Be a Leader Worth Following

Nothing like a little healthy discussion about leadership on #Tchat last week. Of course, there are plenty of leaders out there providing their advice on how to be an effective leader, but I don’t think leader-to-leader advice is the best way to consider all angles. In this chat, we were able to get some employee/follower insights about what we would want out of our leaders. It was very interesting to get their responses and discover the attributes that they value in a leader and also what they think needs some improvement.

Are you missing the mark?

  • Stop walking too far ahead: of course, a leader’s main objective is to pave the way for the future. But are they pushing through the obstacles and trudging ahead without a glance backwards? It’s important to provide direction to your people but you need to also be involved in the group, otherwise you’ll never know if you’re being as effective as you could be.
  • You can dish it out, but you can’t take it: a big thing that is valued in the world of work is continuous feedback. But it shouldn’t only be one-way. Sometimes people need to be led differently. A leader will never know the greatest way to lead his/her people to the best of their abilities if they don’t open up to two-way communication and feedback.
  • No one’s perfect and you’re not an exception: the quickest way a leader can lose faith from their followers/employees is to act like they know everything. We don’t want to hear, “It’s my way and that’s final” or “This is how it’s always been done and we’re sticking to that.” Things in business change pretty quickly and so should you. We will respect leaders who are open to continuous learning even if they experience some failure along the way. Why would anyone want to follow someone who seems to be out of touch with the current state of things?
  • Are you using the tools forced upon us: companies are adopting all sorts of new procedures or technology to help collaborative efforts. Additionally, these things are supposed to help with communication. But what good is it if the people that can make a change (cough, leaders) don’t actually utilize these things? So, basically, we’re wasting our time going through these motions without being heard.

We’re not out there pointing fingers at leaders and telling them they’re at fault for something. Honestly, we just really all want to work together in the best way that we can, which will take equal effort on both our parts. Sure, things can get messy and sometimes our attempts won’t always pan out. But even if that’s the case, are you still a leader worth following?

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Are you a Leader of Collaboration?

In last week’s #Tchat, we discussed the different between collaboration and polarization and the ways it was used in the workplace. Many contributors gave great examples of situations they’ve come across, their understanding of the two, and the reasons why they feel that an organization promotes one or the other. So, as usual, I’ll spend today’s blog post sharing all the input that this great community had offered through the hour long chat.

First off, let’s discuss the difference between the two. Collaboration is often considered the “coming together” of people and ideas to achieve a specific goal or purpose. It can easily be described as teamwork. Polarization is when individuals work individually towards a goal and/or do not share in the teamwork.

With the world moving so quickly, it would seem as if though a collaborative approach would be best for business. Having diverse thinking and additional teamwork can ensure that projects and goals are efficiently completed. Additionally, this can avoid groupthink or stale ideas, among other benefits. But why does collaboration seem to be a struggle within the workplace? How can we create a culture of collaboration? Leaders: it’s time for you to step up and start encouraging it.

Some ideas:

  • Follow the leader: as a leader, all eyes seem to be on you. This would be a perfect time for you to encourage collaboration by actually participating in collaboration meetings and situations yourself. Be transparent about it. Show your team that much can be done if you take the time to work with others. At the end, give them the results and tell them that it was accomplished because each member of the group played a crucial part.
  • Participate: take the time to make your rounds and participate in some of the meetings and groups that your workers are involved in, even if it’s only for a few minutes once in a while. Ask questions; learn about which each member is contributing; and give feedback.
  • Create a connection: I know sometimes it can be hard for a leader to know everything about their employees and their unhidden talent/potential. However, if you can have their department managers take the time to learn these things; it can open up opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, have department heads meet with each other to discuss projects or needs going on within each department. Allow the managers to inform the other dept. heads about their employees that might have a skill that can be useful for their needs.
  • Welcome in the devil’s advocate: as mentioned earlier, it’s important to have diverse thinking within a group to ensure that there isn’t any groupthink. Having an alternative perspective or opinion can help others in the group consider additional options or review the situation from all angles. However, make sure your devil’s advocate presents these thoughts in a constructive way rather than a way that will put everyone on the defense.
  • Review your policies: technology has been a great tool to have within the organization but many companies have policies in place that make employees fear using it. Are your policies discouraging employees to utilize it to their best potential? If so, take time to review and revise the policies. If that’s not a feasible option, then take time to clarify any part of the policy so employees feel more comfortable using the technology for communication and collaboration.

Polarization may have occurred when the economy took a turn for the worst. People felt the need to keep their cards close to heart and protect their jobs by having an “every man for themselves” mentality. They may have felt that showing their employer that their sole efforts were directly correlated to an end result can give them a sense of job security. Also, with limited job openings in organizations, workers may have felt the competitive pressure to stand out against other employees for a promotion. All of these situations are understandable but it’s not doing your business any good if you allow that to be the norm. As a leader, make it your effort to create a collaborative culture.

