The Case For Mixing Your Personal And Professional Life

A lot was said about whether one should or shouldn’t mix his private and professional life. I personally always had troubles separating one from the other so I made combining both a virtue. Except of the advantages of living a good what I call “integrated” life, I have another strong reason that should every leaders keep in mind: recruitment.

Everyone is a recruiter

I said it before and I say it again. In a good well-functioning team everyone is a recruiter. Getting the right people to join the team is half of success and everyone can help. To be able to bring good quality referrals you need to have a good network of contacts. You need to know people, you need to know how good they are, you need to know their values and attitudes, you need to know what they are doing and how open they are to a change of scenery and you need to come to them with an offer at the right time.

Nurture your contacts

Patience is a virtue. And in recruitment it applies double time. When building your team you need to think long-term. You need to get used to the idea that not everyone will jump on the opportunity right away. Keeping in touch, regularly reaching out and showing interest in other people lives, make a small-talk, go for a lunch or a cup of coffee can keep you on their radar so when they are ready to take the big step and change their employer they will think of you. You are an associate, you are a friend and you are a salesperson who is selling a nice future with your company. Skillfully using a small sales pitch every now and then, reminding others how interesting your company is and how great it is to be on your team will eventually build up and a great image will be implanted in the minds of others.

Be there to help

Just keep in mind that every friendship or association must be a two way street. You need to be there to offer a sympathetic words when times are not good, and you need to be there when needed. Over the years I have helped many people to find jobs even with other companies. These were selfless acts when you show that you care for others even when there is no direct advantage for yourself. However, in a grand scheme of things these acts may not be as selfless as they appear on the outside. The world is small, and as the saying goes, you always meet twice. You never know when you run into the other person again and every small deed you do today may pay back at one point in the future. And if not than you can have at least a good feeling that you are helping others and that itself is worth the effort.

Know what’s going on

The nice side effect of all of these small selfless acts, cups of coffee or lunches is that you know what’s going on. Being introverted I’m not a fan of big networking events and that means I need to cherish every single social contact I have as making new once doesn’t come easily to me. Getting introduced to others by your friends in a “small number of people around” setting helps me to expand the network and lots of my best friends started as work associates. Being able to tap a network of people at different companies and associations helps you to know what is happening in your town and your industry. It helps you to know where the right people are and where to look for talent.

So next time you beat your recruitment team for not bringing in enough interesting candidates remember that “everyone is a recruiter” and by seamlessly integrating your life in and out of office, thinking about how to help others, and how to stay connected may in the long run help not just them but also bring value to your team.

 

What about you? Do you mix different aspects of your life? And how do you use your network of contacts to build your team?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

6 Fears Of Leadership

Every new manager needs to deal with tons of situations he or she never dealt before. There are battle you never fought before, battles you even cannot imagine. It requires courage, strength, vision, and understanding your opponent. And unfortunately the opponent’s army lives in your head.

Couple of years ago I participate on a coaching training organized by Erickson Coaching International. Part of the sixteen days long course was to learn how to deal with our internal fears and how to coach others to overcome them. Dr. Marilyn Atkinson calls these fears “gremlins”. She is describing four of these gremlins or fears that may inhibit your growth, success or happiness in life. They are essentially habits that can stop you from achieving your life or business goals. To make some of the ideas behind them more prominent I added two additional fears you will need to deal with when entering the world of management. So what are the fears that prevent you from becoming a stellar leader?

  1. Fear of dreaming

If you want to change something, or reach a goal you need to have a vision. You need to be able to visualize what you want to achieve, how you want your life to look like, how you want to be seen by your team and why is this important for you. The inability to dream, or rather to visualize yourself actually achieving the goals is one of the root causes why you don’t even begin. It might be you don’t believe you have the skills, or you see other people around who are in your eyes better, smarter, more beautiful. As a consequence you are unable to create a realistic visual experience on how your life could look like if you pursued some challenging goal. You are so afraid to dream that you procrastinate and you don’t even want to consider what might be possible and what you can be capable of.

How to fight this fear? Get a mentor or a professional coach to help you realize what your strengths, and your potential are. Remember that when you were five years old many things you do today (driving a car, buying a house, reading a book) looked pretty unachievable and still, here you are.

