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Coach Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

Starting a new leadership role? 4 ways to gain respect quickly

By | Leadership

SuperKidI was talking to a leader this week about starting in a new role and how they were winning over their new team. It all sounded like it was going to plan until she explained an exercise where her team were all given a task and a deadline.   The outcome was that only 50% of the team completed the task on time and only one person completed the task successfully and on time. What did you do? I asked. “Oh I just moved the deadline and gave them some extra time to complete the task” she said.  Warning! This is dangerous ground for any leader and especially for a new leader. It speaks volumes about the teams understanding (or lack of) accountability and also could be the beginning of the end, in terms of gaining respect for their leader.

Quickly gaining the respect of a new team is critical to leadership success and very few leaders consistently achieve it through an ultimate desire to please, or reverting to management by fear, or by having unclear boundaries and expectations.

To earn respect and create clear accountability a leader needs to:

  1. Communicate clearly – how have you communicated your requests? Verbally, via email, in a group meeting or one on one? Have you been clear about what the task is, what the outcome looks like and the timeframe you expect? Often employees miss deadlines not because they disrespect their manager, but because the manager has not been clear in communicating the task upfront. A good technique here is to “check back” with your staff – ‘what is your understanding of this request?’. Always walk away being clear that you have the same understanding and agreement about the what, why and when.  This way there can be no excuses or misunderstandings when deadlines aren’t met.
  1. Stick to the original plan – like the new leader I mentioned, how many times have you diverted from an original deadline with your team because it’s just easier to do so? You can’t be bothered having the conversation and hearing the excuses about why they haven’t done what they said they would do. Easier right? Wrong! You are actually making it harder for yourself and creating future problems as you are essentially saying ‘don’t worry, ignore my deadlines as I will just give you an extension and it will be okay”. This response will guarantee that your team won’t ever take your deadlines seriously as they know you won’t hold them to account and are ok for things to slide.
  1. Consequences – are your team clear what happens if they do miss a deadline you have set? What are the consequences? Are there any? You are in very dangerous territory in terms of gaining respect and developing accountability if there isn’t any. Do they need to stay back late, do they miss out on the opportunity to be involved, do you lock the door once a meeting starts? I had a client last month who needed a 1 page contribution from every team member for a presentation. She continued to chase, nag and demand from the one team member who missed the deadline and finally got it the night before, which meant she had to stay up late and collate and modify the presentation to ensure it was included. I challenged her – why did you do this? Why didn’t you just leave his contribution out? She stared at me shocked – I couldn’t do that she said. Why not? Then he would be left out – exactly! A consequence! How would that make him feel I asked? She considered this – embarrassed and left out. Sometimes, people need to feel the consequences and cost of their behavior to change and you as the leader need to be strong enough to enforce it.
  1. Coaching – my preference is to coach people ‘up’ to gain the desired behaviour rather than the big stick approach of when something goes wrong. This means taking the time as a leader to address the situation and behaviour i.e.: deadlines being missed or ignored. Sit down with your employee and really explore, with good intent, the HOW they missed the deadline. This can be a very interesting conversation where you will learn where their system of meeting deadlines is actually ineffective. Did they not understand the original request (a communication check for you)? Did they not know what to do? Did they not have the skills or knowledge to complete the request ie: is it a training issue? Or was it that they aren’t using a to do list to prioritise their workload? In my experience, people don’t miss deadlines on purpose. Ultimately people want to perform and do a good job, so it is an opportunity for you as a leader to help improve their performance and lift the bar of their success. A powerful conversation where you both benefit – they gain a new system to help improve their performance and you are the inspiring leader who is assisting them to get there (added benefit for you is no more nagging!).

There is no easy road to gaining respect – you can’t demand it, and you can’t ask for it.  You can only create it through clear communication, discipline and holding people to account.  This does not make you a nag, nor does it mean you are demanding  – you are simply being clear in your expectations and being consistent with what you say  – a true leader. Don’t miss such a valuable opportunity as when you are starting a new role with a new team – get it right from day one and you will create a team of high achieving and engaged employees who know where they stand.

