May 20, 2017

A Leader's Role on a Dysfunctional Team = Responsible


We’re all familiar with what Tolstoy’s posited in Anna Karenina, that “happy families are all alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And while the particulars of what makes each family unhappy are different, the source of the dysfunction always stems from the behaviors and attitudes of the parents/adults in the home. It is the moods, habits and behaviors of one (or more) adult(s) which catalyze and inform how the others in the family behave, act and react with the catalyst and with each other. It is the combination of the adult’s catalyst behaviors and the resulting reactive behaviors which create each unique unhappy family situation.

The origin of team dysfunction is always the leader
This analogy also applies to teams at work. Namely, that happy, productive teams are all alike and every unhappy team is unhappy in its own way; with Forbes’ Coaches Council identifying 14 different ways a leader might diagnose dysfunction on her own team. And, like the adult in the home being the catalyst in the unhappy family analogy, dysfunctional team behaviors are in reaction to the habits, attitudes and behaviors of the leader.
Of course, unlike children, every adult in the workplace is responsible for his own behavior, but Shawn Casemore, author of Operational Empowerment may have said it best on his blog on this topic: “The origin of dysfunction in an organization is always the same. It’s the leader of the team.”
If you’re leading what you fear is a dysfunctional team, use these tips to course correct your own thinking and behaviors to get your team back on track.
Team dysfunction is never one person’s “fault”
A less seasoned leader will focus his attention on one person who appears to be “the problem” because that looks like the easiest way forward. Skilled leaders, on the other hand, resist the urge to ambush any one member because they understand no one is coming to work with the intent to upset the boss and foil her plans. Rather, every person’s behavior on the team is influenced both positively and negatively by the leader’s own attitudes, moods and behaviors.
Withdrawal is one of the behaviors which may be called out as a problem, but is, in fact, a reaction to the wider dysfunction.  Blaming or scapegoating an individual on the team won’t “cure” the team’s dysfunction, because the behavior is a symptom, not the cause of it. In fact, it’s the whole team which needs a tune-up, including the leader.
Your behavior creates fear
As a leader, if your team members generally defer to you, I’m sorry to say that it’s not because you’re ever so wise, charismatic and smart. On the contrary, if this is happening, you are surrounded with yes-men because your behaviors create fear.
Google’s Project Aristotle research demonstrated that trust and safety are necessary for high performing teams. Team members need to feel “psychologically safe” both with you as their leader and with their team mates.
At work, people’s fears fall into 3 main categories: being misunderstood (their motives or credibility questioned), being excluded (ostracized for not conforming) and being invisible (not heard). All of these fears are inextricably tied to our core feelings of value and sense of worth and if your team is spending the majority of their days outside their psychologically safe zone, then it is draining their creative energy and productivity -- and likely leading to dysfunctional behaviors.
Strong leaders learn how to manage conflict in ways that maintain psychological safety of the people on the team, in order to have the needed conversations necessary to productive growth. Unfortunately, too many conflict-avoidant leaders fall into the next trap...the sidebar conversation.
Sidebar conversations are a sign of dysfunction
Sidebar conversations are those hush-hush tete-a-tete’s among sub groups of team members (with or without the leader) which purposefully exclude other relevant members and are akin to gossip and just as dysfunctional. And when these sidebars are driven by the leader, you’re normalizing scapegoating and instilling fear - because if you’re comfortable with sidebar conversations with one team member about another team member, you might be doing the same to them.
This is also evidence of a dysfunctional hub and spoke management style. This approach of being the primary means of keeping activities synchronized, it actively discourages the team from engaging with their team members on topics outside their direct responsibilities. They forgo sharing their insights and thoughts of strategic relevance because of a politeness ritual inherent in the hub and spoke setup.
You don’t communicate as well as you think you do
You think you’re communicating effectively, but the evidence clear shows that everyone overestimates their ability to communicate. As a team leader, you need to take this insight to heart and endeavor to understand how each of your team members thinks and feels so you can best tailor your communication style to what suits them. This small effort to adapt on your part will help build strong relationships and enhance trust. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Next time you find yourself wondering what to do about the dysfunctional behavior on your team, take a step back and explore how your attitudes and behaviors are contributing to what you’re seeing. Your team will not begin to work better together until you also look at your role in it.

