Status-Quo – How to Keep it from Holding You Back
Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Status-Quo – How to Keep it from Holding You Back

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I’ve fought against those words for most of my career.  As leaders we often want to improve our teams and keep them from being held back by outdated practices. I know how it feels to come up against the resistance from others when we see better ways of accomplishing our mission. When we challenge the status-quo, it’s usually because we want to make things better for our team, not worse. If this is really our primary interest in making a change, then it’s helpful for us to understand what causes this resistance and makes the status-quo so powerful.

Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately  lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Questions for Challenging the Status-Quo

  • “What if?” helps us to think about outcomes that might be better than the current outcomes
  • “Why?” helps us to identify challenges we may face as we try to bring about change 
  • “Who? Where? When? How?” help us put together details that will make the change a reality

It’s possible to answer these questions and decide that no changes to the status-quo are necessary at this time. Also, we could decide that the solution will create so much dissatisfaction that an alternate solution might be better. Change for the sake of change has destroyed many teams even though the intentions behind it were initially very good.

The take-home lesson today is that even though change is difficult for many people, as leaders, we can’t be afraid to challenge long-held ideas or practices that no longer serve our mission. We must approach change in a thoughtful and empathetic way to get the improvement we are looking for.

This week we're going to shift the focus to a way that we can act courageously to complement the mindset we've started to develop. Avoiding groupthink is a problem that every team faces and it takes courageous leaders and followers to point out when it occurs and correct it.

Avoiding Groupthink – Video Guide

I hope everyone had a peaceful Memorial Day weekend and got to spend time with family and friends as we all remember the sacrifices that great men and women made in service of our nation. We’re wrapping up our month discussing topics about being courageous leaders. So far we’ve mostly talked about how to get in a healthy frame of mind to help us act courageously so that we can solve problems and make decisions courageously. This week we’re going to shift the focus to a way that we can act courageously to complement the mindset we’ve started to develop. Avoiding groupthink is a problem that every team faces and it takes courageous leaders and followers to point out when it occurs and correct it.

Groupthink occurs when members of the team are afraid to speak up or hold back information that is critical to the discussion because there may be social consequences for speaking out against the group. It can be very challenging for many people to contradict a position that the group has arrived at, especially if we are new in the group or we think that what we have to say will be unpopular with the other team members. As leaders, our job is to watch out for groupthink on out teams and cut through it to make sure that we’re getting all of the relevant information to make decisions.

In this week’s video, Jason discusses why avoiding groupthink is important for every team and describes some methods that we can use to recognize and avoid groupthink.

Avoiding Groupthink as Team Members

  • Speak up!
  • Include all relevant information
  • Be respectful of others
  • Employ Intellectual Honesty
  • Encourage others to speak up

Avoiding Groupthink as Leaders

  • Be prepared and research the topic
  • Understand different stakeholder interests
  • Insist that assertions are supported with evidence
  • Ask probing questions
  • Actively solicit information and perspective from quiet individuals
  • Consider the decision carefully before implementing

It’s also true that in many cases a group can reach a decision with a consensus without getting caught up in groupthink. Just because our team might come to an answer quickly and unanimously doesn’t mean that we have encountered a groupthink situation. As leaders, what we really want to ensure is that the group arrived at the result through a rational decision-making process and employed intellectual honesty in coming to a resolution.

Photo Credit: By Shane T. McCoy (U.S. Marshals Office of Public Affairs) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A common misconception is that someone is either a leader or a follower. The reality is that most of us engage in both followership and leadership at the same time. We may lead our team, but have to answer to another leader in our organization. Even CEOs and business owners often have a board or shareholders that they are accountable to. The good news about this dual nature that we find ourselves in is that the qualities that make a good follower are ones that help develop us to become great leaders. Patience, respect and trust are three of these traits.

Followership and Leadership – 3 Traits That Help Us with Both

A common misconception is that someone is either a leader or a follower. The reality is that most of us engage in both followership and leadership at the same time. We may lead our team, but have to answer to another leader in our organization. Even CEOs and business owners often have a board or shareholders that they are accountable to. The good news about this dual nature that we find ourselves in is that the qualities that make a good follower are ones that help develop us to become great leaders. Patience, respect and trust are three of these traits.

