The Ability to Monitor Yourself

Do you know what triggers you? What are those peculiar circumstances that “all of a sudden” you are not behaving according to your own set of standards? I am sorry, but even the best of us have people or circumstances that are “red hot buttons” that for some reason stimulate our negative emotions. As a leader, having good Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a game changer. “EI is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, an to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Daniel Goleman helped popularize the concept of EI in his 1995 bestselling book: Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ.”

Gain Commitment, Gain Everything

When providing leadership to a single person or a group of people, it is important to take the time to gain their commitment to the endeavor. You have to help them see the overwhelming vision that where you are leading them will ultimately be a better place. How? Here are a few of Hopkinson’s tips.

Active Influence: Essential for Leaders

Much has been written “tactically” on how to influence others. Yet little has been explained on how to actively influence outcomes. How can you become more proactive and even predictive in reaching your most preferred future? It’s not by relentlessly executing tactic, after tactic, after tactic. Go to Amazon and you’ll find hundreds of books that offer tactics to “make” you a better influencer, but you won’t find many that provide real fundamental baseline concepts to change your behaviors.

The 3 Key Habits of Top Leaders on High-Performing Teams

The crossroads experienced over the last 12 months undoubtedly tested each and every person’s mindset, decision-making and leadership skills. All parts of dairy operations were impacted, especially the most valued asset: the people.

In the middle of a mountain of uncertainty and challenge, the key habits of top leaders on high-performing teams really surfaced. What was once a simple decision was now one that required additional thought, like deciding whether or not to hold routine team meetings or group trainings to developing a backup crisis plan ensuring that all the work could be completed if and/or when coronavirus surfaced on the farm. It meant figuring out and determining how to adjust to office staff working remotely while schooling their kids from home. These top leaders managed the same, yet differently.

Read more here.

Please note- this blog post correlates with an article written by Kristy Pagel for Progressive Dairy and can be viewed in its entirety at the link above. 

Inspirational or Authoritarian Leadership?

I am sure everyone has had the experience of working or living with someone who is all about authority. They use their position to extract compliance or obedience from you.

How did that feel? If you would, indulge me for a few minutes in a simple little exercise. Try standing up and look into a full-length mirror as you reflect on that experience. As you look into the mirror, notice your posture, the position of your shoulders, any tension in your back or abdomen. What does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you notice; what you are feeling.

Now, think about someone who has inspired you; really feel how you are when you think about that person. Again, look into the mirror- notice your posture, the tension or lack of tension in your back or abdomen. Now what does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you noticed and what you felt.

I am confident there was a big difference between the two lists. I know when I have worked with an inspirational leader, there is no limit to how hard I would try to get the results we were working toward. With the authoritarian leader who just tells me what to do, I am resistant from the beginning.

So, what kind of leader are you? Would the people in your workplace describe you as inspirational? How would they describe you? This is an example of how valuable it is to get open and honest feedback from people in your organization. How can we improve if we are unaware of how we affect others and don’t have any awareness of our blind spots?

Everyone knows the saying “1+1=3” in regards to teamwork. If there is a challenge at hand, taking the time for the team to be involved in developing the plan and creating the solution is a way to be inspirational. You are demonstrating your trust and confidence in them. You are demonstrating the ability to listen to solutions that are not your idea.

Imagine if you just gave out assignments and declared “this is how we are going to do it.” Think back to the first exercise – how did you look in the mirror; how did you feel when you were imagining the authoritarian leader?

Creating a winning environment is everyone’s job, every day. Inspiring and empowering the people in your workplace to prioritize creating a winning environment maybe a lofty goal, but it will be a game changer for your organization.

Interpersonal Skills: Your Leadership Brand

Your interpersonal (relational) skills influence how people experience you as a leader. The reality is that others’ perception of you is your leadership brand. I like the concept of “brand” with leaders because it is a universal concept. We all know brands we like and dislike. The brands we like give us positive feelings and experiences. The brands we dislike have poor experiences associated with them.

In the world of online reviews, how many 5-star reviews would you get? Or would you cringe at the comments section? Can you consciously influence other’s perceptions or experience of you? Of course, your leadership brand is enhanced by how you consistently AND skillfully relate to others! If I asked your people to use words to describe you; would they use words like great listener, organized, consistent and dependable? 5 stars!

Interpersonal skills are “people” skills. They involve your ability to communicate and build relationships. If yours are sharp, you have an invaluable asset. If they’re not, your brand as a leader will suffer and you won’t influence others in the ways you want. There are several areas to develop, but here are my top three — get good at these and your brand will shine.

Active Listening

Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” You can’t benefit from someone else’s knowledge, experience or perspective if you don’t listen to what they say and how they say it. Listening with intention is a skill many leaders don’t have. If you can master it,  your brand of leadership will stand head and shoulders above others. Listening is leading.

