Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Turning the page on a new year is an opportune moment to review how you lead. These leadership tips will help you find balance for your team, and yourself.

Communication really is key. Most people respect and appreciate direct developmental feedback from their bosses. It drives people crazy sensing that something is wrong and not knowing what it is. If you are upset about something your employees are doing — tell them.

In today’s free agent economy, very smart people want to grow and will only stay at companies that help them do that. Great employees are looking to be part of an active dialogue with their managers. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Successful leaders know how to manage others. But what are the keys to managing up? What happens to those who don’t learn how to manage their boss … or board … or investors?

If you want to effectively interact with your boss, you must be proactive. You need to step outside yourself and ask:

What drives my boss?

How does she think?

What is her style of processing information?

Then, adapt your style to fit your audience.

Like it or not, if you don’t know what makes your boss tick, and if you don’t figure out how to influence him or her, you’re less likely to be successful. No matter how brilliant you are or how stellar your track record has been. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

Do you want your employees to be more innovative? Yes, of course. Who doesn’t? However, spurring innovative thinking and action is not easy, otherwise everyone would be creating the Apple Watch, Zoom, and the Go-Pro Hero.

Here I’ll offer tips on how to foster more innovative thinking in your business. Suggestions are drawn from my work and research, plus insight from others such as IDEO, the world-famous design firm.

What is innovative thinking?

Creative ideas come from prolific idea generators. The notion that geniuses hide away and conjure up one great idea is absurd. Really creative people produce many, many ideas, most of which are duds. But within that garbage heap of castoffs, there tend to be one or two good ones. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

One of the hallmarks of highly effective executives is their willingness and ability to act proactively regarding their own and their employee’s professional development. I am constantly amazed, however, about the frequency in which we (I refer to my colleagues in the Society of Consulting Psychology of the American Psychological Association) encounter organizations that only begin to provide developmental help (training) for their employees when they get in trouble.

My first entrée into most organizations is to be called on to help save a derailed executive; to help that executive get back on track before he or she loses their job. Occasionally, I have turned down executive coaching gigs after conducting my initial assessment because I’ve determined that it’s simply too late to help the executive. Unfortunately, the executive has burned too many bridges and even if they made a 180 turnaround, their colleagues simply hated them too much to give the executive another chance. What a waste of talent and money.

So, the big question is, why do organizations wait so long and why aren’t they more proactive? The most obvious answer is…the executives who control the purse strings don’t want to spend the money for whatever reason…and they have plenty of reasons. Never mind that the replacement cost for a single derailed senior executive can easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (according to TRW and other sources).

The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words…so today I’ll draw a graph and tell a story. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

There is one major thing to remember when you want to succeed in your chosen profession, and in your specific job; you need to know your strengths and build on them.

Does this sound like familiar advice, or is it contrary to what you have always been told? It’s more likely to be the latter; we are often reminded that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and although our strengths are important, it’s our weaknesses we need to focus on. We need to turn them into strengths, or — at the very least — simply get better at doing what we currently aren’t so great at.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes weaknesses can be turned into strengths. It assumes that we can suddenly go from not being able to do something well to being an expert in it. And it also assumes that our strengths are as good as they’re ever going to get, and therefore don’t need to be thought of any more; they are what they are and that’s that.

The Truth Behind Your Weaknesses

The truth is, some people just aren’t good at some things, and no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to do whatever it is they are trying to do. This could be due to personality, comfort, intelligence, opportunities, or just because they are not interested in learning more about a subject they dislike.

However, when it comes to your strengths, there is no ‘end goal’. Strengths can always be made stronger. They can always become better.

So doesn’t it make more sense to focus on what you are already good at and become an expert in that particular area, than trying to spread your learning and developing across all areas, even if you only enjoy some of them? By working on the former premise, you are much more likely to become successful; other people can carry out the duties you see as your weaknesses, and you can become known for what you’re good at. After all, no one can do everything, and outsourcing is part and parcel of running a business.

The Best Solution

Think of it this way. If you’re good at problem solving but poor at goal setting, what is going to help you more? Working on your goal setting abilities and then becoming reasonable at both skills, or letting someone else deal with the goal setting while you push forward with becoming exceptional at problem solving so that, although you’re poor at one thing, you’re the expert in another?

