Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Leadership Skill of DEVELOPMENT

Let’s continue this week with our examination of leadership skills. The last 2 weeks, I’ve shared articles to reinforce the three concepts that we discussed during our “Introduction to Leadership” on the December 8th airing of The Leader’s Edge.

We’ve covered the topics of Listening and Action. So, that leaves us with Development. The development of your employees and leaders is paramount to the success of your organization! Not only to make them as effective in their roles as possible (whether it’s technical or “people skills” training), but also to show them that you care about them and their contributions to your organization. The more opportunities you offer your employees to develop themselves and to then utilize those skills, the more likely they are to trust you and be loyal to you, in good times and bad.

Indeed, that reflects the title of a blog post which Dave published a couple of years ago, “Great Leaders Develop Good People - Even in Bad Times”. The topic of that article is certainly relevant to our current discussion:

Whenever the economy turns bad, and that seems to happen on a regular basis, many companies start looking for ways to cut their costs. One of the very first things that some companies cut are any costs associated with human development. Coaching, training classes, and even brown-bag lunches are viewed as a “soft cost” that have no direct impact on the bottom line.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

On the surface, wringing out any excess costs seems to make a lot of sense. But great leaders know that wringing out all the costs might also mean wringing out all of the energy, excitement and creativity from a company as well. And, when things are tough, you need your team to crank up the energy and creativity, not bury it under a blanket.

Imagine a scenario where one of your top customers places a big order that is going to require the very best from your team to complete the delivery. Your team, suffering the blahs after having their overtime cut, all of the plants removed from the office, the coffee service removed from the office, and all personal development eliminated, can’t figure out how to deliver this order on time with the correct content.

Of course, Jack could have led his team to get this done, but Jack left 6 weeks ago to join a competitor. Sally was another manager who could probably have pulled it off as well, but she left about 3 months ago and changed careers entirely. Their replacements came from in house and, while they are excellent technically, they lack the skills to lead the team on a project of this size.

You meant to develop more managers with the appropriate team leadership skills, but with times being tight, you cut back on hiring, stopped training both your technicians and your managers and hunkered down to wait out the downturn.

Now that downturn may last much longer than expected. And you may lose your best client for screwing up this order. But that’s ok because you were able to wring out all of those excess costs that don’t really add to the bottom line.

Great leaders understand the difference between unnecessary costs and the costs of keeping your managers and staff excited, motivated, and most importantly, on your team. Great leaders understand that developing people is not an unnecessary cost, but an investment in the business itself. Staff development can have the very same payoff and ROI that an investment in new equipment can have. And an investment in your staff has the added incentive of making your team more valuable over time.

And that can get you through a lot of tough times.

I hope this article has inspired you to think about additional ways that you can offer development opportunities to your team. We’d love to hear some of your thoughts on development and any unique development opportunities that you may have tried or are considering.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Leadership Skill of ACTION

Last week, I shared a blog that we had previously posted on the art of “Listening”. Listening is one of the key leadership skills that Dave and I discussed recently on The Leader’s Edge, where we introduced Leadership as one aspect of our Fusion Model of organizational and employee engagement.

It seemed fitting to repost the Listening blog to help reinforce the 4 secrets that will make you a good listener. This week, let’s continue the theme of leadership skills and take a closer look at the second concept we discussed during our Leadership introduction: Action.

A team is always a direct reflection of their leader. The energy of the leader turns into the energy of the team. The priorities and values of the leader should be shared by the team. In those cases where the leader and the team members don't share the same values and priorities, something must change. Either the leader will replace the team members, or the members will replace the team leader.

Show me the leader and I will know his men. Show me the men and I will know their leader. – Arthur Newcomb

Knowing how teams reflect their leader, we are always surprised to encounter a leader who states that his team does not share his values. Frankly, it’s not possible for a high functioning team to NOT share the values of the leader. When we encounter these situations, we often find that the team is, indeed, following the leader. But they are following his actions, not his words.

So many leaders have learned the right words or catch-phrases to parrot to their team. The message that “the customer is number 1” is trumpeted loudly, although slightly out of tune. Or they espouse “Our people are our top priority,” while cutting training dollars and hours, forcing unpaid overtime, and raising production quotas, giving no thought to the impact on the employees or the customers.