Patience in Followership and Leadership

Patience is essential to achieving our goals. While it’s important to hustle and work hard, it’s also important to take some time to see if our actions are having the desired effect. Not all reactions to our actions are immediate and making adjustments to our plans too quickly can have more detrimental effects than staying the course.

As followers, exercising some patience with those who lead us allows them time to be deliberate and think through a problem in their decision-making process. While we may be anxious to start implementing the solution we have proposed to whatever issue is facing our organization, giving our leadership time to thoroughly consider options and impacts on the organization will ultimately result in better solutions. On a more personal note, having patience allows us to appreciate the moments when there isn’t a major intense crisis going on.

Great leaders recognize that being patient allows us to take time to let our initiatives and decisions work before correcting. Often implementing the solution to a problem is like trying to turn a very large ship around. After we start to turn the wheel, it will take some time and distance before we’ll see the ship start to turn. It will turn slowly at first, but eventually we’ll be headed in the direction we want. If we aren’t patient and turn too hard to make the ship turn faster, we will overshoot the course we want to be on and have to correct back to get back on course. Showing patience with the members of our team as they work through problems gives them more opportunities to grow and develop than if we hand them our preferred solution up front.

Respect – A Two-Way Street

Respect is key to building strong professional relationships among teams and between leaders and followers. Without respect, individuals can feel alienated and start to act in their own interests instead of those of the team or accomplishing the mission. When we are a member of a team and a good follower, showing respect for others on the team and our team leader creates an environment where it is safe for individuals to share their ideas and build upon them. Fostering respect on the team ultimately results in optimized processes and operations that help us better achieve our mission. Team leaders are responsible to build this culture of respect by setting the example of respectful behavior. Allowing individuals to present their ideas and be given full consideration goes a long way towards building respect among the team. As leaders, one of the best ways we can foster respect on our team is to provide constructive feedback and insisting the other members of the team do the same, even if the ideas presented are not fully formed or on the mark.

Trust

Much like respect, trust is essential to a team that wants to perform at the highest levels. Having trust in others on our team means letting them engage in their part of the effort without judgment. They may not do the job the way we would do it or as effectively as we think they should, but if the team is meeting the goals and accomplishing the mission, we can trust them to do their part. If we are team leaders and there is a lack of trust on our team, members start to hold back on ideas, engage in private conversations that don’t include all stakeholders and jockey for favor. When the team doesn’t have trust in their leader, individuals may put forth only the bare minimum effort or, in some cases, actively work against the leader or go over their head to higher management. Building trust in our teams involves letting people make mistakes and correct the situation. Leaders will always need to provide corrective feedback and in some cases remove a team member who is not performing, but having trust in our team members when they are making good faith efforts to contribute will build a stronger team that shows initiative and puts in the extra work when it is needed.

Patience, respect and trust are key traits that are needed by both followers and leaders to build successful, high-performing teams. We can actively become better followers and leaders at the same time by consciously exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with all three of these qualities.

Tell us in the comments what other good follower traits help with developing our leadership skills.

Photo Credit: By Thomas Wilson Pratt Slatin, http://www.tomslatin.com/ (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We all know the importance of good followership and showing trust and respect for the leaders who are appointed above us in our organizations. Sometimes we can experience an internal conflict when we disagree with a decision that our boss has made. We want to be good followers and support the decision, but also are concerned that the decision might actually prevent our organization from effectively accomplishing the mission. A tool that we have to deal with this is called the "One Challenge Rule" and it gives us an opportunity to respectfully approach the boss to voice our concerns. Used effectively, the One Challenge Rule lets us demonstrate good followership in a tough situation while still helping us look out for the best interests of our organization.

Good Followership

It’s pretty hard to come up with the name of a leader who started out at the top of their field. Almost everyone that we would consider to be a great leader started at some kind of entry level position and developed their leadership skills and technical expertise in order to gain positions of increasing responsibility. Working for other leaders gives us an opportunity to study leadership and develop our own leadership philosophy and style by observing the way others lead. Exercising good followership in our organizations is just as important to our professional development as looking for opportunities to lead others.

