Milestone Blog

The Leadership Chronicles: “If They Don’t Get It, Maybe It’s You?”

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Apr 18, 2019 9:29:21 AM

 

We’ve heard it so many times – employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. Leaders have an enormous influence on employee engagement and morale, but they also have a critical responsibility to make certain team members understand their jobs and how to be successful in their roles. For many companies, training and onboarding is largely conducted by a professional training staff, so often managers feel they can take a back seat for encouraging and overseeing learning and skill development. In this edition of Leadership Chronicles, we offer a real-life example relating to this topic:

“One of my first jobs out of college was in retail management for a major chain clothing store in Princeton, New Jersey. Merchandising and operations were dictated to us at the store level in great detail, and it was our job as managers to hold the staff accountable for meeting the strict standards. The job and the hours were brutal, but what I learned in my two years there has continued to serve me better than almost any professional experience I've had since.

“Our district manager was a no-nonsense man named Lon who had grown up and lived most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. While Lon didn't have much in the way of soft skills, he DID understand retail. Ultimately, his no-nonsense approach taught me a valuable leadership lesson.   

“Most of the staff in our store were high school and college students whose concern for how denim was folded took a back seat to the rest of their lives. One day I groaned to Lon on his monthly visit to our store that I thought we were going to have to fire several people because they struggled to meet our standards. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Lon:     “Have you trained them?”

Me:      “Well, they all went through our orientation.” 

Lon:     “But nothing since then?”

Me:      “I guess not. We shouldn't have to show people more than once how to do                                something.” 

Long pause. 

Lon:     “If you don't think people are meeting the expectations, you first have to make                      sure they know what the expectations are. It's your job to develop them to meet                    the expectations. If you don't like the way the staff is performing, then as the                          manager, it's your fault.” 

“He then went on to explain why it's more costly to hire new people than to develop current staff. Of course, he was right

“This lesson has come back to me in every role I've ever had. As a leader it's my job to train, develop, and work alongside my staff so they can meet the expectations of their roles, and beyond that, so they can grow into other roles outside of the organization or company. If I'm frustrated with someone, then the first questions to ask myself are, ‘What is MY role in this person's performance? Where have I faltered in my leadership?’

-Angie Albright, Executive Director, Clinton House Museum

Research tells us that information gained from training on its own without direct application and reinforcement in reality is quickly lost. What team members learn in a classroom setting or through online training is a mere starting point. When leaders identify ways to take ownership in actively reinforcing training on the job, skills begin to really take hold.

At Milestone Leadership, we understand that managers possess great deal of influence over how team members feel about their ability to perform well. Leaders worth following take the time to develop a strategy for each employee that involves regular one-on-one conversations, coaching, opportunities to apply new skills, and a plan for future learning and development.  The message to direct reports is clear: they have a leader partner who is vested in their success–and they see firsthand that their skills, knowledge and capabilities both present and future are important to the organization.

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Topics: Professional Development, Storytelling, Productivity, Growth, Candor, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Honesty, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Values, Feedback, Coaching, Boss, Organization, Company Culture, Tips, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, Stories, High Performance, High Performing Teams, Criticism, Learning, Powerful Influencers, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, clarity, Leader Worth Following, Communication

Unvacationing: Don't Lead by Example

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Mar 14, 2019 11:55:46 AM

 

You started dreaming more than a year ago. You read a ton of blogs and began planning the perfect vacation. You saved up and then secured all the travel arrangements. You packed for every possible scenario.

You’ve arrived in your version of paradise, and the accommodations you booked are just what you’d hoped. You’ve scouted the perfect restaurants and excursions to enjoy. Everything is just what you anticipated—maybe even better—and you’re so ready to truly relax so it can all sink in….

EXCEPT YOU DON’T.

You check work email. You look at your phone again and again, making sure more texts aren’t coming in from your department. You promise yourself you’ll keep your responses short and only when necessary—but back at the office, because they saw you responded even when your out-of-office reply said you were unavailable, you’ve clearly indicated things are still “game on” for you. And the emails don’t let up. A few voice messages trickle in, usually starting something like, “Heyyyyy, I know you’re on vacation, BUT…” 

How do you feel when you read this? Does this sound too familiar, perhaps your own behavior or something you see regularly from your team members?

