This morning I searched around for my blue wig to wear to work – after all Halloween is today!  Couldn’t find it which is just as well.  The costume “dress up” factor has kind of worn off with Lady Gaga and others turning blue hair into an everyday fashion statement.

So I decided to just come dressed as me. 

A couple years ago after a 17 hour flight I was passing through airport customs in a transfer on my way home.  As I laid my passport on the counter, the officer (who looked to be about 12 years old and could barely see under the brim of his very large hat) picked it up and scrutinized it, looking from the passport to me, and back again, and again.  He bobbed his head up and down from the passport in his hand to stare at me.  After a few minutes of this, I became a bit uncomfortable and aware of the very long line behind me.  I kind of laughed and said, “yeah, different color hair”.

Well, that did it! He shouted at me “are you trying to deceive Homeland Security?”  I did that scrintchy thing we do with our faces as we try to figure something out and said, “What are you talking about?”  He then yelled louder than ever “I ASKED YOU IF YOU ARE TRYING TO DECEIVE US BY COLORING YOUR HAIR!”

By this time, we have an audience.  Now, it is nearly a foregone conclusion that  both passport photos and drivers license photos  be as uncomplimentary to the owner as possible.  And mine was no exception.  It’s not what I would put on Facebook for sure. Perhaps he just could not see the real me in the photo.

Anyway, it seemed my hair change from dark to blonde was an issue of national security, and I was getting a bit embarrassed and angry to be called out on it and I said “since when is being blonde a crime especially as I am standing here in the heart of Texas where I’m sure the hairdressers order peroxide by the barrel!”

He looked at me once more, slapped down the passport and told me to go.

I think of this story not as an exercise in custom officer customer service improvement, or airport challenges, but about how we show up as leaders every day. 

We may have the corporate identity we wear as a badge, but we have a choice every day how we show up what costume we wear as leaders. What we portray to others.  And sometimes we just need to help others understand that there is much more to us than the bad passport photo.

You’re doing it wrong if the first time succession planning is mentioned is in response to an employee disagreeing with you.  This is not succession planning, this is threatening and bullying.

You’re doing it wrong if you take challenging, meaningful work away from one employee and directly give it to another including the acknowledgement and profile of that work, and replace it with the work everyone else wants to dump. This is not succession planning.  There is another used-behind-closed-doors-term for this process.

You’re doing it wrong if you allow mentoring to become a disposable process in the name of succession plannng.  If you allow mentoring to become a process whereby once the mentee is trained, you allow and encourage them to discount the mentor and step over them to get the work. This is not succession planning, this is using your people in an atmosphere of unhealthy competition.

You’re doing it wrong if you ignore the emotional dynamics of succession.  While you may have your “A” team planned out in your mind, use your power wisely or the entire team can become disillusioned and disengaged.

While you assess and design your team with business strategy, if succession planning is not done with a trust and respect factor based on merit, the value of your shuffle dance with your dream team may be lost – in the shuffle.

Business strategies change as do key performance indicators and talent needed to move forward. A solid succession plan is necessary to ensure continuity and long term stability.  

So how to do it right?
  1. Have a solid transparent plan and communicate it
  2. Succession planning is a transition process – engage those leaving and  their successors in building and contributing to the plan
  3. Keep the succession plan aligned with business strategy – be accountable
  4. Make a serious commitment to manage the political, emotional and personal dynamics of succession planning
  5. Devote time and resources for development of those who are leaving and the team members you are building up to succeed
  6. Be respectful of the process…..and the people.   It's an important and a potentially rewarding process for all involved if done right.  

I am in the process of on boarding new people –a new team and I step through the process building this team for success;

·         Orientation and training

·         Clear goals and objectives

·         Support with infrastructure and equipment

·         Mentoring buddies to facilitate team formation

All those things in the leadership repertoire of training and building the new hire skills and abilities.

 And here’s the really cool thing about it all. While I teach them about the organization, the vision, the core values and provide the picture of our business, I remember why I like it.  I remember that new hire excitement and commitment to learning, and it’s contagious.  The infusion of energy - an invigorating bonus not to be wasted.    

Forced Ranking - the process by which performance is evaluated against performance rather than measuring against pre-determining standards. 

Forced ranking can be a process with brutally blunt results and outcomes yet it also can produce a more productive workforce with top producers and performers being recognized.

It also can produce a rock star environment with the subjective edge applied to the ranking criteria. So after every ranking process we do a shuffle with the band, put the rock star front and center with the microphone, the “also rans” on the guitars or drums and  we give the rest of the group tambourines, put them in the chorus and tell them to support the lead performers while they work on learning  the whole song.

The balance comes in encouraging and rewarding with ranking and not allowing it to become a perverse incentive through competition and sabotage. This is a competitive process and if it is a clear, transparent and moral process it will grow talent for the organization. 