August 4, 2016

Leaders Must Learn To Recognize Team Aptitude




We all recognize that success in today’s business environment requires every professional to demonstrate a high EQ. The increasing complexity of the business challenges faced means, as leaders, we are constantly forming and evolving new and different teams.
While being a “team player” has long been a stated corporate value, its meaning has irrevocably changed. Where once it meant being pleasant, helpful and not bucking the status quo, it now requires working effectively on cross-functional, multi-generational, multi-cultural teams tackling ill-defined problems with time sensitive urgency without driving themselves (and others) to burnout.
And as organizations have flattened out, more and more we ask our individual contributors/SME’s to represent their wider functions’ needs and priorities, contribute ideas and proactively solve problems within these complex teams. To do this well requires “leadership grade” EQ and communication skills.
Traditional leadership training typically focuses on the self awareness and communication skills necessary for effective team participation and successful collaboration. These skills, while not nuclear physics, do take years of practice, application and refinement before one can truly claim its fluent application.
Even when hiring into in entry level or promoting into early-career roles, leaders need to look for and reward behaviors which signal “team aptitude” in addition to any technical job competencies. Here are behaviors to look for to help you spot team aptitude:

Shows initiative: she volunteers to learn/try new things where others may step back; she appropriately and considerately offers insightful feedback and opinions

Has a point of view: He can make thoughtful, insight-driven recommendations and, where possible, makes an effort to solicit and apply the input of others

Confidently asks for help: She is aware when there are things she doesn’t know and is confident enough to seek out and ask for help and guidance.

Reminds you of Pooh (not Eeyore): there just isn’t a better way to describe how to recognize this. Pooh’s are forward thinking, taking responsibility when things go wrong and focused on the go-forward while maintaining a positive attitude in times of stress and setbacks. People who are Pooh’s help keep teams motivated and productive while Eeyore’s “woe is me” attitude may permeate the team and cripple them

Able to build on ideas: She is able to listen to and “riff” of another’s idea in order to make it better or move its execution forward.

Recognizes strengths in others: He shows a genuine interest in others, even those he may not work closely with. He proactively seeks out to learn from subject matter experts on topics within and beyond his job description


Team dynamics are an important part of today’s work environment. Leaders who are able to identify behaviors which display “team aptitude” will be more effective in developing and coaching their teams.

May 20, 2016

CMO's - Are You Part of the Problem?


Spencer Stuart recently released their 2016 CMO Summit Survey  --  a survey of more than 150 marketing leaders across industries to learn what skills they prioritize, how they are developing talent and what they are doing to build their own careers.


The skills CMOs need on their teams

A review of the summary findings, showed no surprises in the skills CMOs said they needed on their marketing teams:
  1. Digital Marketing (incl Social) (62%)
  2. Data Analytics and Insights  (49%)
  3. Strategic Thinking (42%)


Also not surprising, it was these same three skills that CMOs indicated were the most difficult to find when hiring, albeit in a slightly different order:
  1. Data Analytics and Insights (57%)
  2. Strategic Thinking (51%)
  3. Digital Marketing (incl Social) (45%)


CMOs tell us their strengths

When these same CMO’s were asked their greatest strengths as marketing leaders, their top 3 strengths were:
  1. Strategic Thinking (71%)
  2. Driving Results (64%)
  3. Empowering Team Members (40%)

Data and analytics, as well as digital marketing were significantly further down on the list -- both under 20%.

As a marketing leader who is actually strong in data analytics and insights, it was this final nugget that brought the “difficulty in hiring talent with these skills” situation into crystal clear focus for me.



The CMO's greatest strength is their Achilles heel


I’ll spell it out:



Marketing professionals (both junior and senior) with these desired skills (to varying degrees) exist out there in the world.


Marketing professionals with the aptitude and attitude to build and develop these desired skills also exist out there in the world.


Marketing professionals will choose to work in organizations where their talents and strengths are recognized, appreciated and valued by leadership


Marketing professionals will choose to work in organizations that enable them to develop the highly valued skills needed for career advancement


Marketing organizations led by CMO’s who are not strong in desired skills will not attract marketing professionals (junior or senior) with those skills nor those with the aptitude for those skills BECAUSE the CMO is not strong.


Are you with me now?