Actions speak louder than words and team members look past the words of the leader and take their queues from his actions. While the leader espouses the platitudes learned from the latest management conference they attended, the team members see the actions of their leader and KNOW the actions reflect where the leader’s heart really lies.

We have always found that team members are much more observant than they are given credit for. They can readily detect the incongruence between the words and the actions of the boss and they follow the lead set by those actions. It doesn’t matter if the issue is customer service, how you treat your employees, or how punctual you are for work and meetings. Where you lead, they will follow.

If your goal is for your team to treat your customers like gold, then you need to demonstrate, in both word and actions, that the customers ARE gold. If you believe your employees are the key to your success (and we certainly hope you do), then you need to treat them with the respect they deserve.

When you really begin to care about your customers, your employees, and your results, as shown by your actions as well as your words, you will see that all of your team members care about those things as well.

The above article excerpt (the original of which is published on our website) reiterates the point that, as a leader, your actions will speak louder than your words. Your employees will be watching you closely to determine whether or not you “walk your talk”….both so that they know now to act themselves AND to determine if/how much they can trust you and the organization. Therefore, as you can imagine, ensuring that your actions match your words can have great implications for the future success of your organization.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Leadership Skill of LISTENING

On last week’s radio show (The Leader’s Edge), we discussed the concept of Leadership and how important Leadership Styles are to creating engagement and energy in your organization. We reviewed 10 Key Leadership Skills (discussed in last week’s blog) and then focused our discussion on 3 skills that are not always covered in the latest leadership blogs, books, and classes: listening, action, and development.

Over the next three weeks, I’d like to repost / share some blogs and articles that we have written over the last couple of years to reiterate and reinforce the concepts that we discussed on last week’s “The Leader’s Edge”. So, let’s start with Listening….

I’m sure that many of you are aware of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People.” If you are not, it’s a book you should read. Habit number 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s a valuable habit that we should all study and practice.

But how exactly do we do this?

What is the secret of understanding?

Well, it’s not exactly a secret that two monologues do not make a dialogue, yet too often that is exactly the way our discussions are treated.

Listening is something that most of us say that we do well, but few actually do. I’m sure there was a time in the history of man when people really listened to each other, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you when the time was, or why people stopped listening to each other. However, I can tell you some secrets to good listening that the best listeners employ and that make them “great conversationalists.”

The secrets themselves are not complex and do not involve a lot of deep psychological understanding to employ. But, while they are simple to discuss, they are much more difficult to implement because they are “uncomfortable” and require a lot of thought. If you practice the techniques below, I promise you that you will be a better listener and that people will interact with you differently on a day to day basis.

Secret Number 1: Clear your mind
Just like Stephen Covey wrote in his groundbreaking book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you must first seek to understand, and then to be understood.

When listening to another person, clear your mind of all thoughts and focus your attention 100% on the other person. Put aside your own perspective on the issue, or your feelings about the other person and make your mind a blank slate to be filled by the other person’s words.

Secret Number 2: Don’t anticipate the conversation
As the conversation starts, resist the temptation to leap ahead in the discussion to its “obvious conclusion.” Don’t try and guess what they will say next. Instead, let their words come to you in the way that they had intended. When we anticipate where the discussion is going, we often miss key points the other person is trying to make.

Secret Number 3: Don’t multi-task
Study after study has proven that multi-tasking doesn’t work. Although many of us feel that we can do two things at one time, the truth is that when we try and do two things at once, neither task gets the attention it deserves. This is especially true when we are trying to listen to someone else. When you are engaged in a conversation, give the other person your undivided attention. Not only will you hear more, but the other person will appreciate your efforts as well.

Secret Number 4: Pause before responding
Normally, when we are engaged in a conversation we develop our response while the other person is still speaking. Sometimes we key in on a word or phrase that they used, and sometimes we anticipate what they are going to say (see number 2 above). In either event, we begin crafting our response while they are speaking, and in doing so we tune them out, carefully picking the words in our response for maximum impact.

