, you can contact us here we would be delighted to hear from you.

To serve them all my days

This piece first appeared in our book “How to become a Talented Performer: A formula for early career success” available at Amazon here


“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Service

Talented Performers recognise and understand that creating a consistently excellent customer experience ‘is’ the business and not just a component of it. The best providers of outstanding customer service are not willing to sacrifice this standard, regardless of the pressures put upon them by the job. They know they may be working in an organisational setting that cares less about customers than they do, yet they continue to provide an incredible level of performance. It is as important to them as individuals to give such great service as it is to the people that they serve to receive it. They know that results and the impacts of their efforts may not be reciprocated immediately (even though they often are!)but they are willing to continue to focus on the person they are delivering for. They are ‘others-aware’ and know that to serve someone else, to a high level on a consistent basis, is not a capability everyone finds easy. Their developed skills in this area are something that organisations view as incredibly valuable.

Another key element of providing this level of service on a consistent, minute-by-minute basis, is that Talented Performers accurately know what great service is. They know what it is to receive it; they know what it is to deliver it and they understand the mind-set and the skills required to nail it each and every time. They also know that to serve excellently is not the same as being a doormat to be walked all over. There is huge difference to being keen to serve and being servile. The former is both an intelligent and honourable position to take; the latter is the position taken by those who lack self-assuredness and/or who misunderstand the difference.

Customer experience vs Customer Service

These two terms are often used in the same sentence to mean different things or in different sentences to mean the same thing. They actually do not mean the same thing. Customer experience is wide, broad and usually something that is systematically addressed at an organisational level. Customers experience an organisation in many ways, including from the reputation they ‘hear’ about, to the advertising they ‘see’, through to how they ‘feel’ about your brand. Customer service is, by comparison, narrow. It is the interactions that customers have directly with staff. In the context of being a customer-focused Talented Performer, we will limit our discussion to the ways that employees interact with customers to provide customer service on an individual basis, usually face-to-face.

Internal vs External

At this point it is important to identify a special category of customers. There are people who are almost certainly never going to pay you a penny for your work: they are the people within your organisation that you support and to whom you provide a service. Your ‘internal’ customers are at least as important as the customers from outside your organisation. You interact with these people on a daily basis. You know some incredibly well, others less so. Some internal customers are peers of yours and some are senior (or very senior) to you. Regardless of their status, you need to be able to provide what they need, when they need it and at a quality that is at least as good as they hoped for. Everything outlined in this chapter is applicable to your interactions with internal customers. Adopting these strategies and tools will enable you to provide outstanding service to your peers, colleagues and team-members as well as those we more traditionally think of as customers

Customers: Why bother?

The Talented Performer Survey highlighted key short to medium-term business challenges that organisations reported they were facing. Central to the list that emerged from the survey was the theme of Growth. Organisations told us that they were focused on keeping current clients and finding new ones. People who succeeded in providing outstanding service were likely to be recognised and rewarded for doing so as it was vital in helping organisations achieve their aims.

Glenn P Wallis helps organisations develop leaders who can positively shape your organisation’s culture. If you want to re-shape your culture through great leadership then please contact Glenn here.

Are you recognising a hidden impact of your continued leadership progression?

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What got you here hasn’t got them here

Your continued rise up the leadership ranks is due, in part, to your ability to deliver high standards. I’m guessing you achieve such goals due to your internal drivers. You would continue to deliver these strong results even when your own boss doesn’t recognise your work. You succeed because of the intrinsic reward you get from seeing a job well done. It’s satisfying.

This motivated approach of the classic self-starter, gets recognised by someone within the organisation and you end up being promoted and asked to lead others. The hope is that you will be able to sprinkle larger and larger teams with some of the magic that you have been seen to apply to your own work. The Board, major shareholders and other key stakeholder will want you to be able to clone yourself.

Unique

And of course, that hope of replicating your talents in others, presents a massive and rather fundamental problem. It can’t be done. Moreover, of all the people tasked with such a challenge, you may be one of the worst placed to achieve it.

What you do comes naturally – to you.

If we accept, you and I are uniquely different, it suggests rather than assume I am able or willing to do what you do in the way that you do it, that you as my leader help me find my own ways to achieve, which fit me better. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the approach to external recognition. We know you don’t need it (much) but it’s likely that I do. If you apply your own standards to me, I am likely to become de-motivated. I need the energy and learning that comes directly from you providing me with feedback and yes, even some praise now and again. If I were motivated in the same way that you are, I would be sitting where you are. I’m not. I’m me and you are you.Stop thinking that I work in the same way you do. I don’t. Give me some recognition. Provide me with some feedback. Stretch me. Support me. I can flourish in my own way.

Glenn provides support for organisations that want to improve a wide range of business results through improving their leadership strength. When you are ready to create a strong leadership bench you can contact Glenn here.

6 Ways to improve Bad Behaviour

i“Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can.”