5 things we need to remember about forced ranking;

1.       Being filled with passion is not enough to be the rock star. It takes hard work, dedication and much practice learning to sing the high notes consistently.  Charisma is a portion of the rock star profile for sure, but so is hard work and commitment.

2.       Coming in the rankings as the "also rans" is a vital part of the process and the organization.  We look to this group for the drive they bring, the vision, and the hard work with predictable and much needed results.  This group should be encouraged to build on skills and be provided opportunities to grow.

3.       And the rest of the field, the chorus – well the process here is to look at the quality of this group and decide whether they can in fact perform to the standards of the organization and just  what it will take to empower them to be able to do so.  

4.       Rankings are somewhat subjective and while improving the organization’s group of top performers, it can be produce adverse consequences with engagement and morale.

5.       Rankings provide a level of accountability in managing performance objectives and allow for open discussion of potential.

So to talk about acceptance of rankings -  Well, here the secret is to realize that even though we put on our capes and attempt to fly, only a few in fact can get off the ground the first time.  It takes some practice finding the right fit, learning how to tie it on properly and catching those corporate winds that support our flight.  Keep trying - Get cape. Wear cape. Fly. 

The candy bowl has been on the corner of my desk for the past 4 years. Since moving into a cubicle style work area in a beautiful new building with some couple hundred employees, it’s taken on a new prominence.  And, I’ve observed;

      My engagement in providing the candy bowl; a feeling of fellowship with workers from other departments I previously had limited interaction with.  A lighthearted invitation to stop by, have a treat and chat. I like it.

       Characteristics of those being engaged;

a.       Outgoing  - the ones who rustle through the bowl looking for the chocolate and remind me when it is empty

b.      Apologetic – the ones who come by and apologize for wanting a candy treat, select one and leave 

c.       Timid – the ones who want to be engaged and quietly do so.  They pick up a candy and make sure not to crinkle the wrapper as they walk away in glided slow steps;

d.      Appreciative - the ones who take delight in the whole candy bowl experience and share it with others. Always a thank you.

e.      Obliged – the ones who want to see what it’s all about so they can be in the know, they surf by to check it out, but decline to participate.

f.        Ninjas -  the ones I never see – you know who you are

My candy bowl is a microcosm of engagement that can be extrapolated into descriptions of team engagement that we as leaders need to be aware of.  And the glue that holds this group together is the common goal, purpose, love of treats in this case.

Engagement need not be complicated and it can be accomplished in small steps in many ways.  It  is ongoing and needs to be replenished, and it is the leader’s role to work for and with an engaged team. It's so fun - have a chocolate! 

You wouldn't believe what I did last week, a friend tells me  upon his return from meetings in another city. 

Try me, I say. Well.... he says, I pulled up in the loading zone at the airport, hopped out of the car and dashed inside to drop off my luggage right inside the door as I always do.

But this time, they were doing renos at the airport and I had to take my luggage all the way down the length of the airport and drop it on the temporary belt instead of the regular luggage drop. On my way back, he says, I zip right into security and was through in time to sit and answer emails just before we boarded.   

Imagine my surprise, he tells me, when we landed and I turned my blackberry on and had SEVERAL phone calls from the airport at home. Yes, my car was still sitting there parked in the loading zone with the door unlocked waiting for me to dash back out and park it before my flight. Seems I slipped up with the task at hand.  In a big way. The car was towed, the Airport Security Officer looked after it for me and the story ended well. 

Daniel Goleman wrote in an article "The Focused Leader" Harvard Business Review December 2013, 
A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention. When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. But a wealth of recent research in neuroscience shows that we focus in many ways, for different purposes, drawing on different neural pathways—some of which work in concert, while others tend to stand in opposition.

Grouping these modes of attention into three broad buckets—focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the wider world—sheds new light on the practice of many essential leadership skills. Focusing inward and focusing constructively on others helps leaders cultivate the primary elements of emotional intelligence. A fuller understanding of how they focus on the wider world can improve their ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage organizations.

Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.

Back to my friend.  He said it freaked him out how something as trivial as the change of luggage drop challenged his entire routine and threw him off course. He said it was an eye opener that he needs to be very aware of his focus and not lose track of the task at hand in leading his group. 

Throwing everything off course with your focus entirely on the new luggage drop is just too easy to do and the ramifications to your team can be serious.  And no, he is not expensing the towing bill on this one - lesson learned.  

For more on focus and the Emotionally Intelligent Leader, check out Daniel's article. It's great. 

Every few years my leadership group takes part in a communication retreat.  At the retreat, we  kind of start over from square one and talk about communication, the art and the science of it.  And then we practice, and practice more.

We practice the connectivity that is critical to the messages we send and receive.  Connectivity that forms the personality, the tone, the impact and the relationship between us as leaders and those whom we lead.

