Development, Leadership, Motivation, Planning

5 Questions That Lead Leaders

As a leader you spend a lot of time thinking about others and their professional development. But do you spend enough time thinking about yours? More specifically, do you spend enough time evaluating your current role and its contributions to your future self?

Last week I woke up and I wasn’t particularly interested in Chip and Grey. It was the first time in 3.5 months that I wasn’t interested in feeding the two squirrels, but it wasn’t the first or last time I would question if my current role was fulfilling my professional needs.

It’s easy to forget about your own goals when you’re managing a team with many goals of their own; goals that you will help them achieve. But if/when you wake up one morning and you’re not particularly interested in seeing said team members or you can’t remember the last time you discussed your career goals with someone, I encourage you to set some time aside for some personal and professional interrogation.

Here are 5 questions every leader should ask themselves on a regular basis: 

  1. What were my expectations when I took on this role? (Were they met or can they be met?) 
  2. Am I going to learn any knew skills in the next 12 months? 
  3. How do I feel about the field/industry? (Am I passionate about it?)
  4. Does the culture of the organization align with my values? 
  5. Is there room to move up or laterally within the organization? 

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Why should you ask these questions? Because part of being a great leader is being able to recognize when a role is no longer contributing to your own professional and personal goals. In a previous blog post I discussed how identifying a company’s limitations can change your approach to your team’s training and development, and it’s important to not forget about your own development in the process. The only thing harder than leading is leading without experience.

Take some time to interrogate your current role and ask yourself 5 potentially revealing questions. You may come to the conclusion that you’re happy where you are, or, you may realize that it’s time to take a different route. But one of the most important things you can do as a leader is keep a map in the glove compartment and keep an eye on your personal road. A leader without a map will eventually lead others in the wrong direction. 

– Brianna

Development, Leadership, Micromanagement

‘Chip bit me!’: Tetanus Shots and the Conscious Act of Micromanaging

Chip bit my finger.

It was 100% my fault. Instead of leaving the peanuts on the window sill like I usually do, I decided to hold them in my hand to “see what would happen.” The worst part? I knew exactly what would happen. When I felt Chip’s tiny teeth sink into my finger, I panicked, he panicked, and we both ran in opposite directions.

Chip thought he was grabbing a peanut and I was micromanaging.

Back in 2014, Muriel Maignan Wilkins wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review which discussed the signs, symptoms, and treatments of micromanagement. For a quick reminder, here are some of the signs according to Wilkins:

“- You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables.
– You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
– You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections.
– You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re         working on.
– You ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
– You prefer to be cc’d on emails.”

We’ve all had a manager, or been a manager who micromanages. And I think we all know that micromanagement is necessary in certain situations. I’ve asked to be cc’d on emails and I have asked for more than one update. But we also know that consistent micromanagement leads to resistance, lack of motivation/productivity, and the decentralization of any group consensus. We are quick to blame micromanagement for issues in the workplace, but we have also become accustomed to creating a safety net. We have allowed ourselves to believe that micromanaging can be an act of the subconscious.

Wilkins (as well as many others) writes, “If you’re like most micromanagers, you probably don’t even know that you’re doing it.”

I would argue the opposite: if you’re like most micromanagers, you know exactly what you’re doing.

As I held those peanuts in my hand, I knew I was micromanaging. I knew that I had two choices: I could leave the peanuts on the window sill or I could hold them in my hand. Either way the squirrel would get fed, but I chose to involve myself to an extent that wasn’t necessary.

When it comes to micromanagement, we need to resist the urge to look at it as a subconscious act. The fact is, it’s a conscious act. You know when you’re asking to be cc’d on emails, and you know when you’ve asked for the 6th update in 48 hours. We default to the subconscious because accusing someone of being a conscious micromanager associates them with the negative and sometimes fatal symptoms of micromanagement. And being an accuser comes with a great amount of responsibility, especially when someone is innocent until proven guilty.

But why do we need to look at micromanagement as a conscious act? Because consciousness allows us to hold an individual accountable. A conscious act can be coached, mentored, called-out, and developed. It can be spoken about and it can be questioned. It can’t be excused but it can be changed. But if we continue to tell ourselves that most micromanagers don’t know that they are micromanaging, then we will continue to hold the concept of micromanaging accountable instead of the micromanager.

Having to get a tetanus shot because I got bit by a squirrel was a real shinning moment of adulthood. But I couldn’t blame anyone or anything for the position I was in. I consciously chose to hold those peanuts in my hand and it came back to bite me in the ass…and finger.

Labelling micromanagement as a conscious act cannot change the negative impacts of micromanagement, but it can change the micromanager…Who’s ready for more accountability!?


P.S. Here’s Chip eating a peanut…

DSC_0651Image: ©Brianna MacLellan

Development, Leadership, Pro-Active Planning

Good leaders focus on the success of the company. Great leaders focus on the success of the industry.

Show of hands, who’s heard the famous argument “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers?” (Both of my hands are in the air!). If you ask me, this statement is tired and it’s not as accurate as it once was.

People leave terrible jobs and people leave great jobs. People leave crappy managers, and they leave inspiring ones. The reality is, people will leave and for numerous reasons. So, let’s take a break from focusing on why people leave an organization and take the time to focus on developing skills your team members can use when they leave the organization. Why should we do this? Because investing in a team that will branch out and work at multiple companies supports the growth of an industry.

