leading from behind
Start leading by leading from behind

Being a leader is a big, complicated job. Even with years of practice, there are new teams to figure out, new challenges to overcome, new techniques to apply. And yet a lot of people are still promoted to positions of leadership because they perform well as individual contributors. But should someone who is a great writer be promoted to manage a whole staff of writers because she is great at writing? Should someone who is good at financial analysis be expected to lead an entire team based on his skill as an analyst? Why would we assume that doing one job well predicts success in an entirely different capacity? Maybe we don’t. If we recognize that leadership can be practiced, with or without a formal position, then it actually becomes possible to prepare (both ourselves and others) to lead — before being called into leadership, with its title, its power, and its consequences. Leading from behind takes patience For starters, what does it mean to lead informally, or lead from behind? Titles do carry weight (and different responsibilities), so it’s necessarily going to be different from leading as a manager, a director, or a VP. If we compare their key

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steal this decision log
May 23, 2017
Steal this: The 90/10 decision making model

As a leader, one of the most important things you can do is empower your team to be in control of delivering results with the ability to make their own decisions. You want to provide enough room for the team to act autonomously while still providing enough direction to make sure they’re driving towards the desired objectives. Yet even with the best intentions, it can be a hard balance to find, especially for new leaders. If you’re not sure why or how you should practice empowering your team, consider how it affects their performance and try the model we’ve used at Change.org as a way to get started. Why autonomy matters Recent research from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that giving more trust to your team can actually improve their performance. When they looked at teams of managers who gave higher and lower ratings on performance reviews, they found that managers who have more confidence in their teams tend to build higher performing teams. When you give your team the space they need, they find creative ways of reaching their goals. If your vision and objectives are clear to them, and there are

Leadfully platform
May 11, 2017
Announcing the new Leadfully

In November 2015, we launched Leadfully to help leaders develop new behaviors and ways of working that are essential to leadership today. We had learned a lot from our parent company, SYPartners, and its 20+ years of experience transforming leaders and their organizations. And we wanted to share it with leaders like you. Last fall, we launched an advisory service for the purpose of helping every leader transform into the type of leader who can navigate the unknown and build the skill set we consider essential to 21st-century leadership. Today, we’re proud to announce our first major update to Leadfully — a new online platform with several key features: Goal setting Action list Session reflections Together, the new features create greater personal accountability to support leadership development goals. Taken with the other improvements we’ve made to Leadfully Advising, the platform now offers a richer and more robust learning and development experience for leaders and their advisors alike. Goal setting: Start with clear vision of your leadership, your intention to grow, and the outcomes you hope to achieve. Action list: Commit to taking action to apply what you learn — and keep track of those action items between advising sessions. Session reflection: Reflect on what you’ve learned from session

Individual superpowers add up to team strengths
April 25, 2017
Play to your team strengths

At Leadfully, we believe in superpowers. Superpowers are the strengths that define us. Not skills or areas of expertise that we learn over time, like managing projects or creating presentations, but innate talents or capacities that are part of our identity — for instance, creative thinking, problem solving, or grit. When you’re channeling your superpower, you’re totally in your element. On a team, knowing what superpower each person brings lets you take advantage of the team’s full inherent potential. As leaders, our job is to discover those individual strengths and create opportunities for them to shine. Look for complementary strengths Create powerful duos by pairing up people with complementary superpowers — for instance, someone who’s strong in systems thinking with someone who’s strong in experimentation. Working with someone whose superpower complements your own helps fill in any gaps or weaknesses in how you might approach the work alone. Finding complements will also reveal which superpowers don’t mix so well. A peacemaker and a provocateur, for example, may not see eye to eye. Plan for potential conflicts by understanding where people’s strengths might work at cross purposes. Strive for balance A team is usually more effective when there’s both a diversity

how to deliver bad news to your team
April 11, 2017
How to say the hardest things

