Want to Grow as a Leader? Become This

I was speaking with a friend about our experiences with interviewing and hiring. He once interviewed a woman and asked her what mistakes she had made and what she had learned from them, a fairly common interview question. “I haven’t made a mistake,” she responded.

That would be the end of any interview for me. That woman demonstrated she wasn’t self-aware enough to know what mistakes she had made, much less learned anything from them.

We all have unique strengths and weaknesses, and if you want to grow as a leader, you need a firm grasp on what yours are. The single best way to grow as a leader is to be truly self-aware. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Observe all men: thy self most.”

Self-awarenessOnce you know your own strengths and weaknesses you can leverage and maximize your strengths to the best of your ability. As for your weaknesses, identify the ones you can improve on and take steps to improve those skills. Then hire people who excel in those areas you have identified as weak for you.

I’ve written about the Disney brothers before in Famous Sibling Partnerships That Worked. Walt Disney, the more famous of the two, was the visionary. The creator of Mickey Mouse, the most famous mouse in history. But his vision would never have become a reality without his co-founder, his brother Roy, who was the money guy and the one who made Walt’s visions a reality.

The results of a study done by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 2010 emphasized the quality of self-awareness and its importance for a leader. The study examined 72 executives at companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion.

One of its findings? “Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness,’ which should actually be a top criterion.  Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”

Erika Anderson is a business coach and writer and says when people with low self-awareness want to grow, “it’s like someone who wants to travel to New York and he thinks he’s starting in Philadelphia – but he’s actually in Botswana.  The steps he would take to get to New York, thinking that he’s in Philly, will definitely not work for him (that pesky ocean is going to be a big shock).”

It’s only by being brutally honest with yourself about your own weaknesses that you are able to find people to fill in those gaps to help your company grow. I have an entire section in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me” on leveraging the talents of others to your advantage. It’s critical when growing a business, which is why you hear that interview question about strengths and weaknesses so often.

Focuses on our weaknesses may not be fun. Author Aldous Huxley said, “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” But those pleasures of illusion do nothing to help you grow as a leader.

Knowing herself even helped a World No. 1 professional tennis player.  “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion,” said Billie Jean King.

Coming soon: How leaders can become more self-aware, and how high self-awareness affects team performance

Funny, But True: Give a Second Thought to That Second Chance

You have an employee who makes a big mistake, but comes to you to admit it and offers a solution. So, you forgive him and move on. We all mess up sometimes, and this employee handled it correctly. You give him a second chance.

As Warren Buffett said, “I make plenty of mistakes and I’ll make plenty more mistakes, too. You’ve just got to make sure that the right things overcome the wrong ones.”

But some mistakes aren’t forgivable and employees who make them don’t deserve a second chance.

publishing-scamI once worked with a company whose sales manager was running a scheme. He would sell their widgets to a customer who was a partner in his crime. After the sale, the sales manager would issue a credit, reducing the price of each widget by $1 to that customer. The sales manager and the customer split the extra $1.

The scheme went undetected and over time amassed both the sales manager and the accounts receivable manager a lot of money.

The fraud was only detected because the sales manager accidentally sent a credit to the wrong company, which reported the error. The fraud was uncovered and both managers were fired. But they were not prosecuted for their crimes. (I always advise business owners to prosecute thieves. Read more about that in “Why You Should Always Prosecute Fraud”)

And it turns out the sales manager was actually really good at sales, and once he left, sales declined 25 percent. The CEO couldn’t find a suitable replacement in the following year, so what did he do? He hired back the thieving sales manager.

The CEO’s explanation? While the sales manager never paid any of the money back, he said he was sorry. During that past year, he had found God, repented his sins and begged for forgiveness as a friend and long-term employee.

He lasted six months, until he moved. To jail. Where he was sent for stealing again.

Beyond the obvious lessons of prosecuting fraud and not rehiring people who steal, the other lesson is that some people deserve a second chance and some don’t. As a business owner/CEO you need to know the difference.