  1. Fear of failure

Even when you are able to set vision for yourself you can still get derailed by another fear that will pop up regularly as you are faced with new and new challenges. Fear of failure is there to shield you from doing something stupid that can hurt you. Unfortunately, it is rather conservative fellow and often prevents you from experiencing anything new. For people who get their first management job this is often very real fear. Suddenly, you are faced with whole new world of requirements and you feel like not having the necessary skills. As you get more and more experienced and as you get more comfortable with failure this fear slowly goes away.

How to fight this fear? Remember your first attempts to ride a bike? Or first swimming lessons? I’m pretty sure you had your share of failures and they were very important learning opportunities. It is ok to fail. And to help you get this mindset try to break down any insurmountable task into a bunch of simple steps that don’t look so threatening. Failing at the next small step is not that scary as failing at the huge vision.

  1. Fear of conflict

We are not alone. There are people all around us and especially in a leadership roles you need to expect frequent interactions with others. People who find themselves in a leadership role need to be able to fight. Ability to distinguish what are the battles worth fighting and how it should be done is one of the markers of really great managers, communicators, and leaders. Most of them have one thing in common. They have a very strong internal compass based on a clear set of values and rules. If you understand why something is important to you, if you are able to judge the impact on your actions and have communication skills to limit any collateral damage you get also more comfortable with having difficult discussions, having strong opinions and you get the ability to show your team a vision they can follow.

How to fight this fear? Focus on improving your communication skills and how to have difficult conversations to build your confidence. Look inside you to find the values that guide your life and make sure that your actions align with those values.

  1. Fear of system failure

We live and work in a complex system. Things somehow work, they are all connected and any time we do something we influence the system, the environment, and the people around us. Getting into a leadership position means that you are required to constantly influence the system in pretty significant ways. You have bigger impact on lives of others than when you were individual contributor, you have formal (or informal) power and you need to be ready to use it. The common fear here is that your decision will negatively impact someone’s life, you may lose friends, or you may get your boss angry. It then leads to indecisiveness, procrastination or apathy. You are getting to the wait and see mode instead of proactively directing your life and steering the system in a new direction.

How to fight this fear? Again, use your values as a compass for knowing what is right. Understand what role you are just playing in that given moment (boss, father, friend) and behave in a way that is aligned with that role. Stop worrying about things you cannot change. You cannot change how others feel, and you cannot change the whole world at once.

  1. Fear of insignificance

This is a fear that many managers experience. All human beings have the need to be respected. You want your boss to treat you like a human being and at the same time you want to feel people reporting to you are taking you seriously. For a new manager this fear may significantly impact his or her performance. It can also manifest itself when you are being promoted to more senior leadership roles and asked to work as a peer with people who are vastly more experience or if you are coming as a new manager to already built team. This fear can lead to being afraid to make tough decisions (or any decisions at all), being afraid to speak up on topics you are not so strong about (you could be ridiculed), being afraid to appear weak (so you start shouting on people and play a big boss). In short, this fear is rooted in you not being confident enough to do a job you are asked to do.

How to fight this fear? You’ve got to the position you are in for a reason. Others probably believe you will do fine. Getting a good understanding from the people who you interact with what they expect from the role, setting up clear communication and feedback channels, and making it very clear what values you stand for is a good start. It helps to have a trusted mentor who can guide you until you get the necessary amount of confidence.

  1. Fear of uncertainty

The world is changing. Any growth requires a change. And with any change there is uncertainty. For many managers and leaders the fear of uncertainty can keep them stuck in their ways even when those ways no longer work. You see that the team is not performing as well as it could, but you don’t know whether the improvement idea you have would work. So you don’t even try. There is a new big initiative coming, but because you are uncertain whether it will succeed, you resist. And then you are either left out or you help the initiative to fail. You need to make a decision, but you are so afraid of the uncertain future that you are trying to collect endless amount of data thus not making the decision too late, or not at all. There are so many similar situations that this fear can drastically impact your ability to grow your career but also to grow as a person and have a happy life.

How to fight this fear? Keep in mind that no one can predict the future. Also remember that the world around you is changing whether you want it or not and it is always better to lead the change as you can at least impact the direction. If you don’t make decisions, the life will make them for you. The need for clarity and understanding the future is very strong but can be broken by having a positive mindset that allows you to enjoy small wins, and keep the optimistic attitude and solid amount of curiosity. Once again, things that don’t change can’t grow.

