Emotional Intelligence Enables Great Leadership

The research is compelling.  Emotional intelligence is a powerful enabler to being a great leader.

This short video explores research by the Center for Creative Leadership, Multi-Health Systems, and Google which demonstrates the power of emotional intelligence (EQ) to strong leadership and employee engagement.

What’s your experience?

Ascendent is a certified to deliver the Hogan family of personality assessments, including EQ, as well the Multi-Health Systems EQ-i 2.0 assessments.  Maybe we should talk!

How to Ask Powerful Follow-Up Questions

Differentiate your credibility by how you respond to what clients tell you

The best advisors are adept at asking powerful follow-up questions.  They  use a well framed follow-up to signal that they not only heard the previous answer, but have processed it to a preliminary understanding, and are now seeking to go farther and deeper to understand the speaker’s full meaning.

Respond to the listener’s expectation

If you’re having a serious discussion with someone, they want to know that you’re really engaged in what they are saying and want to know more.  Your caring approach to listening makes them feel heard, and that you are respecting their knowledge.

The speakers feel honored, and they want to continue the dialogue.  This not only creates a link with the listener but opens the door for deepening the conversation and the underlying relationship.

What’s my investment?

All of these advantages come at a price.

Skillful tennis players anticipate where their opponent will return the volley and begin moving there as their opponent gets into position for their hit.  That form of in-the-instant judgment comes after years of playing, and thousands of volleys.  The equivalent experience from a consultant comes from years of learning and practicing their craft.

Many of the readers of this piece have that level of experience in their domain.  The trick is to be intentional about taking advantage of it as the conversation flows back and forth.  Newcomers to a domain can prepare by tapping into  experienced colleagues in advance of their meeting.  They can ask about the most critical topics likely to come up, and how those topics best relate to customer those challenges.

Steps for great follow-up questions

  1. Do your homework on what you believe will be the critical topics you will discuss in this discussion.
  2. Take advantage of what you already have experienced in those areas to anticipate how the conversation might flow.
  3. If you don’t have direct experience, interview colleagues or available experts to understand the most critical aspects of the topics.
  4. Be realistic about how far you can take a topic.  Maybe ask a question about its relative importance, so .  At a level that you will at least you will know they are critical, without going into any depth.
  5. Invite a more experienced colleague to make the meeting with you.

Then, relax and play the match.  If you’ve done this  level of prep, you will most likely sound more credible than most of your competitors.

Great Reads:

HBR: The Surprising Power of Questions

Developing executives – What’s the coaching business case?

A strong coaching business case for a leadership development  project keeps all parties motivated and driving toward success.

Virtually all of my coaching with business leaders is funded by their firms.  There are three parties to the agreement.  The leader has to deliver the effort to fully work on their development.  The stakeholder has to invest the resources to hire the coach and support the leader and their development effort.  The coach has to deliver a coaching process that is effective.

While the firm is investing in the individual, it is also wanting the coaching investment to result in some “return” to the company, reflected in improved business outcomes.

It helps leaders and their stakeholders to align quickly on the coaching goals if they think about the engagement as an investment and use investment language to describe the return.  For an example, if an executive successfully improves employee engagement on his team, research says that team firm will enjoy higher productivity, and up to 20% higher profitability.

I use a four phased “business case” approach to create the development plan.  The client and stakeholder see the outcome in their terms.   In the client’s mind, “I’ll get to know my team better and we’ll all work better together.”  In the stakeholder’s mind, “Sam’s coaching could increase the productivity of his team, maybe by as much as 20%.”

Here’s a description of my approach:

First Base: Name the development goal

Use assessments and stakeholder interviews to yield a list of potential objectives.  Narrow the list to frame a very short list of general development objectives and guesstimate the outcomes.    No more than five candidates should make it this far.  Through discussion, we narrow the list to one or two that have the most compelling outcomes.

I ask the client to “name” each finalist with a short phrase that is meaningful to them.  We discuss projected outcomes of the finalists and choose the one or two which have the most compelling outcomes.

Trap!  Clients typically want to go straight to problem solving.    It’s easier, more concrete, and it’s what everyone is clamoring for at the time.  It’s important to differentiate between helping a client solve a specific problem (you’re a consultant) and helping them develop into the person that can accomplish what is demanded by their role (you’re a coach).  Help them take the time to envision the future, by exploring who they need to be.