It is the CMO who sets the vision, drives the culture and sets the priorities for their marketing organization. Where the CMO is not strong, that inexperience likely prevents him from effectively evaluating experienced, talented candidates in that area. Additionally, the candidate herself will likely perceive the CMO’s inexperience negatively -- as a challenge versus an opportunity. The CMO’s lack of understanding of the candidate’s area of focus will likely lead to less of his attention, less support and fewer opportunities for future visibility and career development.


And what about the 71% of CMO’s claiming a strength in strategic thinking and 64% with a strength in driving results? If this strategic strength is so prevalent at the top, why aren’t we seeing more marketing professionals with strategic thinking skills? Why aren’t their “empower team member” efforts succeeding here? Additionally, truly strategic thinkers with talents at driving results would be able to successfully develop the needed skills and evolve their teams.


Chicken or Egg?


Where CMO’s have been unable to achieve that evolution, my suggestion is to take a moment of self-reflection and look closely at the role they themselves may be playing in stagnating the talent on their Marketing team.  Accepting the reality of what may be behind the “skill shortage” challenge they are experiencing may be a first step toward a solution.

April 13, 2016

Customer Journey Maps - Are You Using Them Correctly?


Customer Journey Maps are often vilified as a marketing buzzword that organizations love to hate. I understand where the sentiment comes from, I truly do. Too many of us have been held hostage by bad ones where a too expensive, overly-complex, multi-month mapping initiative with sticky notes on the walls ended up being shelved, forgotten and never used.
But bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch. A previous poor execution isn’t a good enough reason to lambast such an important tool. There are too many benefits to an organization having a common view into how a buyer buys and how a user (if different from the buyer as in many B2B SaaS sales) adopts.
Is the name part of the problem?
I’ve often thought that part of the CJM’s image problem may be in its name.
“Customer” doesn’t wholly reflect the complexities of many B2B sales where the person making the buying decision is often removed from the day-to-day users adopting the solution.
Then the word “journey” implies a level of conscious awareness or forethought on behalf of the buyer that they are on their way somewhere and heading toward a particular destination. We know this just isn’t the case, buyers gain awareness of solutions and head down buying paths in unintentional ways.
Finally, the term “map” implies a level of concreteness in a step by step progression and a level permanence in the landscape. Neither fits what we understand as the circuitous route a buyer may take toward a solution, nor does it take into account the ever growing ways buyers will choose interact with your brand. There are, literally, an infinite number of paths.
If I stipulate that we know the buyer or user won’t ever take a perfectly linear path down our funnel; and if I further stipulate that we won’t ever be able to accurately predict each and every potential path - does this mean any CJM is worthless?
Customer Journey Maps Are Useful As Constructs
Of course not. Despite its stipulated weaknesses, CJMs can be very useful tools in organizations. Its power comes from it being a construct.
The human brain loves to organize things -- we’re evolutionarily wired to categorize. This ability to categorize has helped us humans to quickly make sense of new, complex things in order to keep us alive and safe.
We’ve already established that a buyer’s actual path to purchase and adoption is circuitous, complex with an infinite array of alternatives. Add to that the complexity that in most organizations, there are different teams involved with sales and adoption including marketing, sales, product, and customer success to name just a few. Organizations need everyone rowing in the same direction and aligning their efforts for maximum benefit. And that alignment is near impossible if every different person has a unique point of view around how a buyer comes to buy and how a user adopts.
Given the innate complexity of both a buyer’s path and the organization -- and given our brain’s proclivity to categorize -- it’s useful to employ constructs like a CJM as a tool to align your organization’s people and resources around a common strategy.
And when the business goal is team alignment, a jointly created consensus hypothesis of the top segment’s journey may not necessarily reflect “truth” of the marketplace out the gate, the act of creating a view of the journey among all the stakeholders will generate the needed alignment for short term action and provide the forum for its future refinement.
3 Top Uses For Your Customer Journey Map
Your Customer Journey Map is a tool to drive strategy development and initiative prioritization. A Journey, as a construct, can be a powerful tool to align different teams in your organization around a common goal.
Get clear on what do we ‘know’ vs what ‘we think we know’. The journey construct is a way for an organization to put their “pink elephants” on the table and understand what is “known” about their buyers or users and what is still a hypothesis. I’ve seen organizations hold onto an old or unproven notions as fact for far too long because there hasn’t been a forum to review and reset.
It doesn’t mean all questions have to be answered before using the journey to set strategy. It just means it’s important to be clear on what is “known” and what is believed. This understanding drives identification of testing opportunities and identifies the best places to revisit if targets aren’t being achieved.
Align Sales and Marketing teams on lead scoring. There is always a (healthy) tension around the relative quality of leads generated by Marketing for Sales follow-up. Often this tension lies with each team having a different point of view of where a lead ought to be their “journey” before it’s appropriate for a Sales touch. Having both Marketing and Sales share a common view of the buyer’s journey helps to align lead scoring and appropriate budgeting and staffing within each department.
Identify both the micro and macro opportunities. Journey constructs are a great way to identify both micro and macro optimization opportunities. Micro opportunities include things like testing new messaging in email nurturing or different conversion page designs or even new content for specific segments. These are the kind of opportunities that every team can find and participate in.
Macro opportunities tend to broader in scope and may include brand new business models, new partnerships or changes in pricing/packaging. These are important outcomes of an organization truly understanding the needs and pain points of their market’s buyers and users.
I admit that in conversations with my sales and product colleagues, I sometimes choose not to even call it a “journey” because it’s such a loaded term. I’ll innocently refer to what we’re doing as our working together to build a “flow chart” or “whiteboard diagram” to get everyone on the same page.