 

 

 

Great Leaders: Born or Made?

It’s one of the most debated topics in leadership. Are leaders born or made? Judging from the millions of articles and thousands of books written on how to be a good leader, we must all believe on some level good leaders can be made. A Google search on “leadership skills” turns up 491 million results.

Business leader and author Erika Andersen has been interviewed many times about business and said she is asked that question every time. And she says the interviewers already have made up their mind, generally coming down on the side of believing leaders are born. “They assume that some people come into this world with a natural capacity to lead, and everybody else doesn’t, and there’s not much you can do about it,” she said in the article “Are Leaders Born or Made?”

This concept is in line with a leadership theory called The Great Man Theory, which first became popular in the 19th century, spurred by Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. People believed leaders like Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander the Great were born to become great leaders.

katzLater that theory declined in popularity, led by the famous European intellectual Herbert Spencer, known for coining the expression “survival of the fittest.” He wrote, “You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown …. Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

Then we have football coach Vince Lombardi, who knows a thing or two about winning. After all, his Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships, including two Super Bowls. (But I’m not rooting for them this Sunday. Go Falcons!)

He comes down on the side of leaders being made: “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

An article in Inc.com that lists 20 traits of born leaders claims that leadership is a skill anyone can develop, but being born with these 20 traits, which include being extroverted, confident and decisive, makes developing that skill a lot easier.

Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D, discusses the topic in the article “Leaders: Born or Made” in Psychology Today. His answer? “To cut to the chase, the answer is: ‘mostly made.’ The best estimates offered by research is that leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made.”

Past studies have shown that effective leadership is about 30 percent genetic and 70 percent developed. Those percentages were the premise of a study done at University of Illinois by professors Kari Keating, David Rosch, and Lisa Burgoon. They used a scientific approach to teaching leadership in a 15-week introductory course. They claim students made significant gains in their ability to lead, skill levels and motivation to lead. They tracked 165 students and found their progression followed a specific path, based on their being “ready, willing and able.”

“It’s a three-legged stool,” said David Rosch, one of the professors involved with the study. “Students first become ready to learn about being a leader; then they become willing to learn the skills necessary to practice leadership; and finally they’re able to lead because they have the skills and the motivation to do it. You can’t really move on to the other legs of the stool until you’ve achieved a certain amount of this readiness.”

This is all good news for anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills. Maybe you were born with many of the innate skills of a natural leader. But even if you weren’t, research shows you still have 70 percent to work on in becoming a better leader. Sounds like pretty good percentages to me.

The Value of a Successful Failure

A successful failure sounds like an oxymoron, right? Like jumbo shrimp, open secret or one of my favorites, only choice. So, what is a successful failure? It’s an endeavor that did not succeed at its original goal, but its failure taught you lessons that you turned into a success.

Apollo 13 has been referred to as a successful failure. As you may recall from the popular movie about the mission, aptly called “Apollo 13,” the spacecraft launched on April 11, 1970, the third spacecraft destined to land on the moon. But the landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. After hearing, “Houston, we have a problem” from the astronauts, NASA then spent several tense days working through multiple problems to return the crew and the spacecraft safely to earth.

Mission Control in Houston dealing with the explosion onboard Apollo 13. (Photo courtesy of NASA.org)

Mission Control in Houston dealing with the explosion onboard Apollo 13. (Photo courtesy of NASA.org)

The mission to get to the moon was a failure. The recovery of the crippled aircraft and saving the lives of three crew members was a success.

“A ‘successful failure’ describes exactly what 13 was – because it was a failure in its initial mission — nothing had really been accomplished,” said Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 as reported in an interview. But he called it, “a great success in the ability of people to take an almost certain catastrophe and turn it into a successful recovery.”

I have dealt with several successful failures in my turnaround career. By the time I’m called in, many companies are on the verge of total failure, and we are often able to salvage some value out of the company, resulting in a successful failure.

