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Active Listening: The Greatest Skill by Heather R Younger

By Heather Younger | Oct 14, 2021 | Comments Off

"Nonetheless, I must recommit to seeking to understand those around me before taking any action. The caring leader does this and then reflects on what he or she hears."

Listening and Leadership

The mark of a good leader is one who is caring. I define caring leadership as “taking daily actions in ways that show concern and kindness to those we lead”. At the core of being a good, caring leader, lies the crucial skill of listening. Leaders in any walk of life, whether extensively trained, or called on to lead in a passing moment, all seek to possess a deep understanding of the people they lead or the problem they seek to resolve. The best path to gain this understanding is via listening. Listening is the express lane that takes you straight to your desired destination while avoiding the obstacles and roadblocks that delay the flow of traffic.

Listening and Employee Engagement

If leaders focus on staying in the listening express lane, they will coincidentally build up a culture of listening within their organizations. I want to include an excerpt from my latest book, The Art of Caring Leadership, to reveal my own personal testimony on the effects of listening in my leadership role.

“Personally, I move very fast in and out of projects and even in and out of thoughts. Sometimes, this makes those around me feel that they are not a part of the process. Often, I feel myself going into hyperdrive. Then I slow myself down and begin to see the others who are with me on this journey. I know that I need to include their voices and their input.

I am not always great at executing on that. I continue to work on this, and because it is so important to me, I make it a priority. Nonetheless, I must recommit to seeking to understand those around me before taking any action. The caring leader does this and then reflects on what he or she hears (92).”

I have listened to tens of thousands of employee survey comments, and worked with countless organizations to build cultures of listening. Once a sturdy culture of listening takes root within an organization, every time without fail, their employee engagement numbers soar. Loyalty and buy-in reach peaks, and consequently, happy employees mean successful business.

An article entitled, “The Power of Listening” by Forbes, states:

Effective active listening within an organizational setting has been shown to produce a wide range of positive benefits for companies, leaders and individuals, such as: (1) building stronger relationships, (2) developing greater trust, (3) more effective team collaborations, (4) enhanced individual and group decision-making, (5) greater productivity and (6) enhanced creativity and innovation.

Clearly, the list of positive effects of listening is extensive within an organization. But, the simple yet powerful strategy of active listening extends far beyond the reaches of your workplace.

Let me tell you a story.

Listening in Customer Engagement

I once served as a leader in client development, which meant I worked in our sales department. One day, I heard that one of our biggest clients was significantly unhappy with the process we were using which had been established by our leadership team. This was a two-million-dollar client on the verge of leaving because they were dissatisfied with one of our systems and processes. Were we going to cling to our rule book and run the risk of losing this valuable client? Not on my watch. I took my understanding of the client’s needs to my leadership. I knew there was the chance they wouldn’t listen to me or take the situation seriously, but I owed the client at least a shot at positive change.

However, it did go well. I got leadership’s attention and we began the process of changing our strategy. We even included the client in our roundtables and redesign project. Their voices guided us to our solution. Because we brought in the client and welcomed them to our table and acted on their word, they felt valued and decided to rely on us even more heavily. They became an even bigger client of ours. This all began with the listening process.

Listening and Relationships

Listening is not only the crux of caring leadership, it must be the foundation of any relationship. For example, active listening is singlehandedly the most powerful tactic a salesperson can wield. When we tune into the needs and desires of those we serve, whether they be our superiors, peers, direct reports clients, or people in our personal lives, we will see a direct return on our relationships.

This story illustrates how I felt confident enough that I would be listened to within my organization to bring forward a crucial piece of information from our client. I caused disruption and change, but I also caused us to increase our revenue and build a stronger relationship with our client. I knew my organization would listen to its employees. I listened to our client, and our sales process was transformed to always involve a listening step to better work with each client’s specific needs.

I encourage anyone reading this to take listening to the next level, whether that be in their personal relationships, with their employees or with their customers. There are no negative side effects when it comes to listening. Merge into that express lane and steer your organization towards listening and towards greatness.

