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THE UNTAPPED POWER OF EMPOWERMENT

After a recent speaking engagement, I went back to my Best Western hotel room in St. Albert, Alberta. On the coffee table I found this note with a little gift bag containing a bottle of water and a candy bar.

Since receiving this inspiring little note of kindness, I have used it to illustrate leadership at its finest as it demonstrates that leadership has nothing to do with a title. Leadership instead, is about inspiring and influencing action from the people around you. It’s about PRESENCE, not position. After receiving this bit of acknowledgement, I’ve been intentional about keeping my hotel rooms cleaner. Not for the prize but for the pride.
While this is leadership about inspiration and influence, it’s also a story about empowerment. Someone empowered Jen and Grace to give this kind of recognition to a customer, and these two ladies also empowered themselves to step up to good leadership.
Empowerment is about removing barriers, creating space, and providing the support, encouragement, and tools for people to be the best version of themselves. But empowerment isn’t just about the manager letting go of some control. Empowerment, building a culture of trust, also requires the employee to choose service over self-interest. Believing that you can do just what you want and get all that you ask for is confusing empowerment with entitlement. Under the guise of empowerment, I’ve heard people ask for such things as freedom to come and go as they wish, increased salary, a risk-free environment, and no consequences for choices made.
Just because empowerment might mean working without being micro-managed, being trusted to make decisions, or having freedom to take some risks, empowerment doesn’t mean that you are going to get all you ask for, nor can you expect to be protected from being unhappy.
Empowerment is a partnership. It’s a relationship of trust. It’s a commitment to a dialogue with each party taking ownership. It’s not an act of concession. If a manager has the courage to hold an employee accountable for the agreements they made, don’t mistake this for  maltreatment.
Three simple ways to build an empowered relationship:
1)    Work with your employees within a solid accountability and delegation framework. Be sure there is clarity among all parties regarding expectations, parameters, agreements, needs for support, and consequences. Remember two things: Ambiguity breeds mediocrity and a request is not an agreement.
2)    Be intentional about building leadership capacity around you. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” You give a person a fish when you delegate through giving commands without a why, a sense of purpose or understanding the work from a larger context. It’s like saying, “go do this, and when you’re done come back and I’ll give you something else to do.” Then you become a seagull manager, when you flap around and crap on people for not doing it “right.” Empowerment implies starting small and gradually building on larger and larger expectations as trust is built and capacity is acquired.
3)    Take ownership. High involvement and high collaboration are key to empowerment. Workers will simply perform best when they have influence over their workplace and act as owners. While empowerment does imply the willingness to trust and let go of some control, ownership on the part of the employee is also required to fully grasp the task they are empowered to do. Ownership is the willingness to choose 100% responsibility. Ownership is about deciding, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time. Ownership is about ensuring results rather than merely putting in a “good effort.”
Empowerment isn’t a leadership fad or flavour of the month. Empowerment is an approach to life. As a shared responsibility, empowerment builds leaders, takes pressure off of managers, delivers results that matter, and helps shape organizations that are worthwhile places to work.
What are your experiences with empowerment? I’d love to hear from you.

REFLECTIONS ON THE OTHER EVEREST RETREAT

“You are a leader second. First, you are a human being.”  – John Scherer

I know from my own research, and my more than thirty years of experience in the leadership development field, that now more than ever, the world is in need of leaders who are committed to substance over superficial, character over charisma, and service over self-interest. In short, we need leaders who are authentic – people whose inner compass guides their daily actions and who inspire trust by being honest and real. To come to this place of impact and influence requires slowing down, going inside, and developing a relationship with an interior self. It’s about finding one’s voice away from the voices of the world. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing, complex, and demanding world, to lead with the depth of a strong authentic presence, requires an inner journey, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”

A year ago I had a dream to create an authentic community of like-minded leaders – difference makers – who are committed to go deeper than what I was offering in my keynote and one day leadership programs. Last week I saw this dream come to fruition at the Banff Centre when thirty-one remarkable, authentic, caring leaders came together to create a pivotal moment in my career. Assisting me by integrating mindfulness training, creativity, accountability, self-awareness, and yoga into the experience of deepening one’s leadership presence, were two extraordinary human beings, Julianna Veldtman and Jeff Lichty.

During the three days we co-created an amazing space to pause, to go within, and to connect with our authentic selves. These leaders are committed to amplifying their impact through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence and created a community of support with other authentic leaders. Together we discovered a renewed perspective on leadership and immersed ourselves, in the words of one participant, in “an inspiring space of complete trust, kindness and support.” Another participant, a CEO from Edmonton, explained it this way a week after the experience, “It seems so surreal looking back at it now. How was it possible to bring those exact people together at that exact time to make the magic happen? I cannot fully describe the life-changing event that you set the stage for and made happen. Truly, truly amazing.”

