How are your clients grading you on your authenticity?

blacksmith-700In a recurring theme in our current election cycle, both major candidates are suffering low poll scores with their levels of authenticity, trust and transparency.

In the early 1990’s, I remember there was a university professor and consultant that my company used quite a bit to put on visionary discussions of what was then was called client – server computing. The fellow was quite charming, an accomplished speaker, and delivered a 100% flawless presentation. The explanations were crisp, the jokes were funny, and he never missed a beat. Customers loved it!

That all sounded great, until I took a second customer to one of his sessions. It was then that I realized that the sessions were 100% scripted. Every word and every joke came out sounding exactly like the first time I had heard him. I suppose that if I had only had to hear him once, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But when I realized how completely rote it was, he dropped down several pegs in my estimation of him and how much he really understood the topic.  One theory: If he knew it that well, he would not have had to so meticulously script it and rehearse it. Second theory (and the one I think is true): He did know the material, but he valued the flawless performance of the “show” higher than his personal authenticity. In his defense, because these were one-time marketing events, the sales people attending with their clients were really the ones bearing the burden for the longer term relationship. Maybe he made the right choice as a showman, but very few clients would have stood for that in someone they wanted to consider an advisor.

I think that scientists and technologists often fall into the same trap. They feel that their role as an expert compels them to be correct at all times and for their “performance” to be “flawless”.

I’m thinking that the only way someone could accomplish both goals, would be to operate well within their margins of safety, to take no bold or outrageous positions, and therefore to deny their client the very best of their thinking. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the concept of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013 – a great TED talk) describes the phenomenon as occurring when you are performing at the very limit of your capabilities. It seems to me that that it would be very difficult to be operating at the edge, if we were afraid of straying just over the edge, and making a mistake or an overstep.

Being married to an expectation of 100% correctness makes us less willing to risk our ideas and statements being scrutinized and found to be faulty. That in turn prevents us from being fully present, fully engaged, and fully authentic. Clients expect our full engagement. Unless we have a terrible track record for making really bad mistakes, they will forgive the occasional error, because they know they are getting our best efforts and every bit of our creativity.

Said another way, we have to let go of our desire for perfection to deliver our best game and be considered real and authentic.

Experienced consultants know that the best customer relationships are often forged in the heat of resolving a missed expectation. For sure, when a mistake happens, there is a short term loss of trust and credibility.   What rebuilds, and ultimately deepens, client trust, is how the consultant owns the situation, how they react to it, and how they resolve it.  (In most cases, there is plenty of blame to go around, and the client knows it.) The client learns that regardless of who made the mistake, the consultant will do whatever it takes and bring whatever resource is necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

Three tips to becoming more authentic:

Don’t confuse being smart or “right” with being trusted.

Give your clients your very best, maybe risking a mistake or overstep, but in the process earning their trust and loyalty.

Immediately own (or gracefully share) the inevitable mistakes and resolve them without excessive focus on whose fault it is.

Epilogue:

In the words of Peter Block, “In the end, it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves, and our connection to our clients that is our methodology, our marketing strategy, and the fruit of our labor.” (Block 2011 )

Great Reads and Views:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity, Innovation & Managing “Flow”. TED talk

Posted in Advising, Client Relationships, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Personal Connection | 2 Comments

The 5 Most Important Skills to Drive Trust and Credibility

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 3.59.01 PMWhat are the five most critical skills to earning trust and credibility with your clients?

Find out how top performing consultants are answering this question! Respond to our survey and we’ll send you the results.

The  Survey has one multiple choice question and takes less than five minutes.  Thanks!

When I talk to consulting leaders, it’s not hard to quickly reach agreement that there are a set of communications and relationship skills which make a world of difference in how well their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts align with and communicate effectively with the individuals and organizations they are serving.

The practical problem which follows is, which of those skills will have the greatest impact? Because it is difficult and unrealistic to develop capability on 20 or so parallel fronts, it’s helpful to get a sense for which of those skills and knowledge elements are the most critical to develop in the short term, and which can be deferred to later stages of development.