“Leaders get the team they deserve”

Giddy up …. it’s appraisal time! 3 questions to avoid the annual whipping

By | Performance, Results

Performance reviews….is it that time of year again…..already? Why is it that something that should be an effective tool to motivate your team often turns into that annoying form that you have to fill out once a year?

Last week I conducted a workshop with a leadership team of a global pharmaceutical company on how to conduct an effective performance review.  Everyone in that room had been on the receiving end of an appraisal and all of them had also found themselves in the position of delivering one.  They all agreed that at different times, both sides of the table was terrifying.  Why? It seems that tackling the tough stuff is one of the most feared things to confront – whether you are delivering it or hearing it.

Herein lies the problem…why are you waiting for the annual performance review to address the things that need to be stopped, changed or improved? How is it that you haven’t spoken about these issues prior to today? I know I would get my knickers in a knot if you waited six months to tell me that the way I was formatting a report was not company standard or the way I presented at a management meeting was ineffective. You can appreciate that I may get a little defensive, I might also get a little angry, I’ll probably throw in some excuses and then depending on the words you use, I might even need the Kleenex!

This tends to be where performance discussions go pear-shaped.

Storing up examples of behaviour, then rolling them out for the annual review thinking that this is going to be helpful or justify the “not met” expectations rating is not only unfair, but completely ineffective.  A person is not going to sail out of the meeting room with a spring in their step ready to conquer their revised KPI’s with that little pep talk.

And that’s the question really…..what is the aim of the review? What message do you want your staff member to hear? How do you want them to feel after their review?

Knowing the answers to these questions BEFORE the review are critical to ensuring the meeting is effective and you both leave with a clear understanding of 3 things:

1. What’s working (so they can keep doing it)

2. What’s not working (so they can stop doing it)

3. What they aren’t doing (so they can start doing it)

A performance review is an opportunity to praise and motivate (what’s working) as well as an opportunity to increase effectiveness (stop & start behaviours).

So before you start making a list of all the things that Matt, Mandy or Mark has done “wrong” or they haven’t achieved, ask yourself – have I spoken to them about this before? Have I given them an opportunity to improve?

To be truly effective, performance management needs to be a continuing day-to-day conversation, where people are receiving regular feedback on their performance and behaviours.  When feedback is immediate, you increase the chances of the behaviour being repeated (in the case of praise) or being modified (in the case of constructive criticism).

Forget the once a year review and remember that the number one motivator for people is feedback – it’s what keep us all going. 

“People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”

Winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked

By | Leadership, Results

I recently read about the upcoming release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. As the COO of Facebook, she talks about Mark Zuckerberg (her boss) and the advice he gave re her desire to be liked by everyone and his belief that it would hold her back in her career.

This is the second time I have heard about a leaders’ desire to be liked in a matter of weeks.  One of my female coaching clients said to me “I want to be respected, but I still want to be liked a little bit too”.

Is it possible to have respect and be liked as a leader? Will this goal hold you back from being an effective leader long-term?

My first opportunity to lead a team early in my career, presented me with the immediate challenge of winning the respect of a group all older than me.  How was I going to win them over? I started with showing them my results – facts and figures and methodologies that were black and white – I figured they couldn’t argue with achievements! It was the first step in establishing respect.

Since then, I’ve learnt other strategies leaders can use in the race to win respect, while losing the notion of being everyone’s friend:

1.You’ve already got friends– I have challenged leaders in the past who have struggled with this concept that you already have friends and work is not necessarily the place to gather more. Sure you might make friends, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus – avoid blurring the lines.

2. Relationships – I’m not saying don’t be friendly or don’t have social interaction with people. Certainly there is a human element to leadership and part of building relationships is getting to know the personal side of your staff.  BUT leaders need to show consistency, professionalism and not play favourites.

