Is your leadership style motivating?

I love reading and chatting about leaders and their styles. Having worked in different size companies and under different managers (or bosses, as I would call them), I frequently got myself observing and studying people and what motivates them.

Being a leader myself, I try to be true to my style without imposing; try to be flexible and open to better and innovative solutions, and watch closely on ways I can influence my team.

One of the managers who I worked for in the past, for example, was one of my best coaches: she taught me how not to be effective or brilliant, and gave me a pretty good idea on how bosses are not necessarily leaders. She showed me how not to be a consistent and effective as a leader.

Sounds sarcastic? Maybe, but she had that intimidating style that would at least inhibit any kind of creativity or initiative, and believe me, you would not want to confront her. Ever.

She thought that by micromanaging she would guarantee results, and gosh, was she wrong…

She had difficulties on understanding her team members individually, and she did not take the time to get to know us. We were simply afraid of failing so we would avoid trying, unless we knew exactly the path or means that she wanted us to use. It was her way or no way, and she would end up y doing it herself, which was frustrating and built serious insecurity.

Actually, thinking back in time, I had more than one leader whose style was just not motivating– and after talking to several peers, colleagues and even random people, I concluded that it is just pretty common.

So, how can we be leaders that motivate? Here are some thoughts:

1-     Take time to know each member of your team: they are individuals, do not necessarily think collectively or exactly like you.

2-     Listen to their ideas: I know it sounds unbelievable (a little sarcasm here), but they might actually have better ideas than you!

3-     Give them the chance to work their own path to the results you need: you know that all the roads take you to Rome, right?

4-     Do not micromanage them: unless they ask for your very close supervision, give them room to work, be innovative, make mistakes and learn- they are not perfect, but neither are you.

5-     NEVER, and I repeat NEVER do their work for them: there is nothing more frustrating and diminishing that showing you do not believe in your team members. How would you feel if your supervisor did that with you?

6-     Praise the small victories: each right step, each winning should be celebrated.

7-     Do not praise just to criticize right after: first of all, criticism does not help people grow, feedback does. People are smarter that you might assume and, after a time or two, they know what is coming after the praise, and they will not only dismiss your comments, but will be defensive to your feedback. If possible, separate the coaching moments from the praising ones.

8-     Value each one of your team members as if they were indispensable: we all know everyone is replaceable, but if they feel valued, important and special, they will want to always do their best for you.

9-     Challenge them: if you know your team as individuals, you will know how to challenge them and how strongly you can push.

10-  Ask for feedback: no one that knows them better than themselves: they can give you extremely valuable information on how they can help you be most successful!

As I said, just thoughts that I gathered after observing and being led by different managers, and after trying and changing so many times as a leader.


10 expectations employees really have regarding their leaders

One of the great things about being a leader is that you can develop talents and be proud of their professional growth. You trace a plan to take them to next level, to be top performers, to become the best professionals in their area of expertise.

As a leader you become their main resource, the example, the motivator.

One of the first things you do as a leader is to set expectations: your employees have to know why they are there, their goals, and mainly “when” they get there.

I am a big believer that setting clear expectations with our subordinates is half way to success and every leader should do it. In conversations with peers, supervisors and even random professionals, most of them seemed to agree with me.

Let’s be fair: everyone wants results and that is the ultimate expectation that we have when we hire and develop someone. It is usually a pretty easy expectation to set, since most of the times, we link results to numeric achievements: sales, revenue, traffic increase, conversion, units per transaction, number of clicks in our website.

It might be more difficult to set expectations on intangible results such as improve team morale, improve relationship building skills, keeping high levels of enthusiasm, present good judgment among so many other things, but we sure set a bunch of them to each employee.

We talk about employee expectations, how to improve results, how to achieve goals, how to make our subordinates more productive, how to motivate them – we schedule meetings all the time to discuss, we go to trainings to make sure we can motivate them and hold them accountable, we have coaching sessions, and all kinds of “HR steps” to guarantee that they are performing, that they follow the rules, that they fulfill the expectations.

But what do we do when it is the other way around: do we ask our employees to set their expectations towards us?

It was then that I got that blank expression accompanied with a speechless moment.

I asked many colleagues, subordinates, supervisors or again, random people to flip the cards and talk about what we expect from our leaders, how to make sure that they are not letting us down and how we can make them accountable to their leadership role – want it or not, we also depend on their performance to be our best, their resourcefulness to fill our blanks and their leadership to guide us through growth.

