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4th Gear Blog

Leading Through Influence

Posted by Bethany Swartz

Apr 16, 2014 4:14:00 PM

Organizations often find themselves on the hunt to “get better.”  The search for ways to reduce turnover, create stronger leaders, reach indicators, and increase morale feels more like a life-long journey rather than a destination for many businesses today. Some organizations start by finding existing leaders who are already doing a handful of these things well. They study them, learn their processes, and attempt to replicate it company-wide hoping other managers and departments follow suit. Other organizations choose to hire outside help to come in, maybe host a few workshops, and help set shiny new goals for the company to reach. In many cases, this triggers momentum, and in an attempt to capture it, leadership may set up benchmarks and start to measure the success of the teams and individuals. Some teams may be hitting the mark, others may not. Weekly scorecards, and monthly reports get introduced into the picture as a way to continue tracking progress towards the goals. Next, a team is assembled to track the goals, and re-train those who are still falling short, because maybe they just need to hear it one more time in order to succeed.  Problem solved, right?

These are all reasonable and logical efforts, and I have seen them play out time and time again. Organizations get so intent on driving change that they try to force the change with compliance to a set of tasks or benchmarks.  Leaders spend time trying to replicate the success of a few instead of creating opportunities to engage everyone towards their own success.  They settle for hitting numerical goals and end up getting quite good at monitoring performance so that the business stays above the line of failure. Unfortunately, what once started as an inspired idea born out of creativity and a dream of change has now been placed in a box and turned into a process with which all must comply.  What’s even more dangerous is that the company has now selected a group of their most talented and trusted leaders to monitor and audit this process which means they have less time to develop and coach their teams to success.

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Topics: Leadership, Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Commitment

Five Steps to Make Sure Your Team Building Is Not Wasted Time

Posted by Randy Hall

Mar 26, 2014 9:16:00 AM

We get a lot of requests to do team building.  Often, after initial conversations with the client, traditional “team building” is not what we end up delivering.  At least it’s not all of what we end up delivering to help the team become stronger.  Our first step is to learn more from the team’s leadership about what they hope is different or improved following the team building event. Put simply, what is the goal for change?  Many leaders want a behavior change on their team, but the leader is a big part of why the team operates the way it does.  Leaders who fail to consider this start looking for a quick fix - a one day event that will improve the communication, the attitude, and ultimately the performance of their people.  Those don’t exist.

Here’s why.  Immediately after the team building event, everyone will return to the same culture, the same leadership, the same stresses, the same biases, the same stuff.  We may see a bump in morale, a few people may even grab drinks after work or friend up on facebook because of relationships they formed at the event, but generally, there is no lasting change. Even if the team does have some new outlook on how they should operate, a new perspective on how to communicate with each other, or even new goals, unless the culture back at work changes, eventually people return to the status quo.  I know that sounds pessimistic but candidly, I’ve seen it enough to believe that without some other catalyst, whatever changes get inspired or started at any “event” are short lived.  For any of those changes to be sustained, there must also be a change in how the leader of the team operates.

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Topics: Team Organization, Leadership, Leader

Your Leadership Style May Just Be Bad Management

Posted by Randy Hall

Mar 19, 2014 10:27:00 AM

We were working with a business not too long ago and during a discussion on how to help improve employee performance one of the managers described how he handled the review process. Based on how he described it, let’s just say I wouldn’t expect much improvement in performance based on his particular method.  When I asked him why he chose to engage employees that way, he responded: “that’s my leadership style”.  

The term “leadership style” has been used pretty widely and there are a number of well respected organizations that have created assessments to determine which leadership style a person favors.  There are documents and models that illustrate many different leadership styles and describe the pros and cons of each.  There are even entire books that have been written based on the different styles of leadership.  It all needs to stop.
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Topics: Leadership, Leader

Leadership is Seasonless, But Spring Training Couldn't Hurt

Posted by Randy Hall

Mar 12, 2014 11:28:00 AM

My 9 year old son started a new season of baseball recently and like every year, the coach spent the first several practices focused only on fundamentals.  He went back over all of the basics of fielding, hitting, and throwing so that the kids could break down the mechanics of those skills and practice each step of the process, slowly, thoroughly, and repetitively.  

Why don’t we ever do that with leadership skills?  I get that motor skills are a little different, that repetition builds muscle memory, and that we are able to perform those physical mechanics almost unconsciously in a game situation if we practice them enough. I know that’s different in some ways from intellectual skills.  I also know that when we put aspiring leaders, coaches, and managers in practice situations repetitively, they get better at things like asking good questions instead of just issuing instructions or executing the mechanics of helping someone change behavior to help them be more successful. Leadership may not require practiced hand eye coordination, but it does benefit from repeating the fundamentals associated with leadership behaviors.

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Topics: Leadership, Leader, Persistence

Are Your Leaders Ready for Heavy Lifting? 5 Steps to a Stronger Bench

Posted by Bethany Swartz

Mar 4, 2014 6:24:00 PM

We have all likely heard the term “bench-strength” and convinced ourselves that collecting a group of talented people who have potential to be the next big thing in leadership and management somehow makes us sleep better at night.  We feel at ease knowing that if anyone on our team leaves or gets promoted into a new opportunity, we have a group of people ready to step into that spot. Unfortunately, the comfort associated with having a bench is much like that workout machine that sits in our basement.  It will do us no good unless we put it to use.

