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Amp-Up Your Leadership, Part III: Winning Results/Good Karma

By: Stefanie Smith
Last updated 8/5/2010

Good karma. We have the sense we’d like some more of it, but what does it really mean and how can we use it to win at work?

You may think of karma as positive energy or feelings between people. Actually, “karma” is the Sanskrit word for “action, deed, or performance”—in other words, what one does, as opposed to thoughts or theory. If you think about it, the two concepts reinforce each other: what better or more direct way to create good energy than through your actions?

As a leader, you can elicit outstanding performance from your team through the following positive actions and reactions:

1. Share the stage.
Monologues deliver dramatic effect, but dialogues deliver lasting results. A soliloquy may be satisfying for Hamlet, but it won’t motivate your team. Don’t say you’re too busy. You can spend 30 minutes explaining goals and standards to your team, or you can spend 10 minutes explaining and 20 minutes asking and responding to questions. After your next meeting, ask yourself, “How did the amount of time I spent talking, explaining, and instructing compare with the number of minutes I asked, listened, and responded?”
  • Focus on receiving, not giving information to learn more than expected about the tasks at hand. Lou Holtz, one of the winningest football coaches in NCAA history, said, “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”
  • Solicit suggestions about increasing your own impact. Meet with your team and simply ask, “How could I free up 20% of my time?” The answers may be valuable, or not. But chances are, you will hear some ideas for redirecting your energy towards exceeding objectives rather than worrying about them.

2. Teach, don’t tell.
If you find yourself explaining the same thing over and over, switch gears. It’s more empowering and time-effective to sit down and work on a project together. As an added bonus, you kick start progress rather than remaining stalled at the discussion stage. Actions speak louder than words, are more productive, and more appreciated.

  • Model good practices to your team rather than explaining them. Instead of delivering lectures, think of ways to demonstrate proper techniques collaboratively.
  • Ask your team members how they would like you to contribute to their professional development. If you know what they want to learn, you can accomplish their goals and yours simultaneously.

3. Manage for outcomes, not processes.
When employees are managed and measured to comply with targets, they will usually meet them. Employees who are charged up with creativity and satisfaction will exceed their goals and add new dimensions to them.

There is a management saying, “Be careful what you incentivize, because you just may get it.” For example, if you manage a call center and evaluate service representatives by how many calls they complete per day, you may find them rushing through calls or being curt with customers. However, if your assessment is based purely on customer satisfaction, those same representatives may give too many concessions and humor customers by engaging in lengthy conversations.

  • Aim for lasting results, but set short-term, meaningful, and measurable goals to maintain and recognize continual achievements. Setting objective and quantifiable goals makes success more tangible. It also enables people to easily convey their concrete contributions to others, which will bolster their pride and yours.

Remember, rewards go way beyond money: they can include upgraded technology, improved surroundings, time off, tuition reimbursement, participation in high-profile events and projects, and so forth. You have discretionary power—use it!

  • Invite recommendations for increasing efficiency, morale, or performance. Commend employees for thoughtful and innovative suggestions to streamline processes and troubleshoot setbacks. Fostering their ability to think strategically benefits everyone way past the current initiative. It builds mutual confidence and opens the door for you to rise to a higher level leadership style.

On the other hand, everyone should respect your time and come to you with prepared agendas or organized proposals. I’ll always remember and appreciate how my first manager after college appreciated my enthusiasm and suggestions. Yet, for her benefit as well as mine, she maintained a strict standard: “Don’t come to me with half-baked ideas.”

4. “Over-communicate” to save time and effort.
Communicating “early and often” expedites results. If instructions or priorities are not precise, you won’t feel comfortable giving up control. If something goes awry and you aren’t notified right away, you'll waste precious time and energy debating who meant what...and cleaning up the mess.

  • Say it loud and clear. Before you close the conversation or finalize the mandate, reiterate your receptiveness to input and follow-up questions. Then, double-check to make sure you have been understood.
  • Put it in writing. Delineate written deliverables and deadlines for every project. Verbal instructions can become hazy in retrospect, with divergent views between the speaker and audience. Review the game plan with your direct reports daily, weekly or biweekly, depending on its complexity and urgency.

5. Choose your style based on real people, not theoretical models.
Leadership is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. What one employee considers interfering, another might regard as welcome attention from the boss. Leaders come in many shapes and styles—so do followers. Look at both yourself and your team members with a practical, non-idealized perspective. Save your rose-colored glasses for your personal relationships.

Great boxers might be counterpunchers who can quickly and powerfully respond to their opponents or “throw the first punch” type advancers. But pound for pound, the greatest world champions master both styles and switch between them. In the June 1980 “Brawl in Montreal,” Sugar Ray Leonard lost to Roberto Duran because Duran attacked fast and furiously. However, in the November rematch, after only five months of training, Leonard counterpunched to the point where Duran famously gave up, saying “No más.” In the 1986 “Superfight,” Sugar Ray Leonard beat Marvelous Marvin Hagler by decision, thanks to his acquired counterpunching prowess.

As a leader, you too can learn to “roll with the punches":

  • Adapt your leadership style according to individual personalities and evolving circumstances. You may micromanage some, MBWA (Management By Walking Around) some, and MBO (Management By Objectives) others, as long as your motivations for flexibility are clear to all. Adroit leaders stay flexible so they can quickly adjust to new events such as regulations, layoffs, industry mergers, clinical trial results, or unexpected market research findings.
  • Reflect on your own leadership style and practices. What do you do best? Is it time to change an old habit? What is the longest you can go without checking in with your direct reports? Between scheduled meetings, calls or status updates, who calls or e-mails first? Challenge yourself to set leadership objectives for the upcoming three months. Schedule a meeting with yourself or a coach to take an honest look back and determine how you can best move ahead.

Becoming a great leader is an evolving process. There will certainly be challenges along the way, but the rewards—for both yourself and your team—can be profound. In the words of legendary coach Vince Lombardi: “Leaders are not born. They are made. They are made just like anything else…through hard work. That's the price we have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.”

This article concludes a three-part “Amp-Up Your Leadership” series. Part I, “Look to Your Role Models,” challenged you to look inward to think about who inspires you and how you can actively emulate them. Part II, “Power Up Your Team,” outlined principles to enhance the performance of your team. Part III brings us full circle, from goals to actions, completing a framework that will enable you to take your leadership aspirations and impact to the next level.

Good luck and good karma to you and your team!

About the Author(s)

Stefanie Smith Stefanie Smith leads Stratex, an executive consulting and coaching firm based in New York City.  She works with business and government leaders to plan and execute strategic projects and provides private coaching programs and customized workshops to boost executive and team performance. For more information, visit www.stratexcoaching.com or www.stratexconsulting.com