Sharing Information About Yourself

In years past, the leader was the boss. Yesterday’s leaders shared information on a need-to-know basis and personal disclosures were rare.

Since then, leadership has evolved. Successful leaders today can no longer lead based solely on the power of their title or position. They must create genuine partnerships with those they lead, based on the following fundamental belief:

Leadership is not something you do to people;

It’s something you do with people.

So, how do you create genuine connection with the people who work with you? One of the most effective practices is Sharing Information About Yourself—which is one of the fourteen SLII® micro skills I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs.

How to Share About Yourself Effectively

Like many skills, there’s a right way and a wrong way to share information about yourself in a work setting. Let’s begin with the right way.

A good start is to share your Leadership Point of View with the people you lead. Your Leadership Point of View describes the key people who have influenced your life—such as parents, grandparents, coaches, or bosses—and what you learned about leadership from these people. It also describes key events that were turning points for you and explains what you learned from those experiences. Finally, your Leadership Point of View identifies your personal purpose and values. By sharing your Leadership Point of View, people will know your values, what you expect from yourself, and what you expect from them.

It’s Not About You

Use good judgment when sharing information about yourself. Remember, the purpose of sharing about yourself is to foster a thriving partnership. It’s not about you; it’s about creating connection.

Keep the focus on sharing information that will be useful to the person you’re leading. The information you share should put them at ease and help them relate to you. Do not waste people’s time by oversharing or disclosing personal information that could make people uncomfortable.

Before you disclose personal information, ask yourself: Will this information serve the person I am leading? Perhaps you have a personal anecdote that can help someone understand why a task is important. Maybe you have a story about an error you made that can illustrate why a certain policy or procedure makes sense. It can be helpful to share your mistakes with others, so that they don’t have to learn the hard way.

It’s Okay To Be Vulnerable

As Brené Brown contends in her bestselling book, Dare to Lead, it’s okay for leaders to be vulnerable. You might think that if you admit you don’t know how to solve every problem, people will see you as weak. Quite the contrary. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!

For example, my team is aware of the fact that I often don’t know how to say no. I’ve never heard a bad idea, so I say yes too easily. As a result, I tend to become overcommitted—which puts stress on me and my team. That’s why we established a system a few years ago for me to give out my executive assistant’s business card instead of my own, so she can help screen calls and talk with me about which business proposals are realistic considering my time, energy, and the team’s resources.

Did admitting I have a hard time saying no weaken my leadership? Not in the least. In fact, it led to a solution that made work easier for all of us.

So—with others’ best interests in mind—share information about yourself with your team. You’ll be building trust, strengthening relationships, and leading more effectively.

Developing Action Plans

When a person is in the earliest stage of learning a new task or working toward a new goal, even though they may be excited about starting the work, they typically lack knowledge on how and where to begin. An effective SLII® leader knows that this individual requires a Directive leadership style. One of the specific directive leadership behaviors for supporting someone at this stage of development is developing an action plan for the direct report to follow.

As I’ve suggested in previous posts, other directive SLII® micro skills include leadership behaviors such as setting SMART goals, showing and telling how, establishing timelines, identifying priorities, and clarifying roles. These are actions that shape and control what, how, and when things are done. SLII® leaders call on these directive skills when direct reports are in the first stages of learning a new task or working on a goal—when their competence is relatively low and they need specific direction.

Developing an action plan follows the assigning of a goal or a task. When a direct report is low or very low on competence regarding the goal or task, they need to know more than just how to do it—they also need to know that their leader will be there for them if they need help. To that end, as an SLII® leader, you will ensure the person understands the goal or task and what a good job looks like. You will then lay out a step-by-step plan showing how the work is to be accomplished. In other words, you will not only pass out the test, you will teach them the answers!

Without a clear plan, there is no real focus. And without focus, your direct report might be working hard—but not smart. It’s as if you are forcing them to move forward with a blindfold on. They won’t be able to see the big picture. Ultimately, this will create extra work in the long run for both of you.

To paraphrase a well-known adage, when you take the time to plan the work, your team member will be better able to work the plan. An effective action plan allows the direct report to be proactive at making continuous progress toward the end goal instead of being reactive when issues come up along the way that slow them down. They will save time, be more focused, and avoid many pitfalls along the way. Most important, they will feel supported by their leader. And after all, what is your goal as an SLII® leader? To help your people achieve their goals.

I’m not done with SLII® micro skills yet! Watch this space—there are more to come!

Sharing Information About Your Organization

Sharing Information About Your Organization is, in fact, one of the SLII® micro skills—the fourteen directive and supportive leader behaviors I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs.

