Keep a Steady Hand!

Forget the management fad du jour! Much of which is “new”, or “just being discovered”, is basically a reframing of best practices that have been around a long time. Leadership, at its essence, is very, very simple. Engage people to collectively work toward a common goal. That’s it.

However, we humans are easily distracted by bright shiny objects – the latest article or blog or conversation about “I tried this and it really worked!” And since we’re not getting the results we want, that we know our organization is capable of, we try the latest and greatest.

Unfortunately, flitting from one management fad to the next is not only ineffective, it is actually detrimental to the organization. That’s because people become numb and jaded. They know that the previous fads have not produced the stellar results that were touted at the kickoff. “Been there, done that, and there was no t-shirt. It was another mirage.” And they know that if they successfully ignore this one, another one will take its place in the near future. So they basically retire in place, doing a decent job, and giving up on any effort to make a real, long-lasting improvement.

The only truly effective way to have an organization improve is to do the fundamentals:

1. Create, WITH your employees, a clear, compelling vision of the future, and how your organization can make that future happen. The best way to do this is to ask employees how your products and services can make a better world for their loved ones (children, grandchildren, etc.). This type of vision will indeed engage employees and ignite their creativity and passion.

2. Keep that vision foremost in all decisions at all levels. The vision will help align decisions at all levels, and will minimize inter-departmental differences.

3. Then, keep on encouraging and assisting employees as they strive to attain that vision. Understand that the real purpose of management is to provide resources so the employees can do their jobs the best possible way. “Command and control” approaches remove the ownership and passion from the employees; empowering employees to be great creates the foundation for breakthrough results.

What’s your reaction? Have you tried this? How has it worked?

Gary Langenwalter

If it ain’t bringin’ you joy, then find something that does!

I spent my entire career in Corporate America. I did that because I needed to put food on the table for my family. I spent much of my time in Information Technology (IT) because I enjoyed it, always learning something new, and it paid well. And I was motivated; I had to earn money to support my family. I’m the primary bread-winner and that’s my job. It’s trap that many of us fall into where I had to do well, climb that career ladder and increase my earning power. After a while on the Corporate gerbil-wheel, I found that I wasn’t having fun anymore and had lost sight of what provided me joy!

Once I retired (or at least semi-retired since I do still like to work), I discovered that the work that I love to do….is coaching and facilitation. Which is not work to me, since it’s fun to do and I get to use my gifts, my strengths …. which in turn brings me great joy! I just love to help other people. I derive great pleasure in helping them find their own insights. Insights about their life and career. I had to go on my own journey to rediscover my passion and joy, in order to help others.

I love music, drumming circles and dance. I had suppressed those passions for many years, as I was focused on earning a living and raising my family. But there is something very primordial hearing the drum beat that just causes my body to move and dance. It’s instinctual. A gut reaction. I’m in touch with the inner child who has no pretense and does not dance to please, but only to relate to my own soul’s desires. And my soul wants to dance, my soul needs to dance….and that, my friends, give me JOY!

So, I ask you….what gives you joy? What gifts do you have that have been suppressed for all these years? How can you reconnect with those gifts? Can you create a hobby which gives them voice? Is it possible that you could begin to pursue the activities that give you joy and continue to earn a living? And please think about this….pursuing your joyful activities will help you reconnect with your soul, your inner child, and this will significantly contribute to your life, family and career!

Please drop me a note and let me know what you are doing to pursue joy!


Scariest Part of Leadership

The scariest part of leadership is letting go of control and trusting others to do the right things and make the right decisions. The concept of control underpins hierarchical organizations – the person above controls the actions and decisions of the persons below. This structure has been used for millennia by military, religious, and commercial organizations. These people are managers; they “manage” persons and other resources.

But what if a leader, instead of insisting on detailed control, does something entirely different? What if a leader co-creates the vision and mission, and goals and objectives and strategies, with his or her people? What if a leader then turns them loose to be as great as they can be, and supports them as they try new ideas? What if a leader gives a prize annually for the best new idea that failed? What would that type of organization be like? Unstoppable. Because in that organization, each individual will feel supported and challenged to be all they can be. They will bring everything they’ve got to work every day. And they will collaborate with colleagues to create programs, products, and services that delight customers and increase profits.

