Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Listening Skills Are Crucial

I sat at my desk watching a video on my computer. As the video played I cracked open a book to read while the video played. I would then switch my attention between the video and book over the next 10 minutes. At that moment I had to laugh to myself because I was guilty of poor listening. I wasn't giving the video the attention it needed to enjoy it completely. Listening is a skill that so many leaders are told they need to improve and yet have difficulty mastering. I wasn't listening to a video now think about not listening to a person, we've all been there before,

An employee approaches their leader to discuss a current issue hoping for an immediate resolution. The discussion starts off strong but then the leader's phone rings and they look to see who's calling. The leader apologizes for the distraction and asks the employee to continue. Another minute into the conversation you notice the leader looking at their computer hoping to see what that darn e-mail says. When the leader sees the employee getting frustrated they turn towards the employee trying to listen, but starts yawning, looking away, or day dreaming as they stare at the employee with a hypnotized look. The employee then walks away in frustration knowing that leader heard maybe a minute of their conversation.

I know I'm guilty of not listening to an employee that reported to me like in the example above. That employee lost confidence in me as a leader, feeling irritated, frustrated, and not important. That's why listening completely is crucial for leadership. Listening helps build confidence, makes people feel good, motivates, increases job satisfaction, and increases self-worth.

Some tips that has helped me be a better listener are,
  • Keep Eye Contact
  • Ask questions about topics pertaining to the conversation
  • Keep an open posture. Make the person feel you are approachable
  • Avoid looking at a ringing phone or the computer while in conversation
  • Offer possible resolutions when asked
  • Offer follow up to see the progress made from these suggested resolutions

Listening takes discipline and is a learned skill, especially with all the possible distractions in an office. It requires that the leader focuses all of their attention to the conversation. Committing to this kind of focus and listening increases a leader's effectiveness and can make them feel good about the job they're doing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

President Obama-A Transformational Leader

I picked up the newspaper today and found an article that is becoming a consistent story, President Obama reaches out to a country, this time Cuba, to communicate, listen, and ease some of the tension currently existing between the two nations. This is one example of how the President is using transformational leadership in his first term. This isn't a posting to judge his policies, programs, or the President himself. It is to early to do that anyway and meant for a political blog. This is to show that President Obama is trying to lead by transforming the nation's image.

Some of the characteristics associated with being transformational includes, charisma, being inspirational and motivational, and providing intellectual stimulation (Northouse, 2007, p. 182). In my opinion President Obama is showing these characteristics by offering an olive branch to Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey. The transformation is going from labeling countries and branding them as automatic enemies to communication to see if there are some commonalities that exist to ease some tension and hatred.

Out of the characteristics listed above my favorite one is providing intellectual stimulation. That's the stage the olive branch being offered by President Obama is at. Peter Northouse from the book Leadership Theory And Practice explains that this means to reach out and challenge a belief system, be creative, and innovative(Northouse, 2007, p. 183). In my opinion from the articles I see this has been a central theme in President Obama's message.

The ultimate step though is being successful in the transformation. Here at home, one example of success, can mean transforming our nation from being a strong manufacturing country to a green, environmental based nation. We can measure the stimulus money payouts to see how it is used and its effectiveness. Measuring success abroad is tough. My thought is success will mean sustained positive, intellectual communication with each nation mentioned. Having tensions go back 40 to 50 years means it is unrealistic to think these countries will be strong allies in the next 4 years. Transformation takes time, and I'm willing to give President Obama all the time he needs to see how far he can get.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Path-Goal Theory A Favorite

One of my favorite leadership theories that I've learned about is the path-goal theory. I came across this leadership model in the text Leadership Theory And Practice by Peter G. Northouse. I prefer this model because this is designed for leaders to define goals, clarify a path, remove obstacles, and provide support (Northouse, 2007, p.128). Looking at this model I see a few things that I believe management should stand for.

The first is to define goals. Too many times do team members lose focus of why they are completing tasks. People want to know what the departmental and organizational goals are at all times. This first step takes discipline by leaders to maintain consistency because whether it is admitted or not leaders at times can lose focus as well, or they can become too results oriented forgetting the importance of the path of a task in getting to the end.

The last three components of this model, clarifying a path, removing obstacles, and providing support all define a leader that thrives in the area of development. The act of blaming others for errors is thrown out and replaced with themes of motivation and coaching. Developing talent, motivating people to strive for their best, and allowing for others to complete tasks defines the path-goal theory and one of the reasons to become involved with leadership.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Executives-Spend Time With Your Department

I've been hearing from one of my executive leaders over the past week quite a bit. Seems that the call center I analyze for hasn't been reaching the goal of an 80% service level and answering calls in 20 seconds. The actual performance has been around a 70-73 % service level with calls being answered at a 40 second average. So of course I've been getting questioned. We're all familiar with them, "What's going wrong?", "Why aren't we achieving the goal?", "How we going to fix it?". Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind the questions. Executives have every right to know why performance is lacking, and how problems will be fixed. The frustration I have is that is the only time I hear from this leader.

My thought is spend time with the department from time to time. I understand executives need to focus on setting strategic direction for the organization so I'm not expecting side by side mentoring. Visits should be made when things go good. Ask why goals are being met to compare different situations with each other. Praise for a good job every now and again is nice, perhaps speak at department team meetings so staff becomes more comfortable and cohesive.

Every leadership book or article talks about communication by all levels of leadership. Make that communication consistent and fair. Communicate with departments during good and bad times to get maximum effort from them at all times and so they'll take ownership of challenging situations.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ethics Found In Work Teams

Staying with the topic of ethics it is hard not to notice the lack of ethical behavior or poor judgement shown in organizations regarding ethics. It seems to me the common thread with this behavior is power. Leaders get used to the power in making decisions, controlling groups, making contributions to the organization or micromanaging situations. Leaders go from being part of the team and organization to being the sole leader or managing their team. The thinking goes toward controlling the group, or possession. Sometimes having power people forget that they can serve a team as well.

This got me to thinking that maybe the way to improving ethical behavior is through the development of work teams. I hear departments call themselves teams all the time but I mean true teams. My thought process is that a true team, or self running team, still needs a leader but that role becomes supportive instead of managing or controlling. The leader can serve as a check and balance for the team to make sure it maintains an organizational direction. Leaders can serve the this type of team by developing, mentoring, and even counseling. Taking away some of the leaders power may help improve the current ethical climate.