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations" 

 

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Avoid Being Disrupted… Plot Your Own Demise by Mike Rayburn

By Mike Rayburn | Oct 04, 2021 | Comments Off

 

How would you complete this phrase?

“If it ain’t broke… __________?”

“Don’t fix it, right?  

Here’s the problem with that: Time Breaks Everything!

You all know the story and have seen the casualties to go with it… taxis totally missed Uber and lost millions in sales and market share.

The casualty list is exhaustive and here are a few…

  • Record companies didn’t see iTunes/Spotify
  • Kodak didn’t see digital
  • Typewriters didn’t see computers
  • Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix
  • Gillette didn’t see Dollar Shave Club

So, do you think that’s still going on? Well… duh.

How can you prevent your industry, organization, or even your personal career from being Ubered… disrupted… rendered completely irrelevant?

Plot your own demise.

As much as possible, I want you to metaphorically step outside of yourself, look at your business anew and ask, “What IF someone were going to “Uber” us? How could they do what we do in a considerably better, cheaper and/or easier way?

The Transportation Security Administration hires experts to randomly smuggle firearms, explosives and all manner of contraband through their security.

Why? They’re looking for vulnerabilities. And so should YOU! 

There are three areas to consider immediately:

  1. Technology. How could someone totally reinvent your business using an app, robots, artificial intelligence, software or crowd-sourcing?
  1. Customer Service. The common denominator with most of the above businesses is their downfall was preceded by poor customer service? How could someone do the same thing you do and by simply being considerably better to their customers take you business? Where have your customers accepted sub-par treatment?
  1. Quality. What have your employees or customers come to accept as a limitation which someone else could solve and take business away from you?

All the businesses mentioned above were so busy doing what made them successful that they failed to see the larger picture, the trends, the changes happening right in front of them.

A great example we see in progress right now is the way Tesla, like them or not, is revolutionizing the automobile industry…

  1. Technology - theirs is the most advanced in the industry.
  2. Customer service - they have reinvented the sales/buying process getting rid of the objectionable tenets of the dealership model.
  3. Quality - a standard internal combustion engine/vehicle has approximately 1000 moving parts; a Tesla has eight.

Mindset: This isn’t about vulnerability, it’s about opportunity. 

My point here is not merely a defensive play to guard against being rendered irrelevant so you can continue as before.  

My real point is that discovering your vulnerabilities reveals your opportunities… to lead, to improve, to grow and to better serve your customers.  

Every vulnerability is an opportunity… discover them before someone else does.

Plot your own demise!

 

Mike-Rayburn-Keynote-Speaker

How Do You Help Your People Achieve Greatness? by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Sep 13, 2021 | Comments Off

"We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care."

Ignorance is Not Bliss
I have an entire chapter in my most recent book on leadership, The Art of Caring Leadership, on looking for greatness in those we lead. I detail how to take into consideration their strengths in order to better lead them and guide your organization to success. The art of leadership is perfected and achieves greater success when the leading extends beyond just the hands of leadership. The more you know about your employees’ strengths, the better your team will work.

While leadership can feel very lonely in theory, especially for leaders who are part of a one-person team, it is an action that thrives the more perspectives it takes into consideration. A leader who makes decisions without consulting others comes across as self-centered. Leaders, like all human beings, are imperfect and we have limited perspectives and often very particular points of view.


A Plumb Metaphor
Think of it in terms of this story. When I first moved into my house back in 2007, I barely noticed a big purple tree in our front yard. Fast forward a bit, my neighbors are moving away and they come over to say goodbye. She mentions how grateful she was for all the plums they got from our tree. It was a plum tree! I had a fruit-bearing tree in my yard for months without even noticing it! Luckily, my neighbor was able to put some of the plums to good use, but I wonder how many grew and died without ever being used.

We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care. Heck, even just looking is the key sometimes. Imagine that, their talents on full display for anyone to see if you just stop and observe for a mere matter of minutes.

I don’t know about you, but I can attest I know what a plum looks like. I really just didn’t ever look. But the plums were right there, plumb in the middle of my yard.


