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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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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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The Recipe for Motivation by Ty Bennett

By Ty Bennett | Aug 25, 2021 | Comments Off


For you, as the leader, ability is the variable that you can influence the most, and the easiest. You can actively help others gain skills by providing mentoring, training, and education.

As leaders, we spend significant time and resources to motivate our teams. Most of this effort is focused on extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the proverbial carrot and stick. Behavior is driven by the promise of a reward, or the fear of retribution. It is effective because it taps into our biological survival system.

Our survival systems relentlessly seek well-being and safety. When that survival system sees the carrot, it craves that reward and promotes thoughts and emotions that drive us to reach for that carrot. In contrast, when the survival system sees (or feels) the stick, it views the pain as a threat to well-being and safety and will go to great lengths to avoid that stick. Extrinsic motivation works—but it has limitations.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, originates within us. It is internal and is not motivated by an external (carrot and stick) factor. One of the best research evaluations of intrinsic motivation was established in the Self Determination Theory. Edward Deci of Rochester University and Richard Ryan of Australian Catholic University originated this theory during the 1970s.

The theory argues that the most voluntary and high-quality motivation were dictated by conditions that support our people's Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. As leaders, we may not be able to control certain things, but we can influence conditions. We have the ability to provide the right conditions that will promote this high-quality, voluntary motivation. In other words, we can provide conditions that promote intrinsic motivation. In doing this, we can help to create the outcome we are looking for in those we lead.

Because of this research, we as leaders have been given an equation, a formula, a recipe if you will, to create high-quality, voluntary motivation—the type of motivation that drives your people to perform at their highest level.

The ingredients in that recipe are Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. In the Leader of Leaders Model, we argue that all three are essential, but Competency carries particular importance.

COMPETENCY EXPLAINED

Competency is that sweet spot where ability, experience, and confidence come together. To put it more simply:

ABILITY+EXPERIENCE+CONFIDENCE=COMPETENCE.

As leaders, we tend to focus primarily on ability when evaluating a learner. Ability, by itself, is simply to possess the skills and abilities to do something. However, skills alone do not produce a desired or successful outcome. Instead, desired outcomes require a learner to have the wisdom to apply skills effectively and efficiently. That wisdom comes through experience and confidence. This is why it is rare for a freshman or rookie athlete to make a gigantic impact on the field or on the court. Because although they possess great ability, they lack game experience and confidence to perform at this new level. Competency requires all three components.

COMPETENCY FROM THE LEARNERS PERSPECTIVE

Of the three competence pieces, confidence is the most important from the perspective of the learner. Generally speaking, we as humans tend to dismiss the validity and breadth of our own experience. As our best and often worst critics, we also undervalue our skills. Because of this fatal human flaw, it takes a lot of effort for a learner to build their confidence.

It’s important to remember that our natural tendencies to be biased toward a negative view of ourselves is not our fault. It is all based in our biology. When our survival system perceives a threat to safety or well-being, such as a challenging work assignment, it sends warning signals, usually in the form of fear or anxiety. It perceives the work assignment as a threat—meaning if we do not complete it successfully, our job will be in jeopardy.

If we are unable to manage those thoughts and feelings with confident self-assurance, we do not embrace the work assignment and underperform—despite our ability and experience. We have no control over the thoughts and feelings that come from this survival system. However, we can manage those thoughts and feelings as they enter our consciousness.

Confidence enables us to manage these thoughts and feelings as they surface. Learners who have this confidence will have greater success in their lives and in their work. With confidence, they are able to more effectively and efficiently use their ability and experience to propel themselves forward, rather than succumb to their own self-doubt.

COMPETENCY FROM THE LEADERS PERSPECTIVE

For you, as the leader, ability is the variable that you can influence the most, and the easiest. You can actively help others gain skills by providing mentoring, training, and education. It's not that you have zero influence on experience or confidence, but you have significantly more influence over ability.

Leaders value competency for good reasons. In a ten year study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the number one contributor to employee satisfaction was the capacity to use skills and abilities. In other words, an employee’s ability to be competent at what they do is what made them happy in their work. Not only does competence produce tremendous motivation, it also creates high satisfaction. It is a double win for both the leader and the learner.

 

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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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How to Win with People with the Rule of Two by Ty Bennett

By Ty Bennett | Jul 22, 2021 | Comments Off


One of the most useful and practical strategies I teach leaders and salespeople to win with people is The Rule of Two. 

I was speaking for Anthem Insurance in California and at one of the breaks a salesman named Joe asked if he could share an insight with me. Earlier that day, I’d taught about focusing on being interested, not interesting, and he said it reminded him of a rule he made for himself years ago called The Rule of Two.

Joe told me how he was called out early in his career for one-upping other people. It was affecting how he connected (or didn’t connect) with others and it was undermining the influence he was trying to build. Joe decided to fix it and so he developed The Rule of Two. When someone says something about themselves, ask at least two questions before you say anything about yourself.

