Friday, August 17, 2012

Are you Embracing Diversity?

In May of this year I was the keynote speaker for the Wichita, Kansas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 10th year annual awards dinner.

 Despite my many years of domestic travel, this was my first time in Kansas. For me Kansas has always conjured up film memories of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz saying "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore", thanks to a twister. Because of the famed movie, it's also common to associate Kansas with tornadoes, which is also apparent from all of the tornado memorabilia available at the airport.

But, Hispanics in Kansas?

You bet. But it's not the usual place we associate for Hispanics to live. But like in the rest of the USA, this demographic has a growing social and economic presence in Wichita and in Kansas overall.

In preparation for my speech, I thought about wearing ruby red shoes and clicking my heels three times while reciting "there's no place like home." But then I realized this would not be very novel or funny. It would be like the joke I've heard my entire life when I've told people I grew up in Long Island. People would always respond by saying "you mean 'Lawnge Island' as they stress the "g" and laugh out loud.

I guess these jokes are only funny if you don't live there and hear it all the time. So I passed on the idea of pretending to be Dorotea (that's Dorothy in Spanish). The theme of the evening was "embracing diversity" and somehow I knew that they didn't mean the tin man, the lion, or the scarecrow.

I am not a diversity speaker, but I am a leadership speaker and one thing is clear: Great leaders know how to embrace and leverage diversity around them. It is a crucial leadership ability. Yet, the reality is that diversity is no longer just about race or ethnicity; it is about age, introversion/extroversion, geography, experience, religion, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and more.

Embracing diversity in the 21st century is as basic to business as understanding and managing a P+L. 

Technology has fast-forwarded us into a world where business is beyond global; it is borderless where knowledge and ideas are the currency that matter regardless of who you are, where you live, or if you have years of experience or not. Just think about Mark Zuckerberg. You no longer have to be 50 years old with 30 years of corporate experience to be a CEO of a public company.

In essence, the elements that used to define diversity in the past are no longer the only elements at play in the 21st century. "Embracing diversity" doesn't simply mean that because you have a boomer, a gen-exer, a Hispanic, and an African-American on one team that you are guaranteed the best, diverse and innovative thinking. "Embracing diversity" means when you have a team of diverse players, do you and your team have the right leadership skills and abilities to draw out the best thoughts and ideas from every single person in your organization regardless of their background, orientation or make-up?

After all, diversity of thought is the most important in this knowledge economy and seeking out the brilliance of all of those around you is the greatest of leadership challenges.

I think the most common "embracing diversity" example can be best personified by a parent and teenager relationship. Whether you have or have had the responsibility for a teen, or not, we all recognize that this prototypical relationship (when gone wrong) is fraught with misunderstanding, mistrust and angst. There is a fundamental breakdown in communication and connection. Each party can regard the other as a complete stranger or foreigner.

This scenario is not far off from what occurs in the workplace when two people with seemingly different agendas and values come together. A leader faced with a younger employee with a different mindset about "face time" in the office may mistakenly believe that hard work is not valued by this youngster. Oftentimes, these conclusions can be very far off from the truth. But unfortunately, these conclusions are made and the result is that neither player is embraced or understood for their uniqueness and perspective.

If parents of teens, like those leaders faced with diversity challenges, can ask more questions and judge less, the health of the relationship can flourish to benefit both parties. The leader, like the parent, can also learn and adjust... just as the teen or subordinate are expected. Both sides need to stretch their bandwidth to have a meeting of the minds. These leadership skills are not reserved to those in leading roles, but to all involved. 

In this tech-driven, ever-changing and diverse 21st century world we live in requires new leadership skills and abilities from all levels of an organization. After all, embracing diversity is something that needs to happen at the top, middle and bottom of any organization.

Here a few tips to ensure you are doing your part as a leader at any level to embrace and leverage diversity around you:

Be curious and remain open. Be sure to ask more questions and suspend premature judgments and conclusions. Steven Covey told us a long time ago in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to "seek first to understand." Assumptions and presumptions are dangerous in a diverse world.

Be receptive and yield. Challenge yourself to be receptive to ideas and opinions that you do not share. It is easy to be receptive to others when you agree, but the true test of receptivity is when you don't.

Learn to step aside. Leaders that can embrace diversity in the 21st century know that they don't have to be in the driver's seat to lead. In a knowledge-based economy, the old model of leadership where "telling", "directing", and "controlling" characteristics ruled will only lead to adversity and counter-productivity. Instead seek to guide and inspire through a shared base of understanding and connection. This is the kind of leadership that will prevail in this ever-changing, diverse world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is Change Working for You?

Change is exhausting.

Even when you welcome change and you know it is for the best, keeping up with the demands of change can simply sap you dry.

I am still trying to catch up with myself after a move just 5 blocks up the street. After all, we are such creatures of habit. Relearning the most routine things, like going straight instead of turning right at a corner or reaching to the left instead of to the right for the bathroom light switch, can use up energy reserves.

