Hello, My Name is Bob—and I’m an Egomaniac

I love the concept of servant leadership. I believe that this is applicable in any leadership situation. I have even seen military leadership blogs that have discussed its importance in leading the troops.
Blanchard has made this a focus of many recent posts, and this one really resonated with me. Especially the question about recalibrating oneself.
The original post can be read here.

How We Lead

I want to share a method for getting your ego out of the way and clear your path to becoming a servant leader. There are two sides of the human ego that can cause trouble. One is false pride—when you think more of yourself than you should. When this occurs, you spend most of your time looking for ways to promote yourself. The other is fear—when you think less of yourself than you should. In this case, you spend time constantly trying to protect yourself.

I love to start meetings with an Egos Anonymous session. It is a simple but powerful opening activity with a format similar to one used in many 12-step programs. Individuals stand up, introduce themselves, and then share an example of how they have let their ego get in the way of being their best. For example, I would say, “Hi, I’m Ken, and I’m an…

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The 4 Hidden Agendas Concealed in Complaints

In the seemingly endless Presidential campaign in the U.S., we are surrounded by chronic complainers. Countless friends complain about the choices (or the lack thereof) available to us. Venom and bile are flowing thick and fast. People become hateful and more and more angry.

But the one constant I have noted, regardless of party affiliation, is that among all the complainers, no one is offering any solutions. The ceaseless yammering is not accomplishing anything, except for fomenting more anger.

Not a very productive activity.

Do you know a chronic complainer? Do you have to work with one? Are you responsible for one?

No one likes being around complainers; we all become uncomfortable when we have to listen to too many complaints. 

How you deal with this as a leader? Dan Rockwell shared some ideas.

This is a repost of his blog post on Leadership Freak.


The 4 Hidden Agendas Concealed in Complaints

The “make it go away” fairy doesn’t exist. Ignored complaints fester.

Uncover the real dissatisfaction before solving complaints.

chronic complainers want to look caring and innocent while talking mean and ugly

The 4 hidden agendas concealed in complaints:

  1. “You should have ….” You caused the problem because you dropped the ball.
  2. “What are you going to do about this?” Whiners want – no expect – you to make it better.
  3. “I’m not happy.” Chronic complainers don’t own the real issue. They want something for themselves.
  4. “I want to look good while I talk bad.” Complainers use compassion as camouflage. They’re complaining because they “care”.

Establish the intent of complaint conversations:

  • What outcome would you like from this conversation? Don’t have conversations when intentions are undeclared, obscure, or unknown. If they don’t know what they want, have them come back when they do.
  • Are you looking for a solution or time to vent? (Ask this when you know and trust each other.) Some issues are solved with an ear.

Second venting sessions are complaints. It’s time to design solutions.

Explore the hidden agenda:

#1. If we could go back…

  • What should have happened to prevent this problem?
  • What could you have done to prevent this problem?
  • What could I have done to prevent this problem?

#2. What would you like me to do about this? Asking doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. It’s the beginning of a conversation about real solutions.

An alternative: What would you like me to do for you?

#3. What needs to happen for you to feel good, when our conversation is over in twenty minutes?

#4. If you don’t mind me asking, “What makes you care about this?” Explore assumptions and values.

Nagging issues intensify with time.

What hidden agendas might complainers have?

How might leaders deal with underlying issues?


The original post may be viewed here.

Equip your crew with the right tools

The question What's in Your Toolbox? asking if you have the skil

As a young Boy Scout, I had the opportunity to lead a group of my peers as a Patrol Leader in the Flaming Arrow Patrol. We developed into a strong patrol, and became good friends. But when I was elected Senior Patrol Leader, it became apparent that I hadn’t ensured for proper leadership succession. In fact, at age 14, I wasn’t even aware of the principle.

On the first campout with the new Patrol Leader, everything was going well until they realized they had forgotten a spatula to turn their pancakes. Since they had already mixed the pancake batter, and were hungry, they came up with a novel idea: scrambled pancakes. The pancakes were stirred with a fork, just like scrambled eggs. The result did not look appetizing, but the guys were hungry, and ate it anyway.  Ask any member of Troop 592 from that era about scrambled pancakes, and you’ll have a good laugh.

