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Executive Leadership Podcast #11: Going from Me to We

It’s important that Level 3 leaders drive productivity - not just by themselves -- but through their teams. Are your team members improving and producing more as a result of your presence or are they staying the same while you continue to produce more and more? While leaders have a tendancy to step up, they must also learn to take a step back.

In Episode 11 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, Perry Holley and Chris Goede will share tips for becoming a stronger Level 3 leader, which means focusing more on we and less on me.


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Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Company Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your level of influence, increase your reputation as a leader, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to drive remarkable results. Hi, I'm Perry Holley, a John Maxwell Company facilitator and coach and I'm Chris Goede, Vice President of The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining.

Chris, before we start, I just want to remind our audience that if you want to review the Five Levels of Leadership model, you can do that by referring to Episode 1 in this podcast series. I noticed today's episode is titled “Moving from me to we: a leader's productivity challenge”. I know that productivity and production come in Level 3 on the Five Levels model, but what does moving from me to we have to do with Level 3 besides having to be in a great rhyme. I don't know.

Well, my experience has been that many leaders that we've seen in organizations around the world that are promoted into leadership roles because they were producing great results as an individual contributor. And so it's a common model, right? You do well, you get promoted. I know with all your experience at IBM, you see a lot in sales organizations, right? The number one sales producer becomes the sales manager and that's not necessarily the best thing to happen. Unfortunately, when that does happen, especially in the leadership seat, what we often see is that they get promoted into a leadership position with little or no leadership development or leadership training to go along with that promotion. Now they're excited. There's some people that believe in them, they're willing to cash that new paycheck, right? But they haven't been yet developed as a leader. And, so instead of producing results in and through teams, what you see them doing is hunkering down and becoming this super individual contributor. And it's almost like it's them as the team. And the problem is, is that that is a recipe for disaster, not only for them personally, because of the weight that they're going to carry, but then also professionally for the organization.

So true. And you mentioned as a sales rep becoming a sales manager, it happens at a senior level as well. I noticed as I climbed the ladder, I get into a new role sometimes that, I'm tempted to kind of just be a super performer on the previous role because I haven't really figured out the new part. So you're thinking about that. What are some tips you might have for our listeners on how they can become a stronger Level 3 leader - remember that's production, driving results through others, but you were driving productivity. It's not my productivity so much. I'll be like, have to maintain that, but driving productivity through others instead of just adding more of me the to the mix. So getting more we, and maybe less of me.

Yeah. Think the first step for any leader is, again, as you mentioned earlier, you saw it, you see it at the executive level. So whether you're new or experienced is that you need to be able to translate that personal production. The personal productivity that you kind of have built yourself on is what's your been your brand to that point to be able to then transfer that to be able to produce in and through teams. Don't mistake you still need to produce as an individual contributor, as a leader. I think that builds credibility. I think people look at you and they want to be following a leader that's producing, but you also have to bring in the element of beginning to produce in and through teams. The question I think you have to ask yourself here is this: Do you see other members of the team and proving and producing more as a result of your presence or are they staying the same and you're continuing to produce more and more? That's the question that you really should sit down and take some time to think about and really journal and begin to say, is the team becoming more productive? Are they improving? Are they developing under my leadership or are they staying status quo?

I love that question. And actually I'm in the coaching work we do, I find that it's not just a work question, is my team better because of my presence, who's the team, the teams at work, the teams at home, the teams at church, the teams in an association, are people becoming better, more productive because I'm there or am I doing things that I should be doing to help them? Or am I doing the things I should be helping them to do?

Yeah, it's funny, right? We do it with good intentions. Every leader, when you get a promotion or you get an opportunity to lead people or influence at the higher level, you just naturally with good intentions want to continue to produce. And so I get that. We do that. The problem is that we are robbing those that are on our team, those we have influence with, those that we are leading, the opportunity to develop to produce themselves. And we could talk a little bit even more about the fact that you have the ability to multiply your results versus just the addition or adding results if you're doing it in and through teams. So they'll rob the team momentum, experiencing culture from continuing just to keep that stuff to yourself.

Yeah, it's fantastic and it reminds me of some terrific research and I actually saw this first at a Live to Lead conference probably two years ago where we had Liz Wiseman as a speaker and she was fantastic, but she spoke about her book “Multipliers” and she called it diminishing your capabilities of your team vs. multiplying the capabilities of the people on your team. And John refers to this. I love it. In the Five Levels, he talks about are you stepping up or stepping back? And I actually have this picture in my mind about every time I step up, what does the team do? They step back, so they're looking to me to be the smartest person in the room, but if I step back, can I help other people to step up. Liz Wiseman's research confirmed what you just said which is that we do this unintentionally. She actually called it the accidental diminisher where she listed about nine ways leaders accidentally diminish the capability of their followers. And the one that resonated most with me -- and trust me there were more than one -- but the one that I'm willing to confess to you here, it was called the rescuer. I don't want to see someone struggle, it could be an employee, a teammate, one of my kids. So I jump in and try to solve the problem. This makes our success about me, not about the we.