After collecting over 75 responses, here is what I concluded:

1-    Employees are not used to set their expectations with their leaders, either because they do not know they should or because they are concerned about how the leader would react (it seems that we have always learned that leaders should set their expectations, not employees…).

2-    Subordinates need and want a trustful relationship with their leaders – trust, respect and integrity were some of the most mentioned expectations.

3-    They want feedback (constructive feedback) but also want to know that their leaders will back up their actions and decisions – there is nothing worse than having a leader who would go against you in front of a customer. No, they do not think their perfect but they want the right to learn from their mistakes and yet feel confident that their leader will be behind their decisions.

4-    COMMUNICATION: for sure one of the most common mentions, if not the number one – employees want clear and objective communications, they do not want to read between the lines and run the risk of misinterpreting the message.

5-    Opportunity to grow/succession plan. Subordinates expect you to trace a path for them, to think about their career and how they can grow within the organization.

6-    They want fair leaders.

7-    Motivation is not all about monetary rewards: since motivation is inherent within us, recognition, small perks, a great work environment and other things that might make us “happy” can also be very motivating.

8-    Subordinates expect an open-minded leader (with ears even more open) who will listen to their ideas, encourage and empower them and only then hold accountable. It helps when the leader is also approachable and does not promote a fearful environment.

9-    Visionary leaders, which are effective at leading a team toward achieving a common goal, were also mentioned quite frequently (and it came many times together with the open-minded, innovative and charismatic).

10- Employees also want a leader who is open for feedback and do not think he/she is always right. Employees want to know that their leaders are willing to go through a growing process: they do not expect their leaders to be always right, but they do expect that he/she can admit the mistakes, learn with them, make the necessary changes and move on. Leaders are also human beings and it is important that they show that to their employees.

When you encourage your employees to set expectations on you and any other leaders, you are opening the door to a more trustful, authentic and strong relationship. Besides, you get to know how to involve and motivate them, coach and develop, value and empower, leading the way to a successful and productive work relationship.






10 Effective Ways to Kill Your Employees’ Enthusiasm

I frequently have conversations with managers/leaders about employee motivation and engagement, and how to make them “own the projects”, develop that flame, that desire to succeed. And as frequently I hear how difficult of a task that is.

Being in management for over 15 years, I can say that it might take a good strategy and quite a bit of effort to get to know your employees individually and lead them to be good and motivated performers, but it takes very little effort to kill their enthusiasm.

Here are some of the very frequent and easy ways that managers/leaders can kill their employees’ enthusiasm and make sure that they become mediocre average performers: 

1-   Tell them they are “too creative”: sounds surprising, but I experienced this myself. I worked for a  corporation once and from day one decided that I wanted to make a difference, that I wanted to give very relevant contribution in any way I could: I have always delivered all my projects on time, took some of the work home so I could do the visual piece of the project using my Mac (which I just feel more comfortable with and am more familiar with the tools), bought a cable which could connect my iPad to the large screen in the conference room and presented ideas that would not only improve the customer experience and loyalty and therefore increase revenue, but would save a significant amount of money for the company: the ideas were great, the data was solid. Seemed a good presentation. When I asked for feedback, I heard from one of the executives that I was “too creative” and my ideas too innovative. I had never thought of that as a bad thing, but it is needless to say that it was a very effective way to kill my enthusiasm.

2-   Steal their ideas: unfortunately, more usual than we think…you go to your boss with that fabulous idea, show her/him the details and feel that you even deserve a promotion for that! And when your boss takes the idea to the next level…he/she just forgets to mention the idea was yours…

3-   Do never reward them for going the extra mile: Maria does her job. She does it well. She gets an ok review. Gets her paycheck and enjoys her life out of work. Sounds like the average employee, right? But you want to be different, so you put a lot of effort in finding a way to wow your customer, to amaze your boss. You go the extra mile. What do you get? NOTHING! Not even a simple acknowledgement. Way to go, boss, on killing the enthusiasm again…

4-   Micromanage them: one of the traits of my personality that I am most proud of is responsibility. I am committed, responsible, I always do my best and deliver my projects on time. It is a personal thing – it feels good to be responsible, to know that other people trust me to do things well and on time. And even though my performance is pristine (according to my boss feedback), my manager decides to breath on my neck, to suffocate me and I cannot give a step forward without communicating it to her/him. Micromanaging is lack of trust, insecurity and need to use authority. Another great way to kill someone’s enthusiasm…

5-   Forget they have a personal life: huh? Personal life? But they work here, they work for ME, they must be available 24/7. Boo. Employees want and need to have a personal life. And you know what? They want their leaders, managers, bosses to know it.