I like to think of the quote from Nelson Mandela who said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.

Read more about Successful Failures in my two-part series, “How to Have a Successful Failure.” You’ll love the story of the college drop-out who started a business and become a millionaire, then bankrupted that company. Using the lessons he learned from that failure, he started another business and became a billionaire. Now, that’s what I call a successful failure.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

5 Tips for Dealing with Toxic People in the Workplace

About a billion people watched a ball drop in Times Square in New York City this past weekend, with around two million hearty souls shivering in the cold to see it in person. The ball is about 12 feet in diameter, made of crystal triangles crafted by artisans in Waterford City, Ireland. Every year, a portion of the triangles are replaced with new ones reflecting the theme for the upcoming year. 2017 was deemed to be the “gift of kindness.”

I’m all for kindness and respect in the world, and in the workplace. But when some employees continually exhibit negative behavior, resulting in lower productivity and dropping morale of your other employees, the time for kindness and good will toward all is over. It’s time to get deal with the toxic employee.

One of the triangles of the New Year's Eve ball made in Waterford City, Ireland.

One of the triangles of the New Year’s Eve ball made in Waterford City, Ireland.

Take time at the start of a new year to deal with any constantly complaining and negative employees who are poisoning the environment for everyone else. The ones who up the drama in the office while lowering the productivity.

Here are a few tips on how to take control of the situation.

  1. Document the behaviors of the employee.

Once you’ve been made aware of the negative behavior, contact the head of HR immediately so they can oversee the process.

Begin to keep track of it of the behaviors. Be specific: rather than recording the employee is frequently late, write down what days the employee was late and by how much. If the employee is spending hours gossiping with co-workers, have their supervisor keep an eye on them and record the time spent not working.

  1. Document efforts by the company to alert them of these behaviors.

Have the supervisor meet with the employee, along with a member of the HR department to review the behaviors. Again, deal with specifics and make it clear the behavior is unacceptable. Keep copies of all written correspondence between the supervisor and the employee about the negative behaviors.

Shockingly, some employees have no idea of the effect of their behavior on their co-workers. When informed of it, they may become defensive and argumentative. Which is actually more proof of their ability to be toxic.

If these behaviors have appeared suddenly in a previously positive and productive employee, try to determine if there has been a precipitating incident. Did something happen in the workplace? There may be a larger issue you need to deal with. Or perhaps there is a problem at home and just calling attention to the change in behavior is enough to cause it to stop.

  1. Develop a turnaround plan with a timeframe and measurable results.

Have the supervisor create a plan for the employee to improve the behaviors. Have the employee agree to the plan and sign it. Pick a date to meet again to review the plan.

  1. Review the results and make a determination about retaining the employee.

If after the allotted timeframe has passed, the employee has not made any changes in their behavior, consider whether you are ready to terminate the employee. As with any termination, follow the advice of your lawyer and HR department.

As Robert Sher of CEO to CEO Inc. puts it, “My mantra is, ‘Repair or replace,’ as flawed team members cannot be left alone. If they are repairable in a short timeframe, it is worth the effort. But this must be a forced march, with a firm timeline for repair. Otherwise plan to make the replacement quickly, as teams with toxicity are more likely to fail to hit their objectives. That hurts the team, the company and damages the reputation of the team leader.”

  1. Terminate the employee.

If all the efforts from you and other senior management have failed, cut your losses and get rid of the employee immediately. There’s no reason to allow them to stay and spread their toxicity. You can’t concern yourself with the amount of time spent training this person and the fact it may have been an error in judgment to hire them in the first place. Cut your losses and move on.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

 

 

Leftover Vacation Days and the Impact on Your Business

Americans did not use 658 million vacation days last year. For the first time ever, more than half of Americans (55%) did not use all of their days off, according to a study done by Project: Time Off. We are becoming the “No Vacation Nation.”