In this month’s letter, I’ll discuss the work that I’ve been doing with a couple of key partners, and invite you to participate in the research which will help us answer the prioritization question.

Partners International, Discovery Consulting and Ascendent Leadership are working together to better understand the critical competencies which enable a technologist, scientist, or subject matter expert to develop into the role of valued consultant or advisor.  We want to understand how successful consultants build trust and credibility with the people they serve.

As part of our work, we have isolated 20 competencies which we believe are core to this transformation from subject matter expert to consultant.  Here they are, grouped by a high level outline of categories.  Even though we placed each of them in one category for simplicity, many or most of them could be relevant in multiple categories.

Here is our take on the four key categories and 20 discrete competencies:

Emotional Intelligence Communications
Awareness of personal emotions Customer focus and presence
Reading others’ emotions Asking powerful questions
Understanding client relationship needs Active listening
Demonstrating confidence Delivering difficult messages
Defending beliefs without being aggressive Resolving conflict
Credibility Managing Change
Executive presence Aligning with the client’s vision
Business acumen – general Identifying, validating client requirements
Business acumen – specific to client firm or industry Identifying alternative strategies, choosing the best
Asking relevant questions Identifying, managing barriers
Telling relevant stories Describing a clear path to the client vision

We believe that all of these competencies are important and could be critical in any given situation.  That said, we want to understand how consulting leaders would prioritize this list of 20 competencies to best assist their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts in developing the communications and relationship skills they need to become true consultants and advisors to their clients.

Want to participate?  Great!  We invite you to take a short (3-5 min) survey which asks you to rank order those 20 competencies into four levels of importance to you.  We also want to hear your input on any other competencies you see as critical that we did not include in our list. We will return the survey results to you if you provide your email address when taking the survey.

Click the link below to take the survey, and thanks!

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Posted in Active Listening, Advising, Communications, Emotional Intelligence, Feedback, Organizational Teamwork, Reframing | Leave a comment

Create a Coaching Culture to Drive Performance and Engagement

Management Tip of the Month:Culture-720

If you’re feeling the pressure of rising performance expectations, and the need to develop and retain your best employees, consider building coaching skills into your leadership culture.

A few years ago, I wrote on the topic of culture, and how powerful it was in orienting new employees to how things were done in your company.  (Your Culture is Your Best Teacher.)   More recently, as a professional coach, I’ve become very aware of how important creating a coaching culture is to companies’ ability to improve overall performance, improve retention rates, and generally improve the overall level of employee engagement at their firm. (Jack Zenger 2016)

Why bother instilling coaching as an element of corporate culture?

Frankly, we need all the help we can get!  Quoting Alison Hendren, founder of Coaching Out of the Box, a leader in coaching education, “Today’s fast paced and competitive work environment requires that we maximize the strengths and talent of all people in an organization. No longer does command and control work, and in order to retain talented and valued people, we must up our game to better support their ongoing development and satisfaction.  Honestly, it is a burning platform and organizations need all hands on deck!” (McLeod 2013)  (Full disclosure:  Ascendent Leadership is a certified trainer in this training program.)

What are the benefits?

There is a significant body of research that correlates broad deployment of coaching skills throughout the leadership of an organization with improvements in productivity, and employee engagement, as well as reduction in voluntary attrition.  In a particularly useful summary of the benefits of a coaching culture, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman reported that in their research, employee commitment ranged from a low percentile score of 15 all the way to a percentile score of 90 across a range of coaching effectiveness from low to high. In the same study, risk of quitting ranged from a high of 52% down to a low of just over 20% over a similar range of coaching effectiveness.  (Jack Zenger 2016).  Net-net, the existence of a coaching culture makes a huge difference in both the performance and retention of key employees.

What does an effective coaching culture look like?

Leaders who have successfully incorporated coaching into their leadership style have learned a few key lessons:

How to perform several important coaching skills:  listening, encouraging, asking great questions, making requests to stretch and challenge the people their coaching, and helping those people develop concrete and measurable plans for action.

