How the Best Leaders Are Handling the Return To the Office

Remote work

For many people, March and April are the beginning of the end of remote work.  

Whether you love remote work or hate it, most people have been amazed at the performance and productivity of employees. Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.

If productivity wasn’t enough, saving hours a day from a commute and having more time for exercise and family are enormous benefits. But after two years of working from home, the return to the office is now upon you. Companies of all sizes and industries have communicated their return to the office policy.  

Take Google as an example. They announced a mandatory three-day-a-week return to the office for most employees. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, CEO Sundar Pichai said, “A set of our workforce will be fully remote, but most of our workforce will be coming in three days a week. But I think we can be more purposeful about the time they’re in, making sure group meetings or collaboration, creative collaborative brainstorming, or community building, happens then. I’m excited. I think people and teams are going to figure this out, but overall I feel energized that we get to rethink for the next 10 years.”

While I am sure not all of Google’s employees are thrilled with the decision, Pichai demonstrated outstanding leadership and thoughtfulness in his approach by looking beyond just having employees back physically in an office. 

I was a guest of Tyler Dickerhoof on a recent episode of The Impact Driven Leader Podcast, and I said this about the return to the office, “In many ways, a return to the office is a great thing. However, if we are going to go back into the office to work exactly like we are working at home, that is a terrible policy.”

Don't just bring people back to the office to do the same work they are doing at home.

See, most companies and leaders have been so focused on defining their return to the office policy they have forgotten the most essential part: “What team members are going to do differently while they’re there.” So you might as well take this moment to answer the question for yourself:

“What are team members going to do differently while they are in the office versus working remotely?”

Go Beyond the Screen

Having interviewed and coached hundreds of professionals in the last year, the overwhelming priority employees mention in a job search is “flexible and remote work options.” The scary part is they say this before their salary or compensation desires. The organizations and leaders who embrace this demand will win the talent war.  

Leaders whose return to the office policy is anchored in trust and focuses on work beyond a screen will be most successful. 

If you are interested in going beyond the screen and making sure the time you are in the office with your colleagues is more purposeful, make sure these are on the agenda:

1. Team Building Activities

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and email are great ways to communicate and get work done collaboratively. What these tools often lack is mechanisms to build stronger relationships and more cohesive teams. However, being back together in person allows teams to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. 

Being in person allows teams to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. 

But here is the kicker, this doesn’t happen by accident. Team building activities could be a planned event like playing pickleball or a tough roundtable question like, “what does each person need to do better to help us be more successful?”

Regardless of the activities that work best for your team, to be authentic and vulnerable requires leaders to craft time and safe spaces for teams to open up, get to know each other, and say what needs to be said. 

2. Purpose Sessions 

I wrote in Building the Best “people persevere because of purpose, not pay.” Fully remote work makes it hard to engrain a more profound purpose like mission, vision, and core values into a team.  

People persevere because of purpose, not pay

Now is the time to double and triple down on the core values of your team or organization and highlight precisely what it means to live them out daily. 

3. Role and Skill Audits

The majority of organizations have performance evaluations yearly. Now is the time to Conduct “Role and Skill Audits.” Role and skill audits have three essential parts:

  1. Ask team members, “Are you in the right role?” or “Are there any other roles or skills you want to explore?”
  2. Ask managers, “What team members aren’t in the right role” or “What skill gaps do you have on the team?”
  3. Shift employees to better align with their interests and gaps that exist

4. Strategy Symposium

Strategic alignment is one of the essential things any organization or team can achieve. However, doing it well online is difficult. Block three days to solely focus on strategy, competition, and the current market. This will be time well spent because most people like to work in the business versus on the business.  

There has never been a time to schedule a strategy symposium. Here is the kicker: whether you plan to return to the office or not, don’t wait another month without blocking an offsite strategy symposium. 

5. Development Workshops

As someone who has taught hundreds of virtual leadership development workshops through the pandemic, I have learned a few things. First, virtual workshops are more cost-effective and easier to host attend. Second, they are tougher to develop meaningful skills.  

If that wasn’t enough, it’s challenging for managers to keep a finger on the pulse of their team’s skill development with a fully remote workforce. So, unfortunately, most managers default to looking solely at short-term results instead of coaching long-term skills.

Most managers default to looking solely at short-term results instead of coaching long-term skills.

The point is, if you are going to bring people back together in person, focus on meaningful skill-building and development. 

A few additional ideas include: 

  • Mentoring Meetings
  • Innovation Conference
  • Employee Ted Talks About Lessons Learned From the Pandemic

Closing

Whether April is the beginning of the end of remote work for you or not, the reality is every team should be focusing on being more purposeful with the time team members are together in person. 

The stakes are high, and getting the return to the office right could make or break the future of your company. So focus more on what people will be doing together versus how many days they will be doing it.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Great Leaders Share Knowledge With Their Team (and the masses)

Think different

Over the years, leaders leverage a wide variety of experiences that they turn into actionable knowledge. Of course, it’s one thing to obtain knowledge. What you do with it is something else entirely.

Too often, professionals hoard knowledge and keep it to themselves. After all, they put in all the work to acquire it. Why should someone else get the benefits without putting in the blood, sweat, and tears themselves?

In reality, however, the best leaders take the opposite approach. They relish the opportunity to share their wisdom with others — even people outside their company.

The best leaders relish the opportunity to share their wisdom with others. 

What is a Thought Leader?

The term thought leader has been overblown and might even be a bit scary to most people. In reality, thought leadership is simply the expression of ideas that demonstrate you have expertise in a particular field, area, or topic. 