As an example: your good friend says they like boating – they just bought an expensive boat and they go every weekend to the lake. You may be thinking, “What a bragger, oh really, well I...” But then you stop yourself and remember The Rule of Two. you respond: “I bet your family really enjoys that. How did you decide on the right boat for the family? And what was your favorite family moment at the lake this year?”

Wow, how that changed everything! You felt great about being truly interested in your friend — your friend stopped his normal chatter and thought a minute about what was truly important about the boat and shared with you a personal moment with his family and experience. You made a connection that will not be forgotten, that could have been missed without using The Rule of Two.

Now think about doing that as a leader. Would you build stronger, long-lasting relationships by actually listening and responding from a place of interest? The next time you are heading down the road of one-upping, give Joe’s idea a try. Use the principle of The Rule of Two! 

 

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Corporate Change Post-Covid: A Cultural Audit by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Jul 06, 2021 | Comments Off

Maybe we should be considering how right now after so many unexpected turns of events, it might be the perfect time for change.

The Hitch With Change

Human beings are often complacent creatures. How many of you want to make little, or big life changes and lack the motivation? So often we think tomorrow I will eat healthier, be more productive, wake up earlier, make the right choices, and so often we continue to live in our comfortable patterns. 

On a grand scale our world just went through a dramatic and unexpected change. Covid-19 threw everyone into a turmoil. Many times, when people go through a sudden life change, they come out with a new perspective on life. Take the current labor shortage for instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in April alone, 4 million people quit their jobs. Four million people! That’s insane. It is the highest quitting rate since the Bureau was created in 2000. This flux of people leaving their jobs is a direct response to the effects of the global pandemic.

Is this the Perfect Time for Change?

Maybe we should be considering how right now after so many unexpected turns of events, it might be the perfect time for change. As so many employees are leaving their workplaces, it really is a crucial time to listen to and meet the needs of the employees you still have.  Many of the employees who are returning to work, and are not quitting, still have changes in mind that they would like to see. 

When was your company’s last cultural audit? I recommend that you immediately begin to run cultural audits to assess the wants and needs of your newly returned workforce. If there’s one thing we learned from this pandemic, it’s that there should be no more waiting until tomorrow. I encourage you to encourage your entire organization to present any and all ideas for changes, no matter how big or small, that they have on their minds. 

STEP ONE: Listening

The first step in running a cultural audit should be listening. Gather as much feedback as possible. Host listening sessions. Make sure to discuss any insecurities about the future of the workplace whether it’s returning to in-person, hybrid or staying remote. 

Some employees are less likely to speak up at a round-table or in a company orchestrated listening session, so accompany this action with a survey series. Promote anonymous feedback. The more details you can extract about changes people want the easier it will be to enact those changes. 

A large oversight when organizations tune in and begin listening throughout their ranks, is the things that remain unsaid. What isn’t being talked about? I think of the expression, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” well in this case, it can. The more you can learn about your employees, the better you can serve them, and the better they will serve the company overall. 

Part of the listening process is recognizing that your employees don’t always respond to surveys and audits. The reality is, many will feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and some just won’t care enough to respond. When the majority of employees are more comfortable leaving concerns unspoken, it is a clear indicator that the work environment is more toxic than safe. 

So work to create a culture of listening where less things remain unspoken, your employees feel safe, and you are able to tailor your response and plan for change better. Show your employees you really care about uncovering the truth of the matter. 

STEP TWO: Action

Once you unearth as many of the unsaid things as you can, it’s time for the action planning. Because what you don’t act on, can and definitely will hurt you. I discuss this extensively in one chapter of my book, The Art of Caring Leadership.  

The last part of The Culture of Listening is connecting the dots. Where your organizations’ leaders must take all the feedback and intentionally mull it over, make an action plan, and then communicate back to their employees each step of the way. 

By beginning the cultural audit process with in-depth listening you won’t leave any stone unturned. The cultural revival occurring in our societies will not only take place outside the walls of your organizations. It probably has already entered them by way of your employees and needs to be cared for and supported as new or improved cultures take root. 

The Next Step

If you are interested in improving your company culture by way of listening more, then feel free to take advantage of this free lesson in listening that I’m offering from the Caring Leadership Academy. 

 

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How Do You Listen? - Ty Bennett

By Dori Pominville | Oct 18, 2017 | Comments Off

The focus of an influencer is always on the audience.

If you are a speaker – it’s about the people listening to you.

If you are in sales – it’s about your customer or prospect.

If you are a leader – it’s about the people you are leading.

If you are a teacher – it’s about your students.

If you are a parent – it’s about your children

Almost everyone has this backwards. They think being influential means they need to become polished or powerful. Influence, though, is all about the audience. Be it an audience of one or one thousand. When it’s about them, they get it, and we grow in their eyes... Read the full post here!

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