Could 2011 Be the Year of The Incredibles?



With the freezing temperatures as of late, we’ve nestled into a warm family tradition of Friday night family movie night.  We all snuggle on the couch together, covered in a blanket, and we watch a movie that we’ll all enjoy together.

This past weekend, we chose the Disney/Pixar hit movie, The Incredibles.  The plot, in many ways is the biography of Mr. Incredible, who for several reasons (against his will) chooses to disguise his superhero identity and live a life as a simple insurance agent, known as Bob Parr.  Bob’s wife and children, who also have super powers, hide their special skills too and do their best to fit in as “normal.”

Although Mr. Incredible tries to appear as if he’s like everyone else, hiding the best of who he is slowly sucks the life out of him.  He’s unhappy, he’s not as good of a father or husband, he gets out of shape and he’s frustrated with just about everything and everyone.  He knows he has so much more to contribute; so much that can make a difference, but he’s lot allowed to bring it.

Does this sound like your workplace?  Does your company stifle people, or do they bring out the best that everyone can offer?  Do the leaders challenge and energize everyone around them, or are they slowly sucking their life out?

To read the remainder of this post, please click here to go to Achieved Strategies, where this entire post is hosted, and where I am honored to be a guest blogger in a great series, called “Revive & Thrive.”

Leadership and Wineries –The Art and Science

Buoncristiani Family Winery (www.buonwine.com)

 

My husband and I share an appreciation of a robust and full-bodied red wine, so it only makes sense that we celebrate our anniversary in Napa Valley wine country.   (That’s the excuse we use to return to this gorgeous part of the country each Fall.)

Over the years, we have changed our “strategy” for the trip as we’ve learned more about wine, as well as our tastes.  In the early years of our marriage, our Napa trips included visits to wineries that most everyone has heard of.  Now, eleven years later (minus a few years dedicated to growing our family) our tour includes only small-production, mostly family-owned wineries.

Why the change?  It has to do with the wine-making and the personalized effort by the winemakers.

Unlike many large wine producers who leverage more automated processes and are able to taste only a fraction of each vintage, small wineries often leverage the talents of a wine-maker who gets very intimate with each and every barrel. 

Because the wine-maker can see and taste how each barrel has developed individually, they can nurture that particular barrel to produce more specifically-desired flavors.  They can leverage the art of wine-making a bit more than some larger wineries, which have to rely more on the science of wine-making.  That science tells them what actions will produce typical results, and they can follow those rules to produce a decent bottle of wine…most of the time.

Leadership can be similar in some ways.  There’s definitely a science; certain facts that seem to be absolutes for great leaders and their surrounding teams:

  • They have clear vision and can inspire and motivate others to bring it to completion.
  • They engage and empower their employees, even choosing to follow them when the strengths of others can be maximized for the greatest benefits.
  • They are honest and demonstrate their integrity and trustworthiness with both their words and consistent actions.

It’s hard to dispute any of these fundamentals of leadership.  What can often times be the great variables among leaders, though, are the aspects that may be more of an art; meaning there aren’t consistent “rules” on how you can accomplish these tasks.  They are more individualized to the leader and to each of their people.  However, when done right (and authentically,) they make a tremendous difference.

The art of leadership, like wine-making, often embodies the practice of giving more personal and individualized attention.  Some aspects of this art include:

  • Connecting with people at a meaningful level; versus just communicating to them.
  • Understanding value systems and individual motivators as a basis for building into, rewarding and celebrating your people.
  • Maintaining an “other-focused” view, serving the needs of your people instead of fueling your accomplishments

Of course, the goal for leaders is to master the perfect blend of art and science.  Certainly, we all value structure and consistency…but when blended with just the right amount personalization and flexibility, the result is always a best-seller!!

Now, for your input!  I’ve started the lists.  What would you add to the art and science of leadership?  What aspects of leadership do you think should embody a more personal approach?  Consider the difference it could make in your workplace.  The results could be more savory than any fine wine!