And now what? If you have no clue how to find your internal fears then you should consider working with a life coach who can guide you on the journey through your inner self. The ability to understand your values, getting your vision, and recognize these fears so you can align them with your goals or even remove them altogether is a good first step for happy life and successful leadership career.

 

What are your fears as a leader? What were the internal fears and worries you had to overcome to become good at what you do?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Physical Distance In Management Matters

Management of geographically distributed teams can be sometimes pretty tough. In fact, one doesn’t need to sit on the opposite sides of the world to be distant from the team. Even sitting at the other side of the floor can have a huge impact on the way how you work with your team and what sort of impact you may have.

Simply put, distance matters. The quality and number of relationships is directly tight to the physical distance of you and the team, and to frequency and means of communication. The boss who sits on the floor in the middle of the team and interacts on daily basis is more likely to be able to influence than someone who sits remote and interacts once a week over the phone.

Why distance matters?

There are five key areas of management that are directly influenced by distance. Yes, I’m sure you can come up with many more but I feel that these are important both from short-term enabling of the team as well as from long-term sustainability perspective.

  • Speed – if your business requires a quick response times, you have customers distributed all around the world and teams that are composed of people sitting on different continents you are inevitably faced with slower response times. Even a simple exchange of emails will drag for days. The trick is to utilize the technology at hand (phones, video conferencing, instant messages, etc.) and what is more important always pick the right one for the particular occasion. Just check this article 7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone.
  • Culture – how do you ensure that your team lives and breathes the same values? If you work with people from different countries and cultures it is not an easy undertaking. In fact you will struggle to build a strong culture even when everyone sit in the same office. When you work with remote team the local culture will be always more prominent than the fuzzy corporate one, unless you give it the attention it deserves. The solution here is to constantly bring the company culture into any developmental conversation and every decision you make while being aware of the potential clashes coming from the local culture of that particular team.
  • Morale – how do you ensure that your remote team is motivated? Pretty much the same way the local ones. You need to create an environment that is conductive to self-motivating teams. The way to do this is to have a constant and never ending feedback loop between you and the team. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the remote team is way more difficult than seeing it in your own office since you are not part of the discussions around the remote water cooler. What about creating a virtual one?
  • Growth – how do you develop and grow your remote team? And I’m not talking about the numbers (even though hiring remotely also have its drawbacks) but rather about providing feedback, teaching, coaching and mentoring your remote team. Figuring out what they need and then helping them to achieve the developmental objectives is one of the most difficult aspects. I would even say that unless you have a team of mature adults who understand that their development is in their hands there is no realistic way you can develop them in a fast and consistent manner.
  • Influence – how do you influence the remote team? What if something doesn’t go as expected? How do you provide the necessary course corrections? From my experience with managing remote teams and being managed remotely I would claim that there is nothing the remote manager (even if direct boss) can do if the team decides that it is not the best idea. Influencing a team in remote location is even more difficult than influencing a team of people who don’t report to you but still sit in the same office. To be able to successfully influence behavior of others you need to be able to work with them, the people around them, understand and be able to change the environment, and influence the informal social circles. Not easy sitting at the opposite side of the globe.

Another cubicle

So what are the lessons learned for managing teams in the same location? Start with the space. You need to build the office in such a way that you are close to the people you are supposed to manage. You should always fight for having the team that needs to work closely together and sitting together. If your team consists of people from different functions or departments then you should ensure they either sit together or at least facilitate lots of formal and informal opportunities for these people to meet, build rapport, build trust, and communicate and work towards the same goal.

And you need to be part of the team. Sitting in a cozy corner office will be the same as sitting in another city. Your approachability will diminish and even my favorite Management By Walking Around Reinvented may not always provide you and the team with what they need.

Another city

Another dimension of complexity. You really cannot sit with the team in the same office, you cannot walk around every day, but you can be in constant communication. Let’s be happy for technology. I know of teams that dial a phone (or open a skype connection) in the morning and have the constant ability to hear what’s going on not just at the table next to them but at the table hundreds of miles away.

This may be a stretch and not always practical but you should strive to get as close to it as possible. Even a team chat where you regularly exchange instant messages is a good start. Hopefully you are also able to frequently travel to the other city to have face to face discussions with the team and to provide developmental feedback and course corrections to remind everyone the common goals and shared values of the team.

