7 essentials for teams to learn if they are to achieve high performance

In our firm, osullivanfield, we have the privilege of working with leadership teams over extended periods of time. Typically we are commissioned when the team is seeking to improve their collective leadership to enable a high performing organisation of which they they are in charge. Any leadership team that overtly says it wants a high performing culture requires the team members to grow and develop themselves as part of the collective development. This brings risk!

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How do leaders get the conversations out of their heads?

Last month I was meeting with my client James, an imposing Northern Irishman who is leading a sizable business with over $250m of revenue. We were exploring some of the most challenging issues he was currently experiencing. The most troubling were with 3 members of the executive team.

Upfront he told me he had experienced an intense month of conversations with three of his direct reports. Here is how our conversation went.

Me: How did the conversations go for you?

James: Not well

Me: How so? How did you handle the conversations?

Silence followed and then there was a sudden realisation of how he went…

James: “Shite!”1 (in a beautiful Belfast accent) “I did it again….!”

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How to help new leaders minimise their blind spots

“I had no idea!” Jason had just received some feedback from his team, four months after taking up the position as Director of their function. They told him of how he was hampering their efforts to achieve the targets set by the global office.

This is not an uncommon remark made by leaders in transition. For those who are open to learning, this new awareness is thankfully followed by

“How can I do that differently?”

The blind spot is a phenomenon we all share – the reality is that we are the only one who doesn’t know about it. It is difficult to do something differently if there is no awareness of the issue.

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Who’s your top three and how do they inspire your learning?

In many leadership development programs and one-on-one coaching sessions, participants are asked to think about an inspiring leader who they admire or want to emulate. Often the question is phrased as  “When you think of a successful leader, who do you think of…?”
Having been in many sessions where this question has been asked, I have recognised patterns in the answers. They include:

  • My parents/family member/significant teacher
  • My first boss/first person to give me a break/first mentor/first person to pity me/first person to sponsor me
  • Richard Branson/Steve Jobs/the Google guys/Elon Musk
  • Mandela/Gandhi/Mother Theresa and in recent times, Pope Francis
  • Individual sports stars who have ran very fast, jumped very high or passed the ball better than anyone else
  • Politicians… actually never come up for some reason
  • Bono… once… ok that was me who suggested him…

A few weeks ago I heard an answer that absolutely floored me. One that I had never heard before.
The answer forced me to rethink the question and answer completely.

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One more time: What conversations do leaders need to have?

Recently I shared my thoughts about the power of thinking about which conversations to stop and start having so as to increase leadership and individual effectiveness. The notion is broader than it seems as first. Conversations we are having with ourselves, quietly and internally, regularly dictate how we impact others. Conversations within organisations massively impact how the employees go about delivering the work of that organisation. Disruptive innovations force organisations to have different conversations, such as moving from a conversation about “how good we are”, to one that starts with “our industry is changing rapidly and we need to change or go bust”.

Often leaders decide to change conversations for non-dramatic reasons.

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Reimagine your ideal leadership impact

The opportunity and ability to stop, reflect and take time to deeply consider what you do and how you do it seems to come too rarely.

In our perception of being time poor and with our task obsessed behaviour, taking the necessary time for a deep reflection seems to be an indulgence, an extravagance, something I will do later or when I retire! Some may even ask “isn’t that what the summer holidays are for?”

I have just had this experience but add to the extended time required for deep reflection, a hiking tour on the other side of the world in their summer and the notion of indulgence moves onto a scale not seen since the last Kardashian wedding!

I have just returned from a week hiking in Cumbria in northern England with 32 other people led by the poet turned philosopher David Whyte.

The feeling of “indulgence” I described earlier transformed into “privilege” over the week as the process of deep reflection led to new and increased understandings, learning and remembered knowings.

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10 transitions every leader needs to master

“I am exhausted – I have transition overload!”

Dean, a leader with many years of international years experience, confessed even he was tired of managing another phase of change in his organisation.

This is not surprising – the more senior the leader, the increasing number of transitions they have to manage.

William Bridges (1991) published “Managing Transitions” where he focussed on the transition as opposed to the change itself. A transition is the internal manifestation of that change that happens within the individual – the psychological impact of the change itself. Whilst this might seem subtle, it is significant as he clarified the emotional impacts the individual experiences during each stage of a transition.

Bridges makes a key point that people experience change even if they don’t agree to or desire it. He highlights three zones of transition people go through when they experience change. He said they are:

  1. Ending, Losing and Letting Go
  2. The Neutral.
  3. The New Beginning
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How leaders can develop a global mindset

6 simple steps to developing curiosity

This blog is being typed in a coffee shop in Ireland. Here, all the headlines are about the impending disaster in Greece. The hyper-connected geography that is the European Community is bracing for the shocks that might radiate from the decisions or indecision from the leaders in Athens and their stakeholders.

Last week I was in Ascot near London working with a Pan-European leadership team to confirm their strategy for the next two years. I observed that they are faced with complexity and strategic decisions their predecessors are unlikely to have known.

This was evidenced when one leader in the group made a simple but rather profound statement. She is based in the Baltic region reporting to the leader who is based in London. Her insight was that for every decision they agree on as a team they have to consider the multiple impacts this decision will make on the Northern Europe region i.e. countries such as Sweden, Finland and Estonia. The Northern European Region, whilst clustered into the UK hub region, in reality has eight countries with different currencies, go to market regulations and dramatically different cultures. So what might be a straight forward decision at a central leadership level becomes complex in its execution.

These experiences have reinforced to me that leading internationally really requires leaders to develop a global mindset and to be continually developing that ability, as global complexities keep morphing and changing.

How do you do that?

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6 insights into Leading Virtual or Remote teams

Leading teams that are remote to the leader is not a new concept. Julius Caesar ran the old world from Rome and the English, French and Spanish have overseen many ‘followers’ that were not based in Europe!

But in 2015 the rate of workers operating virtually or remotely is increasing phenomenally as technology enables constant and immediate contact to the degree where it is as if you are in the same location.

According to the independent consulting firm, Global Workplace Analytics, the rate of teleworkers has grown nearly 80% since 2005. They report that the ‘multiple days per week employees (not including self-employed) telecommute has increased 79.7% from 2005 to 2012, though the rate of growth slowed during the recession. According to another recent report, within a few years, more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually—that is, through rich electronic connections from sites of their choosing.

Recently I worked with a pharmaceutical leadership team that had members spread across England, Ireland, Sweden, Norway and the Baltic states. They had developed effective methods to enable their performance. These were of course, different to the methodologies that a co-located team can employ i.e. the notion of having a leadership team “face-to-face” daily huddle, as espoused in some leading business books, does not make sense for this or many remote teams.

So how can a leader lead as effectively as possible under these circumstances?

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