The photo included in this blog post is from Buoncristiani Family Winery and shows the four brothers, who are all involved in the art and science of the business!  They are one of our favorites!!  We especially love their OPC, Cabernet Sauvignon and The Core is amazing!!

Erin Schreyer is a certified Leadership Coach and Strengths trainer.  She is the President of Sagestone Partners and Founder of the non-profit group, Authentic Leadership Cincinnati.  Erin is passionate about helping leaders (even great ones!) maximize their effectiveness, as well as their positive impact on both people and business results.   Contact Erin directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Does Your Workplace Reflect Freedom?

As we head into a long July 4th weekend, we can’t help but to reflect on our freedom.  It’s such a precious thing, freedom.  Yet it’s often taken for granted…or worse…not granted at all.

When we consider our country, the land of the free, there is so much to be grateful for.  And there are so many wonderful leaders that stepped up at one point and took a risk to ensure that we were provided these freedoms.  There are great leaders today, too.  Ones that stand tall with great vision, and ones who take a stand for what they know is fair and just.

In our workplaces, we can also be leaders who encourage certain freedoms.  We can model what it looks like to be trustworthy, transparent and reliable.  And in doing so, we can set a trend where we trust our peers, co-workers and teams to do the right thing…and therefore allow for freedom.

As I was considering a list of freedoms that leaders should encourage in their organizations, these are the ones that came to my mind (in no particular order.)  What would you add?

  • Freedom to flex work hours to accommodate family and lifestyle, while still meeting organizational goals.
  • Freedom to come to leadership with new ideas and opposing viewpoints.
  • Freedom to do things differently by leveraging personal strengths to achieve goals.
  • Freedom to leverage social media to communicate professionally and to help build brand awareness for your organization.
  • Freedom to have a healthy work-life balance that allows employees to properly re-fuel their energy levels.
  • Freedom to trust people and let go of control.
  • Freedom to celebrate great accomplishments and milestones.
  • Freedom to say (without judgment,), “I don’t know” or “I can’t handle any more” or “I made a mistake.”
  • Freedom to be compensated fairly, equitably, and even sometimes generously.

Before you leave the office for the weekend, consider your workplace and what freedoms you have.  I’d love to hear your comments regarding what you would add to this list.  I’d also be thrilled to hear success stories of how companies have provided more freedom and had positive results for doing so.  It’s by sharing successes that others will become less fear-focused and more freedom-focused.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!  And my sincere thanks to so many leaders, both civilian and military who protect our freedom every day.  I’m grateful.

Erin Schreyer is the President of Sagestone Partners and Founder of the non-profit group, Authentic Leadership Cincinnati.  She is passionate about helping leaders (even great ones!) maximize their effectiveness, as well as their positive impact on both people and business results.  Erin can be reached directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Mary Poppins on Leadership

I recently attended the Broadway tour of Disney’s Mary Poppins with my son.  We had such a special evening – just the two of us!  I joyfully watched his expressions of amazement and wonder as the magic of Mary Poppins unfolded on stage.  I have to admit, I enjoyed it every bit as much as he did!!  It was creative, colorful, perfectly cast and well-performed. 

In addition to the pure entertainment value, I was thrilled to realize that there were some valid connections that could be tied back to great leadership!  As a multi-tasking mom and a leadership practitioner, I decided to seize the opportunity to leverage the metaphors!

A Spoonful of Sugar

The children in the story are in need of a new nanny.  They’ve gone through quite a few, it seems, because they are demanding, rude and thoughtless.  As the story progresses, we see that other nannies respond to the children with equal disrespect and disregard.  As a result, the children are unhappy and the nannies quit their position.

What Mary Poppins teaches everyone in a widely familiar tune is that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  What she means by that is simply that we don’t need to yell and thoughtlessly demand to get results.  Instead, we can speak with kindness and achieve the same result.

Leaders, be aware of your word choices; not just in how you speak, but also in how those words are received.  Your language should be inspiring and engaging, bringing your team together to work toward a common goal. By choosing a positive, motivational approach, your team is much more likely to jump on board and contribute their best.