So what’s so scary about this? The leader has to give up the illusion of control. It’s an illusion, because we can only truly control those things over which we have one more degree of freedom, which we obviously do not have with fellow humans. However, our society expects and even demands that leaders “be in control” of their company or department. So the leader needs to change from creating controls to insure proper behavior, to instead being effective at inspiring people and nurturing guiding principles.

This transition is a little like learning how to float and swim. When I was younger I was deathly afraid of the water; I would stand in a corner of the swimming pool and shiver. My parents insisted that I take swimming classes. I finally decided to quit fighting the water and trust it to hold me up. It was scary, but it worked! I got hooked on swimming and even earned my lifeguard certificate. Once a leader quits controlling the employees and trusts them to help the organization thrive, they get hooked on the results AND the process – the only question they ask is why they didn’t do this sooner.

I welcome your feedback

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait #3 – Skilled Communicator

Highly effective leaders are skilled communicators. Most people assume that communicating is about speaking. Not true. Rule # 1: Excellent communication skills start with listening, THEN devolve to speaking. Only by listening first do we earn the trust of the person we’re talking with. Only by listening first do we earn the right to be heard. Only by listening first do we have the ability to speak to the other person’s interests, to their listening. Listening is the first characteristic of a skilled communicator.

When I was about 6, I was somewhat of a chatterbox. My grandfather, a gentle soul, asked me, “How many ears do you have?” A bit puzzled, I answered “Two.” “How many mouths do you have?” (Even more puzzled) “One.” “Do you think the good Lord had a reason for giving you 2 ears and 1 mouth?” (Oh.)

You’ve heard the expression, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” I suggest, “Listen as if the person is going to tell you the most important thing in the world.” Most of the time the topics will indeed be mundane. But there will be gold nuggets. AND, the speaker will feel truly honored, creating a relationship for future conversations.

Secondly, a skilled communicator continually looks for feedback from the listener – do they understand it? Do they agree? A skilled communicator also pauses while talking, to allow the listener to digest what has been said and to formulate a response. The difference between introverts and extroverts can be striking in this regard. An extrovert does not know what they are thinking until they say it, so they tend to talk quickly and volubly. An introvert needs time to process what they have heard so they can formulate a response. They are equally intelligent – they just need processing time.

Third, a skilled communicator uses persuasion rather than power and position. Didn’t you hate it when your parents or a teacher or coach or drill sergeant said “Do it because I said so”? Aristotle said that to communicate effectively, one can appeal to:

· Ethos – who we are,

· Pathos – emotions, and

· Logos – logic

Ethos is the most powerful. Effective speakers try to identify with their listeners, and have their listeners identify with them. Presidential candidates try to identify with the man in the street, or the soccer mom. Finally, whoever tells the stories defines the culture; they combine ethos and pathos. Look at advertisements – most of them tell stories (with pictures, words, and music), rather than merely citing facts and figures. They use the stories to persuade, and then add facts and figures so the potential customer can logically justify the decision they made.

Coming next: Compassionate Collaborator

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait 2 – Puts People First

What do highly effective leaders do? They put people first. They help others meet their highest priority development needs. It seems counterintuitive, but the data prove that putting other people first makes an organization more profitable. An effective leader puts people first by:

· Displaying a servant’s heart

· Mentoring

· Showing care and concern

Servant’s Heart: A servant leader cares deeply how their decisions and actions will affect others – they want others to benefit. So they don’t make decisions purely on financial grounds. They realize that for a company to thrive, the communities in which it operates must also thrive. They inherently use a win-win rather than a zero-sum win-lose model for making decisions and operating. Example: the executives of Burgerville volunteer an hour a week reading to local elementary schoolchildren, because they know that if a child is not reading by the 3rd grade, that child is destined for a life of struggle and poverty. In fact, the slogan of Burgerville, a privately-held for profit organization, is “serve with love”. They don’t talk about “customers” – they talk about “guests”.

Mentoring: I was grateful to have a mentor as I was starting my career – he was more than just a “boss”. I would like to have had more mentors as I changed fields and professions. I’ve found that mentoring others is truly rewarding. Even (especially?) if you didn’t have a mentor, becoming one provides benefits to both you and the mentee. It’s a great way to pay it forward. Everybody wins!