What’s the Plum Tree in your Life?
In the chapter of my book on looking for and leveraging greatness, I detail some actionable steps leaders can take to notice more.

The first way to do this is by looking for the things that make your employees shine. Spend some time with them, ask them key questions and learn what it is that sets their hearts on fire. Whether work related or not, these details are invaluable and establish a deeper connection between leadership and employees.


A Fruitful Environment
There is something else that is just as important as watching for these shining moments: provide your employees a space to shine in. Begin meetings with casual discussion about people’s lives, listen to what it is they spend their time talking about, or what excites them. Make sure their position gives them room to take risks and innovate. If you manage employees who perform a lot of the “busy work” for your organization, then present them with a new challenge or task that expands their horizons more.

If you have routine meetings or performance reviews, then incorporate interview questions that get your team to consider their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes people are very in tune with their best skills and lesser abilities. Asking someone what they can improve in and what they excel in can be very telling for a leader who has less time to devote to observational activities. The environment for conversations with leadership can be the perfect place to catch the driving passions of your team, the things that make their eyes light up.

Find Outside Support
It can be hard to be the sole driver of an initiative and one that requires deeper connections with all your employees is a tall order. I do encourage leaders to give as much of themselves as they can while trying to get to know their employees. I recognize that there are human limitations. To compensate for our own fallibility, I always recommend a secondary source of information. Your personal research might not unearth all the skills and talents of your team. Oftentimes, your employees aren’t even aware of all of their special talents. It’s better for everyone to also study your team’s strengths through an outside source.

One of the best ways to know and see where your employees produce their richest fruits is by using assessments to gauge their strengths. I love the StrengthsFinder assessment. Once you pin down their strengths you have the fun job of making sure they can utilize their skills and maximize their strengths. Trust me when I say, it is fun for both the employee and their leader when the employee discovers the best that’s inside of them. People thrive doing what they are good at, and we tend to enjoy it more too.

Other Ways to Harvest
Apart from going to the employee themselves, or to their scores on assessments, there are other means of discovering your teams’ strengths.

● Social or intranet posts
● All staff feedback
● Team successes and failures


After exercising each of these principles to uncover your team’s strengths, you will be well-equipped to open the doors for your employees so that they may thrive.

Without considering your team’s strengths and giving them opportunities to use them, your organization can suffer. Organizations that don’t offer fertile soil for your employees to grow in find themselves held back by things like: revenue losses, tarnished reputation, lost customers and a lack of faith in leadership.

Be a part of their success story and they will be the fruits of yours.

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations" 

 

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One Simple Step to a Culture Of Innovation Mike Rayburn

By Mike Rayburn | Aug 23, 2021 | Comments Off

"Did you know, there are companies who actually pay their people for making mistakes and coming forth with them?"

Every one of my clients wants to grow their innovation, creativity, and performance.

They want their people to experiment; try things; create new products, processes, and services; implement radical problem solving; and to create change.

So, I get a unique view across a lot of different sectors at what works and what doesn’t.

The number one way organizations stifle any creative thought:

Punishing mistakes.

You want to KILL any hope of innovation and individual brilliance?

Punish mistakes.

Make people wrong for trying and coming up short.

And do not fool yourself.

Many, many organizations tell themselves they allow people to make mistakes and all the while have a covert, tacit punishment of mistakes.

Or, they have individual leaders who act out their own ego deficiencies by making others wrong for trying and failing.

This matters. This is toxic.

So, you need to find out.

And what’s the solution? How do you build a culture of innovation?

Give everyone in your organization…

the Freedom to Be Wrong.

The freedom to fail, fall short, to screw up.

Essentially, we’re talking about offering Grace, a culture where it’s safe to be vulnerable.

Brene Brown says vulnerability is the foundation of all creativity and innovation.
Now, before you get all shaky, we are not “skipping through the forest,” here.

It’s simply encouraging your people to try boldly, and offering a soft landing when people fail… which they will!

