How to shift from directive leadership to decisive leadership

Making decisions is an art. Making them fast, with grace – style even – is something that leaders everywhere aspire to achieve.

We all have an image in our minds about a strong, charismatic leader who makes decisions off the side of their desk, solving problems in an instant. I want to challenge that idea.

After coaching close to a hundred leaders on, probably, thousands of leadership problems, there are a few things that have become abundantly clear.

1. Making decisions alone is short-sighted and reactive.

First of all, two heads are always better than one. ALWAYS.

And more to the point, the more people you engage and the points of view you hear, the more solid and well-rounded your decisions will be. Not to mention the ripple effects on morale for engaging your team and including them in important decisions.

Let’s be clear – the decision and the accountability should rest with one — but hearing those other points of view will make the decision better.

It’s strategic. It’s playing the long game.

2. The decisiveness that made you a good leader early in your career won’t make you a good senior leader.

Early in my career, I rose very quickly because I was decisive. I was goal focused and could make tough decisions and get things going where others might waffle or avoid risk. However, as I rose in my organization, I started to feel more and more unappreciated for my decisiveness.

I eventually realized I was overusing my strength. I was deciding things too easily and too quickly without hearing the concerns of my colleagues, staff and/or clients. I wasn’t engaging people before making decisions. And so, my fine quality of “decisive” had turned into “bull in a china shop” before I even realized it.

I had to shift my approach to include those around me as much as possible.

3. Decisive Leadership is different than directive leadership

There is a crucial distinction between a leader who makes fast decisions as a lone wolf and one who is skilled in helping the team arrive at quick decisions (and quick decisions that aren’t rash ones).

Telling the team what is happening vs reaching a conclusion with them are wildly different leadership approaches and guess which one tends to foster the highest employee satisfaction, team cohesiveness, and productivity?

Exactly – making final decisions AFTER you’ve engaged the team.

What, then, does this look like in practice?

It comes from ensuring that the organization’s values and vision are aligned and that the values and vision are communicated properly and practiced in day-to-day operations. With that foundation, every decision is approached from the point of view of what is best to serve the organizational vision.

Once you’re operating from a common place with a shared vision, decisions become a lot easier but there are still a few more things you need.

Transparency

Communicating how you ultimately arrive at a decision not only helps staff feel involved and valued, it helps them to perhaps arrive more quickly at a decision themselves next time. They can learn from the parameters set, the angles considered, and the conclusion that was eventually achieved.

Room for Error

If staff feel as though there is a great personal risk to making decisions, they’ll be inclined to defer and delay decision making. If staff feel that there is room for error and that they can safely make a call and still be supported even if a better decision could have been made – they’ll be more likely to take initiative and responsibility providing a healthy distribution of decision-making among the team.

Post-decision communication

Discussing important decisions as they unfold and maintaining the value of transparency is very important but post-decision communication is also crucial. What decisions were made based on the information that the team had (and was that the best choice?). Is there anything you might do differently next time? Do you need formal policies or learnings implemented as a result?

Coach’s Question: When might you be able to more engage your team in decision-making? What would stop you from providing transparency on your decisions?

6 things to look for in a rockstar employee

We all need ‘em. Those team members whom you can trust to handle things if you’re not there or to lean on when you need some extra support on a project.

They’re the rock-solid, unwavering, go-getting, right-hand men and women that you’re so grateful to have on your team.

Maybe you feel like you’ve won the recruitment lottery but, there are ways to spot these folks and make sure they end up on your team. Instead of a happy accident, you can build a team of rockstars.

Here are six traits to look for to get more of these people on your side.

1. Track record of progress

This may seem like a no-brainer but there are plenty of people who are content exactly where they are. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, when you find an employee who is consistently looking to grow and improve, they’ll not only look for opportunities for themselves but for opportunities for progress for the organization. They’ll see a system that could be better, they’ll see a failure as a learning opportunity, and they’ll seek communication with others that supports their goals for improving.