Thought leadership is demonstrated in two ways:

  1. Externally – Typically demonstrated through large social media followings. Ideas and insights change the behaviors of large groups of people in all different industries.
  2. Internally – Typically demonstrated within a company or team. Ideas and insights influence smaller and often more tangible relationships.

Regardless of which one resonates with you more, as long as you can be a trusted source to educate and inspire people with your ideas, you either are or can be a thought leader.  

In fact, the best leaders become thought leaders not for money, fame, or accolades but for one big reason; to help others.

You Have Insight to Share

Having had the opportunity to teach and coach thousands of leaders, the most common cause of not sharing insight with others or becoming a thought leader isn’t selfishness; it’s often imposter syndrome.  

In many ways, I don’t blame people for feeling this way. Everyone sharing their highlight reels on social media has tricked people into comparing themselves to others. This comparison causes people to believe they aren’t good or worthy enough to share their expertise with others. 

The thing is, your hard work and professional experiences are what make you an expert. While the best leaders understand that they can always learn from others, it’s okay to recognize that there are areas where you have expertise that can help others be more effective and successful. 

The best leaders share expertise to help others be more effective and successful

I recently read a great example of this in the book “60 Days to LinkedIn Mastery” by Josh Steimle. In a book that is focused on teaching people who feel like relative novices on LinkedIn how to optimize their profile, Steimle writes the following:

“You don’t have to know more than everyone else in order to teach — you only need to know more than your audience. However little you feel you know about LinkedIn, there are thousands of people who know less than you do. That means you can help them. As you help others, you’ll become more analytical in your thinking. You’ll create experiments, you’ll study, and you’ll learn more about LinkedIn than I or anyone else can teach you.”

This quote is just as applicable to any other type of knowledge business leaders have. But it also hints at a crucial point — that sharing your knowledge can benefit you, not just your audience.

Why Share Your Knowledge?

Transferring knowledge to your team and others is one of the best ways to create an actual win-win scenario. Here are a few benefits of making this a habit.

1. You Act Like a Leader 

Whether you think of yourself as a leader or not, you behave like one when you share wisdom with others. A leader is someone whose actions inspire, empower and serve in order to elevate others. It’s a sacred responsibility for someone to call you a leader, and the only way others do that is if they trust and respect you. 

It’s a sacred responsibility for someone to call you a leader, and the only way others do that is if people trust and respect you. 

In an interview with Bobby Starks, I shared some expertise to help inspire managers to act as leaders.

2. You Improve Your Communication Skills 

Sharing knowledge with others shouldn’t start with benefiting yourself but mastering your communication skills is a fantastic byproduct. Regardless of your industry or role, being a highly effective communicator will supercharge your career. 

Regardless of your industry or role, being a highly effective communicator will supercharge your career. 

You may be surprised to discover that communication skills are among the three most important leadership skills for professionals to demonstrate, according to preliminary research by LearnLoft

The simple act of writing, speaking, teaching, or coaching others provides invaluable repetitions to hone your skills. If you are interested in resources to improve your communications skills check out the Effective Communication for Leaders Workshop

3. You Improve the Team’s Performance and Loyalty 

Communicating knowledge is one of the best ways to enhance the performance of your team. Because the performance of a team is a reflection of the communication they receive. 

The performance of a team is a reflection of the communication they receive.  

As you share time and knowledge, you demonstrate through your words and actions your heart for others. Your team members will respect and be motivated to give their best effort. Better yet, you will empower your team members to use this newfound knowledge to improve their performance continually.

4. You Foster a More Collaborative Culture

As a leader, your example sets the tone for your team’s culture, including how employees share knowledge. In this case, a willingness to share your knowledge helps create a more collaborative and elite culture. 

Great leaders share their expertise with others to help create a collaborative and elite culture.

A research report from CultureIQ found that companies with strong collaborative cultures had a 20 percent higher quality rating from employees. This type of positive culture is key to attracting, retaining, and nurturing top talent. 

Closing

“Sharing is caring” is a commonly used idiom — often when parents try to get their child to share their toys with a sibling. But like so many other childhood lessons, this isn’t something you should put aside as you get older.

As a leader, sharing your knowledge and experiences ultimately becomes one of the best ways to demonstrate that you want to help others. Keeping your knowledge to yourself doesn’t help anyone. But as you open up and share with others, you will benefit yourself and others in the long run.

The only question remaining is what knowledge are you going to share with others today?

Effective Communication for Leaders: Ready to improve your communication skills? Register for the virtual workshop.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Handle Frustration Like the Best Leaders

Frustrated business woman sitting at the table in office.

We have all been there at one point or another; there is probably something right now that is frustrating you. It may not be, I am joining “the great resignation” club bad, but it is still a consistent struggle with someone or something at work.  

Maybe it’s a team member who isn’t giving their best effort. Perhaps it’s your boss who micromanages every move. Whatever the case, it started as a minor inconvenience, and now it nags at you daily.  

It turns out, your capacity to overcome frustrations is a sign that you are an effective leader. Early research by LearnLoft indicates that the ability to handle adversity is one of the most overlooked traits of successful leaders. 

The ability to overcome adversity like frustration is a good predictor of effective leadership.

What is Frustration and its Causes?

Frustration is defined as the feeling of being upset or annoyed. There are two states of frustration that professionals can find themselves in.

  1. Consistent State
  2. Momentary State

When someone is in a consistent state of frustration, they get negative and pessimistic, which never allows them to live up to their potential. 