You know, you're talking about stepping up or stepping back as a leader. Right? And even as a little bit of maybe an ego pride thing, doesn't stepping up sound a whole lot better than stepping back. So you're just like, man, I don't want to step back with anything. I've been called to the mat, I'm ready to step up. And so John talks a lot about that, as well. And so our default, right, I think is that we want to step up in any situation. The problem with that, and we don't do it intentionally. It goes back to the fact that we are then taking the place or we're stepping up in place of our team being able to step up and to grow, and not only do we do it, I think because of pride and ego, we want to step up and be that leader, but I think we're also maybe a little bit afraid of our team failing and allowing our team to fail through that process.

And I think it's a really a good image if you think about it, if you were to step back and allow your team to step up. If they were to fail, right? Who's there to catch them? If you take that step back and you catch them and you're there and you're that safety net. And so John talks about it a lot. He's like, man, lets your team fail and allow that to happen and be there to guide and direct because here's the deal. If you think back over some of your greatest lessons in life, personally, professionally, whatever it is, the ones you probably remember the most, and then it built the foundation of who you are is those that you have failed doing. Right? And so why rob the opportunity for our team or those that we're leading or have the privilege of influencing the, the opportunity not to experience failure. Right? And so yes, again, I go back to, man, I'm ready to step up, but we do need to step back in order to let them step up in front.

Every great success is on the backside of some obstacle. I always wonder why am I trying to avoid the obstacles because they're watching me probably do that. So what else can a leader do to move away from me thinking and more toward we thinking?

I think, you know, you have to. In the past, we've talked a little bit about strength zones. I think your team members all have a different niche and I think that there are certain things that not only you need to be asking yourself. The thought I have here is for you as a leader, but it's also for your team, a challenge that a question you should ask them. So I want you to think about this yourself, but I also want you to ask them this question, which is this: What is the only thing that you can do for the organization that no one else could do for the organization?

When you begin to think about that, then your priorities and or the fact of the teamwork, right? So John says, Hey, we need to lead where we're strong team where we're weak. And so if you went through an exercise of that with your team and you ask that question and you thought about it yourself, you are not all going to come up with the same answer at that point in time. I think it's your responsibility as a leader to begin to figure out what each of the team members’ niches are, what their strengths are, and then release them to that.

And I think it's the same for you. You need to figure out what that is. And then communicate to your leader, as well. I think it's one I overlook quite a bit as I went higher in the organization as a second or third line leader, I've found myself kind of assuming that everyone at this level was really clear on what they were best at doing. Let me tell you, it's a bad assumption because there's no telling how much productivity and momentum we've talked about in the past that was lost by me assuming.

People are asking people to do things that were not in their strength zone. What is your unique intelligence? Could you sit down? It's a really neat exercise for everybody on your team. Could you define what right now that you think they're unique intelligence is, what is it they bring uniquely to the team to do that? So, before you had heard from Liz Wiseman, how did you go about understanding the unique strengths of those that are on your team? You know, I became intentional in how I interacted with the executives who reported to me. I asked questions about the work. What do you love about your job? What do you not love? How'd you get into this line of work? What do you value the most? And this goes back to some of the understanding people's motives and values, but they were short really purposeful conversations over a coffee walk into a meeting, a one on one call that when you become intentional about the limited one on one time you have with people and it's amazing what you can learn about them. But then I began to be able to put that to work and how we did work at that Level 3 - production - people got energized because they were in roles that really fit their motive and values. So it reminds me, because just hearing you talk about it, you can hear the excitement or even a little bit of the momentum from that. And I think just a previous episode, we talked about momentum and we talked about how that the team members can affect momentum both positively and negatively.

I think leaders need to keep an eye on who on their team is doing. One of the three things, maybe multiple of these, which you know, who are the momentum makers, right? Who are the momentum takers, and then finally, who are the momentum breakers. It's funny, if you looked at those three questions, you can almost begin to identify the engagement level of your team and your organization. If you broke down those and thought about that in regards to context of your team. It's funny, John says at Level 2 - so remember people, you have influence with people. You gain leadership at Level 2 because people follow you because they want to. It's the ability to connect with them. He says there's three things you need to do really well. Listen well, observe well and serve well, and so this reminds me of even just a Level 2 conversation about observing.

Well, right? It's not what people say to you as their leader, it's what they're doing. And so as a leader, it's an observation sport. You need to be paying attention and those are three great questions that you could ask yourself about the team, which would tie back to engagement, right? Takers, makers and breakers. Well, that's really good to remember, Chris, and I just want to wrap up today's episode, maybe could give a little call to action for our listeners who want to ensure that they are focused on the we and not just the me.

First, don't neglect Level 2 to continue to build and nurture relationships with those who you want to influence. Then, secondly, I would just tell you, continue to be thoughtful, productive, and model the characteristics of those that you want to have on your team.

Thank you, Chris. Great insights. As always, and just a reminder, if you're interested in learning more about the Five Levels of Leadership, perhaps bringing the Five Levels Workshop into your organization, please go to JohnMaxwellCompany.com/podcast. We'd love to hear from you there.

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