Anything Can Happen if You Let It

While working with the children, one of Mary Poppins’ greatest obstacles is getting the children to think differently and use their imaginations in ways they had never done before.  She consistently reminds them that “anything can happen if you let it” and the song reprises several times throughout the show. 

I took the time to reinforce this song and theme with my son too!!  Why?  Because, isn’t it so true that we are often our biggest obstacle?  Our perceptions of what is holding us back are often in our mind.  Many times, we accept them as true without even trying to test if our perceptions are accurate.  And often, they’re not.  We underestimate the people around us, as well as our own abilities…or, sadly, we just accept these misperceptions, because it’s easier than trying to test them.

Leaders at all levels who recognize the need for change need to go for it!!  If the need is compelling, don’t just let it go; take the risk to speak up!  Begin to make the case, have discussions with your team and your peers; get others in the boat with you!  If you’re seeing something “new,” it could be the exact thing that’s needed to take your company to a new level!

With a proactive approach (if you’ll empower yourself or one of your employees!), you can clearly demonstrate your value as a leader.  You can leverage your strengths, as well as the strengths of your team.  A fresh, creative approach is often what’s needed to launch a huge success.  As Albert Einstein once pointed out, “insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.”

Build Your Replacement

During Mary Poppins’ time with the Banks family, she does an excellent job of sharing wisdom and encouraging each member of the family to leverage that wisdom in their own role.  In doing so, each one of them gains confidence, shifts perspective and begins to take on more responsibility.  In essence, they learn and grow.  So much, in fact, that in the end, they decide that they no longer need a nanny to handle the issues that have been solved or the tasks that they can now effectively manage on their own.

Mary, like a great leader, thought about the succession plan.  She thoughtfully considered who needed to grow in what areas and she worked to help develop them.  After building into them, she effectively replaced herself, knowing she would need to move on to another family in need.

Carl Rogers, an influential psychologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee said this about leaders…

The most effective leader is one who can create the conditions by which he will actually lose his leadership.

Leaders, one of your most important jobs is to bring out the best in everyone around you.  It will positively impact the organization and each person individually.  You should be constantly looking for new ways to challenge your team and to help them grow and succeed.  Have regular discussions about strengths and how you can most effectively deploy each person and stretch them in areas they’ll enjoy most.  In time, you’ll have the best succession plan with a seamless implementation!

What can you do to insert a little more Mary Poppins into your organization?  How can you think differently or encourage others to do so?  If you follow her approach, the result could be as she is – “Practically Perfect,” as the song goes!!!

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a firm specializing in Leadership and Talent Management.  Erin is a certified Coach, as well as a certified Strengths Trainer.  Her focus is on helping leaders – even great ones! – maximize the impact they have on their people, as well as their business results.  For more information, visit www.sagestone-partners.com or reach out to Erin directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com

YOU 2.0 ~ That’s You … but Stronger!

I recently spent five incredible days being trained by some wonderful people from The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC.)  I was immersed in the world of strengths, which is clearly their area of expertise.  Funny thing is that for the past several years, I thought I knew my strengths.  As it turns out, I had much to learn…

Simply Strengths

Buckingham’s Simply Strengths workshop is really a well-designed multi-media journey that takes you through a powerful process to identify the specific activities that strengthen you.  Now, I have to pause here to tell you that I, like millions of others, have done the StrengthsFinder assessment.  I walk around with my ‘Top Five’ in my planner, so I can be sure to leverage them whenever possible…and it’s been empowering! 

But, what I learned is that StrengthsFinder makes an excellent compass, and Simply Strengths provides a highly detailed road map.  Both are valuable in their own way, as long as you understand how to leverage them appropriately.  One provides great direction, the other guides you much more specifically to get you where you want to go.

The Process

After literally “busting” several myths that keep most of us from leveraging our strengths more intentionally and more often, the workshop guides you in coach-like fashion to dig a whole lot deeper than you’ve likely done before.  By digging deeper, through Buckingham’s process, you clearly identify the specific activities that strengthen you.