Momentary frustration happens to all of us, but it isn’t always a bad thing since it can be a helpful indicator of problems. As a result, frustration can act as a motivator to change. However, when that momentary frustration turns to anger, depression, elevated levels of stress, and resentment, it becomes destructive. 

Now that we know, frustration is a feeling that can be destructive, it’s essential to recognize some common sources of frustration in the workplace:

  1. Communication Issues – When two or more people don’t have consistent communication that is clear, concise, and conclusive, it’s a recipe for frustration for one or both parties. (Want to be a more effective communicator? Check out the Effective Communication for Leaders Workshop)
  2. Lack of Meaningful Change – When things stay the same, or there isn’t a viable path to improvement, it causes people to get annoyed or even upset. If employees start to say, “It’s always going to be this way, nothing is going to change here,” it’s a bad spot to be.
  3. Limited Opportunities for Career Advancement – When team members feel there is nowhere to go beyond their current role, it causes frustration. This is particularly challenging in organizations with less than 100 employees.
  4. Process or Technology Problems – Inefficient and manual process that can be automated or improved is a bain in many professionals existence. “This is so manual and repetitive; there has to be a better way to do this.” 

How the Best Leaders Handle Frustration Like a Professional

If you want to stop being frustrated, you aren’t going to hope your way there. You have to start acting differently. The idea of hoping things change is a terrible strategy. As the late Rick Page used to say, “hope is not a strategy.”  

The best leaders know, hope isn’t a strategy.

A solid and consistent strategy followed by action is the best way to overcome frustration. The best part is, anyone can adopt new methods and then develop their skills to help them be successful at it.  

Overcoming frustration requires you to take action.

Now that you’re aware that action is the key, here are some things you can do about frustration to model the best leaders.

1. Add the Truth

When you notice a team member is showing signs of frustration, don’t hope it goes away. It’s time to add the truth to conversations. While it might seem like an obvious strategy, the majority of people would rather avoid the truth for fear of what they might hear or what might happen. As a mentor wisely told me, “Our ability to sense truth is amazing, and the truth needs no crutches.”

The best leaders embrace talking about the truth because they know the best path to remove frustrations is to add the truth. 

The best way to remove frustration is to add the truth.  

There are a few ways to get to the truth; first, ask yourself or team members to communicate the source of their frustration. Second, listen or seek to understand what might be causing it.  

2. Acknowledge the Root Cause and Develop Solutions

Rarely will our first pass at communicating the root cause of our frustration come out clearly. It’s worth the mental bandwidth to get to the source by asking that hard question of “why.” A strategy I go through with some of my executive coaching clients is called the “Two-Level Why” All I do is ask executives to take their feelings of frustration two levels lower than they start.  

Here is a simple example:

No alt text provided for this image

It’s a short and straightforward example, but if you get in the habit of leveraging the “two-level why” with yourself or your team, you will get to the root cause of the frustration more often and get to solutions. 

3. Perseverance Over Perfection

Knowing we are human and emotions are part of what makes us great, it’s impossible to remove frustration altogether. So what’s required is to persevere instead of expecting perfection.  

If you are expecting perfection, you will constantly be frustrated.  

One of my favorite strategies for this is a simple, practical resolution to say to yourself. It goes like this: “I will not be frustrated anymore by things others do or do not do, but rather I will take ownership over things in my control and be proactive in finding ways to reconcile them.”

A simple affirmation like this gives you the power to overcome frustration versus blaming others.  

Closing

Frustration and adversity are guarantees in life. Your ability to overcome them and create the best outcomes for all those involved is vital in determining your success.  

Take an honest look at the things that are frustrating you right now. Are you doing all you can adding the truth, getting to the root cause, and persevering without expecting perfection? If the answer isn’t what you want it to be, now is the time to act before the frustration gets to a point where you join the “great resignation” club.

Effective Communication for Leaders: Ready to improve your communication skills? Register for the virtual workshop.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How the Best Leaders Are Combatting Employee Burnout

Burnt matches, concept for highly prevalent resident burnout. Highly prevalent resident burnout.

Ever wonder when most executives and managers will stop talking about employee burnout and instead do something about it?  

Take Whitney Wolfe Herd, current CEO of Bumble, for instance. In light of a hectic year, with her company navigating remote work, a global pandemic, a public offering (Nasdaq BMBL), and immense user growth, Wolfe Herd was done talking about employee burnout and decided to do something about it. She gave all of the company’s 700 employee workforce a week off of paid vacation to help them with burnout. 

In a statement, Bumble said that like most people, “our global team has had a very challenging time during the pandemic. As vaccination rates have increased and restrictions have begun to ease, we wanted to give our teams around the world an opportunity to shut off and focus on themselves for a week.” 

Now I don’t pretend making a decision like this is an easy one whether you are the CEO of Bumble or any other organization. To go a step further, just because it was the right decision for Wolfe Herd doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for another organization. However, it proves she found the courage to make a tough decision, especially when it came to taking care of her people. 

“Great leaders find the courage to make tough decisions, especially when taking care of their people.”

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a term thrown around so much; it feels like it’s lost its meaning. It’s defined as; a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It typically occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

The Mayoclinic goes a step further, saying, “Burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are behind burnout. Researchers point out that individual factors, such as personality traits and family life, influence who experiences job burnout.”

If you or a team member is burned out, here are a few warning signs:

  • Inability to think or focus on anything other than work
  • Loss of passion for completing work you previously loved
  • Constant negativity about the future where once positive
  • Excessive weight gain or weight loss without a significant change in diet or exercise
  • Inordinate satisfaction about achievement or positive results

Now that we’re clear on what it is and some of the signs, the natural question is, are workers burned out?

