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Business Management coaching Leadership Development New Managers Uncategorized

Three of the toughest challenges you’ll face as a leader that might surprise you

As William Shakespeare is famous for saying, ‘Some are born to greatness, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” If you are in a position of leadership in your organization, chances are it occurred due to a combination of the three. During my twenty years as HR Director, and subsequent years after that as a leadership and executive coach, I’ve had countless people tell me their goal was to advance to some kind of leadership or management position. When I hear this, my first question is always ‘why?’ People think it’s a trick question, but it’s really not. Answers typically range from wanting to make more of an impact, to wanting a greater scope of authority, to wanting more money, to wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m not here to make a value judgment on anyone’s motives, but some of the challenges of management are hard enough that I like to let people know that if their motivation is solely money, there’s probably an easier way. Here are the three toughest situations you’ll face in your leadership journey. We all go through them, and it’s these experiences that grow you and also leave you changed forever in both positive and negative ways.

Letting good people go

It’s never easy to fire people, but at least when it’s because someone has committed some egregious act it’s a little easier to call it quits. One of the worst experiences a manager can face is letting people go who did nothing wrong. In financial downturns, it’s not uncommon to have to let go of highly valued, contributing employees; some whom have been with you for years. Anyone who tells you that you can compartmentalize this and leave the personal out of it is either lying, a sociopath, or delusional. Even worse is when you are forced by higher ups to let go of good people for workplace political reasons. If you are in management long enough, this will happen to you.

I’ve found the best way to get through this is not to try to leave feelings out of it, but to lean into your emotions. Whenever possible, leave the person with as much dignity as possible. Remind them (because it’s true), that this is not the only job out there, and that other doors will open. Your employee may not appreciate it, but it may make a difference for them. Sometimes the story ends terribly. There is one situation that I’ll never forget, where a termination was the precipitating point for the employee of a severe mental and emotional breakdown that ended in violence and incarceration. These things can leave scars on your soul.

Having great employees

Weren’t expecting that one, were you? Having bad employees is no walk in the park, but it’s the truly great ones that will ultimately put you through your paces as a leader. One of the ways these people will stretch you is because to develop them, you will at some point need to stop giving them answers and encourage them to do things their own way. This is incredibly tough if you think you already know the answer, and if they make a mistake, or fail it will be very painful for everyone. Another way these folks will challenge you is that if you have gotten into the least little bit of a comfort zone (and let’s be honest, comfortable is not SO bad, is it?) your super stars will always be there pushing at the boundaries.

They’ll want to know, why, how, and what else for just about everything. You’ll want to tell them to just back off a little, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and they don’t need to change the world by Wednesday, but you won’t. Or you shouldn’t. As much as we want people to slow down and earn their promotions, we’re not serving them well by squelching their enthusiasm or stifling innovative ideas. It’s much harder to channel all that energy. It takes a great deal of investment to mentor and grow your people and fulfil the other demands on you, which is why having great employees is one of the hardest things about management.

Failing

I know what you’re thinking…duh…but stick with me here. If I were to ask any one of you if it’s okay for someone on your team to try something and fail, all but the jerkiest of you would say of course. But I’ll bet far less of you believe this is true of yourself. It’s one thing for a calculated risk not to work out your way, or for something to happen that’s beyond your control, like a failed economy, but what about real failure? Not acting with integrity, blowing up at a subordinate, cutting corners or making a mistake that has serious financial repercussions are all the kinds of failure that can break your spirit and make you feel like your career is over. Some failures are harder to  recover from than others, and it might not be possible to recover at your current company, but its these very things that can be a jumping off point for you. These failed life tests can be what turn us around, sharpen us, and give us a degree of compassion for others that we might never have had (and yes, I speak from experience). Really failing can turn you into a great leader, but only if you let it.

Of course there are other tough things about being a leader. Budgets, meetings, angry customers, and unrealistic deadlines are all par for the course. But if you really want to leverage your impact, change people’s lives, and leave a legacy, this can be a great way to do so.

If you’re a leader who wants to learn more about developing other leaders, click here.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, come hang out with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and please share the love.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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career coaching life lessons Uncategorized

Freedom, individuality, and your career

Seeing as how it was just Canada Day, and tomorrow is Independence Day for the United States, freedom seems like a good topic. I’m thoroughly fed up with politics, though, so I’m staying away from political freedom, and am going to talk about it from another perspective; leadership and your career.

We live in a culture where freedom is sacrosanct, and we all pretty much believe we should have the freedom to make our own choices. This means that we have the ability to choose what we will do and what we want in our life. Of course, this in no way absolves us of the consequences of our choices, whether it be legally, career-wise, or emotionally (as much as that would be nice).

This is nowhere more true than when it comes to our career; one of the most significant areas in most people’s lives. Most of us, on some level, have desires, talents, and ambitions, and are free to pursue a career that is in alignment with those. What I’ve seen more often than not, as a coach, is a whole bunch of seriously unhappy people who feel stuck and like they have no choice. They are in jobs they hate, or working for people they hate (or at least seriously dislike), doing things that suck their soul and make them miserable. Until the pain of this becomes unbearable, these folks always say the same thing about why they’re there: they have no choice.

I remember telling this to a boss of mine one time. I’d just found out I was pregnant with my first child, and he was wondering if I’d come back to work after the baby. My response was that I had to, that there was no other choice, to which he replied “there’s always a choice”. At the time, this kind of annoyed me. Easy for him to say, I thought. Because my husband and I had agreed that he would launch a startup business, we completely depended on my job for our family income and medical benefits. How on earth did I have a choice?

When you’re in a leadership role, this feeling of being choice-less can be even more compounded. You feel the burden of other people’s livelihoods, as well as the responsibility for the outcomes of everyone’s efforts. Concern about the potential impact of any given action can be paralyzing.