How to execute a a repeatable coaching process that guides the coach, and when repeated with regularity actually trains the employees how to coach themselves.  A key facilitator of this learning has been the International Coach Federation.  Over 20 years of experience, the ICF has codified most of what we know are the foundations of successful coaching.  The ICF has over 20,000 members globally and is the largest professional organization in the profession.

Finally, a number of personal characteristics that establish a coaching mindset that lays the relational foundation with the coachee for successful coaching and the performance improvement which follows.

What’s my path to get there?

  1. Consider your situation, the benefits that accompany a coaching culture, establish the business case, and decide to do it.
  2. As Kotter teaches us, form a guiding coalition to provide the “juice” that a change initiative like this will require. While the steps are well known, they represent real change, and it will take persistent leadership to stay on track.  (Kotter 1996)
  3. Be very attentive to capturing and publicizing your early wins. I’m working with a firm right now who just trained their sales leaders in coaching, and it’s fun to watch the emails flying around, as they conduct their first real coaching sessions, and apply the skills.
  4. Using the sponsoring coalition to capture the early learning and keep pushing for more buy-in and accomplishment across the broader organization.
  5. Just as I discussed in my blog article referenced above, let the culture you are building orient new employees and leaders. Help the coaching behaviors become “just the way we do things, here”.

Shameless Plug!

This is an important element of my consulting and coaching practice and I’m a certified trainer for the Coaching Out of the Box program.  I’d welcome the chance to discuss this program with you and see if there’s a way to help you get started!

Good Reads: 

Jack Zenger, J. F. (2016) “How developing a coaching culture pays off: dramatically improve your organization.

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

McLeod, B. (2013) “The Coaching Imperative – An Interview with Alison Hendren, Master Certified Coach.” hrandtalent Blog.

 

Posted in Employee Engagement, Leaders as Coaches | Leave a comment

Drive Discovery from Curiosity

Think about the last friendship you formed.

I am willing to bet that you didn’t spend a lot of time in that first conversation stressing to them what a good friend you could be, how you could bring value to the friendship in a variety of ways, how the friendship would benefit them, and what average ROI they would get by engaging in a friendship with you.

Sounds like a pretty silly way to start a friendship, doesn’t it? And yet consultants often worry that their first meeting has to convey a strong value proposition, differentiate them from any possible competitors, and lead to a series of next steps resulting in the prospect engaging them!  … and all of that in a short 30 minute meeting or email.

Instead, what you really did with a potential friend was to use conversation and questions to understand them, their hometown, what college they attended, what sports teams they follow, their hobbies, how many kids they have and what ages, and so on and so on…  If all went well, you found enough common ground to continue and deepen the sharing.  And as you framed your questions, you probably didn’t know the answers when you asked them.

Granted, a new business relationship doesn’t start out exactly like a personal friendship, but a lot of the key ingredients are exactly the same. People respond to genuine interest and curiosity about what makes them and their business unique and special. They will be pleased if you have a broad enough background to have an interesting conversation with them.  They’ll notice how well you react to their answers, anticipate the business challenges they are facing,  explore the implications of those challenges,  and inquire about what possible paths forward they are contemplating.  They will feel more like they are talking with an industry colleague and not someone who wants to open their wallet and take money out of it.

In the video which follows, I interview Kriss Kirchhoff, an experienced Angel Investor and mentor to CEO’s across the US.   Previously, Kriss was the President of ACCO Brands and a Vice President and General Manager for the Hewlett Packard Company.  In those roles, Kriss ran businesses ranging in size from $700M to over $1B.  He has formed dozens of high value relationships with consultants, and he has led teams of consultants.   Kriss shares what he believes are the key behaviors that consultants must demonstrate to build the trust and credibility inherent in a high value partnership.

