Want to become a better team leader? Make these 5 investments.

 
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Leading people has been the part of my career with the steepest learning curve AND the part that has given me the brightest moments of my career. I have loved designing, building, and investing in strong teams. I have loved watching team members grow, find meaning in their work, take on new challenges, and inch closer toward fulfilling their purposes. This work gives my days meaning, yet it is no easy feat. As a people leader, we should be investing 30% or more of your time leading our teams. How much time do you spend leading your team?  How might your team shift positively if you could raise this percentage?

Pulling from the wisdom of the many wonderful leaders in my life, here are my top 5 investments to make as a people leader.

 

#1 Establish trust.

This is a necessary precursor to everything else you do as a leader. If you do not have your team’s trust, consider that a non-starter. Invest the time early in your relationship with your team to establish trust. The best way you can do this is to be a human - be vulnerable, be real, be clear. Make space to get to know your team as people and for them to get to know you and each other. Show up as your best, authentic self. Freely admit mistakes, say “I don’t know”, and ask for your team’s input, then use that input. Every person wants to be cared about and invested in at work, and this is a key piece of engagement. Higher engagement equals higher productivity equals reduced turnover equals better days. So, all that to say, establishing trust is the foundation of a winning team. You wouldn’t build a home without a foundation, so don’t build a team without trust.

 

#2 Create (and reiterate) clarity.

Clarity is hard to come by on many teams, yet it is so important. Be more clear than you think you need to be about roles, expectations, team values, behaviors, who does what...I could go on. Better yet, engage the team in the process of identifying these key things and constantly refer back to them. Don’t assume people are clear on their own roles and expectations (or your role or other team members’ roles).  Make the space to name these critical team elements explicitly and constantly refer back to them. It is your job as a manager to create an environment for your team members to do their jobs excellently, and a necessary step to that is that your team is clear on the what, why and how. Otherwise, you set yourself up for the good ole “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” Somewhere else is an incredibly frustrating place to be.

 

#3 Overcommunicate more than you think you need to.

If you think you’ve communicated enough, you probably haven’t. Overcommunication requires trust - your team must trust you and you must be able to trust your team. This requires that you hire people you can trust, establish trust on your team (see #1), then show your team your commitment by communicating, then overcommunicating clarity (see #2). Provide your team the valuable context and information they need to succeed. This becomes even more paramount during times of change.

 

#4 Get uncomfortable & practice radical candor.

If you haven’t seen this TED Talk, stop reading this now and go watch it! Radical candor is all about challenging directly and caring personally. I’d share more, but Kim Scott says it far better than I ever could.

 

#5 Lead people, don’t manage them.

People are incredible beings. When you have the right people in the right roles, they typically don’t need management or supervision. They need leadership. Leadership requires you to be a sounding board, a thought partner, and to provide the resources and space for them to do their jobs excellently without doing it for them. Leaders create cultures in which people thrive and want to follow the vision. Leaders create momentum and a space for learning, growth, and mistakes. Managers have people who do work for them. See the difference?
 

 

Finding Purpose

 
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There’s an interview question we need to talk about. It is one that I strongly dislike and it goes something like this: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” You could replace that 5 with a 10 or 20, but the question is still equally unhelpful in my view.

I’ve been asked this question multiple times and it sends a feeling of “ugh” down my spine every time. Why? Because, if we’re being a bit vulnerable and 100% honest here, who really knows what journey of life will lead us to in 5 years? Not me. This question has made me doubt myself, my clarity about what I wanted, and my drive to get to my goals. It has also made me feel inferior to those who could answer so clearly and confidently.  But all of this is simply a byproduct of a well-intentioned yet poorly formed question.

A few years ago, I decided I no longer cared about this question, at least in the format in which it is presented. Rather, what I actually cared about was finding out my why, my purpose. I started swirling these questions in my head (and - spoiler alert - I still do):

Why am I on this planet? What am I supposed to do with all of my waking hours? What is my role in addressing the world’s most urgent needs? What is my greatest value add and contribution to my community? What do I enjoy doing so much so that time passes extraordinarily fast? What gives my life meaning?