And the Flaming Arrows never forgot to have the proper cooking utensils again.

 

The important lesson from the experience is that in order to perform a task effectively, the right tools are necessary. If an individual doesn’t have the right tools, their assignment is destined for failure.

RightTool

Although different tasks require different tools, there are some common tools that must me be available in order to succeed.

  1. Empowerment When given an assignment, whether it be installing a new faucet or leading a team, an individual must be given the authority to perform the task and to make the necessary decisions that will be faced along the way. Without this empowering, the task cannot be completed.
  2. Expectations If you cannot clarify expectations, don’t make the assignment. If I am installing a faucet, the basic expectations are: properly mounted, tight connections, hot water on the left and cold on the right. But what if the client has additional expectations that weren’t conveyed to me?
    In leading a team, some basic expectations will be obvious as well. But what is the ultimate goal? Do I follow a marked path or must I discover my own? If these and other questions are not clarified, the leader may not meet the unspoken expectations.
  3. Education A certain degree of training and orientation is necessary for any job. In any field, it may be assumed that the individual has a basic knowledge of the task at hand. But unlike the journeyman plumber who has installed thousands of faucets, and has access to a basin wrench and other devices to facilitate the job, the new leader may not even have a toolbox, much less the necessary tools to complete the job.
    Education ties in closely with empowerment and expectations. When a new leader is asked to lead a team, the supervising leader should determine the extent of the new leader’s knowledge and make certain to fill in the gaps.
  4. Evaluation How do we measure success? What tools do we use for this? How frequently will the measurements be taken, and how frequently will constructive feedback be given? Just as educators use rubrics to help define success for their students, the elements of success should be well-defined for the new leader.
    When a faucet is installed, the apprentice plumber will require more evaluations than the experienced journeyman will. The expectations at each step should be understood.
    When leading a team, sometimes the specifics are harder to define. But the new leader cannot succeed without understanding what will be evaluated.

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If a new leader is not equipped with the right tools, he may be doomed to failure. Whether it be a pancake turner, a basin wrench, or a thorough understanding of the assignment, the right tools are critical for completing the job.

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Are you giving your crew the right tools? A good leader will ensure that a well-stocked toolbox is available.

The 5 Times Your Leadership Is Guaranteed to Fail

Lolly Daskal is another leadership blogger whom I have been following for some time. Her frequent posts have given me food for thought as I lead, and as I observe others lead.

In this post, she names five key characteristics of a good leader. Everyone has their own list, but I think that these five points are absolutely essential. Read this and see if you don’t agree.

The 5 Times Your Leadership Is Guaranteed to Fail

Posted on 17 May, 2016 by Lolly Daskal

Missed target

We all want leadership to be successful. But some circumstances are reliable pointers to failure. Learn what they are and how to avoid them.

Done right, leadership is difficult. It brings great rewards, but at great risk. You have to put yourself on the line—so when you do, you want the best possible odds of success.

In some situations, though, failure is all but guaranteed. Here are five of the most common. Get to know them so you can steer far clear.

  1. When there is no trust. Leadership is about credibility and reliability; to be an effective leader, your followers must have trust in you. That’s why it’s critical to always take responsibility for your actions. Make sure your people feel guided and supported in their work and show that they can trust your leadership.
  2. When there is no character. Leaders build excellence—helping their team become all that they are capable of. To reach that level of excellence requires leadership that is grounded in character. Excellence starts with leaders of strong character who model doing what is right, not what is easy.
  3. When there is no communication. No one ever became a great leader without first becoming a great communicator. Successful leaders connect with people on an emotional level every time they speak. Their words build relationships, teach, and inspire others. Great communication also means listening well and treating your team with candor and honesty.
  4. When there is no respect. You can’t lead anyone who doesn’t respect you, and it’s hard to lead those you don’t also respect. Respect must be first given before its earned. That means thinking about every small thing you do as a leader and how it is perceived. Leaders who know how to give the utmost respect will receive respect, in the form of loyalty and performance.
  5. When there is no ability. To be successful requires tactical and technical proficiency. In any organization it is the leader’s capabilities and performance that set the tone for the team’s engagement. Leadership is empty without an understanding of the work at hand, and the best leaders work constantly to improve their expertise.