What this might look like in tangible terms is someone who:

  • Takes professional development courses without prompting.
  • During a project debrief, might say, “Next time, we could…”
  • Goes out of their way or job description to suggest a thoughtful improvement.

2. Accountability

When something hasn’t gone according to plan, there’s nothing worse than someone who tries to place the blame instead of focusing on the solution. Solution first, regardless of the cause, then reflection on how the situation could be avoided next time. Rockstar employees will be the first to jump in to offer a solution and then talk about how they played a role in the outcome good or bad and what they might do differently next time.

So how do you recognize accountability when you’re hiring someone?

  • Ask them about the biggest mistakes they’ve made and what they learned from them.  Questions like this are best asked with, “Tell me a time when…” rather than a hypothetical, “What would you do if…” The latter tends to result in textbook answers that make you think they’re a rockstar, whereas actually describing where they made a mistake and what was the outcome, helps you see how accountable they were, and what they learned.
  • When asking about a project or situation that had its challenges, listen for “I’ and “We” language as opposed to, “They” language. An intentional distinction between the employee and the issue is a red flag that they don’t see how they contributed to the challenges. Taking ownership of the good and bad things that happened while on a team is a good indication that they’ll be accountable when things go sideways.

3. Intrinsic motivation

Not to get you off the hook for providing rewards, encouragement, and recognition but employees who are intrinsically motivated are going to continue to progress towards organizational goals whether or not the carrot is dangling in sight .

Their purpose isn’t exclusively connected to the reward of pay or validation. They have their own reasons for working hard and doing great work — they have their “why.”

What might this look like in practice?

  • They have personal values that align with those of the company. For example, if you’re an organic baby food company and your potential employee is a health conscious mom.
  • An intrinsically motivated person will not seek personal reward or validation as a primary focus. In the interview, for example, the questions will fall more around the actual work and how that is connected to what they are personally passionate about.

4. Self-awareness

Self-aware employees will be the first to tell you when a task is not well-suited to them. Not that they aren’t willing to give it a try, but they can tell you that it might take them a little longer or they’ll need support.

They know what they’re great at, how they best work, and what they need to be set up for success. And, as a sub-point, to this trait – they have confidence that while they aren’t good at everything, their strengths can play an important role that complements others on the team.

How does this show up in a job interview?

  • They’ll likely admit their non-strengths and look for others to work with who have complementary strengths.
  • When asked about areas they might like to improve on, the list is succinct and within the realm of their strengths – they’re not trying to be everything to everyone.
  • They’re also interviewing you. If they have self-awareness, they’ll be asking questions to make sure the job is also a good fit for them. They won’t be interested in wasting time in the wrong position.

5. Diplomatic bravery

Rockstar employees are not afraid to speak up, but they do so with thoughtfulness and taking their audience into consideration. They know when to address an issue and how to do with it the outcome in mind as opposed to expressing themselves for the sake of expression or simply to vent emotion.

Because of this, conflict is no problem — they can navigate it with a rational and thoughtful approach. They see conflict around ideas as a necessary step in resolution and they value differing perspectives as a way to arrive at the most well-rounded decision or outcome.

To spot this in an employee or potential employee look for:

  • An example of a time when they had to assert a viewpoint and consider multiple perspectives without ruffling feathers.
  • They use inclusive and neutral language when telling stories. Again, do they use “we” to describe their team and do they describe all sides of the issue calmly.
  • A preference to listen as opposed to being right

6. Popularity

Ok, that term does remind me of highschool but there’s no question that when someone is popular, it means that they’ve been successful at navigating the myriad social hoops and thus people respect them, like them, and will be happy working with them.

Look for:

  • An ease when discussing past employers, perhaps even a hint of a friendship or mutual respect – a willingness to hand over contact details to former employers.
  • In an interview situation, ask the person who greeted them their first impressions. Or, the person who scheduled the interview. Were they friendly and engaging to everyone they crossed paths with in the organization?