Here’s a total sidebar (but weirdly-related) comment… I had to giggle during this part, because of an impression I do for my four-year-old daughter, who is knee-deep in her Disney princess obsession.  I conjure the voice of one of my favorite characters from “The Princess and the Frog” — a wise-old woman, known as Mama Odie.  She exclaims to the main character, Tiana, “Girl, you’ve got to dig deeper!!”  She then goes on to explain, through a great song, that “you’ve got to dig a little deeper to find out who you are….when you find out who you are, you find out what you need.”

Funny that somehow in my mind I made a connection between a Disney character and one of the most highly-valuable business exercises that I’ve learned to date…but the concept is SO true!  It’s only through detailed awareness that we discover what will truly energize us and therefore maximize our productivity and effectiveness.

Again, I’ll reiterate that I *thought* I was there – I completely thought I had great awareness….yet this process still let me to some clear “a-ha!” moments with regard to my strengths; what they are, specifically, and how I can spend more of my time using them.

Weaknesses

And then, we went to the dark side (cue the Star Wars music when Darth Vader enters!)  We went to the place that all the strengths critics have been wanting to go…we talked about our weaknesses!  And if anyone thought the strengths identification was powerfully effective, I’ll bet you’re at least as affected by the process to discover your weaknesses (because we don’t often like to talk about them!!)

But we do like to STOP our weakness, or at least minimize them and their negative effects.  And Simply Strengths again hits a home-run in teaching participants the process to do just that!  Did I mention that this was powerful?!?!

Keep the Change!

After identifying strengths and weaknesses and learning how to change behaviors, participants are then provided with tools and resources to help them have important conversations with teams and further develop their new behaviors with new habits.  This is the sustainability piece, and it’s highly impactful because any training is rather meaningless unless it “sticks” with the participant.  Changed behaviors must be a piece of the puzzle, and Buckingham again nails it with simple but effective tools to help people do this.

So…bottom line? 

I walked into the two-day training as one person, and I left the training as another.  I left there as me…only stronger, more confident, more energized, more purposeful, better equipped and with a greater hope for my future and the positive impact I can have.  (For those that know me, you know that I’m already motivated and optimistic, so when I say “more” here, I’m talking big-time!)

Marcus Buckingham is truly the master of our generation as it relates to strengths.  I’m not aware of anyone else who has written more or knows more about the topic.  All the years of research from his days at Gallup, as well as the additional research and talents from his staff at TMBC have culminated into this workshop.  It is meaningful.  It is powerful.  It is potentially life-changing, and the impact it could have on an organization that sends its leadership team through this?  Well, I would have to believe it would be nothing short of transformational.

Because I’m so passionate about this, I feel strongly that I need to include a few disclaimers.  First, I am in no way being paid or asked by TMBC to endorse the Simply Strengths workshop or to write a review of any kind.  I am doing this because I believe so strongly in the power of its potential on people and organizations.

Second, I was trained and certified by TMBC to facilitate the Simply Strengths workshop for any company that would feel they would benefit from me delivering the content.  This is also NOT a reason why I am writing this.  I’m writing it because, if you know me, you know I am passionate about leadership and the positive impact that leaders can have on people.  Simply Strengths is the best tool I’ve found for leaders to engage in truly meaningful discussion with their people to engage them, motivate them and increase their productivity.  It provides the greatest opportunity for a personal and organizational WIN-WIN that I’ve seen.  And that, my friends, is why I feel obligated to write this!

I encourage you to leave a comment below or e-mail me at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com if you’d like to talk more about Simply Strengths…or you can feel free to call me out for making a Disney reference, or for gushing about Marcus Buckingham (yes, I do think he’s brilliant and cute too!) or for wearing my heart on my sleeve like I always do!  Whatever – bring it on.  I’d love to talk more about it!!

Erin Schreyer is the President of Sagestone Partners and Founder of the non-profit group, Authentic Leadership Cincinnati.  She is passionate about helping leaders (even great ones!) maximize their effectiveness, as well as their positive impact on both people and business results.

You Are One of a Kind, and I’ll Lead You that Way!