If you enjoy topics like this, be sure to check out #tchat on Twitter- Wednesdays at 7pm EST.

More Links:

Smart Leaders Collaborate

Collaboration Mojo Meets Basic Instinct: #Tchat Recap

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Leaders: Find the Connection

Today’s post might be a little more about opinion than it is facts- and that’s completely fine with me because sometimes we need a little thought provoking blog post to get us all thinking. As I thought about some of the best and worst leaders I’ve dealt with over the years, I considered some of the qualities I appreciated in the leaders I truly felt strongly for. There are a few people in my life that had made me believe in them and their goals. Call me a skeptic- but this is something that’s hard to accomplish with me. And I’m sure many of you have dealt with the ups and downs caused by the economy, so there are probably plenty of you out there that are feeling the same way. So what qualities of a leader made you not have your doubts about them?

For me, it’s all about a leader that can take the time to find the connection. In my crazy and idealistic mind, I truly believe that everyone has something to relate to with someone else. Tiny things or “Hey! We’re practically twins!” things are what can really help build a relationship between others. Sometimes, leaders almost seem unattainable because of their status or how busy their schedules are that many of us never really get to know our leaders for who they are and they don’t get to know us, either. So how can we put our faith in our leaders if we feel like we’re following blindly? Will this person lead us over a cliff? And how can leaders expect to gain the allegiance of their followers if they don’t even know what their followers value?

Ok, I get it- leaders are busy but that’s no excuse for them not to make a periodic presence to help build a connection. Whether you are running a 2 person start up or a Fortune sized company, you need to make the effort. Relate to people, find the connection, and make them feel like “my leader really gets me.” I don’t care if it’s every day, once a month, or once a quarter- you need to make that effort. Unfortunately, over the last few years, the changes in the workforce have weakened loyalty among employers/employees. If the loyalty and devotion isn’t there, then how can you expect to get the best out of your workforce? Are they 100% in or are they 50% in and 50% securing other options if things go sour?

The best leaders are the ones that get involved. They’re not always the singer on the stage in front of their loving fans. They’re the ones that dive into the crowd and get in the middle of all the action. They take it all in, listen, and emerge themselves in the bigger picture.

Leaders- isn’t it time we did this together?

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Are You Sparking Engagement in the Workplace?

As always, employee engagement is a hot topic in the business world so #TChat decided to tackle this topic in last Wednesday’s chat. In this chat, the contributors and #TChat ambassadors took the time to really consider what engagement is, what sparks engagement, and what differences it would make for employees and the workplace as a whole.

First, what is engagement? Employee engagement is a management concept that believes if an employee is  fully involved in and passionate about their work/job roles, they will contribute in a way that will be in an organization’s best interest. Employees will work hard to help the organization progress and succeed. This engagement is considered to be measurable in a sense that an employee’s attitude and feelings can influence their willingness to learn, grow, and perform in a way that will benefit the organization. In a manager’s eyes, this is a dream come true. However, the reality of the situation is that many employees aren’t as engaged as management would hope. Why is this and how can we change this?

Some #TChat contributors mentioned the following feelings and thoughts about engagement:

  • Failure is ok: Trust in your employees, allow them to fail, and forgive them for their failures. The important thing is to allow then to try something that might be pushing their comfort zone. And most importantly, help them understand and learn from these failures. This can allow them to succeed in the future.
  • Remember “follow the leader”: Management and leaders need to be engaged, also. Employees look up to managers and leaders for guidance, for a connection, and to understand where they stand in the organization. It’s important for managers and leaders to have certain energy to them, display engagement and passion, and try to fuel engagement in employees by example. After all, to an employee, it’s not a good sign if their manager seems disengaged themselves.
  • Be there for your employees: the fastest way to understand what engages your employees is to recognize that each employee is different and require individual needs. Take the time to see how your employee thinks, feels, and processes different situations/information. From there, ask the employee how you can help them. Too often, management/leaders assume that every employee will respond to one course of action meant to engage them. This is not true. Remember that they are individuals and take the time to help them with their individual needs. It will make a difference.
  • Create a connection: stop with the suggestion boxes and anonymous surveys. It’s impersonal and quite honestly, you will never get the in depth information you need to truly understand how to engage your employees. Open up the ability to connect with your employees by having a real conversation with them. Listen, be open, make them feel comfortable, and be willing to get down to the core of the situation. To understand employees’ needs for engagement, you have to communicate. A piece of paper isn’t going to help you get the best response.

What steps are you taking to engage your employees? Do you realize that every one of them may have a different need? If so, what are you doing to ensure that you are taking the time to understand each of their individual needs? How are you helping them get the support they need to reach their highest level of engagement? Think about it.