How is your own leadership looking? Are you doing what it takes to propel it forward?

Lead from within: Decide what kind of leader you going to be—the kind who is content to think of themselves as the best, or the one of the few greats whose leadership achieves the highest levels.

The original post may be found here.

15 Phrases You Need to Say to Yourself More Often

This is another post that I felt I should share in its original form. Lolly Daskal is a regular contributor to Inc. and Forbes, and has a great deal of good advice to leaders at all levels. This article is full of just plain good advice for anyone.
Discover how positive affirmations and encouraging phrases can keep you on point.
CREDIT: Getty Images

Careers and lives are too often hectic these days, making it easy to lose touch with who you are and who you want to be. Just as you’d speak positively to someone else to help keep the person on track, talking to yourself is a way to guide and motivate yourself. Positive affirmations and self-talk can be a powerful force in reminding you of the most important things.

Here are 15 phrases you should say to yourself more often to create the kind of life that will help you become the best version of yourself.

1. I would rather be kind than be right. You don’t always have to be the smartest or sharpest–sometimes the best thing to do is to be kind whenever you can, realizing how much strength and restraint it sometimes takes. When you make kindness a habit, it will be returned to you 10-fold.

2. I’m never too busy. The most successful people have time for others; it’s those who have a hard time getting things done who are too busy to spend time with colleagues, friends, and family. Keep your priorities in order and work to become the kind of person who says, “I’m never too busy.”

3. I will say what I mean and mean what I say. Make it an absolute policy to give people the information they need rather than expecting them to know the unknowable. Communication is the key to great relationships, and lack of communication is the source of a huge amount of conflict.

4. I am tough and yet I am patient. Be tough and be patient, because someday this pain you are going through is going to be useful; one day your struggle will make sense. Pain is a sign that something needs to change, a wake-up call that guides you toward a better future. So keep your heart open and do what it takes to stay tough and patient.

5. I am a student. Prepare for success by keeping your mind conditioned to always be curious, open to questions, wanting to learn. Remember if you stay ready, you don’t have to prepare when opportunity knocks.

6. I will stop being a fixer. How often do you find yourself wanting to fix things for others, giving constant advice and interference? Then at the end you discover that you’ve turned out to be an enabler rather than a helper. People need a listening ear more than advice; they want to know what they’re capable of, not what you can do to fix them.

7. I will stop judging and criticizing. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, and frankly you don’t have a clue what most people you encounter every day are going through–just as they have no clue what you are going through. If you don’t want to be judged or critiqued, stop doing it to others.

8. I will be consistent in my choices and my daily actions. Live your life in a way that leaves no room for regret; never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you are meant to do. Continue to make consistent choices and take daily actions and work hard at what you love, no matter what the challenges are.

9. I accept that my mistakes are a big part of being successful. We all make mistakes, but you don’t have to make your mistakes your fate. Instead, realize that mistakes are part of every successful story. If you learn from them and adapt with them, you can make mistakes a source of learning. What can you do to make your mistakes OK?

10. I will stop making promises I cannot keep. If you say you are going to do something, do it. It’s easy to make promises, much harder to keep them. If you want people to trust you, underpromise and overdeliver on everything you do.

11. I know my experience is my best teacher. Don’t chase the experiences of others or try to memorize their lessons. Learn from others, of course, but remember that this is your life and your circumstances. Learn for yourself from your own experience, determine the best practice, and then do your thing.

12. I will allow my character to speak for itself. Make sure you live in such a way that if someone decided to speak badly about you, no one would believe it. Allow your character to speak for itself.

13. I cannot control everything, but I can always control my response. We cannot control many things, but we can control one thing–how we respond. Instead of trying to change what you cannot control, work on controlling your own attitude and actions. Say to yourself, I am in control of my responses. They can either be good for me or bad for me, but that is my choice.

14. I will stop comparing myself with others. No two people are alike, with the same gifts or strengths. At the end of the day, you are competing only against yourself and no one else. The sooner you understand this, the better off you will be.