In November 2004, Tysabri, a drug treatment for multiple sclerosis, received a rare boost from the FDA. Because the disease is so serious and the drug held so much promise, the FDA decided to fast-track Tysabri’s path to MS patients. A celebratory mood took hold at Biogen and Élan, the two pharmaceutical companies that collaborated on the project. Three months later, everything froze. The FDA put all clinical trials of Tysabri on hold. They ordered the drug to be pulled from the market. Three patients had developed brain infections, two of them fatal. Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the leaders at Biogen or Élan. How do you address your team at such a moment? How do you deliver such devastating news without torpedoing team morale for months to come? At some point in their lives, every leader has to stand up in front of their team and deliver a tough message. Here’s what to do when that time comes. Reflect on what the news looks like from your team’s perspective. You have a million anxieties swirling in your mind. But what are your teams’ concerns? Identify and acknowledge their top worries. A simple and powerful exercise mentioned

March 28, 2017
Learning to lead: 3 big questions to ask yourself

Leadership isn’t just about leading others — you have to first be able to lead yourself. This takes constant learning and self-awareness, a knowledge of yourself that’s best gained through reflection: understanding your superpowers, your shortcomings, and how you show up in different situations. It can be hard to create space for reflection, especially when you’re caught up in the challenge of learning to lead, but try — you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn. Here are three big questions that can help you look deeper into how you are leading (and a few smaller questions to help you reflect on each one). What makes you lead the way you do? One of the first examples of leadership we experience is our parents. When we’re children, parents represent natural authority in our lives. For better or for worse, their model of leadership has a deep impact on how we relate to the concept of leading. For me, for instance, I think it resulted in me placing too much importance on the ability to inspire and awe people through impressive actions. It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned more subtle approaches to leading. So think all

The multi-generational workplace
March 14, 2017
The multi-generational workplace: One Gen Xer’s personal journey

Lesson 1 Collar, cuffs, sleeves, front, back. In that order. My first paid job was pressing my father’s dress shirts. He wore one every day with a sport jacket to his aerospace engineering job in Los Angeles. It was the late ’70s. The workforce was heavily represented by the boomer generation. There was a properness to work culture back then. Work etiquette, if you will. Less collaboration, more “follow the leader.” Leaders were senior. They made decisions. Their people executed accordingly and generally didn’t question the decisions that were made. My mother returned to the workplace around that same time, in the security business for a government contractor. She wore the female equivalent of my dad’s business attire: the skirt suit and pantyhose. Lesson 2 Clear nail polish can stop a run in your L’eggs stockings. I had a brief stint in retail in the late ’80s, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made it all the way to associate manager of the women’s sportswear department at Robinsons-May. Retail was the one industry that women largely dominated at the time, often incentivized by a discount on clothing. It gave me my first

imagine positive solutions
February 21, 2017
Steal this: A way to come up with positive solutions

Let’s say it’s 4 p.m. on a Friday, and a client emails you: “We’d like to see another concept for the home page.” Oh, no, you think. There goes my weekend. From there, you start to spin: It’s going to take me all weekend to come up with the comps they need. And what’s the point? If they didn’t like the other ideas I shared, they probably won’t like this one, either. Whoa. It’s time to take stock of what you know for sure versus what you’re assuming. You almost definitely have many more options available to you than you realize. Steal this worksheet to summon your creativity It’s human nature to make assumptions, particularly in a fast-paced culture that rewards quick thinking and decisive action. But it’s important that we train ourselves to pause and be mindful of the story we’re telling ourselves in a given situation. It’s in these pauses that we learn to summon optimism. With practice, it becomes our instinct, no matter how stressful the circumstances, to imagine the possibilities rather than assume the worst. In the scenario above, there are actually multiple ways you might respond: You could gather the team and work all weekend.

letters from leaders: recognizing your team
February 7, 2017
Letters from leaders to leaders: Thank you for seeing me

