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5 Secrets Of Transformational Leaders

Transformational leaders don’t proclaim their effectiveness to the world — their employees do it for them.

For about 30 years, transformational leadership has been considered by many as the optimal leader style. These leaders create top decile business growth, manage rapid change, and turn followers into leaders. They lead organizations with high levels of engagement, productivity and a low rate of employee turnover.

transformational leadership

Transformational leaders always create trust through transparency and results, set high standards and then walk the talk, communicate effectively and connect all work activities to the organization’s mission, vision and values.

A best guess is less than five percent of leaders can be considered transformational. The other 95 percent of us have to keep trying. However, research does point to behaviors that are consistently  observed in transformational leaders that can be learned. While there are many characteristics that contribute to transformational leadership, research finds the five listed below are foundational.

Accountable. Transformational leaders who generate exceptional results don’t take the credit — they give it with the entire organization. When results fall short, they don’t blame others. Instead, they accept responsibility, learn from their mistakes, try again, and share lessons with the entire organization. They set clear goals, hold themselves and other’s accountable, and work hard to strengthen organizational culture.

Ethical. In the long run, ethical leadership always wins out over charismatic leaders who cut corners and leap over legal boundaries. The list of leaders who killed companies and thousands of jobs in exchange for money and power is too long to list here. It also works out better for the followers to have an ethical leader who does what is right instead of what is right for them.

Courageous. Those who hold leadership positions but lack courage, good judgment or the confidence to make difficult decisions are not true leaders. Great leaders have the courage to make (and own) difficult decision, share bad news, listen to criticism with an open mind, and lead from outside their personal comfort zone.

Communicate. Leaders who hide in their office or think communication is someone else’s job to communicate  can only hope for mediocrity. The best leaders routinely round on employees, are open to bottom up communication, consistently share the organization’s mission, vision and values to all stakeholders, are open about business results, goals and the importance of everyone’s role in reaching those goals.

Flexibility. The best leaders are aware of their own shortcomings and weaknesses. They seek and accept input from strategic and content experts, as well as contrarians, before making significant decisions. Flexibility extends to being comfortable with ambiguity and leading constant change. And, they are able to adapt their management style to meet the unique needs of team members.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, in the Chicago area, and specializes in leadership and transition coaching.

Golden Handcuffs Restraining Your Career? Here’s What To Do

The term Golden Handcuffs slipped into the vernacular in the 1970s. It describes the retention efforts of employers to keep highly valued employees from jumping ship. Its definition initially referred to additional base pay, bonuses, benefits, stock options and other perks that made it next to impossible for wearers to escape their job.

Today, in the post-Great Recession period, the definition of Golden Handcuffs has grown significantly to include all workers who feel tethered to a job or career by student loan debt, a mortgage, the need to support a family or feeling trapped by a lack of opportunities.

Golden Handcuffs

Golden Handcuff Quiz

To gain awareness of whether you are wearing golden handcuffs, count the number of the statements below that describe your life.

  • I am not happy with my job, but enjoy my income and lifestyle.
  • I lack enthusiasm for my current job, but I am good at it.
  • I don’t care for my job, but I enjoy the relationships I have at work.
  • I have been here too long to be attractive to another organization or go into business for myself.
  • The chances of my finding a job that pays about the same are small.
  • Change is harder and riskier than doing nothing.
  • I don’t know how to start a job search.
  • Work takes all my emotional energy so I have none to look for a new job.

If you said, “yes” to none or one of the eight statements, you probably aren’t wearing Golden Handcuffs. If you agreed with two or more, you might be cuffed.

But, don’t rush to quit your job just yet. There are steps to take to determine your readiness to make a job or career change. Start by asking yourself the following questions.

What are my assumptions? Think you can’t live on less? Create a budget and look for spending that is unnecessary (satisfying wants and not needs). Don’t think you can change jobs or career due to pay issues? Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics or this calculator. Don’t know who is hiring? There are more job boards than you may realize, and some are career specific. If you are a manager or executive recruiters definitely want to talk to you. Find them on LinkedIn, a web search or through your network.

