Leading Teams: It’s a Balancing Act

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Tightrope performers at 4-H Club fair, Cimarron, Kansas

In engaging your team the first question you must ask yourself is what you want your team to accomplish.  Sometimes making a simple academic distinction helps to focus this issue.  Do you want your team to be primarily concerned with implementation? Or, do you want your team to be creative and innovative?

The challenge is to find the balance point. If you lead your team too tightly, you run the risk of creating insularity and inflexibility. If you lead your team too loosely, the team can fall into the trap of perpetual creativity, but accomplish nothing.  Your objective as the team leader is not to swing too hard at either extreme.

Read more at Inc.com.

Do You Read Weak Signals? Sometimes It’s Not a Scream; It’s a Whisper

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We live in a world of signals. There are innumerable bits of information that float around us every day. We see and hear things that are relayed via media—the internet, television, books, magazines, trade journals and even radio. We pick up snatches of conversation in the check-out line or on the street or in the hallway. We receive emails and scan message boards. Some information that enters our orbit has more immediate value, and some information may not be relevant now, but may have important implications in the future. This type of information is indicative of a weak signal—that something is happening. Entrepreneurs take the time to speculate and engage in deeper analysis of that “something” before deciding to act (or not).

Read more from Inc.com.

By CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBy CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t Process Things to Death

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Most meetings in organizational life follow a script. Everyone plays their part and says their lines. Someone–the department head, VP, or dean–calls a meeting. His immediate direct report feels that if too many issues are raised, nothing will get done. The administrative director is willing to have the meeting, but wants to specify parameters, set a time limit, and start with the agenda in place. The others invited to the meeting understand the broad agenda, but they have their own agendas and issues. Unfortunately, the meeting chair is too facilitative. After forty minutes, it becomes clear that the agenda has long since crashed and burned. Everyone wants to put their issues on the table, and the discussion degenerates into several smaller, simultaneous conversations. The meeting chair tries to wrest back control, but doesn’t want to be abrupt; others try to help him focus the discussion, to no avail. After two hours, the meeting ends with an agreement to meet again.

Dialogue is celebrated today. As corporations move further away from traditional, directive leadership, innovation team leaders and organization members find themselves spending a lot of time in some kind of dialogue–processing ideas, brainstorming, and engaging in continuous open discussion. Virtual and real meetings are the modus operandi of organizational life. Certainly the internet, webinars, and video conferencing haven’t diminished the need for meetings, but have increased it.

Read the rest here.

Great Leaders Have Agenda Moving Skills

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The major leadership challenge is to lead innovation and change. In that sense, leaders need to move ideas through the maze of the organization. In today’s organizations, with multiple businesses, numerous teams, and changing expectations, leaders need to figure out how they can overcome resistance and get support for their ideas. Indeed, a good idea is not enough. Without the capacity to get others behind your agenda, you’re not really leading. The problem is that super-heroic characteristics, grand personality, and shining charisma are not going to drive ideas through the organization. Successful leaders are agenda movers who engage in the micro-political skills of execution to get people on their side and keep them there.

Agenda movers know that their good idea, no matter how brilliant, is not enough and they need to actively win others to their side. To accomplish this, they develop four key competencies: to anticipate where others are coming from, to mobilize others around their ideas, get the buy-in, and finally to go the sustain momentum and go the distance to get things done.

Read the rest here.

New Inc.com article: When Ego Destroys Your Vision

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The voice, passion, and power of the new leader are essential when trying to initiate a new direction and new purpose. In fact, at the vision stage, ego is a necessity. Much of the legitimacy of initial ideas stems from belief that others have in the leader. Visionary leaders who focus only on themselves inadvertently stymie the transformation of their vision into reality. They become demoralizing tyrants, marginalizing those who could be key to their success.

The challenge for a visionary leader is to avoid the classical mistakes that emerge when focusing only on themselves:

Read the rest here.

Six Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing with Narcissists

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We are all familiar with narcissists. If indeed of late this has gotten much play in the political arena, it is a phenomenon not unique to it. Narcissism, at least in its most subtle form, can emerge among those who are so confident in their vision and capacity that celebration of self may replace or subvert their originally intended agenda. At that point, they begin to view the world from their own unique perspective. Everything is filtered through the lens of self-aggrandizement and their insecurity.

Those who work with and around the narcissist–those who believe in the underlying agenda but are wary of the self-focused intent of the leader–are challenged with dealing with the narcissist on a regular basis. Specifically, surviving a narcissistic leader demands pragmatic political skills and continuous focus. There are at least six things that you should keep in mind:

1. Keep your eye on the agenda. Keep asking yourself what you’d like to accomplish. What are the specific concerns that drive you? What are the intentions you’re pursing? Don’t let the whims of the leader lead to you drop the ball. If the collective has a goal that you continue to believe in, then it is easier not to be affected or taken off course by a needless side path.