Philip G Zimbardo

The context-specific nature of behaviour

Today’s acceptable behaviour may become tomorrow’s abhorrence. It is difficult to make moral judgement about behaviour in the past and compare it to what we know and the standards we hold today. The sexist nature of much of the treatment of women in the workplace is a relevant example. In the not so distant past, women were denied some workplace roles because of their gender. Something that would, (hopefully!), now be considered unconscionable.

Similarly, in relation to senior leaders who once used a singular leadership style towards their ‘subordinates,’ regularly berating or belittling them, would be held to account in most (!) large organisations today.

Things move on. Expectations change. And so should the standards of behaviour that shareholders, customers and employees should demand of those that are designated to lead UK businesses and organisations.

Behaviour begets behaviour

The word ‘toxic’ in relation to behaviour has been used a fair bit in recent years. The analogy to an infection that spreads, when applied to organisational behaviour, turns out to be incredibly apt. According to research, highly effective leaders promote better business performance not just of those they lead, but from those in the layer below those they directly lead. Whilst this is great if your organisation is full of brilliant leaders, the bad news is that negative leadership behaviour is more ‘infectious’ than positive behaviour. So if you have leaders demonstrating poor behaviour, not only will that impact those around them but can outweigh the impacts of an equal number of highly effective leaders.

So, not only is there a multiplying effect to bad behaviour but it directly has a number of negative impacts on those that are on the receiving end of poor leadership behaviour, namely:

  1. Less effort employed to tasks and projects
  2. Less time spent at work
  3. Less commitment to the organisations vision
  4. Reduced work quality
  5. Increase in time wasted on reacting to poor behaviour Lower customer service scores

(e.g. Wegge et al, 2015)

How to improve bad behaviour

As a senior leader, here are six ways that you can make a positive impact to negative leadership behaviours:

Reward appropriately.
It is possible that your reward system actually – probably inadvertently – increases rewards for behaviours that would be considered negative. An example might be in a sales environment where the ‘what’ is rewarded but the ‘how’ those sales are achieved, is not considered in the ultimate reward structure.

Provide feedback
Ensure that as a senior leader you are providing timely, clear feedback about behaviour you witness that is inappropriate. Here is a brilliant tip from Lieutenant General David Morrison about the idea of nipping poor behaviour in the bud, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” It takes a bit of moral courage to do tackle things but much easier to do so early than leave things to fester and impact others.

Provide development
Feedback is usually only helpful if it is accompanied by some development opportunity. Break the mindset that suggests learning needs to be formalised. Help people learn by doing. Get them a mentor or a coach. Meet with them on a weekly basis and you ‘teach’ them. Whatever it takes to help them improve.

Role model appropriately
As a leader you are always role modelling, so bear that in mind from the moment you enter your place of work. Proactively consider how you want to ‘show up.’ In fact, you are always role modelling to yourself, so actually you need to bear that in mind every minute of every day. Forever.

Hire for behaviours
You can reduce the amount of poor behaviour by recruiting in a more targeted way in the first place. Be clear on what you are looking for in new team members. Consider the values you want people to be able to demonstrate and then recruit against that – at times, even at the expense of technical skills, if you have to, these can always be taught later.

Conduct exit interviews
When people leave and move on to hopefully even better things, ask them about their experience on your team. Discuss behaviours that helped and behaviours that hindered them being able to produce brilliant work every day. Start with providing them the space to review your behaviours first!

“I learned along the way, you know, culture is behaviour. That’s all it is; culture is people’s behaviour” Ginni Rometty

Great leadership inspires and demands wonderful behaviours, that in themselves generate incredible workplace cultures. When you need help developing highly effective leaders you can contact Glenn P Wallis here.

 

How you can lead high performance

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Do you sometimes think that you are too soft in your leadership approach? Are people tending to abuse both your helpful nature and your willingness to give them a second, third or fourth chance? Or are you getting feedback that your leadership style is way too demanding – people might throw around terms such as ‘abrasive,’ ‘direct’ or behind your back ‘tyrant’ or worse, ‘bully’?

If you recognise either of these scenarios it would appear that you currently have a critical leadership balance that is somewhat out of whack. Your supportive side is outweighing your challenging side, or you are being too challenging and insufficiently supportive. Both lead to problems and thankfully, both can be easily remedied. This article will help you understand:

  • your ‘typical’ balance of challenge and support
  • the changes you can make towards a more effective balance
  • why flexibility is so important

Not an exact science

Whilst the idea can be traced back to Nevitt Sanford’s work (1962) that a combination of support and challenge promotes growth, there is little empirical evidence to suggest exactly what the best blend of challenge and support should be to illicit development in someone. However, if we accept that growth stalls in an environment which is either too tough and demanding, or too soft and cosy, then we can take some time to look at how you manage to create the best environment for people to flourish and develop.