It’s clear that striving to be better at things you already enjoy and have a sound basis in is going to be a much more producutive use of your time than struggling with something you don’t enjoy and perhaps even actively resent having to do. It’s a missed opportunity, and in business this is not something that can be easily forgiven.

The Five Fatal Flaws

So, if we are recommending that you should be working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses, why are we mentioning flaws at all, let alone five fatal ones? Because these are behaviors that you should change or stop doing that the research* shows are career derailers. If you are seen by others as exhibiting any of these five regularly you will be heading for a crash. They will derail your career. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash

Today is like no other time in history. The unprecedented outcome of the coronavirus pandemic across the world means that economies are failing and there is more unemployment than in most people’s living memory. Now is the time for leadership; now is the time for people to move out of their comfort zones and do something, do what it takes, to put the world back on track.

There is no doubt this is a frightening thought. Because we’ve never been through anything like this in the past, it’s impossible to know whether the path we’re choosing right now is the right one. The important thing to remember is that if no path is chosen at all we’ll remain lost in the woods, unable to see the daylight, unable to make any changes. Action has to be taken. Leadership needs to be the next step.

So what can make those who have the ability to lead stop being complacent or afraid — or both — and start actually leading? It all stems from a sense of urgency. Once that is implanted in the mind, everything else naturally follows. When there is urgency in what one has to do, it gets done; there is no time for anything else. Not only is this something that a leader needs to be aware of, it’s something they can use to their advantage when the time comes to lead. There are four stages that need to be addressed; let’s look at them now.

Bring The Outside In

People are afraid of change, even when they are calling out for it. It’s unnerving and uncomfortable, and despite the fact that the present is just as unnerving and uncomfortable, at least there is still some sense of familiarity, if not normalcy. This makes it difficult for leaders to convince people to follow them, especially if the destination is unknown.

In order to bypass this problem, we have the idea of ‘bringing the outside in’ (* see note below). Essentially, this means looking for external data to offer a sensible rationale for why any suggested change has to happen. A good example of this would be a company that believes itself to be the best and is therefore complacent, refusing to acknowledge any changes that it needs to make. By looking at external data to determine just where that company falls in comparison with its competitors, it is possible to show that change is not only a good idea, but absolutely necessary if it wants to stay on top. It’s easy to become blinkered when you’ve had it good for a long period of time, but competition is always there and it will always be nipping at your heels; watch out for it and change direction when it gets too close.

Behave With Urgency Every Day

As a leader, you want to show others what they should be doing and how they should be acting. It is a case of being a good example, and if you are complacent or slow, if you say something can be left for another time, or there’s nothing to worry about, that’s what people will believe. That’s not what business needs.

It is a far better plan to behave with urgency every day. Every interaction, every meeting, every email and memo, every phone call should always bring home just how important each individual task is. Not only will this keep things moving smoothly and efficiently, but it will help each worker to understand just how important their role within the business really is. Far from just another cog in the wheel, they are integral to the productivity and success of the business itself.

Remember though, as a leader you need to show urgency while still remaining calm and respected. It’s a fine balancing act, but it is crucial.

Find Opportunity in Crisis

At first glance, any crisis might seem like a negative. However, there is always an alternative view, and if you can find it, you can find the opportunities that a crisis might present. Seeing a crisis as a way to restore your fight and destroy your complacency is a good way to begin the process; you may realize just how long you’ve been sitting back and letting business happen to you, rather than going out there and hunting for it like a good leader should.

Never operate from a place of fear. This will only lead to rash decisions and regret.

Deal With The No Nos

This is a problem for all leaders; there are always going to be those who disagree with change. They might be afraid, they might like where they are now and don’t want to change anything through laziness or complacency, or they might simply have a different opinion and disagree with you because they want their own voice to be heard (even if your idea is better than theirs).

These people are always difficult to deal with, but the latter are the hardest ones to bring alongside. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is remove them entirely. If they are not going to listen, if they won’t follow, and if their sense of urgency differs from that you are are trying to convey, they shouldn’t be part of the equation. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

Popularity and leadership — at first glance it might seem as though they are two entirely separate ideas. You can’t be popular and a good leader. You can’t be a good leader and be popular. It just doesn’t work. Yet many people strive to be both popular and a great leader. They want to have it all; they want to be amazing at their jobs and they want everyone to like them.

At some point, for most people, it’s going to come down to a choice; do you want to be effective or do you want lots of friends in your workplace? You should know which one is your ultimate goal.