Showing Care and Concern: This concept is countercultural, even revolutionary. Competition is so engrained in American culture that we don’t even consider its cost. Competition for the promotion; competition for the raise; competition for the customer. Negotiating to get the best possible deal for me, or for my company. But when we were children, our mothers taught us to care for others; they taught us to share. Every well-established religion has care for others as one of its foundations. Our companies, and our society, cannot survive, let alone thrive, if we do not actively care for others. Care for others expresses itself in win-win, instead of win-lose.

Next week: Skilled Communicator

Comments? Feedback? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Gary Langenwalter

Selling = Listening

Yes, effective selling does equal effective listening. So, then it’s safe to assume that a customer will not buy a product or service that they do not need. But how often are we not really listening to prospect or a customer, making a big assumption about what we “think” they need. Old school selling was based on assumptions and the latest selling techniques and strategies for getting customers or prospects to think they needed something, when they really did not. New school selling is truly listening to our customers and understanding what they “actually” need. We are all sales people to one degree or another. Even when we’re embedded in operations, accounting or some other functional areas. Often we are selling our own ideas for product or process improvements to management. So, true listening is a skill that all of us need. Most of us have had many years of learning how to read and write, and to speak. But the irony is that we are not taught how to listen. Whether it was in school or in business.

So, what is effective listening? How do we know that we are understanding what the other person is saying or thinking? Effective listening shows respect for the other person and that you truly listening to what they are saying. You’re not offering any judgments or opinions, or jumping in with your own perspectives. You are ensuring that the person has completed their thought. Effective listening begins with focusing on what others’ are saying and demonstrate to the other person through body language and asking relevant questions. Increased rapport and trust will occur since the other person senses that you are really listening to them. They might seem more positive or happy as they continue talking to you.

Why is effective listening challenging? Because most people are more focused on what they’d like to say and how are intending to respond, rather than on what they are actually hearing. Effective listening will take time to practice where you become more fluent. Several studies have shown that we are distracted or forgetful 75% of the time when we should be listening. Right after after we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what is said. And then long-term memory, shows we only remember about 20% of what we hear. Not very much is it? Our goal is to drastically increase that percentage of understanding.

How do we perform effective listening (so we will be more effective at selling)?

1. Clear your mind of all current distractions. Even assumptions and observations about the other person.

2. Listen with your eyes and ears. Many people smile with their eyes. Do you? Lean forward with your body.

3. Place your entire focus on the speaker.

a. Listen to their words, both what is said and how it is said. Notice their body language. Distractions will float into your conscience; and you need to let them go. Minimize distractions by continuously refocusing your attention on the speaker.

4. Once the speaker has completed their thought. Ask them if they’re done with that thought.

5. Once the speaker has finished, then ask questions.

a. If you ask questions throughout their speaking, it interrupts their train of thought. Ask clarifying questions (from the speaker’s perspective), not probing questions (from your own perspective).

6. Repeat the understanding that you have. Empathize with the speaker and how they may have felt.

7. Ask what seems the most challenging. Or ask what would be the most helpful. What has worked in the past? Where could they now use help?

8. Offer possible ideas or strategies. Ask them what they think?

9. Try adapting your ideas with theirs. Definitely a “win/win”.

PLEASE NOTE: And please know that you will not master the art of listening overnight. It will take time and much practice to develop your listening muscles.

Looking Backward and Forward

The first month of the year is named after the two-headed Roman god Janus, shown here in an ancient Roman coin. One head looked back, the other looked forward.

One way to look back and look forward is with a Plus/Delta reflection, which can be done individually or in a group. Divide a flipchart or piece of paper into 2 columns. Above the left column write “Plus”; above the right column write “Delta”. Ask what went well in 2014, and write those bullets into the Plus column. And think of what you would like to change next time – write those bullets into the Delta column.

Notice – and this is important – you’re not making things “wrong”. You’re asking, “What would I like to change?” That’s why the column is called “delta”, not “minus”. This allows you to learn from all of your experiences. We coach clients to never use the word “fail.” When they try something, they get a result. If they don’t like the result, they can change something and try again. And if they get the result they want, they can still change something and try for a different result the next time! That’s how people, and organizations, learn. Learning organizations consistently outperform traditional organizations. And they’re a lot more fun to work in!

All of us at PCG wish you and yours a rewarding and “learning” new year.

Gary Langenwalter

A True Partner

Most organizations pride themselves on how they help their customers. A select few go far beyond the rest. Umpqua Bank is a leader in those organizations that go far beyond the norm.

