Coaching Session 9

Today’s audio is 14:00 long.

speed bump sign
Do you wear a sign warning your employees?

Are You Enabling Performance Or Inhibiting It?

Don’t be offended, but by now it’s highly likely (if I’m working with your team) that I’ve asked them a very pointed question:

Is your boss (YOU) enabling your performance or inhibiting it?”

It’s likely that I didn’t get a straight answer from everybody. That’s just how things roll. It’s also just as likely that by now I’ve had some very straight answers and great feedback from your people that can really help you.*

* Don’t fret if I’m not working with your direct reports, but it is a high value proposition that affords me some insight to help you. I can easily add this if you’d like to incorporate this component into our work. More importantly, you need to think about today’s coaching session with the understanding of this scope of work. If I’m not working with your team, then you’ll have to work extra hard to examine yourself. If I am working with your team, I’m going to have some good feedback to help you.

Direct reports are sometimes perplexed in answering the question so sometimes I don’t make it quite as black and white. I may ask them, “Is your boss a constraint or not? Just tell me if he makes your job more difficult or not. I’m not asking you to tell me if he makes your job harder or easier. Let’s just start with his ability to be helpful or neutral.”

More often than not, direct reports start talking in general terms, trying to be politically correct. Within minutes though, things begin to pour out. Unplanned. It can’t be helped. The most restrained employees are willing to state their opinions when they know the environment is safe. I work hard to always provide a safe environment.

It All Begins With How You See Yourself

Let me ask you to seriously consider some important questions. Don’t lie to yourself about any of these.

  • What’s your daily major purpose as a leader?
  • How would you best describe your daily work with your direct reports?
  • Why do organizations need leaders?
  • What grade (A through F) would you give yourself as an effective leader?
  • What weaknesses, as a leader, would you most like to fix?

These kinds of questions can either serve as delusions, if we’re unwilling to be honest with ourselves — or they can serve to provide breakthroughs that some leaders never experience! It’s up to you.

There’s no hocus-pocus to any of this. Lots of things contribute to make us the kind of leaders we are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve or overcome our hurdles.

  • How our parents raised us
  • Our personality
  • Our communication style
  • What we learned from our worst bosses
  • What we learned from our best bosses
  • What we learned in how NOT to do things
  • What we learned in how to do things
  • How we view the world and our place in it

How I Define Effective Leadership

Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” 
                                                                                                                                                John C. Maxwell

My all-time favorite idea or definition of leadership is the following quote from Max DePree:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

DePree is the son of the founder of famous Herman Miller office manufacturer. He wrote a seminal book on leadership in 1989 entitled, Leadership Is An Art.

Nice guys don’t finish last. For starters, they finish. For another thing, they win over the long haul.

Many years ago, as I was preparing for a presentation on leadership I remembered reading a story on the pony express years before. It was a story that fit the occasion and it has stuck with me ever since. During early American battlefield conditions, messages had to be couriered by a horseback rider. As you might imagine, sometimes the news was more urgent than not. The rider would be dispatched knowing that he had to get the news to the recipient as quickly as possible.

The rider had to properly lead the horse because — no horse, no delivery of the message.

The rider could take off at full gallop and run the horse as hard as possible, for as long as possible, but if he wasn’t careful…the horse would die leaving him stranded to walk.

Sometimes hard charging leaders do the same thing. Wanting to get fast results, this leader pushes people for all they’re worth. Relentless pursuit without recognition or time for rejuvenation leaves people dying professionally, just like that horse.

To combat the problem, somebody had a bright idea of stationing horses along a route. The rider would then be able to go as fast as possible for a shorter period of time. All he had to worry about was making it to the next horse, then the process would start all over again. Of course, people – YOUR people – aren’t horses. And unlike horses stationed along the course, your people are required to complete the professional journey of getting all their tasks done.

This is the difference between a short-term and long-term view. Great leaders keep the longer term in view while taking care of today’s business. They don’t sacrifice “their horses” leaving themselves stranded in the work…and leaving their horses dead on the trail.

Great leaders lead their people and manage the work. That’s what I want to challenge you to do (or do better)!

The focus word is, SERVE. Your role as a leader is to SERVE your direct reports. But what does that mean?

It means ENABLING your people to higher performance.  

It doesn’t mean:

  • Being their best friends at work
  • Lowering your expectations
  • Softening accountability
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Lowering your non-negotiable standards
  • Always taking it easy (whatever you think “easy” means)

It does mean:

  • Giving your people the support they need to perform at their highest level
  • Giving them high, but realistic expectations
  • Elevating accountability and making sure there are limited excuses
  • Facing conflict quickly and effectively
  • Embracing difficult conversations knowing that candid talk fosters higher productivity
  • Raising your non-negotiable standards
  • Knowing when to use the stick and when to use the carrot

In short, it takes a lot of work to be a great leader. It takes far less work to be poor. Just yell, holler and stay worked up and you’ll soon be part of the herd of ineffective leaders. But, devote yourself to your people, making sure you remove the constraints that prevent them from higher performance and you’ll quickly learn it can be exhausting, but THE MOST REWARDING WORK YOU’VE EVER DONE.

This is where a majority of our work together will take place — in helping you become a more effective leader. The reason is simple, it’s the area where professional performance is most enhanced. Or not.

Besides, the benefits are too broad to ignore.

  1. Your team’s results will be better.
  2. Your team’s morale will be higher.
  3. Your team’s performance will increase and become more consistent.
  4. Your people will develop further, faster.
  5. You’ll have more time to invest in developing, training and supporting your team.

Okay, hopefully I’ve armed you with some ideas that you’ll foster for awhile. Let these things roll around in your mind and germinate. They’re very important, but if you don’t embrace them they’ll have no affect. It’s critical for you to give serious thought to how you lead and how you want to lead because we’re going to sit down and dive more deeply into what you can do to be more effective as a leader. My goal for you is simple (and it’s a goal I hope you have for yourself)…to be the driving force enabling your team to achieve things they could never achieve without your leadership.

Overcoming Business Constraints

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