Did you know, there are companies who actually pay their people for making mistakes and coming forth with them

Radical? Sure. And what do they get for it?

A Culture of Innovation.

(Not to mention a fun place to work, eh?).

So, start to grow your culture of innovation by giving everyone...

The Freedom To Be Wrong.

 

Mike-Rayburn-Keynote-Speaker

The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Employee Empowerment by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Aug 04, 2021 | Comments Off

You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.

A Common Misconception

Frequently a common theme I speak on is self-leadership, however that is not the focus of today. But a common sub-theme of self-leadership is delegation, or knowing when to pass things from your plate to a fellow team member’s plate. There is a frequent misconception that delegating tasks from your to-do list to someone else’s is the same thing as employee empowerment.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Employee empowerment is the theme I’m focusing on here today and I want to start out by clarifying the difference between delegation and true empowerment.

Employee empowerment is promoting the self-actualization of another team member. It is setting them up for success and then stepping back to observe their work from the stands as a supportive fan. Perhaps my favorite analogy for employee empowerment is the runway. You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.

Clearly, empowerment is not the same as the shared responsibilities of delegation, and there are a lot more ways to empower your employees than assigning them more tasks.

Clear Expectations

The first means of empowering your employees starts where all things begin, with communication. What’s at stake when it comes to communication? Well among the general confusion and setbacks poor communication causes, there is also money on the line. An article published by SHRM entitled “The Cost of Poor Communication” states, “David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.”

This reminds me of a quote I’ve heard one of my team members refer to, “specificity drives accountability, which drives results”. The core of this statement rings true, the more clear we can be in communicating our expectations, the less room for error there will be, and the greater the chances of a favorable outcome.

The power of clear communication is seen when entire organizations are united in their mission, vision, values and goals. That looks like a well-oiled machine moving forwards at great speeds gaining success at every step of the way. If the entire team knows the foundation of all expectations is the mission, vision and values, there is a greater sense of loyalty all around.

This can prove difficult, especially when organizations are going through restructuring or mergers, or even just identity crises. A close supporter of mine, Rich Gassen, offers a powerful example of how important this clear purpose is for organizations. He realized this importance and set out on a mission to establish a clear foundation at his organization, even if that meant tearing down an old system and rebuilding from the ground up.

Risk Taking

Rich’s example demonstrates the risk involved when empowering your employees. Had his mission gone south, it could have caused a multitude of issues for the organization. True empowerment is risky. But that’s half the point. If your employees aren’t challenged to think outside the box and try new and risky solutions, then their personal growth will be stunted as well as the overall success of the organization.

The plane could crash once it leaves the runway, but if it never takes off in the first place there is a zero percent chance of success. The hazard with allowing your employees to work with generous margins of error, is knowing how to react when the risks do turn south, when the errors do occur.

Caring Leaders must be accepting of errors. Leaders can be firm and constructive, while also supportive and a catalyst for that employees’ personal development. Fear of retribution is a huge deterrence from opportunities for success.

Jo Bauler in her book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers wrote, “As the fear center of the brain becomes activated, activity in the problem-solving centers of the brain is diminished”. Fear counteracts productivity and restricts the borders of the mind inhibiting critical thinking.

Be a Resource

My last tip for how to successfully empower your team is a third key to setting them up for success. You cannot ask someone to complete a puzzle without giving them the pieces. Just so, leaders must take care to provide all the necessary resources for their team to successfully launch their planes into flight.

A team without resources feels devalued and replaceable. I correlate this experience to being stuck with your hands tied, left helpless facing a goal, with no means to achieve it. You can read more about the hopelessness that a lack of resources can cause here.

The Gift of Empowerment

Empowerment is a gift, not complex in the way in which it is given, and a gift that is realized through the actions of the receiver. That is why it is so important that leaders go about empowering their employees in the right way. One slip up, an unclear direction, a harsh retort, or a missing resource, can set up your employee for failure and affect the overall success of your organization.

Be the gift of empowerment to your people, show them you care.

 

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations"  >>

 

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