Every Extrovert Can Learn to Listen The Courage to Connect

GettyImages-952769054.jpgWhen research professor Brené Brown opened up to a TedxHouston audience about shame, vulnerability, and courage, she had no idea her message would become one of the most wildly popular TEDx talks of all time (with over 24 million views). Brown has spent the last ten years studying the power of authenticity and empathy, and poses wonderful questions like these:

  • How do we embrace vulnerabilities and imperfections so we can live from a place of authenticity and worthiness?
  • How can we engage people in a way that makes them feel worthwhile, brave, and willing to commit to something bigger than just a project or deadline?
  • How can we choose courage over comfort, stretching our team to connect in ways that powerfully motivate everyone?

Every Extrovert Can Learn to Listen

Brown’s work hits home in the hearts of many who long for authentic relationships and want to see this come alive in their workplace. While there are many hindrances to open communication, one of the greatest barriers is simply our personality differences. Over half the population are considered introverts, but research shows that introverts make up only two percent of senior executives. Which gives extroverts a great opportunity to do lots of talking. But studies show that business leaders who prioritize listening are perceived as considerably more effective than those who dominate the conversation.

Invite Them to Engage

We all have room to grow, and great interactions begin with intentional listening. Here are three ways to quiet your mouth and open your ears as you seek to engage others in meaningful ways:

  1. Start every meeting with a question.

Imagine yourself standing before your team with an invitation instead of a megaphone.

Seek to motivate conversation rather than charging into a meeting with a tight-fisted agenda. Opening your gatherings with dialogue can shake out the nerves and cobwebs of the entire team, sparking creativity and building interpersonal collateral. Increasing dialogue can catalyze more “green light” brainstorming and bring a fresh, life-giving dynamic to your entire company. When you formulate meeting agendas, push yourself to start with a prompt and to leave more tangible space for discussion.

  1. Listen with action.

How can you show your teammates their insights really matter?

Often people are tentative about sharing constructive criticism, fearing negative repercussions or believing “nothing will really change.” Great leaders surround themselves with those who will give honest feedback, and they intentionally close the “listening loop” by following up with some sort of action. Close a meeting by thanking your team for their honesty, or sending personal e-mails telling them you valued their input. Make a list of things to look into, review, or change, and add timelines to these goals so your ideas aren’t lost in the weekly grind. Even if you can’t implement suggestions, make a point to tell people they are valuable and you have actually heard what they are saying.

  1. Embrace vulnerability as a step toward courageous communication.

What do you do when someone asks you a question you can’t answer? Saying, ‘I don’t know” can be the most significant reply of all.

When you acknowledge your limitations, it opens the door for your teammates to step in and shine or to admit their own uncertainties or frustrations. Vulnerability can grow powerful partnerships and prompt growth in areas you hadn’t previously targeted. Ultimately, vulnerability builds engagement, which grows teams and enriches the atmosphere. Push yourself toward bold, transparent communication, and you may be surprised at the results. Brene Brown says it like this:

“Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the most accurate measurement of courage.”

Ready to open a new pipeline of thoughtful teamwork and open communication? Be brave, be intentional, and sometimes . . . just be quiet.

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4 Ways to Stop Your Team from Falling Apart

GettyImages-649346048.jpgThere are times in every supervisor’s work life that you can feel everything going off the rails — projects don’t sync up as they should, laughter feels forced within your team, and the energy levels are low.

While it may feel like everything is falling apart at the seams, and you’re not sure what you can do, don’t give up! There are ways to bring teamwork back to your team, but it will take some work to rebuild trust between team members and realign your focus to the future.

Even the most high-performing teams have moments of doubt that can be introduced by stress or fear. These negative emotions could overtake a team or its leader, but the first step is re-imagining the future and then casting that vision to your team.

Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

While it may be too late if your team has already entered a downward spiral, preventing negativity from happening is always the best alternative to a team that’s coming apart at the seams. Getting to know your team, understanding their motivations and stressors, and working hard when you need to will help you become a trusted member of your team — and not just the leader.

Spending time together bonding in good times will help sustain your relationship during times of difficulty, both with each individual team member and the team as a whole. This trust doesn’t come overnight but is worth the time spent building it in the long run.

Slowing the Negativity

Perhaps your team has just begun showing signs of stress, such as team members being unwilling to contribute in meetings, leaving early, or losing energy early in the day. If you look up in the afternoon and everyone is wandering around looking aimless instead of focused on work or building relationships, it’s past time to get more involved in your team’s dynamics.

Start by talking to someone on your team, either the person who is seemingly the most stressed or one with whom you have the most trust built up. See if you can determine what the root cause of the uncertainty is, and look for potential options for resolution together.

Returning from the Brink

If your team is truly on the brink of collapse, with your best and brightest team members disengaged and actively looking for other opportunities, it’s time to take more drastic measures. Consider asking your human resources department if they’re hearing any rumors about what’s happening, or pull the team together as a whole in an offsite meeting to add to their comfort level.