Words cannot adequately describe my own profound gratitude for the honesty, courage, vulnerability, engagement, openness, and trust that these amazing leaders put into the experience. They actually left their devices and technology at the door for three full days and engaged themselves completely in the process. I left with a deep and sustaining knowing that leadership is truly not about position; it’s about presence. Leadership cannot be reduced to techniques or tools. True Leadership is about connecting to our authentic self and bringing that self wholeheartedly to the service of others.

My father used to say that, “only so far as a man is happily married to himself, is he fit for married life.” By embarking on a journey of integration and inner peace, one expands their capacity to fully reach and influence the world. It’s about being engaged in a perpetual process of becoming. The experience last week has made me a better person. It has confirmed my conviction that a person enlarges their ability to lead and impact others through a strong presence that is attained, in large part, through an inner journey.

Each of us has within us a calling. While the outside world pushes us, something within pulls us. Let your deepest desires lead you. If this sounds like a journey upon which you would like to embark, watch for details for the next retreat in December on my website. Also feel free to send us a note expressing an interest: http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact/.

I look forward to having you join us for the next one.

Stop Evaluating People and Start Holding Them Accountable

In recent months, smart companies are finally seeing the futility of the old, outdated rule-based, bureaucratic “evaluation systems” of performance management. Many organizations I work with are abolishing their “rank and yank” systems that assign employees a performance score relative to their peers, while punishing or firing those with low grades. Other organizations are wisely rethinking their practices. Whether you agree or disagree with UCLA researcher Samuel Culbert’s assessment that performance reviews are “a curse on corporate America,” it’s nonetheless clear that performance reviews and evaluations are finally losing their appeal.

Why Performance Management Fails

First, the world has changed. Today’s employees want open communication and collaboration with their peers and with their bosses. They want partnerships, not parents. Today’s employees are also far more apt to want to know more immediately how they are doing and if they are meeting expectations and heading in the right direction. The world isn’t on an annual cycle any more for anything.

Second, being evaluated is demeaning. It’s based on an outdated parental, parent/child model of supervision that is founded on the belief that because a person is given a title they have authority over people. What right does anyone have to evaluate another person? No wonder performance reviews breed all kinds of unnecessary fear, resentment, and resistance. Leadership today is about service, not submission, supervision, and self-centeredness.

Third, if organizations want to develop highly engaged, contributing performers, managers must be equipped to coach and empower them. Today’s workers don’t see their managers as experts in specific subject areas the way their predecessors did. After all, the information they think they need is readily available to them online. Instead, they look to their managers for coaching and mentorship and find purpose through learning, contributing, and growing on the job.

The truth is that employees don’t need annual performance reviews to know how they stack up against their peers. Companies need to stop merely managing performance and start actually developing it.

The Alternative: Accountability Agreements

Instead of evaluating people, start holding them accountable. Here’s how:

Step 1. Build trust. Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Genuinely invest in people lives. Be interested in what matters to them, what motivates them, and how you can support them to grow. People need to feel safe so they can be honest without fear of punishment. The key is not just walking around; it is opening up, paying attention, and being in touch. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Step 2. Engage. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Do all you can to help and coach your employees to find their unique abilities, passion, and goals and how work fits into the context of their life. Be sure you have done everything you can to help them find a fit. Fit people; don’t fix people. Stay away from evaluating people and focus on how to support each other to grow and achieve clearly defined success.

Step 3. Clarify Expectations. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify operational (competency) expectations, as well as describing in behavioral terms the kind attitude that is required and what results are promised. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place.

Step 4. Clarify Agreements. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.

Step 5. Clarify Support Requirements. To be committed and engaged, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. They need to feel that you are committed to do all you can to help them find the resources and capabilities to do their job and grow in the process. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.

Step 6. Clarify Consequences. With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.

Step 7. Follow up. Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often you need to meet and with whom to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other.

A RESPECTFUL WORKPLACE – Holding Each Other Accountable To Create One

Just about every organization will have respect, in one form or another, as one of their espoused values. We are told that a respectful workplace is one where all employees are treated fairly, diversity is acknowledged and valued, communication is open and civil, conflict is addressed early, and there is a culture of empowerment and cooperation. This all sounds wonderful, but there still remains far too much bullying, intimidation, and incivility in workplaces where people spend much of their lives.

So what is your process of ensuring that the value of respect is actually manifested in your culture? Respect is one of those platitudes that receive a great deal of attention, but are you ensuring that it is actually lived – both at work and in your family?