During this time, I started a list of all the things that gave me joy and meaning: physical movement (specifically, yoga and cycling), simply being outside, recipe-free plant-based cooking, rescue animals, editing resumes (for real), talking with people about their career and life goals, raising resources for causes I care deeply about, launching side projects that allowed me to be creative, learning new skills, reading business books, gardening, and the list goes on. Keeping this expansive list ultimately helped me to identify trends and priorities in my own life. Much of what landed on this list has informed my career and life ambitions, which are about the many ways we invest in ourselves as people.

The Learning: Once I stopped asking myself a boundaried, unfair question, I unknowingly set myself free to explore my purpose in a way that is creative, freeing, and exciting. Identifying and honing my purpose has given me just enough grounding to have roots, but enough liberty to create, pilot, fail and pivot over and over again.

How does this purpose stuff translate to interviewing? Good question. What is deeper and more meaningful to learn about is a candidate’s purpose versus their plan. Plans stem from purpose and are meaningless without it, so go deep first - discuss purpose!

For this particular question, think about what you’re really hoping to learn from candidates by asking “where do you want to be in X years”. Let’s assume the real intent has to do with assessing job fit, career ambitions and their alignment with your open role, or something in that arena. If that’s the case, instead of asking “where will you be in X years”, try something that goes deeper and is more meaningful. Here are just a few purpose questions you could try:

  1. What is your why?
  2. What gives you meaning in your work?
  3. What gives you great joy at work?
  4. What impact do you hope to leave on the world?

If you’re still interested in the plan, here are some questions to ask as follow ups that will get you that type of information.

  1. How do you see this coming to life in your work?
  2. What steps have you taken to achieve meaning? What future steps do you hope to take?
  3. How does this role connect to your personal mission or purpose?

I’ll leave you with this quote that I refer back to regularly and often:

“Things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.”
 

How to nail your phone screening interview

Congrats! You’ve applied for a job and got a callback. Make sure to celebrate, as this is a great accomplishment. Many job openings receive hundreds of applications, and not nearly that many candidates receive the call back you received! After you celebrate, it is time to prepare. Preparation is the key to nailing your phone screening interview.

First, and foremost, let’s quickly get aligned on what exactly a phone screening interview is and does. Phone screening interviews are the initial conversation(s) that you have with an organization, typically by phone. By design, they are quick and geared at understanding your high-level fit with the job and organization.

It probably goes without saying, but first impressions really matter here. Screening interviews can be a ton of fun for both the interviewer and the candidate. As a candidate, you can either make the interviewer (often a recruiter or the hiring manager) absolutely fall in love with you OR make them decide very quickly you're not a fit. There's always the middle ground, too, in which the interviewer will be undecided or neutral about your candidacy. And, in the recruiting world, a neutral review is typically a no. Insider tip: when I conduct screening interviews, I ask myself two questions: Am I excited to learn more about this person? Is this a candidate that I’d confidently present to XYZ hiring manager? Your goal is to give me, as a recruiter, a resounding yes to both of those questions!

There are some key things you can do (both ahead of time and during your interview) to "wow" your next interviewer. Here are some tips that I've developed from my personal experience as a candidate and as a recruiter.

