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Laurie Maddalena

How I Started Taking Unplugged Vacations

How I Started Taking Unplugged Vacations

In mid-August, our family took a ten day vacation to Nashville where we stayed on a 200-acre working ranch with horses, a pool, and a spotty internet connection. If it were over two years ago, I would have panicked at the thought of not being able to check my work email, but on this trip, I deliberately unplugged from work—no emails or phone calls for eight of the ten days. This is progress for me. Although I’ve rarely brought “real” work on vacations, up until two years ago, I had always checked my email several times a day to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, or to answer simple questions. The problem was that I never really disconnected enough to actually enjoy my vacations—there was always an underlying sense of anxiety about what was going on at work.

This all changed two years ago when I joined a program for entrepreneurs. It was there that my coach introduced the entrepreneurial time system, which included free days. Free days are 24-hour periods of complete disconnection from work—no email, no phone calls, no reading any business material. The idea is for you to free your mind and focus on other activities you might enjoy (for me that includes drinking wine, massages, playing tennis, or hiking). This concept seemed so crazy to me at first. What if a potential client emailed me? What if one of my CEO clients had a question? What if people were annoyed, they had to wait over a week for me to get back to them?

In February 2018, I tested the concept out on an eight-day vacation we planned at a resort in southern Virginia. Day one and two were very challenging for me. I found myself frequently grabbing my phone out of habit, but the only thing I could check were my personal email (which was mostly sales emails) and Facebook. I felt an underlying sense of anxiety for two days as I wondered what I could be missing at work. And then something magical happened. By day three, the anxiety had disappeared. I was actually enjoying our vacation—truly enjoying it—without thinking about work. My husband and I went on a hike and had a great conversation, and I wasn’t constantly distracted by things I couldn’t do anything about.

This trip was a huge learning lesson for me. I realized by staying connected to my email, I became worried about small things—things that could wait a week—and it impacted my entire vacation. If a client emailed to ask a simple question, I would think about it all day until I could find a minute to reply. I would begin thinking about all the things I had to do when I got back to the office, instead of being present and enjoying my family who was right in front of me.

It may seem impossible (or feel irresponsible) for you to imagine going on vacation and completely disconnecting from work. I’m sure you take pride in doing a great job, being responsive, and getting things done. But you are truly missing out on an opportunity to free your mind of distractions, improve your relationships, and clear your mind. After your break, you will return more focused and rested, and with creative and better ideas. Your body and mind will get the rest it needs to work at your peak performance.

Our modern culture is so different today then years ago when you didn’t have a phone in your hand or email and texting at your fingertips. As a society we have blurred the lines between work and home. So many professionals are feeling burnt out, exhausted, and overworked from being constantly connected.

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare for your trip to reduce your own anxiety, while also alleviating the questions others may have while you are away.

Set up your auto responders. Before you leave, set up your out of office responder in your email and on your voicemail. This sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many people I email who are on vacation and forget to put their out of the office message on. This just causes frustration and delays for your members and your colleagues. Here’s a tip: even if you are at a conference or away for one day and plan to check your emails, still set up your out of office responder. This way you are setting the expectation that you will not respond, and if you do, the receiver is pleasantly surprised. For example, I recently attended a four-day conference in Denver and set my auto response message saying I was at a conference and would respond when I returned to the office. I responded to more urgent messages the same day I received them and saved the others for when I actually returned to work.

Provide a contact. Always provide the name and email of someone who can be contacted when you are out of the office (and make sure they are not out of the office too!). When I set up my auto responder, I always include my assistant Lisa’s contact information so clients can have someone to reach out to if they need it. I tell Lisa she can text me if something urgent comes up and she thinks I need to be involved. This rarely happens, but will give you and the person emailing you relief in knowing if something is truly important, it will be handled.

Tie up loose ends. Make sure you follow through on any commitments or projects before you leave the office. Colleagues will be frustrated if you leave and they don’t have what they need while you are gone.

To really enjoy your unplugged vacation, you need to set expectations. Since I started taking unplugged vacations two years ago, I have not once (that anyone has communicated to me) had an issue where a client or partner was frustrated or mad because they received an auto responder and had to wait. In fact, several people have said it’s inspiring to them that I am able to really disconnect. As long as you set expectations of when you will respond and you follow through, it will rarely become an issue. You can be a successful, high performing leader and still take unplugged time to recharge. In fact, you will become more successful and high performing when you do. Personally, I have made more money both years I have taken unplugged vacations compared to years I have not.