I have a passion for accountability and below is a suggested process for holding yourself and others accountable for living any value that you wish to instill in your organization. I’ll use respect as an example.

Step 1. State your intent. When I open a workshop I make it very clear that respect is a value that I hold to be vitally important in my work. I then state that if anyone perceives in any way that I am not respectful of any person within the group, they can call me out on it – either personally or publicly. As a positional leader, you have to lead the way to make your intention clear. You set the tone. You must model the way.

Step 2. Turn values into behaviors. Unless you can clearly measure a value, you can’t hope to hold anyone accountable for living it. And a way you make a value measurable is to describe in precise terms, the exact behaviors that demonstrate the value, along with the results that the behaviors should bring about. In my workshop example, I tell participants that, “all my behaviors need to leave you feeling 1) safe – free to be who you are, and 2) better about yourself. If you don’t feel safe, and if your confidence is not enhanced by our time together, then I am not living the value of respect. And if this is the case, I invite you to bring it to my attention at any time, either privately or publically. I promise no repercussions for having the courage to do so.”

Step 3. Turn behaviors into agreements. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. By making an agreement that you will act with respect in the behaviors you described, you create a condition for success. What you agree to must be perceived by everyone as acting in alignment with your espoused values (in this case, respect). This is why every agreement must be accompanied by a support requirement. The support you require is that people bring it to your attention if there is a perceived incongruence. To cultivate accountability, you have to make it safe for people to have conversations.

Step 4. Continually reinforce your intent. If you are serious about creating a respectful workplace, then shine a light on respectful actions whenever you have the opportunity. Catch people being respectful. Describe what you saw in their behavior that was respectful and how it aligns with what you are committed to build. Before you start your next meeting, take five minutes to hear a story about how someone on your team acted respectfully. You, as a leader, will need to model the way by wandering around and identifying and tracking respectful behavior. Lead by telling the story first, until others have the trust and confidence to start sharing what they observe.

Step 5. Follow through. There is a difference between value statements and values. With no consequences, there can be no accountability. With no accountability, all you have are empty value statements, but no real values. Recently I was helping an executive team write their value statements. Respect was on the top of the list. We then clarified exactly what respect would look like on this team, what we all agreed to do to act respectfully, and what the organization could expect – and require – in terms of respectful behaviors. We then started to talk about one of the senior sales people who out sells everyone but is the most disrespectful person in the organization. After considerable discussion, I explained, “You don’t have to fire him, but if he continues to behave disrespectfully, and you keep him on as a sales person because of his sales competence, I suggest you cross off the value of respect and replace it with profit, because that is what you are telling your organization you ultimately value.”

Everyone wants a respectful workplace. Using these five steps can get you there. It’s imperative to remember that a respectful culture begins with self-respect. Anyone who abuses others doesn’t value himself or herself, and people who respect themselves have no tolerance for disrespect.

Most importantly, leadership means making it safe to have the conversations while ensuring there are no repercussions. Being respectful isn’t about being perfect or pretending to be flawless. Instead, it’s about acknowledging mistakes and being willing to talk about perceived incongruences. Respect means supporting each other to grow and develop in an environment that fosters mutual learning. Remember, we all have bad days or moments when we need the occasional reminder to stay vigilant.

Seven Steps To Holding An Employee Accountable

“Everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” – Collin Powell, former US Secretary of State

Last week, in a two-day culture and leadership development workshop with a group of executives, one of the leaders made a fascinating statement: “I’ve been a positional leader for almost thirty years, and I’ve never learned an actual process for holding people accountable.”

I find this fascinating. We talk about “holding people accountable” all the time. We all know we need to be doing it, and we all think we know what we talking about. But do we? Far too often, tasks are assigned to employees in a haphazard way, hoping that the worker will ‘figure it out’ and deliver an adequate, even superior, performance. If this is your accountability process, you will soon realize that ‘hope’ is a better strategy for frustration than it is for results.

I have observed three reasons why managers don’t hold people accountable:

  • They aren’t clear about how to do it. There isn’t a clear accountability process in place.
  • They don’t want to be the bad guy. A recent Harvard study showed that many managers, hoping to get promoted, refrain from holding their people accountable because they want to get good performance feedback and stay in line for promotion.
  • It’s too hard. Let’s face it. It’s tough holding people accountable. It takes courage. Leaders must be prepared to put in the time and to have the tough conversations.