While Americans used to average three weeks of vacation a year in 2000, in 2015 they only took 16.2 days. That represents a loss of almost one week in 15 years.

Why would people essentially volunteer a week of their time every year for their company? The two biggest factors cited in the study were fear they would return to a mountain of work (37%) and that no one else can do their job (30%).

Unlike other developed countries, in the U.S. employers are not required to give employees paid time off. Employees in the European Union get a minimum of 20 days a year.

While a business owner or CEO may appreciate that their employees didn’t take their allotted time off, research shows their productivity may actually be lower when they don’t take breaks.

Studies show that when employees take time off, their productivity increases. “There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources. When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks,” said Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University in the article “The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off.”

In a Wall Street Journal blog, Dr. Kathleen Potempa wrote, “In addition to mental and physical stressors, long periods of work without vacation can lead to reduced productivity, diminished creativity, and strained relationships. Americans seem to believe that logging more hours leads to increased output, but respite deprivation can actually increase mistakes and workplace animosity—in addition to prompting or exacerbating stress-related illnesses.”

CEOs and business owners should look at their own calendars and clear time for vacation as well. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, takes six weeks a year. “I take a lot of vacation and I’m hoping that certainly sets an example. It is helpful. You often do your best thinking when you’re off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things.”

COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg says she was able to write her best-selling book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” because she took all of her vacation days. (I’ve written a book, and would be on the side of people who argue that’s not quite what I’d call a vacation.)

Tony Schwartz, the president/CEO of The Energy Project and author of “Be Excellent at Anything” says at The Energy Project they teach “the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for recovery.” Feeling burnt out one year, he went on vacation and completely disconnected from digital distractions. “By the end of nine days, I felt empowered and enriched. With my brain quieter, I was able to take back control of my attention. In the process, I rediscovered some deeper part of myself.”

Mark Douglas, CEO of the marketing and advertising company SteelHouse, recognized the need for his employees to take vacation and offered them unlimited vacation when he founded the company in 2010. But perhaps due to the reasons stated above, people weren’t taking much.

So he decided to pay them. To take vacation. He pays his employees $2,000 a year to go anywhere in the world. They can split up the money for more than one trip, or use it all at once. Employees who request the money in the form of a bonus are turned down. They must spend it on a vacation.

As a result, his turnover rate is extremely low. Out of 250 employees, only five people left the company in a three-year period, with three of them leaving for reasons unrelated to the job.

So if you are feeling a bit anxious when you see all the empty desks and email vacation notices at your company over the holidays, think of it this way: they are recharging their batteries and will come back more productive than ever.

Take some time off yourself. And enjoy.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

 

Funny, But True: When Employees are Naughty, Not Nice

The popular song may claim this as the most wonderful time of the year and the hap-happiest season of all. December is also the least productive, as many workers take time off for the holidays and when they are in the office, they are distracted. And possibly doing their gift shopping online.

Having employees take adequate vacation is important and critical to the well-being of your business. I encourage every company I work with to encourage employees to take time off, and in fact to mandate the CFO take two consecutive weeks off every year. No, I’m not playing Santa Claus here. It’s about uncovering fraud.

In addition to the benefits of having an employee come back refreshed and rested, vacation is the time companies uncover naughty things some employees may have been up to.

Take the example of dear Aunt Tess. She was a payroll clerk at a company I was working with. She was a loyal and dedicated employee of 25 years, who had never missed one single payroll. Not even less than 24 hours after she had her appendix out. See any red flags yet?

I did, and after a bit of investigation, found dear Aunt Tess had been paying fake employees for 25 years, diverting their income to herself, to the tune of $75,000 to $100,000 a year. She had stolen millions of dollars.

So, I may sound a bit Grinch-like, but when your employees take time off during the holidays, make a list of who has access to your books and do a little checking it twice.

Next week, why did Americans leave 658 million vacation days unused last year, and what impact does not taking those vacation days have on your employees?