Instead, try letting the other person finish their statements and then pause before you respond. In reality it will only take you about 2 seconds to determine the perfect response, because of the quality of your listening. At first, this might seem like the longest 2 seconds of your life, as pauses in conversations tend to be rare these days. But after a little practice, this will become natural for you and for your listeners as well.

At first glance, it might appear that following these guidelines for listening could lengthen your conversations, taking up more of your valuable time. In reality, you will find that you will save time overall because the conversations will be more meaningful, you will reach resolution quicker, and you won’t have repeat conversations because of items left unresolved.

What are some of the rules that you engage in listening? Do you have secrets to share that make you an effective listener? If so, we’d love to hear them.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

10 Things Every Leader Should Know – Revisited

If you’ve visited the ECI website or if you’ve been following the discussions on our radio show (The Leader’s Edge), you’ll have seen (or heard) about a model that we call Fusion™. This model is based on the idea that your organization will be the most engaged and your employees will have the most creative energy when three important aspects of your organization are in alignment. Those aspects are your Corporate Culture, the Expectations of your Employees, and the Leadership Styles of your executive team.

Over the last few months, we’ve blogged a lot about Corporate Culture and we’ve talked about it with several of our radio show guests. While Corporate Culture is very important to the success of your organization, the other aspects play a key role as well. So, this week on “The Leader’s Edge”, we’ll introduce the topic of Leadership Styles. And, we’ll follow that in the weeks to come with several guests discussing their own personal Leadership Styles; how they developed them, how/if they must adapt them over time, and what those styles mean to their organizations.

Since we’ll be sharing various aspects of Leadership and Leadership styles this week, I thought it was appropriate to reprint a blog that Dave wrote some time ago called “The 10 Things Every Leader Should Know”:

Whether you are a new or an experienced leader, there are some key things that every leader should know and understand to ensure their success. While some people are natural born leaders, others learn through trial and error. But whether you are a natural leader or someone who has learned leadership the hard way, there are a few things every leader should know. Below are 10 items that you should apply every day to ensure your success as a leader.
1. Vision - Your team is looking to you for hope. As a leader it is your responsibility to tell the truth, but to also provide a clear vision and hope for the future.
2. Communication - It’s not enough to have a clear vision for the future if no one knows what that vision is. Communicate that vision continually to all levels of your organization.
3. Action - People will follow what they see more quickly than what they hear. Don’t just communicate your vision but live it through your actions.
4. People - The best way to show how smart you are is to hire people that are even smarter than you are. Your success will be defined by those around you. Surround yourself with the smartest people you can find at all levels of your organization.
5. Listen - All around you there are wonderful ideas floating around. But you can’t hear them if you are too busy talking. You hired those smart people, now listen to them.
6. Motivation - You can’t motivate anyone because motivation comes from within. But you can provide an environment that encourages people and allows them to stretch to their limits and beyond.
7. Talent - Everyone has talent; something they can do better than almost anyone else. Identifying people’s talents and utilizing those talents in an organization means that you can get the best from every employee.
8. Trust – Great teams are built on the foundation of great leadership. Great leadership is built on the foundation of great trust. Start building trust on day one and never let up.
9. Development – In good times and bad you want to be able to do more with less. That means spending the time and the money to develop the talent on your team. It’s this development that will help your team survive and thrive when you need them most.
10. Energy - Workplace energy means that your team is fully engaged at all levels of the organization. Workplace energy happens when the company’s culture, the management's style and the employees' expectations overlap and create a synergy that propels the entire organization forward.

We hope you can join us on for our upcoming series on Leadership Styles (Thursdays at 3pm Mountain Time – just click the “Listen Live” link) and that you will join in the discussion on our show’s facebook page. We’d love to hear your thoughts and insights!

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Dimension To Hiring Beyond Skills

Last week, we talked about hiring and the fact that, generally speaking, hiring for attributes like passion, values, expectations, and talent rather than basic skills will serve you, your team, and your entire organization better in the long run.

In writing last week’s post, I was reminded of an article that Dave and I published some time ago on the ECI Learning Systems website. I think that article, which I’ve shared below, adds another important dimension to our hiring discussion..….