According to an Indeed survey, 52% of all workers are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic. So not only is burnout real, but it’s still uncertain how it will affect professionals in the future.  

Here are a few strategies to implement to lead effectively in this increased level of burnout.  

Don’t Ignore It, Talk About It.

The first step to identifying any problem is to open up lines of communication about how people are feeling and what burnout is. There is a decent chance your team might be experiencing signs of burnout without knowing what it is. A couple of good ideas to consider include: 

  • Run a pulse survey to get insight into how people are feeling and their engagement level
  • Share the results of the survey with the team
  • Share the definition of burnout and signs I previously outlined
  • Collaborate on ideas to prevent burnout specific to your team

Turn Down Demands But Don’t Lower the Standards.

One of the leading causes of burnout is excessive demands of a job. Now here is where many managers get leadership wrong. They confuse demands with standards. A leader who makes demands gives insistent requests made as if by right. A leader who leverages standards defines what great looks like and helps their team meet or exceed it.  

Great leaders don’t make demands, they elevate the standards.

An excellent way to think about this is the quality of work that’s required. For example, if a leader of an engineering team that designs bridges or buildings were to lower the standards of her team, it would put people in danger who use the building or bridge in the future. So instead of lowering the standard, this leader should extend project timelines or limit the number of projects her team takes on to maintain the design standards while putting her people and their wellbeing over short-term profit. 

Give More Recognition than Usual

Recognition matters to people, and it works. Don’t just take my word for it; according to research, When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied: “give recognition.”

O.C. Tanner found 45% of surveyed employees said the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture that is not meaningful to them. Here are a few ideas from a video to help:

Closing

There is no doubt that each professional, team, or organization could be affected differently by burnout. So to assume there is just one way for every leader to respond would be foolish. So whether you want to take a page out of the Wolfe-Herd book of leadership and give your people a paid week off to show them you are serious about their health and well being or not, the key is that you don’t ignore burnout or downplay those that might be experiencing it. It’s your job to elevate others, and being proactive in overcoming burnout will be a sign you are doing just that. 

Do you agree with Bumble’s CEO Wolfe-Herd’s decision? How do you suggest leaders combat burnout? Tell me in the comments.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades

How Great Leaders Overcome the Current Talent Shortage

Search for talent or looking for employee

There is no shortage of challenges facing leaders today. Leading remote teamscommunicating the company return to the office policy, navigating a rapidly changing market, and handling a constricted supply chain, just to name a few. While these are all legitimate constraints, there is one challenge rising above the rest, acquiring talented professionals.  

Don’t just take my word for it; the stats regarding acquiring talent in the short term are staggering. According to the Allegis Group’s Global Workforce Trends Survey, 79% of respondents in North America experience challenges acquiring critical talent. In addition, Randstad Sourceright’s 2021 Talent Trends Report found, 40 percent of human capital leaders report that talent scarcity has negatively impacted their organization – the highest total in the past five years. 

As jaw-dropping as these statistics are, the talent shortfall appears to be here to stay. A recent Korn Ferry study found by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people, resulting in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues. 

The Problem Isn’t Isolated.

The talent shortage isn’t just forcing some teams or businesses to have to close or pause operations; it’s also contributing to the rising employee burnout problem. When a team is short on staff, it causes team members to work longer and harder to pick up the slack. The managers of teams in this situation might not recognize it, but leaders certainly do. 

Managers care about short-term productivity regardless of the price. Leaders care about the long-term price of productivity.  

Most managers focus solely on results. Leaders recognize results matter, but they see a world beyond just immediate outcomes.  

Since the talent shortfall is here to stay and the problem isn’t isolated, what can you do to thrive in this challenging environment?

Recruit Year-Round, With Everyone

Coaches in NCAA Division 1 college athletics know that to be great over a long period of time, they must recruit year-round and not just during open recruiting periods. The same is true in the workplace.  

Mark Wojcik, Founder & President at HireLevel, told me, “Be consistent and be flexible. Be consistent in your interview process and your communication. Be flexible with requirements and with candidate qualifications. Because at the end of the day, great leaders can harness great potential.”

Great leaders can harness great potential.

Instead of waiting until the need is extreme, every single team member, from the CEO to a front-line employee, should feel responsible for attracting talented people to the organization consistently. 

Look for “Cultural Cofounders.”

In the middle of talent crunches, it’s easy to forget about hiring for a good culture fit and settle for the thinking that “any warm body will do.” While it might help you in the short-term, this will no doubt hurt your team in the long run.  

On a recent episode of The Masters of Scale podcast with Reid Hoffman, Workday’s CEO Annel Bhusri talked about personally interviewing their first 500 employees for what he called “cultural co-founders.” The idea was, “if we hired the right first 500, it would give us the next 5,000 because they would be with the company for 10+ years to uphold the culture and attract the people that fit our culture well.”

“The best leaders hire for culture fit and for people who desire to get better.”

While this might seem extreme, if you are going to create a development and people-first culture, you better be sure to hire the right people who fit your culture and desire to progress.

Be Proactive for Talent Outside Your Vertical

W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne coined the terms red and blue oceans to denote the market universe in their book, Blue Ocean Shift. The idea being, Cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody red. Hence, the term ‘red’ oceans. Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence today – the unknown market space, unexplored and untainted by competition.