  1. Do your homework. I cannot count the number of times I hop on a phone screening in which a candidate either doesn't know the job title of the role they're applying for, the name of the organization or just completely fails to mention their interest in this job, at this organization, at this time. Not a good first impression. Lesson: do your research - review the company website, check out LinkedIn profiles of people who work at the organization, talk to someone you know that works at the company (make sure you actually know them).  Additionally, in most organizations, the mission matters greatly above all else. Tip: As you’re doing your homework, jot down “zingers”, or things you discover that really resonate with you. Then, find a way to tie the role and the organization to your personal mission, and prepare ways to make that known in your interview, which leads me to my next point...
  2. Strategize what you’ll say. Once you've done your homework, it's time to strategize and craft what you’ll say in your interview. To be clear, this takes thought, strategy, and reflection. Think: how can I help this company solve the problem that is the reason this job was created? In what ways can I blow it out of the park? This is where you should put most of your prep time in advance of an interview. It is YOUR job to show how your background and experience are totally relevant to the job at hand, and that you are the right person to do it.  In other words, you need to show how you’re the perfect fit from a skill, will, culture, and mission perspective - no easy feat! However, if you do this right, your interview will feel easy AND fun. Here's how I do it (in case you are wondering): I print out the job description and my resume.  Then, I start to build a case based on my experience (i.e. resume) of how I could live into the particular action items, goals, competencies, etc. on the job description. This is not an exact science; however, these strategies have been integral and effective in my own job searches in the past.
  3. During your interview, be you.  There is no replacement for 100% authenticity in interactions with people, and the same is true of interviews, as they are simply an interaction with someone you don’t know...yet.  Think about it this way: If you are ultimately selected for the job you’re applying for, don’t you want to be selected because of who you are, the skills you bring, and how you’ll execute you work? Remember that this is about assessing fit for you too, and the only way to truly assess fit for yourself is to be fearlessly and authentically you.
  4. Always ask (good) questions at the end. If you don't ask any questions, this signals that you're not interested and/or didn't care enough to do your homework (see above). Secondly, make sure you ask strong questions.  Don’t ask about anything that is clearly found in the job posting. You’ll want to ask new, thoughtful, reflective questions. A bad question = What are the responsibilities of this person? A good question = I see that your enrollment goal is 80% by October. How has your team done against this goal in the past?
  5. Send a thank you note or email. A showing of gratitude is always a good thing, and evidence of emotional intelligence. I recommend sending within 48 hours of your interview, particularly for roles in which relationships matter (so, all of them).

Originally posted in February 2016 on my LinkedIn profile.

5 Tips for Avoiding a Bad Hire

Hiring can be tough, and it can also be enjoyable! Here are a few of my tips for avoiding a bad hire.

 

#1 Get super clear on your absolute musts for the role. Before you do anything else, achieve 100% clarity on what success looks like for your role. This means writing a scorecard, which will ultimately become your job description. I cannot stress this enough - a job description should not just be an HR formality.  Rather, a good job description is a management tool that should be used consistently and often, starting with hiring. Lay out your musts in two areas: goals (what must get accomplished) and competencies (skill sets needed to accomplish those goals). If you’re hiring for a new role, make sure you take the time to really design it well by writing a scorecard and getting feedback from trusted sources on it. If you’re backfilling an existing role, resist the urge to simply use the previous job description. I guarantee that you’ll want to make some changes for any number of reasons. Also, the first step you can take in attracting candidates who are a fit for your role is to tell them exactly what it is and what success looks like. Don’t miss that opportunity!

 

#2 Avoid “bright, shiny object” syndrome. One common pitfall in hiring occurs when hiring managers “fall in love” with a candidate early on and can no longer look at that candidate objectively. When this happens, we miss crucial information because we are so distracted by all things bright and shiny about a candidate. Do not fall in love - stay objective and at a healthy distance. Resist the urge to throw data out the window. The best way to do this is to use your scorecard or job description to objectively assess candidates.

 

#3 Use your gut, but back it up with data. I used to tell managers that the gut has no place in hiring. Over the years I have learned that it is next to impossible to rule out our guts, as they are a part of who we are as people and have evolved with us for centuries. What I now believe is that it’s important for us to use our guts effectively in hiring.  Here’s how you do that: do not solely use your gut to make decisions on candidates. You should first and foremost use interview data (what you learn in interviews from candidates) to inform your decisions and candidate assessments. Your gut should only play a secondary role to help you further understand and test your preferences and decisions. The more you use on actual interview data, the better.

 

#4 Educate yourself on implicit bias, then challenge your bias constantly. We are all inherently biased - this is a fact. In hiring (and in life), we must work hard to train ourselves to challenge our own biases. And this is no easy feat. My best tip - avoid declining candidates because “they’re not a culture fit.” I encourage you to really deconstruct what you mean by that. Ask yourself “why?” until you get to an answer that is rooted in interview data and can be tied back to your scorecard.  If the answer is valid (I.e. you can tie it back to your scorecard), then it may be a reason to rule that candidate out. If not, I encourage you to dig deeper to understand what role bias may be playing.

 

#5 If a candidate seems too good to be true, they probably are. This is a super simple tip: There is no such thing as a perfect candidate or perfect hire.  If a candidate seems perfect for any reason, that is a red flag. Move cautiously ahead if you struggle to get any lessons learned, mistakes made, gap or growth areas from a candidate.

 

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Happy hiring,

Amanda