We were recently working with a client and were discussing the fact that he was preparing to do some hiring. He had only hired a few people on his own in the past and frankly, wasn’t all that happy with the people that he had hired. Our client has a technical background and was good at spotting technical talent but he found that just because people had the talent to do the job, didn’t always mean that they could or would work for him successfully.

The truth is that there is much more to hiring and building a successful team than just hiring people who have the talent and skills to do the job. You don’t have to think hard to identify some talented under-achievers in just about any field. Likewise, you can probably think of many examples of over-achievers who seemingly lacked the natural talent, yet somehow always managed to rise to the top.

When you are hiring for specific skills, you need to make sure that your candidates have the right talent and skills to succeed. If you’re hiring an accountant, you want to make sure your candidates have the accounting degree or equivalent experience to do the job. The same would be true of a salesperson, programmer, or customer service representative. Step one in the hiring process is always, “Does this person have the skills and talents to do what I need them to do?”

But what happens after that? What else do you look for when you are making the critical hiring decisions?

The list of attributes can be long, but let’s focus on four things:

Integrity – adherence to a moral or ethical code
Energy – will take action and make things happen
Coachability – can be further trained or developed
Team Oriented – willingness to put the teams’ goals ahead of their own goals

If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb & lazy. ~Warren Buffett
If we could choose just one attribute to be used for hiring, it would be integrity. When an employee has integrity, you know that this is an employee you can trust.

Trust to tell you when they can’t accomplish something.

Trust to tell you when they don’t think you are right.

Trust to do the right thing for your customers.

When you can trust your employees and your employees can trust you, you have then truly built the foundation for a great team.

I think this article expands our discussion of hiring attributes even further.

Beyond skills…beyond having a passion for your organization’s mission…beyond having values and expectations that are a critical fit with your organization’s culture and values…and beyond having unique talents that will make them an invaluable long-term employee…there are other, more personal, attributes that are important to your organization and should not be compromised in the hiring process.

We mentioned 4 of these personal attributes above: integrity, energy, coachability, and team-oriented attitude and behavior. Do these attributes resonate with you? Are there other attributes that we did not mention, which are critical to your organization’s values, expectations, and mission? Do you currently explore these attributes in your hiring process? If so, how do you determine if a potential employee has “the right stuff”?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on hiring and how you handle this critical process in your organization.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is there Hiring Beyond Skills?

The topic of hiring has come up in several recent discussions on our radio show, The Leader’s Edge.

Hiring can be a tricky subject, as there are different schools of thought on the process. HR departments often insist that hiring must be done based on a person’s skillset and their ability to immediately perform the tasks at hand….with no forethought to how this person will perform long-term, or in other roles, or as a team member or leader.

Wise leaders (including those we’ve talked to on our show) and many great leadership experts believe that there is a better way!

In September, Steve Cooper, CEO of the Hospice of St. John, was a guest on our show. His non-profit staffs a combination of paid and volunteer personnel. Steve talked about how important a person’s passion for the hospice patients and families is to their ultimate success there. Similarly, several months ago I read an article in the Denver Post about the Autism Society of Colorado. Their executive director also mentioned that true, authentic passion is the key to hiring successful, long-term employees in their organization. The common message from these non-profit leaders: Hire for values and train for skill.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself…. “well, I can see how that makes sense in the non-profit world…but it really doesn’t apply to my business.” Again, several of our radio show guests would disagree with you. Heidi Hollenbeck, John Scarborough, and Richard Battenberg are all high-level executives in high-tech industries. All three talked about how important it is to determine if a candidate’s values and expectations match the company’s values and culture. The message from these successful business executives: Hire for fit and train for skills.

Are you starting to see a theme here? Let’s look at one more perspective. In this excerpt from the Hiring and Interviewing chapter of “The Engaged Manager”, my business partner, Coach David R Meyer, shares thoughts from his personal hiring experience:

Finding the right players for your team, not only for today but also for the future, is one of the most enjoyable tasks that you will perform as a manager. Searching for talent and improving the quality of your team can only serve to make your team stronger and your own job easier.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you find the best talent for your organization. Ultimately, hiring for talent, while more challenging and time consuming than hiring for skills, is one of the keys to your long-term success.