15. I will work on the relationships that matter to me. All successful relationships require work; they don’t just happen. They exist and thrive when all parties put their hearts and minds in it. In human relationships, the distance is not measured in miles but in love. Two people can be right next to each other and ignore each other completely. Resolve to stay in daily touch with the people who are important in your life–not because it’s easy or convenient, but because they’re worth the effort.

The original article may be found here: 15 Phrases

How to Become a Light in the Fog

Dan Rockwell writes some great blog posts on leadership. This one resonated with me this morning, and I thought I should repost it. Thank you, Dan!

I’ve heard managers complain, “These people just don’t get it.”

Poor management is the reason people inside organizations are in the fog.

confusion is your opportunity to become a light in the fog

Impose the job of creating clarity on yourself. Stop complaining about people who don’t get it. Confusion in others is your opportunity to become a light in the fog.

Lean into confusion, not away from it.  Confusion is your friend.

Managers who embrace and then solve confusion move forward. Everyone else is lost in the fog, even if they’re working hard.

Ron Wallace, former president of UPS International has a plan for lifting the fog.

4 ways to become a light in the fog:

#1. State your expectations and then follow up.

“There is nothing more frustrating for motivated people than not knowing exactly what is expected of them.” Ron Wallace in Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver

  1. Describe the results you want.
  2. Explain the standards the results must meet.
  3. Define the deadline. (Is it flexible or set.)
  4. Set the budget.
  5. Identify resources.
  6. Relate any constraints (sacred cows to avoid).
  7. Establish the when and how of reporting progress.
  8. Outline how performance will be measured.
  9. Make yourself available to help.

#2. Translate expectations into deliverables.

Explain expectations. Don’t tell talented people how to deliver.  “You placed these people in positions because they know how to do it.” Wallace

#3. Hold people accountable.

“If you don’t follow through with both inspections and acknowledgements, it is easy for people to think that what they’re doing isn’t important.” Wallace

#4. Check your own progress regularly.

“The gap between a leader’s expectations and a follower’s actions is usually more about their relationship than it is about matters of substance.” Wallace

You find success by delivering results through relationships.

How might leaders/managers create greater clarity?

Original post can be found here: Light in the Fog

Isn’t a common purpose enough to build a strong team?

The Houston Rockets’ basketball season ended this week with a devastating playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors. Shortly after the game ended, a headline appeared on espn.com: “Rockets’ season ends and the truth comes out.”[1] Not that this was exactly news to those who follow professional basketball.[2]

James Harden stated: “the season from the beginning wasn’t going our way. We had too many distractions, a bumpy road this entire season.” Jason Terry added: “You will be faced with all types of adversities and how you come through those is a sign of the type of team you have. Our team was just not strong enough mentally to get through those adversities and learn.”

2-3-Zone-Defense

I would hope that every player and every team in the NBA has the goal to win a championship at the beginning of each season, even if that isn’t realistic. Each player performs at an elite level, although they are not all equal. All have their strengths and weaknesses.

So why is it that a common desire is not enough to win a championship?

Jason Terry opined: “We just didn’t have the chemistry needed. It’s one thing to put the pieces together on paper, but it has to be a tight-knit bond with a group of guys to do something special, and our group just didn’t have that this year.”

What does it take to build a championship team? And what can leaders learn from professional sports to build their teams into champions?

I believe that there are four points to consider.

 

1. Communication. A team cannot function without effective communication. Roles, responsibilities and expectations must be clearly communicated. Team members must be alert to notice changes that are conveyed when plans need to change quickly, and then respond.

An effective team must be on the same page as they work, or chaos will result.

2. Cooperation. It should go without saying that there should be a spirit of cooperation on a team. Without cooperation, there is no team. Team members require a certain degree of flexibility in order to work together. They should “check their egos at the door” and sacrifice certain personal rewards for the good of the team.

3. Cohesiveness. A team without unity is not a team. It is just a collection of individuals pretending to work together.

There ought to be a feeling of collegiality on the team. That doesn’t mean that you and your committee chair have to be best friends: but you should be friends. Respect and camaraderie are vital ingredients to a functioning team. This is what provides the “chemistry” that produces synergistic results.

