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Great Leaders Must Be Great Conversationalists

Early in my career, someone once told me that to be a great leader, you must be a great conversationalist. I thought to myself, that’s easy enough, I love to talk therefore I must be a great leader. To my dismay, nothing could be further from the truth. I should have known that greatness in anything is not that easily attained.

Yes there are those who have always been natural leaders, but for most of us, to be a great leader is a long journey often speckled with the occasional failure. It’s a learning process where experience coupled with intuition can develop into great insight. Interestingly enough these are also the exact traits required to be a great conversationalist.

Allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversationalist as “one who converses a great deal; someone skilled in conversation”. So essentially if you consider yourself a conversationalist then you would by virtue of definition be someone who excels in the art of conversation. Many of us can say we not only excel in the art of conversation but through experience some of us would be considered savants, myself included. So having mastered the art of talking through a lifetime of experience, the next step is to evaluate our level of intuition.

Intuition by definition means “immediate apprehension or cognition; the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge without evident rational thought and inference”. Unfortunately this trait is much harder to obtain because it requires continuous study in order to achieve a sense of knowing that is outside usual intellectual thinking. For example an intuitive leader by definition will attain knowledge not readily evident under normal cognitive processes. This ability to gain knowledge through a sense of understanding is called awareness. Awareness IS the key to intuition and in today’s general mindset of “to each his own” or “look out for number one” awareness has become compromised therefore hindering our intuition.

Fortunately for women we tend to be better at intuition. Granted this is an overly broad statement and there are certainly exceptions, but statistically and organically it rings true. Maybe it’s because women in general are more nurturing and nurturing is a form of gaining and developing knowledge through awareness.

This is not to say that men don’t possess intuition because many men have a sense of knowing that is not readily evident through usual cognitive processes. Each of us possesses some level of intuition. The clincher is in order to be a great leader you must achieve a sense of knowing through awareness of those around you. For business leaders this would be your employees, and the more employees you have the more clouded your intuition can become.

The good news gentlemen, is that you are better conversationalists. Yes, ladies its true, men generally excel in the act of conversing much better then we do. Again, allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversation as “communication that allows people with different points of views to learn from each other; oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas”. When men converse, its more results-oriented even in social conversations. It’s about sharing information and gaining information. The process is linear. Women on the other hand rarely talk in a linear fashion. Women tend to think spherically and therefore express themselves in the same way. And as much as we hate to admit it, women are never truly married to a particular topic and often change topics mid-sentence and carry-on as if not missing a beat. Some women also tend to engage in conversations from a “wanting to be liked” perspective which can become the driving motivation behind the conversation thereby directing the correspondence into a specific direction. This act of spherical speaking and hidden motivators does create an important problem, the lack of listening. Great conversationalists must also be excellent listeners, a common void for many of us.

Which brings me back to the most important trait found in great leaders – insight. To be truly insightful requires listening. Only through careful listening can we comprehend the inner nature of things. To put it succinctly, listening leads to better awareness, therefore better intuition, developing our insight and ultimately our leadership. This is why the pregnant pause is a popular practice. It allows for that exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas through engaged listening. Listening my friends is where all the power lies. If you are not practiced at listening then you will miss key information, thoughts, ideas that could help you in being a better leader and frankly a better person.

So knowing what we know, how do we become better conversationalist in order to sharpen our leadership traits? Here are a few tips I recommend:

1. Focus on Listening to Gain Insight. Practice conversing, not just talking, with anyone and everyone. Practice conversing with no distractions and be in the moment. Engage the pregnant pause. Respond with more then a word or two to incite others to share information or thoughts.
2. Hone your Awareness to Develop Intuition. When engaging in a conversation write down or pay attention to two or three things you learned in the conversation you didn’t know before. Ask questions to glean more information about the person your speaking with. Jot down noises/sounds or if face to face expressions or gestures you hear or see during the conversation (you may want to let your conversation partner know you’re taking notes or jot them down later.)
3. Focus on a Topic to Stay in the Moment. Focus on one topic to its completion. If talking with a friend or relative and the subject goes off track, bring it back around and close the topic before starting a new one. Speaking linearly will aid in better listening.
4. Have an Objective in Mind and State it. Being a good conversationalist means getting to the point. Say more with less. This is especially important in business. Have an objective in mind and state it up front even in social conversations (exp: “I wanted to ask your opinion about …”)

In the end some will argue that being a good conversationalist doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a good leader. In some cases this is true. However, if you want to be a GREAT leader, being a great conversationalist will create more inroads to accomplish stronger leadership skills. People react more positively to leaders that are approachable, open, friendly, and attuned. Being a great conversationalist allows for the “people side” of every leader to shine through and gives others something to relate to and connect with. This kind of power is known as charisma and having charisma, my friends, is never a bad thing!