Here are three important behaviors which Kriss discusses in our interview:

Demonstrate genuine curiosity with your questions.   Clients judge us by the questions we ask.  Your questions can be informed by your homework, but they should be relevant to the last thing the client said.   That said, it’s OK to come in with a prepared list of questions if relevant, and clearly supported by your preparation.  (E.g. “John, I noticed in your recent article in Forbes, that you focused on the impact of globalization on your strategy…”    Don’t lead the witness.   A lot of us think we’re being clever by “telling”, using leading questions where we already know the answer.  Most people sense that lack of authenticity in a heartbeat, instinctively resist, and we’ve taken a hit in our level of trust and credibility.

Connect the Dots.  Bring your experience and wisdom to the conversation.  Be a continuing learner, and take the time to reflect on the key things you’ve learned and how to convey them with real stories.  If you’re paying attention, you are building a library of powerful stories.  The story you capture today may win you an engagement ten years from now.   In the middle of an energetic dialogue, those stories will connect with something your client has said, and you will bring them up in context.  The client will realize that you are seasoned and can relate to their world.  That feeling from the client is worth a thousand PowerPoint slides.

Trust the discovery conversation, the questions you ask, and the connections you make to showcase your value.    We often overthink the best way to demonstrate our unique value.  If we’ve done a good job with preparation, asking curious questions, and providing informed reaction to customer comments, then we can usually trust that there will an opportunity to bridge into value.  (“You know, John, we had just such a problem come up in our recent engagement with Acme Inc. and here’s how we addressed it…”

I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kriss.  If you skipped over it, here’s your second chance to benefit from his experience and wisdom.  (An Interview with Kriss Kirchhoff)

Posted in Active Listening, Advising, Business Development, Client Relationships, Personal Connection | Leave a comment

Five steps to winning client trust by speaking your truth with power

Executive-640Recent research of buyers of high value solutions is telling us that those buyers first interact with providers quite late in their buying process, and come to the discussion already very well informed about the value proposition and basic functions and features of the solution.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)  When they do engage, they are more likely to make their buying decisions based on the credibility of the consultant or business development team, than the traditional focus on features and functions.

The implication of this trend is that the selling team’s ability to create a credible and trusting relationship with the prospect is their most powerful weapon in winning the business.  One major factor in winning that trust is the consultant’s ability to manage conflict in a way that is simultaneously authentic to the consultant’s beliefs and fully aligned to the client’s best interests.  

The two-minute video clip which follows considers how improving basic relationship and communication skills can make a critical difference creating that differentiating combination of trust and credibility.

Epilogue:

Consultants and sales teams can build this level of trust and credibility by:

  1.  Ensuring that they have complete mastery of the technology and business foundation of their solution. This has always been critical, but it is no longer sufficient by itself. (Block 2011 )
  2. Leveraging their business acumen to analyze the client’s current beliefs and current situation to craft a challenge which adds value in a unique and differentiating way.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)
  3. Assessing and developing their emotional intelligence and specifically the traits of empathy (seeing the world through their eyes and walking in their experience), emotional self-awareness (driving the personal confidence to challenge) and assertiveness (challenging in a way that is authentic, but does not alienate the client).  Take an EQ assessment and get help in developing these key attributes. (Steven J. Stein 2011)
  4. Employing strong communication (open and powerful questions and active listening skills) to establish credibility and demonstrate full alignment with the client’s needs and best interests. (Adams 2009)
  5. Creating a credible path to implementing the solution which is possible and coherent with the client’s fundamental business objectives and environmental realities. (Chip Heath 2010)

End Notes and Good Reads:

  • Adams, M. (2009). Change your questions, change your life: 10 powerful tools for life and work.
  • Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.
  • Chip Heath, D. H. (2010). Switch: how to change things when change is hard. New York, Crown Publishing Group.
  • Matthew Dixon, B. A. (2012). The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. New York, NY, Penguin Group.
  • Steven J. Stein, H. E., Bock (2011). The EQ Edge: emotional intelligence and your success, 3rd Edition, Josey Bass.