While seeking talent isn’t a perfect fit to their idea, there is excellent value, seeking talent in professionals outside your traditional vertical. For example, I have been helping an upstart in the automotive industry seek talented customer service and salespeople. Instead of looking for people with experience in the automotive industry, we are looking for people who have hospitality service experience, because technical knowledge is easier to teach than a servant’s heart.  

Find an alternative industry where talented people have developed great leadership skills and be proactive in getting them to make the switch. It might be precisely what they are looking for, and no one is reaching out to them. 

Closing

There is nothing easy about the current talent shortfall, especially in specific industries like hospitality and manufacturing. However, if you recruit year-round, look for cultural cofounders, and focus on the untapped people outside your vertical, you will be on your way to a more talented team.

Lastly, as I tell my team all the time, “if it were easy, everyone would do it well.”

Leverage Accountability in Leadership: The development of your accountability skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me for the next Leveraging Accountability in Leadership Workshop! https://bit.ly/3uCLzFF

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

3 Proven Rules to Increase Accountability as a Leader

Red figure of the leader in the center of the circle of people

Accountability as a leadership skill is among the most difficult to be highly effective when you solely rely on instincts. Most leaders struggle with accountability not because they don’t have the talent to be effective but because they don’t know what it actually is. 

Accountability is one of these words that has lost its meaning because of overuse. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people. Accountable leaders provide a path for personal improvement and team performance. 

Accountability is an advantage; make it your obligation.

In a best-case scenario, managers and executives have a lot of training and experience to learn, develop and mold their accountability skills. However, when business and HR executives expect individual contributors to be highly effective managers on day one after their promotion, it sets both parties up to be disappointed.   

What most managers do is rely on their instincts when it comes to accountability. While instincts can undoubtedly be good, just because you have them doesn’t mean they’re always right. 

Just because you have instincts as a leader doesn’t mean they are always right. 

Research for the SkillsLoft assessment has shown accountability is one of the top 4 weakest leadership competencies in managers, only behind listening, empathy and communication. So clearly, if you struggle with accountability as a leadership skill, you are not alone. So if you are ready to get better and take some steps to increase accountability in your leadership approach, follow these rules.  

Relationships Come First

Joe Maddon, a successful Major League Baseball manager and current skipper for the Los Angeles Angels, has a unique way of leveraging accountability. When one of his players violates a team rule or isn’t meeting a standard, he asked the player to purchase a nice bottle of wine, then they open it and have a glass or two in a one-on-one meeting. Thus he’s dedicating time to the player to have the disapproval dialogue while at the same time creating a deep sense of connection between himself and the player.

While this isn’t a strategy every leader can use, Maddon understands this critical leadership lesson regarding accountability. 

“Leaders must connect before they correct.”  

The reason this rule exists is that “rules before relationships lead to rebellion.” The stronger your relationship with team members, the more comfortable and more effective accountability can be. 

No Standards, No Accountability

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is not setting clear standards or assuming people know them. By definition, standards define what good looks like. The way I want you to think about them is slightly different. The best leaders don’t define what good looks like; they define what great looks like. When you define what great looks like for your team and communicate it correctly, these standards will produce behaviors and habits that are vital to achieving results.  

They also become the foundation for what you hold your people accountable for. Without their presence, it’s nearly impossible to be an accountable leader and to have an accountable culture.  

Praise and Recognition Count as Well

Most people think of accountability in a negative way and believe because they are willing to have difficult dialogues or fire someone, they are good at it. The truth is, accountability isn’t only focused on the negative; firing someone is one of the weakest forms of it. To go a step further, accountability can be used to praise and recognize team members who meet and exceed the standards as well.  

When team members go above and beyond the standard, sharing praise and recognition released dopamine in the brain, making them feel good. Beyond that, dopamine has also been proven to create innovative thinking and promote problem-solving at work. Those small recognitions make people want to keep emulating the behavior that caused them to give it.  

An excellent way for you to think about this is what I call the Constructive Praise Meter, or “CPM.” Over the course of a month, a leader should balance between 40% and 60% of delivering constructive feedback and praise. If at any point that meter dips too much in one direction over an extended period, accountability gets out of balance.    

Closing 

The absolute best part about accountable cultures is that they produce great outcomes, and team members end up embracing them. But accountable cultures don’t happen by themselves. They are created by leaders who work hard at developing their accountability skills daily.

How do you raise the accountability level on your team or organization?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why the Best Modern Leaders Rely on Empathy

choice

There is a growing belief that the leadership needed today is different from previous generations. The reasons are numerous, but a few to highlight include the stress of the Covid-Pandemic, WFH culture, and the shift from the task economy to the problem-solving economy.  

That means one of two things must happen; existing managers trained in traditional management approaches from the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s need to develop a different leadership skill set. Or organizations must begin looking for professionals who already look at leadership differently to be in management positions.

While many skills are essential in this new leadership era, empathy is one standing above the rest. Now before you shake empathy off as a weak skill, let’s get clear on what it is in the context of leadership. I have come to define it as, “How well you identify with others to understand their feelings and perceptions in order to guide your actions.” I often describe it to coaching clients as your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act differently because of it.  

While the definition provides clarity, the reason it’s such a critical leadership skill is that the one thing that every professional wants is to be understood, especially by their boss. 

Empathy is a critical leadership skill because people want to be understood, especially by their boss.

Understanding the feelings of a team member can be difficult because feelings aren’t always directly communicated. Understanding how someone else is feeling or could be feeling is an art that requires practice. 

