Author Archives: Dr. Debra Fish

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

Build a Team of Leaders

Building A Team

One of the most effective team leadership outcomes you can facilitate is for everyone on the team to end up thinking and acting like a leader. It may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re focused on making your mark by asserting your own unique version of leadership. Therein lies the paradox that alludes many leaders: Your ultimate success will be based on the success of those on the team you lead, not on your solo contribution.

But why should you have to foster a leadership spirit in your team? What keeps people from exercising leadership on their own? I once heard John Lachs, a Vanderbilt University philosophy professor, explain it by describing how passivity creeps into organizations, sapping them of leadership, energy, and ultimately, performance.

Dr. Lachs told the all-too-familiar story of trying to return an item to a retail store, only to be stymied by a passive clerk who cited the rules and regulations restricting her ability to help him. She missed a great opportunity to be exceptional at her job by making a positive difference to a customer. She could have solved another person’s problem, represented her organization well, and made a good impression on her supervisors. Still, accomplishing all of that would have required more effort and responsibility on her part. It would have required she act like a leader by taking ownership of finding a solution. She would have had to take the customer’s request to a higher level and lobbied on his behalf. Instead, she took the easy way out by telling Dr. Lachs she could not accept his return.

If you’re not vigilant, that passivity may show up on your team. Despite what we might like to think, we’re all vulnerable to the temptation to operate more as a dispassionate role or title than as an engaged human. That’s because professional roles are circumscribed, neat, and we can often hide behind them, just as Dr. Lach’s clerk did. Interacting as our real selves requires more from us. It demands we invest ourselves emotionally and take responsibility for outcomes, without any clear indication that we will benefit from doing so. No wonder, “that’s not in my job description,” slips out so easily when one is grousing about having to do too much.

Obviously, you want your team to resist the siren’s call of passivity. These are the behaviors and attitudes you want to foster:

  • Take responsibility.
  • Take obligations seriously.
  • Try to outperform your colleagues.
  • Reach beyond your role.
  • Embody this statement: “I’m ready to serve and will do the absolute best I can.”

Just how do you foster these behaviors and attitudes? Here are some ideas:

  • Make your expectations known.
  • Model these same behaviors and attitudes.
  • Recognize and call them out when you see them in others.

Make it clear that you value leadership and expect it from your team. If they are up to the challenge, you will see the effects in their overall performance, and, instead of your raising the bar for them, they may just start raising the bar for you!

 

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

Photo credit: iStock_team meeting_rawpixel.jpeg

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Are You A Leader Or A Boss?

Leader or Boss

It’s an important distinction. Just because you’re a boss doesn’t mean you’re an effective leader. And, just because you’re not a boss does not mean you’re not a leader.  Bosses get things done, but they sometimes focus too much on the tactical. Effective leaders get important things done and done well. Their accomplishments continue to reap benefits in the long term and for a greater number of people.

Here are 5 questions you can use to gauge where you fall in the leader vs. boss balance:

  • Do you focus more on whether individuals are hitting performance goals or on what big adjustment you can make next to unleash their full potential?
  • Do you spend more time thinking about how to turn around employee-related problems, or on creating ways for your employees to take pride of ownership in what they produce?
  • Do you spend more time critiquing what your employees are doing, or critiquing how you’re helping them?
  • Do you pay attention to your employees’ aspirations only during their annual reviews, or do you attend to them throughout the year?
  • Do you tell your employees what initiatives they should undertake or do you enlist their help in fleshing out what their roles should be considering your department’s strategic objectives?

Obviously, if you’re in a leadership position, you probably do a little of all of the above.  But if most of your time and energy are spent on activities in the first half of each of those questions, then you are missing tremendous opportunities to make a difference with effective leadership. By seeing broad possibilities and appreciating the talent around you, you can help your organization

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Effective Leadership – Building Trust

Effective Leadership-BuildingTrust

It’s a basic necessity for good relationships, so it makes sense that trust is a key contributor to a leader’s effectiveness.  Think about it… Would you follow someone you don’t trust? The trust that is critical to being an effective leader involves much more than honesty, though. Leaders usually act a little shocked—act as if their character has been assaulted—when I ask whether people trust them. They hear the question as something akin to, “Do you lie to people?” I ask leaders whether they are trusted so that they will focus on the following key questions. The answers to which all need to be, “Yes.”