If you enjoy topics like this, be sure to check out #TChat on Twitter on Wednesday at 7pm EST.

More Links:

#Tchat Recap by Kathleen Kruse

#Tchat insights on Storify

Talent culture

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What Makes a Good Leader?

#TChat once again had a great topic that is hot in business. Tons of people are speculating over what constitutes as good leadership. As we investigated and broke down this topic, we have come to realize that it deals with more than just leadership. In fact, it deals with the leader themselves. In order to live up to the expectations of good leadership, we must dive deeper and understand what characteristics and qualities make an exceptional leader.

The co-author of “The Character-Based Leader- Instigating a Leadership Revolution, One Person at a Time,” Meghan M. Biro, had suggested that great leaders have five core attributes. A leader must display integrity, trustworthiness, emotional intelligence, openness, and motivation. These attributes can play in to the followers’ (or employees’) need to not only have a leader that is transparent, but also one that offers a sense of stability or consistency to their leadership efforts.

The workplace ecosystem is delicate and good or poor leadership can really make an impact on it. In order to maintain a good workplace and ultimately positive work performance, leaders must make the effort to genuinely possess and display the attributes listed above. Employees want to follow a leader that seems to be making strides towards the greater good rather than for their own selfish desires. They want a leader that keeps them in-the-know about things. And most importantly, they want to know that their leaders are human (because let’s face it, we all make mistakes). And if the leader does make a mistake, forecasts incorrectly, or made a misinformed decision- it would be in the leader’s best interest to handle these situations gracefully, professionally, and honestly.

Followers don’t only care about what a leader does, but who the leader is. Considering a leader’s character is highly regarded and leaders should ensure that having these attributes should be high on their priority list. Good leadership can increase employee engagement, morale, and company/employer branding. Essentially, being a leader with good character can majorly benefit a business.

If you liked topics like this, be sure to join #TChat on Twitter on Wednesdays at 7pm EST.

More relevant links:

#TChat Recap

The Character Based Leader

Are You a Character Based Leader?

Talent Culture 

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Is Workplace Bullying Affecting your Performance?

Today’s topic references a discussion that I had posted to the LinkedIn:HR group a few months ago. The discussion asked HR professionals and employees to contribute stories of workplace bullying and also offer suggestions on how they have or would have handled it. The amount of feedback I’ve received is astounding and made me feel that it is a good subject to bring to light. This was especially true when I learned that some employees kept quiet about hostile situations that they were in. I originally chose HR as a degree because I wanted to be able to protect my employees. Hopefully, this information can bring a sense of awareness to victimized employees and help them learn what they can do to remedy this scenario.

First, I’m going to start this off with an example of workplace bullying that happened to a friend. I felt this was appropriate because a decent amount of individuals had similar stories:

My friend, Anna*, was recently working for a well known employer that had a great reputation. However, there was poor management at this particular branch. Over a course of a year, Anna would come to me extremely upset about things her manager had said to her. These things would range from criticizing her looks, talking down to her, inappropriately yelling at her (even outside of the office), and making offensive comments about her competency. I’ve worked with Anna before, so I was well aware that she was a respectable employee, a fast learner, and a self-starter. I urged Anna to talk to the Human Resources department about the hostile work environment, but she brushed it off saying she was being an emotional woman and didn’t want to rock the boat for no reason.

Within the first few months of her employment there, I started to see the bullying take a toll on her work performance and her personal life. These negative effects are also common in most cases of bullying and harassment:

• She had heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
• Insomnia from the stress ended up lowering her immune system, causing her to get sick often.
• She was absent more than normal.
• She lowered her productivity to avoid being publicly criticized in a hostile way.
• Her self-esteem hit an all time low which led to depression.
• Her husband found her to be inconsolable, which caused strain on their relationship.

After a year of this, she finally contacted the human resources department about this situation. She soon found out that several other employees were also being affected by this but were scared of losing their jobs, so they did not speak up. The HR professional stressed that Anna should have come to him sooner because they take this very seriously. Although the problem was taken care of soon after, the damage was already done. Anna and several other employees promptly left the company because they did not believe that the solution to fix the hostility issue would be permanent and did not want to deal with it if it wasn’t.

Anna’s case seemed to be very common. However, individuals also informed me of extreme cases in which the bullying led to depression that sometimes resulted in suicide. Besides the frequent or extreme cases of workplace bullying, there are also more subtle circumstances. Some examples of these are: constant criticism; regular referencing of an employee’s mistakes (especially in front of others, causing embarrassment); gossip; and even isolation.

Another important fact to keep in mind: workplace bullying also affects other employees besides the targeted individual. Because of this, workplace morale can be lowered by each situation co-workers witness. Lower morale can hinder productivity from these employees. If it isn’t handled, this can also lead to lack of trust in higher level of management. Employees could feel like their well-being is threatened. These feelings could result in high turnover.