I’ve always been a big believer in sharing information. As a college professor, I used to give out the final exam on the first day of class—and spend the rest of the semester teaching students the answers. Why did I do this? I shared this information so that my students could master the material and get an A. After all, the point of education is to give people knowledge, not to sort them into some normal distribution curve.

The Benefits of Sharing Information

Business leaders should also strive to give people knowledge. Just as giving my students the final exam and teaching them the answers allowed them to master the course material, giving employees the information they need empowers them to find solutions and make informed business decisions.

Today’s most successful leaders know how to create a partnership with the people they lead. They view people as working with them rather than for them. Managers skilled in SLII® don’t just tell people what to do; they actually provide resources and information to help people do their jobs.

When employees learn more about the organization, they can see where their individual work fits into a larger context. They work faster and smarter, because now they have access to organizational resources and knowledge. Knowing that their tasks have meaning and connect to a larger purpose boosts people’s motivation and increases their job satisfaction.

Transparency Creates Trust

Being transparent with information about your organization—even information on sensitive topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, industry issues, or problem areas—communicates a sense of “we’re in this together.” This kind of information sharing builds trust and improves morale. It also encourages people to act like owners of the organization, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

More and more organizations are realizing the benefits of sharing sensitive information. A study from Robert Half Management Resources found that 56% of private organizations provide at least some employees with regular updates on the company’s financial performance—a 32% increase over 2012.

Sharing sensitive information has benefitted our own organization. When the events of September 11, 2001 created a crisis in our company’s bottom line, the leadership team opened the books to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent and ideas and commitment to increase revenues and cut costs—and the company emerged from the crisis stronger than ever.

Information Sharing in the Age of COVID-19

Fast-forward to 2020, as organizations around the world adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our new president, my son Scott Blanchard, has been living his value of forthrightness by writing weekly updates to the entire company about how COVID-19 is impacting our business. Scott candidly shares information about our company’s finances and survival strategies—and the news often isn’t pretty. “It is a cruel irony that the values I cherish are not only being tested but pushed to the limit,” he wrote in an all-company e-mail. “While I can’t foresee what will happen ultimately, I remain committed to these values and to the values we have leaned on in the business during the most trying of times.”

When leaders share information about the organization, they multiply the number of intelligent minds working to solve problems. In our own company, this has led to a revolutionary transformation from classroom to digital learning. As Scott puts it, we’ve shifted from surviving to thriving—and it wouldn’t have happened without the commitment and brainpower of our associates.

That’s why I so often say: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

All Good Performance Starts with Clear Goals—and Clear Roles

One of the key directive leadership behaviors for SLII® leaders centers around the leader working closely with each direct report until the person is able to effectively perform the responsibilities required of their individual role. This SLII® micro skill is called Clarifying Roles.

Clear roles go hand in hand with clear goals. You already may know that one of my favorite sayings is “All good performance starts with clear goals.” In effect, that quote could be changed to read “All good performance starts with clear goals and clear roles.” High performers are not only able to clearly describe their goals, they are also committed to learning how to master specific aspects of their role—daily functions that may include upholding standards of communication, recognizing their level of authority, directing the work of others, making decisions, etc. The SLII® leader takes an active part in this process, leading the way in determining the person’s development level in each area and providing the right amount of direction and support to help the person win—achieve their goals.  

Want an example of how a manager might work with a direct report to help them learn and understand their role? Let’s take a look at a clip of a conversation from Leadership and The One Minute Manager, a book I coauthored with my friends Pat Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi, two of our company’s cofounders.

Here’s the context: An entrepreneur wanted to learn how the One Minute Manager could flex his leadership style for people depending on their needs. So, the One Minute Manager asked the entrepreneur to visit with a few people on his team and get their perspectives. The first person the entrepreneur met with was Larry McKenzie, who recently had been promoted to the role of vice president for people and talent development.

“I’m interested in finding out how the One Minute Manager works with you,” said the entrepreneur. “Would you call him a collaborative manager? I’ve been reading a lot about collaborative leadership.”

“He’s far from being collaborative with me,” said Larry. “In fact, he is very directive with me. People development is his baby. So, my job is essentially to follow his direction.”

“But why doesn’t he just assign you the projects he needs you to do and then just let you figure them out?” asked the entrepreneur. “He must trust you if he put you in this job.”

“I think he trusts that I’ll develop in this role, but he’s the expert,” said Larry. “So, he assigns me projects and then works very closely with me on almost every aspect of them. This role is a big stretch for me. I’m just learning about several of the responsibilities that come with this job.”

“Don’t you resent that?” asked the entrepreneur. “It sounds pretty controlling to me.”