Coach’s Question: How can you foster more of these rockstar traits in your current staff? How can you start implementing some of our suggestions in your hiring process?

5 EASY ways to boost employee morale

It’s hard to keep a constant eye on employee morale when you’re juggling a million other things that are seemingly more important.

But, we all know that our staff ARE our businesses. They can make or break us and when they feel valued and supported, they can move mountains on our behalf.

There are entire departments dedicated to keeping people happy and healthy at work. This blog post could be a full-length novel on the merits of employee engagement, satisfaction, and well-being. But, what I want to do, instead, is give you a few small, actionable, things you can today to boost employee morale.

1. Roll up your sleeves

Show your team that you’re there with them – and that if something needs to be done – you’re not above jumping in and helping out when needed.

Use open-ended questions to show your support and to find out where your help might be most appreciated. Say, for example, there’s a member of your team that has a big report coming up. You could try, “I know you’ve got that big report for the CEO due on Friday. What can I/we do to help you meet that deadline?”

And if you’re asked for help, roll your sleeves up and get to work.

Obviously, that can’t happen all the time, but the occasional check-in and offer can go a LONG way.

Participate in the things that keep the office running smoothly – show them that you’re all in this together and you’re just as much a part of the team as anyone else (and mean it).

2. Give props

EVERYBODY needs encouragement. Absolutely everybody. Even me.  Even you.

The smallest of compliments can make somebody’s day. It’s amazing that we don’t do more of this on the whole. Encouragement leads to happiness and job satisfaction.

Not to get all sciency on you but, a study by the University of Warwick reported a 12% increase in productivity in happy employees – 12%!!

How often have you thought of a compliment in your head about someone but not bothered to say it out loud? Remember how good it feels when someone recognizes something you’ve done. Pay it forward as often as you can.  And don’t forget to try your best to deliver it in a way you think they will appreciate.

3. Provide context

If you’re the “boss” then maybe you really don’t have to answer to anyone. As far as your staff is concerned, you might feel you don’t have to explain yourself. (I would argue that’s a big mistake, but maybe that’s the subject of a different post).

Or, maybe you’re caught in the middle – you have staff, but you also answer to someone above you who isn’t always clear themselves.

Either way, what I’m getting at is your staff shouldn’t be the last to know of big company-wide changes. They shouldn’t be shocked by communication “coming down the pipe”.

But, say you do find yourself in a position where you can now share some previously confidential information to the whole organization, or you find out from your own boss there is something happening that you didn’t previously know about.  Providing context for the staff is crucial to keeping up morale.

Context means explaining the “why,” putting things in the bigger picture to help them make a bit more sense, acknowledging your own questions when you still have some — and committing to getting answers for yourself and for them. Not providing context to your team is the business equivalent of “Because, I said so!”.

4. Engagement

Recently we talked about how involving staff in decisions is an art and a necessary skill for senior leaders. When staff feel like they are involved in decisions, they are more engaged — which fosters employee satisfaction, team cohesiveness, and productivity.

This doesn’t mean deferring to your team for any and all decisions, it means listening, gathering as much information as you can in the time available, and engaging staff in important decisions.

Ask them what they think and listen to the answer. You never know when another person’s perspective can make you aware of your own blind spot. This isn’t engagement for the sake of engagement – it’s engagement with the awareness that you might learn something extremely valuable. And the beauty of it is, that boosts morale.

5. Be more human

I get it – the fine line between being respected and authoritative but approachable and likeable is a tough line to walk.

But, being yourself can be refreshing. Admit mistakes. Come by your shortfalls honestly. Talk about things you’re working on personally and professionally. You don’t have to share all your deepest secrets but let people see the self-awareness you have and the efforts you make to improve.  When staff feel like they can relate to you and that you are working on things, just like they are, it can boost morale and model the behaviour you want in your workplace culture.

Coach’s Question

What can you do today to boost employee morale? Who would you say feels most overlooked from your morale boosting? Who would most benefit from one of the above ideas?  What’s stopping you?