Another continent

This is the ultimate test. The added complexity is called time zones. You may have team distributed in so many locations that there is zero overlap of these. The only advice I can give you here is: don’t. When building your teams make sure that you have at least couple of hours a day of overlap when everyone is in the office and can communicate, solve issues, and set directions. I used to manage a virtual team of about fifty people from more than twenty companies distributed over Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia and there was no realistic way for us to meet, no way to have informal discussion around water cooler, no way to have regular 1on1 discussions. The only thing that worked and worked very well was weekly follow-up conferences at rotating times (so every week someone else was inconvenienced to wake up at 2am for the call).

This worked for single reason. All the people in the team were senior professionals who didn’t need any direction to do their job and I was not responsible for their professional development. I wasn’t managing them, I was managing the process. I strongly believe that if you are asked to manage remote team you need a strong local manager or leader who will do your bidding on-site. You can provide directions and vision but it will be she who will provide the actual management and leadership resource for the team. What are the attributes and characteristics of this individual is a topic for another time.

The message you should take away is that “you cannot manage people remotely”. As I wrote in You Manage Things, You Lead People you shouldn’t try to manage people even locally but with distance the complexity increases geometrically. And if you have team in the same building where you sit, remember that being at different floor or in the corner office may be almost the same as sitting in another city.

 

What is the impact of physical distance on your organization? How do you ensure you are mentally close to the team when in fact you are physically far?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Leading Under Pressure

One of the key characteristics of a good leader is ability to deal with unexpected situations, with disappointments and frustrations, with stress and depression, with pressure and anything that the ever changing high velocity business of today brings.

What characteristics you need to have and what behavior you need to exhibit so your team follows you even in the difficult times? It all starts with 3C (Composure, Confidence, and Clarity).

Composure

Even under pressure you need to keep your cool. You need to be able to calmly assess the situation and not buckle in. As a leader it is your responsibility to push your team so they grow, learn, execute and excel at their work. At the same time you are here to shield them from undue pressure. Why? Because the biggest killers of productivity are anxiety, uncertainty, fear and stress.

If your boss pushes on you to meet unrealistic deadline it is you who need to stop it right there and do you best to explain to him what is and is not possible. You may tap your team for detail information but you should never act just as a proxy who pushes the pressure to the team by asking them for impossible.

In the eyes of your team you should be someone who is easy to reason with even when stakes are high, who never yells, and who is consistent and fair regardless of external circumstances. This also means that every now and then you will have to take a fall for the team and then work with them to make sure you both are better equipped to deal with similar situations in the future.

Confidence

This leads us to confidence. If you are not sure what you are doing or what should be done, if you are the yes-man and agree with whatever your boss or customer asks then you will either have no choice but to push the pressure to the team or you get yourself so stressed that it will be difficult to maintain the Composure.

Confidence means that you are sure of your own abilities and that you trust your team. If one of these is missing then you need to fix it fast. So how do you build confidence? This is rather broad topic but let’s start with positive mindset. If you have the mindset that you know you will do your best and that the same applies to your team and if you are willing to celebrate (at least in your mind) some small wins (like learning something new along the way) it will gradually build up to a feeling of achievement and success. And success breeds confidence.

You may also use the trick of remembering that almost everyone struggles when doing something for the first time. You may remember all your fails when you were trying to walk, or learn to write. Or what about the first time you sit on a bike? Or first time you tried to play a guitar? All these should give you enough history of overcoming obstacles and achieving something you haven’t thought possible to form the positive mental attitude that leads to confidence even when dealing with unknown.

Clarity

If you are calm under pressure and confident you will be able to deal with it then you are ready to be crystal clear on what needs to be done and you are ready to communicate this in a transparent manner. The key here is to be truthful while managing expectations of all the stakeholders and creating sense of urgency inside the team while keeping stress away.

This is best achieved by exhibiting behavior aligned with the 3C. When you are confident, calm and communicate with clarity you appear to be in control of the situation (and hopefully you are). For the external stakeholders this means that they will trust you to handle the situation and they will understand your reasons for why something is or is not possible. For the team it means they feel like you are here to help and they can rely on you to have their backs. This then leads to willingness to do their best so they don’t let you down.

There is much more that can be said about how to deal with stress, difficult conversations, motivation of the team and getting things done but when you get under pressure remember to start with 3C: Composure, Confidence, and Clarity.

How do you deal with pressure? How do you ensure you keep your cool in front of the team? How do you push the team to excel and deliver while shielding them from undue pressure that would destroy their focus?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.