Seven Steps To Holding People Accountable

  1. Build Trust – Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Make the connection.
  2. Discover the Reason – Accountability without a vision – without purpose and passion – is drudgery. If someone lacks accountability in their work, it usually means that haven’t found a reason to be accountable. They don’t have a why. Before you talk about results, if at all possible, help your employees discover a fit – between what they are passionate about what is expected of them. Even if you find out that their primary passion lies outside of work, at least you are supporting them. Fit people; don’t fix people.
  3. Clarify – Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify expectations, including what kind of attitude is required and what results are promised. People also need a clear line of sight between how their contribution makes a direct impact on the success of the organization.
  4. Get an Agreement – I define accountability as: The ability to be counted on. Accountable people never make a promise they can’t keep. But we need to get better at making promises. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.
  5. Support Requirements – To be committed, engaged, and ultimately accountable, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.
  6. Consequences – With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.
  7. Follow up – Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often we need to meet and with whom, to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other. If you end up getting to negative consequences, then follow up means you must now be accountable to follow through on the consequences that were put forward to your employee.

If accountability remains a challenge for you or for your organization, I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps I can be of some assistance. http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact

BRIDGES OF TRUST – 12 Ways To Become An Accountable Person

From our research and work of building trusting cultures we know that personal accountability is the keystone on the bridge of trust. In today’s world, you won’t get power from your title. You get your power from your ability to build trust. And you build trust first and foremost, by being accountable. It’s that simple, and it is also that difficult.

Below are 12 ways to earn trust, inspire others, and amplify your impact on the world by becoming an accountable person.

1)     Earn the right to be on people’s Accountability List. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. It’s always easier to see a lack of accountability in other people. Make a list of people in your life that you can count on, and don’t ever take these people for granted. They may save your life one day. Now imagine those you serve making a similar list. Ask yourself if you have honestly earned the right to be on their Accountability List and get to work to earn a place there.

2)     Bring a flashlight to work, not a stick. You don’t foster an accountable culture with threats, intimidation, or fear. You build accountability by catching people being accountable, by acknowledging, recognizing, and rewarding accountable action, by shining a light on what you want to build. What you focus on is what grows.

3)     Be an Anti-Entitlement Person™. Being anti-entitlement means that you believe you need to bring value to others before you deserve any compensation. You earn the right to have work/life balance before you expect it. You earn a raise before you presume one. Being anti-entitlement means you chose service over self-interest, gratitude over privilege, and obligations over rights.

4)     Be a contributor, not a consumer. There appears to be two kinds of people in the world: Those who help, and those who hinder; those who give and those who take; those who lift, and those who lean; those who contribute, and those who consume. In the dictionary you’ll learn that to consume is to “destroy, squander, use up…” while to contribute is to “build, serve, make better…” In a consumer society, you’ll stand above the crowd of mediocrity when you decide to be a contributor.

5)     Be an entrepreneur, not a bureaucrat. In the bureaucratic world, people get paid for putting in time and effort. In the entrepreneurial world, people get paid only for the value they bring to others. Whether you are an entrepreneur or a bureaucrat has nothing to do with where you work. It has everything to do with the decision you make when you come to work.

6)     Bring a No-Blame Attitude™ to you everything you do. Your life will change forever the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time.  Accept responsibility, even when you aren’t responsible. Saying, “I’m responsible for that,” will never diminish you. Take ownership for your side of the street. Become part of the solution to every problem that’s in front of you.  

7)     Reach for your passion and purpose. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What gets you up early? What keeps you up late? What inspires you to go the extra mile? Accountability without passion is drudgery.

8)     Start your day with a private victory. If you want a respectful workplace or relationship, start by earning self-respect. When you respect yourself, others will respect you. I learned from the late Dr. Stephen Covey to start every day with a personal victory. Get the hard tasks out of the way first thing in the morning. Feel good about yourself by conquering a difficult task early in the day. No one ever took pride or developed self-respect by procrastinating or doing something easy.

9)  Read more books, and less emails. Accountable people are life-long learners. They bring curiosity to everything they do. They have a disciplined approach to daily reflection, study, and learning. Accountable people learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. Read more books. Read less emails.

10)  Stay connected. “The eye can’t see itself.” We all need others to confide in, help us learn from our mistakes and increase our self-awareness. Find a confidant. They are a hedge against self-deception. It’s a myth that it’s lonely at the top. It’s lonely only if you isolate yourself. Make relationships a priority. Get away from your computer and out of your office. Be in touch. Listen. Acknowledge people. Accountability without connection is compliance.

11)  Show up on time. Actually, show up early. Make it a habit of deciding that meetings start ten minutes before others say they start. Arriving ten minutes early will create space in your day for creative energy, help you be more relaxed, and will show respect to yourself and to those attending the meeting.

12) Grow where you are planted. Don’t expect that a better job or a better relationship or a better place to live will make you happier. Do what’s in front of you now. Serve where you are. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it.