 

Posted in Active Listening, Business Development, Client Relationships, Communications, Emotional Intelligence, Feedback, Team Development | Leave a comment

Social Selling, An Update

Sales-Brief-Case-720Buying in the B2B space is increasingly incorporating social networking as a key component of the buying process.

The sales people who take advantage of that trend are therefore more likely to be successful than their colleagues using more traditional approaches. A recent study by the Aberdeen group found that sales professionals who were taking advantage of social selling were achieving a 16% gain in year-over-year selling revenue, four times the gain at similar companies who are not taking advantage of social selling.

The social network LinkedIn has become one of the leaders in enabling social selling for salespeople in the B2B segment. LinkedIn’s research has discovered that that sales people using their social selling service are over 50% more likely to exceed their quota, three times more likely to significantly exceed quota. As well, their sales leaders are promoted to executive levels 60% faster.

About a year ago I collaborated with a long time sales and marketing colleague Susan Tormollen to creat e a series of posts which discussed the importance of a tight alignment between marketing and sales in eliminating common disconnects across the marketing to sales interface.

In Susan’s current role, she and her team have experienced significant advantages of social selling on the selling side. Susan, as a buyer of marketing services, has also witnessed first hand the advantage seized by a company who used social selling to seek and win her business.

In this four minute video interview, Susan discusses those experiences and lays out some first steps for companies wanting to get on board with of this significant trend, and to capture some of the sales performance benefits noted by LinkedIn.

Epilogue:

Here are some of the next steps noted by Susan, echoing many of the ideas of our discussions last spring, but in the context of improved and fast moving capabilities available in the interconnected world:

  • Begin with a solid commitment from sales and marketing leadership to invest in the collaboration.
  • Lay the foundation by building a social selling infrastructure
  • Dedicate the time and teamwork for sale and marketing to coordinate very tightly to identify the opportunity and the key buying elements to target.
  • Create transparent and smooth handoffs back and forth between sales and marketing through the entire duration of the campaign.

Join the Conversation!

Add your ideas and comments  below.

Posted in Business Development, Sales-Marketing Collaboration | 1 Comment

The DNA of a Powerful Question

DNA_960“The processes used by a coach, a counselor, a psychotherapist or a guru are similar:  they build the awareness and responsibility of the client.”  (John Whitmore)

I was in my manager Bob’s office, and we were going toe to toe.  I don’t even remember the specific issue we were discussing, but I had very firm ideas about the direction I wanted to take, and he was being equally clear that he didn’t think my plan was a good one.  Finally, he stopped, looked me right in the eye, and asked, “How willing are you to completely own the outcome?”  And then he went silent and waited.

That moment was probably about 30 years ago. Yet I remember it in HD quality – where we were standing in his office, and the look on his face as he leveled that question at me.  It is as clear as if it was yesterday. With nine words, Bob had asked me a powerful question and was waiting for my response.

Powerful questions get their name from the idea that they evoke powerful levels of thought and produce significant clarity for the client. In that moment, Bob had let go of his strong advocacy for his approach, and just asked me how committed I was to my approach and the resulting business impact. Instead of granting permission, he was challenging me to think into the future, project the implications of my proposed path, and take full responsibility for my bet.  To use Whitmore’s language, he was asking me to rethink my proposal (awareness) and then take full responsibility for it.

Here are what I have learned to be the genetic markers of an exceptional question:

It demands thought and reflection on the part of the receiver.

The best questions don’t have easy answers. They challenge the listener to go deep into their own knowledge, beliefs, values, and emotions, to respond. When we ask a powerful question, we have given our client an opportunity to become more deeply aware of all of those elements, and to process how they interact relative to the goal.  Almost inevitably, that process sets off reflection and integration, will lead the client to make a connection they had not previously made.   We are giving our clients a huge gift.

It is built on the foundation of a solid understanding of the big picture, critical issues, and overarching sense of purpose.

The relevance and depth of your question reveals to your client that you have done your homework and have taken in all that they told you previously.  You cared enough to understand them.   You’ve built on that background to frame a relevant question whose answer will deepen your mutual understanding of the issue at hand.  Not only are you gathering information, but you are strengthening the level of trust that binds you and your client.