“Not at all,” said Larry. “I was in comp and benefits before I got this position three months ago. I jumped at the opportunity to move into the people and talent group. Working with the One Minute Manager would give me a chance to learn the whole area of talent development from the ground up. He’s considered a real pro when it comes to developing people. So apart from comp and benefits—where he leaves me alone when he works with me—in almost every other area, he’s very clear about what he wants me to do and how he wants me to do it. I always know where I stand because of the frequent meetings we have and the ongoing feedback he gives me.”

“Do you think he will ever let you make any decisions on your own?” asked the entrepreneur.

“As I learn the ropes,” said Larry. “But it’s hard to make good decisions when I don’t know a lot about what it takes to accomplish my goals. Right now I’m glad the One Minute Manager wants to be involved. I’m excited about my job, and as I gain experience, I’m sure I’ll assume more responsibility.”

This passage makes clear that no matter how elevated a direct report’s role, the SLII® leader uses a directive style on the job functions that are new to that person. Note how Larry mentions that the One Minute Manager uses a delegating style on the comp and benefits areas where Larry already has expertise. However, in other areas where Larry has little expertise, the One Minute Manager uses a directing style where he shows and tells Larry exactly how those tasks should be done. As time goes by and Larry learns and improves, the responsibilities of his role become crystal clear. An SLII® leader’s job is to flex their leadership style to meet the direct report’s development level on a given task or goal. Helping each person clarify their role is an important part of that process.

Acknowledging and Encouraging

Most leaders genuinely intend to manage people well. Unfortunately, many of them fail to engage and motivate others. Why? I believe it’s because you can’t just hope to be a good leader; you have to consistently practice proven leader behaviors.

As I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs, there are a set of directive and supportive behaviors leaders can employ to help both people and their organization thrive.  We call these leader behaviors SLII® micro skills.

Of all the supportive SLII® behaviors, my favorite is Acknowledging and Encouraging. If I could only use one management tool for the rest of my life, it would be this:  Catch People Doing Things Right.

Acknowledging Is a Learned Skill

Too often people feel they are working in a vacuum, because no matter how well they perform, nobody notices. Or, if their manager notices, they make overly general comments, such as, “I appreciate your efforts” or “thanks for the good job.” While that’s better than saying nothing, it doesn’t do a whole lot to motivate the person or help that person feel valued.

Do it quickly and in detail. For acknowledgment to be effective, it needs to be immediate and specific. When you notice a job well done, tell the person as soon as possible exactly what they did right. For example:

“When I was called away last week and couldn’t lead the department meeting, you stepped up, asked me for the agenda, and led the team through each item.”

State your feelings. Next, tell the person how what they did impacted you. Don’t intellectualize. State your gut feelings:

“We didn’t miss a single deliverable. I felt so relieved and supported. You made me and the whole department look good. Thank you!”

Notice how much more effective that is than merely saying, “Thanks. Good job.”

To Encourage, Try Praising People

I ask audiences all the time: “How many of you are sick and tired of all the praisings you get at work?” Everybody laughs, because to most of us, praising does not come naturally. Thousands of years of evolution have wired our brains to search for what isn’t right: Is that a stick on the trail or a venomous snake? Is the wind moving that bush or is it a bear? Our tendency to focus on what isn’t right is a protective mechanism. Unfortunately, it makes us more likely to catch each other doing things wrong.

Take marriage, for example. When you first fall in love, your partner can do no wrong. But after a time you notice what bugs you and you start saying things like, “I can’t believe you could make such a stupid mistake!” Far from motivating your partner, comments like these discourage and shut them down.

Praise, on the other hand, is inherently motivating. Research has shown that praise triggers the hypothalamus and releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical in our brains.

Being close counts. You don’t have to wait for exactly the right behavior before praising someone. Even if a person is doing something approximately right, it’s important to recognize their effort.

Suppose your child is just learning to speak and you want to teach him to say, “Give me a glass of water, please.” If you wait until he says the whole sentence before you give him any water, your kid is going to die of thirst! So you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” And when your kid says “waller,” you jump up and down, kiss the boy, and get Grandma on the phone so she can hear him say “waller.” It isn’t “water” but at this stage, you praise him anyway.

You don’t want your kid going into a restaurant at age 21 and asking for a glass of waller, so after a while you only accept the word “water” and then you start on “please.”

Think of encouragement in the same way. In the beginning, catch people doing things approximately right. As their skills develop, gradually move them toward higher levels of competence.

A Positive Cycle

The importance of acknowledging people’s efforts and encouraging their progress cannot be overstated. These leader behaviors set up a positive cycle: Your praise helps people feel good about themselves. People who feel good about themselves produce good results—and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.

So generate some positive energy and help people reach their full potential. Catch people doing things right!