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How Strong is Your Leadership Pyramid?

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 07:01

This post is adapted from the forthcoming third edition of my book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success. Available in October, you can pre-order it here.

Research shows that moving to the executive level is among the toughest transitions of any career. For example, a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership shows that 40 percent of new executives fail within eighteen months of being named to their positions. What’s going on here? Is it a case of the Peter Principle at work? Have 40 percent of all new executives simply risen to their level of incompetence? That seems unlikely. After all, to get to the executive level, you usually have to be pretty smart, accomplished, and competent. How do we explain the sudden increase in the failure rate when leaders move into next level roles?

Let’s look first at expectations. Based on my experience as an executive and coach in Fortune 500 corporations and large government agencies, I know that the expectations of performance for executives are very high. I also know that they are very rarely explicitly stated. Unfortunately, much of the time the only expectation that is shared with new executives is that they are to figure out what to do and how to do it. In an effort to make the implicit more explicit, I have identified nine sets of key behaviors and beliefs that executives need to pick up and let go of to succeed. These sets of behaviors break down into three primary components of executive presence: personal presence, team presence and organizational presence. The Next Level model of executive presence is summarized in this table:

The process of picking up and letting go, I’ve learned, is central to succeeding at the next level. Succeeding at the next level extends beyond just being promoted; it also applies when executives find themselves leading in any situation where, for internal or external reasons, the results expectations have changed.

In working with executives in the 8 years since the second edition of The Next Level was released, I’ve identified three key imperatives in Personal, Team and Organizational Presence that executives need to master to be successful at the next level:

  • For Personal Presence, the imperative is to manage yourself by regularly reflecting on where you are and preparing for what’s next.
  • For Team Presence, the imperative is to leverage your team by shifting how you use your time and attention and coaching your team members to succeed in bigger roles.
  • For Organizational Presence, the imperative is to engage your colleagues by collaborating with them to get bigger things done while contributing your grounded point of view.

I’ve come to think of those three leadership imperatives – manage yourself, leverage your team, engage your colleagues – as layers of a pyramid in which one layer is the prerequisite to the next.

Managing yourself is at the base of the pyramid. I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that if you want to lead at your best, you have to live at your best. As I’ve written here before, because of the pressure of a seemingly 24/7 operating environment, too many leaders are living in a chronic state of fight or flight. Establishing a sustainable life rhythm is at the heart of managing yourself effectively. If you’re not doing that well, you won’t be able to operate at your best in the other aspects of your leadership role.

Leveraging your team is the next layer of the pyramid. Most leaders have gotten where they are because they’ve developed the reputation of being the “go-to person.” They’re known for getting things done. I like to joke that being a go-to person is a great thing to be until it’s no longer a great thing to be. That’s when the scope of the job becomes too big to continue to operate as the hero or heroine. If leaders don’t leverage their teams, they eventually fail. The key is to make the shift from being the go-to person to the person who creates and leads teams of go-to people.

Engaging your colleagues is the top layer of the pyramid because that’s where most of the marginal value is created. By looking left, right and diagonally and not just up and down, the most effective leaders work with their colleagues to create outcomes that they and their teams cannot create by themselves. That requires developing a business first, function second mindset. It also requires enough mental bandwidth to look down the road and around corners to uncover previously hidden opportunities. Successful leaders create that bandwidth by leveraging their teams and managing themselves effectively.

Manage yourself. Leverage your team. Engage your colleagues. Doing the first sets you up to do the second. Doing the second paves the way for the third. Collectively, they roll up to successful leadership. How strong is your leadership pyramid? What’s your biggest opportunity to make it stronger?

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs

Leaders, Don’t Be the Cheese in the Panini

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:53

You can consider this post an update of one I wrote back in the summer of 2009 about how middle managers can feel like the meat in the sandwich. I’ve used that analogy for years with my clients in middle and upper middle management. It really applies to any leader who is not working in the C-suite equivalent of their organization. When you’re the meat in the sandwich, you’re adding a lot of nutritional value while getting squeezed from the pressure of the slices of bread above and below you.

My experience since 2009 suggests the meat in the sandwich dynamic has become more pronounced. Since then, I’ve asked hundreds of audiences of executives to give me a show of hands if they’re in the same job they were in a year ago, but the scope of the job has gotten bigger in the last year. Invariably, including in an audience of around 100 executives in a presentation I gave last week, 80 to 90 percent of the leaders raise their hands.

A couple of weeks ago, in a session of the Next Level Leadership® group coaching program, I was talking with my clients about the meat in the sandwich phenomenon when one of them laughed and said, “Yeah, and the sandwich is a grilled and pressed panini!” We were all laughing about the image when another participant added to the picture by exclaiming, “And we’re not even the meat, we’re the cheese!”