Good leaders focus on the success of the company. Great leaders focus on the success of the industry.

In October I began to feed Chip both shelled and unshelled peanuts. My reason was two-fold: One, I felt that the roasted peanut buffet was lacking in variety (so, purely for my own entertainment) and two, because I knew that in 3 months Chip would be leaving for the winter.

20181126145802_001 Image: ©Brianna MacLellan

When it comes to training and development, try taking what I like to call the ‘double down’ approach. For every job specific skill you develop, double down and develop one additional industry skill. If we’re playing blackjack, you just split your cards and doubled your return. If we’re referring to commitment, you just doubled down and invested in the future of the company and the industry.

Job descriptions are designed to benefit the company and don’t always take the growth of an individual or an industry into consideration. It’s important for us as leaders to recognize that we, and the company we work for, have limitations and may not be able to foster an individual’s or team’s development for a long period of time. So in the anticipation of turnover, anticipate where your team members might go next.

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What is the future of the industry?
  2. What skill sets do my team members have?
  3. What can my team members do with their skills in the future?

In order to answer these questions you will have to take the time to get to know your team members. Where did they grow up? What did they study in school? Do they have siblings? Hobbies? If your team member who works in the customer service department has a degree in Fine Art with a specialization in Integrated Media, would you be open to having them sit-in on the company’s next marketing/digital strategy meeting?

Doubling down will require effort, creativity, and disruption on your part. You may have to make a few phone calls, ask for a larger professional development budget, or leave at 5:20pm instead of 5:00pm because you took the time to look at Bob’s vacation photos. But take the time to get to know your team’s passions, interrogate the future of the industry, and double down. Put a pile of shelled and unshelled peanuts on the table and support your team member’s future – even if it’s a future you won’t be a part of.

Everyone will walk away from the table with something regardless of if, when, or why they leave it. But are you willing to double down and invest in the industry?


Development, Leadership, Mentorship

Sitting down and listening is important, but are you encouraging others to stand up?

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A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an article on LinkedIn and its title grabbed my attention:

“Leadership is what it takes to stand up and speak. Leadership is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

I agreed with the statement (and the authors position), but I had a gut feeling that something was missing…

When I told one of my mentors that I was feeding a squirrel everyday, her first response was, “You need a cat.” When I went on to explain that I was beginning to write a blog about said squirrel (named Chip), and the tips and tricks of leadership, her second response was, “LeaderChip!” It was brilliant. Not only was I jealous of the fact that I hadn’t come up with it myself, I was also smacked right in the forehead with a concerning thought; I had not been thinking of Chip as a leader.

Here’s what’s missing from the article’s title/statement:

“Leadership is what it takes to stand up and speak. Leadership is also what it takes to sit down and listen [while others are standing].”

When it comes to leadership practices and the impact of body-language, we are often taught to address each other on equal levels. Both standing, everyone sitting, eye-to-eye, those types of scenarios. And while this approach is appropriate in most cases, it is important for you as the leader to encourage your team members to be the ones standing. Instead of thinking of the act of sitting as something that creates or equates a hierarchy (because we all have egos, and let’s face it, some are better managed than others), think of the act of sitting as being a strong platform. Sit down and listen, but create a stage for your team member to stand on.

To be a great leader, you must acknowledge that you are not the only leader on the team.

During your weekly check-ins, ask yourself these 3 questions: 

1. How many leaders did I identify this week?

2. How many times was I a stage this week? 

3. How can I get more team members to stand on the stage next week? 

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1. How many leaders did I identify this week?

The answer could be 0 or 11. Neither is greater than the other. What matters is how you respond to the answer. Either way, you need to move on to the next step and shift from identification to development. Use your answer as motivation, not confirmation.

2. How many times was I a stage this week? 

It’s time for some self-reflection. Think back to that budget meeting and the conversation you had at lunch on Wednesday. You may have been listening, but did others feel that they had the option to stand? Did you finish eating your sandwich alone because your co-worker raced off in excitement to start that new project?  If you can’t remember whether or not you were a brightly-lit stage during that budget meeting, chances are you weren’t, and it might be time to check to see how sturdy your stage is. Everyone needs a strong platform, including you!

3. How can I get more team members to stand on the stage next week? 

This one is a nice follow up to question #1, and it will probably challenge you the most. Whether your answer was 0 or 11, your next step is to focus on development. Your numbers will fluctuate and so should your methods of engagement. Do you as the manager need to present the budget report? Or, can one of your team members do it? This isn’t about shouldering your responsibilities onto someone else, and keep in mind that there is a fine line between pushing someone outside of their comfort zone and making someone feel vulnerable and misplaced, but take the time to think about how you can not only share the limelight, but let someone else be the star of the show. 

As I watch Chip try to find the perfect spot to store the peanut in his mouth, I no longer pat myself on the back for being the one who gave him the peanut to begin with. Instead, I think about how a leader like Chip could probably teach me a thing-or-two about an RRSP and/or investing for the future… Maybe Chip would like to present next week’s budget report!

Sitting down and listening is the easy part, but how do you encourage others to stand up?