What do I value? There are hundreds to choose from such as family, friends, travel, a larger home, honesty, integrity, time, love, health. Pick your top five values and write them down.

Am I living my values? Use a one to 10 scale with 10 being living your values fully, and pick the number that represents where you are today in living that value.

What actions can I take to align my values and my life? Depending on your values, you might ask for more flexibility in your work hours, repair a key relationship or take more time off.

If your answers are clear that you need to move onto a new job or career, create your action plan and shed the handcuffs that are holding you back from the life you deserve.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC in Naperville, Illinois, and specializes in leadership and life transition coaching.

Leadership Is Difficult: 8 Lessons For New Leaders

Leadership is hard. Being a new leader is even more difficult.

About half of those hired into a leadership position fail. Reasons for this colossal failure rate are many. Sometimes the issues are organizational in nature, such as a lack of leadership training,  feedback, mentoring, or a poor hiring processes or dysfunctional culture. Others are caused by personality attributes ill-suited to leadership including arrogance, control issues, insensitivity and selfishness.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily

But most of the time, the reason for leadership turnover are subtle and spring from a lack of organizational- and self-awareness, as well as the needs of your employees.

The following are leadership lessons I wish someone shared with me 20 years ago before learning them the hard way.

Two Under-appreciated New Leader Issues

First, many new leaders do not know how leadership performance is measured. Front-line staff (and some managers) performance is based largely on “doing” activities such as sales, the number of news releases written or videos produced. New leaders who remain in a “doing” mindset (rather than leading) prevent their team and their organization from reaching its potential.

Leaders are graded on a matrix of factors such as the performance and satisfaction of their team members, political proficiency, emotional intelligence, effective communication and many other “soft” skills.

A second key lesson was: the only person whose behavior I can control is mine. It is a powerful myth that a new title means your every wish will be carried out without any additional effort. Effective leaders communicate objectives, motivate their team to action and direct progress without over or undermanaging. Leaders unable to figure this out will become frustrated and angry that their team members are not mind readers, and end up overmanaging.

6 Additional Tips For New Leaders  

Self-awareness.  A mentor, coach or therapist (or any combination of the three) is a must for new leaders to help build self-awareness. In order to lead others, you must know yourself, what makes you tick, you blind spots, what drives your best and worst behaviors, and how you appear to others.

See the big picture.  Cultivate an understanding how you and your team fit into the organization’s mission, vision, values and business outcomes.

It’s Not About You. If you can’t get the best from your team, you will never reach your potential as a leader.

It’s All About You. All eyes are on you at all times. Leaders must walk their talk. Those who don’t will never be fully trusted by their teams, peers and their own one-up.

Listen. Resist the pressure to jump to solutions when there is a problem. Listen to your team and let them create or co-create new, better ways to do their work.

Remove obstacles.  Poor leaders are an obstacle. The best leaders remove them whenever possible to unleash performance and build trust.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

5 Ways To Manage A Micromanager 

No one benefits when a leader turns into a micromanager (although I prefer the term overmanager). It creates strife for leaders, employees and entire organizations.

A short and sweet definition of micromanagement/overmanagement is a leader/supervisor who gives excessive direction to employees. Another crucial point is overmanaging is not mentoring. The latter increases the skill set and self-reliance of employees, and the former creates paralysis.

Why Overmanage?

While leaders overmanage for many reasons, the following are frequently cited in literature.  micro-blog

  • Starting a new position, she lacks trust in team members
  • Intense pressure to reach goals
  • Insecure in her leadership skills
  • Believes no one else can do the work as well as she
  • Fears being blamed for the mistakes of others

In practice, the overmanager physically or virtually hovers over her employees as they work on projects. She dictates instead of mentors, finds fault rather than encourages, and assigns blame in place of learning. Other hallmarks of overmanagers include poor delegation skills, requires she makes all “significant” decisions (usually a moving target) and makes criticism personal.