Now that’s an image – the cheese in a panini getting so hot and gooey that it’s dripping out of the sides of the sandwich. Sounds pretty tasty in real life actually, but, metaphorically speaking, you do not want to be the cheese in the panini. So how do you make sure that you’re not? Here are some field-tested ways to make sure you can deliver nutritional value over the long run and not be under so much heat and pressure that you get squeezed out of the sandwich.

Focus on the things that only you can do: When you’re in a designated leadership role, there are certain opportunities that accrue to you because you’re the incumbent in the role. Examples of these things include goal setting, resource allocation, team selection and development, information flows and relational access. Pretty much all of the things that give you leverage in your role are related to leadership activities. Your leverage will rarely if ever come from your subject matter expertise. Focus on the things that only you can do as the designated leader.

Sequence the work: It’s a fact of life that everything can’t be done at once. One of the key things that only you can do as a leader is sequence the work for your team and yourself. Doing that successfully will require that you create enough bandwidth in your calendar to take a deep breath a few times a week and then check that you and your team are still working on the things that matter most and redirect everyone’s time and attention if you’re not.

Communicate the plan: When you sequence the work, you end up with a plan to do the work. When you have the plan, communicate it. Communicate it to your team so they understand what everyone is trying to do, by when and how they all contribute to the plan. Communicate it to your peers so they can coordinate their work with yours and so you can catch any bumps that are going to make things difficult if not addressed. Communicate the plan to your boss so there’s clarity and no ambiguity about what you’re working on and why. Ambiguity creates micromanagement. The more of that you have, the more you’re going to feel like the cheese getting squeezed out of the panini. Reduce ambiguity by communicating and confirming the plan.

Quit thinking so much: If you’re feeling squeezed, quit thinking so much. I don’t mean quit thinking about being squeezed (although that’s probably a good idea), I mean quit thinking constantly about all the things you have to do and problems you have to solve. As I wrote in this article for Fast Company, your best ideas come when you’re not actively thinking about the problem. Your brain needs time to pull the threads of ideas together and that usually doesn’t happen when you’re sitting at your desk working on your computer, in a meeting or on a conference call.

Take frequent breaks: Get up every hour and walk around or stretch for 5 to 10 minutes. You brain and your body both need breaks. When you get away from your desk and move a little every hour, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system. That helps clear away the stress hormones that build up from grinding on a problem. When you do that, you rest your perspective and things that previously felt hard seem a little easier.

Don’t be the cheese in the panini! Try one or more these strategies that will help reduce the pressure and allow you to lead and live at your best.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs

How a Simple Mantra Can Improve Your Leadership

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 06:00

One of the things I love about leading our Next Level Leadership® group coaching program is hearing leaders’ stories about how they’re following through on their most important development opportunities.  As I’ve written here before, when they’re mapping out how to follow through, I always encourage them to look for repeatable actions that are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. Taking that approach has the benefit of jump starting the leader’s momentum and creating a positive impact through their behaviors.

In one of our current group coaching cohorts, I have several participants who have landed on simple mantras that are changing their leadership for the better. Here are a couple of examples of what they’re saying and the difference it’s making for them and their organizations.

One super high capacity leader in the program learned through her opening 360 degree assessment that she could do a better job of listening and not dominating conversations. That’s an opportunity that a lot of really bright, “get a lot of stuff done” leaders have. Their brain and problem solving process run so fast that they have a tendency to roll over people in conversations.  In doing so, they inadvertently shut down ideas and input from their colleagues. When leaders score low on the listening without dominating behavior, I almost always encourage them to take it on because the impact of getting better at it is so great.  This particular leader took my advice and decided to work on it.

Her primary action step is so simple it’s brilliant. When she’s in conversation and feels the urge to jump in with an opinion or answer, she now stops herself and says to the other person, “No, no you go first.”  By going second instead of first in the conversation, she’s creating space for others to contribute, giving herself more of an opportunity to see the bigger picture and learning that she doesn’t have to always provide the answer. As a result of all that, she’s getting even more done through and with other people rather than pushing things through on her own. All of that from repeating the simple mantra of, “No, no you go first.”

Another leader in the program is working on the Next Level 360 behavior of spending less time using her functional skills and more time encouraging others to use theirs.  She’s another super bright, high capacity leader who has developed a reputation over the years of being an expert in her domain.  That’s one of those things that’s a great thing to be until it’s no longer a great thing to be.  It’s great because it can establish you as a vital resource in the organization.  It’s no longer great when it becomes limiting to growth and development – yours and everyone else’s.