2. Bide your time. Don’t overreact and jump on every comment and every point. Every action doesn’t deserve an equal counter-reaction. Sometimes a reaction can be nothing. There are some things that you can let pass. As your mother might have told you, “Pick your battles.” With a narcissist, everything isn’t a battle unless you make it one.

3. Be deliberate with feedback. Don’t hesitate to give feedback when necessary, but make it specific and concrete. You have to tow the line. But, at the same time, you cannot engage in half-truths and petty obfuscations. You aren’t doing yourself or the narcissist any favors if you sugarcoat the truth.

4. Have a red line. Understand at which point the agenda is completely undermined to the point where you can no longer support it. Even if you are so committed to the cause, something the narcissist says or does is too out-there, too outrageous that you cannot keep up even the most tight-lipped support. Know when it is time to cut bait, and do it swiftly when the time comes.

5. Be careful not to feed the flame. Don’t over ingratiate yourself with the leader. Some narcissists feed on the adulation and kowtowing of others. If your narcissist is like this, pull back. Don’t give him or her positive reinforcement for acting in a way that is frankly not acceptable.

6. Seek support from others. Sometimes there is strength in numbers, but be careful who you confide in. What you view as a getting something off your chest, others may view as ammunition that they will use to fire back in your direction. So, seek support, but be aware that others may not share your motives and intentions.

In the final analysis, it may be the case that you cannot survive the narcissistic leader because you find that your core values are being violated. At a certain point, the narcissist may so overwhelm you that you have no choice but to move on.


Key Hiring Criteria: Tenacity, Spark, Trust, Leadership, and Humility

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As the academic semester ends and graduation approaches, the hiring season is in full swing. For over four decades, I have been training and working with undergraduates at Cornell University. To my joy and some pride, among my former students are well-known corporate leaders, public figures, and an array of entrepreneurs. I sometimes reflect on the qualities of my most successful students, and I am somewhat dismayed to think that if some of them were entering the job market today, they would have fallen through the cracks.

As there is more emphasis on mass hiring through recruiting agencies, there is a greater obsession with strong signals rather than weak signals. The alma mater, the grades, the activities, and the cookie-cutter elements that are easily measured and give some benign threshold of achievement, but may be predictive of very little. I’ve found that in my experience with students, the weak but persistent signals can speak more to a person’s character and potential than strong signals. There are several weak signals that are never quite captured in the resume, interviews, or tests, but can be discovered with a comprehensive conversation with their mentors.

Tenacity. The one trait that most of my successful students have in common was their tenacity. These students who took on special projects and sought out opportunity. They went beyond the core course requirements, and involved themselves in extended research and volunteer projects with focused intention.

Spark. These students shared a type of irreverence, a casual indifference to the way things are or should be. Each one had a sparkle. This subtle spark of quickness, intelligence, and wit differentiates the good from the best.

Trust. These students understood moral parameters, knew that need to share credit, and had the commonsense to distinguish acceptable and unacceptable behavior. While ambitious, it was bounded by a core understanding of the rules of the game.

Leadership. These students had taken the lead on projects. They could assemble and motivate a team of researchers. They could map out what needed to be done, and they could follow up to make sure that the work was done.

Humility. Most of these students exhibited a degree of humility. While not lacking in ambition, they had a deep sense of their limitations, which did not enhance their competitive insecurity but strengthened their tendency to work with others.

Last week I was asked to give a reference for a student who had graduated five years ago. He had a good job, but was looking around for new opportunities. While I told the recruiter he was not the best analyst or the very best technocrat, I re-framed the discussion on what I consider to be the four prerequisites of a future leader: tenacity, spark, trust, leadership, and humility. He starts in two weeks.

My advice to organizations seeking to hire the best is to have a comprehensive conversation with the college mentors of their job candidates. There is the battery of questions that have to be asked to fulfill bureaucratic requirements, but put down the list for a moment and go off script. Take the time to dig a little deeper and learn about those things that aren’t immediately evident and cannot be readily measured. The reward will be having some great people on the team.

How To Counter Criticism Of Your Million Dollar Idea

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The best entrepreneurs and business professionals learn to anticipate these push-backs before they happen, and respond calmly and effectively. I like the specifics on how to do this in a new book, “The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough,” by leadership expert Samuel B. Bacharach, Cornell Professor and cofounder of the Bacharach Leadership Group.Bacharach details seven possible criticisms that every leader with a good idea should anticipate, and provides guidance on how to overcome each.


Read on The Huffington Post

Got Credibility? 3 Keys To Convincing Others You Can Deliver

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To accomplish anything in the workplace – to move your agenda forward – you have to be credible. You can’t just say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s do it.” When presenting your idea, project, or solution, you have to demonstrate that you understand the problem or situation inside and out, and that you’re sensitive to internal concerns and pressures. You also need to show that you have the capacity and willingness to go the distance.


Read on Young Upstarts