Leaders are shaped by other leaders, especially former bosses. On one end of the spectrum, they might be case studies for what happens when leadership falls short. On the other end, they’re proof positive of how great leadership impacts people’s lives for the better, even beyond the workplace. What do we see in the leaders of our past that stays with us? What would we say to them now? This week, Leadfully explores this through a letter of gratitude from Amanda Hirsch to Cindy Johanson. Cindy (@cinjo) is the executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Amanda worked for her at PBS, where Cindy was the Senior Vice President of Interactive and Education. Dear Cindy, I was such a baby when I started working for you. I lacked both hobbies and children, so being a workaholic was exceedingly easy. You saw something in me — actually, no, scratch that: you saw me. I’ve had other bosses who haven’t understood me, but you did. You rooted for me, too, and you had my back. That’s the main thing I learned from you about leadership: You need to have your team’s back. Our whole department was like one big family. We

leaders in a world that will not stand still
January 24, 2017
Leading in a world that will not stand still

This week’s post offers a broader perspective on Leadfully’s purpose — what we believe and why it matters — through the eyes of our parent company, SYPartners. There you stand. Seemingly on stable ground. And then the world shifts. You are untethered. It takes effort, but you stabilize yourself and your team. And then the world shifts around you, yet again. This is leadership. •   •   • As leaders, how do we need to be? As we come to the mindful realization that we control very little, and command even less, the definition of what it means to lead changes. Much of what we’ve been trained to do as leaders is no longer enough — linear thinking, defining decision rights, hierarchical management practices, optimization strategies, process, change management. All necessary, none sufficient. So what is the missing ingredient? Over the past two decades at SYPartners, we’ve been learning from, and inventing with, some of the world’s most successful companies and organizations — as they confront waves of change and therefore start to view the abilities of constantly adapting, constantly becoming a better version of oneself, perpetually transforming as the real work of leadership. Starbucks. Apple. AARP. IBM. Girl Effect. Hyatt. The Future

2017 leadership intentions
January 10, 2017
It’s a new year. What will you do with it?

The best leaders are fueled by a sense of purpose and clear intention that keeps them going — even when things seem fuzzy. It’s not just about what you will do, but why and how. To help you lead fully in 2017, we’ve put together a quick exercise to help you get you started and build some momentum: 1. Explore these twelve ideas and next steps to change your leadership behavior for the better. 2. Use the tips below to keep yourself on track and revisit your leadership intentions on a more regular basis: Write it down and put it where you can see it. Calendar events, computer desktops, sticky notes in places you can’t avoid — give yourself a visible reminder wherever works for you. Create rituals and habits that work with your life, not against it. Odds are you’re a busy person. Think about when you tend to have energy during the day, where you might find extra pockets of time, what could be done more efficiently or more thoroughly, etc. — and take it all into account as you find ways to follow through on your intention. Outsmart your inner cheater and find an accountability partner. When it comes to changing our behavior, sometimes the most effective

the business case for authenticity
December 27, 2016
The business case for authenticity

I was fortunate enough to attend PopTech last fall, and doubly fortunate to get to hear Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino’s talk about authenticity. In it, she shared research showing that being more authentic at work isn’t just about feeling good; it actually boosts performance. As she summarizes in Harvard Business Review, In one study Dan Cable, of London Business School, and Virginia Kay, then of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, surveyed 154 recent MBA graduates who were four months into their jobs. Those who felt they could express their authentic selves at work were, on average, 16% more engaged and more committed to their organizations than those who felt they had to hide their authentic selves. In another study, Cable and Kay surveyed 2,700 teachers who had been working for a year and reviewed the performance ratings given by their supervisors. Teachers who said they could express their authentic selves received higher ratings than teachers who did not feel they could do so. Gino defines authenticity as the opposite of conformity: Conforming often conflicts with our true preferences and beliefs and therefore makes us feel inauthentic. In fact, research I conducted with Maryam Kouchaki, of

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