Good Followership and the One Challenge Rule

We all know the importance of good followership and showing trust and respect for the leaders who are appointed above us in our organizations. Sometimes we can experience an internal conflict when we disagree with a decision that our boss has made. We want to be good followers and support the decision, but also are concerned that the decision might actually prevent our organization from effectively accomplishing the mission. A tool that we have to deal with this is called the “One Challenge Rule” and it gives us an opportunity to respectfully approach the boss to voice our concerns. Used effectively, the One Challenge Rule lets us demonstrate good followership in a tough situation while still helping us look out for the best interests of our organization.

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment – Here’s How!

Every boss claims they want innovation, but many don’t live up to the words they preach. For some it may be an aversion to risk, for others it may be out of their comfort zone to make improvements when the status quo is already working. How can we continue to innovate and improve our products and team members’ professional lives when faced with stagnation or resistance? How do we help improve the organization while still being good followers to senior leadership that is reluctant to innovate?

Small Changes/Small Victories

The most effective thing we can do is make small improvements that are within our own authority. Listen to your own team and see what suggestions they have that sound like they will make even minor improvements to effectiveness, productivity or communication. If it’s within your own purview to make the change on your team, go ahead and do it. Set a short fixed timeframe (a week, a month, 3 months) to evaluate it and the next leader in your chain know that you’re doing a trial evaluation of the initiative and you’ll let them know the results when it’s over. If it turns out to be unsuccessful, return to the old way of doing things and call it a learning experience. If it does work, share your results with your peers and other team leads.

Choose your opportunities wisely

There may be times when very senior leaders put out a call for innovative ideas or ask informally how you think the organization should be improved. These can be great opportunities if handled properly, but dangerous traps if they aren’t. Don’t leave your boss out in the cold when these situations arise. By pulling your boss in you can show that you have fresh ideas for the company but also show him and his superiors that you are looking out for all of them and trying to find ways to solve their problems. It can be as simple as telling that senior leader, “I have this great idea about X and my boss and I will get on your calendar to come fill you in on the details when you are available.”

Show the impact!

Showing tangible improvements is the best way to make sure your innovative ideas get adopted across the organization. If you can show a reduced cost, shorter time, or higher performance as a result of your initiative you’ll have strong evidence that you and your team have the organization’s best interest in mind. Being able to use metrics and data helps make your case, but be sure that you’re using the right metrics to show cause and effect. Many people lose credibility by trying to force data to fit their conclusions or apply metrics they don’t really understand to the situation. One of the best questions you can ask yourself before adopting an innovative idea is “How will I know this is successful and how can I measure it?”

These are ways I’ve seen innovation be successfully implemented from the bottom up, but the results may vary in your organization. If you think that these steps might work for you, but you want to talk through your strategy and the personalities involved with someone before taking the big step, feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to discuss and see if we can set you and your boss up for success!

 

Photo Credit: Alexander Blum (www.alexanderblum.de) [Attribution], <a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStau.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Why YOU Should Take On the Tough Projects No One Else Wants!

Every team or organization has some tough projects that no one wants to be in charge of. They may be perceived as a lot of work with little reward, may not be as prestigious as other projects or may be thankless jobs. Maybe a few others have tried to get it done and have failed. If you really want to develop and hone your leadership and team-building skills, you should jump on the next one of these that comes along!

Wait…What? Take on the tough project that everyone is hoping goes to someone else? What if I can’t pull it off? Here’s why you should try to see these challenging projects as an opportunity.