6-   Manipulate reviews: many corporations will use monthly, quarterly and annual reviews to evaluate employees’ performances and rewards, such as bonuses and pay raises. Another really effective way to kill your employees’ enthusiasm is “manipulating these reviews”: I remember one of my jobs where I really didn’t care for the reviews because I had to “self evaluate” also. Turns out that I was much harder on myself than my boss was: I had outstanding monthly reviews. I was expecting to be rewarded for my efforts and great performance. Well, somehow my annual review was “meets expectations”…after all outstanding and above expectations monthly reviews…hmmm…could it be more effective to kill my enthusiasm? Who to blame? I don’t know…it is really confidential, isn’t it?

7-   Never smile. I believe in a positive, happy work environment. Mainly when you have to work facing customers (internal or external – that would not apply if you work alone in a cavern, I guess…). To me it is very natural to greet people when you see them (many times even if I don’t really know them), to smile, to lead by example – how can we expect our associates to smile to the customers if we never smile to them? Well, guess what – once I saw myself in a pretty hostile environment and that bothered me a lot. I spoke to the director of the division defending my point that I thought it was really odd to expect our associates to have a type of behavior with our customers that we did not have with them. And I heard: “you do not expect me to say good morning every day, do you?”. Heck yes!

8-   Make it boring! Do not promote any fun in your workplace. Never laugh, never let people talk, never allow them to take a social break. And kill their enthusiasm once for all!

9-   Be impersonal: do you know anything about your employees’ lives? (some managers would surprise me by only knowing their names…). It is important to – people want to know they matter. They want you to ask about their son’s graduation, or the sick dog, or even their vacation trip.

10-   Always assign the small projects. That is a killer. If you cannot trust them to work on an important project, why have you hired them?

These are only some, from the top of my head. Bottom line – stop concerning and focusing exclusively on how to motivate them – employees give you a million chances and clues on how to motivate each one individually – you just have to be attentive and open for the tips. Just stop killing their enthusiasm!


Are we developing thinkers or dummies?

When I start talking about leadership, my first always is: “ are leaders born or made”?

I have gone back and forth with different answers, but over the years, I believe I came to the conclusion that some of leadership skills are innate, however, some of them can be taught and developed.

I remember that in my very early years at school I could not really figure out why I was always chosen to be the captain of the team, whether by the coach, teacher or my peers. Some times I thought it was because I was probably taller than the majority of the girls, some times because I was stronger, some times I even felt smarter…and that one came when I played sports with the boys (which were naturally taller and stronger than me) and yet was chosen to be the captain not that at the time it really mattered… I was chosen and that was awesome!

I have always enjoyed the fact that I had to come up with strategies, assign the right role to each team member, assign tasks and keep them accountable to the team, and even somehow had to “campaign” so we would have people cheering for our team!

Thinking back to that time, I believe some of the skills innate to me were: team building – I have always been a good listener and good motivator, and that alone made players want to be in my team; confidence – my team would trust my strategies; personable – even for a kid, leadership can go to your head, and I did not let that happen – I tried to praise everyone, hug the team, celebrate the victories, and even share some tears once in a while…

I did have though, at that time, an unforgettable coach: one that took the time to know me deeply, identified my strengths and opportunities, encouraged me to think and find my own solutions, to develop my own “team management strategies”, and relationship skills – someone that allowed me to have initiative, calculate risks, be conservative enough to keep everyone’s ground, but bold enough to bring innovative tactics and ideas.

And then came the “real world” and my question is: ‘ are we, as leaders, developing thinkers or dummies”?

Are we identifying the innate leadership skills in our team members and developing them to be thinkers? Or are we simply telling them what to do and making them simply copy solutions and behaviors?

Everyone is not the same, do not learn the same way or at the same speed. That said, I believe that we have to be able to individualize our coaching to each of our team members: not all of them will be independent, confident and innovative. Not all of them will have initiative or analytical thinking. But if we think about it…those that do not have these skills, are probably not tailored to be leaders. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, we should still develop them, however for a different role.