It is no surprise that moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. It ranks high on the list along with getting a divorce or starting a new job. Honestly, I don't want to admit how many times I mindlessly have driven to my old house.

Do you feel my pain?

In reality, the times are changing in far bigger ways than my simple change of address. And many of it can be exhilarating, once you get past the fear associated with change, which is the exhausting part!

For starters, we are now in a knowledge economy where intellectual skill is the new business currency and knowledge workers can live and perform their work anywhere and on their own schedules.

Then thanks to the seemingly never-ending recession, there is a whole new population segment of skillful people falling on hard times but as a result they have gained perspective and are choosing to move forward in a different way.

Don't forget there is a whole new melting pot brewing fueled by the exploding diversity in the US, leaving the Anglo population in a minority position in some key urban centers.

Not to mention how the Internet has changed everything in our lives from how we shop and work to how we network, socialize and find the love of our lives.

Never ending ch-ch-ch-changes. And we are exhausted... yet excited!

I was reminded of all of these changes (and more) this week when I went to hear Stephen L. Klineberg speak at an event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.

He is professor of sociology at Rice University and is the founding director of the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey. He presented the findings of this research study, now in its 30th year of tracking demographic and economic changes in the Houston Area.

I found the findings remarkable and validating.

But it was clear. Changing with the times is essential for achieving success in the 21st century. It is not going to be a different world, it is already a different world than the one you grew up in.

Here are some key implications you will need to keep in mind as you go forward in order to make change work for you.

1. Don't rely on the old model of a 9-5 job and keeping that job till you retire. I thought this model was dead when I started my career in the 80's, but instead it was on its last legs. Now, this model is officially a thing of the past. More and more people will be working for multiple companies during their lifetimes than ever before.

Increasingly knowledge workers will offer services on their own schedules and attract their buyers on their own terms.

If you have lost your job recently, it is worth your time and effort figuring out what your unique offering is and learning how to market this offering with a professional presence online rather than simply "pounding the pavement." Knowledge workers need to develop a voice and a unique perspective. In a knowledge economy employers will increasingly be looking for thought leadership.

If you are still working within the old model, don't put your head in the sand! Get out and make connections in your field, create a following and have a professional voice and presence online. Be one step ahead.

2. Quality of life has never been more important. Both in terms of the cities we live in (remember knowledge workers can live anywhere) and also in terms of how we work.

If you have lost your job recently, you need to be reevaluating what's important to you. Need more time with the kids? Don't want to travel 3 weeks a month? Need to work from home 1 day a week? Now is the time to get clear on your "must haves" and "non-negotiables". Knowledge workers are clear on their priorities and are proactive in custom-making their work to bring out the best they have to offer their customers and employers.

Even if you haven't lost your job, it is probably a good time to get clear on these things. Knowledge workers create work that works for them and adds value every step of the way.

Flexible schedules are no longer a nice-to-have, but will quickly become a must-have for employers to attract the best in the future.

3. If you aren't the prototypical leader in your company or organization, do not get discouraged! Continue to get clear on your personal vision, values and strengths and you will persevere.

The statistics are clear, the future leaders of tomorrow won't be who they are today. As an example, in Houston today 50% of all people ages 18-24 are Hispanic! This exploding trend also has implications to employers who need to take stock and evaluate if they are effectively developing and mentoring a diverse group of people for leadership.

Yes,our times have most definitely changed and  they will continue to change.  But turn your exhaustion into exhilaration by mastering a few new tricks and make change work for you! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Who are you serving?

Earlier this month I was hired to give a speech to the US Marshal Service.

Leading up to it, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It was my first leadership speech addressing a Federal agency, let alone one that conjured up images in my mind of Tommy Lee Jones hunting down Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive" or James Arness as Marshal Dillon in "Gunsmoke."

As you would suspect, I had images of tough, austere, and rigid leaders.  The kind you would imagine getting hardened every day simply by dealing with the dark side of humanity.

What I found was quite the opposite.

When I arrived the evening before the event, I was greeted by three senior male officers.  They were so warm and welcoming that over a cocktail we spoke about our families as they enthusiastically told me about being fathers; saddened about their children growing up too fast or in the case of one, wondering if he will cry when his last child goes off to college.  Their realness extended into expressing their passion and purpose in their work.  Ironically, it seemed to me that they weren't hardened, but instead softened...with a strong belief in the good of humanity.

In their work, they are clear on who they are serving and this clarity enables their leadership and gives them a sense of purpose and passion.


This experience sat with me for some time and I reflected on it as I read Greg Smith's article "Why Am I Leaving Goldman Sachs" in The New York Times Opinion Pages.  He wrote about the declining culture and growing lack of moral fiber at this company with 143 years of longevity.  He spoke about how the customer, who used to be the one they served eagerly, was becoming instead the one they squeezed, ridiculed and often misled for profit.  

Greg says it all started when "The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence
It seemed to me that unlike the US Marshal Service, Goldman Sachs had lost their way and no longer had clarity about who they were serving.   The customer was no longer their reason for being. 

