Leaders: Always On Stage

I’ve been a leader in corporate America for a long time, decades at this point. Even so, I still realize that I can always be better and that I need to get better. Many of you have heard me tout one of my favorite leadership books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, world-renowned business educator and coach. It’s true. Marshall helps us understand that what we did yesterday that enabled us to succeed isn’t necessarily what it’s going to take to be successful in the future. We may need to do less of, more of, or something different to achieve continued success.

I work with a coach. His name is Bill. Bill and I download on recent business challenges and prepare for what’s in front of me. Approach is a huge part of the conversation. The words I’m going to use are reviewed and tweaked. Recently, Bill also reminded me of something I tend to forget as a senior leader; that I am on stage every minute of the day I’m in front of people.

Yes, whether I like it or not, people are watching and listening. They are looking for cues so they can decide how they are going to behave. Is she engaged? Is she energized by this conversation and participating? Or is she quiet because she is bored? Is she sitting up and leaning forward or is she slumped in her seat? Is she taking notes? Is she making eye contact? Is she asking questions? Is she making statements to indicate she has an opinion? These are all of the thoughts subconsciously running through their brains.

Let me boil this down for you. Participating = Engaged = You Care. Not participating = Unengaged = You Don’t Care. When you are a leader, you should not give yourself the option of being unengaged. When you are unengaged, you are not doing your job. If you are an executive leader you are on stage all of the time, whether you want to be or not. This means you need to be “on” any time you are in front of others.

Now let’s take a step back to see how this same idea applies to people who are in an earlier stage of their career.

So many young professional women I mentor or coach say they have a hard time participating via speaking up. They don’t like to interrupt or fear that what they have to say will not be credible in some way. The shame here is that they really are participating by listening, but no one knows that because they’re not saying anything. Then they wonder why they’re not being promoted. Leaders participate. Leaders care about the direction a conversation is going and the decision being made. You can’t influence either if you’re not speaking up. Yes, if you’re speaking up you are on stage. You have to be. It’s required if you are going to be a leader.

Being either a new leader or a very experienced leader is hard work. No matter how long you’ve been in a leadership role, it will never be easy. You will never be “done” with learning how to be a better leader. You will always be on stage, you will always be watched, and how much you “care” will always be one of the most significant factors in determining whether you will advance.

If you would like to learn more about demonstrating strong leadership skills, see Chapter 11 in my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, available here. Better yet, reach out to me to find out how I can help you became a more successful leader.

The Parallels of Great Wine and Great Leadership

I recently had the great fortune of spending a few days touring the Napa Valley, home to more than 400 wineries in northern California. The wine industry in Napa employs more than 50,000 people. It is an industry that takes care of its clientele, its employees and its communities.

I visited wineries that ranged from very small productions where the tasting room was simply the owner’s small dining room to large growers who hosted private tastings in grandiose, soaring ceilinged tasting centers attached to miles of underground storage caves. In every case, there could not have been more attention to hosting and serving their customers.

I learned a few things about the wine-making process, starting with the agriculture, and it struck me that there are a lot of similarities between wine making and developing leaders:

Have great soil. The soil is the foundation of wine making. Without understanding what kind of soil the wine makers are planting their vines in, there will be no predictability in what the wine will taste like after the fermentation process. In business, you need a great foundation of the right culture and expectations in which to grow and develop leadership. If you don’t create the foundation deliberately, you will not have influence over how leaders work together to solve problems, innovate and develop their own teams.

Leverage good weather.  In wine making, the amount of rain, sun and temperatures have a huge impact on the crop. Too much of any of these components can be devastating. The right amount of all can produce award-winning vintages. Wine makers can’t control the weather, but business leaders can control what kind of leadership they bring into the organization.  You need the right combination of expertise, trust, empowerment, competitiveness, collaboration and drive present in your leadership teams to get successful outcomes.

Take care of the environment.  The wine industry is extremely concerned with preserving the environment. Natural pest control, limited or no chemical use, water recycling, composting and controlled planting are all part of the routine regimented processes that wineries utilize to preserve their land. As leaders of businesses, we should all be taking great care of our companies and communities by implementing strategies to reduce power needs, reduce waste and protect the environment, which will save costs in the long run.

Every great leader needs a winemaker. Every successful winery owner has a winemaker. There is a big difference between the skill that is required to run a winery and the skill that is needed to actually make the wine. It’s part science and part art. Its years of experience and learning through trial and error and relentless record keeping. It’s a math equation that will never end. It is never perfect and it is never finished. There is relentless pursuit of quality and perfection. If you think about your own business that same way, you will understand that you need wine-makers; people who know their craft and are determined to get it right. You have to have talented people in your business and give them space to leverage their expertise. You need to test, learn and repeat.