Follow this simple process to improve your active listening exponentially.

  • Be in the moment with whomever is speaking.
    • Set down your phone and look at them. Let them know they are getting your attention.
    • Eliminate distractions by removing yourself from a busy environment if you need to.
    • ALWAYS make your people the main attraction when they communicate with you.
  • Be willing to go “off course” from what you anticipated.
    • Show you’re listening with your body language, nod or acknowledge ideas.
    • Don’t interrupt.
    • Take notes if the conversation warrants it so you can come back to key points.
  • Acknowledge their point of view/thoughts.
    • Don’t shoot the messenger when they tell you something, otherwise they will stop bringing anything to you.
    • Summarize and check for your understanding. Simple and powerful practice.

Organization

Next is organization. These skills are about structure and efficiency and are so fundamental that we often don’t give them the time and attention they deserve. Start with your desk or workspace (which could be your vehicle). Keep it clear and orderly. Know where stuff is and have a system for it. Our work environment in a sense organizes us – it can “coach” us to be organized or disorganized.

The next skill is even simpler. KEEP A CALENDAR. And keep it updated. Use whatever tool works for you.

And finally (hopefully you learned this one early on) – show up on time. Be predictably prompt. Start and end meetings on time. Manage time the way you manage money (or better) – it’s even more valuable.

Keep Your Commitments

The word “C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T” scares many people for various reasons. For your brand as a leader, ground zero is the ability to make and keep commitments repeatedly over time. Leaders make decisions, decisions require commitment and a leader’s commitments are gold. I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. Once you say you are committed, that means you will do whatever it takes to deliver. Aristotle really hit the nail on the head when he said — “we are what we repeatedly do — excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

Make a habit of keeping your commitments – those large and small. Do it repeatedly and see how much power and capacity you begin to create for yourself and those depending on your leadership. And watch your leadership brand grow stronger.

Leading with Empathy

Everyone communicates, yet few truly connect.

Ask anyone to talk about a memorable leader that they have worked with and it is unlikely they will speak about the step-by-step protocol that they developed or their ability to create the annual budget. I’m not suggesting that technical skills are not important, far from it. Although very necessary, they are not sufficient alone when it comes to truly great leadership.

It is your interpersonal skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills,’ and your ability to relate to others that will determine how successful of a leader you become. You can be the most knowledgeable leader in the world, but if you are unable to relate or interact well with those around you, especially those in your team, you are unlikely to be totally effective in your role.

So, what is it that great leaders do to build strong relationships with those around them? They commit to developing and mastering the ‘soft skills’ of leadership. There are several and this commitment is an ongoing journey of learning and practice. You’ve heard the saying “People won’t always remember what you say; they do, however, remember how you made them feel.” Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. A key leadership skill that advances your ability to ‘connect’ is empathy.

While empathy is a basic human quality, it often is lacking in our day-to-day lives and workplaces. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of and being sensitive to one’s feelings, emotions, or pain vicariously as if it was experienced by themselves.” In short, empathy means imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that a person is feeling.

For leaders that have encountered some “life experiences” being empathic may come naturally and imagining isn’t needed. Here’s an example:

Imagine a member of your team goes through a tragic situation; for instance, she loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for her and her family. We may send a text or write a card to express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we carry on and move forward with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time…time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel if we haven’t had this experience).

We think about how this affected our work and our relationships with others. Even further, we can or try to imagine specifically how this member of our team feels in this situation. We recognize that she (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in her own unique way.

Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.” The challenge is, as a leader, we are not always ready and for various reasons. If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members it will go a long way toward building that strong relationship and encourages an “all-in culture” for them to perform at their best. It likely will pay dividends inspiring the team to show empathy toward the leader, if and when it is needed.

So how can you, as a leader, practice being more empathetic?

  • The next time a member of your team comes to you with a problem or complaint; resist saying to yourself, “Not again. What now?” and having that negative attitude. Rather, try to think back to when you had a similar problem and if not you, someone you respect that has and ask yourself: “Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to help make the situation better?”
  • If it is a specific task or process that is causing problems to arise, try to work alongside the disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. This does require you as the leader to slow down and it takes time. Showing empathy in this way will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.

Simply put, empathy begins by giving others the benefit of the doubt. When you display this pause, presence, and compassion; in the eyes of others, it makes us more human, approachable and easier to work with.

Leadership requires learning a number of skills and interpersonal (or ‘soft skills’) transform good leaders into great leaders. Empathy is one key leadership skill that will allow you to truly connect with others and likely, you will find that your ability to identify, relate, and increase your influence advances.

How to Lead in Uncertain Times 

Uncertain times seem to be the new normal. How have you changed your leadership style?