If you want to hire the very best people, if you want to build a great team, if you want to be a great leader, then hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Certainly, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you were in a hospital and hiring neurosurgeons, then you would not hire a great guy or gal who did not have a medical degree. But being a neurosurgeon is a specialized skill that takes years to acquire. This is not true for most positions. In addition, as you interviewed neurosurgeons, you would look for the neurosurgeon with the most talent and the best attitude, NOT the one who had performed the most operations.

Skills are the most routine part of any job. Yes, you need to make sure that the basic skill-set exists in your candidate, but not the specific skills. Skills can be taught, talent cannot. When you hire based on skills, you are hiring based on the lowest common denominator of the job. When you hire for talent, you are hiring the potential to do so much more than the job requires. When you hire for talent, you are hiring for future growth.

When you hire for talent, you are hiring for things that cannot be taught!

Hire for talent and you will hire for greatness.

Dave’s message from this chapter: Hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Now, as Dave points out in this excerpt, skills do play a role in the hiring process and are certainly critical in certain professions. But, once you ensure that the person has the basic skills to do the job, hiring the RIGHT person for the job can depend heavily on their passion, values, expectations, and overall talent. Remember….skills can be taught, many of these other attributes cannot. And, these attributes could mean the difference between hiring a successful long-term employee and replacing someone who was not a good fit a few months down the road.

Take a look at your hiring processes. Is there room for improvement? Do you hire only for skill-set? Is it appropriate for your business to consider hiring based on other attributes? Besides passion, values, expectations, and talent….are there other attributes that make sense for your organization? If so, we’d love for you to share them here!

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” Culture

Dave and I have given several presentations this year on the subject of failure, and the role of failure in success. As individuals, we have been taught that failure is a bad thing. Now I doubt that anyone sat each of us down and told us that failure is a terrible thing and that we should never, ever fail….or that any of us actually had a class on failure where we were told it was bad. But, all of life’s lessons, the things that we are encouraged to strive for, and the things that we might be admonished for, all potentially lead us to the conclusion that failure is bad.

Our presentation on failure is called “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” and, in it, we actually encourage people to take a few more risks and to not be afraid of failing. We offer a 4-step process to help individuals embrace the notion that failure is how we learn; that failure has lead to some of the greatest successes of our time. Now, I’m not going to go into all of the details here….because it would spoil the presentation for you! (but…..if you’d like to hear more about the tie-in between failure and success and how it can help empower your employees or group members and can lead to more innovation, give us a call. We’d love to bring “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” into your organization or company).

What I will discuss today is the idea of applying the “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” concept to company culture. Managers in a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture understand that, for innovation to happen, employees need to have the space to envision, explore, experiment, and learn from any mistakes they might make in the process. A “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture is one where employees are rewarded for being flexible, taking risks, and trying new things; rather than being inflexible, sticking to the old tried and true ways, and doing things as they have always been done. What’s the old saying….. “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Not exactly the mantra of innovators, is it?!?!?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that management should simply let employees experiment randomly, never learning from their mistakes and never applying those lessons to the task at hand. This is a sure way to accomplish nothing but repeated mistakes, schedule and budget creep, and, eventually, a loss in profits.

Rather, in a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture, success is the ultimate goal and, when employees fail at something, they are encouraged to stop and examine that failure. Only when they acknowledge the mistake to themselves and others, can they truly examine the underlying reasons for the failure and learn the critical lessons that will make their next attempt more successful.

In our presentation on failure, Dave and I make the point that failure is temporary in nature. Problems arise only when failure becomes permanent. And failure only becomes permanent if we do not learn from our mistakes and move on. And, when moving on, we don’t simply forget the failure or the lessons. Instead, we focus on how we can grow from the experience, constantly looking for ways to apply those lessons and asking ourselves how we can build on what we’ve learned.

While risk can certainly be scary for an individual, it is even more so for an organization. But as the leader of an organization, you cannot let the possibility of failure paralyze you and your team. If you take no risks, you’ll have no failure…..but you’ll also have no gain.

Is a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture right for your business? If so, is it the type of culture that you have created in your organization? Do you encourage risk-taking and acknowledge the potential for failure. Do you assume that learning those lessons are all part of doing business? Do you teach your employees that failure can be the road to the greatest, most satisfying, success?

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC