Browsing the archives for the Advice from the Top category.

Failing Forward

Advice from the Top

I wrote an earlier post about bad Kung Fu leadership.  This is another Kung Fu post – or more precisely – Tae Kwan Do.  The master at our school used a terrific phrase the other day.  He was working with some kids who were struggling to learn a new move.  They were getting frustrated and embarrassed when they got the move wrong.

The master said, “It is okay to fail as you learn as long as you fail forward”.

His point was about learning from your mistakes, moving forward and getting it right the next time.  Don’t get discouraged – keep on trying.  Mistakes are part of the process of continuous improvement as we work toward mastery of a skill.

We all have struggles with tasks and skills and experiences.  Don’t regret that mistakes happen.  Just make sure that you are always failing forward.

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Advice from the Top: Jack Welch

Advice from the Top, Leadership

Jack Welch helped create the leadership movement.  He led GE to enormous success during his reign.  Welch always took decisive action and kept moving forward.  Time has shown that some of the techniques that worked for him can be hard to replicate.  In any case, he is a leader worth listening to.

There is an article at MSNBC called “Excerpt: How to be a good leader” which is part of an interview with Jack Welch.  He discusses the transition of moving from a peer to a leader and managing big teams and small ones.  He was trying to answer the questions of: What does a leader really do?

He makes several points that are common to most leadership advice.  For example, leaders have to develop talent and build strong teams.  They are also responsible for setting direction.

Some of his other points are good advice, but not as common to hear.  He talks about the importance of curiosity.  The leader should ask a lot of questions and always be looking for a better solutions.  This helps prevent complacency.

Leader should also model risk-taking and making mistakes.  That creates an environment of trust in which employees are more likely to try new things without fear of punishment.

Welch also discusses the importance of celebrating – and doing it frequently.

Check out the article for more details.

How well do your leaders do these things?  How well do you do them?

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Advice from the Top: 3 easy steps for building relationships

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Managing people

I attended a meeting of my company’s PhD club the other day. That is not nearly as pretentious or high-brow as it sounds. Actually it is not even a club – after all, there are only two of us in the whole company. My fellow PhD, I’ll call him Sam, and I are friends and just go out to lunch every few months. We share the common bond of being PhDs in a business that does not really value PhDs or scientific thinking.

Sam and I don’t work directly together. I’m a psychologist in HR, and Sam is a technical expert who works in another area of the business. Sam is very specialized. His PhD is highly unique – only a handful of people in the country do what he does.

Sam and I both manage groups of people in addition to our technical, geek work. Like many geeks, Sam is naturally introverted and had to learn new skills to manage people. The Geek 5 risks include resistance to a broader role (often due to discomfort of being a leader) and also trouble managing people.

I asked Sam how he managed to be successful at being both a geek and a leader. He talked about how critical it is to overcome introverted tendencies and focus on building relationships in order to be perceived as a leader. He simplified that even further into three steps he does every day to build relationships:

1. Be intentional about your presence at work

2. Smile

3. Say hello to everyone

First, he clicks into an intentional, extrovert mindset every morning as he walks into the building. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to be “on” when he is at work and that everything he does is being watched. He’s careful about how he looks, what he does and general demeanor.

Second and third, he makes a point to smile and acknowledge everyone he meets in the building. He uses every opportunity outside his office to build relationships. People love being acknowledged and being greeted by the sweet sound of their own name. He even makes a point to greet people he does not know.

This seems like good advice and some actions that I need to start practicing. I’m a strong introvert. When I walk down the hall, I am often caught up in my own thoughts – making plans and solving problems. As a result, I’m more likely to be looking at the floor than the people.

Sam acknowledges that this is not easy to do. He psyches himself up for it every morning and it often has him exhausted by evening. But it is an effective way to build relationships and increase his visibility and credibility as a leader.

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Advice from the Top: Be the Rudder

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Uncategorized

Today’s Advice from the Top post comes from a senior leader in my current company. It relates to the Geek 5 risks of leadership skills and resistance to a broader role.

 The last Advice from the Top post was about treating your office like a prison and escaping it as often as you can.  That is a leadership technique for building relationships and connecting to your team.   

Be the Rudder is also a leadership technique.  It is based on an analogy to a boat.  Picture a large boat (like a Viking Boat) staffed with a dozen men with oars. 

Boat with rudder

Boat with rudder

Q:  How does the boat move? 

A: The men use the oars to row the boat.

Q:  How does the boat steer?

A: The boat is steered by the captain from the back of the boat using the rudder.

As the captain leader of your boat team are you steering from the rear as the rudder? 

As Geeks make the transition from an individual contributor role focused on their expertise to a broader leadership role, many struggle with this issue.  They try to move the boat by doing all of the rowing from the front of the boat and pulling the team along with them. 

Geek managers can often do the work faster and better than less experienced direct reports.  Plus the technical work is in their comfort zone.  So they try to do the work instead of guiding the team.

To be a rudder, the leader should:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Coach and mentor
  • Provide strategy and direction
  • Motivate the team
  • Allow others to carry their own load
  • Keep the team aligned and all rowing together

Are you the rudder for your team or are you hauling them along through the strength of your expertise?

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Advice from the Top: Escape your Office?

Advice from the Top, Leadership

You’ll start seeing a new topic here at Geeks Gone Pro called “Advice from the Top”.  This will be advice and thoughts from leaders who have already achieved success and moved to the top of their organizations.  Some of these leaders are ones I know personally, and others will be well-known business folks.  Their advice ties to the Geek 5 as related to leadership.

Today’s “Advice from the Top” comes from a senior leader at my current company.  He is a dynamic leader who tells stories to teach leadership.  Gracious with his time, he often speaks during our leadership training sessions. 

One phrase he uses is “Treat your office like a prison and escape it as often as you can!”

By this, he means that you cannot lead people from behind a desk.  You do tasks behind a desk, you practice leadership with other people.  The work you do in an office on a computer is not as important as the work you do when you are out interacting with direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, etc.  Here are some takeaways from this idea:

1.  Stay connected to your team – There used to be a popular management technique called “Management by Walking Around”.  This is the same concept.  Try to take a daily stroll around your workplace.  Check in with your direct reports.  It might be as simple as saying hello and briefly chatting – this builds ongoing rapport and trust.  Or you might ask about the status of projects or meetings.  If you are present and available, you’re more likely to hear of troubles before they escalate.  Be present as a leader. 

2.  Find out what is happening in the company – Visiting other groups and areas can keep you connected into the organization.  You will have casual opportunities to discuss the work you are doing, and you can hear what others are doing.  People love to talk about themselves.  If you drop in and ask a few questions, it is a great way to start a conversation.  A good listener is always appreciated – and you might pick up interesting infrormation.   If nothing else, you are building relationships and your network.

3.  Be visible – You are more likely to get noticed out of your office than sitting at your desk.  Visibility is critical to building your credibility and to make you seem like a broader leader.  You have to be visible to be considered for bigger opportunities.  Remember the posts about organizational savvy?

Getting out of your office can mean walking around to talk to folks, having lunch in the company cafeteria, seeking others out to congratulate them on successes, visiting branch offices or stores or other outlets, etc.  The point is that you learn more by getting out, asking questions and listening than you do by reading and writing reports. 

Remember, you always need to get your work done – and that usually involves sitting in your office.  If you don’t perform well, your leadership skills won’t matter.  Just make sure that you build in time to practice your leadership skills by getting out of your office when you can.  Good leaders lead in person, not through email.

How can you escape your office?

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