3. Deal with non-performance – a leader who gains respect, will have the courage to deal with non-performance quickly and without fuss.  Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

4. Lead by example – a leader who sits in their office, is always busy and unavailable in meetings, will not gain the respect of their team. Walk the talk, get on the phone where people can hear you, go on client visits, sit in open plan – showing you can do the job wins respect.

5. Hold people to account – being clear on what people are responsible for, give them the knowledge and tools to perform their role and then get out of the way.

6. Be clear on what you stand for – a respectful leader knows their values, is clear on what is expected and consistently inspires through communicating the vision.

7. Intuition –  go with your gut and call behaviours as you see them.  If you have a ‘feeling’ someone is going to resign, or something is up with the person who had his or her arms crossed in the meeting – don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and have a conversation – nip issues in the bud and encourage an open dialogue, don’t let unspoken issues fester.

8. Recognise & reward – catching people doing the right thing and being very specific about what they have done well goes a long way to building respect.

9. Open communication – what’s happening in the company, good, bad or indifferent shouldn’t be a secret.  If you don’t talk, people will make up their own ideas and assume – sure fire way to kill respect.

10. High standards – a respectful leader will push you outside your comfort zone and show belief in you to go further to achieve more than you think possible.  Not many leaders are willing to push hard for fear of losing approval.

During my leadership career, it has been a learning journey to earn respect, some people probably liked me and others probably didn’t. The difference is that it didn’t actually bother me. Great if you do and it doesn’t matter if you don’t. My role as an effective leader is to believe in you, coach you to top performance and support you in that journey.   There is no easy path. That journey will require moments of being uncomfortable and challenged – a respected leader doesn’t apologise for that or seek approval.

The goal as a leader should certainly be more about behaving in ways that create respect and if people to like you too – it’s a bonus, but it definitely shouldn’t be the aim. 

“Popularity is temporary, Respect is timeless”


Are you green and growing or ripe and rotten?

By | Change, Retention

Green and ripe or rottenEarlier this year I attended a 2-day conference with Dale Beaumont in  Melbourne. Apart from an inspiring couple of days that made me think of at least 100 new business ideas – there was one phrase that really struck a chord with me.  He asked “Are you green and growing or are you ripe and rotten?” It was those words that made me sit up and listen. Intently. He continued saying that in life some things are certain – death, taxes and change.  Some people like to live comfortably and accept the daily rhythm of routines and knowing what’s ahead by doing the same thing day in, day out. Others like to flick the switch, take action and move forward with fresh ideas to feel continually inspired while growing and learning.

I immediately made the link to retaining top talent and why some companies struggle to keep high performing staff.  It’s easy to assume with top performers that all is fine and dandy. They are achieving, secure; earning good money, have work/life balance – why would they leave?

Consider though the nature of the beast – top performers like to be constantly challenged and learning new things.  They tend to dislike comfort and become unmotivated with the same tasks, routines and the status quo.

A client told me last week they have identified 30 high potentials in their organisation – great – but now they don’t know what to do with them. They are stretched with resources and there is no capacity for HR to take them on, nor their immediate leaders to coach, mentor and challenge them to greater levels of performance and job satisfaction. This is a major risk – without continually challenging and rewarding these people – they will either become bored, fed up, comfortable or disillusioned. Ultimately they will look elsewhere or they will be head hunted – not for more money, but for greater challenges and opportunities to stretch themselves to be “green and growing”.

A leading engineering firm recently told me one of their engineers who is also a partner, was feeling unfulfilled and considering leaving the firm.  Not wanting to lose this person, but still wanting the best result for him professionally and personally, they engaged a business coach to assist him work through his thoughts.  The result was very surprising to the HR Director and other partners – he was actually craving challenging work.   He could do his job inside out, back to front and upside down – but missed the hands on aspects of design and working with clients on complex projects. Problem solved – he has gone back to taking on 1- 2 major projects and is re-living the ‘buzz’ of what made him love his job in the first place.  And in the process – they have retained him.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But how many times do we just float along and go about our everyday tasks and wake up years later wondering why we aren’t satisfied?  Whereas to an outsider looking in it may be perceived “we have it all”.