Why the Best Leaders Have Great Empathy

Most people struggle with empathy. To master it, you have to begin by giving empathy to yourself. Consider the times you’ve been too hard on yourself, perpetuated negative self-talk, or beat yourself up for making a mistake. We’ve all done it. 

The best leaders allow themselves and others grace. Their empathy skills have been carefully developed over years of experience and countless learning moments where their empathy failed them. They use what I call their “empathy expertise” in interactions with others because they know its impact on engagement and performance.

Great leaders know empathy impacts employee engagement and performance.

Research backs this up as multiples studies have shown that higher empathy skills lead to an increase in leadership effectiveness and higher organizational performance.    

Don’t Confuse Empathy and Sympathy

When coaching leaders about their empathy score in the SkillsLoft Assessment, they often confuse empathy with sympathy. While there are some similarities, one helps you as a leader, and the other is neutral or negative. 

Sympathy is having or feeling pity for someone without understanding what it’s like to be in their situation. This doesn’t sound bad on the surface, but without working to understand a team member’s situation and acting accordingly, you run the risk of holding someone back through your pity rather than elevating them. A mentor once told me, “Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy involves feeling with them.”

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Empathy is only sympathy until you have humility.” Having the humility not to think less of yourself but think of yourself less will help you understand someone else’s situation so you can act accordingly.

How to Lead with Empathy

There should be little doubt now about why empathy is so important in leadership today. It continually is one of the biggest differentiators in leaders who elevate others. Since empathy is a skill that can be developed and refined like many others, here are a few strategies to get better.

1. Listen Like Your Life Depends On It

Being in the same room with someone and observing them has always been a powerful way to recognize when someone is struggling. However, with the current work from home environment, it makes observing problems 10x harder. This means leaders must listen as their life depends on it.

A few simple strategies include:

  • Being where your feet are
  • Saying, “tell me more” in coaching conversations.

2. Fulfill Each Team Members Most Basic Work Needs

One of the most popular strategies of highly empathetic leaders might surprise you. They get out ahead of someone’s negative feelings. While this sounds counterintuitive, it actually demonstrates incredible empathy. By using creative methods to fulfill each team member’s most basic work needs, it sets a precedent that “I understand you.”  

In the workplace, the most basic professional needs include but aren’t limited to:

  • Financial compensation for providing the essentials
  • Having enough work to stay busy and engaged
  • Creating a sense of belonging and community
  • Showing appreciation for work ethic and effort

3. Demonstrate An Ability to Help (Especially When It’s Not Convenient)

Most good people are willing to help someone else when it comes from their excess. While this is great and certainly better than the alternative, helping a team member when it’s not convenient demonstrates great empathy.  

Instead of talking about helping, you will be acting on it. This is the second part of the definition of empathy, […] acting differently because of it. I like to ask leaders, “When was the last time you did something for a team member that pleasantly surprised them?”

Just like any great Christmas present demonstrates your understanding of the other person, doing something that surprises a team member in a good way shows you “get” them.  

Closing

As leadership continues to evolve, skills like empathy will only grow in importance. The question becomes, will you put in the work?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades and now on Clubhouse.

How Leaders Develop Better Employees

Employees stand in a row at the briefing

No one makes it alone. In business, in life, in reaching personal or professional growth, our journeys are filled with other people. Their influence, wisdom, and coaching can drive us towards accomplishing our goals. While the impact of anyone’s encouragement can propel you towards success, there is one person whose support makes a professional impact, unlike any other: Leader support.

Those professionals whose current or previous bosses have gone above and beyond to support their people’s growth and development have an enormous advantage over those who have not. In our preliminary research, employees who have a leader who prioritizes and supports their development get promoted 18% more often than those who do not. 

 Why Don’t Some Leaders Make Growth and Development a Priority?

Tom Peters famously said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Many managers and bosses have read, seen, or even agreed with his quote; but, their people aren’t developing beyond their role or the skills required to do the job. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Bandwidth Availability – There are only 24 hours in a day, and many leaders have so many responsibilities that their bandwidth runs out.
  2. Scarcity Thinking – Instead of having an abundance mindset around talent and people, some leaders have scarce thinking. They hold people back for fear of losing them. 
  3. Ego Driven – Unfortunately, some managers and executives think of themselves first. They use people as cogs in their wheel, stepping stones to get where they are trying to go.  

When leaders believe something is important, they prioritize, when it’s not, they rationalize. – John Eades

Personal and Skill Development Changes Lives

For the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t take my development seriously. I did enough to maintain an acceptable GPA and received the obligatory high school and college degrees, but my own personal development was never a priority. Everything changed when I went to work for a sales performance improvement company (now Richardson Sales Performance), and I reported to a VP of Sales that obsessed over employee development. The combination of seeing how great professional education could be immediately applied and having a boss that made reading mandatory changed my life. 

At first, I thought that my experience of growth under a dedicated leader was personal and unique. But after teaching, speaking, coaching, and watching others, I realized that it was universal. Growth under supportive leadership can and is experienced by everyone who embraces personal development because they start thinking like this:

Instead of thinking small, they think big

Instead of making excuses, they make results.

Instead of rejecting coaching, they embrace coaching.

Instead of believing success is for others, they believe it’s for them.

Instead of having bad habits, they form good ones.

Instead of being pessimistic, they become optimistic. 

Instead of struggling in their career, they thrive in it.

Last week, Brendan Burchard hosted a virtual influencer summit. In it, he shared a two-word lesson that should be a mantra for all leaders. He said, “Change Lives.” If every leader had the mindset of “changing lives” and asking themselves at the end of every day, “did I change someone’s life today?” we would be in a better place. 