Leaders and organizations are hurt by overmanagement because it damages productivity, creativity, trust, communication and engagement. Even from a selfish perspective, leaders should recognize overmanaging has no positive value. Being a helicopter leader chews up a lot of time, creates additional work for yourself, adds stress to your day and shifts energy away from other pressing projects.

Overmanaging can be a hard habit to break. For many leaders it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As employees learn to fear punishment for making “wrong” decisions, they will stop making decisions. When this happens, the overmanager’s belief that no one else is good or smart or skilled enough to complete a project is reinforced. Many replace “problem” team members only to start the same process with new employees.

A Better Way

Experience has taught me that when I fully communicate expectations and goals, as well as provide the required resources, and check in on a scheduled basis to monitor progress, the completed project exceeds expectations 100 percent of the time.

In addition, there is usually more than a single “right” way to approach a project. My team members often have deeper insights than me, thank goodness, so why move forward with “my” solution instead of a better solution?

How To Work With An Overmanager

For those struggling with a overmanager, here are five tips that may make your life easier.

Thank. This is not always easy, but thank your leader for his interest and guidance.

Listen. When being corrected or criticized, do not become defensive. Listen to learn what your leader expects – not to respond. Seek patterns in his comments that create a greater understanding of his thought process.

Explain. After you begin to understand your leader’s thought process, explain yours and emphasize similarities.

Share. Sometimes creating or increasing check-in meetings to review progress can relax the overmanager.

Look. Does your leader overmanage others? If so, recognize you are not the trigger for his overmanaging behaviors.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

 

Bully Bosses Are Easy To Spot But Hard To Stop  

Bullies are not just a problem in schools, playgrounds or cyberspace. They are also a common presence at work. And when the bully is a boss, careers, teams and organizations can be ruined.

According to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) survey, 72 percent of adult Americans are aware that bullying has or is taking place at their workplace. Twenty-seven percent report they have been or are currently being bullied on the job.

The WBI defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.” Bully behaviors are:Simple peck-order bullying is only the

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
  • Sabotage that prevents work from getting done, or
  • Verbal abuse

In the workplace, sexual harassment is one of the very few bullying behaviors that is illegal. It is not unusual for companies to lack policies that define workplace bullying behaviors, which makes it difficult for victims to find support.

Why Be A Bully?

What often drives bully boss behavior is the need to control or manipulate people and situations to preserve their ego and status at work. They are also jealous of others’ success, and demand credit for others’ accomplishments.

The stereotypical bully boss creates fear with public tantrums, diatribes, criticism and harassment. However, most are less predictable about who, how, and when they conduct campaigns of intimidation. Some alternate between “good” and  “bad” days. On “good” days, they can be charming and professional. On “bad” days, no one is safe – especially one of their targets. In these offices an informal network develops with the sole purpose of warning co-workers when the boss is having one of his “bad” days.

Passive aggressive behaviors sometimes give away bully bosses. I have watched bully bosses allow projects to proceed only to step in once they are underway and reverse course. This allows the bully to control a project without having to participate in its development (which is beneath them), and publicly place blame for the failure on the target for, in essence, not reading the bully’s mind.

Another classic passive-aggressive behavior is being chronically late. This is one way the bully boss lets others know who is in control of the meeting, as well as a reminder of the organizational pecking order (i.e., whatever I was doing earlier is more important than this, and, you can’t do anything without me).

What Can You Do?

Go to Human Resources. According to the WBI survey, 82 percent of bully bosses keep their jobs. As a result, this tactic can lead to retaliation as the bully tries to convince HR you have an attitude or performance problem (and is often successful).

Find a buffer. If you have a supervisor between you and the bully, use them as a shield to minimize your contact with the bully.

Don’t Respond In The Moment. When you are being verbally attacked, let your bully know that you appreciate their input and will get back to him after you have time to consider what he shared.