Request that they be open and honest with you about challenges that they’re encountering — either within the team, outside the team or even outside the organization.

Take Charge of Results

You also must face the possibility that you as the leader are the problem, which can be painful and difficult to accept. However, you must first look to make changes in your own leadership style in order to help salvage your team’s success.

Take responsibility for finding a solution, and don’t be afraid to claim accountability when things aren’t going as you had planned. Too often, leaders find themselves in a situation that feels hopeless and attempt to look externally to find the problem.

If there is truly someone on your team who is causing the excessive negativity, know when it’s time to make the difficult decision and make a change in personnel. Sometimes, all it takes is removing a negative influence or underperformer to bring your team back to center.

Today’s organizations are moving quickly and chasing many different initiatives at once. Managing people is always a balancing act: creating a culture of learning and accountability while allowing people the space they need to take appropriate chances. Fortunately, nearly every team can be brought back from a downward spiral with time, effort, and loads of positive energy from its leader.

A Team Attitude

kirkI heard a comical story about a man who got lost while driving through the countryside. While trying to navigate a narrow country road in heavy rainfall, he accidentally drove off the road into a deep, muddy ditch. While he wasn’t injured, his car was stuck in the mud, so he walked to the nearest farm.

He asked the farmer if he could help him pull his car out of the ditch. The farmer nodded and replied, “Yep, Warwick can get you out of that ditch,” as he pointed to an old mule standing in the pasture. The man looked at the small, old mule and had his doubts, but he figured he had nothing to lose.

The two men walked Warwick back to the ditch where his car was stuck. The farmer hitched the mule to the car and hollered, “Pull, Fred! Pull, Jack! Pull, Ted! Pull Warwick!” And just like that, the mule pulled the car from the ditch with very little effort.

The man watched in amazement, but asked the farmer, “Why did you call out all those other names when Warwick was the only one pulling?” The farmer chuckled and said, “Old Warwick is blind, but as long as he believes he is part of a team, he doesn’t mind pulling.”

Here’s the way I see it: Emily Voyles once said it best, “It doesn’t take strength to win. It takes the true heart of the team to win.”

The Answer is in Your Hands

kirkI heard an interesting story about an old man. According to legend, he could answer any question asked of him correctly. Two young boys heard of his wisdom and thought they could fool him, so they caught a small bird and went to his home. One of the boys held his hands out covering the tiny bird and asked the old man if the bird was dead or alive.

Without hesitation, the old man replied, “Son, if I were to say that the bird is alive, you would close your hands and crush the bird to death. If I were to say the bird is dead, you would open your hands, and it would fly away. You see, you hold the answer in your own hands.”

Here’s the way I see it: Your hands are capable of whatever goal you are looking to achieve. However, the trick is learning to use them to your advantage. If you have an important print project coming up, we’d love to help so that you can focus on more important things.

Why Developing Good Leaders is Critical to Your Business’ Success

dv1258040Regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry that you find yourself operating in, everyone knows that quality leadership is essential. It’s equally essential for you to realize that leadership doesn’t begin and end with whoever’s name is on the door. Experience goes a long way, but the type of raw, natural talent necessary to become a good leader isn’t something that can necessarily be taught. It’s something you’re born with.

That’s why when you do recognize that you’ve got the makings of an excellent leader working with you, it is imperative that you do whatever it takes to help cultivate and develop that talent whenever possible.

Identifying Good Leaders

First thing’s first: not everyone working for your company has the makings of a good leader, regardless of how you currently feel about them. According to one recent study, only about one out of every ten people have the talent necessary to rise to this status. That means that spotting a candidate isn’t something that is just going to happen every day.

When you do see someone with the qualities of an excellent leader, you’ll know it. They’re usually the first people to arrive and the last to leave. They’re the people who keep a consistently cool head under pressure and who naturally seem to help elevate the rest of their teams to the level where everyone involved is doing their best work. They work incredibly hard for seemingly no reward at all because they just don’t know any other way to go about their day.

When you see someone who fits that description, make a note of it. They’re probably going to be running your business one day.

The Development Process

Once you have identified one of these fabled “good leaders,” the first thing you have to do is support them in any and all ways that you can. Never be shy about feedback, even when it’s critical in nature. The chances are high that they’re the type of person who welcomes constructive criticism anyway. Don’t just tell them what they’re doing correctly; make sure they know what they can do to improve and, more importantly, how they can do it.

Next, challenge them whenever possible. Don’t throw your growing leaders into the proverbial deep end of the pool to fend for themselves, but don’t allow them to simply spin their wheels either. Challenge and adversity are two important qualities that make all of us stronger. Little by little, this person will start to grow and evolve in front of your eyes and your business will become all the better for it.

Looking Towards the Horizon

Finally, remember that good leaders are an investment in the future of your company. Good leaders don’t just help in terms of collaboration and more substantial productivity.  They’re also innovation creation engines at the same time. By taking the time to develop the good leaders in your midsts today, you’re going a long way towards guaranteeing future success for your business.

