What Is Weakness?

Last week I wrote a blog entitled "What is Vulnerability," in which I made an effort to describe the difference between showing vulnerability and showing weakness. A couple of readers wrote in taking issue with my description of showing weakness.  Here is what they wrote:  "I'm going to send this to my client who struggles with vulnerability. I would suggest something, though. Your definition of weakness - leaders often don't know what to do and are uncertain. I tell people they don't need to know all the answers, and it's OK to be uncertain. They can name that and ask the group." "I want to argue again. The definition of weak is as bad as the prohibition of vulnerability. Weak = uncertain!!!!! Really. Where does that take leaders? They get paid to be uncertain and lead. So everyone has to pretend to be certain. I don't know what to do, but here's what we choose to do, is what leaders get paid for. Easy...
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The Gift of Feedback

Feedback is a gift. It is an opportunity for personal development and, ultimately, leadership development. And, it is hard; Very hard. I am not sure which is harder, giving feedback or accepting it. Recently I was with a small group of fellow coaches, several of us long-tenured, and we were discussing this very topic. We spent a couple of hours working with each other to improve our skills at both. I mention long-tenured, as a reminder to myself, that no matter how skilled we think we are at this, it is hard, and requires constant practice. Following are the reminders I heard. When giving feedback: Start from a place of care, ask yourself what outcome you want to achieve from the feedback, and get clear that you really believe that outcome is possible, i.e., is the person capable of the behavior change you want to see? You can earn trust with truthful, specific, positive feedback (TSP as speaker, Michael Allosso, calls it). When giving constructive...
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Let It Rest

As leaders, most of us are action-oriented. Something crosses our desk, we deal with it. An issue comes up with a customer, a vendor, an employee, and we take action. And, sometimes, especially in these times, it’s best to let it rest. Most of us feel a lack of control over so many things today that when something arises, that feels like something we can control and can do something about, we are spurred to take action. And same as before, Sometimes action is needed, and sometimes nothing is required. Sometimes, that annoying email doesn’t require a response. Sometimes, when a negotiation stalls the best tactic is to leave it be, or If the other side has already done that, let it rest. Sometimes, doing nothing is simply the best strategy. Two quick stories from two CEO’s I know: First, a long term negotiation on a contract has gone on for several years. As an outsider looking in, one might wonder, why not...
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It’s Not About Color, Or Is it?

I've spent a lot of time this past week talking about racism. The conversations began with wondering why, the murder of George Floyd last week sparked protests nationwide when the killing of Eric Garner, in 2014 did not. Then when the looting began, the conversation turned to one about fear. As a teenager in 1968, when protestors were attacked by the police during the democratic convention and later at universities, I felt solidarity. Friends tell me their teenage and young adult children feel similarly now.   For me, today, it is more complicated. It's a conversation about the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. It's a conversation about violence. And, as I have come to realize, most importantly, it is a conversation about racism.  As a country, we are reluctant to talk about race and even more unwilling to talk about racism. And yet we must if we are ever to understand our fellow Americans. When the...
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Just For The Record

Just for the record, we introverts don't like this any more than extroverts.  You are probably asking yourself, where is this coming from? I had a conversation last week with an extroverted friend of mine, during which he said: "I know you introverts are secretly loving this."  People often have the belief that introverts aren't social, want to be alone all the time, etc. etc. this isn't so. While the more introverted folks amongst us, may prefer time alone to time with others, the primary difference between introverts and extroverts is where we draw our energy. Introverts go within; extroverts tend to "think out loud." Another way to say this, introverts tend to need quiet time to recharge more often than extroverts do. All humans are social animals. The mental health toll of this shelter in place isolation may be more significant for introverts because for many introverts in analytical jobs, working at home means working alone, no zoom, no contact. And...
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Is it Time for a Different Approach to Strategic Planning?

This is the time of the year that most companies begin their strategic planning process. While it's fun to host and participate in an off-site, the end result sadly is often put on a shelf until next year. Mostly the plan is a continuation of the last one, and mostly the plan calls for growth, usually growth that is based on internal expectations. And, unless the plan is translated into numbers and then becomes part of the budget, expectations are infrequently measured against actual outcome. No wonder the reality of strategic planning and the hope are often not aligned. If you are interested in doing it differently this time... Chris Bradley of the McKinsey Consulting firm offers four practical suggestions to tackle the particular problem of bold forecasts and timid actions: Don't hide the hairy back in the bottom drawer Calibrate your projected results to the outside view Build a momentum case Focus on moves, not promises This short article Hockey Stick Dreams and Hairy Back Reality should be required reading...
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Consensus Gives You Beige

When a leader asks for input and then makes a decision, the result is vivid color, i.e. a better decision. It is a better decision for several reasons. First and foremost, your team feels valued when they are asked to participate in the decision process. Second, there is value in the wisdom of crowds; many times the group will surface ideas that the leader hasn't thought about. As a leadership coach and Vistage Master Chair, I see this happen each month during the executive sessions I lead with CEOs. This, of course, is why 23,000+ people around the world are members - we understand the value of seeking input. Where it all goes awry, is when we seek consensus instead of input. With consensus, all the colors get mixed resulting in a dull beige, i.e. a mediocre, watered-down decision. Sometimes this may be okay when the goal is more about participation that it is about making decisions. The key is being mindful of your...
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That’s Not What I Meant

In my work as a leadership coach and peer advisory board chair, I am constantly reminded that despite the fact that we are all the same species, with many characteristics in common, we truly do see the world differently. We expect this to be so when we interact with people who speak a different language than we do. In these situations, most of us have a heightened awareness of our differences and most of us realize we need to pause, think about what the norms are for the other person, think about what we have learned about their culture and modify our interaction and our behavior accordingly. An easy example is how we exchange business cards. In the U.S., we simply toss our card on the table. In Japan, a business card is "presented"; held in two hands and a formal exchange takes place. Yet, when dealing with people who speak our same language, we often forget to pause. I remember...
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Bridging the Communication Gap

When we think about communication, we tend to think in terms of what we say and how we say it.  While clearly the what and the how matter, equally important is our ability to bridge the gap, what psychologists have labeled psychological distance— gaps between ourselves and other people (social distance); the present and the future (temporal distance); our physical locations (spatial distance); and imagination and actual experience (experiential distance). In this HBR article, Rebecca Hamilton, suggests we use two specific strategies to reduce—or sometimes increase— psychological distance and thereby improve outcomes. First, she suggests we move from abstract to concrete.  In the case of temporal distance, for example, we can shorten the time frame. If we give ourselves less time to make a decision or take action, we are less likely to over analyze or procrastinate.  Conversely, if we want our team to take more responsibility, we could use more-abstract language, challenge them to develop ideas for increasing revenue instead of asking them to close more deals. Second, Rebecca suggests we consider substituting one...
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It’s All About Style

There are lots of tools available for assessing personality style, and each has its nuance. Stripping away the nuance, with few exceptions, the assessments produce a matrix of 4 primary personality styles. These styles result from an understanding of extroversion vs. introversion, the relationship of each to detail orientation; and then adding to this, a person's proclivity to focus on an outcome or to seek harmony. In my experience, no matter what your leadership role, knowing and understanding your own style and that of each person you work with is the key to achieving the results you want. I had a conversation recently with a friend that drove this home for me once again.  My friend is an advisor to the CEO of a large company. This company is in the midst of a reorganization, and my friend is struggling with one of the leaders of the new organization.  As we talked through the situation, it became clear to both of us that the root cause of her challenge is style.  She...
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