How to Support Employee Growth and Development

You lead a team, and you wonder if you are doing enough to help support employee development. Start with this fundamental principle: “your example and the support you provide matter.”  If you want to improve how you support your employee’s growth and development, give some of these a try.

1. Ask Them Their Dreams and Ambitions

The best way to support team members’ development is to know where they want to go. Their dreams and aspirations might not be the same as yours; focus on helping them get where they are trying to go versus where you want them to go.  

The book Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly introduced a simple idea: the key to motivation for employees was not necessarily the promise of a bigger paycheck or a title, but rather the fulfillment of a personal dream. Many companies, like Lipper Components, have adopted programs to help educate, equip, and empower employees to live more intentional and engaged lives through personal coaching and connection.  

Since dreams and ambitions change as time progresses, make sure at least once a year you ask the question, “Is there a professional goal either inside or outside the organization you aspire to reach or grow into?”

2. Encourage Them to Do Things Where Failure is Likely

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Encouragement is rocket fuel for confidence, and confidence fuels perseverance during adverse times.” Achieving or completing anything that someone hasn’t previously accomplished requires courage, risk-taking, and behavior change. Part of a leader’s job is to be an encouraging voice in people’s heads, so they try things where failure is likely.  

Failure is not final, failure is feedback. 

Use words like: 

“You will,” “You can,” and “Don’t quit; you are on the cusp of making it.”

While these might sound corny, they are essential words to hear from someone else, especially your boss. 

3. Have Them Teach or Present to Others

Waiting too long to give an employee more free rein can result in them feeling bored or losing faith in their abilities. If we ask them to make too many decisions too early, we may increase the risk of failure and dampen their sense of competence. To help you gauge each employees’ readiness, I shared four distinct stages of development on a recent episode of “The Modern Manager” with Mamie Kanfer Stewart.

  1. Model. The best leaders first model how to do the expected behavior or task. If you don’t know how to demonstrate the skill, find someone to teach it who does.
  2. Observe. Have your employee demonstrate the skill, task, or behavior for you while you observe them. Don’t be scared to embrace “the uncomfortable pause.” Instead of offering advice or solving the problem, first, ask your employees questions when they are stuck. Then give them the space to come up with their own solutions.
  3. Report Back. Give your employee encouragement to go do it on their own and report back how it went.
  4. Teach. When your employee can teach or present to others, they have fully integrated the instructions and mastered the skill.

Closing

Supporting your employee’s development by asking about their dreams, encouraging them to do tough things, and having them teach what they have learned to others isn’t easy. It requires you to think of yourself as a coach and have endless patience. Often the effort put into personal development doesn’t yield immediate results.  

This means most managers and bosses ignore this massive responsibility because they think it’s less important than other things they do. Instead of embracing this mindset, relish the opportunity to support your people and change their lives.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Leaders Who Are Great Communicators Do These 6 Things

communication bubbles

While having an aspirational vision or a well-thought-out strategy are keys for becoming a successful leader; however, your vision and strategy won’t translate to reality if you cannot communicate them effectively.

Take Gerard, a regional manager at a medium-sized business, as an example. During a coaching session, he raved about how he communicated the team’s new strategy coming out of COVID at his latest all-hands team meeting.

While I typically take leaders at their word, I was a bit stunned because my interviews with his team members told me a different story. 

These are just a few of the things they said:

“He said so much; I don’t even know where to start.” 

“He was so focused on his role; he forgot the challenges I face in mine.” 

“He rambled a lot making him hard to understand.”

From all our work studying and helping leaders, I know Gerald isn’t alone. Often, communication is a skill leaders believe they excel in, but in actuality is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

Nothing hinders a leader’s performance more than their inability to communicate effectively. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, I collected some of my favorite daily habits we have gathered from leaders who are great communicators. 

They Seek Stories and Tell Them

In a world of data-driven business, that some call management, it can be easy to only focus on numbers and results. Sure these things matter, but by themselves, they can bore and be uninspiring. 

Great communicators know this, and they are constantly looking for stories and telling them all the time. Joe Lazauskas gave us a reason this makes so much since “Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” 

If you want to get better storytelling, study the three arcs of a story, and always look for stories in books, movies, or sports.

They Ask Themselves What the Key Takeaway Is

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Bad leaders not only struggle with the proper amount of communication, but they often leave their team members confused instead of clear.

It’s impossible to be an effective leader without being a great communicator.

Great communicators overcome this by asking themselves a simple but difficult question before delivering their message, “what is the key takeaway I want the audience to take with them.” If you mimic this habit daily, you will be amazed at how you will use the 3C’s of Successful communication. Your words will be clear, concise, and conclusive.  

They Say “You” and “We” More than “I” and “Me”

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Communication has more to do with the audience than the person doing the communicating.” This means great communicators use words like “you” and “we” much more often than “I” and “me.”

While this habit seems small and inconsequential, our brains are always evaluating the potential “pain” or “gain” to ourselves. Hearing “you” or “we” locks us into the message being delivered versus the other way around.

They Constantly Repeat Standards and Expectations

Early on, I found myself frustrated with my team. In a conversation with a very wise mentor, he gave me some great advice, “Expectations are the seeds of resentment.” What made it even worse is that I had expectations, but never told my team. I just expected them to know what I was thinking. 

Bad leaders pass judgments based on their expecations not being met, without ever communicating them. 

Great leaders not only set and maintain high standards for themselves and their team members, but they also communicate them all the time. They think of themselves as the CRO “Chief Repetition Officer.” Go ahead and raise the bar around what’s expected from your team and communicate it until you feel like a broken record. 

