Mindfulness Helps to Build Leadership Skills

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Being mindful of what you say and do leads to better communication and clarity of thought and actions. Mindfulness is similar to following the Five Agreements, which help you focus on being present in the moment and being conscious of the words you use to communicate your thoughts and actions to others.

While reading articles about mindfulness techniques I was reminded of the book, The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and his son, Don Jose Ruiz.

Mindfulness suggests we be conscious of our thoughts while we walk, while listening to others, while sitting quietly and meditating. Being mindful can mean the difference between saying something in the heat of anger or stress that you wish you hadn’t and taking three deep breaths to calm yourself before you speak. It means thinking about the words you use and how they might be received by others – before you say them.

As a leader, practicing mindfulness helps to make you more aware of your surroundings, of what others are saying and doing. By slowing down your mind, you see the world around you more clearly. You spend more time in the present, rather than in the past of future, caught up in your thoughts.

The Fifth Agreement bookIn their book, The Fifth Agreement, the Ruizes talk about the importance of following the five agreements:

Be Impeccable with your word – always speak with integrity, saying only what you mean. Don’t participate in gossip. Carefully choose the words you use that most clearly express what you are trying to say.

Don’t take anything personally – remember that what others say and do is their own reality, not yours. By not accepting their words and actions as true about you, and telling yourself it’s their reality, not yours, you create a shield against verbal abuse and suffering. Imagine you live and work in a magic bubble that no one can penetrate except those you let in deliberately. Keep your true Self safe.

Don’t make assumptions – this is so hard to live by. Ask questions to dig deeper. Don’t assume you understand what someone is saying. Their interpretation of words may be totally different from your own and can create misunderstandings. Repeat it back to them to gain clarity and understanding.

Always do your best – give 100% of your time and effort to everything you do. When you finish a project, ask yourself, “Did I do my best?” Even if you didn’t get the sale or generate the results you anticipated, did you put your best effort into it? Sticking to this agreement forces you to work and act with deliberate intent, to prepare for every meeting or project, to be present and mindful of your actions and your outcomes. When others see you giving 100% or more, they are motivated to do the same.

Be skeptical but learn to listen – don’t take anything you see and hear as the only truth. Ask yourself “is it really the truth?” Sometimes we say and do things based on past experience or beliefs, which may no longer be applicable. When you begin to think and act as you always have, stop and take three breaths. Then ask yourself, “is this still true or am I acting from past beliefs?” This is being mindful and present about your actions. Question yourself and question others to gain clarity about the true intent behind the words.

If we all followed the Five Agreements and concentrated each day on being more mindful of our words and actions, we would experience better communication among our staff and colleagues. As leaders, we would set an example for how to behave in an organization. This can help to slowly change the culture from one of finger-pointing or acrimony to one of accountability and clarity of purpose. We might even create a “fun” work environment. Try these techniques, and let me know what results you get.

Leadership: Cheerleader, Coach, Dictator & holding people accountable

By Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  November 16. 2014

Takeaways: Compare three common leadership styles. Coaching as a leadership skill for business leaders. Eight “Be Attitudes” to help you maximize your ability to hold your team accountable.

Sometimes leaders display confusion about some very basic ways to be a leader. One we often encounter is an individual who consistently focuses on cheerleading-type activities, often ignoring other types of reinforcement, both positive and negative. They praise their team for their hard work and mention how much they appreciate them, but the leader is not working off any sort of plan with measurable results. How do you think the team members really feel about how they are being treated? Truly valued, or perhaps just being snowed? Granted, cheerleading is important since it ensures both the leader and the team members are reminded that celebrating successes is very important. But imagine a sports team that consistently has a losing record and is constantly being told what good job they did when the results say differently. At least in sports there is a scoreboard clearly identifying measurable results. What measurable results and programs for celebrating success do you have for your team?

Coaching skills are valuable

Coaching skills in business leaders have become one of the most valuable traits we can employ in leading teams. Coaches facilitate the team’s individual and collective success by first understanding very deeply what drives the team and ensuring the team is extremely clear about the desired outcomes of their work. Coaches also facilitate the maintenance of a shared set of values. There have been many very visible sports team coaches over the years whose success is legendary, as has their toughness with their team members. When we look closely at their styles in leading their teams, it’s clear they leaned much more toward facilitating their teams’ success instead of commanding or demanding it. Their toughness comes through more as having an uncompromising commitment to a system of values that helps keep the team members focused on their outcomes. This also distinguishes successful business and government leaders.

A dictatorial style of leadership has historically ended both abruptly and badly, for the dictator and the team being led. Regardless of whether a leader was leading a government, a non-profit, a commercial enterprise or a sports team, we consistently see a pattern of the team coalescing in support of the leader, high levels of energy toward the objective set by the leader and uncompromising pressure toward objectives set primarily by the singular leader. This is later followed by some thoughtful sub-leaders naturally questioning their direction, then external pressures rapidly growing against the leader and finally a relatively complete destruction of the organization and often the leader. Consider short lived sports teams, athletic teams and whole leagues involved in unsportsmanlike activities, many leaders of nations and yes, many leaders of large and visible businesses. Companies like Enron and Lehman Brothers, Arthur Andersen and Washington Mutual all displayed many of the characteristics of dictatorial leadership, straying from best practices in management and pursuing unrealistic and massively exaggerated objectives. They also knowingly violated generally broadly accepted tenets of law and human behavior holding team members accountable to very narrowly defined results and little accountability to a shared set of values.

Holding people accountable and leading them to achieve mutually desired and measurable objectives may just be one brief way to describe a successful leader. Of course, it’s not necessary that simple. I am reminded by the eight “Be Attitudes” of holding people accountable put forth by Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, a respected Fortune 500 senior executive, author and CEO of Leadergrow, Inc.