Recognizing the importance of changing the expert dynamic, this leader has also adopted a simple mantra that’s making a big difference in raising everyone’s game.  When a member of her team asks her to dive deep on helping them solve a problem, she now asks them, “Who else have you asked for help?” The impact of her mantra-like question is broad.  It keeps her from getting sidetracked with issues that aren’t her biggest priorities.  It encourages her team members to broaden their networks and collaborate with each other.  It also helps them realize that they already possess a lot of the knowledge and resources needed to solve the problems themselves.  When she asks, “Who else have you asked for help?,” everyone wins.

Could a simple leadership mantra work for you? I’m pretty sure it would.  To get started, identify a leadership behavior that, if you moved the needle in a positive direction, would make a difference for you and your organization.  Then, ask a few colleagues for their best ideas on what anyone working on that behavior could do to be better.  From that list of ideas, pick your favorite and then develop a simple mantra (a.k.a. catch phrase or question) that will help you remember to follow through on changing the behavior.

Let me know how it goes for you. Email me and let me know what leadership mantra you’ve come up with and the difference it’s making for you and your organization.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs

Info for Insiders

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 04:00

If you enjoy reading my blog, you’ll likely appreciate my monthly newsletter At Your Best. This year, I’m writing a series on how to build skills in the leadership competencies that most organizations flag as vital.

In the first four months of 2018, I’ve shared tips on building the competencies of:

In the months to come, I’ll be writing about how you and your team can develop your leaderships skills in:

  • Building and leveraging strong teams
  • Collaborating and promoting teamwork
  • Inspiring and motivating others
  • Building strong and healthy relationships
  • Learning continuously
  • Managing yourself effectively
  • Demonstrating adaptability
  • Developing others

If you like what you see, subscribe to At Your Best and the Eblin Group blog.  I’d love for you to join our community of next level leadership insiders!

Categories: Blogs

How to Diversify Your Happiness

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 12:57

If you’ve spent any time thinking about your retirement account or other investments you may have, you’re probably familiar with the concept of asset diversification. The idea is to not over-invest in one particular company or class of investments but to balance your portfolio across different types of assets. As a simple example, it makes sense for many people to invest in both stocks and bonds since when one of the two is up the other is often down. You don’t get crazy high returns when you invest this way, but you usually avoid catastrophic losses. Over time, the balanced investment approach of asset diversification has proven to yield reasonably predictable rates of return. Not super sexy rates of return, but rates in which you can have some degree of confidence.

And, by now, you may be asking yourself, “I thought this was a leadership blog. What’s up with the investment strategy tutorial?” There’s a connection and it comes from a client I’m working with in one of our leadership development programs. On a recent group follow-up call, she and her colleagues were sharing what they’d been working on since our last in-person session on building personal leadership presence.  As I’m writing about in the upcoming third edition of The Next Level, the essence of personal presence is to manage yourself by reflecting on where you are and preparing for what’s next. That’s exactly what this client had been doing in the month between our in-person session and the conference call.

When I asked her what she had been up to she said, with excitement in her voice, “I’ve been diversifying my happiness!” She then went on to explain that the discussion we had had in the session about creating a Life GPS® (you can read more about that here), caused her to reflect on what was missing from her life. She loves her job and is great at it, but concluded that she was over-invested in it. Her self-reflection made her realize that she was under-invested in exercise and giving back to the community in some way. She jump started the exercise by riding her bike every day on a recent week-long vacation. The truly inspirational part of her story was on the giving back to the community front.

Using a program similar to the one at VolunteerMatch, she started searching for a cause that matters to her and that she could be personally involved in. In a month, she’s been trained to provide support to families transitioning out of homelessness who have one or more children on the autism spectrum. She’s been matched with a family who has a six year old son who’s on the spectrum and will be meeting with them on Sundays since that fits in best with her busy schedule for work. She’s already had her first meeting with the family and is very excited about getting to know them better and providing support.

My client provides a great example of how to diversify your happiness. In her case, she used the three questions behind the Life GPS® to do some self-assessment and reflection. Those questions are:

  • How am I at my best?
  • What are the routines – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – that enable me to be my best?
  • What outcomes would I hope to see at home, work and in my community if I was regularly leading and living at my best?

Then, she asked herself, “What’s missing for me?” and quickly identified some gaps. Then, and this is key, she took immediate action on the exercise gap and prepared herself to close the community gap by doing some research to find an opportunity that she cared about and was do-able for her.

In one of those cases of the student has become the teacher, my client has inspired me to take a fresh look at what’s missing in my life and what I can do to diversify my happiness. Through this post, I hope she’s done the same for you.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs