Tuesday, December 16, 2008

24 Lessons in High Performance Leadership

Lesson Ten
Build a High Performance Team

While out on the beach, I laid out a plan. After listing the people in order by respect, I drew two columns.

The first column was labeled, Weaknesses. This column can get very long, very quickly because we notice weaknesses first and then tend to concentrate on them. You might ask, "Why write down all those negative things?" This list will become a map through the minefield.

I labeled other column Strengths. Then I stared at the blank column: it was as though I had writer’s block. Perhaps I hated to admit this person had any strengths. But she was the most respected person in the office: she had to have strengths. I forced myself to concentrate on her strengths: mathematical ability, loyalty to the company, a good sense of humor, an appreciation for the finer things in life, and so on.

Things I wouldn’t have necessarily associated with strengths on the job began to add up. I began to realize the things that made a person strong as a whole were strengths he or she could apply on the job. My focus then shifted from the long list of weaknesses to the long list of strengths just beside it within each person. The old dog was learning a new trick.

Once I realized how many strengths this woman had, strengths that weren’t being recognized or put to use in our organization, I was bursting with enthusiasm to talk to her strengths the next time I had the chance. She immediately noticed I was enthusiastic about her potential. I reflected back to her the things she felt were important and valuable. What she thought and felt became my priorities; I would no longer impose my priorities.

We can transplant hearts and other vital organs from one person to another, but we can’t transplant strengths. Managers try every day––and the operations have never been successful. Our job, therefore, is to be a catalyst between their strengths and the way we'd like to see the job done. You’ll keep adding to both lists over time.

Do not leave these lists around the office. This is an exercise for you alone. Keep your lists at home. Each evening, take a few minutes to pick a couple of team members from your chart to connect with individually the next day in a coaching session. Select one or two strengths from each person’s lists that you help them to use more in some part of their jobs.

Here are some ways to get started:

Begin with the most respected member of your team: This person is the most influential.

Make two lists for each person: Put weaknesses in one column and strengths in the other. The second list will be more difficult because of the long-term propensity to focus on weaknesses.

Lay out a coaching strategy for each person: Based the plan on your awareness of his or her weaknesses, but emphasize strengths.

"Be aware of their weaknesses, but talk to their strengths."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

24 Lessons in High Performance Leadership

Lesson Nine

Put the Chips Back In Place

When my boss announced that he was searching for my replacement, I did what any sane and logical manager would have done: I went to the beach. My salespeople needed some breathing space, as much as I needed to be alone with my thoughts, the waves, the sand, and a legal pad of paper. That's where I realized that there was a barrier or fence in my organization, with my people on one side and me on the other. And the fence looked different depending on which side you were on. With this revelation came my first major team-building technique.

Only one factor united all of the people on the other side of the fence: they all hated me. That bond wasn’t healthy, but it was strong. I needed to end our segregation.

I could have invoked the power of my position and ordered my people to come over to my side of the fence. But, I knew that authority doesn't produce real cooperation.

Another option was to crawl over to their side of the fence and try to recreate the wonderful camaraderie we had when I came on board as the new salesperson. But that wouldn’t be leadership either.

Then I realized that I couldn’t win over all of my people at one time. At best, I was going to earn their trust one by one. My first thought was to go after the highest producer in the office. But something told me that could foster jealousy among the other team members. The situation could become even more divisive. I needed to win over someone to whom the others would listen.

It dawned on me that the most influential member of the team was not necessarily the superstar but the person whom the others respected the most. Using this new criterion, I rated my team members, from the most respected on down the line. I was incorporating the values of my people into my thinking. The ratings I used were theirs, not mine.

Then, I went to work on the number one most respected person on my list. Before long, that person was actually saying some decent things about me. Why? Because that person was beginning to truly feel that I was open and receptive to the team’s way of thinking. Soon, number two on my list headed for my side of the fence. Then came number three, four, and so on. Once I’d won over about a third of the people, the most respected third, others started heading my way from the far side of the fence. Your people vote every day to decide which side of the fence to be on.

Here's how to get started on the fence technique:

Determine which of your team members is the most respected.

Identify which qualities make this person so trusted.

Rank your team members in order of peer respect: Keep the list for your eyes only.

"Determination makes failure impossible."