However you have to do it, I recommend you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A customer journey map -- when used correctly in your organization as a construct and a tool -- is a great way to align cross-functional teams as well as inform marketing activities and resources.

March 23, 2016

How Would You Do It Differently?

A recent article, 4 Traits of Exceptional Leaders, references Gallup research showing that just 10% of people have the talent to be good leaders and 82% of the time organizations put the wrong person in a leadership job. 
Those are not good odds. If you’re working, you’re far more likely working for a bad leader than a good one.
Then there people like me who are doing our best to lead our teams day to day while our boss (or boss’s boss) happens to be on the “not so good” end of the leadership spectrum. I expect many of you have been there...
I guarantee that someday - maybe even today - a leadership “no-no” will happen which impacts you and your team. You can’t protect your team from the fall out and you shouldn’t even necessarily try. To grow and develop into leaders in their own right, your team needs to see and experience “less than good” leadership in action so they can recognize and learn from it.
Your team, like mine, will easily recognize when "not good” leadership behavior happens so it’s not likely you need to point it out. Your job, as an exceptional leader, is to help your team to constructively process their feelings about what happened, and then move forward.
It’s important to be able to quickly address a bad situation and then focus them on moving forward. HBR’s article, “You Can Deliver Bad News to Your Team Without Crushing Them” shares research showing that when people came to solutions they could implement themselves to address something negative, it increased productivity 20%.
In addition, I like to ask my team members to reflect on the situation and think of a future time, when they will be leading teams, departments, organizations or companies and ask them, “When you're leading a team someday, how would you do it differently?”
A question like this requires them to think through both the business need and the role a leader's communication plays in creating buy-in and motivating/influencing others to take a desired action. It helps them to recognize the role empathy plays in the workplace and helps them build the required awareness that (I hope) will make them exceptional leaders when that day comes.

Focus on the future and ask "how would you do it differently" -- two ways to turn a bad situation into a productive, coachable moment.

March 11, 2016

3 Leadership Nuggets for Self Aware Leaders



I’ve felt inspired by some recent thought-provoking HBR blog posts on leadership. So, I thought I would quickly share a few of the “nuggets” I’ve collected as they may be interest to other self-aware leaders who are looking to continually improve.


Net net - the older we get, the more confident we feel and the more open we are to self improvement. Women demonstrate this confidence gain more consistently over time - probably because we start out at a lower baseline (boo). The best leaders help their people move from a “proving” mindset (coming from a place of low confidence) to an “improving” mindset.

The good news - time, experience and increased self-awareness all factor into these beneficial changes in people’s mindsets and their resulting work accomplishments. I guess there is a benefit to getting older!