Have a good Blend. There are many fantastic wines that are blends of grapes, such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot.  To have the best leadership team, you need the same diversity. You need a blend of people with different backgrounds and experiences to create the best products and solutions for your customers. This includes gender as well as ethnic diversity.

Don’t be a Chardonnay. Chardonnay grapes have thinner peels than Cabernet or other red grapes. That reminded me that it’s probably not good to be a Chardonnay in business. As a leader, being thin-skinned won’t get you far. 

Be sure to have Hawks and Owls. Vineyards have sitting posts and owl boxes perched up high to attract hawks and owls. The hawks and owls keep away the rodents that eat their vines at the roots. We all need hawks and owls in our businesses to spot the trouble that will undermine our success. Leaders who are care takers of end-to-end processes are our hawks and owls.

An exceptional customer experience will sell swill.  That bottle of wine I paid $150 for in the wine tasting room won’t taste near as good when I open it as it did when I tasted it there. That’s because I was being entertained with stories of history and romance about the making of the wine I was drinking and the aroma of the tasting room. In the moment, it tasted amazing. But now, at home, not so much. And I’d buy it again tomorrow if I was back in that tasting room, because of the exceptional customer experience.

It’s a game of Survival of The Fittest.  In the wine business, the best wines are made with the best grapes. The best grapes must survive their challenging environment in athlete shape to be chosen for the best wines. After surviving critical pruning and harvesting, many of the best wineries use state of the art equipment to sort grapes and choose only the very best ones for their premium vintages.  If the grape is too small, too big, or is split, it’s not going to make it. Even a blemish will send a grape down the reject shoot. As a leader, you must choose and build your teams in the same way. You must strive to get the best talent, develop them and keep them as your best leaders. It’s the only way you will produce a premium product.

You won’t learn anything more about wine from me, but if you would like to learn more about how to choose and develop great leaders, please see Chapter 5 in my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, available here.

Women Of Color: A More Difficult Road To Leadership?

Today we are all beginning a new week after Memorial Day, which for many marks the beginning of summer, but to all marks the day we celebrate all those who have given their lives for our freedom in all wars since 1865. Memorial Day weekend provides a longer weekend for most of us to rest, gather with friends and family, begin summer vacations, or just do some spring maintenance around the house in preparation for the rest of the season.

For me, it provided a little downtime to catch up on a couple of movies. One particularly was quite moving. The movie, Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as NASA supervisor Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as NASA engineer Mary Jackson. Even as these brilliant women were critically relied upon in the mission that enabled the first American astronaut, John Glenn, to orbit the earth three times in 1962, they continued to be subjected to discrimination by their peers and their communities. They persevered against all odds to serve as silent partners in their roles as human computers for some of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. Not only were they women working in a field of technology, they were women of color working in the field of space science!

In my sessions with various organizations, I am frequently asked if I believe it is often more difficult for women of color to be promoted into leadership positions than for Caucasian women? “Yes” is the answer to that question. I do believe it is more difficult, for all of the same reasons more women of any ethnicity are not hired or promoted into senior leadership roles. Leaders simply are not focused on it and we haven’t built the cultural expectations to approach the challenge in an effective way. Current senior leaders tend to hire from the networks they know and do not make the necessary effort to find or identify candidates who come from different backgrounds or social circles from which to build their bench of talent.

The question that follows is always “How do we change that?” The answer is not nearly as complex as the highly formulaic answers to the questions mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson had to answer. But the answer is also not just one step. The first step is that we, as leaders, must stop accepting that we either don’t have or can’t find the candidates. They are out there. We must make the extra effort, and connect with people outside of our typical networks and circles to find them.

In my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, Chapter 10 provides Ten Steps to get more gender balance in our leadership teams. These same steps apply to getting more gender balance in ethnic diversity as well. By not accepting the status quo and taking these actions, we will all benefit from the enhanced communication, thinking and problem solving that results from having gender-balanced leadership and additionally from female minorities. You can learn more about The Ten Steps as well as the role women play in technology here.  

Successful Leadership: What Does it Take?

Lots of people I’ve mentored have asked me repeatedly how I attained an executive position in leadership. They’ve asked this question as if there must be some secret sauce or silver bullet I possess.  The truth is I don’t have any secrets. There is nothing mystical about the approach I’ve taken to leadership. The leadership principles I’ve chosen to live by are really very simple:

It’s not about youYour job as a leader is to build and develop a great team. You need to be able to identify the kind of talent you need.  It’s not just about getting the technical skills.  You need people who can communicate, who are collaborative and who are motivated to achieve.  You can teach communication, you can teach people how to be collaborative. You can’t teach motivation.