The problem is, this can get confused, particularly because of the multi-rater feedback process, usually called the 360 degree assessment. This assessment is meant to evaluate your leadership by looking at what the people you work with and — in particular — manage think of you. It’s meant to then help you with your own personal development, but it can become something of a popularity contest, and this is where the problem lies. Many feel that a good leader who also happens to have a tough way of working would score much lower than someone whose leadership skills aren’t up to scratch, but who is well liked.

This is a valid point of view. It’s all very well being the best friend to all in the workplace, but this is a big problem when you need to put any disciplinary measures in place, or make changes that people aren’t necessarily going to like. You don’t want to be hated, you don’t want to be a dictator, but being everyone’s friend, as nice and comfortable as it might make the workplace, is going to make your job a whole lot harder. It’s going to mean you don’t want to make decisions, and that you can’t do the things you need to do for fear of upsetting your friends. In this respect, though, you’re not a leader; you’re a follower and the people who are meant to be following you are dictating the terms of their work and their workplace.

And when the CEO starts to wonder why productivity isn’t high and why people are complaining about everything, it’s you, the manager, where the buck is going to stop. And it’s you, the leader, who needs to prevent this from happening. You don’t prevent it by being overly harsh and standoffish, but neither can you make a good workplace and a successful business by being everyone’s friend.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be well liked. People are not going to do their best work for someone they distrust, or who they feel is overly critical — why should they? They’re only going to be criticised no matter what they do. So there must be a balance; you must be approachable but distant. Does it sound impossible? It’s not. And it’s how the best leaders work.

But back to the 360 degree assessment. How are you going to better utilise this to ensure you can strike the right balance? The key is in asking the right questions; the questions that will lead you to the answers you need to hear, rather than the ones that you want to hear. There can often be a big difference between the two. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Courage and leadership. Have you ever put those two words together before when it comes to business (or any business, come to that)? Probably not. Courage and leadership as a combination tends to be reserved for those in the military, in jobs that require lives to be put on the line such as the police force or fire service, or for those that require people to see the very worst of human suffering like doctors and nurses.

And while these brave souls do show courage and they do show leadership, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances, that doesn’t mean that a business leader can’t do both too. Although it isn’t necessarily in the same league, when it comes to the business, courage and leadership are essential tools and can mean the difference between success and failure especially now during difficult times.

Every business owner has courage. They wouldn’t have taken on the task if they didn’t. Courage means doing something despite the risk that it holds — and running a business has risks coming from every direction. And of course, courage is the thing we need if we are going to overcome our fears and push forward, doing more, trying new things, experimenting and experiencing what business can really be like and what it can give us. Without courage, business isn’t possible. You can start, but you won’t end happily ever after; you’ll be too afraid to try.

Think of all the risks that you might have taken or intend to take in your business. If you’ve ever opened up in a new location, taken on an inexperienced employee because you saw potential, tried a new piece of equipment before any of your competitors, expanded your product range, or a multitude of other business ideas and decisions, you’ll have shown courage. After all, the bigger the reward, the bigger the risk of failure, but your business won’t grow without reaching for these rewards.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. — Nelson Mandela

So where does the leadership aspect come into things? We can see how much courage a business owner must have, but does leadership come from courage? Are the two really linked? The answer is yes if you are the kind of leader who inspires others.

The best kind of leader is one who people look up to; one who people want to follow and emulate. What are you showing your staff, your clients, your suppliers, your friends and family if you don’t try new things in your business? You’re showing them that you aren’t willing to face your fears, you aren’t courageous, you aren’t the kind of leader who they want to be around.

This is a good way to lose high producing and loyal staff members who, despite liking their job and liking you as a person, just can’t get behind you as a leader. They want to work somewhere that’s going places; they want to be part of the success. If nothing ever changes because the business owner (you) hasn’t got the courage to be a good leader and to push everyone to the next level, why should they stay? They have their own careers and goals to think about too.

Learn To Be Courageous

Although some people are simply more courageous by nature, the good news is this is a skill that you can learn, and one that, once you have it, will stand you in good stead for a long time to come. Once you get over your initial fear and see that you can try new things for the good of your business, your courage will even grow. If you feel you need to be more courageous, here are some ways to learn this admirable and essential (for business and life) trait.