  • You’ll have to convince yourself that the project is worth doing in order to keep your project alive. In order to do this you’ll need to be acutely aware of how your project fits into the big picture for the organization. Understanding your boss’s priorities, concerns and willingness to take risks is a key component of this understanding. Asking yourself the tough questions your boss would ask you before he or she does is a good way to start aligning your project with those priorities and concerns.
  • You’ll have to develop your negotiation skills. If your project is unpopular, you may have to motivate a team that is probably not as invested in the success of the project as you would like. Convincing naysayers that this project is worth the effort for the payoff that it will bring to the organization is always a challenge. Finding a way to stay positive while dealing with others who have a negative mindset is a valuable skill that translates well into future efforts.
  • You’ll have to scramble and bootstrap for resources. Tough, unpopular projects are often tough and unpopular because they come with huge challenges but not enough people or money resources to accomplish them. Finding creative ways to acquire or share resources can provide some initial successes for your project and open the door for resource discussions in the future,
  • You’ll learn how to innovate new solutions to attack a problem. Many tough projects have languished for months or years because other leaders have attempted to solve a unique problem with the same problem solving model the organization has relied on in the past. Applying a different approach to solving the problem could crack the whole thing wide open.
  • You’ll learn to build relationships with the people who really control what is going on in your organization. Every organization has critical people or departments like finance, legal or human resources that can make or break a new initiative. Get to know these people early in your project and what concerns they will have about it. Addressing their needs in a genuine way from the beginning will increase your chances of success with them later on. Having a strong professional relationship will allow you to ask for their help or input when you are stumped on how best to meet their needs.
  • Finally, it will force you to find a way to continue the project in the face of adversity. Overcoming barriers to achieve success is one of the greatest confidence builders you can ever hope to have.

Taking on a project that no one else wants can be one of the best learning experiences you’ll ever get. If you accept the challenge and use this opportunity to up your game as a leader you have a good chance at completing this undesirable project successfully. Completing a tough project successfully is the best argument you can make for being given the next super sexy project that is up for grabs!

Discussion question: What other skills/traits have you developed by taking on tough projects nobody else wanted?

Photo Credit: By LaurMG. (Cropped from “File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg”.) [<a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0″>CC-BY-SA-3.0</a>], <a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrustrated_man_at_a_desk_(cropped).jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Leading Millennials and Beyond

One of the topics I often discuss with my colleagues, mentors and the individuals that I coach is the role that younger people are taking in the workplace. Some of the folks I talk with have very strong opinions about these younger cohorts, especially Millennials. I don’t want to get into labelling certain groups of people (although I kind of already have), but despite opinions, the younger generations are entering the workplace, or will be very soon. The challenge for today’s leaders is to determine how we can motivate and lead the younger people coming along as well as how we can grow them into high quality leaders of tomorrow. In order to do that it’s helpful to understand the background and mindset of our younger team members.

A few weeks ago Beloit College released their “Mindset List” for their incoming class of 2018. Beloit has been putting out the Mindset List every year since 1998 to help their faculty and staff understand the “cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering colleges and universities.” (McBride & Nief, 2014) While this list is mostly just entertaining and doesn’t have a lot of direct bearing on how we lead our teams today, in several years these students will be entering our workforce and we will need to be able to lead them effectively and develop them professionally once they arrive.

A few items I found interesting on this year’s list:

  • The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
  • There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
  • “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.

 

From the list for the class of 2015 (just about to graduate and enter the workforce)

  • The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  • As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  • Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  • More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  • They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
  • They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.

 

And from the list for the class of 2010 (those who have been in the workforce a few years and are just starting to take leadership roles)

  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • They have always preferred going out in groups as opposed to dating.

 

So what does this mean for us as the leaders of these individuals? Primarily it means that the ways that we have developed organizational culture, adapted to new technology, and offered rewards and incentives may need to be re-evaluated. Collaboration in the future will definitely mean more than meetings in conference rooms and offsite retreats.

This doesn’t mean we have to accommodate every request that our younger team members make, but it might help balance their requests with other requirements if we can see the perspective that they’re coming from. As always, at some point the mission has to come first, but there may be ways to get the mission done better, smarter or faster by considering the “younger” perspective.

Also, a piece of advice for the younger folks coming along (just in case you thought you were off the hook). Understanding and communication are a two-way street and it is just as important to be a good follower as a good leader. Take some time to understand where your colleagues who have been around a bit longer are coming from. Unfortunately, Beloit didn’t start the Mindset list until 1998 so you might have to do some research to find out what makes us tick. I promise it will be worth the effort!

 

Discussion topics: What tensions exist between different age groups on your team? What perspectives have you gained from another age group that greatly assisted you in getting your mission accomplished?