There is ever-growing scientific evidence indicating preoccupation with work and the inability to unplug is detrimental to productivity. Pushing ourselves constantly to do one more (and one more) task, to send just a few more emails, and to make a couple of last quick calls until we don’t remember where the time went…ultimately causes our brains to rebel against us. We find our usual creativity to be lacking, our quick thinking to have slowed and words start to escape us. We become irritable and listless, distracted and more easily frustrated.

According to a report by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off Coalition’s report “The Tethered Vacation,” only 27% of U.S. employees actually unplug from work during their vacations and 78% say they are more comfortable taking time off if they know they can access work. More than a fourth of employees say they check back in hourly or several times a day. Employees who maintain more frequent contact with the office during vacation generally fear work will pile up and no one else can handle their responsibilities—and the fear of taking time off only increases as they advance professionally. Fifty-one percent of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to the 36% who actually unplug on vacation. Those stress levels ramp up substantially more at work.

Organizations have the ability to create cultures that support unplugging, and the benefits are very real. The fact is that employees in supportive environments are significantly more engaged. 69% feel valued for their contributions, 64% feel their employer cares for them as a person inside and outside of the office, and 73% feel their jobs are important to the company’s mission. Engaged employees who are able to unplug on vacation are the same ones who are willing to put in the extra time later under tough deadlines or when a project necessitates.

As a leader, you may wonder how much you can truly influence the culture of your organization when it comes to unplugging.  Research cited in “The Tethered Vacation” indicates managers and their behaviors have an enormous influence over direct reports’ time—actually more than their own families. The fact is that managers who don’t disconnect when on vacation (86%) are frequently putting pressure on direct reports to do the same. In the end, the push for continuous productivity and constant connection ultimately results in an opposite effect: employees who feel their leader places pressure on them to stay connected to work are generally less likely to be truly engaged. In other words, they’re present…but they’re not really there. And not only are they not really there, 40% of employees in unsupportive cultures are planning or already looking for new jobs.

Leaders worth following set the tone within their organizations. When leaders actively model behaviors they expect to see in team members and establish rules of engagement that benefit everyone, the outcome is overwhelmingly positive. Through proactive planning and shared responsibility, it is possible to establish work environments that allow all employees the opportunity to take time needed to recharge and refresh—and in so doing actually increase productivity while building loyalty.

Time to dust off that passport and turn off those mobile phone notifications for a few days—be the change!

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Topics: Professional Development, Unplug, Technology, Growth, Balance, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Advice, Fun, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Organization, Company Culture, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Burnout, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Change, Top Down Leadership, Team Dysfunction, High Performance, Dsyfunction, Role Models, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Vacation

A Millennial’s Perspectives on Leadership

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Mar 7, 2019 11:30:49 AM

 

Leaders worth following know their greatest influence and capabilities evolve as a result of consciously internalizing and applying a lifetime of experiences, both personal and professional. Some lessons arrive in the form of epiphany moments, out-of-the-blue realizations that render certain things crystal clear. Other lessons come about more slowly—through formal education or by learning to identify patterns and actions over time that begin to inform how best to guide and support others.

We have the honor of observing people at various career stages learn and grow in an array of settings. A particularly special group, the Soderquist Fellowship program, brings us new talented students each year who work with Milestone Leadership as project coordinators while pursuing their Master’s degrees at John Brown University. These bright individuals learn an enormous amount through applied academics and constant exposure to executives who are leading corporations and nonprofits at the highest levels. And the truth is, our seasoned professionals learn just as much from working with these students—and are inspired and invigorated by their enthusiasm, passion and idealism.

One of our Soderquist Fellows, Meaghan Ranz, successfully completed the program and earned her MBA in Organizational Behavior. She then stayed with Milestone for an additional year to work as a fulltime special projects coordinator. Meaghan is moving on to follow her passion for social work and to support efforts to help abused and neglected children, but pursuing new avenues does not lessen her love for what she has gained through her time with Milestone Leadership. We asked Meaghan to share a bit about what she has learned from supporting, observing and interacting with an array of leaders over the last few years.

Why did you initially decide to apply to become a Soderquist Fellow?

In 2016, I had just graduated with my undergraduate degree in family and human services (social work) and a minor in management. During my senior thesis and throughout college I was struck by how stretched thin nonprofit leaders and their organizations are. Many of the leaders we interviewed did not have enough time, resources, or training to strategically think about their organization or leadership. Several did not know if their organization was successful because data and feedback was not a luxury they had. This began my passion to understand the foundation of what makes a business and leader successful. I so desired to spend time gaining the education, skills, and training that would empower me when it was time to head back into the world of social services. 