Second Base: Discover with the client “who” they will have to become, to achieve the outcomes they are hoping for.  

 What new skills, concepts, values and beliefs will they possess after the coaching engagement?  I help them explore the personal shifts that must occur for them to grow in the direction they’re seeking.

 Third Base:  Envision what behavior changes will be noticeable if the development is successful

Focusing on behaviors sets them up to measure the success of the coaching.  On their own, clients can ask their key relationships, mentors, and teammates what new behaviors they’re noticing.  In my practice, I ask my clients to come to each coaching session prepared to share the behavioral feedback they’re getting from others and noticing on their own.

Bonus!   By encouraging our clients to gather their own accountability data, we’re setting them up to ultimately transition to self-coaching.  They will be able to “pull” the coaching they need from managers and colleagues and measure if they’re making progress.

Home Base:  Ask, “So what?”   Refine the business impact.

If all goes well, what needles move?  How are things different?

The client will probably take a more personal view.  “I’ll be a stronger leader and a better boss, and I’ll be more promotable.”

The stakeholders will more likely focus on business metrics.  “They will be more productive, more profitable, and uncover best practices for the company.”

Epilogue:

There’s no magic about where you start!  Just start…  Unlike baseball, you don’t have to run the bases in order, and you’re seldom done until you’ve visited each base a few times.   Desired outcomes can drive the naming of goals.  Goals drive the who’s… and the behaviors… behaviors drive outcomes and milestones…  milestones drive actions and accountability…

What’s important is that you explore all the bases.  Give yourself time to put it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

As you move through the coaching, refresh the business case continuously and validate your investment decision.

 Drop me a note if you’d like a copy of a Microsoft Word template I use to discuss and refine the business case and create an action plan for the next steps of the development plan.

Trust and Credibility: Research on the top five relating skills

Consulting customers more often buy complex solutions from people with trust and credibility.  

The research:

Since August of 2016, Ascendent Leadership and colleagues at Partners International and Discovery Consulting have teamed up to discover what successful consultants consider to be the critical soft skills to generate trust and credibility.  They are asking which of 20 commonly accepted consulting best practices rank as the most important in creating authentic advisory relationships.  (Original blog article introducing the research.)  While the research is continuing, we believe that the interim results are clear and reflect the consulting community.  (Top five have been unchanged since we hit about 30 responses.  The total number of responses is now approaching one hundred.)

Active Listening was the runaway favorite. 

Top Five Skills Driving Trust, Accountability

84 percent of respondents rated Active Listening as Critically Important, the top quartile of importance.  That was over 30 percentage points higher than the runner up, Asking Powerful Questions.

Here are the results for the top five, ranked by the number of total selections in the top quartile, as a percentage of total responses:Ability

It’s all about discovery!

All of the top five could easily fit under the umbrella term “discovery”:

Ability to establish trust and credibility through their focus and presence

Carrying on on a well-informed conversation about the clients’ business and their underlying success factors

Building on the trust/credibility foundation to discover how the consultant’s value can align with the  client’s most compelling opportunities and challenges

Epilogue:

When we invest the time to really understand our client before we interact, and continuously during our relationship, and when we …

Bring our best level of customer focus and presence to every interaction, and when we…

Are confident enough to open up with what makes sense to us, and what doesn’t, …

Then we earn our client’s trust and credibility, and …

Very often, their business.

Team Development – Four Questions to Frame Your Plan

Team Development

When I begin a development engagement, I spend time to understand their situation and help them align their growth outcomes.  I’m helping them balance what is personally satisfying to them, with what is high impact for their organization and its mission.

Usually, that begins with an overarching question (How do you want to develop?) to articulate the development goal.  That can be on stakeholder feedback, a recent performance discussion, 360 degree assessments and the like. What I’ve learned about this discussion is to approach the discovery with three additional questions which build the business case for the effort time and resources to achieve the goal.

Here are the the four questions:

What’s your goal for development?

This is the starting point.  They’re getting feedback from somewhere that there’s a benefit from developing some aspect of their world.  Where’s that input coming from?  How much energy are they feeling about the importance of the goal.