Do people trust that:

  • You have their best interests at heart?
  • You will follow through on your commitments?
  • You know what you’re doing?
  • You will make sound decisions?
  • You’ll keep your cool?
  • You’ll be honest with them?

Recent psychological research provides a key pointer toward what leaders can do to earn the trust of the people who work with them: people begin to trust you when they see you demonstrate self-control, i.e. avoid doing what is not beneficial and do more of what is, even if there will be a little pain involved. People look for clues about your trustworthiness in all that you say and do. If you tell everyone you are on a diet, but snack on the office goodies routinely, people will file that away as evidence that you either don’t mean what you say or you don’t have the strength to make hard choices…neither behavior being very leader-like, of course.  Imagine if you also then tiptoe around a difficult team member who is not carrying her weight on projects. Once again, others will conclude you can’t make tough decisions for the ultimate benefit of the team.

Earning trust can take time, but it’s possible to speed things along a bit if you put your mind to it. If you’re in leadership, and wondering what proactive steps you can take to earn others’ trust sooner rather than later, try out some of these:

  • Seek out information that can answer questions or ease concerns your team has expressed and pass that information along to them.
  • Start and end meetings on time, and if you must deviate from the stated agenda, make it clear why.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to advocate for your employees with others in the company.
  • Pay close attention to what you tell people you will do—even the trivial things—and do them or tell them why you can’t.
  • Keep a lid on your emotions when reacting to news, situations, etc. Besides not throwing tantrums in the office, we’re talking about keeping your less-measured editorial comments about people or events to yourself.
  • Admit when you don’t know something and demonstrate a commitment to learn it.

Obviously, none of this is rocket science; you just have to decide you’re going to take these steps. After all, building trust is as simple as staying away from the cookies when you’re on a diet.

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

 

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Effective Communication: It May Seem Simple, But It Ain’t Easy

Communication

 

“Take that skeevy dust bunny and throw it on the devil strip.” (For translation see www.wordnik.com)

Ever felt like you have no idea what the heck your coworker in the next office (or spouse, or friend) is talking about? You hear what she’s saying, and she’s speaking English, but geez…she makes no sense!

Welcome to the mystifying world of interpersonal communication.

We all communicate in different ways, use our common language differently, read others differently, and have different ways of judging whether we’ve been understood. The opportunities for misunderstandings and miscommunications in the workplace are endless.

Especially if you’re in a leadership position, it’s incumbent on you to do everything possible to ensure effective communication happens. These four rules will help you to set the right communication tone, no matter the situation:

Assume nothing:

Just because you know what you’re saying doesn’t mean anyone else does. Assuming others understand you is dangerous. You also can’t assume you always got the same message a speaker intended to send.

Always give the benefit of the doubt:

One of the quickest routes to a toxic environment is for people to attribute motives to each other erroneously.  Terse emails and throwaway remarks are responsible for countless conflicts because people jump to negative conclusions rather than believing the other person is well intentioned, but not necessarily always well spoken. You have the opportunity to urge people to check their responses until they’ve clarified what someone else meant.

Encourage candor:

Candor clears clogged communication lines. People who say what they think, speak directly to difficult issues, and aren’t afraid to disagree keep communication lines open and keep issues from festering. If you expect and model communication that includes respectful candor, you will set the right tone in your relationships.

Put a premium on clarification:

A simple recap at the end of every conversation will go a long way to minimizing misunderstandings.  Take a few seconds to summarize the key discussion points and takeaways; ask others for confirmation or disagreements, and prod those hesitant listeners to speak up about what they heard.

If you’re not sure you can remember all four, then focus on the last one and get it right. It will save you a world of missteps.

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Nice Girls

Corner office istock

There are lots of leadership books out there. Every once in a while, one comes along that hits the nail on the head and raises the bar. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office did that about 10 years ago. This week a great article came out that that outlines a few tips from this classic.

Here’s the article. You’ll like it, and most likely learn something. Pay particular attention to “Mistake No. 1. ” It is one of the most common mistakes I see in my work with executive women. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it!

