Q&A: Improving My Leadership Skills
Q: I want to strengthen my success as an executive because there is always ways to improve your leadership skills, and I don't feel my skills and communication is equal to my peers. I have looked at the art of setting goals, the importance of good communication and operational oversight, but I feel there is something missing. Can you help me?
- Danny, Software
One of the key elements most leaders need to think about is success. What does success mean to you? If you were to name someone you feel is highly successful who might that be?
Would it be the Wright brothers who are credited with inventing, building and flying the world's first successful airplane? Or
Grace Hopper who along with Howard Aiken designed Harvard's Mark I computer, a five-ton, room-sized machine in 1944?
Maybe success isn't as dramatic as the Wright brothers or Grace Hopper, but whoever your choice is, they had the right mindset.
Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Through decades of research on achievement and success, she discovered a simple idea: Growth Mindset. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the business, education and sports.
You might find it surprising, but in Dweck's 2007 book
, it says that it's not intelligence, talent or education that sets successful people apart. It's their mindset, or the way that they approach life's challenges. When you think about it, if you don't have the right mindset you cannot achieve what you want. Let's talk about what mindset is so you will not only be a successful leader, but also a successful person personally. We will start with the understanding that a fixed mindset can and will hold you back, but a growth mindset can help you reach your goals.
Which mindset are you? Who do you want to be?
A Fixed Mindset:
A fixed mindset is the belief that your intelligence, talents and other abilities are set in stone. You believe that you're born with a particular set of skills and that you can't change them.
If you have a fixed mindset, you undoubtedly feel you are not smart enough or talented enough to
achieve your goals
. You may hold yourself back by engaging in activities that you know you can succeed at.
Even worse is a manager with a fixed mindset because he may fear that his or her team members' achievements will surpass his own expertise. When a team member spots an opportunity that he didn't, he sees it as a threat. To avoid being
" as lacking skills, he may discourage
star team member's
development and ignore his people's needs.
We have all worked with people who wanted to be the best, didn't want others to have the same knowledge they had, and did not appreciate the fact that if they were only a "team player" and utilized the talents of everyone and shared their knowledge they would be the best. In addition, we have worked with individuals who did not have the confidence they were "good enough."
Dweck and her colleagues examined the brains of people with different mindsets. The brains of those with a fixed mindset showed higher activity when they were told that their answers to a series of questions were right or wrong - they were keenly interested to know whether they had succeeded or failed. But they showed no interest when researchers offered them help to learn from their mistakes. They didn't believe they could improve so they didn't try.
A Growth Mindset:
A growth mindset means you believe that with effort, perseverance and determination, you can develop your natural qualities.
and mistakes as opportunities to improve, while also enjoying the process of learning and becoming more productive. This is what Dweck calls "purposeful engagement."
You also believe that you can overcome obstacles. You choose to learn from the experience, work harder and try again until you reach your goals.
In her research, Dweck built on the theory of neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to continue to form new connections into adulthood, after it has been damaged or when it is stimulated by new experiences. This supports the idea that you can adopt a growth mindset at any time of life. You may not become another Wright brother or Grace Hopper, but a growth mindset can help you to realize your own potential through learning and practice.
This is why Dweck says that
en someone does well reinforces a fixed mindset, while praising their effort encourages growth. When you focus on an individual's results, they learn that trying doesn't matter. But praising their efforts rewards their process of learning, so they become more motivated to keep striving toward their goals.
So How Do You Develop a Growth Mindset?
Dweck provides some simple steps that you can take to switch to a new way of thinking.
Step 1. Listen to yourself.
Remember with a fixed mindset you will not be able to follow your path to success. For example,
can you hear yourself
questioning whether you have the skills or talent for a project? Do
that you'll fail and that people will look down on you? When you think about taking on a new challenge, do you resist for fear of failing? Perhaps you've received negative feedback and you hear yourself making excuses, blaming others, and defending yourself. If you do, you can use
(decide rationally what goals you can realistically attain with hard work, seeking assistance from others, and then use positive thinking for reinforcement) to combat negative thinking.
Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice
. Everyone will face obstacles and challenges throughout life, but the way that you respond to them can make the difference between success and failure. If you have a fixed mindset, you'll see these setbacks as proof that you're just not up to the job. But, if you look at them as opportunities for growth, you can develop a plan for action, such as learning, working hard, changing your strategy and trying again.