Fortunately, there are just 4 things:
  1. Great leaders understand how all parts and functions of the business work together to generate value. They actively work on cultivating the needed cross-functional working relationships to minimize fragmentation and poor coordination.
  2. Great leaders effectively balance instinct and analysis when making decisions. They are not prone to knee-jerk reactions because they trust the process and their teams.
  3. Great leaders have high contextual intelligence. They continuously solicit and integrate insights from all the sources and have a clear understanding of the value the business provides within the wider industry and trends.
  4. Great leaders authentically care about forming and maintaining real relationships with superiors, peers and their teams. They reach beyond the superficial, transactional level to form mutually beneficial relationships.
Great leaders know and do all 4 well while “good” leaders just 2 or 3. And lacking a strength in #4 is what trips up most executive careers because people can spot a phony a mile away. Be warm, be kind, be real.

While we know the saying that good employees leave bad bosses, being a good boss does not necessarily beget retention. In fact, team members with the good bosses received the coaching, development and support necessary to get them ready for greater responsibility and higher paying roles. These folks can be called “happy quitters” because their satisfaction with the organization remains high even when they leave for greener pastures. And with this happy quitters, good bosses create strong “alumni networks” that are beneficial to the firm long term.  

All of the “happy quitters” in my past are part of my forever team - you know who you all are!


Hope you found these nuggets as interesting and thought provoking as I did!

September 12, 2015

Empathy in the Workplace - What Does it Look Like?


Over the years there's been a lot written about the need for leaders to have a high EQ  or emotional intelligence quotient. Harvard Business Review’s, “What Makes a Leader” outlines the 5 components of EQ at work as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills and empathy.

EQ becomes more critical as your responsibilities expand beyond an individual contributor. Your work becomes the activities and tasks that motivate and influence the people who directly report to you and the wide map of stakeholders across and above you in the organization. Your work becomes far more about people and relationships than the black and white execution of any one work output.

In my experience, out of all of the EQ components, empathy tends to be the most misunderstood and, therefore, underutilized component. That is too bad, because empathy is the most easily coached and it’s easier to model empathetic behavior compared with developing the other components.

What does empathy look like in the workplace?
Empathy is defined as accurately perceiving and understanding another person’s emotional state and responding accordingly. Sometimes, people view empathy as primarily relating to understanding when people feel sad (closer to sympathy). When, in fact, empathy involves the whole range of emotions. And remember, people do have the whole range of feelings at work. Understanding that someone may be feeling angry, vulnerable, proud, protective, nervous, happy etc can be invaluable to you as you consider how to best communicate with them.

Just taking a moment to consider, “if I were so-and-so, how might this make me feel? Has this happened to me? How did I feel? why? Has this happened to someone I know, love or respect? how did they feel?” helps to build empathy and can create a better outcome.

In my article on demonstrating empathy when leading through an organizational change, I shared the many different feelings teams may feel when they hear the news about a change,

...people would likely feel surprised and potentially confused. They may feel nervous about being asked to transition away from the work they know into new activities with new bosses. They may feel angry about an organizational change happening “to” them outside of their control. They may feel disappointed about having to transition projects they enjoyed and pick up ones they don’t feel as enthusiastic about. They may feel all of these things at once or none of them at all…

Any reasonably self aware leader can recall being a similar situation themselves earlier in their career (maybe even that day!). By taking a quick inventory of the potential emotional states the other person/people may be in, s/he is better prepared going into the conversation and more likely to come out with a better long term result.

Taking a moment to consider how another person may be feeling - demonstrating empathy -  is beneficial even when the situation isn’t as obviously fraught like an organizational change. In status meetings where there are inter-dependent teams there will be times conflict will erupt seemingly out of nowhere. If the leader has considered how the different parties may be feeling he can actively bring that to the discussion and model what empathy looks like for group. For instance, 

Sally, you’re obviously frustrated that the commit is delayed and this is the first you’re hearing about it. Richard, would you please fill Sally in around why that was in the best interest of the project overall as she may not be aware yet of what changed in Design just yesterday.” 

A comment from the leader like this validates how Sally is feeling and reminds her to consider Richard's situation. It also coaches Richard to proactively think about how his stakeholders may react to updates and think through how to best communicate them.

Empathy is coachable
In any communication it’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what the other person needs to hear. Having empathy for the other person helps you to best communicate, motivate and influence. Empathy involves just a moment of prep actively considering the other person’s situation and how they may feel. This is a behavior that can be taught and practiced as a means to improve a promising leader’s EQ.