Different HR professionals informed me of multiple ways they bring awareness to workplace bullying:

• Training for all levels employees on the subject.
• An online class that ends with a test to determine how well the employees understand.
• Emphasis on a bullying policy that is separate from their harassment policy.
• Partnership with an anonymous hot-line in which employees could call if they don’t feel comfortable directly speaking to a manager.

Employees must realize that if a manager isn’t stepping in to resolve this, it may be because they aren’t aware that it’s occurring. If you are an employee and feel like you are being bullied, be sure to keep a record of the incidences and speak to your manager or HR department as soon as possible. Your mental, physical, and emotional well-being is important. I am confident that your employer would want to keep you as healthy and happy as possible.

*Name changed for privacy.

Links with additional information on the topic:
Bullying Statistics
Forbes- 10 Signs You’re Being Bullied at Work
Forbes- Examples of Workplace Bullying

What Employees Really Want from Their Leaders

I noticed that employee engagement and motivation issues have been trending a lot in posts found on my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. Therefore, I felt that this was a perfect topic to end the workweek with. A few months ago, I had posted a discussion question on the LinkedIn:HR group asking my HR peers to tell me what qualities made a good leader. Not only did they give me some fantastic feedback, but employees also spoke up and let me know what they wanted from their leaders. I thought that sharing this with all of you could potentially spark ideas on how to fix some of your companies’ motivation problems and maybe help find a way to make the workplace better as a whole.

As always, when I think of good leadership, I recall my time working as a customer service representative with CreateSpace (an Amazon.com company). The team leads and office manager were simply amazing and I couldn’t help but respect their leadership skills. Melissa Woodrow, one of the team leads of that department, was kind enough to give me some insight on what qualities made her to be the phenomenal leader that she is today.

“I have been a Lead for quite a while (over 4 years) at a great company. I believe leadership has a lot to do with your personality rather than being taught. Sure, you can ‘learn’ how to handle difficult situations with employees. You can ‘learn’ how to coach employees. But you can’t really fake empathy. And the bottom line is: if you don’t care, employees won’t care for you,” she stated.

Comparing the statement she gave against the comments employees had given me, I’d have to say that they are well aligned. A large portion of employees had said that they wanted a leader to be more personal with them and show that they listened and cared. “The most important thing is earning trust in others. That’s where it all starts. Listen. Show good judgment. Be interested in what they are doing. Have fun,” Woodrow added. Along those lines; Jimmy Ruane, an individual who has grown up in a military family, said he has met some of the most admirable leaders over the years. He informed me that the best leadership quality he has seen was a leader who always puts his people first.

One comment I made in my discussion post had a lot of others chiming in with their whole-hearted agreement. I had declared that a good leader is someone that wants you to do better than they had and wants you to do the things they never could. Too often, especially in this economy, leaders fear their job security by letting other’s outshine them. Other leaders simply let their egos get in the way of mentoring their employees to reach their highest potential. In these situations, it’s no wonder why employees lose motivation. Most employees want to grow in some way or another so if you don’t foster that desire they’ll eventually look for other ways to do so, even to the point of leaving your company.

If you want to be a good leader and want your employees to be more committed, then you need to be invested in them. Jim Sweeney, an employee of Amazon.com, had told me that he feels a sense of loyalty to his company due to the fact that his leader (his department manager) invested in his future. He recently started to go back to school to obtain a Bachelor’s in Computer Science in hopes to pursue a career in Software Development. His leader had already taken time to know this and sincerely thought about how to help. Soon after, she told him she was setting up time each week for him to be mentored by someone in the SD/IT department.

“She (his manager) really showed me that she cared about my professional growth and, in turn, made me want to grow with Amazon. It just validated my feelings about committing to this company long-term,” Sweeney said. That is quite a statement coming from a Gen Yer, a generation that is notoriously known for job hopping every couple years.

Leadership style is also something to consider. Human resources professionals had told me that some of their better leaders had been using the participative leadership style. This style includes the employees in information, brainstorming, and discussion. Employees responded well to this type of style because they felt like their opinions were heard and that they truly were contributing something. Also, this allowed employees to feel more accountable in the success of the company.

Leaders, it’s not always about leading the pack and expecting them to follow. Sometimes you need to be a part of the pack to really understand what they want and need from you. Once you successfully implement that into your leadership strategy, you’ll find that your employees will follow without hesitation.

Links, People, and Companies to follow:
The Right Kind of Employee

Jim Sweeney, Amazon.com employee

CreateSpace

Amazon.com

LinkedIn

A special thanks to my brother/Marketing Extraordinaire, Jeff Perez, for teaching me how to use HTML properly 🙂