It is not driven by the consultant’s agenda.

Too often, we use questions which are leading, and which can be received as a form of persuasion through cross-examination.  People are amazingly perceptive in picking up loaded questions. Two negative results occur.  First, the client instinctively puts up barriers based on the level of distrust that the question engenders. The relationship between advisor and client moves in a negative direction. Secondly, the chances of having any really new or helpful insight are greatly diminished when the barriers have been thrown up.

It is short and simply framed.

Brevity comes from clarity and preparedness.  When we’re not well prepared, we are crafting the question on the fly.  The resulting question has multiple components, wanders, back tracks and is dumped on the plate in a heap.  Great coaches like to talk about effective dialogue as a dance.  With commitment, presence, understanding, curiosity and experience, we are able to sense the rhythm of the conversation and help our partner move to where the music is taking them.

Epilogue:

Give your clients the gift of clarity and commitment by asking them powerful questions.

Great Reads: 

Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance: GROWing People, Performance, and Purpose. London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

 

 

Posted in Active Listening, Advising, Business Development, Client Relationships, Communications, Leaders as Coaches, Personal Connection | 2 Comments

Serve Before You Sell!

ConsultingThis month’s tip:  Add value to to your team or client before worrying about how you will be compensated for that service.  Said another way, advise and serve as if you are independently wealthy.

It was winter in 1974 and I was on temporary duty in Kansas City, attending an advanced technical school for Air Force communications engineers. A buddy and I had noticed that Hewlett-Packard created a series of very impressive technical notes that would be helpful to the technicians that we supervised. We decided to go to the local HP office and raid their shelves of all the relevant notes we could find. While we were there, we met the local district manager, and talked to him about how HP salesmen plied their craft. Mind you, that was 42 years ago, but I still remember vividly something that district manager said. He told a story about how HP field engineers often helped their customers use a competitor’s piece of equipment to make complicated technical measurements. Those field engineers didn’t earn a dime off of that service they gave their clients. But it was part of the ethic of HP at the time, that you helped your customer with whatever task was in front of them – whether or not that act of service benefited you in any way. Of course, customers did repay it, in loyalty and future business.  (HP was the industry leader in electronic instrumentation for many decades.)  But in that moment, the service to the customer was selfless and came ahead of any idea of compensation.

That conversation made a huge impression on me and it was a key influence in my deciding later in my career to join HP as one of those field engineers.

Jagdish Sheth,  in his book, Clients for Life (Jagdish Sheth 2000) coins a term he calls “selfless independence”.  He says this: “It is a foundational attribute for anyone who aspires to become a trusted adviser to their clients.  Without selfless independence, you lack substance as a client adviser – you’re just another expert for hire. With it, you are able to inspire both respect and loyalty from your clients.”

What about the independence piece of the equation?

When we are independent, we take the position that is in the best interests of the client. Sometimes, that is not what the client wants. They may have seized on another approach which they love, but which we know from our expertise is not the right solution for them. We are much more persuasive in that discussion if we are courageous in our approach.  Patrick Lencioni, in Getting Naked (Lencioni 2010), talks about the debilitating impact on our effectiveness when we fear losing the business.  Someone who is independently wealthy does not fear the loss of an individual deal. Think about the last negotiation you were in.  When you knew you had another alternative, you could be more assertive in the bargaining, and your counterpart in the negotiation always seemed to sense that.

Acting from a spirit of financial independence frees us to “give away the business”, to consult first, and sell later.  Demonstrating that generosity (both in tangible and intangible ways) builds trust and loyalty.  By going to service first, we are demonstrating what we know and what we can do in an immediately valuable way.  We are building credibility in our expertise.

Epilogue:

“Consulting is a relationship business. A special product may make you competitive. Differentiated services may make you distinct. But only carefully crafted relationships will create a breakthrough firm.”  (Weiss 2003)

Three great reads: 

Jagdish Sheth, A. S. (2000). Clients for Life: how great professionals develop breakthrough relationships. New York, Simon and Schuster.