He lists those attitudes as:
•    Be clear about your expectations
•    Be sure of your facts
•    Be timely
•    Be Kind
•    Be Consistent
•    Be Discrete
•    Be Gracious
•    Be Balanced

Bob Whipple of LeadergrowIf you would like to gain more insight on these attitudes you can do so at the Leadergrow, Inc. website.

Developing and applying successful leadership skills are keys to succeeding in any type of managerial endeavor, but in leading strategy and change these are even more critical. How good are you at practicing the eight “Be Attitudes”?

Leaders – Are They Born or Made?

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International  5-17-2012

Takeaways: Leaders can be developed although being born with the key talents gives one a head start. In-born qualities may only emerge through training. If no training is provided, then those qualities may lay dormant. Those who believe leaders are mostly born tend not to invest in leadership training programs.

Leaders-Steve JobsAccording to Psychology Today, the research estimates say that leaders are mostly made. What do you think? In response to a poll on LinkedIn in June 2012,  54% said leaders are trained, while 46% said it’s an innate talent.

The fact that leadership skills can be developed is good news. However, the research suggests that there are some innate talents that are key to making a good leader.  These include:

  • extroversion – the ability to easily connect with others 
  • assertiveness – being unafraid to state your opinions
  • risk-taking – being bold and willing to stick your neck out
  • intelligence – being smart and analytical, but also
  • social intelligence – having an understanding of social situations and interactions

This doesn’t mean that introverts don’t make good leaders. They do. However, they need to create a self-development plan to gain the skills they need to lead teams well.

Leaders are Born – a Dangerous Concept

The idea that leaders are mostly born is a dangerous concept, according to Psychology Today. Executives who believe this pay less attention to implementing leadership development programs. They tend to think that those with the “right stuff”, the natural talents for leadership, will create organizational success. But that’s not necessarily true.

Another reason why this is a dangerous idea is that those in-born qualities may only emerge through learning. In a recent study Psychology Today conducted, they discovered that while extroverts have higher leadership potential than introverts, that wasn’t necessarily the case when it came to social intelligence and effective communication skills. Those are learned skills.

Consequently, it’s best to focus on leadership development first, and take the necessary steps to grow the leadership talent within your organization, rather than only look outside for talent.

Customer Service Explained: Match, Mint, Coffee

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   8-24-2012

Takeaways: Michael Gerber relates an example about customer service and strategic management – focused on pleasing the customer. Ask questions and listen to the customer. Then take action to serve the customer and anticipate his/her needs.

 Customer service explaqined: Michael GerberI’ve been re-reading The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber.  In the chapter about management strategy, he describes an experience he had with a boutique hotel in the California redwoods country. It’s a message about customer service and management systems.

Here’s a brief synopsis:
He stops for the night after a long drive on his way to San Francisco. As he walks into the lobby he describes how inviting it looks – large, comfortable over-stuffed sofa; a table as you enter holds a large, enticing bowl of fresh fruit ; a warm fire is blazing in the fireplace; the décor expertly blends together to provide a welcoming feeling of home and warmth.

The woman at the front desk wore complimentary colors and style, a matching ribbon in her hair, and a badge that showed the hotel logo and colors. She welcomed him, checked him in, and within 3 minutes the bellboy was ushering him to his room. Amazing!

His room was equally tasteful  –“ understated opulence” is how he described it – with a four-poster king size bed taking center stage. He noticed the fireplace was prepared and ready to light, thinking that would be nice after dinner. When he checked in, he asked about restaurants and the desk clerk suggested one on the hill a short walk away. She made reservations for him as he was being shown his room.

Customer Service: Learn the Customer’s Interests

There was a well-lit path between the hotel and restaurant. The restaurant was crowded with several people waiting when he arrived, but when he announced his name, he was immediately shown to a table. The meal was “delightful” and the service excellent, encouraging him to linger over a glass of after-dinner brandy.

As he returned to his room he noticed the lights on the path had been turned up to make it more navigable after dark. He was thinking about lighting the fire and having a brandy before turning in. When he got to his room, the bed was turned down, a mint was on each pillow, the fire was crackling in the hearth, and a glass of brandy was beside the bed with a card that read, “Welcome to your first stay at Venetia. I hope it has been enjoyable. If there is anything I can do for you, Day or Night, please don’t hesitate to call. Kathi.”

The next morning he awoke to gurgling in the bathroom and when he arose to investigate, the coffee maker was brewing his favorite brand of coffee. A card read “Your brand of coffee. Enjoy! K” And it was HIS brand of coffee. He heard a knock at the front door, and when he opened it no one was there. On the doorstep was HIS newspaper, the New York Times.

How did they know?

When he checked in, the desk clerk asked him what his favorite newspaper was. He gave it no thought. At the restaurant, the server asked what his favorite coffee was when he ordered coffee after dinner. The server probably also noticed he enjoyed a glass of brandy after his meal. They asked, noticed and listened. And they communicated between the hotel and the restaurant. This experience has been repeated every time he visits that hotel.

What did they do differently that makes this possible? They had developed a system and written it down in an Operations Manual so anyone could replicate it regardless of who was in charge. It was a series of color-coded checklists for each person at the hotel.  Each support person was responsible for eight rooms. When they arrived every morning, they had eight packages of checklists in their mailbox- one for each room they were taking care of. As they completed each one, they signed off on the package.  To sign off and not complete the work was grounds for dismissal.

The hotel had a strategic management system in place that could easily be followed by anyone.

But how did they get their people to use it? That’s the subject of the next article.