And the upside? You will truly enjoy connecting with the special people in your life, and will return more rejuvenated and focused.

Why Great Leaders Invest in Themselves

I just returned from five days at the National Speakers Association conference in Denver, Colorado, where I had the opportunity to learn from the best speakers in the world on how they grow their businesses and stay relevant for their clients. These sessions were invaluable—hearing what worked, what didn’t, and the different approaches speakers take in working with clients and making an impact. I took copious notes which sparked many ideas I hadn’t thought of before.

This conference is one of several professional development sessions I attend each year to develop myself as a professional and business owner. In fact, every year I increase the amount of money I allocate for professional development. I have seen a direct connection between my personal and business growth and the amount I invest in myself.

Most of us didn’t receive any management training before—or even after—we were promoted to a leadership role. Most professional jobs—whether it’s a chef, a pilot, a lawyer, a doctor, or even your local barista—require some kind of training or certification. Leadership is the exception. There is a common practice that is contributing to mediocre and bad cultures in organizations; promoting technical superstars into leadership roles. This practice does a disservice to the person being promoted, their employees, and the overall culture. The competencies required in a technical role are different from what is important in a leadership role. And we need to invest in our managers and executives to teach them modern leadership skills that bring out the best in employees and build exceptional organizational cultures.

The best leaders proactively seek out professional development and never stop investing in themselves. And it doesn’t matter the level of leadership. The most successful CEOs, executives, directors, managers, and supervisors never think they have learned all they need to know. Smart leaders understand that they are never done learning. Learning is a lifelong process that never ends. I am amazed at how many executives feel they don’t need professional development once they have attained an executive role. The work doesn’t end when you are a leader. In fact, it’s just beginning.

The best keep getting better. The best leaders always think there is more to learn.

Below are some ways to invest in yourself:

Read and listen. Consistently read books and articles that help you develop your leadership skills and spark new ideas. Listen to podcasts. There are so many powerful podcasts where leadership influencers are interviewed. I listen while I’m in the car so my commute becomes learning.

A few of my favorite leadership books:

  • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
  • The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

A few of my favorite podcasts:

  • The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast
  • The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes
  • Lead to Win by Michael Hyatt

Magazines:

  • Success
  • Harvard Business Review
  • CEO World
  • Forbes

Attend conferences inside and outside of your industry. Regularly attending conferences gets you out of the office (an environment of distractions and meetings) and into a space of learning, innovation, and growth. I am always amazed at how different and energized I feel after attending a conference where I learn about better ways of doing things and have the space to think differently. Conferences in your industry or functional area are helpful to build skills and educate yourself on trends, and conference outside your industry can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Attend local events. Your industry association will likely have one day events and conferences for professional development. Don’t wait to be asked to attend. Take charge of your own development. Research your association website and ask your manager to attend an event.

Find an internal mentor or coach. You don’t have to leave the office to develop yourself as a leader or professional. Find a leader in your organization who you respect and want to learn from, and approach them about forming a more formal relationship. Be prepared with how you would like to use your time together and have specific questions ready. You want to take ownership of this relationship and not leave the work for the mentor/coach. Sometimes these relationships naturally form and aren’t always a formal relationship, so utilize the expertise, experience, and coaching of well-respected leaders in your company.

Great leaders are always evolving. In order to successfully fulfill the responsibility of leadership, we need to consciously develop ourselves so we can serve others.

How to Manage Your Emotional Hot Buttons

I had just returned from a rare weekend away with friends when I walked into my house to find a mess–clothes all over the floor, living room pillows scattered everywhere, papers littering the table and floor, and about fifty tiny staples stuck in the carpet. I felt my frustration rising as my calm, relaxing weekend faded away by the minute. This is a familiar scene in my house, since I have three kids, ages eight and under. Even though they have a playroom full of toys, they love to play with my things-namely office supplies and the pillows on our couches.