4 practical tips to mindful leadership

Mindfulness seems a little intangible – immeasurable even.

It isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind in leadership circles and it is often an afterthought in workshops and continuing education events.

But, that’s changing.

Leadership and mindfulness actually go hand-in-hand and more and more organizations are embracing the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into their leadership practices.

Wait, what is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

It’s the learned ability to focus 100% on what is happening in the present moment and choosing to apply all of your attention on a particular thing or person.

It’s conscious and focused attention. It’s being present. It’s channeled intention. And, it’s something that I highly encourage you to get behind.

How does that apply to leadership?

It’s easy to see myriad ripple effects within an organization with leaders who embrace mindfulness. Not only does practicing mindfulness lower stress and improve our ability to focus and manage our time, it shifts neurological patterns in our brains that can impact overall health and wellness.

The culture of multitasking and juggling all the balls in the air all the time is slowly becoming a thing of the past and for good reason. Multitasking is simply divided attention – the exact opposite of mindfulness and it’s no longer serving us. I’d argue it never was but we’re just now realizing it. We have enough demands on our time and attention. Applying mindfulness at work (and other areas of our life) is a relief from the chaos of the blinking and beeping of notifications that beg for our attention.

Mindfulness also fosters self-awareness and leaders who are self-aware are able to clearly see their role, their strengths, and how to best apply themselves to serve their team and their organization.

Mindful leadership is a way to take care of yourself and your team at the same time.

Four ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day:

If you’re not used to practicing mindfulness, there are some excellent tools and techniques that you can use to get started and gradually build your capacity as you find (or make) space.

1. Headspace and mini-meditations

Yes, the Headspace interface is a little bit, well, um, cute. But, I assure you – it’s very effective. I’ve been using it and loving it.

You can download the app onto your smartphone and you’re given 10 days of 10-minute guided meditation for beginners. Over the 10 days, you practice being completely present and it guides you, in stages, to increase the amount of time you spend with focused attention. I continue to be completely surprised at how effective that 10-minute investment is in turning my day around.

2. Body scans

Our days get away on us. Phone calls, emails, and meetings can completely take over and before you know it, it’s 4pm and you’ve barely looked up.

Set a reminder on your phone for a few times a day to stop what you’re doing and move your attention from the top of your head to your toes, one bit at a time.

This can take two minutes or ten minutes (or as long as you’d like, really) and will quickly bring you into the present moment. Notice how you’re feeling. Part of practising mindfulness is recognizing how you’re feeling and how things are affecting you — recognizing the often unconscious reactions we have.

I know you may be thinking that it’s hokey, maybe a bit hippy-ish, but what can I tell you — it works.

3. Deep breathing

Do you always take the same route from your car to your office door? Or walk by the same bookshelf a few times a day? Make a mental association between a physical thing that repeats throughout your day and mindfulness. Every time you see that thing, take three big deep breaths. Check in with yourself and notice what’s around you.

4. Predetermined phrases

I had to resist using the word mantra but, yah, that’s what I’m talking about. Do you have negative thoughts or limiting beliefs that auto-play in your mind when you’re not paying attention?

Take a day to simply observe which thoughts repeat.

What is your self-talk? Do you criticize yourself? Do you use harsh, judgemental words? Do you presume you won’t be good at things?

Once you’ve identified one or two thoughts where you are negative, choose an opposite statement that you can repeat to yourself whenever you catch yourself on auto-play.

Instead of thinking, “oh, that was stupid,” when you forget something or you make a mistake see if you can get yourself in the habit of thinking “oops, that was a mistake — good lesson learned for next time.”  This simple mindful practice does two things: it keeps you present in the moment because you’re aware of what you are thinking and it disrupts negative patterns at the same time.

Coach’s Questions: Where or when would you like to be more present in your day?  Where would being more positive boost not only the moment but the rest of your day?  What are you committing to do, today, to accomplish that?