“Good managers have a bias for action.”
No one ever said it was easy being the boss. In addition to being the point person you are also the fall guy (or gal). People expect a lot from you and whether you are dealing with employees, clients or higher-ups’ they all tend to come from a place of take-take-take. Overall it can be an exhausting position to handle…but are certain factors wearing you out more than others?
While you may be a manager, you need to keep in mind that you are human too. Even if you are not consciously aware of them, hidden biases can affect your decision-making and leadership ability. This is why it is important to be aware of situations where your personal (sometimes even hidden) biases try to take over. Read on to learn how to discover your professional biases and more important, how to overcome them.
Lay Your Biases On The Table
Chances are you hired people onto you team because they shared similar ideals and fostered an attitude that matched your work place. This is common, people tend to gravitate toward people they can relate to; the tendency to act this way actually reinforces your natural biases. The same thing might happen when dealing with clients or higher-ups’, you want those people to get along with you and might not even realize that your compliance is causing you to adopt their own preferences.
The first step in uncovering your biases is to discover the emotion(s) behind them. Say for example, that you hate pitching new clients; your bias requires you to avoid the pitch process at all costs. Now, try to think back to when that “hate” first started. Perhaps in the past you were publicly embarrassed and ridiculed by a client who did not like your pitch.
If you can come to terms with those emotions (embarrassment, shame) that are connected to your prejudice, then you have a better chance of overcoming it. Just because you had a bad pitch experience in the past, does not mean that history is going to repeat itself. Strive to actively work on the professional biases that are holding you and business back.
Refresh Your Leadership Perspective
While you may be able to pinpoint how your biases are holding you back, it may be a little bit more difficult to see how they are holding your team members back too. Say for example, your distaste for gossip causes you to glaze over the office chatterbox. Just because you do not like the talkative attribute, does not mean that that employee does not have great qualities to offer. For example, your office’s social butterfly could be the perfect person to head up your social media accounts.
Flip the example; say as a talkative person, you never really connected with the shy person on your team. Without really noticing, you might pass pet projects onto people you know better because your shy co-worker never seems to come to mind. You can see here how personal biases can make you a bad boss. Just because you don’t like a quality about someone or you don’t necessarily connect to it, does not mean you should pass those people the short end of the stick.
Ask yourself, what are my natural leadership tendencies? What motivations drive those tendencies? What emotions are attached to them? With some introspective thought and exploration, your biases can come to light, and from there you can work on changing them.
It’s only natural to foster some personal biases, however you have the power to eliminate them for the better. Throughout this process, don’t undervalue the power of your team. Because of the distance, they might be able to spot those tendencies with greater ease than you can.
Share with your team that you’re trying to freshen up your leadership style. Ask them if they would be willing to share their thoughts on policies and procedures they think would benefit from being changed.
Understand that not everyone will be comfortable critiquing their boss so do your best to provide anonymity with blind feedback. By asking them what things they might like to see a change in, you could open yourself up to other biases and new opportunities for fair improvement.
Talkback: What career and leadership biases have you uncovered? Share your ideas below.
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“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.”
~ Zig Ziglar ~
Hans works for a multi-national company. He was recently put in charge of a department where 10% of the workforce left in the next two months. They either retired or moved to another job. This left Hans scrambling to find appropriate replacements.
After the positions were filled, Hans vowed to never let this happen again. He created a Succession Planning Procedure. These five steps made it easy for him to be proactive and prepared for any vacancy.
1. Identify Key Leadership Positions. Hans identified those positions that were most critical. Which positions impacted the company’s core competencies the most? What were the risks if those positions went vacant? He drew up a list of vital positions.
Hans didn’t do this alone, he called in supervisors and HR to look at the job descriptions and assess them. What is the function? What responsibilities does this job have? What authority?
Then Hans prioritized the leadership positions from vital to minimal impact. “I considered the problems that would come if a job became vacant. And the learning curve for the replacement,” Hans said.
He factored in whether the current job holder was close to retirement. And he evaluated how marketable the employee was. Did he have family or life events that made it likely he might change jobs?
2. Assess skills and qualities needed for these leadership positions. Next in Han’s succession planning procedure, he had a Position Profile created. What kind of education did this job need? What level of experience?
He listed the core competencies essential to succeed in the job. Did they need to be a team player? How vital was communication, innovation, or delegating responsibilities?
Within the Position Profile he listed the five essential competencies needed for each job along with other knowledge, skills, and desirable traits.