I’ve come to see that being in fear and uncertainty about the future makes us feel like we have no choice. It’s very easy to make assumptions about the value we bring, the economic climate, and the marketplace, and come to the conclusion that we can’t do any better than we’re currently doing, only worse. We eventually embrace the idea (and bad bosses will reinforce this) that we’re actually lucky to have what we do, and we’d better not rock the boat.

As a coach, I am completely sold out to the idea that if we’re operating in our area of proficiency, passion, and purpose (to paraphrase Michael Hyatt) that we will be fulfilled and eventually successful once we find the correct platform or point of entry. The problem is that if you don’t believe this, you won’t try, and you’ll experience the crushing weight of being stuck.

Anyone can exercise their freedom to choose when it comes to their career at the end of the day, by simply choosing to not be there. Most of us would prefer to improve our circumstances rather than just escape them, so that takes a little more strategy. The first step is recognizing the assumptions and beliefs you’re currently harboring about your situation, and challenging their veracity. For example:

  • What are you truly passionate about?
  • What are you good at?
  • Is it possible to conduct research into opportunities to contribute your passion and proficiency?
  • Do you really have the ‘freedom’ you think you do in your current role?
  • Is it really true you’d never make this much money somewhere else? Does it matter?

Depending on the answer to these questions (and a few other ones), it may make sense to begin a career transition. On the other hand, sometimes you have a passion that doesn’t necessarily translate well into a career transition, and that’s okay. A lot of times that stuck feeling is not so much about your particular job, but the amount of mental and physical resources you’re devoting to it. Sometimes a recalibration of your investment can create the freedom you need to refresh and recharge.

And yes, I’m sensitive to the fact that there are some people with far less options, opportunities and advantages than others so I’m not cavalierly suggesting for anyone that the way out of a tough situation is simply to choose differently and things will magically get better. Change can require enormous sacrifice, perseverance, and effort, and sometimes other priorities or circumstance can make it unfeasible to accomplish what it could take.

Focus has always been a problem for me. I’ve often joked that it’s so unfair to only get one life, when there’s SO MUCH I want to do. Unfortunately, we do only get one shot. What a tragedy at the end of it to have spent the majority of your career feeling stuck. From my own experience I can tell you that taking even the most incremental steps to move towards your passion can breathe new life into your experience of your career.

I’d love to hear your stories about how you’ve moved from a place of stuck to a place of fulfillment!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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Uncategorized

Is your Human Resources department a help or a headache?

Quite some time ago, I got so tired of hearing HR referred to as a ‘necessary evil’ that I refused to identify myself or my department as HR.  I banned the term and rebranded us as OD (Organizational Development).   I believe passionately that the team responsible for Talent Development is a strategic partner at the highest level of the organization with one of the toughest jobs.  Besides being knowledgeable on all current/applicable state and federal laws, one must also be a skilled communicator in order to convey to management and shareholders the benefits and risks of compliance and non-compliance.  This necessarily requires training and persuasion and the ability to communicate beyond just a perfunctory “because I told you so”.  

So many people get into HR because they ‘like people’ and are then disillusioned because of the preponderance of paperwork and the requirement to deal with unpleasant situations (like dress code, or hygiene…ugh).  Sadly, many HR professionals are taught case law and statutes but are not operationally educated enough to make good business cases for their ideas.  They know that employee culture is critical but can’t ‘sell’ it to the owners or stakeholders effectively.  This is absolutely changing and SPHR or SHRM-SCP designees must demonstrate proficiency in business strategy to obtain their certification.  But as both HR professionals and those who interface with them can tell you from experience, the emergencies and demands of the normal workday have a tendency to derail best laid plans and the HR team can become embittered enforcers; finding their value in creating a bureaucracy.  

What’s the cure?  Having created highly successful support teams for years, I’m convinced that there are things an HR leader must insist on in order for their team to be accepted as a strategic partner and to achieve credibility throughout the company. 
•    Create a customer service department.  Even if this must be repeated weekly, drill into every member of the team that they are there to support the company, not vice versa.  
•    Train the team on operational concepts. This helps with the previous point.  It also engenders respect for the team’s internal customers.  I’ve found there can be an unconscious arrogance from people who have been educated in management and leadership concepts when they encounter those managers who may be rough around the edges.  Education in the core business can eliminate that and help find common ground.
•    Train the team on finance.  It’s vital for the HR team to understand the fiscal aspect of the organization for many reasons.  When communicating policy or changes, it helps the team’s perspective to know the context of organizational performance.  It also helps the team help you (as a leader) prepare cost benefit analysis for the ideas they wish to implement.  It’s easy for an HR person to recommend a learning management system to track training, but you’ll get a much more thought out proposal when they have to justify the cost and/or prioritize this spend with other team suggestions.
•    Get involved with talent management beyond ‘morale’.  Yes, HR is often the corporate event coordinators, but to be a true strategic partner and to bring great value to the organization, it is important to become and expert on the organizational short and long term goals and what the human resource requirements are to achieve them.  This includes head count, training needs, succession plans and leadership development.

•    Understand the business.  Every position I have ever taken has been in an industry that was new to me, because HR is transferrable.  That does not mean you don’t need to learn it. Knowing how the industry functions makes you more effective at recruiting, leading the culture and will build credibility with your cross functional peers.
•    Build a department mission and vision, reinforcing the above

There’s more, but these are the essentials as I see them, and what have helped make me successful.  If you are not experiencing these things from your HR department, consider implementing some.  If you don’t know how…get ready for it…consider an outside source, coach or consultant to assist you.  (I know a great resource, as a matter of fact).