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Lightbulbs Versus Mandates; Level Up Leadership; Defining the Qualities of Leadership; How to be Great at Work

Lightbulbs versus mandates – as a leader, how many times have you unintentionally wasted your employees’ time with unnecessary work or a throwaway comment? Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s ‘blueberry muffin’ story highlights a simple case that I’m sure we’ve all seen… and probably done ourselves.

The story goes that a CEO made an offhand comment about not seeing blueberry muffins at his meeting (even though he didn’t particularly like them) – then later discovered that due to his casual remark, employees made sure there were always blueberry muffins at his meetings.

It’s a great metaphor for the amount of employee time unwittingly wasted when leaders do not pick up that their team is dropping everything to cater for their boss. It’s a response that benefits no-one. You need clarity on whether your words become action needlessly. To make the distinction between things that we’re just thinking about, versus things we’re directing, the CEO of NASDAQ, Adena Friedman, has called them ‘lightbulbs’ and ‘mandates’. Now her team is clear when she is putting up something for discussion versus giving a directive.

Are you wasting time for your team? How do they know when you’re directing or discussing?

Read the article here.

Level Up Leadership – something to watch as we grow our business and scale our leaders is the need to move thinking to another level. It’s common for new leaders to stay tactical – ‘down in the weeds’ and in a familiar place – and not make the jump to strategic thinking. We need to encourage new leaders to show courage and embrace the additional responsibility invested in them, exploring new skills and challenges. Here are three ways for new leaders to assess if they are sabotaging their own leadership potential.

  • You set tasks, not direction. If a team member has a question, resist the urge to answer it directly or immediately. Instead, lead with curiosity by asking them questions.
  • You say yes to everything. Consider the decisions you made this week or last week and count how many of those decisions could have been made by somebody one, two or even three levels below you. Then, ask yourself why you made them.
  • You do not question. Forbes has two pieces of advice here. First, always question why. Don’t assume that a current process or stasis is right just because it’s a habit. Second, everybody brings a different perspective based on their own background, biases and business function. Some people value sales or finance while others focus on operations, human capital or the customer. Getting clarity now will save you a whole lot of chaos later.

To help cement transitions, I also suggest working with new leaders to set their priorities, agree measures that reflect their more senior role and hold 1:1 coaching each month to help them stay on track. These tactics build focus on the new role and help prevent a drift back to the old and familiar.

How are you helping your new leaders to level up?

Read the complete article here.

Defining the qualities of leadership – look around at the leaders you admire in your world – and those from history – and consider what it is they have in common. What are their defining qualities? Above all, you’ll see it is the ability to get things done. It’s political competency, the ability to drive action in an organisation.

Consider these four things that great leaders do when successfully executing their ideas.

  • They anticipate where others are coming from. Great leaders have considered the position of the other party or parties. Will they be resistant? Can that resistance be tempered?
  • They mobilise coalitions. No leader has pushed an idea over the finish line on his or her own strength.
  • They negotiate the buy-in for their ideas. Great leaders not only convince others to join them, but give others a reason for joining them, and sometimes that means modifying their ideas to satisfy the concerns of others.
  • They sustain momentum. Great leaders maintain interest in their ideas and continue to excite others. It’s about regular, clear, consistent communication.

How can you cultivate political competency in yourself? What about in those whom you coach?

You’ll find the full article here.

How to be great at work – with Morten Hansen keynoting our next Scaling Up Summit in Denver this October, I’ve enjoyed reading his latest book, Great At Work. Morten has spent five years assessing how top performers do less, work smarter and achieve more.

Driven by his observation of the many thousands of people who are unhappy in the workplace, Morten conducted his own empirically based study into how people can feel better (and perform better) at work and generally enjoy life more. He calls his discovery the Seven Work Smarter Practices, which can apply to all of us.

Here are a handful of things that I found useful:

  • Focus – only 16% of us bring strong focus to our work (a combination of priority selection and then obsessing on those few priorities)
  • Reduce clutter – ‘Doing more’ comes with two traps: we get spread too thin, so attention is inadequate; and 65% of survey respondents said organisational complexity created extra work
  • Wield the razor – be clear on what must be stopped to excel on the valuable few
    Redesign work to create value (i.e. tangible benefit to others), not just outputs
  • Build a learning loop – we need to trial, measure, review, tweak and iterate within our daily work.

Plenty more gold in Morten’s book, which I heartily recommend for your reading list. Meanwhile, though, how could you implement a couple of the ideas above to help your team be greater at work?

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