How will you change through your investment?

The major premise behind this question:  We achieve success based on who we are as well as what we do.  Performance discussions tend to focus most of their energy on the action part:  hat will we do?  The best coaches focus first on who we are.  Who we are makes what we do possible (or impossible!)

What new skills will you build? What new insights or subject matter expertise will you gain? Will there be any new attitudes or beliefs that occur because of your development investment? With these questions and others like them, we are trying to establish how the client will change and evolve as a person. Development isn’t so much about attaining specific tactical goals as it is about growing as a person in becoming more capable and more motivated to achieve those goals.

What new behaviors will others observe in you?

This question goes to measurement and accountability. Discussion of this question helps the learner clarify the goals in terms of what others will see.  How will current behaviors change as the learner and coach work on the development objective.

What mission outcome will you enable when you accomplish your objective?

This is the “So, what?” question, often stated in terms of the deliverable performance metrics for the organization or business.  Business metrics like revenue, profit, expanding the customer base, new and different service lines, time to market….  Personal metrics like leadership confidence, promotability, employee engagement, and so on.

If you like the Covey habits, it’s “Begin with the end in mind.

Some outcomes are more easily quantified than others. But whether it’s a tangible outcome or intangible outcome, it should be realistic and compelling to all concerned. It nails down the business case for the development project.  As well, it helps the learner and stakeholders choose between several potential learning objectives.  Which one will have the biggest “bang for the buck.”

Epilogue:

When goals and outcomes are well aligned, everyone associated with the development project will be more motivated to do what it takes to make the learner succeed in their development project.

We can help!  Ascendent Leadership offers executive coaching for for individuals and teams from high potentials to the C-Suite.

If you want the business, find the spark!

I have a friend of mine who likes to use the term “spark” to describe the emotional connection between two people beginning a romantic relationship. Most of us can recall a situation in our past where all the “specifications” for a new relationship were perfectly met, but where the chemistry between the two people just wasn’t strong enough to create an authentic romantic connection.

I’d like to suggest that, as we are talking about a business opportunity with a client or prospect, some of the same emotional wiring that creates a romantic spark is going to be very influential in whether or not we find the energy to support working together.

People have said, and I completely agree, that most people make decisions based on emotions, and then rearrange the facts and logic path to support a decision they’ve already made on an emotional basis.

Here are two questions to consider as we are talking with a client or prospect about a new project they are considering:

Can we feel the emotion they are carrying for the project?

Can we find a complementary emotion in both our client and ourselves that could become the chemistry that drives our working together on that project and others to come?

The answers to these questions could help us understand how committed our contact is to this business outcome.   Often, someone may have reached out to us to discuss a project which, frankly, they don’t care a flip about.   They’re only engaging us to satisfy a commitment to someone else to “look into it”.  That’s a long way from “get ‘er done!”  On their side of the equation, there is no “spark”.   That could be a good sign that this project is a nonstarter. Wish them well, pick up your hat, and walk (maybe run!) for the door.

On the other hand, if we believe that the value proposition for the project is genuinely compelling for this company, then we need to find someone else in the organization to become our champion, someone who has the spark (maybe even created the spark) and who provide the emotional energy for the project to move forward.   Continue the conversation and probe to find that person.  If you can engage that person in the conversation, your chances for success become infinitely better.

Epilogue:  The chances for creating a winning value proposition and a long term client relationship get infinitely better if we can find the emotional “spark” for both the project at hand and the on-going consultant-client relationship between us.

 

Before You Say No, Five Steps to Find Your Yes

After the final no, there comes a yes and on that yes, the future of the world hangs.    (Wallace Stevens)

A sales executive friend of mine likes to say that the selling only begins after you’ve heard the first “No”.  I always liked the expression, but it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking more about how great consultants move past a client’s reluctance to move forward on their recommendations… how they move past that initial No.  As I have thought more about it, I have begun to really appreciate the wisdom in my friend’s saying.

