Monday, March 24, 2014

Building Our Leadership Team Part 4… How to Identify Leadership Qualities, and Choose Your New Apprentice

So… I was starting this post when I got sidetracked by our talk about difficult conversations, setting intentions, and why fire fast… sorry.  I’m usually working on several posts at once, and as you know I keep getting myself off on a tangent.

Let’s get back to it.  We were talking about not throwing our new supervisor to the wolves, working with them, and teaching them how to have the kinds of conversations they were going to have in order to run their shift.  Actually teaching them… having some of those conversations together, allowing the new supervisor to watch, listen, and learn from you as you have a conversation with team members about behaviors that need to change.  Then we allow them to conduct the conversation while we play moderator… we want to allow them to be able to make mistakes, and we don’t allow things to get out of hand.  You will have to make the call about how and when to step in, and remember… you must allow them to make mistakes.  It’s the only way they will really learn.  They have to see the reaction in the face of the person they are talking to.  They have to try to fix it themselves… Only jump in when you must, and even then try to guide them back on track, rather than simply taking over for them.  They will learn a whole lot more if you help them fix it, rather than fixing it yourself.

Now… let’s talk about how we chose that person to be our new supervisor in the first place.  How have you chosen the people you promoted, or gave supervisory responsibility in the past?  See… this is where you write your answer in the comments box, and we can get a discussion going.   Anyway… we’re really just doing more hiring, aren’t we?

Whether you hired them or not, I’ll bet you can see the qualities in some of your team members that would make them good supervisors, even good leaders.  I can usually see those qualities before I can even name them precisely, and I bet you can too.  These are the people on your team who take extra pride in their work, and they do the jobs that others leave undone.  They come to you with suggestions about how to save money, time, and make the workplace safer and more efficient.  They are not perfect, and they don’t make excuses… they do the best they can pretty much all of the time.  The will volunteer to do the jobs that not pleasant, or that are outside of the normal scope of their job.  They are the people we want to clone.  OK… stop right there.

Here is where we have to be very careful.  Just because someone is very good, even great at their current job, even at most any job you can imagine, does not mean they will make a good leader.  They may… and it is not necessarily so.  We have to separate the skill at tasks from the qualities of a Leader.  Remember, we talked about some of them in Building our Leadership Skills part 3… difficult conversations.  Now it’s time to look into them much more closely.

Just as we want to hire people whose default level of customer service is at least as high as our standards, we also want the people we hire or promote into supervisory or Leadership positions to innately have the qualities of a Leader.  Like the rest of us, they will have some qualities that are very well developed, and others that might need some work.  We can help them with this process, however we can only help with some of the qualities.  We can help someone develop better listening skills, communication skills, competence, focus, problem solving, relationship building, and perhaps a couple of others to some extent.  We probably wouldn’t be looking at someone who we thought lacked commitment, courage, initiative, a positive attitude, responsibility, humility, or self-discipline, and we can talk about some of these as long as we’re here.

We cannot instill character.  If there is any indication that this person lacks personal integrity we cannot move them into a leadership position.  Not only will we be hurting the team members who answer to them, and our own integrity and reputation, but also we cannot in good faith put someone into a position when we believe they lack the skills to be successful.

We have to be careful with commitment too.  There is a difference between a general lack of commitment, and a perceived lack of commitment to a specific job or task.  When I took over the grocery department at a Whole Foods Market my predecessor moved into a regional position and was responsible for our merchandising.  He was a grocery guy and loved merchandising, so it was not surprising that he felt I lacked a commitment to merchandising.  We had to work with each other for a while before I could verbalize, and he could understand, that I was much more committed to building my team than I was to merchandising.  We agreed on standards we could both be happy with, and he taught me a lot about running a grocery department and merchandising.  He stated later that I taught him more about Leadership than he could possibly have taught me about merchandising.  I felt good about how we worked together to find a win win.

We would not choose someone we thought lacked humility, and I have to advise you to look carefully at your candidate when it comes to this quality.  There are far too many arrogant people in Leadership positions, and I bet they showed some humility in earlier roles.  You will be able to tell by looking carefully at the relationships the candidate has with his or her peers.  If the candidate is the natural Leader in the group, and has the respect of pretty much every team member they work with, you can probably rest easy.  If, however, you have more than one or two team members who do not respect your candidate you need to dig as deep as needed to find out why.  There are plenty of people out there who are skilled at many tasks, and know how to look good in the eyes of the boss.  Those people will rarely have the respect of the rest of the team as a whole, as they will act differently when the boss, or the boss’s boss is around.  Team members will absolutely recognize that and will not like it.  They may not tell you outright, and they will not show admiration for the candidate.  Again, I have come to believe that humility, or the ability to hear feedback and then take some action to change our behavior because of that feedback, is the most reliable predictor of success, especially in a Leadership role.

The question to ask your team members is:  Would you be happy to have this candidate as your next supervisor?  Ask this in private, and individually.  If you have a high level of trust from the team, you will get your answer.  Anything other than a resounding yes from most of the team is a clear sign that you should not promote this person.  They have more work to do.

Servanthood and generosity are qualities that you may not see a lot of in the role where the team member currently works.  We can and should however look to see if the candidate does for others, like peers, just because they want to, or do they do for others to get recognition?  Does the candidate sing their own song or toot their own horn (so to speak), or do you hear about their good deeds in a roundabout way from others?  Generosity might be hard to judge in someone in an hourly worker role, and it is something you should put on your radar to watch for in every team member.  We are hiring the best people, so we don’t know when one of them will come into their own and start growing into our next Leader.  It’s important that we keep connected to our team members and stay on top of how they are growing, and changing, in addition to how their needs and goals might change.

So these are the standards by which we will judge any team member’s readiness for a supervisory or Leadership role.

There is a key here…  We do not wait until we need a supervisor or entry-level leader to start developing these qualities in our team members.  Developing the Leadership skills of each person on our team must be a part of their normal training.  We indoctrinate our new hires as we welcome them onto the team, and we don’t stop there.  We continue to talk with them as we train them to do the tasks of the job the way WE want them done.  We talk with them on a regular basis to encourage them and get them to ask any questions they have.  We talk with them about their mistakes, we help them find solutions, and we encourage them to keep working outside of their comfort zone.  We make sure they know that we want them to make mistakes, and we want to hear about those mistakes from them.  We watch how they are doing, and ask our apprentices, including our best team members, how our new hire is doing.  We want to know that they are efficient at the tasks of the job, and in addition we need to know that they do indeed have the qualities for which we hired them.

Just how do we develop these qualities along before we need them?  Find out in our next exciting installment.

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Oh... and a quick link to an article on the same wavelength...

Becoming a Leader at Work

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