Going back to your core and working out what gives you the buzz, the butterflies, the energy that makes you think “I love my job!” and “I had a great day today!” may involve re-assessing your strengths and what you love to do most vs. what you have just ended up doing through promotion, circumstance or business needs.

To truly perform, feel satisfied and achieve success, may actually mean putting yourself out there again, making a change and getting outside your comfort zone.  So what are you going to do? Stay on the vine or push yourself onward and upward?

I’m all ears…..a retention strategy that works

By | Retention

Over the past few months, I’ve been speaking to clients about staff retention and specifically what strategies they implement to keep top talent.

What I’ve learnt is that there is so much focus, time, effort and money being spent sourcing, selecting and recruiting the right people upfront, but rarely is the same amount of time being spent on keeping new recruits engaged and retained.

I met a new client last month – a consultancy that has a strong focus on getting things right – people, technology and systems.  I haven’t seen an organisation with such a fresh approach in a long time.  All staff can work remotely at least one day a week, they are committed to achieving work/life balance and they actually want their staff to contribute to the business – regardless of their position. For example, their Finance Manager aspires long term to be in front of clients so she is going on joint visits with some of the Consultants to help her progress in the future. How refreshing! The Director was explaining his recruitment needs and the type of people he was on the look out for over the coming months.  I was surprised to learn that every new employee, yes even the administration staff,   are assigned an external business coach.  This investment is made from day 1 – not when new recruits have proven their commitment, delivered the results or climbed their way to an executive position.  The Director explained his belief in ongoing learning and investing in people upfront to increase engagement and long-term retention – and it’s working.

Over the past few weeks, I have made a point of asking to see what other clients are doing in this area and the truth is “not much”.  Sadly, once people are hired there is often a sink or swim approach – especially for senior executives who are expected to know what to do, arriving in their new positions with strong experience, expertise and high salaries.  What a misconception! These people, sometimes more than anyone need ‘someone to talk to’ – especially in the first 120 days when they are learning the culture, systems and politics, all while trying to impress and make an early impact.  Talking to the CEO or Board about concerns, thoughts and feelings is not something new executives feel entirely comfortable doing, not wanting to appear incompetent or a flight risk. It seems having an external party engaged to assist is becoming a popular choice.

A female executive this week told me that she didn’t know if her CEO thought she was doing a good job or not.  Even though they do have a good relationship and she enjoys her job, he is very busy and never gives feedback, leaving her development entirely up to her. This approach has both pros and cons.  On the plus side, she has been able to spend the money to join an executive networking group to share ideas, discuss problems and gain different perspectives. On the con side, she was head hunted for another executive role within her first 12 months and she actually considered it.  She was unsure if she was valued and considered to be a top performer in the eyes of those who matter (see previous blog post on  leadership and culture as key retention strategies “How to retain top talent”).

I also learned that one of her managers was struggling with leading a team of people and she instantly engaged an external mentor to assist in his development.  She explained that she doesn’t have all the answers, its great for him to have an external ear and truthfully she doesn’t feel she has the time to spend with him.

It tells me that in many organisations there just isn’t the time or internal resources to dedicate to one on one support and development. To pay a professional to just listen or be an external confidante can seem excessive when there isn’t necessarily a quantifiable outcome.  I beg to differ, that by investing upfront in new talent it can prevent staff turnover, reduce unnecessary replacement and re-recruitment costs as well as increase engagement levels and ultimately assists in retaining key people.

Don’t leave it too late to invest in people and only take action when there is a performance issue by sending them to a training course or hiring external help.  Too often I see companies making rash decisions when someone goes to resign through counter offers of more money, bigger titles, a larger office, better clients, a promotion or increased bonus payments.  Why wait until someone is already dis-engaged? Spending time and resources in those first 3 – 6 months, could be the most effective retention strategy you implement.