What did the experience teach you about yourself on a personal level?

I am a completely different person now than I was before I started the fellowship, in the best way possible. My experience in the fellowship was something like a pressure cooker. I was challenged, given incredible responsibility, and treated like a professional. At the same time, the ingredients to succeed were all there, and the support from my team and our partners was amazing. Even in the most challenging times, I knew people had my back. In the end, I am loving the person I became through the process! I trust quickly, pursue excellence, view my teammates like family, desire to improve, do not put as much pressure on myself to be perfect, and feel much more confident walking into a difficult and stretching next role. The fellowship program has formed me into someone who knows her limits and isn't afraid of healthy boundaries—but also someone who is ready to break down barriers (with help!) and seek the type of professional and personal life that is worth following.

What professional skills did you gain from your time as a Fellow and through Milestone Leadership?

This list goes on and on! I gained incredible professional experience including but not limited to: written and verbal communication, networking with a wide range of leaders across industry lines, confident humility, continuous feedback loop with supervisors and teammates, leading meetings, strategic direction and execution, time management, delegation, reflection. Truly, I could keep going! The fellowship provided me with a framework to view leadership and my role, professionally and personally, as so much more than simply showing up and completing tasks. It has been about asking the difficult questions and beginning my journey of becoming a leader worth following

What would you encourage other 20-somethings to do which you believe could make the greatest impact on their professional futures?

Be vulnerable. Don't be afraid to not know all the answers: In the last year, about 80% of my job consisted of things I have never done before. I found that it is so important to first ask the question "What do I want this to look like once the problem is solved?" Then I bit the bullet and walked into the offices of many superiors and peers, as prepared as possible, but still saying something like, "I'm not even sure if I'm asking the right question or language around this...but here is how I understand it to the best of my ability. But you are the expert and I'm ready to learn so that we can tackle this problem together!" I was amazed at how much I learned, how quickly I grew, and the trusting relationships I built along the way with incredible people! I do not have the answers...not even a little bit! But I am creative and resourceful and not afraid to ask for help. We are better together!

Get to know yourself: Some of the most important moments in the past few years have not been working in professional environments...don't get me wrong, those have been great! But the best has been the lunches, coffee dates, counseling sessions, and meetings with people who help me reflect and get to know myself. Why do I do what I do? What informs my choices? How do I react when under stress? What do I value? These are the reflections that make real change. These questions help me know who I want to become and remind me that I'm not alone!

What will you miss most?

The people, absolutely! Our team shows up in trials and celebration, and they are some of the most supportive people I've ever met. I will be forever grateful for the role they've played in my life and professional journey. I'll especially miss having to make a nerf basketball shot before I leave the office...because it usually took at least 15 minutes. Ha!

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Topics: Professional Development, Growth, Candor, Leadership, Honesty, Authenticity, Candidness, Advice, Empowerment, Reflection, Career Building, Values, Feedback, Success, Experience, Workplace, Milestone, Truth, Purpose, Mentorship, Role Models, Mentors, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Service

"Thank you, Uncle Bob." - A Nephew's Leadership Tribute

Posted by Milestone Leadership - Alex Cornett on Feb 28, 2019 8:42:02 AM

 

I bet you have someone like this in your family.  You know, that one person the whole family informally looks to and looks up to.  The one who appears to be the rock, the anchor in turbulence and maybe even the first in the conga line at family get-togethers.  That was my Uncle Bob.  He owned a cabinet shop and it seems at some point everyone in the family worked there.  I think Uncle Bob carried a heavy burden to make sure our whole family was cared for, even though he was never formally given that role.

It was exceptionally hard when I heard this past week that he had passed away.  I headed down for the memorial service and had the privilege to share many of my thoughts and recollections with those gathered to mourn and celebrate his life.  He was a leader worth following in the truest sense.

At Milestone Leadership, I have the opportunity to coach, train and mentor many great leaders from industries and organizations all over the country.  One conversation we frequently have is about legacy.  You see, for many, legacy means  to them what people will say about them when they have passed, or what they might have written on their tombstone.  It is a very normal but self-focused perspective when you think about it.  For these leaders, I try to reframe that perspective. 