They Are Always Aware Of Body Language.

Communication doesn’t just happen through verbal or written words—a major part of communication through body language. Bad leaders either don’t realize this or they don’t care.  

A study of teachers and students in the 1990s by Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Nalini Ambady found students needed to only watch the body language of a teacher in short segments to make judgments that accurately predicted teacher end of year evaluations. They noted, “Body language is by far the most important factor, and the teacher’s words barely mattered, it’s evident we communicate a great deal of information about ourselves through our body language.”

When an employee sees you and recognizes positive and powerful body language, they immediately are more interested in the words you might say. They will be able to conclude what you are communicating by your body language alone.  

They Listen Intently to Things Most Don’t

I asked a question to leaders recently in this post, “If you could go back to your first day leading a team, what would you do differently based on what you know now?” The number #1 answer was some form of listening. It turns out; listening is also a habit of all great communicators.

You can start to separate yourself as a communicator, not just by being a good listener but listening intently to the things most people don’t. Try locking into the conversations colleagues have, what customers are saying, or even the body language that sheds light on what people are thinking and feeling. It will drastically improve the way you communicate with others.

Closing

No matter if you have these habits in down yet or not, communication is one of those skills that’s worth your constant effort and attention to improve.  

As you put in the effort, you will be better equipped to guide your team in the right direction and execute your team’s strategy.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping improve the performance of struggling managers. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How Leaders Make Better Decisions

Business planning and decision conceptual image

Should you take the promotion? Should you hire or fire a team member? Should the organization go in a new direction? Should you improve your teamwork? These are common decisions leaders have the responsibility to make on a daily basis. And while they vary in terms of magnitude, they all require some form of discernment. After all, each of them could have a significant impact on both the present and the future.

One of the most important skills for leaders to develop is discernment in order to make better decisions. While this seems obvious and easy, turns out decision making is tough. Some research suggests we make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. While it’s hard to imagine the number is that high, “If leaders make the small daily decisions correctly, it makes the bigger decisions much easier.”

“If leaders make the small daily decisions correctly, it makes the bigger decisions much easier.”

In studying the best leaders on the planet to write Building the Best, it turns out they use strategies and tactics to help them discern and make the right small decisions more often. If you want to mimic or learn from them, here are a few of my favorites:

Transfer Ownership

With the NFL football season right around the corner, Bill Belichick has some interesting strategies for making successful decisions. One of my favorites is allowing his team’s work ethic, competitiveness, and results to make the decisions for him about who starts and who sits.

Belichick gathers his team at the beginning of training camp and shows them a blank depth chart. He tells his team, “I don’t make the depth chart; you guys make the depth chart.” 

By making it clear to your team that they are actually in control of the decisions, you’ll transfer ownership of the decisions to where it should reside in the first place. 

The 40-70 Rule

In our virtual leadership workshops, I coach leaders to leverage Colin Powell’s 40-70 Rule when making a decision, then running it through both the short and long-term ramifications. If you aren’t familiar with the 40-70 Rule, Powell says, “Every time you face a tough decision, you should have no less than forty percent and no more than seventy percent of the information you need to make the decision.”  

If you decide with less than forty percent of the information, you are taking a wild guess, but if you wait until you have over 70% of the information, you are making it too late. 

The art of this rule is using both your intuition, experience, expertise, and also the priorities of short vs. long-term ramifications. The 40-70 Rule is a powerful strategy to get comfortable with making smarter decisions before it’s too late. 

Uncomfortable Pause to Wait for Rational Thinking

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is allowing decisions to be made solely based on emotion. Emotional decisions are made swiftly and are reactive. While this can be useful when there’s immediate danger, it’s almost always a poor method over making business decisions.  

Leaders embrace the responsibility of making big decisions, but they’re never made only with emotions.

Removing all emotion from a decision isn’t possible. In fact, I’ve seen emotions lead to a long-overdue decision. Instead of trying to remove all emotions, a better strategy is to acknowledge your emotions. Pay attention to your feelings and how they may be impacting your thoughts. Then, embrace an uncomfortable pause and elevate your rational thinking by listing out the actual pros and cons so you can make the best decision possible.  

Seek Wise Perspectives

Someone has to own the process and make the decisions, but rarely do great leaders make decisions on their own. Almost every great leader I have interviewed surrounds themselves with a trusted inner circle who helps guide their decision-making process. 

Most of the time, this inner circle includes a professional coach, a mentor with more experience, a spouse, and/or colleagues.  

As your decisions get larger, be sure you have a similar group of people to help you think logically and from all angles. 

Consider the Worst Outcome Not the Best

I have written at length about how the best leaders are optimistic and have an intense desire to win. This means more often than not, they are thinking about all the good things that will happen as a result of their decision, not the alternative.

To counteract this, an effective strategy when making a decision is to write down the worst possible outcome of a decision. My experience has been that the worst possible outcome is rarely catastrophic. Most decisions aren’t life or death.

As long as your intentions are in the best interest of the greater good and not to serve your self-interests, considering the worst outcome will free you up to make the best decision possible.

Closing

Our days are filled with decisions, both big and small. Lean into the discernment process by leveraging some of these strategies to set you and your team up for success.

I am working on doing a better job of engaging with readers of the Building the Best Newsletter on LinkedIn. If you see this, do me a favor and answer this question in the comments below.

What strategies do you use, or have you seen other great leaders use to make great decisions?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping improve the performance of struggling managers. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.