I like order. I think things to be the way I left them when I left them. I like the pillows to stay on the couch. This has been a hot button with me, these pillows, because every night before I go to bed, I find myself annoyed by having to put the pillows back where they belong. Having three young kids, things don’t always go how I want them to go. This has been a huge adjustment for someone who is orderly, on time, and structured. Because kids are not orderly, on time, or structured. I used to react really negatively when my kids would mess up my neat and orderly house. The past few years, I have been working on adjusting my mindset around how we live; setting new expectations for the reality of our daily life. I remind myself regularly that kids are kids, and that getting angry or upset every time I find the pillows on the floor will only make me more miserable, not them. I am working on embracing the chaos, even though it goes against my values and triggers my hot buttons.

Hot buttons. These are situations, events, and sometimes people, who trigger a negative emotional reaction in you. We all have them. And being aware of your hot buttons is an important piece of effectively managing your emotions.

You have undoubtedly heard a lot of talk about emotional intelligence and how important it is for successful leadership. Despite what most people think, emotional intelligence is not just about getting along well with people. That is certainly important, but it’s deeper than that. Emotional intelligence has many elements-how we feel about ourselves, how we interact and connect with others, how we make decisions that involve emotions, how we manage stress and change, and even how we feel about life overall.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to notice your own emotions and the emotions of others, understand why you are feeling how you feel, and consciously choosing your actions and behaviors, even in the face of emotion. This is a skill that is not always easy, and becoming familiar with your hot buttons or triggers can be a great starting point for understanding yourself and increasing your self-awareness, thereby increasing your emotional intelligence.

Which brings me back to the pillows. One of my hot buttons is when things are out of order. This is not to say that my house, my office, and my life are always neat and orderly. On the contrary, there are many times when I feel off balance because my space isn’t how I want it. I’ve noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed, it is usually because things are out of order-my desk is messy, my schedule is overloaded, or the house is in disarray. Knowing this about myself has been integral in helping me to manage my emotions around it. Instead of becoming angry, I have learned to pause, take a breath, and identify why I am feeling the way I am feeling. I have learned to respond rather than react. As my husband and kids can attest, this has been a big step toward a happier and a (semi) peaceful household.

Below are some questions to ask yourself to bring awareness to your own hot buttons or triggers:

  • What makes me angry, or brings out a negative emotional reaction in me?
  • What irritates me at work?
  • What makes me crazy/frustrated/annoyed?

Perhaps your hot button is not pillows on the floor. Maybe it’s when someone talks over you, or doesn’t listen, or makes a lot of mistakes, or makes excuses, or when your schedule is packed full of meetings and kids’ activities.

Becoming conscious of your hot buttons allows you to build your self-awareness and actively work on handling your reaction when you feel triggered. Managing your emotions is an important part of being an effective and successful leader. This skill creates the ability to approach situations more mindfully and calmly, connect with people on a deeper level, and collaborate more effectively. Noticing other people’s emotions helps you to navigate challenging conversations and be purposeful in responding.

Increasing your emotional intelligence allows you to bring your best self to each situation–to approach your employees, your boss, your colleagues, and even your kids-with a long-term perspective that builds and strengthens relationships.

Over the next week, whenever you have a strong negative reaction, whether it be frustration, anger, or annoyance take note of the situation.

  • What specifically happened?
  • What were you feeling in that situation?
  • How did you respond?
  • Is this a pattern that shows up in other areas of your life?

Taking note of your triggers and hot buttons is the first step to learning how to manage them better.

Now please excuse me while I pick up the pillows off the floor. For the fifth time today.

5 Books to Help Elevate Your Culture This Year

Most organizations are average—they are stuck and not growing. Average organizations have average leaders. It is still standard practice for many organizations to promote employees for their technical skills, rather than their ability to lead and inspire other people. This practice perpetuates mediocre cultures.

I believe there are three main reasons organizations are average:

  1. Employees are promoted for technical proficiency, and not leadership proficiency
  2. The leaders are conflict avoidant
  3. Cultural health is not a strategic priority

To elevate the culture of your organization, you must set the standard for leadership and performance. This starts at the executive level.  The one thing the executive team must do today to positively impact the leadership quality of the organization is to declare that you will no longer promote for technical proficiency. To create an exceptional culture, you must start by creating exceptional leaders. This means instilling hiring and promotion practices that focus on leadership qualities, not technical skills. It also means we must train managers and executives to be influential, modern leaders. 

Organizations don’t transform, leaders do. Cultural transformation begins with the personal transformation of the leaders.