References

McBride, T., & Nief, R. (2014). The Mindset List. Retrieved from Beloit College: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/

 

Photo Credit: “US Navy 101028-N-8590G-005 Katy Jo Muncie, a law student, holds the ship’s wheel at the helm aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans'” by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr. – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 101028-N-8590G-005 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.বাংলা | Deutsch | English | español | euskara | فارسی | français | italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | македонски | മലയാളം | Plattdüütsch | Nederlands | polski | português | Türkçe | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg

The Value of a Good Deputy

Every leader needs a good right hand man (or woman). I know we all think that we’ve got it under control and that we’ll do what we need to do to make the team succeed, but the truth is we simply cannot be there all the time and we can’t allow progress to grind to a halt if we have to travel for business, go on vacation, or get sick.

On the other side of the coin, if you are not the boss, but aspire to be someday, taking on the role of deputy could be a great step up to increased responsibility! Whether you’re looking to groom your next deputy, or become your team leader’s next one, here are some characteristics of great deputies:

Understand the leader’s intent – REALLY understand it. Understand the end states the boss wants to achieve, the strategies to get there and the compromises he’s willing to make (or not make) in pursuit of the goal. A good deputy ought to be able to give the 30 second elevator pitch to anyone about what the leader’s goals and vision are for the team and how best to achieve them.

Understand the leader’s tolerance for accepting risk – this is where I’ve seen a few deputies step out too far ahead of their boss. They know what the boss wants and how he wants to achieve it, but they misinterpret how much risk he’s willing to take on to achieve the goal. This conversation should occur frequently between leader and deputy as the effort progresses and conditions change.

Exemplify the culture and values of the team – This is more important than you might think. The deputy will be expected to promote the organizational culture while you’re not there. If the deputy sets a lower or higher standard for the team while in charge, it will lead to conflict down the road among your whole team. The deputy doesn’t personally need to agree 100% with the culture and values, but is expected to uphold them in your absence.

Honest with the boss – sometimes brutally so. A solid relationship between a boss and deputy will involve many frank and open discussions. Remember that there’s a time and a place for this. Unless the situation is literally life or death of an individual or complete mission failure, open disagreement between a boss and deputy is best done behind closed doors.  Have a grown-up discussion where all the issues are laid out, decide on the best course of action and agree on it before you open the door, and go out and tell the rest of the team the decision with one voice. Remember the boss gets the final say.

Empowered to act in place of the boss – and not afraid to! A good deputy should be able to take the leader’s intent for achieving the big picture and make all kinds of smaller decisions that further that end state. It is critical to understand the intent and tolerance for accepting risk when making these decisions, but with good communication between them a deputy can keep a lot moving forward when the boss’s attention is diverted by external issues.

Knows what issues he is NOT empowered to act for the boss – there are some things the leader is definitely going to want to handle himself. It can be anything, but often it’s committing the team to spending money, hiring/firing, entering the team into a formal agreement.  If you’re the boss, you should make the red lines clear to your deputy. If you’re the deputy and your boss hasn’t made this clear, see understanding the boss’ tolerance for risk above.

As I’ve mentioned, these are all topics that should be discussed between a boss and deputy early and often. Like many things in life and business, communication is the key. This becomes even more critical if either the boss or deputy travels extensively, or one has significant responsibilities dealing with other organizations. It’s important to check in with each other frequently as events unfold and the situation changes.

Finally, If you aren’t authorized a formal deputy by your organization, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Give some of your team members an informal tryout to see if they have the characteristics described here, or if they can be grown. Even though you can’t give them a raise or new title, increased responsibility is a way of rewarding your top performers. You may just end up with an entire team of deputies who you are confident can get the job done while you focus on bigger goals!

Time is Precious

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I was having lunch with a friend I worked with a few years back. He was talking about a professional education course he was working on but was having trouble between work and family finding the time to complete the reading assignments. My advice was to carve out an hour a day, three or four days a week to get it done, even if he had to lock himself in the bathroom to do it. He laughed and said he’d give that a try.  Managing time is challenging for most of us, but it’s extremely important that we make time for the things we believe are important and try to spend as little time as possible on the things that are necessary, but not moving us closer to achieving our strategic goals.

This idea extends to our workplaces as well, starting with the boss. If you’re like most of us, your boss’ time is limited, especially the time you get to spend with him discussing your projects. Show up organized; tell him your goal for the meeting right off the bat, and try not to make him make decisions that you are capable of making on your own. If your boss likes to make the decisions, be prepared with options for him, make your recommendations and express your preferences as the one who has to execute the work.  Show that you value his time and he’ll probably be willing to delegate more authority for these kinds of decisions to you in the future. If you’re lucky enough to be the boss, this one is easy for you, but now your challenge is to develop this behavior in your team.

It’s also just as important to respect your follower’s time. Reduce busy work and administrative tasks to the bare minimum. Make sure meetings are productive and have an agenda. Keep meetings on task; don’t let side issues creep in. Delegate decisions and action appropriate to their level of responsibility and skill so that you don’t have to micromanage. You want to be able to focus on end results and where you want to take your team.

Finally, and most importantly, you have to respect your own time. Build your schedule to spend your time on the items that are the highest priority to you. Like many concepts related to leadership, this is simple to talk about, but often difficult in practice. In any endeavor where we need to interact with other people, we have to live with constraints. One of the ways I work with schedule constraints is by placing key strategic tasks that are very important to me outside of the regular work day. I review my notes every evening after dinner before I get involved in anything else. I don’t always do anything about them, but I always review them.  I would prefer to do it right as I get into the office every morning, but I never know what is going to happen and most days something gets in the way, so I moved it to a time I knew would work.

Time is precious. Respect other’s time, but just as importantly, respect you own.

What tools do you use to manage and protect your time?

You Can Lead, But Can You Follow?

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Follow Mum  Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Follow Mum Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There I was, about to walk into the boss’s office and close the door. He had just made it very clear the outcome he wanted the team to achieve today. The problem was that he had a severe misperception of the roadblocks being placed in front of the team by an outside organization. The outcome was possible, but the approach wasn’t going to work.  The project lead tried to explain it in the meeting, but the boss was convinced of his approach. I was his deputy; I couldn’t let him fail because he didn’t understand the whole situation. I figured I might be coming out of this conversation looking for a new job, but I knocked, walked in and closed the door. It was actually a civil and insightful conversation, which I mainly attribute to this particular boss being one of the best leaders I’ve ever known, and though it was challenging, I was able to convince him of what he was missing and got our team going in the right direction. It also cemented the trust between us and our professional relationship for years after.

As I’ve mentioned before, unless you are fortunate enough to be the guy at the top, even as leaders we all have a boss that we have to report to.  This means that as leaders, we also need to be good followers. This can get tricky sometimes.

There is more to be a good follower than just taking orders and getting the job done.

A good follower will anticipate what the boss is looking for. He will understand the boss’s vision and intent and try to act the way the boss would want it done without having to bother the boss with the trivial details. This means as a follower, you need to have a solid understanding of the boss’s vision and intent as well as the authorities that he has delegated down to you.  See the post “What Keeps Your Boss Up at Night” for more.

Just as important as taking direction from the boss with a smile, is being straight with the boss. There are going to be times you have to tell him things that he isn’t going to want to hear. You may have heard of the “one challenge” rule.  It’s pretty simple, when the boss makes a decision you disagree with, you take one opportunity to try to convince him otherwise and if he sticks with his decision you go execute it and say nothing more about it. I sort of disregarded that in the situation above, but it was a pretty dire situation and I played the technicality that I wasn’t the one who initially challenged him.

I know that challenging the boss is not an easy thing to do. It’s okay if it takes a few minutes (or hours, or days) to get your courage up to do it. Try not to wait until it’s too late for a positive outcome to still occur. I’m a big believer in the saying “Bad news doesn’t get better with age!” so try not to leave your boss with no options because too much time has elapsed.

To be fair, after that conversation described above, there were several times I felt the need to do the same thing with my bosses.  Sometimes I’ve been successful at convincing them, other times I’ve left with the same orders as before looking for a way to make it work.

You owe it to your boss to be straight with him. Your efforts may not always be received in the spirit of honesty and trust that you intend. Just shake it off and keep being an excellent follower. The folks you lead will follow the example you set for them!

What other aspects of followership do you consider important? Comment below!