4. Selflessness. It’s not all about me. It’s about accomplishing our mission together.

We should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and take advantage of individual strengths in order to minimize any team weaknesses.

One teammate might be good at everything, but he can’t do it all. A team plays to the strengths of each member. As a team, we share the load. You have to pass the ball. Sometimes you shoot; sometimes you set a screen.

And all team members should be flexible enough to step up their game when another team member is having a bad day.

team-defense-capt_las10902240643_kings_lakers_basketball_las109_001

A typical basketball team consists of five starters, with seven more on the bench, some of whom rarely see any action. But every member can make contributions within their roles. The results of their efforts can be seen in box scores and standings each day.

In your organization, there will be various teams, normally ranging in size from three to twelve people. Each team has a designated mission to perform within the organization and the results of their efforts may not be immediately evident. However, their degree of achievement will contribute to your ultimate level of success.

A motivated leader will keep these principles in mind, whether he or she leads a team of three, five, or many more.

A good leader sees beyond the common purpose or goal, and works to build strong teams to create desired results.

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Special thanks go to Jerry Lomenick, one of my coaches, for sharing his ideas on teamwork.

 

[1] This may be found at http://espn.go.com/blog/houston-rockets/post/_/id/2529/rockets-season-ends-and-the-truth-comes-out. Quotes are taken from this article.

[2] I’m not picking on the Houston Rockets. They are a great organization. As a life-long Lakers’ fan, I can’t justify talking trash after this season.

The Distracted Leader

Picture a distraction

Leaders and aspiring leaders learn to value (and protect) their schedules. An organized schedule is an important tool for any leader.

But all too often we find that even with the best scheduling systems and gatekeepers, things get in the way. Even if you use the Covey/Eisenhower matrix[1] to good advantage and seem to live your business life in Quadrant Two, stuff happens to slow you down.

Unless you lead from an ivory tower, you have certainly had one of those days when organizational distractions take over and your productivity suffers.

I’m not going to address the distractions that come from within your organization: that’s another topic for another day. I’m talking about the external distractions that pop up during the day, even in the ivory tower. The thoughts of home, worries about your kids, or the song on the radio that brings back memories or makes you wonder “who is the artist that did that?”

I’m talking about those distractions. I believe that these can wreak havoc with our productivity. Particularly if you work in a creative field.

I am a naturally curious person. I have spent many enjoyable hours pursuing topics that pique my interest. I did this pre-internet, and access to the web only made it worse. Recently, some of those have even stimulated blog posts. I have gained knowledge about many interesting things. In fact, a coworker calls me a “veritable fountain of useless information,” and I consider that a compliment. But these intellectual journeys have probably not furthered my career, and they certainly haven’t enhanced my bottom line.

So how do you deal with those distractions?

May I suggest a few options, none of which work exceptionally well for me.Brain relaxation

  1. Take a “brain break.” Just like when you take a break to stretch your legs and/or use the restroom. Most people tend to observe a time limit on those breaks. Take a ten-minute brain break, and give your brain some exercise. I enjoy mentalfloss.com for breaks like this, but be warned: this wonderful trivia site will cause you to violate your self-imposed time limits.
  2. Keep a “Distraction To-Do List.” Jot down the random thoughts and questions that arise that you might to revisit at a more opportune time. So when you wonder who that was that played organ on that one Eric Clapton song (those are the kind of questions I have: not the guitarists, like the rest of my friends), write it down in a notebook and return to it later. Another warning: if you look at other questions after you write down the new one, you’ll be off on a new tangent.
  3. Take a break from the distraction. Perhaps this bears explanation. When you find distracting thoughts creeping in, perhaps that is the time to take your bathroom break. Sometimes you’ll return ready to get back to business. Or not. But it can be worth it at times to try to distract yourself back from your distraction. Really.
  4. Finally the obvious one. Shut down the tabs that distract you at work, like your e-mail. Seriously. That only needs to be checked twice a day, max. Distraction
    Find some good neutral music that won’t make you start wondering about other things. Personally, I find Baroque music good for this. Composers such as Telemann, Corelli and others of their period are almost like “generic classical music.” Vivaldi started composing pieces that sound more distinct, and thus more distracting.[2] These Baroque pieces also create momentum. They will get into your subconscious and keep you moving forward as you work.