Update your CV. Odds are very good your boss bully will never be called out on his behavior, so be prepared to either transfer to another department or find employment elsewhere.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

‘Tis The Season To Be Stressed

Holiday parties, raised expectations for happiness, end-of-year work deadlines, travel, co-worker vacations, shopping excursions, fewer daylight hours, and additional child and school activities can add to our stress level. A poll of 600 full-time workers conducted by Accenture’s HR Services found 66 percent experience additional work stress during the holiday season.

The Time To Plan Is Now

By being proactive and thoughtful, we can manage seasonal stress in ways that reduce the pressure we feel, and increase our sense of well-being. The following are steps we can take to help make working during the holidays more enjoyable.

Prioritize. Put the most critical work projects at the top of your to-do list. Ask for clarification from your one-up if you are unsure what those are. Adjust or ask for permission to push back deadlines for lower priority projects.

Recognize that others may also be (6)

Communicate. Make sure people know when you are going to be out of the office (and ask co-workers for the same information). You can add those dates to your email signature, send an email to people who need to know your schedule and update your voice mail message. In addition, share who is covering for you in your absence.

Get flexible. Ask your supervisor to flex your schedule, or request days to work remotely. If neither is an option, then…

Take time off. If you are lucky enough to earn paid time off, use it! If you will need a day or even a week off to focus on shopping, family or to prepare for visitors – take it.

Exercise. Even if you don’t have time for a full workout, get physical. A short trip to the gym is better than none. Dust off your exercise machine and use it. Take a brisk walk or use the stairs at the office. Exercise is nature’s mood booster, and it also helps you…

Sleep. It’s not just children who are cranky when they are sleepy and need a nap. Since napping options are non-existent in most workplaces, it is vital to not skimp on sleep.

You have a right not to party. Go to the office parties where you are expected (you know which ones those are), and skip the rest while thanking hosts for the invitation.

Put down the cake, pies, cookies, egg nog and other goodies. Avoid the post-party or pot-luck food coma by eating a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or drinking a glass of water before heading into temptation.

And, perhaps the most important tip.

Be understanding. Recognize that others may also be struggling with the extra demands of the holiday season. Be compassionate to others, and yourself.

Happy holidays!

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

7 Reasons Leaders Fail

To mangle a 270-year-old sonnet written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning — How do we dislike our bosses? Let us count the ways.

Survey after survey, Americans (and everyone else) trash their bosses. Gallup reports only 12 percent of American workers are engaged. Research conducted and published by Inc. reveals 75 percent of employees say their boss is the worst part of their job. And two-thirds add a new (better) boss is even more desired than a pay raise.

Ouch!

Common Causes Of Employee DissatisfactionBus

Harvard Business Review (HBR) surveyed 300,000 workers and finds the issues workers have with leadership are almost equally divided between actions, and the failure to act.

You’re boring. This is the top complaint of the HBR sample. People look to leaders to create an environment that gets them fired up and inspired. Leaders who failed in their role were often described as being passive and unenthusiastic.

Lack of structure. While few people enjoy being micromanaged, most want structure and direction that support high performance. When goals and timelines are fuzzy or flexible, employees are thrown off balance. The result is stress, hesitation, confusion and frustration.

Image is everything. Leaders more concerned with how they look to their boss rather than their team are unpopular with their followers. These tend to be credit-hogging, under-the-bus throwing leaders whose greatest fear is being outshone by a subordinate (or peer).

Good enough is good enough. Easy to achieve goals do nothing to inspire or reward high performance and top performers. The message these leaders send is “do your job, only your job, and keep your head down.” Not a very inspiring message (see You’re boring).

Play favorites. Leaders seduced into giving plumb assignments to team members who kiss up are viewed as weak and lacking emotional intelligence by followers and peers. Playing favorites  divides followers into “in” and “out” groups and hurts team performance.