Often when we feel uncertain and challenged, it is easy to default to “command and control.” Just start dishing out orders and assignments. How has that worked for you?

When I have tried “command and control,” it always backfired…sometimes sooner than later. Maybe it would be different if I was the captain of a sinking ship, but in my business the situation was never that dire.

In looking back, I now recognize that if my anxiety was high because of chaos, my people are even more anxious. The best results were when I stopped and took a breath. I hit the pause button; breathe in and out. I sat down with my people. I singled out the challenging people and the leaders; I met with them individually. I got them talking about all their concerns, worries and hopes. Then I met with the team as a group and got them talking. It was hard, but I really listened to them. We brainstormed as a group what we could control and what we couldn’t control. As a group, we created a path forward. We agreed to check in once a week to monitor progress and tweak the plan if needed. It took about 7 months, but we navigated our way out of a very tough situation.

I know it is tempting to think there is not time for all of this team involvement, all of the communication and brainstorming when you are inside the pressure cooker. But think again. This experience really changed my team. They shifted to more authentic communications with each other, increased trust and accountability. Instead of me having to create the solution, I tapped into the brain power of my whole team…. you can’t beat that. And, most important, the team had skin in the game! You can’t put a price tag on working with a very high functioning team.

This past year has reinforced how unpredictable the world can be and how interconnected everything is. It has highlighted for me that it is important to be “sharpening the saw” as often as I can because I can’t predict what it around the corner. What are you doing to keep your leadership skills sharp?

Focus

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

In normal times, those leaders who are able to maintain focus in spite of all the noise nearly always outperform those who don’t. Being able to put aside things that don’t matter, or things they can’t control is one of the keys to their success.

Never has that been more true than this year. More than ever before we are bombarded with things we can’t control. Some of them may not directly impact us, and some of them change our lives permanently. Regardless, some days it feels like we’re drowning in problems and challenges and change and noise, and there doesn’t seem to be a life boat anywhere around.

Focus is the life boat. Being able to maintain focus on things that really matter and that you can control is what allows you to keep swimming. Which sounds great, but it’s easier said than done.

Here’s one place to start. If you’re going to focus on what really matters, then you probably better have a clear understanding of what really matters. What’s really critical to your business? What’s really critical to your people? What’s really critical to your customers? Too many leaders don’t really know the answer to those questions, so they spend hours chasing things that are irrelevant.

Here’s another idea. If you can’t control it, then stop obsessing about it. Being consumed with things we have no control over isn’t new, but in 2020 we’ve managed to take it to an entirely new level. We see things on TV or on the internet that we have absolutely no ability to impact, and then we spend hours stressing about them.

Be disciplined. When you feel yourself going down that rabbit hole, stop, remind yourself you have no control over it, and pull back. And pay attention to the conversations you have. Obsessing about scary things we can’t control is contagious. As a leader, you cannot allow yourself to drag everyone around you into the abyss. They’re already struggling with the same things you are. You can’t be the anchor that pulls them down.

Keep a list of what matters at your desk where you can see it. Look at it every day. Make sure that your time, your energy, your engagement is focused on those things. Stay focused on what matters and what you can impact, and let the rest fall away.

Today is Someday

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” – William B. Sprague

I hear the phrase, “It’s just not the right time”, or some variation, a lot. I hear it a lot regardless of what’s going on in the world, but right now it’s maybe at an all-time high. We always want to wait to do things we know we need to do until stuff quiets down, or until we get through this particular challenge, or until we’re not quite so busy. Then it will be the perfect time.

There is no perfect time. Things won’t ever quiet down, after this challenge there will be another one, we’re always going to be busy. But we keep telling ourselves that someday the right time will arrive and then we’ll be able to make the changes we need to make, to have the conversations we need to have, to create the business we want to be.

So start now. It will be hard. You will be busy. You will have to make some difficult decisions about how you spend your time. You will have to recognize that there are things that are taking your attention and your energy that shouldn’t be, and that you need to remove those things (or people) from your universe.

You may fail at first. You may fail a lot. That doesn’t mean you weren’t right to attempt to do what you thought needed to be done. Regroup and go at it again. Don’t let initial – or in some cases, repeated – failure stop you. If you are convinced that what you’re doing is right, then keep hammering away. Don’t just look for the easy button, because it doesn’t exist.

Look around your business. There are things you should be doing. There are things your people should be doing. There are critical, strategically important things that need to be done, but nobody’s doing them because it’s not the “right time”.

It is the right time. Make sure that you & everyone around you are doing the things that matter today and will matter tomorrow. Don’t wait until some imaginary “someday” when everything will be rainbows and unicorns and everything we touch will turn to gold. Get to work.