Below are five excellent books that can help set you on the path to creating an exceptional culture:

  • The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. This is one of my favorite leadership books of all time. Lencioni argues that cultural health trumps everything; that you can have the best marketing, sales, and technical abilities, but if you don’t have a healthy culture, it will impede your success. He shares tangible strategies for improving communication, team cohesiveness, and clarity in the organization.
  • Firms of Endearment by Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth. Every executive leader should read this book. The authors share compelling statistics of how companies that focus on passion and purpose are significantly more profitable. If we focus on building relationships with people, we build successful, healthy organizations.
  • Conscious Capitalism by Mackey and Sisodia. This book, co-authored by the CEO of Whole Foods, promotes authentic leadership that is centered around values and people. This modern philosophy is exactly what we need in business today—to not just focus on profits, but to focus on elevating how we do business with our employees and the world.
  • Dare to Lead by Brenè Brown. We need more honesty in organizations, and we need brave leaders to step up and have the courage to lead with honesty and whole-heartedness. Brenè shares four skills to help leaders take off the armor so you can create organizations where employees feel safe, seen, heard, and respected. A must read!
  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. A classic book that identifies the five root causes of politics and dysfunction on teams, and how to overcome them. The dysfunctions are: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Lencioni shares strategies for creating a high performing team.

It is possible to create a culture of exceptional leaders. It won’t happen overnight, but with consistent effort, it can happen. The first step is to make a decision—everything great that ever happens always starts with a decision.

If you want to be an exceptional organization, to make a bigger impact for your employees and your customers, make that choice.

It all starts with you.

These five books will prepare your mindset for elevating your culture and provide specific strategies for making it happen.

Five Signs You Have a Mediocre Culture

A lot has changed over the past thirty years–we can jump on Amazon and have anything delivered to our door in a day, we have hundreds of channels at our fingertips, and we can Google the answer to any question in a matter of seconds.

But there is one thing that has not changed much over the years—mediocre leadership. While the world has moved at a fast pace, mediocre leaders and mediocre cultures are the norm. Sure, there are some influential, modern leaders in business today, but unfortunately, they are the minority. In organizations around the country there are still ineffective, traditional, uninspiring leaders.

Why does the mediocre leader live on? Because most organizations and cultures are mediocre. It’s like a temperature setting in your house—if the thermostat is set to 68 degrees, when it gets warmer, the air conditioning kicks on to bring the temperature back down to its setting. This is what happens in organizational cultures every day. If some brave employee speaks up, tells the truth, displays excellence, or goes against the grain, the culture overtakes this one brave soul and brings him back to reality. A mass of mediocrity is no match for a few high performers.

So how do you know if you have a mediocre culture? Below are five signs.

Your managers spend more time and energy disciplining or tolerating low performers than focusing on the best employees.

One sign of mediocre leadership is managers who spend a considerable amount of time dealing with poor performers. Great cultures don’t tolerate mediocre performance—they coach their employees to peak performance, and step in to coach and support them when they don’t meet standards. Great leaders make tough choices when necessary—they won’t keep an underperforming employee because they know the impact it has on their high performers and the overall culture. Mediocre leaders tend to avoid crucial conversations, and when they do take action, they approach the employee with a command and control style of leadership rather than approaching the situation as an opportunity to coach.

 Your managers avoid confrontation.

Mediocre leaders avoid dealing with challenging situations because it’s uncomfortable. Rather, they take the path of least resistance by accepting complacency and settling for less. Mediocre managers reward compliance rather than honesty and candidness. They do not speak up, because they don’t want to rock the boat. They make excuses for low performers and are slow to take action. Influential leaders realize that although difficult conversations are uncomfortable, they are necessary in creating a high-performance culture. They don’t delay action. They focus on the bigger picture by dealing with issues early, so they don’t develop into larger challenges. Exceptional leaders are bold and courageous leaders.

Your managers are traditional, not modern.

Mediocre managers employ a command and control style of leadership. They don’t see the importance or value in employee engagement; they think employees are rewarded by their paycheck. Mediocre managers don’t see the value in feedback, empathy, coaching, or appreciation. They tend to micromanage and drive results through fear. Influential leaders understand that employee engagement leads to higher productivity, which leads to results. Exceptional leaders spend most of their time coaching, appreciating, supporting and developing their employees. They understand that they, as the leader, have the ability to create an environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration, and by connecting with each employee and adjusting their management style, they can develop employees to consistently deliver their best performance.