Lencioni, P. (2010). Getting Naked, a business fable about shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Weiss, A. (2003). Million Dollar Consulting: The professional’s guide to growing a practice. New York, McGraw-Hill.

 

 

Posted in Business Development, Client Relationships, Personal Connection | 1 Comment

Leaders, Flex to Your Teams

Isoflex_400Shelly was a senior sales executive, with over 30 years of selling experience in the energy segment. She valued her style as an activist leader, and her ability to leverage years of experience to help her teams beat their objectives.

She had recently taken a position as a global vice president of channel sales, responsible for expanding her company’s partner network.  Because her role was new and important, she had been able to recruit a “dream team” of sales and marketing pro’s with strong track records for building new business quickly.

But…  she was beginning to get disturbing feedback.  Her team had begun to quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, go around her, and complain about her overbearing style, and her limiting of their independence.  Six months after being hailed as the sales leader who would take her company to new levels, she was facing almost a complete rebellion from her team.

What was going on?

It’s no secret.  North Americans and Europeans prefer extroverts as their leaders.  While about half the general population have a natural preference for introversion, over 90% of leaders display extroverted behaviors in their leadership style. That implies that a very large proportion of introverted leaders are flexing outside of their natural behavior to meet the cultural bias for an extroverted style.

While the bias for extroverted leadership is clear, research is telling us that extroverted leaders often run into trouble leading teams of proactive and innovative people.

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David Hoffman discovered that in organizations where the employees tend to be more passive, extroverted managers excelled, generating about 15% higher than average profit.  (Adam M. Grant 2010)  In contrast, in organizations where the employees were more proactive and independent, extroverted managers didn’t fare as well, generating about 15% lower than average profit. 

Net-net, naturally introverted leaders who can flex to a more integrated style are more likely to succeed with highly proactive teams.

Why would that be?

First of all, natural introverts have more practice in being flexible with how they interact with others.  For most of their life, they have had to integrate extroverted behavior into their consulting and leadership style.  (Cain 2012)

Introverts tend to better listeners, and have less personal need to be perceived as the one with the answer.  As a result, they are more likely to accept and act on the ideas and recommendations from their teams.

Introverts tend to be more willing to take a little more time with their decisions, and wait for more information (including input from their team on the best way forward).

“Wait a minute!”, you might be protesting, “You’re saying that it’s always better to be an introverted leader, rather than an extroverted leader?”

No, that’s really not I’m saying.

I’m saying that research on personality type suggests that the most effective leaders are those who are aware of their natural preferences, and who can make an intentional decision to flex to a different behavior set, better suited to the situation in front of them.

A short aside:  There is no such thing as a 100% extrovert or a 100% introvert.  All of us have a mix of preferred behaviors which fall into both camps.  If the mix is more heavily weighted to introverted behaviors, we are called an introvert.  If the opposite is true, we are called an extrovert.  But we are always a mix of our preferences.

In Shelly’s case, her team wanted less direction and teaching (her natural extroverted behaviors), and more thoughtful discussion about their ideas and their recommendations for how they could achieve their goals.

Here are some tips for flexing to what your team wants and needs from you as a leader:

For leaders who are natural introverts:

Take advantage of your natural tendency toward individual dialogue to hear your people fully.

Give yourself enough time to reach a joint assessment of a situation and the optimum path forward.

When appropriate, flex to more assertive behavior when dealing with your senior leadership, sources of resources, and customers who you know expect that from you.

For leaders who are natural extroverts:

Be aware that your preference for independent thinking and directive communication will probably not be well received by independent thinkers.

Develop your effectiveness in having one-to-one conversations.  Ask open ended questions, actively listen to the answers, and provide enough feedback so that your teams have confidence that you understand and agree.