Don’t walk the talk. It is pretty easy to understand a leader who preaches “work comes first” and is the last-in and first-out of the office are sowing seeds of resentment. Leaders who fail to keep their word are not considered trustworthy by their teams.

Never change. Leaders who reject every suggestion for improving processes and performance alienate their team. Without any input on what they do or how it is done, people often disengage, which damages their satisfaction, productivity, and enhances turnover.

Leadership is never easy. But, given all the attention improving leadership skills receives, is this list discouraging to you?  If so, what can we do to help leaders succeed?

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC in Naperville, IL., and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

(Almost) Anyone Can Become A Leader

Dig into a simple question, such as “what is leadership?” and you will soon be chin deep in a sea of academic papers, books, and contradictory opinions.

Fortunately, I didn’t drown. After 20 years of reading and 30 years of working, I believe the foundation of good leadership is not complicated. However, it can prove elusive to master, and not everyone is cut out for it.

(Almost) Anyone Can Become A Leader

Fortunately, elements of leadership can be learned, and some research points to three specific qualities that are foundational for leader effectiveness. These three qualities have proven to be important in my leadership journey, as well as leaders I have worked with through the years.

Confidence. When a leader has the confidence to take action, it definitely speaks volumes to your followers, peers and supervisor. Confidence is not hubris. It doesn’t imply a leader has all the answers. Instead, leaders assess available options, take appropriate risks, make decisions, and accept responsibility for how their decisions impact their team and the organization.

Confident leaders are far more likely to have an optimistic vision of the present and future. When employees buy into a leader’s positive expectations, they become engaged in a common vision. Their enthusiasm and energy generates action and momentum that sustains gains in performance.

End of the road. Nothing to do, and no

Altruism. An effective leader uses their personal and positional power to benefit others. These leaders manage their teams up in public and private, as well as serve as a mentor. Research is clear that recognition and praise makes work more meaningful for employees, builds the leader-follower relationship, and enhances trust. All these paths lead to greater engagement, productivity and performance.

Future focus. Effective leaders understand and articulate how today’s decisions and actions will impact the future. This ties into being able to explain the “why” behind today’s decisions, and “how” these actions will lead to desired outcomes.  When employees understand the meaningfulness of “why,” and  their role in “how,” a bond develops around the feeling that everyone is working toward the same goal.

What Separates Effective And Exceptional Leaders   

Although there are many factors and personality traits in play, my experience is that 100 percent of exceptional leaders enjoy the work and the responsibilities they shoulder. They are truly excited about their work and share their excitement with everyone they meet. Their energy is contagious and leads to high performing teams and organizations.

Unfortunately, the same contagion effect holds true for leaders who feel burdened by their role, or have burned out. As you might expect, a CEO I worked for nicknamed Eeyore (the gloomy donkey of “Winnie the Pooh”) was never able to sustain a strong organizational culture or performance despite being a good strategist. His negative energy poked through at just the wrong time, and weighed people and performance down.

What other leadership traits and behaviors do you find are needed to be an effective leader?

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC in Naperville, IL., and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting. 

 

You’re A Leader, Now What?

Great news! Your hard work and persistence paid off and you just accepted a leadership position in a new (to you) organization.

Now what?

First, know that every company and team culture is different, so beware of trying a one-size-fits-all leadership style that either worked in the past, comes from the latest best-seller, or even my blogs. However, clients making this transition, and my own experience, have taught me there are at least five leadership behaviors that will get you off to a good start.

-Everything will line up perfectly when

Be authentic. Let your team get to know you. You should be more than a boss, less than a friend, and at all times a human being to your team. And, no one respects a phony.

Your team members represent you whenever they work with others on projects. When you effectively communicate your values, goals and decision-making processes, they are better equipped to act independently and make decisions you support. This also allows you to delegate more effectively, and build trust with your team.