- Believe In Yourself

There is no point in faking courage. You need to truly believe that what you are doing is the right thing, that it will work, and that it will benefit the business, and you. You might have to put your faith in other people at times such as employees or suppliers, and that’s difficult for someone who likes to be in control; it’s crucial though.

- Get Help

No matter how good a leader you might be, you can’t do everything by yourself. Use your leadership skills to empower others to use their skills and talents to help you succeed. The only thing that will happen if you try to do everything by yourself is that you’ll burn out and you won’t achieve your goals.

- Look At The Negative

It’s easy to shy away from the negatives in your business and focus on the positives. It’s more enjoyable that way, and it makes for a simpler life. It doesn’t make for a successful business though; if the negatives are never addressed, they will continue to be an issue, no matter how successful you become.

- Accept Responsibility

No one is perfect and being the business owners doesn’t mean you can’t get things wrong. The key is taking responsibility for your mistakes and learning from them. Can you see that this takes courage? But that’s a good thing; it will show your customers and your employees that you are human, and that’s a positive — it’s much better to buy from a real person than a faceless company.

- Praise Your Staff

Giving credit where it is due may not seem like a courageous thing to do, but in reality, it is. It’s far easier to stay silent and say and do nothing but speaking up and giving praise requires you to make changes, even if those changes are simply to your normal routine. This is courageous, and it’s a great start when you’re trying to learn to be braver in business.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

There are two types of leaders in a crisis — those who become totally obsessed with the short term, and those who are savvy enough to look at the long-term implications of what is happening around them. These are the ones with vision. These are the ones who, even if things are tough (as they are for so many right now), will emerge victorious. Or at least with a business that still has somewhere to go.

The problem is, it’s so easy to become the leader with the short-term vision when things are going wrong around you. You jump from one fire to the next, putting them out as you go but always finding another one to deal with. Of course, at the time this is going to seem like the best thing to do, but think of it this way — shouldn’t the firefighters be dealing with the small blazes? And shouldn’t the fire chief, the brigade captain, be overseeing everything and coming up with a long-term plan so that the fires, once out, don’t start up again?

The answer is yes. And this is why the most successful leaders are the ones who don’t feel they have to deal with every little thing that goes wrong; they have the right staff to do that for them. They concentrate on where the business is going and how to get there. It’s not that these people don’t have crises to deal with — they absolutely do because everyone does — it’s just that they know how best to handle them. And who is best to handle them. And that person isn’t always the chief; it’s often one of the firefighters instead.

The Current Situation

There’s no way to get around the fact that the current situation is not a good one for many businesses. Business owners and leaders are going to be concerned about the future viability of their companies, and that’s important, of course. But in order to come up with a plan that is going to work, you need to have that long-term vision. Fighting the fires that are burning all around you will only take you so far; you are going to need to get further than that, wherever that is.

This is why you need to have an effective vision. John Kotter’s best selling book, Leading Change, suggests that an effective vision has six distinct characteristics, and each one is going to need to be put in place in you want to have a successful, sustainable, future. (full disclosure: Kotter and his executive team were clients of mine when I helped them create their first Mission, Vision and Values.) …

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of chaos. Right now, no one knows what the future holds, and the best laid plans are unravelling. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity and let that affect us, both in terms of our work and productivity, and in terms of our mental health. Even our physical health can take a battering.

A question that has been asked many times in the past but that seems so much more urgent now is: “How can I stay healthy and reasonably happy and optimistic with so much chaos and uncertainty all around?” There are answers to this. It is not impossible. Even if you can see exactly how precarious your business is right now, even if you are the one responsible for pushing forward and for helping your employees be more optimistic, it can be done. You need to step back and take stock, give yourself time to assess the situation objectively, and then start to move forward.

The Issues
So just what are the issues that business owners face that will make them wonder how to stay sane in a crazy world (whether that craziness stems from a global pandemic or from something else)? Apart from the ones just mentioned, business owners may also be feeling overwhelmed (perhaps overburdened although they probably wouldn’t want to admit it) because their employees are constantly bringing their own problems into work. Those who are in charge of others at work are exposed to much more negativity than most other people who only have their own issues to think about. So, it becomes even harder to navigate to a positive space through these murky, negative waters.