Having an increasing number of employees be ready, willing, and able to take on more complex roles within the agency is absolutely necessary to future success, sustainability, and growth of your organization.  What you do to strengthen your bench will ultimately determine the direction of your company.  If your talent just sits there on a list, they are bound to get dusty and by the time it is their turn to step into a leadership role, they will be leading tomorrow with yesterdays ideas and capabilities.  On the contrary, if you actively engage your bench, work them out, and create a diverse set of skills and capabilities, you will see a whole different set of results.  

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Topics: Leadership, Competency

Throwback Thursday: Great Leaders Have Great Habits

Posted by Randy Hall

Feb 27, 2014 1:46:00 PM

You’ve just been promoted. You are now officially a leader...at least that’s what they tell you. You’ve dreamed of leadership for a long time and now you have the chance to prove yourself. Most of those doubts you had about being a leader have gotten lost in the excitement of the new opportunity. You know there is no “magic pill” for being a strong competent leader, but one question remains….”What makes great leaders great?”

This blog post from February 2011 explores the idea of creating habits that will cause you to become a stronger, more successful leader.

Some of the best leaders I have met during the course of my work are brilliant people, most aren’t. Some of them possess an almost supernatural ability to connect or inspire, most don’t. What often set them apart from the leaders who could have been great and weren’t, was their choice of habits. Great leaders have great habits.
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Topics: Leadership, Leader, Persistence

4 Key Ways to Become an Inspired and Engaged Employee

Posted by Bethany Swartz

Feb 20, 2014 12:10:00 PM

Chances are you have seen and heard the vast amount of reports and research indicating that employee engagement is a critical component of retention, productivity, and the overall success of a company. As such, supervisors, managers, and CEO’s have been focused on ways to understand what employee engagement is and how to increase it in order to impact the culture, morale, and bottom line within their organization.

While these leaders work towards creating a workforce of highly engaged employees, I want us to talk about what you as an employee can do to recognize and improve your own level of engagement at work.  Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe the role of a leader is to help engage and create committed employees on their team; however I am also a big fan of choosing your own destiny and taking steps each day to become a survivor of your experiences, not a victim of them. You know...the whole “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” mentality.  So here is my spin.  Feeling disengaged at work? Engage yourself.  

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Topics: Leadership, Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Commitment

Commitment: Carrots and Sticks Not Required

Posted by Bethany Swartz

Feb 18, 2014 1:50:00 PM

So it happens three weeks in a row. You tell your team to submit their weekly report to you by Friday at 5pm and it doesn't happen.  So, you tell them each again, send an email with the due date, set up automatic calendar reminders, and even go so far as to offer a gift card to the first one on the team to turn in their report.  Convinced that your efforts will lead you to success, you impatiently wait until next Friday- excited to read the reports and announce who wins the gift card challenge!   Except next Friday comes, and still no reports.  What now?

This is the moment where you have a choice as a leader

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Topics: Leadership, Accountability, Choice, Commitment

Three Leadership Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Posted by Bethany Swartz

Feb 13, 2014 10:34:00 AM

Are your perceptions as a manager causing your team to fall short?  Mine did, and recognizing that my own perceptions were hindering my ability to lead my team to success was one of the biggest wake up calls I’ve had as a leader.

We all have a set of perceptions that guide how we interpret and react to the world around us. In fact, a good friend of mine use to say “your perception is your reality” whenever I would consult with him about struggles I was having in aligning my team to hit goals.  As much as this drove me crazy, I learned that his message wasn't to accept my perception as the reality. He was actually challenging me to seek to understand the perception of others so that I could use their reality to lead them where they wanted to go.

As managers, we might start off projecting our excitement onto our team instead of finding out what actually excites them. Or we assume that because we really want to hit a goal, they do too.  Another common assumption is thinking that our team’s agreement to a plan means commitment to seeing it through.  Suddenly, we feel shocked when the deadline hits and we fall short of our goal.  Why?  Because we were looking for all the wrong signs of engagement from our team. These perceptions then feed off of each other and cause us to behave in a way that actually disengages our employees. After experiencing this years ago, I learned three things:

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Topics: Leadership, Change, Employee Engagement, Commitment

Teenagers Teaching Us About Responsibility.. Yes, Really

Posted by Randy Hall

Feb 10, 2014 9:51:52 PM

Ever have one of those moments when you just stop and stare at your kids and time kind of freezes for you?  You get to watch them and for some reason, you are fully aware of how they are growing and changing.  You watch them learning and making their own choices and the stark reality that they don’t really belong to you, you just have the privilege of raising them for a little while, sinks in deeply and unmercifully.  I had one of those moments this past weekend as I was watching my 15 year old wash and clean her new car.  Ok let’s be clear, her “new” car is older than she is and was given to her by her Grandmother who had owned it since 1998.  The point was, she was out in the driveway with a toothbrush, scrubbing every inch of the interior.  I watched her spend probably 30 minutes on the steering wheel alone.  She is a pretty good kid and generally does her other chores when we ask her but she has never attacked doing the dishes, or helping to clean our cars, with the same level of commitment.  Pride of ownership changes the level of engagement.


The same thing happens in the workplace every day.  When people feel connected, involved and like they are contributing to something they care about, they approach everything differently.  Compare that to a group of people to show up to do what they are told.  That difference in engagement and commitment is the difference between a growing, thriving, innovating business and one that just gets by, or even declines.  We seem to think that employees should engage for the paycheck, but they don’t, they show up for the paycheck, at least most of the time, they engage for the satisfaction and the intrinsic feeling of contributing to something that matters to them.  My 15 year old would not have cleaned my car with the same level of engagement no matter how much I had paid her.

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Topics: Coaching, Leadership, Responsibility, Commitment

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