Step 3. Challenge your fixed mindset
. When you're faced with a challenge and you hear yourself thinking that you'd better not try because you don't have the talent to succeed, remember that you can learn the skills you need to achieve your goals. You may not succeed the first time, but practice will help you to develop. For example, if you're facing a challenge and you think, "I'm not sure I can do this. I don't think I'm smart enough," then challenge this fixed mindset by responding with, "I'm not sure if I can do it and I may not get it right the first time, but I can learn with practice."
It's really important to understand the differences between arrogance and confidence (growth mindset), because no one likes to deal with arrogant people. Both arrogant and confident people entail a strong belief in their own abilities. Those with confidence can easily overcome fears and uncertainty. They have a positive and optimistic vision that makes them strong and admirable. Sometimes over-confidence turns into arrogance and it is a big weakness. Arrogant people usually view themselves as superior and never admit their mistakes.
Relationships with arrogant people can be difficult. Someone once wrote, "Think of arrogance as a disease," it makes everyone around an arrogant person sick except the person with the arrogance. Such people live in their own world of self-importance and pride and nothing affects them. They cannot accept their weaknesses or faults with grace, but blame others for them. A truly self-confident, growth minded person is able to show vulnerability and even admit past mistakes or admit they do not know something. Remember no one knows everything. This quality is highly appreciated by others. Arrogant people can sacrifice friendships or other relationships at the cost of their success while confident or growth mindset people will rarely be found lecturing or preaching to others or constantly telling someone how they are wrong. They usually show respect while listening to somebody and learning from others.
Who are you? Do you see yourself clearly? Can you look to develop a growth mindset? Someone who embraces challenges because you believe you can learn from experiences, develop your skills, and improve with practice, leads to this: success.
Management By Observation
When it comes to management, perhaps you've heard someone say this, "Management by wandering around is keeping your finger on the pulse."
This is a practice I strongly believe in and have practiced for many years. I remember an employee saying aloud as I came through the door (in a friendly and fun spirit), "Oh here comes Jeanne - managing by observation." By the spirit in which it was said, I knew the employees appreciated my taking the time to visit and observe while they were working.
A manager or leader can appear to be distant, unapproachable and in some cases, seem intimidating if staff doesn't see their leadership. I
t is possible to be a manager/leader who is respected for being wise and knowledgeable, and one who is engaged and connected with the people around them.
If you, as a leader, build a wall around yourself and don't interact with staff, your team members won't benefit from your knowledge, and in turn you won't benefit from their experiences. Unfortunately this also means that you won't be able to identify and deal with issues before they become serious, and you'll miss out on interacting with staff for the benefit of sharing vital information so everyone can make sound decisions.
As mentioned, I believe a very effective way to connect with your team is by talking with them, to work with them, to ask questions and to help when needed. This practice is called Management by Wandering Around (MWA), or Managing by Observation.
This exercise does not mean to just wonder around the office, but to be deliberate and observe people's work, team members' interactions with you and their peers, as well as to see if they are engaged in the company's culture or working outside it. It requires skills, which at a minimum include: active listening, observation, recognition and appraisal.
MBWA also brings participation, spontaneity and informality to the idea of open-door management. It takes leaders into their teams' workplaces to engage with the people and processes that keeps companies running, to listen to ideas, to collect information and to resolve problems.
William Hewlett and David Packard, founders of Hewlett Packard (HP), famously used this approach. Tom Peters included lessons learned from HP in his 1982 book
, In Search of Excellence, and MBWA immediately became popular. It is reported that now, for examp
le, leaders from Disney work shifts with their resort teams, and the CEO of Waste Management Veolia regularly goes out with his staff when they collect trash.
MBWA can produce a wide range of results. It can, for example, help you be more
. People are often reluctant to speak with their managers or leaders because they
feel intimidated or they feel they won't care. But when your team members see you as a person as well as a leader, they'll trust you and be more willing to share ideas and their frustrations.
skills that are natural and build trust can be infectious, and encourages people to work together as a team. With better communication and an improved sense of what's happening in your team, you'll likely spot big problems before they happen, and you'll be in a better position
team to avoid them.
will get a lift from MBWA, too. Casual exchanges and opportunities to be
heard really do help people feel more motivated, inspired, and connected. You'll
productivity, as any actions that you agree upon with your team will likely get done because you see one another consistently.