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

 Photo credit: istock: BCFC

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Savvy Leadership: The DIY Way to Learn How Well You Lead

DIY Leadership Evaluation

Are you making the impact you think you are? Do you wonder how people perceive you? As a leader, you’re undoubtedly curious about how you’re doing, and like most people you get feedback on an irregular basis. In fact, you’re lucky if you get useful feedback even once a year.

No need to wonder anxiously until your next performance review; here are 3 easy steps to conduct your own leadership skills evaluation:

1. Set the criteria

What leadership skills does the company expect? Are there competencies outlined for your position? What leadership skills have you heard about that resonate with you? Name the leadership skills you want to strengthen and make sure you have behavioral definitions for each; in other words, specify what those skills look like on the ground, day to day, as you do your job. Make those behaviors both your goals and the criteria against which you’ll ask others to evaluate you.

2. Ask

Stick your neck out and invite people to give you feedback on those behaviors. Be prepared: most people would rather be anonymous, say nothing, or just complain about you in the restroom. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get much in the beginning, especially from peers and direct reports. Your boss should be able to give you something useful, however, even if he or she is not the best at it. These three tips will help your asking be more fruitful:

  • Give them a heads up. Tell your boss, directs, peers, etc., you’re going to start asking for feedback regularly, tell them why you’re doing it, how you’re going to do it (via email, in person, etc.), and stress how much you appreciate their taking the time to respond. Invite them to be as candid as they feel comfortable, emphasizing how helpful their input will be to making you a better boss/team member/direct report.
  • Be specific. Ask people about one or two particular skills, or ask for feedback on a specific project, or for a specific period of time. A blanket, “How am I doing?” is likely to elicit polite reassurances, which make you feel great, but are not exceedingly helpful.
  • Don’t ask too often. You run the risk of wearing people out or appearing insecure if you ask for feedback every week or every month. Once a quarter should be the absolute maximum. If you like the idea of gathering feedback after every project, formalize that process and make it multi-directional, rather than only encouraging feedback from others to you. (Bonus hint: this is a super way to ensure you will give regular feedback to everyone else as well. It also sets up a feedback-rich culture, which is crucial to good performance.)

3. Thank, Rinse & Repeat

Always thank folks who send feedback your way, even if you didn’t like what they sent. In most cases, they’re taking as much risk in telling you what they think as you are in asking them. The greatest thank you is to let them know how you’re putting their suggestions into practice. Then, when time comes for you to ask for feedback again, they can let you know whether they see a difference.

There are definitely more robust ways to conduct a leadership skills evaluation, usually involving a 360° survey, some other assessments, and maybe an executive coach. If you don’t have access to those the DIY method is a great alternative. Instead of leading in a vacuum, you’ll know more about where you stand.

Lead on!

About Dr. Debra Fish

Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.

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The #1 Leadership Advantage Women Have Over Men

Deb Fish 6-22-14

So much is said and written about what makes women more or less effective leaders than men. It is, after all, still a man’s world when it comes to most leadership positions. Women’s leadership aptitude is compared to men’s because—like it or not—men have set the standard.

But there is at least one area where women arguably beat the standard the men have set: women are better listeners on the whole, and listening leaders earn their followers’ trust most readily and engender more support from them. Indeed, effective listening is integral to many of the leadership competencies at which women have been found to excel.

Let’s face it, you are only a leader if other people are following you and you are influencing their direction. A title does not confer leadership, even if it confers some authority, so you can’t rely on a nifty title to make people follow you. Plus, even without a title, it’s possible to be a very effective leader.

Being an effective listener doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily quieter than others, though it might. What it really means is that you respectfully attend to what’s being said and not said, you ask questions to clarify what you hear, and you respond in ways that make the other person feel heard.

As a woman, here’s how your natural aptitude for listening can set you apart as a leader:

• You will understand better than others how your colleagues view initiatives, their roles, company objectives, etc. You will be tapped into all of the talent around you.

• You will be aware of what factors affect your colleagues’ commitment to, and effectiveness in, their roles.

• You will be known as someone who values others’ opinions and input, thereby making others trust you, seek out your counsel, and be more inclined to embrace your ideas over others’.

• You will more often meet your business objectives because people will work harder for you and you will have their allegiance.

All of this extra effectiveness comes from one skill; a skill that women come by naturally. Leverage this talent you have; don’t discount it; use it wisely to create real value for your organization.

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