This becomes even more of a problem when that business owner and employer genuinely cares for their staff. And, to be fair, that does tend to be the majority. So again, not only are bosses listening to other people’s problems, they find themselves trying to think of ways to help those employees in need. This can sometimes come at the detriment of their own needs and wants. Their own problems can be pushed to one side and not dealt with at all — that’s not a good way to stay sane in a crazy world, is it?

And we’ve all heard the phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’. It may be a cliché, but that does not stop it from being true. CEOs and other bosses are extremely vulnerable. They don’t have anyone to talk through their problems with, but they are the sounding board for everyone else’s. Does that sound familiar?

How To Be More Positive
With all this negative energy flying around, with all these unsettling thoughts, and particularly now with these peculiarly uncertain times, it might seem like a struggle, if not an impossibility, to be positive. However, a positive outlook really can change everything. It is certainly the first step to staying sane and being able to work out what to do next that will benefit you, your employees, and your business as a whole. Here are some ways to get that positivity into your life, even in the most trying of times.

It’s All About Perspective
If you can keep things in perspective, you will be much more likely to have a positive outlook. Yes, things are bad now, there is no doubt about it, and no amount of wishing and hoping is going to change that, but if you look to the future, perhaps six months from now, a year, whatever timeframe works for you, things will have changed. Nothing lasts for ever, good or bad. So, if the economy is struggling, it will get better. Keep these thoughts in mind and keep working towards them, never losing sight of your goals.

It’s Not All About Work
Yes, your business is important, of course it is, but is it everything? If it is, you need to think again. Life as a whole needs to be a balance between work and play, between business and family and friends. If the only thing you ever do is work, no wonder you feel negative whenever anything threatens your business, even if it is completely out of your control.
Developing other interests means you can have time when you’re not thinking about work, and it is in these times that you’ll often come up with the best ideas. Let your mind relax and give yourself a break.

You Are Not Your Job
No matter how proud you might be of your career and what you have done for yourself, you must always keep in mind that you are not your job, and you never should be. Don’t define yourself in this way; it’s far too narrow for something and someone as complex as a human being. Your work may well occupy much of your time but try not to let it be everything. If something goes wrong, you will feel it much more strongly if you have nothing else in your life, and this is bad not just for your sanity, but for the business too — you’re more likely to jump into making desperate decisions just to keep things going.

Take Some Alone Time
It is easy to get distracted by other people, the internet, the news… but all these distractions are doing is making you less productive and causing you to worry more — and be more negative. So, ensure you take some alone time periodically with no distractions at all. Switch off your cell phone, don’t check your emails, stay off the internet… just be by yourself.
Use this time for some reflective thoughts about your current situation and how you can change it. You might have the power and information to be able to do this, or you might not. At least by thinking about it you’ll know, and if you can, you may figure out what to do about it.
Many people find their best ideas come to them when they aren’t searching for specific answers, but when they are in this reflective, contemplative state. If you’ve ever come up with a wonderful idea in the shower, now you know why!

Take A Vacation
Yes, travel is restricted right now, but a vacation doesn’t have to be something that happens away from home. You can take a week off and not travel anywhere and try not to think about your business at all. You’ll need to delegate some of your work because the last thing you want when you are trying to get away from it all are intrusions into your life. If you don’t think you can delegate, then there are two issues to consider: you have either not got the right employees in your business, or you’re too wrapped up in the business to let anyone else do anything. Which is it? How can this be fixed?

Learn More
The more you learn, the more ammunition you’ll have against this crazy world of ours. Read anything and everything that will expand you mind — not just business books (although of course they can be extremely useful) but anything that will give you a different idea, a new perspective, a fresh opinion. Expand your worldview and you’ll be able to be much more successful because you’ll be able to see more angles and overcome more challenge.

Enjoy Family and Friends
Spending all your time alone isn’t good for you. Spending all your time with your employees isn’t good for you either. You need to spend time with friends and family too. These people are there to help you through life — think of them as a gift, and not one you’ll want to waste.
Ideas can come from anywhere and anything, including playing with your kids, so never discount anything.

Have Someone To Talk To
Lastly, it’s important to have a trusted advisor to talk to. Just as every employee can feel better after unburdening themselves to their employer, so that employer in turn needs to offload the negative. To do this, having a mentor or someone you know you can relate your worries, troubles, and thoughts to is crucial. …


Carl Robinson PhD

Carl is a business psychologist and leadership development expert who focuses on the development of high performance leaders.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store