Your managers like doing technical work, not leadership work.

Mediocre leaders spend most of their time putting out fires, dealing with interruptions, and drowning themselves in lower level technical work. They often complain that they don’t have enough time to coach employees, give feedback, plan, or be strategic. The reality is, most mediocre leaders don’t enjoy the “leadership work” and would much rather deal with technical work because they equate their value with their technical expertise. And this is precisely why they are not effective leaders. Exceptional leaders understand the  value they contribute is how they lead their team. They spend more of their time thinking about the future, asking clarifying questions, coaching their employees through challenges, and communicating a clear path. They avoid the temptation to get drawn into the technical work they are an expert in, and make developing employees, planning, and coaching their priority. They are on top of their most important priorities, and create clarity for their team by consistently communicating those priorities and checking in on progress.

You have a hard time keeping high performers.

Mediocre managers create mediocre teams. They accept complacency, so high performers become frustrated by the lack of progress and results, and ultimately adjust their level of effort down, or leave the organization. Mediocre managers perpetuate average performance. Since they themselves are average, they don’t instill higher levels of performance in their staff. Exceptional leaders set clear standards and deadlines, and expect their employees to work at a high level. They challenge their teams in a positive way, and reward them for hard work. They focus more time on making sure they keep their best employees, and send the message that average performance is not acceptable.

A high-performance culture starts with the actions of the top leaders in the organization.

It takes bold and courageous CEOs, executives and managers to step up and change the temperature setting of the culture and declare that mediocrity is no longer acceptable. Exceptional leaders don’t just talk about creating a high performing culture, they take the actions necessary to create the culture.

People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do.

If you don’t reward exceptional performance and instead accept mediocrity, your culture will remain average. If you declare a higher standard, and take action by rewarding high performers and coach the low performers to a higher level of performance or out of the organization, you will begin to transform your culture over time.

Leadership is not easy. It requires consistent focus on people and the greater organization. It requires having courageous conversations for the sake of the culture. Exceptional leaders are the caretakers of the culture. They understand that every decision they make or don’t make has a lasting impact on the culture. They choose every day to step up and lead at a higher level.

Stop Telling Girls that Bossy is Leadership

Stop Telling Girls that Bossy is Leadership

It was a week before Christmas, and my three kids were reenacting The Nutcracker in our living room when a fight broke out. My seven-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Olivia, started yelling at her younger brother because he didn’t announce her performance the way she wanted him to. She screamed at him to turn off the lights and start over, and Luca left the room in tears. As I attempted to intervene and bring some peace to the situation, Olivia started bossing her little sister around, scolding Clara as she touched the props Olivia had put out for her own performance. I tried to calm a now crying Clara, and told Olivia that she needed to play nicely with her brother and sister.

“They weren’t doing what I told them to do!” she yelled, obviously frustrated.

“People usually don’t do what you want when you yell at them,” I replied. “If you are calmer and patient, maybe they will want to play with you.”

This situation made me reflect on a comment that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, made in an interview several years ago about girls and leadership. She said:

“I want every little girl who someone says ‘they’re bossy’ to be told instead, ‘you have leadership skills’ because I was told that and because every woman I know who’s in a leadership position was told that.”

When I first heard that declaration, there was a part of me that wanted to rally around that mantra, much like the initial positive reaction I have when I see those t-shirts made for young girls that say, “Future CEO” or “Girls Rule the World.” But there is a fundamental problem with these messages. While these phrases are catchy, should we really be engraining in our children that being a leader just takes a cool t-shirt and ruthlessness? That if you want to be a leader or a CEO, all you have to do is declare it and you can be anything you want?  This falls short of the reality that not everyone is meant to be a leader. There is much more to leadership than directing people around. Ask any professional in a leadership role, and I guarantee they will say that leadership is much harder than they expected.

We need to stop telling girls that being bossy is leadership.

In fact, these are the exact opposite behaviors that effective, influential leaders possess. Leadership is listening, supporting, collaborating, challenging others to work at a high level, guiding by providing clarity, influencing by creating a vision, and having the courage to be honest and have tough conversations. Leadership is not dictating, controlling, micromanaging, intimidating, or just about getting results. True leadership is people-focused, not task-focused.