This past weekend, I went to the History and Science Museum with my family.  My kids paused at the exhibit that explained, “You Are One of a Kind!”  The display showed graphical images of DNA structures and genetics.  It also included a large hand with the detailed patterns of its fingerprints.  My kids were amazed that no two are alike; that every single person is unique.

This fact of nature can provide quite the challenge for leaders.  How could you possibly treat everyone as unique?  After all, you may have a large team that reports to you.  Then, of course, there are corporate policies and procedures.  Let’s face it, they exist to ensure that you treat everyone the same – no preferential treatment and no discrimination. 

So, should a leader even consider “individualizing” their people?  How can it be done in a way that keeps your HR team happy at the same time it increases the effectiveness of your team?

I’d like to offer four ways that leaders can further motivate their teams by better understanding them as individuals:

Discover Their Strengths

There’s a reason why StrengthsFinder 2.0 has been a consistently best-selling book.  We all want to better understand our strengths, and we want to use them!  Of course we do!  By using our strengths, it allows us to have a posture of confidence, which further promotes our motivation and desire to be engaged.

Gallup research shows that organizations offering strengths intervention are 12.5% more productive, 9% more profitable, with 15% less turnover than organizations offering no strengths intervention.

Leaders, this is great news!  By understanding individual strengths, you can empower each person to use them more consistently and more effectively.  You can build better teams knowing there is great strength in a particular area or complementing strengths across the board.  You can challenge your people in a way that motivates them instead of frustrating them, and you can also discover when you should be following your people instead of leading them – it may turn out that someone has a strength where you have a weakness, and that can be a rewarding win-win!

Understand Communication Styles

We all process information differently in our own heads, and like most things that come in…they also come out.  Some people speak with an excruciating amount of detail; others prefer the ten thousand foot view.  Some want to provide constant updates; others just want to let you know a milestone has been achieved.  Some people like to provide feedback; others won’t offer an opinion unless prodded.

Leaders need to understand their own communication style, as well as that of their people.  Nobody wants to be misunderstood or unnecessarily frustrated, and we all know that choosing the wrong words, tone or frequency can cause this.

Explain to your team how you would like them to communicate with you.  How often do you want updates, in what form, with what level of detail?  Help them understand how to meet your expectations, so it doesn’t become a stressor for them.

Likewise, you should try to understand their needs.  Does someone need more direction, feedback or a higher level of detail to produce the results you’re looking for?  Does someone else’s personality suggest that you’re better off honing your listening skills, versus your speaking skills?  Is someone prone to getting their feelings hurt, or do they just want to be spoken to with logic?

By better understanding what your people want to hear, as well as how they naturally express themselves, you can become far more effective in building relationships and accomplishing common goals.

Be Flexible

Not many people enjoy the feeling of being handcuffed, with no freedom or flexibility.  Nor do many enjoy being droids – simple task-masters, following detailed direction with no need to think creatively or leverage their own skills and talents.

Leaders, work with your team to create a vision.  Be sure they have the necessary tools and support to be successful.  Be sure they’re focused and motivated.  Then, let them do their jobs the best way they know how.

Be sure that your team understands the milestones and deadlines  – in fact, work together with them to set these dates!  Empower them to get there, but don’t micro-manage the process.  Let them know they are trusted, and they will want to show you that trust was appropriately placed.

Again, if they’re leveraging their strengths and you’ve agreed upon the necessary communication, it shouldn’t be too difficult to be flexible with their approach.

Show Your Appreciation

It’s so important for people to feel appreciated.  It’s a large part of what keeps them motivated.  That’s why it’s critical to understand how people feel rewarded and accomplished; what do they value?

While a financial bonus may work well for one, an unexpected day off might be more highly valued for another.  Some may appreciate a big fuss and an award recognition for their contributions; others may prefer a quiet donation to their favorite charity.

Leaders, if you don’t know the answer, then ask your people what they value.  Tell them you think they’re doing great and ask them how you can best demonstrate that.  Your appreciation is no reward, if they don’t get the message.

What other strategies can help leaders more closely connect with their people?  What additional benefits can be achieved by these and other approaches?  How can you become a more personal leader that values the thumbprint of each person on their team?