3. Evaluated current strength of potential leaders. “I looked to see the depth of my bench,” Hans said. “How many employees on the sidelines are currently prepared to step into these jobs if needed?”
Hans looked over all his employees. Which ones had the skills sets necessary? Which ones might be groomed to be able to step up to the plate? How long would that take? One year? Two years? More?
Hans created a working list of possible successors for each job and added it to his procedure.
4. Designed Career Development Strategies. Hans started working on the best prospects. He first matched potential leaders with the job skills of the positions at greatest risk and with the highest level of company value.
He used the annual review time to discuss gaining the skills and competencies necessary to move up. And he helped the employees set appropriate career goals.
Hans worked with his team to choose appropriate career development activities for these key employees. These included participation in vital projects, cross training, course work, working with a mentor, self-study or reading assignments, coaching, work related conferences, and leadership development programs.
“I told employees that participation in these activities was part of the company’s succession planning,” Hans said. “But I made sure they understood it did not guarantee they would be promoted.”
5. Monitored and Evaluated Strategies. Hans was determined not ever to be caught with a high priority talent gap again. He continued to monitor his succession planning procedure. He reviewed the data on promising employees.
He requested feedback on the annual reviews and suggested monthly reviews to make sure the career development activities were producing the desired results.
“Once we made it a priority,” Hans said, “our succession plan came about quite quickly. Already we’ve seen results. First, we have a stronger team.” He also felt the company would benefit with fewer vacancies, reduced time for new employees to get up to speed, and a general higher standard of workforce in his department.
Learn strategies to help you or your employees prepare to move up. Contact Joel for promotion help.
Talkback: What steps have you taken to set succession planning in place for yourself and your employees?
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“Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”
~ Vince Lombardi ~
Geoffrey’s been totally focused on doing the best job he can. He’s been very intent on making sure his job gets done, and done right. He felt sure this would help him advance his career more quickly.
But when his boss didn’t seem to value Geoffrey’s contributions, he got concerned. What did his boss really want? Why wasn’t doing his job, good enough?
His goal was executive leadership. To do that, he realized he needed to make some changes.
He needed to make sure his work corresponded with the priorities of his boss and of the CEO.
Here are four things Geoffrey did to align his views with the current executive leadership.
- Assess. Spend time thinking about what the CEO might be thinking about. Put yourself into his place. What do you think keeps him awake at night? What worries him? What are the challenges he faces? When you look through his eyes you get a sense of what his priorities are and where he’s focusing his attention.
- Interact. Communicate with other peers and listen to their sense of what is important in the company. Geoffrey needed to get beyond just his work. He needed to reach out and connect with others. As he asked their views on the top goals and values of the company he did two things.
First, he learned what to focus on to make his work valuable to his boss and move his career forward. Second he showed respect and interest in the opinions and leadership views of others. As he engaged them, they came to know and trust him as well. He widened his sphere of influence.
- Ask. Geoffrey was direct. He asked his boss and the CEO what their values and priorities were. He did this during meeting times in a public arena. He also requested weekly or monthly one-on-one feedback times. During those times, he discussed the company and CEO priorities and how he could best align his job with those priorities.
- Communicate. Based on the feedback Geoffrey got from peers and boss, he formulated a plan. He wrote down the work he needed to do and how it supported the priorities of the boss. Then he shared it with his boss—and the CEO, as in the case of Geoffrey’s small company—for their feedback.
This increased his visibility with the boss and the CEO. It showed Geoffrey was concerned about giving value to the company and making his work productive and effective. It also allowed for corrections quickly and easily if Geoffrey’s assessment was off course.
When Geoffrey started implementing this plan of action, he saw immediate results. He focused his efforts on the things that really mattered to the boss and CEO and received high praise. His interactions with his peers harvested trust and acceptance. Geoffrey is acting like an executive leader and is moving toward that leadership position.
For help on how you can step up to executive leadership in your work and capabilities contact Joel.
Talkback: What have you done to insure your work is aligned with the priorities of your boss or CEO?
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“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
~ Rosalynn Carter ~
Client Melanie Asks:
I’m having a real challenge understanding what’s next for me at my company. I’ve been a department manager for five years. I get impeccable performance reviews and consistent kudos from my boss, my peers and my subordinates. I know I’m a good leader. But every manager above me is male. I feel I’ve gone as far as I can go here. Is the glass ceiling for real? Is male leadership ability really superior to female?