Start with one

In my experience the key to striking the right balance in terms of the degrees of support and challenge you apply, rests on your understanding of the individuals that you lead. The first person you need to understand better is you.

What are the reasons you are tending to lead in the way that you do? It is possible you are too supportive because you think that is the most effective way to get the best from people or you are concerned that if you are too demanding that you will have to face conflict from people in your team. It could be that your experience of other leaders throughout your career has been of domineering, highly directive types and you have assumed that is how you need to be. Whatever the rationale for you leading as you do, understanding yourself as a leader is almost always the first port of call.

For what it’s worth: As an observation of work with hundreds of senior leaders, the balance, if any, tends to lean more frequently towards insufficiently challenging.

In tandem with greater levels of self-awareness, the level of understanding you have for each member of your ‘team’ will impact the level of challenge and support you can apply effectively. Deep knowledge that appreciates both the individual, whilst being really mindful of their current state, works best. For example, take Mike who is generally robust and has demonstrated high levels of resilience to your challenges of his performance in the past but who is currently struggling with the recent death of his father. Mike may well require additional support from you (Note: he may or may not need less challenge!) Or take Mariana, historically quite a meek woman in your experience, she has just successfully led a major proposal with senior players in her project team: She may well benefit from some increased challenge to build on the current momentum she has (Note: She may or may not need ongoing high levels of support from you.)

Increasing challenge

Based on highly individualised knowledge of the members of your team, here are a number of example factors that will increase how much challenge you are applying:

– Increase the complexity of a given task you want resolved
– Reduce the time-scales required
– Improve the quality of output required
– Deepen levels of detail expected
– Raise the status of the audience of any output for a task

Increasing support

Where you need to increase support you can work towards the opposites of the list above. You could also seek to spend more time understanding the individual human being that works ‘for’ you, deepening the relationship. You can also provide support by getting more involved yourself but there is a danger in that approach, which I have written about often. I would avoid that unless it is *in extremis* because it can lead to you getting too involved in the operational side of your work.

Be flexible

So, in order to get the very best out of those in your team, you need to be aware of the support you are supplying and the challenge your are applying at all times. People (often your “go-to” people) may need you to reduce the challenge after extended periods of high demand, similarly, those who have been cut some slack, may now need you to increase the heat but don’t make such changes on the hoof discuss it with each individual to check that your assessment of them is correct before you change gears.

Dr Glenn P Wallis is a leadership consultant who helps organisations improve key performance results through developing highly effective leaders. If you would like Glenn to help you develop your leadership bench, contact him here. Thank you.

Stretch don’t snap

StretchHigh performers like to be stretched. Indeed they will push themselves, if you as their leader are not providing sufficient opportunity for them to learn, aim high and ultimately hit it out of the ball-park. There are several areas to be mindful of with these driven types however and it is to those ‘Red Flags’ that this post will now turn.

Coasting

If, as a leader, you fail to provide frequent chances for high performers to engage deeply in their work and to be challenged by it on an almost daily basis, they will get bored. That’s not a possibility, it’s a given. Where we are asked to work within our comfort-zone all the time, disengagement will naturally follow as sure as Q2 follows Q1. High performers live to learn and contribute in a way that has meaning for them. Sure, some may do it for reasons of ego or the accompanying reward but in my experience of working with hundreds of these high performers, most seem to do it for the reward that comes from the achievement itself, rather than just some extraneous recognition.

Burn-out

As a senior leader, when you look around your team and know that there is someone whom you trust deeply to deliver excellent work under often quite tight deadlines, the likelihood is that they become your ‘go-to’ person. Often. Usually, too often. Due to the fact that these high performers want the stretch and love the challenge, they are often not the best at saying ‘no’ to the extra workload you put their way. Before they (and you) know it, they can be overly relied upon and in deep danger of burn-out. That is the worst of outcomes for them and for you.

Lead differently
  1. Challenges for leaders when leading this kind of high performer are several, including your own ego and self-confidence, which may lead to you squashing the opportunities for this person in fear of the fact that they might out-shine you. My advice? Make your aim to be out-shone by members of your team. Regularly. Your ability to develop such key people is an important indicator of what a great leader you are, not the opposite.
  2. Rather than over-use the superstars, provide a greater stretch for those in your team who are not at that level yet. Ensure that these ‘nearly-theres’ are pushed and challenged, so that they can add more value to the work of your team. There is more capacity and potential in these people that is being left on the table, than there is from you and your current high performer, both of who (Hint! Hint!) are working very close to their maximum most of the time.
  3. Recognise that you and those in your team, work best under conditions of stretch. Whilst you or the context, may mean you mis-judge that from time to time, remember that moderate challenge helps focus the effort and makes sustainable high performance a much likelier outcome.

Dr Glenn P Wallis runs a boutique leadership consultancy, where he and his team help organisations perform better through developing higher quality senior leaders. If you want to discuss how you can raise the strength of your leadership bench then you can contact Glenn here.