I do believe there are still challenges for women in the workplace, and that biases do exist. There certainly are still times when confident and bold women are viewed negatively in the workplace, when a bold and confident man is seen as effective. But I don’t believe that “bossy” is effective—no matter a leader’s gender.

In my work with executives and managers, one of the most problematic issues in the workplace are people in leadership roles who are not effective because they have challenges with people. Most often these managers and executives were promoted for technical proficiency, not for leadership proficiency. And most of them were not provided any leadership training prior to being promoted. Many of them have been in leadership roles for decades, but as the landscape of work changes and employees seek more meaning and engagement in their work, the flaws of task-based management have proven ineffective. Because leadership is about getting results through relationships with people. Bossy is ego-focused, and leadership is others-focused.

So, I want every boy, girl, manager, supervisor, and CEO to know—bossy is not leadership.

As for my daughter, she does exhibit skills that—if channeled properly—may someday develop into good leadership skills. She is confident, bold, and determined. I am doing my best to help develop her skills over time by providing feedback and guidance.

But is her tendency to take control and order her brother and sister around leadership skills? Ask her brother, and he will surely tell you that she is just plain bossy.

Instilling Accountability in Your Team

I believe most employees want to do a good job. They want clarity on how to be successful and what is expected so they can deliver results. Yet many leaders don’t communicate in a way that brings out the best performance in their employees. There are often little things we do and don’t do as leaders that get in the way of effective communication and results.

In many organizations, accountability has a negative connotation. Many leaders look outside themselves for the problem, and focus on blaming when things go wrong. These managers talk about “holding people accountable” and implement disciplinary action to force improvements. This approach often fails because it leaves the employee feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

Accountability is really about taking responsibility for your actions. You can’t control someone else. But you can control your choices and behaviors.

This is my favorite definition of accountability, from Roger Conners and Tom Smith:

“A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary
for achieving desired results – to see it, own it, solve it, and do it.”

Accountability is an attitude. It is one of the most important characteristics of success. It is a very powerful tool that can create more success in life and work.

One of the most important ways we can instill accountability on our teams is to model it ourselves.

People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do.

The small things we do every day can either create trust and strengthen relationships, or chip away at trust and damage relationships. The trust you build can strengthen your integrity and credibility, or lack of trust can damage your integrity and credibility.

Accountability looks like…

  • Follow through
  • Doing what you say you are going to do
  • Showing up on time
  • Asking for help
  • Doing something even if it’s not your job
  • Asking for Clarity

Every interaction you have with another person impacts the relationship in either a positive or negative way. When you have positive experiences (do what you say, show up on time, follow through), you create a positive connection. When you have negative experiences (don’t follow through, show up late), you create a negative connection. These interactions impact the relationship, as well as the team.

Another way leaders can instill accountability is to create clarity for employees. This means using language that is specific and clear rather than vague and confusing.

In organizations, we use vague and weak language every day. Words and phrases like “ASAP”, “soon”, “right away”, and “should” get in the way of clarity and results. To get better results in life and in your work, you need to use positive and specific language.

When communicating specific tasks or projects, make sure you are communicating all the information necessary for employees to be successful. Most leaders focus on what needs to be done and neglect to communicate why it needs to be done and by when it needs to be done.

Why    →     What     →     When
Why you need it
What you need
When you need it by

 

If you want your team to produce better results, reflect on how you are communicating. Shifting to clear and specific language, and modeling ownership and accountability yourself will promote a positive sense of ownership and accountability in your team.

Are You a Modern Leader?

Forty years ago, there was little talk in business about engaging employees, coaching and developing direct reports, or cultivating the company culture.  Many people stayed at the same organization for most of their career. Traditional managers, who were task-oriented and provided a lot of direction but very little inspiration, were tolerated. The command and control style of leadership prevailed.

The landscape of the work environment has changed. Employees have more choices, and will leave an organization where they don’t feel valued or appreciated. Traditional leaders won’t survive in the best organizations; there is only room for modern leaders.

We all have heard horror stories of ineffective, bad bosses. But in my experience, most traditional leaders are not narcissistic and power-hungry. They are mediocre managers (and executives) who lack the necessary leadership skills to be successful. They aren’t naturally inclusive, approachable, and engaging, and their leadership style reflects that.