Coach Joel Answers:
Your question is certainly a legitimate one. Dozens of leading business publications, including Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Harvard Business Review have done recent studies and articles on male vs. female leadership ability. Here’s what they’ve all concluded: in the top 16 leadership competencies, women outscore men in all but one. In two of the top characteristics (takes initiative, and drives for results), women outrank men by the highest degree of any factor tested—and these particular characteristics have long been thought of as male strengths.
According to the HBR study, a major reason women aren’t moving up as far and as fast as they should is that they don’t self-promote. So here’s a three-point action plan that I would recommend you put in place immediately.
- Establish your brand. You may think you’re well known in the company and that your skills and accomplishments are recognized. But you need more than that. You need to be memorable. This may mean taking on a cause or a project that is languishing and turning it into a winner. It could mean coming up with a high-impact promotional campaign or a can’t-lose money saving strategy.
- Increase your visibility. You can do this in a number of ways. Start by speaking up in meetings, not only to discuss your own projects and ideas but also to acknowledge your team’s efforts or ideas presented by your peers. Volunteer to make presentations or speak at company meetings where top executives will be present. Network at business events, both inside and outside the company, as often as you can.
- Develop advocates. You need people who will speak on your behalf. Look for unexpected sources rather than relying on your immediate boss to do this. Speak to clients, customers, and vendors about your work. Look for allies in other departments or business units. If a client or customer compliments your work, say “Would you mind dropping my CEO an email about that?”
Will you get the promotion you feel you deserve? Will you break through into top management? Another factor revealed in the HBR study is that men in senior management positions still tend to hire other men. While that may be true, choose to focus instead on the fact, supported by scientific data, that when it comes to male vs. female leadership ability, women are the true leaders. Your leadership skills may be rewarded in your current company and they may not. But they will be rewarded—count on it!
If your head is bumping up against a glass ceiling in your company, email Joel for some glass-shattering ideas.
Talkback: What’s your opinion about male vs. female leadership abilities? Share your ideas here.
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“Why do I need succession planning? I’m very alert. I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire.”
~ Sheldon Adelson ~
Marshall, the CEO of a large IT firm, will turn 65 this year. Lately he’s been hearing some rather pointed comments from several of his C-level managers about “succession planning.” He’s beginning to feel rather sensitive and more than a little defensive about his age. Until one day his HR director, Maria, gives him a wake-up call that shifts his thinking.
“Look, Marshall,” Maria says. “This is not about you. It’s about the company and giving some thought to our future. There’s a book title I love—Hope Is Not a Strategy. The smart farmer hopes for sunshine but he plans for rain. That’s what we need to do—not just for your position but for all of us that our stockholders count on to keep the business running.”
After sleeping on it, Marshall gives Maria the go-ahead to come up with some tools they can use to put a succession plan in place for the company’s top-level executive and management positions. After a few weeks, she reports back to the executive committee with recommendations for a three-step process that could be implemented by almost any company.
• Evaluate your situation
• Create a talent pool
• Asses and train
1. Evaluate your situation. First, of course, the company needs to consider the key positions in its current structure. Ask yourself, “If Joe got struck by a meteor tomorrow, what would we do?” But it doesn’t stop there. You also need to look into the future and brainstorm about new challenges and opportunities that will demand new leadership.
2. Create a talent pool. Once you’ve isolated key present and future positions, see who’s there now and where holes or vacancies may exist. For each of these functions or roles, identify the core competencies, knowledge and skills they require. Then look throughout the company for potential superstars. Look for high performing and high potential employees, people who have the skills you need, or who may be overlooked or underutilized in their present positions.
3. Assess and train. Start by having two-part conversations with your high potentials and high performers. The first conversation should focus on comprehensive self-development. Find out what kinds of training they might need to prepare them for moving up. This could be anything from working with an executive coach to enrolling in an MBA program. Begin a mentoring program designed to expose high potential employees to the positions they might hold in the future.
The second conversation is designed to determine what will motivate employees to stay with you. Find out about their long-range career plans. Get their perspective on the company as it is. Find out where they think it’s headed and if they want to go along for the ride. Make sure they see the big company picture and have a clear vision of their place in it.
It took several months, but Marshall and Maria, along with the company’s other C-level managers, used these tools to develop a workable plan that they could implement in the event of both planned and unplanned vacancies in key positions.
“I think the company is on a much more solid footing now,” Marshall told Maria. “I may live to be a hundred, but just in case I don’t, I’m confident that our future is in good hands.”
If your company needs to create or update its succession plan, email Joel to find out exactly what steps you should take.
Talkback: Do you have some succession planning strategies that have worked for you? We’d love to hear your ideas, so share your story here.
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