The bottom line, in my mind, is that avoiding distractions takes self-discipline. Often more self-discipline than I have. So sometimes I just have to give in and enjoy a good distraction. Mind you, I am referring to intellectual distraction, productive distraction, exploring ideas and questions. I’m not suggesting a Facebook or Snapchat binge. These are counterproductive, and often a Facebook binge leads to additional distractions.

Brain exercises

For example, on Foghat’s fan page when they post Mott the Hoople’s classic tune “All the Way from Memphis” and you start wondering what ever happened to Mott the Hoople?

But I will have to continue this later: I’ve become distracted …

 

A good leader manages distractions well.

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DISCLOSURE: Although I am an avid reader and have subscribed to Mental_Floss for many years, I have no financial interest in the company.

[1] Google these. They are great tools. But remember that Eisenhower beat Covey to the punch.

[2] Yes I said that. I know I have just offended the one reader who adores Telemann and can tell his Tafelmusik from a Concerto.

When Your Volunteers Aren’t Getting the Job Done

When a committee of volunteers falls short of expectations, it is frequently because they lack adequate training.

Two men try to reach across the divide

There are many organizations that rely heavily on the work of volunteers to carry out the goals and functions of the organization. In fact, many of us receive our first lessons in leadership as volunteers in some type of organization.

When an individual volunteers, or is asked to serve, it is usually assumed that he or she understands the ideals and goals of the organization and is willing to support them. Occasionally a handbook or guidebook is given along with a hearty “thank you for serving,” then they go to work. And we see varying degrees of success (or failure).

I have served in organizations where individuals, or sometimes entire committees, were not measuring up to the goals of the organization, despite their best efforts. Common practice dictates that when this is identified, it is time to change out committee members or chairs, or in extreme cases, disband entire committees. Their responsibilities might then be given to someone who is “better equipped” to get the job done.[1]

You may have seen this in your own volunteer service.

There is something wrong with this picture. Very wrong. Common practice is not necessarily best practice. You wouldn’t buy a new car and hand the keys to your sixteen-year-old without providing some serious training first.

If a volunteer or a committee is failing to do its job, then there is a leadership failure somewhere. Not just the committee chairs, but the leaders who oversee the committees,  have failed if a committee is not functioning as it should.

I believe that the following is important to a new volunteer, or even an experienced volunteer who is serving in a new role.

 

  1. Proper orientation. Assure that the mission, vision, and goals for the organization and the committee are understood. Ensure that the volunteer is aware of the organizational culture and history and understands his or her place within the organization.
  2. Job-specific training. A volunteer should understand his or her role in their particular committee. Never assume that because they volunteered, they already get it. Many positions and assignments have what are disparagingly called “oh-by-the-way” responsibilities. In a well-run organization, volunteers should understand what their positions entail before accepting the responsibility. This should be made clear at the outset. All too often, an “oh-by-the-way” is made known only after a failure.
  3. Outline expectations. The training should include explaining any expectations that come with the position. What is required of the member? How will it be measured? How often is performance evaluated?
  4. Mentoring. Just because a committee has experienced members as well as new people, it should never be assumed that mentoring will occur. Yes, many individuals will take this on by themselves, but this should be assigned by the chair, who should try to identify the best members to mentor a new member.
  5. Empowerment. The new volunteer should feel empowered to speak and to act as a part of his or her assignment. Frequently those with less experience hesitate to share new ideas or seek clarification out of respect to those who are “wiser and more experienced.” That should not be a part of any organization’s culture.
  6. Follow-up. It takes a few meetings or a few assignments to get a grasp on the assignment. Questions don’t often arise until after the volunteer has been involved for a time. Make sure that a respected and experienced member is assigned to provide the follow-up and address the questions.
  7. Re-train as necessary. Inoculations require periodic boosters in order to provide effective coverage. They are not good for a lifetime. In the same way, we should provide training boosters as frequently as needed.