Salespeople call an early attempt to gain customer commitment a “trial close”. When the answer to that trial close is No, many (maybe most) of them decide that the deal is not likely to happen and they walk away. The skilled salespeople use that first “no” to energize themselves. They become intensely interested in understanding what it will take to get to the Yes.  And then, the real selling begins…

In many of his talks, Peter Block tells a story about a young man who asks his beloved, “Will you marry me?” She energetically says, “No!”   His response:  “Great, then we can talk!”   Inwardly, he is thinking, “Game On!!!”   He’s obviously been listening to my sales friend.

Block also speaks eloquently about the usefulness of well managed conflict to define the win-win crucial to effective consulting.  I love his quote, “Insight resides in moments of tension.” (Block 2011 )

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation and author of “The Power of A Positive No”(Ury 2007) , says it this way:

“Perhaps the single biggest mistake we make when we say No is to start from No. We derive our No from what we are against – the other’s demand or behavior. A Positive No calls on us to do the exact opposite and base our No on what we are for. Instead of starting from No, start from Yes. Root your No in a deeper Yes – a Yes to your core interests and to what really matters.”

Five steps to finding your Yes:

  1. When you first hear whatever it is that infuriates you and you want to scream “No” back, notice your emotions.  What are you feeling, and how intensely?
  2. Step back, and do whatever it takes to give yourself some time to recover and regain control. Feign a coughing spell, or decide to call a break for some coffee.  Whatever it takes.
  3. Remind yourself that managed conflict is the most positive step you can take to get to the outcome you want, to your Yes. This is a good thing!
  4. Ask yourself, what Yes are you seeking that is inconsistent with their No? Unpack and rediscover your most basic needs and the values.  Which are relevant, here?  Let these questions help you be clear about what you really want and need in this situation.  Your Yes.
  5. Distill your thinking down to a specific interest in this situation. When you get around to exploring that interest with your partner, it will give you confidence and it will make it easier for them to understand your Yes, and align it to theirs.

This series of steps has more moving parts that I can cover in a short article.  Check out Ury’s excellent chapter on Discover Your Yes (Ury 2007) for a much more complete discussion.

Epilogue: 

“A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble”      (Mahatma Ghandi)

The young woman in Block’s story begins the real courtship with her honest “No”.  Her suitor wisely recognizes that No as the beginning of the dialogue that he hopes will get him to Yes.

How will you handle it, the next time someone tells you No?  And why did you wait so long to ask the question?

Great Reads:

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

Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. New York, Bantam Dell.

The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact you?  … or their other leadership and sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.

How Perfect is Perfect Enough?

A business professor assigned a group of MBA students to visit a local custom door factory and observe some of the craftsmen there.

The students arrived at the factory and were assigned to observe an elderly and obviously very seasoned door carver.  They arrived in his work area, equipped with sharp pencils and clip boards.

The door carver paid scant attention to them.  He had already made quite a bit of progress on the door he was working on, and it was already a thing of great beauty. He would carve for a while, stand back and take it all in, and then go to a different part of the door and carve some more.

As he carved, the door became ever more ornate and beautiful.  The MBA students were amazed at his level of concentration and his obvious dedication to his work.

After a number of cycles of silently carving, standing back, assessing, choosing a new spot, and carving some more, one student asked, “How do you know when you’re finished?”

The woodcarver looked up, and said, “When they come to take it away.”

He was depending on someone else to decide  when the product was ready for market. He was deriving his joy from working at the margin and making the door ever more perfect.

“How perfect is perfect enough?”  It seems to me that answering that question  is a critical role that product managers and project managers must play in any complex project. The practitioners, the scientists, the engineers, and the door carvers want to keep carving. Successful projects require someone to make a business judgment.  What criteria define “perfect”?  When must it be done?  How much will people pay for it?  From those questions and judgments, the team creates the definition of when the door is done.

Here are some questions to consider when framing a complex project:

What value are we providing? Is it a door that will keep us warm in the winter, or a door that is a thing of beauty and makes us proud of our home?

Who are we serving?  The market for sturdy and energy efficient doors is significantly different than the market for beautiful doors.

When does the customer need it?  Is it October and getting cold?  Or is it spring and we’re fixing up a home for our daughter and her family to move into?

How perfect is perfect enough?  Am I letting perfectionism push the project completion past the point of diminishing returns and delaying the primary benefit?

Epilogue: 

Most complex enterprises require the right mix of the dreamers and artisans who take joy in the craft of the work and the pragmatists who want to serve a well-defined market with the right product,with just right set of features, at just the right time, and at just the right price.