Make time to get to know your team. Spend time in regularly scheduled one-to-one meeting with your direct reports. Ask questions and listen to them using the 80/20 rule. This means team members do 80 percent of the talking. Make these meetings your highest priority. Until and unless you know the strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, motives and temperament of your employees, you can’t unleash their full potential.

Trust your team. Now that you know your team, trust them to do their job. Let them show you what they can, or can’t, do. The best leaders maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses of their team members, and put them in position to be successful.

Be decisive.  In many cases, the position you are walking into has been vacant for several months, which means there are issues that need attention and action. After a period of onboarding and getting settled in, start making decisions. It can be a relief for a team that has been rudderless for a long time to finally see someone acting like they are in charge. Just make sure your one-up is onboard with any major decision you want to make.

Communicate.  You are building relationships, trust and making some decisions, now it is time to communicate your vision – over and over. Never assume your team knows what you know and vice versa. Set and re-set expectations, identify opportunities to improve processes, reward success, and learn from failure. The more you engage your team, the more likely they are to buy into your vision.

Bonus tip: Perhaps this is the hardest advice for leaders coming into a new organization. Bite your tongue whenever you want to say a variation of the phrase: “when I was at company X, we did … ” This comment is really more about puffing ourselves up (and it diminishes your current team) than solving a business problem. If you can manage this, you will reduce eye rolling by 86 percent in team meetings (my estimate).

You are only as successful as your team, so take the time and make the effort to treat them like the partners they truly are.

Need help with a career transition? Use the contact form below for a free, no obligation (I promise) Accelerated Coaching Session.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

Incompetent Leaders Don’t Realize How Incompetent They Are

The Dunning–Kruger Effect (DKE) and how it impacts organizations would be funny, if its results were not so devastating.

In 1999, psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning published “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” The duo examined the results of four studies that focused on people who tested in the bottom quartile for knowledge in specific domains, such as grammar. They noticed a subset of people who despite having little actual knowledge, self-rated as being well above average.

On the other hand, knowledgeable people tend to under value their expertise.

“The problem with incompetence is its

Dunning and Kruger concluded, and additional research has confirmed, this group of people lack enough knowledge to create an accurate frame of reference to judge their own ignorance. It is not a lack of overall intelligence, however, it is a lack of self awareness with a dash of too much ego.

Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss

This type of ignorance is not bliss, especially in the workplace. DKE leaders who are experts in one area, such as finance, who believe they have the same expertise in human resources, IT or fundraising make large mistakes in fields they lack knowledge.

Even worse, DKE leaders are guilty of dual errors of judgment. In addition to giving themselves too much credit, research confirms DKE leaders rate knowledgeable people as less competent than themselves.

Thankfully, I have worked for only one textbook DKE leader. A newly minted vice president was put in charge of marketing (of which I was director) and several other departments without previous experience in those fields. However, he often bragged that he “took a class” in marketing, which made him a self-proclaimed marketing expert.

Since none of the experienced marketing people knew what we were doing, he quickly dismantled almost every marketing campaign. My weekly meetings with him were like scenes from “Groundhog Day.”  We covered the same topics and had the same discussions about next steps, and never came to any resolution because he couldn’t make a decision and wouldn’t let anyone else make one.

I quickly left and was followed by one of my managers. In the three years before he was removed, he never put a full marketing campaign into the market, and despite no visible measure of achievement, feels his time at the company was a great success.

Managing A DKE Leader

Fortunately, most DKE leaders are not put in charge of departments they have no experience with. They  are simply lobbing stones of ignorance to undermine other leaders and puff themselves up. However, if you get stuck with a clueless leader, there are several things you can do while you bide your time.

  • Get it writing. When you execute stupidity, you want to document where it came from
  • Do not try to educate a DKE leader. Since he thinks he knows more than you, he will not listen to your pearls of wisdom
  • Do not take any derogatory statements personally. He is, after all, ignorant
  • If you can, get out of Dodge

Need help with workplace relationships? Use the contact form below for a free, no obligation (I promise) Accelerated Coaching Session.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

 

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