Once again, there’s a war for talent and leaders are desperate for a high-potential employee assessment to ferret out their best workers. The last time I heard this much scuttlebutt about a shortage of people with leadership skills was before the Great Recession. But here we are, ten years later, and succession planning is back to being a hot topic.
As a performance coach, much of my work centers on “soft” leadership skills – influencing without authority, executive presence, giving meaningful feedback, etc. All of those skills are critically important for successful leadership, but none of them does much to help the leader struggling with a business fundamental like financial acumen.
Etiquette matters in the business world. In spite of the frequent media portrayals of business executives as aggressive boors, in the real world most successful senior leaders are meticulously polite and even formal. For example, I have received numerous hand-written notes from business leaders, even though this practice is fairly rare in my non-business social circle. My business colleagues typically shake hands at the beginning and end of a meeting and are careful to introduce people who don’t know each other.
For those seeking to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, “microaggressions” has become a point of focus. The word refers to the multitude of little ways in which we ignore, diminish, or insult people who are different from ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s an uncomfortable word, because it challenges us to take a hard look at how we treat others, acknowledge that we are not as accepting and open-minded as we would like to believe, and do the work to change our problematic behaviors.
Navigating workplace conflict is tricky even when you’re not conflict-averse. In my case, I come from a family where open conflict was almost unknown — we muttered politely behind each other’s backs. When I entered the wider world, I discovered most people were not so constricted in their expressions of frustration and anger. It took me a while to learn conflict resolution techniques that landed me somewhere between domineering rage and silent submission.
As I was working my way through my Ph.D. program, I didn’t know that the skills I learned from waitressing would prove their own education. For several years I waited tables at La Trattoria in Bloomington, Indiana, a fairly high-end restaurant where most of the employees were university students. It was a great job at the time. It paid better than most office or retail jobs, it had flexible hours, and I was on my feet so much that I didn’t have to watch my weight. Nonetheless, I wasn’t sad when I graduated and moved on to professional work.
You may have heard the Texas slang, “big hat, no cattle” — referring to a person who makes him or herself look important, without the substance to back it up.
Stable scheduling is the first step to work-life balance. Imagine life without it. You wouldn’t know what your work schedule will be next week — or even tomorrow. You couldn’t plan doctor’s appointments, childcare, or social activities because you never know when you’ll be called in to work.
Even in the U.S. — where we’re notoriously reluctant to take time off — many of us take at least a little time around the summer and winter holidays. I always look forward to my time off. It’s going back to work after a vacation that leaves me with regret. That’s when I get clobbered by the backlog. It usually takes less than 24 hours before I feel as if I’ve never been away.
We may argue about the differences between men and women at work, but there is one truth no one can deny. There continues to be a gender gap at almost every company — both a gap in promotion to senior leadership roles and a gap in salaries for comparable roles.
We’ve all met business leaders who always want to be seen as “the smartest person in the room.” Sometimes they really are highly intelligent. Other times they are empty suits. But it’s always wildly irritating to watch them swagger about. They are terrible listeners, they don’t contribute well to team goals, and often their communication is dripping with condescension.
Martin Radvan, Global President of Mars Wrigley, said some shocking things at the Executives’ Club of Chicago recently, starting with the five principles of Mars. He started normally enough by listing the Mars Five Principles: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom.
What a disappointment! For the last three years I have been following the adventures of Wendy Rhoades, performance coach extraordinaire, on Showtime’s Billions. I was fascinated by this portrayal of my profession and impressed by how often the show got it right — I even wrote an article about what a great representation it was.