To succeed in leadership today, managers need to be modern leaders. A modern leader is approachable, engaging and focused. The modern leader promotes an environment of productivity and positivity. A modern leader has emotional intelligence and understands the importance of cultivating relationships in the workplace. A culture is created by the people in the organizational system. If you want to elevate your culture, you need to elevate your leadership.

You may be a traditional leader and not know it. But trust me, your employees do. They are talking about it behind your back, and your high-performing employees are looking for a quick exit (if they are still there). Read below for what distinguishes a traditional leader from a modern leader:

Traditional leader:

  • command and control
  • doesn’t provide feedback
  • focuses on finding mistakes and reprimanding; holds people accountable through fear
  • very little engagement with employees
  • no coaching or development
  • believes the paycheck is the reward for work
  • thinks he/she should know all the answers
  • more task-oriented and in the weeds
  • thinks he/she worked hard to advance and deserves leadership

Modern leader:

  • encouraging and inviting
  • provides timely, constructive, consistent feedback
  • focuses on learning from mistakes; holds people accountable in a positive, principled way
  • finds ways to consistently engage with employees
  • sees coaching and developing as a top priority
  • actively thanks employees and shows appreciation
  • solicits ideas and suggestions from employees; encourages employee involvement
  • more proactive, strategic, and visionary
  • sees leadership as a privilege and enjoys serving his/her employees

The first step to transitioning from a traditional leader to a modern leader is awareness. Take time to reflect on your leadership and determine in what areas you need to develop.

It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. The best organizations only hire and keep modern leaders. If you want to improve your leadership, start by asking for feedback from those around you. The following questions can help to open the dialogue with employees so that you can gain relevant feedback to improve as a leader:

  • What is one thing you would like for me to continue doing?
  • What’s one thing you would like to see me do more of?
  • What is one thing that I should stop doing?
  • What are the qualities you appreciated most from the best leader you ever worked for?
  • How can I support you better?

If you suspect your employees won’t be honest with you, then perhaps a formal or informal 360-degree assessment can give you the anonymous feedback you need to continue to grow and develop as a leader.

The One Question Netflix Uses to Ensure an Exceptional Culture

You may know Netflix as a top media entertainment provider with shows like, Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things, but behind this media giant is a high-performance company culture that seeks to attract and retain “stunning colleagues.”

Netflix believes in people over process, and promotes freedom, independence, and collaboration. Like many organizations, they have company values that sound great, but the difference is, they actually live by them.

Almost a decade ago, some of the secrets of the company’s exceptional culture were revealed in a document that was shared frequently on the Internet. The slide deck, entitled, Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility not only detailed the company values, but also their philosophy on pay, benefits, and what actually makes a great company culture (hint: it’s not free espresso, sushi lunches, and great offices).

And it’s anything but traditional.

What stood out to me when I first read this document was a structure that managers use called, “The Keeper Test.”

Here is the Keeper Test that Netflix managers ask themselves regularly:

“Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving, for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix?”

And here’s what they do if someone isn’t on that list:

“The other people should get a generous severance now, so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.”

Many organizations talk about great workplace cultures, cohesive teams, and cross-departmental collaboration. But few companies instill practices that align with this strategy. Few companies take action when someone isn’t measuring up. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Talking about great cultures but not taking the necessary actions to create an exceptional culture only breeds mediocrity. Creating an exceptional place to work with stunning colleagues takes courage and consistency.

As a leader in your organization, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is not measuring up to the standards we have in place?
  • Who do I need to give constructive feedback to (that maybe I’ve been avoiding)?
  • Knowing what I know now, who would I not hire again?
  • Knowing what I know now, who should not be in a leadership role?
  • What I am doing as a leader to get in the way of creating an exceptional culture with stunning colleagues (examples include: not giving feedback, not coaching, not giving clear expectations, holding on to an underperforming employee, not modeling the values and attributes that create an exceptional culture)

If you want a high performing company, you have to do things differently than most organizations. Mediocre managers and executives breed mediocre cultures. You need bold and courageous leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions for the sake of creating an exceptional culture where stunning colleagues want to work.

How to Know When to Fire Someone

How to Know When to Fire Someone

I once worked for a credit union where employees dreaded calling the accounting department. There was an accounting specialist who was not friendly and often snapped at you if she felt you should know the answer to a question. She had been working there for over 20 years and had a reputation of not working well with people. But nothing was ever done about it. When she decided to retire, it was like the organization breathed a collective sigh of relief. The negative impact she had on the organization was gone, and it instantly elevated the working environment.