You Don’t Demand Employee Trust. You Earn It.

ThinkstockPhotos-515603630.jpgCorporate culture is pretty much the key to everything in the world of business. According to a series of studies reported on by Forbes, nearly 90% of people who responded said that company culture was incredibly important for their firms. In fact, 92% said that they firmly believed that improving corporate culture would enhance the value of their business, while more than half of respondents said that corporate culture influences everything from productivity to creativity to profitability, value, growth and beyond.

At the same time, only 15% said that their company’s culture was where it needed to be.

It Begins at the Top

At first glance, these numbers may appear to be somewhat at odds with one another – but they really aren’t. Corporate culture begins at the top and, if anything, that 15% statistic can be attributed to one essential little word: trust. Leaders set the tone that affects the entire organization, and if employees don’t trust their leaders, they ultimately don’t trust the direction of the business that they’re devoting so much of their lives to.

Make no mistake: trust is not something that you can demand from your employees. It’s something that you have to earn – all day, every day. It’s also something that requires you to keep a few key things in mind.

Trust is a Privilege, Not a Right

Yes, you worked incredibly hard to become the leader that you are today. You put in long hours. You worked weekends. You devoted the majority of your life to your career and a constant push to achieve bigger and better things for yourself. Now you’re in charge of the proverbial ship, and everyone should just trust that you know what you’re doing by default, right?

There’s an old rule of storytelling that says that whenever possible, “show, don’t tell.” That essentially means that instead of having a character talk about some important development in the plot, SHOW the development instead by having them do something active. It’s why in “Star Wars,” instead of just having people stand around and talk about how bad the Death Star is, we see it blow up a planet to convey the same information in a much more active way.

This is the same mentality you need to adopt if you want to start earning the trust of your employees. If you make a mistake, don’t shift the blame – accept responsibility. Don’t ask any employee to do anything that you would be unwilling to do yourself. If you want people to come in on the weekend, you should also come in on the weekend. If you need your team to work long hours, guess what – you need to work them, too.

Show You Care

Every day, look for new opportunities to show your employees that you not only value what they do but that you’re all in this together. Remember that their productivity, hard work, and excellent performance needs to benefit more than just you and your career – it needs to positively impact them, too. They’re not going to follow you into battle because you tell them to. They have to want to do so.

The only way you can get to that point is if they trust you, and the only way you can get to THAT point is if you’re someone worth trusting. This simple distinction is often what separates a good leader from a great one.

What Google’s Mistakes Can Teach Us About Leadership

ThinkstockPhotos-616237916.jpgOne of the things that Google is famous for is data-based decision making. When they want to find the most effective way to do something, they look at the numbers and work from there. However, even a company as married to analytics as Google is vulnerable to lapses and oversights. Recently, their data showed that their process for hiring and promoting the best managers for the job was all wrong.

When you look at where Google made their mistake and what they did to correct it, you could save your company some money and heartache and also create a more effective workplace.

Google’s Error and Assumption

Besides a dedication to data, Google’s other key characteristic is a high regard for technical expertise. Tech savviness was so prized that, historically, it was one of the top factors in whether someone would get promoted to management.

When Google set out to learn whether their hiring and promoting strategy was working, they discovered something interesting: the best managers were not necessarily the ones who were technical experts at all.

After gathering and analyzing data from 10,000 manager observations, they learned that the quality they valued most had almost no bearing on whether someone was a good manager. Instead, soft skills were what made all the difference.

What the Data Says Makes a Good Manager

Google used their large pool of data to identify eight qualities and habits that make great managers. While technical skill was on the list, it was the least important of all the qualities on it. In order of importance, the qualities that make great managers include:

  • Good coaching.
  • Empowering your team to work without micromanaging. A good manager hires good people, then gets out of their way.
  • Interest in employees’ well-being and success. People are more motivated and show greater job satisfaction when they know that the people they work under care about them.
  • A results-oriented and productive outlook.
  • Excellent communication skills, especially good listening.
  • An interest in employees’ career development. Good managers understand that we all do better when we all do better.
  • A clear vision and strategy.
  • Key technical skills. These aren’t important because your manager will be doing hands-on work, by the way. They are important because it allows the manager to advise the team that they’ve assembled for the job.

In addition to the revelations above, Google discovered a lot about the types of managers who make employees happy. The most important quality is a calm demeanor and an even keel. In a high-stress environment, someone who keeps things steady is key. They also discovered that the best leaders puzzled through problems with employees instead of just telling them what to do.

By looking at the real data about good managers, Google was able to improve their hiring practices, improve worker satisfaction, and increase productivity.

The biggest takeaway? Always challenge your assumptions. You may learn that what you thought was effective may be harming your company more than it helps. By taking an honest look at your analytics, you can seize startling revelations. Use them to make your company a better place and to rise above the competition.