My training in Statement Analysis gives me the background to, as my Professor would say “ put it in a box and color it blue”  in order to see the why – the because – the so, of what someone is writing.  From there, to open the dialogue and delve into the meaning of the writer’s words.

As our networks expand and we work in an ever changing technological and virtual environment more and more, we still find ourselves failing in communication  because we are human.  We interpret, and misinterpret even with good intentions of flavoring our words with personality and humor, emoticons.  Then messages fly back and forth based on assumptions – what we assume the writer meant.  

As leaders, our communication to our teams needs to be based on trust and respect and be crafted with clarity and purpose.  Ambiguity is the virtue of uncertainty and uncertainty from leadership breeds everything from frustration to lack of productivity and engagement.  

I try very hard to be aware of the words put in a box and colored blue and communicate so it’s clear what those words mean to me and my team.  

 But what if it is? What if there comes to be a shattering of glass, a failure, a tear in the fabric of your team? The reality is that this happens despite all best intentions, cohesiveness and respect.  After all, we are human. 

1.       What kind of glue do you need to put it back together?  This is the time to assess whether the break came about because of miscommunication, misinterpretation, maliciousness, accident.

2.       Was there a flaw to begin with? A weak weld, shoddy planning and workmanship in your leadership model?

3.       Do you need to rebuild/repair with new and stronger materials – more training, new mentoring relationship, change of scene – location, team?

4.       Is it worth fixing? Is it obsolete? Do you need to regroup, gather your resilient inner self and move on?

Take a look at what broke, what went wrong and ask yourself the hard questions about the situation you find yourself in. Self awareness is a wonderful and sometimes painful thing we as leaders feel the highs and lows of continuing to build our skills.  

Share what is going on with your team and seek input for repairs, get some expert help – this is not necessarily a do it-yourself project to make the repairs. Make a plan. Then go to work on it knowing that it will never be as it was, repairs don’t work that way.  But it can be built much stronger with the right glue. 

Happy New Year with a desk calendar of origami projects to make out of the colored calendar pages.  This is exciting as I begin in January with simple yet progressively more difficult projects.  I line up on my growing collection of birds, and somewhat crumply looking animals in my office and share my exploits with colleagues.  “Here’s a swan for you!”

As springtime comes around, I am sharing my frustration and challenges with colleagues who sometimes refold my creatures into the desired shapes.  My determination to stay with the origami -a -day project tests my resolve and skills.

As part of a team building a new business, I start out with the small triumphs lined up like trophies of metrics and service levels.  Soon I am challenged with equipment failures, staffing and recruitment and personnel changes.  Leadership changes in direction cascading to changes in everything from expectations to process and procedure.  So, how to handle this?

Back to my origami – in order to succeed I needed to reach out to others for help in interpreting and completing the projects to build on my foundation of short calendar directions, which I did.  In my business team, I needed to reach out to colleagues to have a strong foundation of problem solving, which I did.

Origami, or service levels – it is imperative that as leaders we know when to collaborate in order to move forward with the knowledge and skills to not only problem solve, but to succeed in reaching goals.

Here’s a swan for you........ 

Self awareness - well it reminds me of a short one hour commuter flight I was on recently.  Seated in the row behind and across from me was a large man in grey slacks, purple dress shirt, dress shoes and a black ball cap with white sunglasses riding the brim in an affectation of coolness. 

 He was a loud talker, the kind who needs to talk to everyone around him as I heard him tell anyone who would listen that he was on his way to an important, oh so important, meeting with the organizing committee of a large event.  He proceeded to engage fellow passengers in conversation or I should say talking at them about his importance.

As we reached cruising altitude, he became argumentative with the flight attendant demanding to sit elsewhere, to sit with a woman he obviously knew closer to the front of the plane, and a few other issues that I put my earphones in to avoid hearing. 

 I became aware that he was getting more and more agitated and demanding more attention as he undid his seatbelt and stood up.  He then barged, not walked, but kind of plowed his way up the narrow aisle between the seats towards the front of the plane (which I admit alarmed me some) and slammed his way into the bathroom.  Returning to his seat moments later continuing to squawk and complain with a lot of issues that the flight attendants handled calmly and professionally.  I never did know what his complaints were about, but all of us on the plane knew he certainly had them.

So what did he accomplish? Everything from anger to fear to disgust from fellow passengers and professionally contained contempt from those who through their work were called on to respond to his diatribes of importance.  “I’m late; I’m late to a very important date!”

Stepping in to a new team, we come with the appropriate costume - the look, as in the dress clothes that provide first impression, the uniform of the day.  We come with our ideas, our experience, our mandate and our sense of duty.

 With a new venture comes excitement and apprehension that with self awareness and solid self orientation morphs into confidence in our abilities and skills.  Bring this into the new venture, the new team, the new meeting and leave the insecurities and overblown self importance with the buffoon on the plane.  Yeah, don’t be that guy.