Holding on to a negative employee has many consequences—it can be destructive to the team, frustrate other employees, and create a negative working environment. Sometimes the best course of action is to terminate.

Deciding to terminate an employee can be a challenging and emotional decision. In my experience, most leaders avoid the decision and hang on to poor performers entirely too long, hoping the situation will get better. Instead, the situation usually escalates and causes more damage than if we had taken action earlier.

When we keep underperforming employees, we undermine a healthy culture. I believe keeping low performers contributes to the leadership crisis we have in our organizations today. By not effectively dealing with performance issues, we create a cycle of mediocrity that ultimately damages exceptional cultures. You simply cannot create an exceptional culture if you tolerate low performance and negative people.

Netflix is an example of a company that has created an engaged workplace built around excellence. In fact, one of their practices is, “adequate performance gets a generous severance package”. They believe a great workplace is “stunning colleagues”. Not mediocre, average, or solid colleagues. Stunning colleagues. This is a bold leadership approach that most leaders and organizations are not willing to take a stand for. Yet to create exceptional cultures, you need exceptional people.

It is a disservice to your top performers to keep underperforming employees. Yet leaders often rationalize why to keep low performers. There are typically two reasons: tenure or results.

Tenure—the employee has been with the organization a long time, which makes it hard to take action. The leader may have a personal relationship or friendship with this employee, which contributes to the challenge. So, the organization works around the employee, thereby lowering the standards.

Results—the employee performs the technical aspects of the job extremely well. They deliver on the goals, but don’t get along with people. Perhaps they are negative or aggressive, but we overlook it since they achieve tangible results in other areas.

To create a healthy, high performing organization, you need to have standards in place that take into consideration not only superior results, but also superior interpersonal skills. In exceptional cultures, you need to have the whole package. It is not enough to deliver on goals; employees must also have the qualities and attributes that contribute to a healthy culture—the ability to get along with people, foster positive relationships, and collaborate.

So how do you know when it’s time to terminate an employee?

As leaders, we have a responsibility to do all we can to bring out the best performance in each of our employees. And the employee also has a responsibility to live up to the values and expectations established by the organization. I believe most people want to do a good job. And once in a while, you will have someone who may exceed the technical job requirements but is a negative influence in the organization. Negativity, complaining, and blaming have no place in a healthy culture. They can quickly become a virus that is hard to bounce back from. These are people to take swift action on and move out of your organization—pronto.
How to Know When to Fire Someone
For all other performance issues, there are things a manager should consider before terminating an employee (I’m not talking about legal issues to consider in this article—you should always consult an employment attorney if you are concerned about terminating). As a leader, you should determine if you have done your best to help the employee succeed.

Four things a manager should do before terminating an employee:

 

Determine the root issue.

Is the performance issue related to aptitude (knowledge and skills), attitude (confidence, focus, enthusiasm) or resources (equipment, time)? Understanding the underlying issue that is contributing to low performance can help you determine how best to work with the employee. You may decide that a training class may be necessary, or a higher-level intervention like working with a leadership or executive coach.

Establish clear expectations.

Does the employee understand what is expected? Beyond the technical aspects of the job, have you been clear about the qualities and attributes that are required to be successful (collaboration, positivity, ownership, etc.)?

Provide meaningful feedback.

Have you met with the employee to give honest and clear feedback on what is not working? Have you provided guidelines about what needs to improve to meet expectations? It is our responsibility as leaders to give employees information about their performance.

Schedule regular coaching sessions.

Beyond providing feedback, schedule time to coach the employee around the performance issues. While each situation is unique, this typically involves the manager working with the employee over a period of time to provide resources, suggestions, and instructions. Sometimes asking the right questions can lead the employee to discover the necessary steps to better performance.

Once you have taken the steps above and done everything you can as a leader, it is up to the employee to take initiative to improve performance. If your efforts fail, it may be time to part ways. In my experience, most leaders don’t take action quickly enough. Poor performers undermine your culture, and keeping someone who does not meet expectations is doing a disservice to them and to the organization. Exceptional cultures are made up of exceptional people. If you want to elevate the culture in your organization, don’t delay action on performance issues. Your top performers will thank you.