So how does Umpqua set itself apart? They focus on building community. Other banks say that; Umpqua does it in many unique ways that are valuable to its customers. Here are 5:

· They staff to have no lines. That means that in non-busy times, “tellers” are waiting customers. Actually, that’s almost always the case – no waiting at all. I’ve had accounts at other banks where lines were the norm.

· Want to take out a loan to buy a car? In other banks, you’d need to see a loan officer. And if that person is busy with another customer, you’ll be waiting a while. Umpqua cross-trains ALL its customer-facing employees. They’re not “tellers” – they’re “Universal Associates.” The difference? Each of them is trained to help you get that car loan – they’ll leave their station and take you into an adjacent meeting room to complete the paperwork in privacy. An Umpqua Universal Associate has the training and skills to be an assistant branch manager for any other bank.

· Umpqua is a place to relax a bit. Each “store” (they’re not “bank branches”) has PCs and a printer available for the public to use. They have easy chairs to sit in, and a selection of current magazines and papers, both financial and non-financial. Much more than just the typical cup of coffee. (Oh, and they have their own roasted coffee beans for customers as well.)

· They give back to the community – in spades! Each employee is encouraged to spend 40 hours/year on community service, such as helping at the local food bank, animal shelter, etc. – on company time, for pay! So when you walk into an Umpqua store, instead of the typical nameplate, you might see a hand-lettered sign saying where that associate volunteers. So far, they have donated more than 250,000 volunteer hours! At 2000 hours/year, that’s 125 volunteer years!

· Finally, some “stores” have meeting rooms available for use by the public, free. For a small business or non-profit, those meeting rooms are much better than the local Starbucks. They are closed, quiet, and private. (And Umpqua even provides free coffee!)

Using Umpqua as an inspiration, can you extrapolate how your organization could go the extra mile for your customers?

Gary Langenwalter

Getting Buy-In

My favorite definition of diplomacy: “the art of letting someone else have your way.” For most of us, that’s a necessary skill in our work and in our personal lives. The real art, however, is in having someone else WANT TO do something – that’s buy-in.

Telling the boss what to do qualifies as a CLM (Career Limiting Move). Ditto for our peers – they can derail our careers if they choose. And although it’s easy to tell the people who report to us what to do, getting their buy-in will improve their performance (and thereby help our careers as well).

The art of achieving buy-in rests in asking the question from the other person’s viewpoint – What’s In It For Me? Why should they want to do what I want them to? Answering that question requires me to put myself in their shoes, to understand what they want, and then to be willing to use my resources to help them achieve their goals.

Buy-in can work with almost anybody, anywhere, and any time. With subordinates, peers, and bosses. It works best, however, when the other party is also interested in creating a win/win.

Buy-in is invitational. It deepens relationship, fosters a spirit of co-creating, demonstrates power sharing. It directly contrasts to the typical power-over, command-and-control behavior that permeates so many of our organizations. It is one small, but powerful, step toward a healthier organization.

Gary Langenwalter

Work for Free?

If you stopped paying your employees, how many would continue to work for you?

Yes, I know that they appreciate being paid, and most do not have the luxury of working for no pay. But let’s ignore that for a moment, and ask the question again: If you were not able to pay your employees, what would you do in order to attract and retain volunteers to keep your organization going?

Peter Drucker has said that not-for-profit organizations are the leading edge of leadership, because leaders in those organizations have to lead people much more effectively, since a large part of their workforce is volunteer. Volunteers work for an organization because they are attracted to the vision and mission and purpose, and because they are treated with respect.

To be truly revolutionary, you could ask your employees why they work for you. Hint: most people do not work primarily for the money. Most people could find another job making roughly the same income. Why do they stay with you?

And then ask them what they would like to see changed to make their work experience more meaningful.

However, be aware that the mere act of asking these questions raises expectations on the part of the employees, so before you ask them, you’ll need to be committed to do something with their answers.

GloryBee, in Eugene, has a formal process of asking each employee a series of questions like this (outside of the performance review). The dialogue between employee and supervisor has 9 questions, each of which is answered by the employee and the supervisor. The first question is, “What made you choose GloryBee as your employer?” The form is posted in the Ideas section of our website. http://wp.me/P4ohNu-7t3

If you stopped paying your employees, how many would continue to work for you?

Gary Langenwalter