However, Goldman Sachs is not alone.  Unfortunately, we can all lose our way.

Overly focusing on the monetary aspects of business and life at the expense of all else, can cause subtle shifts that can cause you or your business to lose focus on who you are serving.  As a result you forget the purpose and the reason for your work and you lose your passion for it as well.

Don't follow Goldman Sachs' example, here are some tips to help keep you on track.
  1. Get clear on who you serve.  Too often we don't even think about who we are serving with the work we do.  Getting clear on this can help you find a stronger purpose and passion to fuel your work.  Formulate a picture of that end consumer your product reaches.  Know that key customer who is going to benefit from your efforts.  Be specific with describing your target and their needs.  Put your work in context of service, even if you work in a for-profit business.
  2. Make choices consistent with the needs of those you serve.  Part of the clarity of knowing who you serve is also ensuring that the actions you take and the choices you make are in line with the needs of those you serve.  When those actions and choices are in line with their needs, you strengthen your focus and connection with your target.  Over time this will enable stronger leadership that will also fuel your passion and purpose.
  3. Be brave and keep your integrity.  My mother used to say"Just because your friend jumps off the cliff, doesn't mean you have to too."  If you find that your company culture no longer supports or aligns with your own internal compass, don't sell out.  Stand your ground and find another way.  While Greg Smith's actions in writing this article might be met with criticism, he showed bravery and a strong sense of integrity.  It is hard to do what's right when the tide goes against it, but those who do certainly sleep better at night. 
I am all for a good night's sleep.  What about you?  Do you know who you serve with the work that you do?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

As a leader, do you have to take the lead?

From our earliest memories of childhood games, a leader is defined as the one out in front, stepping out first from the others who follow. 

Ironically, this model works well as you are climbing up the ladder towards leadership, but it fails miserably when being a leader.

Taking the lead and being a leader are two separate and opposite ideas.

I learned this the hard way at work since I had excelled in my career because I perfected the ability of stepping up and being the one in front.  This worked up to the point when I started to manage and lead many others.  What I found was that this behavior diminished results. You see, as a leader when you step in too much to take the lead, others step out.  Taking the lead is a detrimental option as a leader. 
After all when you are taking the lead and are out in front, you get noticed.  The spotlight is on you.  These are all necessary tactics for advancing.  But the opposite is true when it comes to being a leader.

Being a leader and becoming the best leader you can be means unlearning everything that has gotten you to the top.  Suddenly, it's no longer about you and how you get things done, instead it's more about others and how you are able to inspire them to achieve great things.  Being out in front has an entirely different meaning when you are the leader.

The transition from taking the lead to being a leader is a difficult one.

It really is a conundrum.  The best people at taking the lead may get recognized, but may not always be the best leader.  And the best leaders may not always get recognized because they aren't able to step out in front and take the lead.

I see this a lot in my coaching practice.  I get the "take the lead" kind of person struggling with being a great leader.  And I get the potentially great leader who can't get noticed because they have difficulty standing out in front.  Last month when Susan Cain's book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking came out I wondered if the introvert/extrovert equation was at play here.

So I did a bit of my own research using results of The Birkman Method (a behavioral assessment tool) and categorizing my clients and myself.  The results showed that there is some relationship with being an introvert and having more difficulty in "taking the lead" whereas extroverts have more ease here but can be too harsh, too direct or commanding when it comes to "being a leader."

I have also had this validated in my experience as a parent leader.  Raising a daughter who is an introvert has stretched me.  Seeing how my extraverted ways can actually hinder her development has shown me that my leadership development needs are different than someone who is naturally an introvert.
So what does this all mean?

If you are an introvert, your work in leadership is probably going to be related more to getting noticed and standing out versus delving deeper into learning about how to be a better leader.  Focusing on taking the lead and finding your unique way of standing out above the rest is key.  

Since introverts are generally more inwardly focused, they tend to be more in-tune with the needs of others with varying strengths and developmental needs and can make wonderful leaders.   The issue is getting noticed in a world that is more biased to an externally driven,"charismatic" leader.

If you are an extrovert, your work in leadership is probably going to be related more to refining your tendency to step in and take command over the situation.  You will need to develop better collaboration and listening skills that can help leverage the brilliance and abilities of others. 

Your focus will be on developing the tools to be a better leader as opposed to focusing on learning how to take the lead on things.  It will be important to understand that not all situations require you to take the lead.  In fact, being a better leader often requires you to step aside and enable others to take the lead.

Susan Cain is probably right on stating that our world is biased towards the extrovert. We often incorrectly attribute 
extrovert characteristics to leadership when in fact these are the skills we need to advance, but not necessarily the ones we need to lead others effectively. 

The path to leadership is one that requires both skills where introverts and extroverts have a great deal to offer and to learn from each other
So, do you need to take the lead in order to be a leader? 
I guess the correct answer really depends on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leaders create brand value by focusing on their unique strengths instead of focusing on being like others.