On developing people, it’s your job to develop your replacement. As a leader, you have a responsibility to mentor and provide new learning opportunities for your team. Whether you want the next opportunity or you want to create a legacy, you won’t get either if someone is not ready to take your place.

Share your Vision and then Trust in your team.  Create a vision and share the vision, create stretch goals and then let people execute.  You must be able to have confidence and trust your team.  Give them opportunities to learn new things and to take risks.  It may not always be done exactly the way you would have done it.  Focus and reward people for results.

Communicate constantly.  When you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate some more.  Don’t underestimate the power of communication.  Be clear. Be aware of the words you use.  Be respectful.  Encourage. Motivate.  This of course is easier said than done.

Shut up and listen!  On the other end of outward communication is listening.  This is a critical skill to develop and one that’s easy to lose sight of as you take on leadership positions that require more outbound communication.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are the one who should talk the most. To be a successful leader you must listen!  To your team and to your customers! 

Be a life-long learner.  Always focus on getting better.  When you stop learning, you stop growing, which means you will stop adding value, eventually.

If you’d like to learn more about how to build great leadership teams, see my book, Money On The Table, available here.

Two Questions Every GREAT Leader Should Ask

GREAT leaders have one thing in common. They understand that in order for them to be effective, they have to keep learning how to be better. This is a never-ending process. We can always be better leaders. One of the fastest ways to learn about what we need to do differently in order to be more effective is to ASK the people around us.

Over the years I’ve seen many leaders ask others for feedback. It typically has been in the form of a third party instrument, like a survey, or having a third party coach go interview the people they work with. They think they will get more complete information if the feedback is anonymous or they have someone else go ask on their behalf. However, there is a very easy, straightforward and practical way to find out what people really think of your leadership skills: simply go ASK them. That might sound a little scary, but after you do it once or twice, I promise the fear will disappear.

The technique of Feed-Forward was developed by the forefather of executive coaching and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith. Check out his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Since the day he explained it in a workshop I attended, I have used it relentlessly for my own learning and coaching. 

It’s really simple: Schedule five minutes with a few people you interact with regularly that includes your boss, and some of your peers and direct reports. Ask these two questions: What are the strengths that I am bringing to the team that help us be effective? What suggestions do you have for me to be a more effective leader/member of this team?

Understand that you are only to record the information they provide you, thank them for the suggestions and then leave their office or move on to another topic. There is no questioning or debating.  The conversation is over.

With the new insights you’ve collected, you will be able to prioritize what you believe you should focus on to be a more effective leader. Then do these three things: Create an action plan, take action and repeat.

If you’d like to learn more about other traits of great leadership, you can read about it in Chapter 5, The Right Leadership, in my new book, Money On The Table, available here

 

 

 

Lonely At The Top?

As I’ve made step changes in my career to positions with greater responsibility, and ultimately to a senior executive role, I have often gotten the question from up-and-coming leaders:  Is being a leader at the top lonely? Perhaps that thought has been fueled by their own observations of how many executives become less connected to the masses, and in some cases even isolated, as they shift from being in the weeds of tactics that drive the day-to-day business, to spending more time on vision and strategy that will sustain and grow the business long term.

More Women, More Money: Gender Diversity in the Boardroom

In today’s ultra-competitive global economy, even high-performing companies can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Every CEO and president is thinking day and night about what they need to do differently in order to compete today and thrive tomorrow.

They’re always looking for new ideas or new points of view. Many bring high-paid consultants to help them look at strategy, capabilities, and talent in hopes they will discover a silver bullet that will help them get ahead.

Yet most still overlook a far simpler and more affordable investment that’s proven to make a difference: involving more women in leadership teams and governing boards.

Read the full article on theBOSSmagazine.com

Want to Boost Company Profits in 2017? Get More Women Leaders

According to the Center for American Progress, women hold roughly 52 percent of all professional-level jobs in America, but they only account for 14.6 percent of executive officers and 16.9 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies.

Your business may be doing just fine with a male-dominated C-suite, but it would probably do even better if there were more gender parity in the leadership ranks, according to Melissa Greenwell.

Read the full article on Recruiter.com

7 Surprising Things the Most Successful Women Leaders Never Do

We all know there aren't enough powerful women leaders in the world, especially the world of business. And we mostly disagree about why that is, with explanations ranging from deeply ingrained gender bias, to the "mommy track" to women's own lack of confidence.

Whatever the explanation, there are things many women do that inadvertently hold us back from the highest achievement, according to Melissa Greenwell, COO of athletic apparel retailer The Finish Line, and author of the new book Money on the Table: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership. There are some mistakes women executives make that prevent us from excelling in leadership roles, she says. I've been guilty of every one of these. If you have too, whatever gender you are, you should stop. Today.

Read the full article on INC.com