Heather Younger turned a legal career into her own consulting firm, Customer Fanatix, and now trains executives all over the country on leadership strategy.
This summer, Heather published the foundations of her training in a book titled The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty, which includes frequent, anonymous surveys as an essential tool.
Heather joined me via video conference to talk about finding your leadership blind spots with a coach, developing effective communication skills regardless of experience level, and creating a great employee experience.
Click the image to watch the full video, along with Heather’s thoughts in the written post.
Locate and identify blind spots in your leadership
Self-awareness is a key component to success for any leader, and many CEOs and executives are interested in knowing where they have blind spots.
Self-aware leaders can sense that the feedback they’re receiving internally is too biased, or there’s an overall lack of trust within their organization.
Since they may not be able to rely on the feedback they’re getting internally, they seek out coaching to help eliminate leadership blind spots.
Leadership coaches can quickly identify high-potential employees for advancement
Coaching is often driven by a CEO or COO to identify particular people for succession planning. Having an experienced professional coach can quickly find opportunities to prime those people to step into higher roles.
One of the biggest reasons the coaching space has exploded is that advancing managers are simply looking for their passion.
They see other senior colleagues advancing and are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and increase their influence.
They’ll then try creative ways to reignite themselves and coaching is one of the best ways to improve quickly.
People rarely aspire to be a better leader until they become one
Leadership is almost always not knowing what’s there until you’re in it. That’s why when a new manager’s awareness increases, they realize there’s a lot more that can be done to improve.
But tons of new managers make the mistake of thinking they have to fundamentally change their personality to become a good leader.
My job is to come in and say “Listen, that’s not what I’m wanting you to do. Here we’re looking to figure out how do we bring out the best in you.”
That’s not to say we can’t embrace constructive feedback or address things that drive you nuts about yourself.
We soften those things or pivot those things, just really opening our minds up to think differently and act differently.
The one skill even very experienced managers need to improve
The most common issue in experienced leaders is self-awareness — empathy for the co-workers around them and the people they manage.
This usually comes down to employing a lot of soft skills very well.
When they manage really large teams, leaders also still struggle with work-life-balance.
They get overwhelmed trying to figure how to integrate their lives so I help them work toward a healthier balance.
Experienced managers can always get better at prioritizing, and a helpful tip is to really define what your passions are.
This gets you excited about what you’re doing everyday for your teams and for the organization.
Tips for less-experienced or mid-level managers
Most of the people I coach have plenty of experience as a manager. But having said that, whether they’ve got 25 years of experience or are just coming into management, everyone benefits from eliminating leadership blind spots.
This brings us back to self-awareness, which really depends on the individual.
Believe it or not, I see 20-year veterans who still really don’t know how to approach their bosses. Or they may lack active listening skills.
This person could now a VP and even though they’ve been in the industry for a long time they still need help communicating upwards and downwards.
Knowing when to engage your emotional intelligence is not taught in business school.
It can be a weakness whether you’re just starting out as a manger and you’re kind of nervous or you’re a more seasoned professional.
Managers are the top reason high-potential individuals leave, so if you can find these weaknesses earlier in your career, you’ll be a far stronger leader.
Expert communication skills take repetitions and adjustment
Your basic strategy should be to find a baseline communication style based on your strengths.
Run a communication style assessment or have a coach do it so that you have an objective idea of where you sit on the spectrum.
This is important so that you can get a read of other people’s communication styles, know what to look for, and use that kind of vernacular when communicating with those people.
Once you get an understanding of a person’s learning or communication style, you can work with them more easily.
When you repeat this process, you’ll find that you can’t put everybody in a box.
But it’s very powerful to know if your boss needs to be addressed this way at this speed, at this time, in this manner. Perhaps the CFO needs data and the product manager needs vision.
When you understand that then you’re able to help even most complicated or testy kind of conversations.
The pitfalls of over-adjusting to a communication style
The main reason you have to use these concepts often and practice is so that you don’t communicate in a static way.
You need to have a maturity around these concepts because other smart people will be adjusting to you.
Before you go into a big meeting, take that time to understand where your audience is coming from that day.
Everyone has good, bad, and strange days that affect them, so take that into account.
Whether you have over-adjusted, or adjusted in the wrong direction, the key is to step back and be honest about what you think went well and what went wrong in that exchange.
How to grow and promote employees to their talent potential
Whether you manage a large staff or a small startup, you have to build relationships with your staff, with your team first.
The one-on-one relationship can actually be a detriment.
Leaders who are not really intuitive, don’t listen, and don’t pay attention to the needs of their team are those who drive more disloyalty and disengagement in the workplace.
If you want to move up, you have to have good relationships.
If you want to have a strong team that wants to stay with you and go to bat for you, you have to have good relationships.
In my book, I discuss in more detail how to effectively mentor and how to set up a career pathing model. But focus on relationships first.
When entrepreneurs grow their business, obviously the first thing that has to happen is the mission, values, and some kind of strategic vision.
Layered on top are the softer things designed to make sure that the direction that everything is aligned that way.
Everyone in the organization needs to be clear about the why: “Why are you doing these things?”
That’s why employee engagement surveys are invaluable tools that allow you to gauge alignment, especially in fast-moving organizations.
Keep developing great employee experiences as a standard process
If you’re already awesome like the Zappos or the Southwests of the world, congratulations.
But even though they’re known for great employee experiences, they’re not perfect.
I’ve examined Zappos in greater detail and not everything’s perfect.
But the main point is they have processes in place specifically for creating a better employee experience.
If you choose to only adopt a few things from my book, put a process in place to make the employee experience more foolproof.
For you salespeople out there, create a funnel and a pipeline for it.
Let’s say it’s a mentorship program, and you have a process that says when employee reaches a work-related milestone, an advancement event triggers.
Being systematic like this is how executives set up succession plans for success.
There are a lot of different ways to look at it but once you’ve done all of these things above, process is key.
The same thing goes for customers.
Whether it’s external or internal customers, there’s not a lot of difference to the extent that if you want something done, you have to get processes in place quickly.
If you don’t, your experience will be very inconsistent.
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