Posts Tagged ‘follow up’

Why We Don’t Do What We Say

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

What happens after that terrific seminar or planning session? Does everything go back to business as usual, or does everyone apply the best of what they learned?

A few years ago, I taught a series of one-day courses for the top 2,000 leaders at one of the world’s most admired companies.

As part of the program, each executive received confidential 360-degree feedback. I asked all of the participants to use that feedback to pick one or two areas for personal improvement, talk with their coworkers about what they were going to change, and ask for suggestions on how they could become more effective leaders. Then they were asked to follow up with co-workers by having short ongoing dialogues to help ensure that this process led to a positive, long-term change in their leadership behavior.

In confidential surveys after the course, almost all of the participants enthusiastically agreed that they were going to do what they were asked to do. A year later, almost 70% of the leaders actually did something related to their commitments. About 30% did absolutely nothing. The good news for the 70% was that their co-workers reported that they had become more effective leaders. As for the 30% who did nothing - well, at least they weren’t seen as getting worse! I suppose that qualifies as good news too. But the do-nothings raise an interesting question.

I have had the opportunity to follow up with the leaders in the 30% category and ask them why they didn’t do what they said they would do. Their answers seldom have anything to do with ethics or integrity. In spite of recent examples of terrible ethics violations, the huge majority of leaders I meet are highly ethical people. They are not liars or phonies. They truly believed that they should change and that this was the “right thing to do.” Their answers usually don’t have anything to do with lack of intelligence or understanding either. They are all very bright people. They not only agreed with what they committed to do, but they also understood what to do and how to do it.

So why didn’t these leaders do what they said they were going to do? Why do we often fail to do what we know we should do?

The answer can be explained by something they tell themselves. It’s something I have told myself for years. I am going to predict that you have told yourself the same thing - maybe often, maybe for years. You may be getting a little skeptical right now. You’re probably thinking, “This guy doesn’t know my mind. What is he talking about?” We will see how accurate my guess is.

The interior monologue sounds something like this. “You know, I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, I feel about as busy today as I have ever felt in my entire life. To be honest, I just feel constantly overcommitted. To be really honest, given what is going on at work and at home, sometimes my life feels a little out of control. But, you see, I am working on some very unique and special challenges right now. I think that the worst will be over in four or five months. After that, I am going to take a couple of weeks off and get organized. I am going to start working on my personal development. Then I am going to start spending more time with my family. I’ll start exercising and eating right. When I do, everything is going to be different - and it won’t be crazy anymore.”

Have you ever told yourself something like that? I have, and so have most of the leaders whom I meet every week. Many of us have been saying this to ourselves for years.

That’s why we haven’t been doing what we know we should be doing. We are waiting until life isn’t crazy. We are waiting until we “have some time.” We are waiting for a day that may never appear.

I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real leaders change real behavior in the real world. There is no “two or three weeks.” Things don’t calm down or slow down. Look at the trend line. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today.

So here’s my suggestion. Ask yourself two very hard questions.

First, what change is going to make the biggest, positive difference? And second, what am I willing to change now? Not next week, not next month, not when everything starts to make sense. Now.

Don’t worry so much about everything else.

Just change that.

Life is good.


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Common Sense and Common Practice

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

In our study on leadership development, we found that managers who asked their co-workers for suggestions for improvements, listened to these suggestions, learned from the people around them, and consistently followed up to check on progress were seen by their direct reports and colleagues as becoming more effective leaders.

Managers who didn’t ask and follow up were not seen as becoming more effective leaders—even though they participated in exactly the same leadership development programs. In hindsight, these findings are common sense.

When people ask us for input, listen to our ideas, try to learn from us, and follow up to check on their progress, our relationship with them almost invariably improves and they become more effective in their dealings with us.

Yet while asking may be common sense, it is far from common practice. My good friend Jim Kouzes (who with Barry Posner co-authored the best-selling book The Leadership Challenge), has reviewed ratings from tens of thousands of people who completed questionnaires evaluating the leadership skills of their managers. “Asking for input on how he or she can improve” scores in last place in terms of direct-report satisfaction with managers.

Life is good.


Quit Kidding Yourself

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Why don’t we ask? Because deep down inside we are afraid of the answers. Let me give you a personal example. I am 58 years old. At my age, one type of input that I should ask for every year comes from my doctor. It is called a physical exam. I managed to successfully avoid asking for this input for seven years. What did I tell myself for seven years? I will get that physical after I begin my “healthy foods” diet. I will get that physical after I get in shape.

Who was I fooling? The doctor? My family? I was only kidding myself. I only changed my mind when I realized that the possible consequences of not asking were scarier than any answer I could get. And I only came to that realization after a close friend who had ignored his health died prematurely as a result.

I realize that asking for input at work isn’t a life or death situation, but it can still make a difference. And asking doesn’t just work vis-à-vis direct reports; it also works with peers. Get in the habit of asking your peers, “How can I do a better job of working with you?” or “How can my part of the company do a better job of helping your part of the company?”

While almost every company preaches the value of synergy and teamwork, employees seldom want to go first and ask their colleagues across the organization how to actually create it. If you are a manager, have you been asking your direct reports how you can help them become even more effective? Even if you are not a manager, have you been asking your co-workers how you can do a better job of working with them?

If your answer is, “no” or “not very often,” get started!

Life is good.