Erin Schreyer is the President of Sagestone Partners and the Founder of Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati.  She is passionate about helping leaders and organizations reach their greatest potential.  Feel free to contact Erin directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Do I Have Food Stuck In My Teeth?

After any meal, we’ve all had to ask, “Do I have food stuck in my teeth?”  It’s a common problem that can happen to most of us… and when it does happen, we’re frequently unaware of that horrifyingly large broccoli morsel that’s now front-and-center of our smile! J

 

We have to ask others, because we just don’t know what they can see that we, ourselves, cannot.  It’s also important to ask, because other people rarely bring it to your attention (even though it would prevent you from feeling SO embarrassed!)

 

I use this analogy, because it’s common….just as common as leaders believing that their perceptions of themselves and their organizations are spot on.  The truth is accurate awareness can be hard to capture, and it takes work. 

 

We all do and say things that affect those around us.  Hopefully, we’re authentic and consistent, so we’re easy to “figure out.”  But there always seem to be things that we do that we’re not even aware of.  They may not even be intentional, but things can spin out of control from just one simple misunderstanding.  

 

Do you recall the sitcom, “Three’s Company” with John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt?  I loved that show.  I laughed at every episode. If you look back, you’ll notice a common theme.  Almost every single episode was a result of someone projecting an image, saying something or doing something that was not what they intended.  They had no idea that someone misunderstood, and it turned into a comedy of errors.  That’s fun to watch on a sitcom, but it’s not what you want happening with your business.

 

Why is awareness so important for leaders?

 

Awareness allows us to lead with our strengths and empower others’ strengths.  It’s so important to know when to lead and when to follow.  You can engage and motivate people by leveraging them where you need them most AND where they are most skilled.  This brings out the best in everyone and produces greater results.  Self awareness, as well as team awareness is critical to implement this strengths-based approach.

 

Awareness allows us to address issues.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But guess what?  If you don’t even know it’s broken, then you don’t know to fix it!  Think about taking golf lessons.  One of the first things commonly done nowadays is to video the client’s swing.  Why?  Because people, although controlling their body, may not realize how their unintentionally moving throughout their swing!  They may not even accept it until they see it….and video doesn’t lie.  We have to be aware (or be made aware!) to change behaviors or offer the right support.

 

Awareness leads to continual improvement.  Similar to the point made above, if we’re aware (and accurate in that awareness) then we know what to address for improvement and further development.  Don’t just assume you have the most accurate assessment of yourself, your organization or your clients – ask them!!  By asking for honest, direct feedback from others (and letting them know it’s safe to do this!) you’ll better understand others’ perspectives, improve your performance and better meet their needs.  Tools such as 360 degree assessments and “Voice of the Customer” surveys can be valuable in gaining this insight.

 

Awareness strengthens relationships.  As you become more aware of yourself, your actions and words and how those are received, it allows you to make choices that will better serve your team.  In addition, with more awareness of one another, your team is also enabled to be more understanding of (and even appreciate!) each others’ perspectives and styles.  This could lead to breakthroughs in team-building, employee morale and motivation.

 

If you want to be the most effective leader, be sure that you have a keen awareness of your style and how it’s received by others.  Ask your employees – at all levels – about their opinions and feedback on the organization.  What do they love?  What would they change?  Find out from your clients why they work with you, how your serve them better than competitors and what more could you be doing for them?  The answers to these questions will help you and your organization create the best strategies for success!

 

As a leader, what’s one thing you can do this week to test if your self-assessment is accurate?  How can you ensure honest feedback?  Also consider, how can you provide feedback to someone else (the truth with love) to help them improve?  Please don’t let them sit there with broccoli in their teeth!!

 

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a leadership and talent management coaching firm in Cincinnati, OH.  Erin is passionate about helping leaders to maximize their effectiveness, to make the most positive impact on their people and to successfully grow their business.  She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Authentic Leadership Cincinnati, a non-profit organization formed to develop, encourage and support values-infused and people-focused leadership.  Erin can be reached at www.eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.