Be willing to make an intentional decision in the moment to flex to a less directive approach with proactive teams.  Give your proactive team members room to assert their ideas and opinions, and engage in a more collegial discussion with them, as compared to a more traditional manager-subordinate discussion.

Epilogue:

Leadership success is less about being an extrovert or introvert than it is about being able to adapt to the behavior that is most effective in the situation, time frame, and team that you find yourself acting and leading in.

Success is about being able to flex smoothly to where you need to be.

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to get your help to continue the discussion with your comments.

End Notes:

Adam M. Grant, F. G., David A. Hofmann (2010) The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses. Harvard Business Review

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet:  the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, Crown Publishers.

 

 

Posted in Coaching, Communications, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Team Development | 2 Comments

The first question: What do you really want? (What is compelling you to act?)

Line of ForceI was frustrated.

Over several meetings, we had come to a detailed understanding of the learning outcomes the client hoped to achieve in a series of workshops on relationship building skills.

I had been able to draw strong lines between the pains they were feeling and the workshop designs.  We had talked in depth about how the programs would improve the outcomes her sales force was achieving.

As we wrapped the last meeting, the client seemed poised to close the engagement, and just asked for some time to review the proposal with the VP of HR.

And that was the end of the road….

Several months later, despite multiple attempts to revive it, the discussion had gone cold.  The client wasn’t responding.  The opportunity was dead.  Stone. Cold. Dead.

What had I missed?

One of the gifts we give our business colleagues (note that I didn’t say “prospect”?  See note below.)  is clarity about what they want, a realistic sense of where they are, and well their current actions are working for them to close that gap.  The transition of this opportunity from live and engaged to cold and dead, made me question if we had been as clear about the opportunity, and whether the benefits were as compelling as I had thought.

Question One:  “What change do you truly want?”

“What will be different?  How will you know?  How will the firm’s position be different?  How will your stature and success be different?”  Probe around every dimension of their future vision that you can think of.  Probe around the emotions:  “How will it feel to be in this future vision?”  (See my earlier blog article around empathy and emotion.)

Question Two:  “How well is your current approach working for you?”

This simple, open question lets them tell you in their own words, what their current state is.  If you have done your homework, you already have a working hypothesis of their business issues.  This hypothesis will serve you later as you probe around their initial answer.  But what you don’t know now is the inside story, the business impact and the emotional impact on them and other key stakeholders.

Question One minus Question Two equals The Gap

That gap between desired future state and their current state and current efforts provides the business case and emotional energy (think compelling event) for what they must do to bring the change to life.  Without that emotional energy, they won’t have the courage and the will to win (or even engage) the internal battle for funding, project priority, etc.

Salesmen, beware!

When we are helping clients articulate their future vision, it is too soon to reveal the future you hope for them, and your recommended path to get there. Once you assert your value proposition and unwrap your solution, you have ended the discovery discussion.

In my situation, I began to question whether I had moved to the close too quickly.  Or perhaps I had failed to accommodate the visions of other individuals who had to agree with the need and the value proposed.

True advisors have the patience and discipline to divorce themselves from their favored outcome and path at this point in the discovery.  They must trust the client to envision the outcome that’s going to work the best for them.  Further, they must trust themselves and their solution enough to believe that, at the right time, they can describe a realistic path that will be simple and compelling.

Epilogue:

As advisors, we use questions and dialogue to help our clients develop greater clarity on both current state and future state.   By doing so, we earn their trust.  That trust gives us permission, later, to help them inform, or even challenge, their vision.  Once the vision is clear, then we can help them evaluate a number of possible paths forward, including that offered by our solution.

By framing our prospect as a colleague, more than a potential buyer of our stuff, we are less likely to trigger the emotional resistance we all have, to being sold something.

This is much easier to say, than to do.  Credibility as a colleague means that we really do understand their business – lots (probably years!) of experience and personal homework on their industry.  Hard as it is to come by, that core business acumen is at the foundation of our power as advisors.

I never said this was easy.

Posted in Active Listening, Business Development, Client Relationships, Feedback, Self Confidence | Leave a comment