Created by: Melissa Grandchamp

[Melissa Grandchamp is the President of P3 offering expertise in the area of HR, Organizational Development and Leadership Coaching]

Acing the Behavioral Interview

Acing the Behavioral Interview
Have a story for every skill the hiring company demands.

“The most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.”
This statement is the premise behind behavioral interviewing, an interviewing technique created in the 1970s by industrial psychologists. This style of interview is becoming popular with employers, and it can be a challenging experience.
Traditional interviewing calls upon the candidate to state opinions: “Tell me about yourself.” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Why do you want to work for this company?” By contrast, behavioral interviewing requires job candidates to relate stories about how they handled challenges related to the skill sets the company requires for the position.
For example, if a job requires strong communication and team-building skills, an interviewer might ask candidates to recount past experiences where they explained new plans that brought a team together. Behavioral interview questions often start with phrases like, “Tell me about a time when …” or “Describe a situation in which … ” or, “Give me an example of …”
While your skills and experiences could be a perfect match for the position, you could lose out if you can’t validate them with relevant anecdotes.
So how do you prepare for a behavioral interview?
First, you’ll want to put yourself in the shoes of the employer and imagine what the ideal candidate for the position would answer from the interviewer’s perspective.
Then, take the time to review thoroughly the job description and research the company and its culture. Look for cues about skills necessary for the job and valued by the organization. Next, think about the sorts of behavioral questions an interviewer might ask to determine those skills.
Here are a few examples of skill sets and some behaviorally focused interview questions aimed at surfacing them.
Decision-making and problem-solving
• Describe a situation in which you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem.
• Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.
Leadership
• Have you ever had trouble getting others to agree with your ideas? How did you deal with the situation, and were you successful?
• Describe the most challenging group from which you’ve had to gain cooperation.
Motivation
• Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
• Give me an example of a situation in which you positively influenced the actions of others.
Communication
• Describe a situation in which you were able to communicate with another individual who did not personally like you (or vice versa).
• Describe a time you had to use written communication to convey an important argument or idea.
Interpersonal skills
• Give me examples of what you’ve done in the past to nurture teamwork.
• Give an example of an unpopular decision you’ve made, what the result was, and how you managed it.
Planning and organization

• When scheduling your time, what method do you use to decide which items are priorities?
• Describe how you’ve handled a sudden interruption to your schedule.
Once you’ve determined which behavioral-based questions you might be asked during an interview, look back on your past experiences and develop stories to answer those questions. Your stories should be detailed yet succinct, and they should always include the following three elements:
. A description of a specific, real-life situation or challenge you encountered.
. A description of the specific tasks and actions you took to overcome that challenge.
. A summary of the results of those actions. (Try to quantify these results whenever possible.)
Here is a sample answer to a behavioral interview question that incorporates each of these elements.
Question: Give an example of a goal you reached, and tell me how you achieved it.
Answer: Due to cuts in funding to our adult continuing education program, we faced the daunting goal of drastically reducing our promotional budget without sacrificing our media presence in the community. As program director, I researched alternatives to the effective, yet costly, course brochure, which was produced and distributed biannually to about 60,000 residents of our service region. I was able to negotiate with two local newspapers to produce and distribute a new course brochure that increased distribution by 33 percent, to 80,000 residents, and decreased costs by 50 percent.
Familiarizing yourself with the behavioral interview style, crafting and practicing your stories, and doing some homework on the position you seek will ensure that you won’t be caught off guard should you encounter a behavioral interview.

By Jeanne Knight
Jeanne Knight is a certified career coach/resume expert who helps people navigate career transitions.