For myself, I would speak with not only staff at our corporate office, but also visit the different branches. When visiting with them I made it very clear it was their meeting not mine. I would let them know about the strategy for the year, our goals company wide and then discuss their role in the company's success. At that point, it became their meeting. I asked if they had any questions or requests. If no one spoke up, I would kiddingly say I couldn't leave until I had at least one question or request. They would laugh and then they begin to ask questions and engage. We trusted each other because we were all team members looking to make sure we were heard, and that we were working within the culture of the organization.
"Wandering around" may seem easy to do and harmless enough, but it's important to do it right.
has shown that simply being physically present with your staff isn't enough. It's the post-walk actions that you take and the problems you solve that will determine the success of your MBWA strategy. If you don't strike the right balance, you can wind up doing more harm than good.
A big benefit of MBWA is that people can be open with you, but, if you shut down when you hear a negative comment or fail to follow up when you promise to do so, they might perceive you as defensive, as someone who doesn't keep their word, or worse someone who doesn't care.
Here are some tips to help you effectively master MBWA:
- Gauging the level of trust within your environment is important because if people don't trust you, MBWA could make them think that you're interfering or spying.
- Watch your body language. Body language does not lie, so if you are there just because you think you should be then you cannot put the staff at ease.
- You can ask your staff what they're working on, how comfortable they feel doing their jobs, what they find difficult, whether they see how their work contributing to the big picture, and so on. Ask them for ideas about how to make things better.
- Hold back from saying what you think, and actively listen to your team members' replies. Give them your undivided attention. When they see that you're interested in what they have to say, they'll likely be more open and receptive, and you'll build a rapport and trust.
- When you talk, be open and truthful. If you don't know the answer to someone's question, find it out afterward and follow up. If you can't share something, say so. Telling half-truths can break down trust, and trust is crucial for successful MBWA.
- Always look for successes rather than failures, and if you see something good, compliment the person. This is an effective and simple way to show your gratitude and to boost morale.
- Share good news and reinforce company goals, values and vision within your team. Your "wanderings" are opportunities to share information that helps everyone to better understand and better perform their jobs.
Final Food For Thought
The Harvard Business School published a Working Paper in September 2013, of the Effectiveness of Management-By-Walking Around: a Randomized Study.
Consider this quote from that report:
"MBWA has resulted in positive organizational change (Frankel et al. 2003, Pronovost et al. 2004). One explanation is that MBWA leads to successful problem resolution because seeing a problem in context improves managers' understanding of the problem, its negative impact, and its causes; increasing their motivation and ability to work with frontline staff and managers to resolve the issue (Mann 2009, Toussaint et al. 2010, von Hippel 1994, Womack 2011). Theory further suggests that MBWA's repeated cycles of identifying and resolving problems may create an organizational capability for improvement that reduces the cost of future improvement efforts, creating a positive dynamic (Fine 1986, Fine and Porteus 1989, Ittner et al. 2001). This virtuous cycle is further strengthened because communication from frontline workers about problems aligns manager's perspectives with customers' experiences (Hansen et al. 2010, Hofmann and Mark 2006, Huang et al. 2010, Singer et al. 2009), enabling managers to effectively allocate scarce resources among the organization's multiple improvement opportunities. Performance is also enhanced because managers' presence on the frontlines sends a visible signal that the organization is serious about resolving problems. This increases employees' beliefs that leadership values improvement, which in turn spurs employees to engage in the discretionary behaviors necessary for process improvement (McFadden et al. 2009, Zohar and Luria 2003). For these reasons, we hypothesize that MBWA will positively impact performance."
This is also demonstrated in the diagram below: ,
The conclusion of their study underscored that, "Understanding the impact of MBWA-based programs is helpful for organizations that may be considering implementing them. Organizations whose managers ensured that problems were addressed achieved better results. This suggests that improvement programs are more likely to change employees' perceptions when they result in action being taken to resolve problems than when they are a symbolic show of manager interest. Based on study findings, we recommend that organizations focus on increasing their capacity to act on improvement suggestions rather than expending further effort on generating more suggestions and prioritizing them."
I leave you with this: know your employees, share ideas, make sure you are actively listening and never forget a promise you made. If you can achieve this, you will have trust within the organization, staff embracing accountability and the organization will be results oriented.
References Mindtools and Harvard Business Schools
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