Sometimes, those talents live inside the same skin.  Most of the time, they do not.

How are you showing up as an active listener? Five traps to avoid.

How often do you show up for a meeting or a discussion, only to find your partner in a complete state of disarray, heavily distracted by telephones, email, social media, other employees stopping in to interject a thought or start a new conversation, etc.  You get the picture!  Or worse yet, they show up unengaged, unprepared, and don’t seem to be understanding or caring about what you’re telling them.

Through our research of several behaviors that create high levels of trust and credibility, active listening has emerged as the most critical behavior (by a significant margin) in the eyes of our respondents. With that in mind, what can we as consultants and subject matter experts do to sharpen those critical listening skills?

Researchers in effective communications have coined the term “immediacy in communications” to describe the set of behaviors which either lay the framework for an effective dialogue, or sow the seeds of disaster.  Those researchers define immediacy as the way we signal our motivation to communicate freely, and the positive feelings we impart to our partner. These behaviors, both verbally and nonverbally, communicate that we are warm, involved, interested, and available to communicate.  Verbal immediacy factors include how we use pronouns – are we using I and you, or we and us; our use of formal or informal manners of addressing our partners that are comfortable and appropriate; how open we are to sharing personal information and creating vulnerability; our use of compliments to open the communication paths. Nonverbal behaviors might involve cues such as touch, eye contact, distance and personal space, smiling, tone of voice.  Most of our verbal and nonverbal behaviors tend to be instinctual.  We need to develop strong awareness of our own behaviors and the cues our partners are giving us , to sense how we are behaving and how it’s hitting our partner.

So, what are the traps, and how can we avoid them?

Here is a list of five behavior traps which work against our immediacy, and ultimately diminish the quality of  our listening and our understanding of our partner.  For each trap, we offer some ideas about how to avoid them.

Walking in without a true sense of engagement and honest motivation to help:  Your partner will quickly sense if you’re not truly interested and engaged, and will begin defending themselves against your disinterest.  Before the meeting, try to motivate yourself by finding some element of the situation, your relationship and past history with them, or a thread from a previous conversation that you can pick up on and pursue with interest.

Failing to align with the where they are coming from:   Examples might include failing to pick up on emotions that are working in them at the time, their point of view on the topic at hand, cultural differences and primary language.  Before the conversation, do some homework about them if you don’t know them well, what you might anticipate to be their emotional state, some appropriate due diligence on their business, their role, their background (LinkedIn is great for this).  You should walk in knowing what’s reasonable to know and ready to get to the meat of the discussion.

Failing to provide real-time feedback that lets them know you are really listening and have processed what they’ve told you:  Examples might be shallow feedback that either indicates you weren’t listening, or weren’t comprehending what they were trying to tell you.  Try “reframing” or summarizing in your own words not only what they said, but how they feel about it, what the impact is likely on them, and other comments that indicate that you thought through the implications of what they’ve told you.

Making it about you:    A common faux pas is interjecting a personal story, even if relevant, which breaks the flow of what your partner is trying to tell you. It comes across as if you have hijacked the discussion. Instead, show empathy and maybe an indication that you’ve had a similar experience, but avoid providing so much detail that you break the flow of their story.

Being too eager to prescribe ideas for how to fix the problem at hand:  We often listen just enough to find a common story in our repertoire and immediately go there, complete with detailed instructions about just how to solve their problem. Metaphorically this would be the same as the doctor prescribing brain surgery when we walk in complaining of a headache. We haven’t earned the right, yet, to go to prescribing action.  One common tip is, when you sense that you’re about to make a recommendation for action, shut that down, and substitute another question. Dig in on your discovery questions, until you are sure you understand the issue and they have validated that you understand it. When you get there, then you can invite them to move into brainstorming and action planning if they really want it.  When the active listening is really working, they often discover the path forward for themselves, through the dialogue.  Before you go to action planning, ask permission and validate that they are ready and wanting to go there.

Epilogue:

Active listening is not easy work, but it’s critical to build the relationship and the communications path which is critical to earning our partners’ trust and credibility.

Come to important conversations caring, committed, and prepared, and listen twice as much as you talk.