In light of --and in honor of Uncle Bob--I would also like to maybe reframe the concept of "legacy" for you. 

Legacy is not living so people will "say" great things about you at your memorial.  Legacy is living and impacting lives in a way that extends well beyond the span of your own life.  Legacy is happening now and always.  It is in real time and occurs in every choice.  Legacy is not about what people will “say” about you, nor is it just your physical offspring; it is about how they feel or what they DO because of you.  Legacy, therefore, lives beyond your physical existence, whether good or bad.

With that reframing, I want to tell you about Uncle Bob's legacy. 

  • I am better at family because of Uncle Bob.
  • I am a more loyal person because of Uncle Bob.
  • I am a harder worker because of Uncle Bob.
  • I have a better perspective on what excellence looks like because of Uncle Bob.
  • I know how to better show unconditional love because of Uncle Bob.
  • I know what it looks like when someone takes what is already great within himself or herself and allows personal transformation meant even more for the sake of others.

 

See you soon Uncle!

 

Alex Cornett
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Topics: Professional Development, Growth, Candor, Leadership, Honesty, Authenticity, Candidness, Advice, Empowerment, Reflection, Career Building, Values, Feedback, Success, Experience, Workplace, Milestone, Truth, Purpose, Mentorship, Role Models, Mentors, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Service

Three Reasons Why Mentoring Someone Isn’t “All About Them”

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Feb 21, 2019 11:00:12 AM

 

If you were to find yourself feeling a bit reflective about your career and paused to consider what had the greatest impact on your successes along the way, it’s likely some key people would come to mind. The relationships you had with these individuals may have varied in formality, but you could likely describe very specific ways they affected your development professionally, personally or both. These people were your mentors, regardless of whether it was intentional and formalized or not; their influence helped bring you clarity, inspiration, confidence and knowledge.

As you envision these people, did you ever stop to consider that their acts of providing guidance actually helped them grow along with you? Here are three ways you can improve your own leadership capacity by actively giving the benefit of your experience to someone else:

  1. Serving as an effective mentor means you’re making a commitment to offer honest feedback and constructive criticism. Providing this in a way that actually builds a mentee’s capacity requires diplomacy and a solid understanding of what the mentee truly needs—which comes only through observation and active listening. Leaders aren’t necessarily born with this skill set, but making a conscious effort to really support another person’s growth by taking the time to learn about them and offer meaningful guidance can have the added benefit of honing the mentor’s own listening and communication skills. The self-awareness that results from understanding the impact of your words on another person is valuable in literally every relationship you have, personally and professionally.
  2. Necessary components of any mentor-mentee relationship are honesty and trust. These elements are also absolutely critical to high performing teams—and must be continuously cultivated and nurtured by leaders. Not everyone arrives at a point of open honesty and a place of trust in the same way or at the same time, but serving as a mentor can help leaders who struggle with this by allowing them to let down some of their barriers to expose their own vulnerabilities. Many of the best life and work lessons are learned through mistakes and missteps, and when you can share your own fallibilities with honesty and humility, you inspire the kind of trust that allows others to feel they can be authentic with you.
  3. Offering guidance to another person based upon your own experience requires self-reflection. Leaders frequently find themselves pressing ever-forward without pausing to think subjectively about their own personal and career paths—where they went right or how they could have done things better for themselves or for others. As a mentor, imparting what you’ve learned through your own experiences allows you the opportunity to revisit your own past, an important step to securing a better future. Sharing your path with another person can actually reveal things you might not have otherwise considered about yourself, and offer you the chance to improve or even altogether change your future course.

At Milestone Leadership, we believe leaders worth following understand the impact of sharing their own past experiences with transparency and intention. By revealing ourselves to others, we come to understand our own behaviors and contributions in ways that help us to be stronger future leaders.

 

Kelly Hale Syer
Associate
Milestone Leadership

 

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Topics: Talent, Professional Development, Growth, Candor, Transferable Skills, Leadership, Honesty, Authenticity, Candidness, Advice, Empowerment, Reflection, Career Building, Values, Feedback, Company Culture, Success, Experience, Workplace, Milestone, Truth, Story telling, High Performance, Purpose, Mentorship, High Performing Teams, Transparency, Role Models, Criticism, Mentors, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication, Affirmation, Service

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