FREE Download: Performance Criteria

March 23rd, 2010 No comments

Performance Criteria

Communications Skills

Communicates clearly and concisely

Improves the effectiveness of communications and interactions with others

Excels in interpersonal communications

Avoids communication breakdowns

Encourages open communications to achieve mutual understandings

Communicates effectively with all levels of management

Effectively communicates upward, downward an laterally

Develops and maintains two-way communications

Excels in relating well with others

Decision Making

Can be relied on to make sound decisions

Is skilled in formulating solutions to difficult issues

Is willing to make difficult and unpopular decisions

Assembles all available facts before making a decision

Considers all alternatives before making commitments

Carefully evaluates alternative risks

Foresees the consequences of decisions

Communicates decisions with confidence

Strives to improve decisiveness

Delegating

Delegates to improve organizational effectiveness

Delegates to maximize organizational strengths

Demonstrates effective delegation techniques

Empowers employees with the authority and resources to achieve results

Provides subordinates with the resources needed to accomplish results

Knows when and what to delegate

Delegates routine tasks to subordinates

Matches assignments with employee talents/strengths

Encourages subordinates to solve their own problems

Creates a high degree of trust with subordinates

Interpersonal Skills

Identifies and understands personal values of superiors, subordinates, peers and others

Recognizes the importance of first impression

Well accepted by others under difficult circumstances

Develops mutual support

Builds trust and rapport

Understands and knows how to get along with co-workers

Establishes effective working relationships

Builds positive relationships with superiors

Works effectively with multiple superiors

Displays genuineness in dealing with others

Generates synergy

Promotes participative approaches

Respects the opinions of others

Leadership

Is successfully meeting the position’s leadership challenges

Demonstrates natural leadership ability

Displays leadership stature

Excels in training, leading and motivating people

Knows when to retrain and when to exercise power

Is able to assert authority when challenged

Demonstrates decisive leadership ability

Faces problems with confidence and assurance

Is an inspirational leader

Is a catalyst for success

Leads by example

Inspires others to do their best

Displays a strong ability to build credibility

Is quick to gain and maintain the trust of others

Shows appreciation for contributions and achievements

Promotes a high degree of morale

Promotes teamwork

Promotes  common purpose

Management Ability

Demonstrates productive management techniques

Stimulates management efficiency and effectiveness

Identifies major management problems and develop solutions

Consistently prepares appropriate recommendations

Effectively resolves conflicts between individual needs and requirements of the company

Demonstrates an ability to overcome internal barriers

Excels in resolving interdepartmental conflicts

Obtains the full support of other departments

Pulls the organization together

Holds subordinates accountable for results

Is a polished and effective professional

Shows strong self management

Recognizes the difference between managing and doing

Avoids managing by crisis

Builds organizational harmony

Encourages efforts toward common goals

Effectively enforces policies, rules and regulations

Avoids overstepping authority

Problem Solving

Displays an ability to solve problems, think, reason and learn

Is skilled in identifying and solving bottlenecks

Is skilled in proposing optional solutions

Develops creative and cost effective solutions

Makes a strong effort to be part of the solution

Effectively solves problems rather then the symptoms

Is quick to identify problems

Focuses on core problems

Solves problems before they become critical

Works well with others in solving problems

Supervisory skills

Maintains consistency of operations

Takes prompt action to minimize down time

Expects and demands superior performance

Places emphasis on results

Brings out the best in employees

Maximizes the value of recognition and rewards for others

Promotes and effective climate

Develops a productive work environment

Is readily accessible to subordinates

Receives full support for staff

Properly asserts authority

Is effective in giving direction and orders

Avoids over-supervising

Understands different personality and traits

Capably manages diverse personalities

Supervises firmly and fairly

Shows genuine respect for others

Encourages constructive feedback

Maintains order and discipline

Promptly disciplines inappropriate behavior

Disciplines without compromising authority

Takes steps to avoid recurrence of errors

Tact and Diplomacy

Handles complaints with tact

Is very confident in handling awkward situations

Accomplishes results without creating conflict

Handles confrontations constructively

In tactful in conflict situations

Displays trust and mutual understanding

Tactfully admits mistakes and errors

Follows proper protocol

Is polite in all situations

Team Skills

Excels in building teams for success

Makes effective use of team resources

Builds strong teams to meet performance goals

Is a strong team builder

Makes a valuable contribution to team objectives

Excels in task-oriented team development

Effectively resolve team conflicts