I recruited some really strong teams during my career and have always enjoyed developing them for different roles, helping them to find their path to a role which they could be really successful in, that they were passionate about.

Once I had a very diverse team, and diverse I mean, really diverse: they were from different parts of the world, coming from different backgrounds, grew up in different cultures and even spoke different languages, what meant very different accents. But what could be challenging, became one of the richest experiences of my life. I had to understand them individually, yet assess them as a team. I had to develop them separately, yet lead the team work that led to business success.

I remember once, one of the potential leaders was encharged of ordering supplies – put into the system, make sure the supply list was complete and accurate, and fit it into budget. It was my day off and this associate got lost somewhere in time and could not do it. She called me asking to walk her through the process. I could have done that, it would not take 10 minutes. However, I would be training her to depend on me all the time and to have the answer ready for her. Instead, I simply told her where to research. It probably took her longer to complete the task than if I had just given her the steps, but she understood that to be a leader, she will have to look for resources, to search for answers and do not depend on someone else to complete her assignments. As I said before, I could develop the 3 of the potential leaders the same way, but guess what? They are all successful leaders nowadays. And I am very proud of them.

My point is, we should develop leaders to think, not to copy. Yes, leaders come with an innate set of skills, but yes, we can develop them into not only leaders, but great leaders. We can coach them on how to use the innate skills.

And if we are great leaders, we will develop the non-leaders into different but very successful roles. No matter what, I believe in developing thinkers!


Do you label your employees?

I have a silly interest in people watching: I like to see how they dress, how they behave, what is unique in them, their gestures and interactions.

At the end I always catch myself thinking if I could change something so they would look more professional, or teach them some manners so they would speak softer and the whole subway station would not know about “how mad they are with the cable company”, or even tell them to give their seat to the elderly woman that is standing just beside them and can barely hold herself while the subway crowd rushes in and out in each station.

When we observe people we immediately judge them based on how they look, speak, move, and then… and stick a label on them.

Going a little deeper on this thought, I remember several years ago, when one of my friends was simply devastated after talking to our high school counselor.

She was an average “C student” and did not really care about school, however, she had dreams for herself, she wanted to become a business advisor one day.

In talking to the counselor, she heard that she’d be better trying to be a greeter somewhere (no offense to the profession) because she did not have what it took to go to college (yeah…the counselor even tried to make it sound better by acknowledging her “people skills”).

On a different case, Walt Disney was told he was not creative enough to make a career in commercial art, and Shaquille O’Neal was told (at 13) that he was “too big, too slow and too clumsy” to pursue his dream of playing basketball.

Those are excellent examples of how people can be “labeled” by others and end up giving up before even trying to go after what they really want and love. The ones that succeed, do so because they are strong enough to change their labels.

It is so common that it happens, that many times, we end up labeling ourselves!

We develop the thought that we cannot be successful because we are not competent enough, because we stop believing that “WE CAN DO IT”.

Now…are we labeling our employees? Or are we making sure that we motivate them to grow?

Are we holding them back because they are too quiet or too loud; too fast or too slow, because they blend too much or stand out too much?

What kind of opportunities are we giving our employees to show us what they can really do, how they can really perform?

Here are some takes from my experience:

1-  Do not judge appearances: yes, at some degree one’s wardrobe reflects one’s personality, however there are other factors that make one dress in a way or another such as confidence, interest, budget.  Instead you can observe if one follows dress code – that will tell you that they accept rules and can adapt to business needs.

2-  Don’t’ confuse kindness for weakness: some people are just naturally kind and caring and that does not mean that they are weak, or not able to perform, be firm and be held accountable ( or on a different not, hold others accountable).

3-  Do not take silence for ignorance: if one does not speak out during meetings it does not necessarily mean that they do not have knowledge of the subject. It might only mean that one is shy.

4-  Snapping might be a sign that you are managing them way to close (super micro managing), breathing down their neck…

5-   Be attentive for cultural differences: gestures, words, expressions might shy away some of your employees that are from other parts of the world. For example: the sign made with “circle made with the indicator finger and thumb” that is interpreted in the US as “ok sign”, in Venezuela, giving that sign might be interpreted as if you are saying that person is homosexual, and in Brazil…well, a really bad thing…

The list goes on and on, but what I really mean is: look for the real strengths in each member of your team, motivate them to work hard for what they like and want to do, give them tools to grow and shine, and remember that putting the wrong label on someone, is not only lack of responsibility, but really bad leadership!

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