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Naturally, training requires time and resources. It requires raising the organization to a higher level. Some leaders are better qualified than others to provide this training. In any organization, all will come with their own gifts and abilities. It is incumbent upon those vested with the leadership authority to ensure that skills and talents are developed and utilized, not only for the benefit of the organization, but for the benefit of the individuals who volunteer.

A good leader of volunteers does not set his people up for failure: a good leader sets clear expectations and enables his volunteers to achieve them.

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[1] I will admit that there are cases where a committee has performed its designated function or outlived its usefulness and should be disbanded. Sometimes this should also occur due to fiscal concerns. But in my opinion, it should never happen simply because there is a perception of poor performance.

Course Corrections Assist in Reaching the Destination Safely

Bombardier-CS100-Flying-Above-The-Clouds

There is a great deal of attention given to the terms “formative assessments” and “summative assessments” in education circles. “Feedback” is sometimes substituted for “assessment,” but the principle doesn’t change.

Let me illustrate with something familiar to most of us. When we fly from airport A to airport B, we note that the pilot gets us there safely and mostly on time, which we appreciate. Our recognition of the pilot’s achievement is the summative feedback: we are grading his overall performance based on the end result.

We are not frequently aware that even on the short flights, the pilot is continually changing course: adjusting the altitude or the direction of the plane. The plane commonly veers off course due to atmospheric conditions, but based on feedback from instruments, the co-pilot and air traffic control, the pilot brings the plane back on course and lands it safely.

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We don’t berate the pilot because he deviated from his planned course a dozen times or more; we praise him because he made corrections and got us to our collective destination. This is formative feedback: the intermediate evaluations that individually are low-stakes evaluations, but together, they produce a significant result.

 

In many organizations, an annual review is customary. In some of those organizations, this may be the only assessment that an employee receives from his leader. What a shock it can be to feel that one is on course all year, only to find that a five-degree course deviation eight months ago led to being significantly off course. Now a major correction is needed (unless a crash has already occurred) in order to return back to the planned path. Had intermediate feedback been given early on, the correction would have been more comfortable and less noticeable.

How can a leader give a beneficial formative assessment?

index

 

The core of formative feedback for the employee consists of three elements, which can be expressed in three questions:

  1. Where are you right now?

The employee must have a sense of his destination. Expectations should be clarified, as well as checkpoints.

  1. Where do you need to be right now?

As above, if clear expectations are given, the employee should already know if he or she is off course.

  1. How can you (or we) close the gap between the two?

Very often an individual readily recognizes that he or she is off course, but has no idea how to return to the planned path, or must be encouraged to make the correction. This may be the good leader’s most important task!

 

The desired assessment should occur at three levels:

  1. Self-assessment

The leader should empower the employee with the necessary tools and training to self-evaluate. I previously wrote about the Dunning Kruger Effect, which describes the need for an individual to reach a certain level of knowledge and skill in order to properly evaluate their own performance (or others’ performance).

If the leader doesn’t recognize this, then he is failing as a leader. We cannot expect excellence if we do not train for it.

  1. Peer assessment

In team efforts, the employee should be able to turn to a colleague for a meaningful formative assessment. Again, this requires that both individuals have the necessary tools. Empowering the team is particularly critical to the success of peer assessments. They must know that this is acceptable. In a sense, this empowerment is a delegation of authority to all involved, and relieves the leader/manager of a portion of his burden.

pilot-and-co-pilot-on-flight-deck-of-passenger-jet-airliner-a517td

  1. Leader (manager) assessment

Finally, the leader assesses. If the team has a proper understanding of the tasks being evaluated and the intended results, this assessment will confirm the judgment of the individual and their peers. This can be a powerful morale builder for everyone. It also becomes a checkpoint for the leader to assess his efficacy in directing the project.

 

Of course, all of this necessitates that the leader have a presence among his team. The principle of MBWA (management by walking around) lends itself well to providing formative feedback. If a leader remains isolated and doesn’t offer correction until disaster strikes, then trust, confidence and morale will be undermined.

I am not suggesting that the leader micromanage. This is not desirable. But the leader should train, empower and monitor personally in order to see that his team reaches their desired destination; that they achieve their individual, team and organizational goals.

 

A good leader will provide frequent navigational assistance to his team because he wants to see them reach their destination safely.