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Leadership Strategies: February 2007 [Briefings Publications]

Q&A with “Forget Perfect” author Lisa McLeod
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Contributing Editor / Leadership Strategies
www.briefings.com

FORGET PERFECT’ TO BE A BETTER LEADER For every criticism, offer five compliments

When Penguin Books published Lisa McLeod’s book, Forget Perfect, The New York Times called her an “inspirational humorist.” Here’s some advice tbe Atlanta-based author, leadership strategist and consultant whose commonsense approach to business has landed her dozens of corporate clients including Pfizer, Deloitte Consulting, Tupperware, and Kimberly Clark.

Leadership Strategies: You tell business leaders to Forget Perfect, but what exactly does that mean?

Lisa McLeod: Perfection is a huge problem in business. Many executives have this illusion of how things are supposed to be, and when they try to fit it into reality, they can’t. So they get stuck. They stop themselves from going forward because suddenly it’s too scary to make that presentation, too scary to get into the meat of that project because they fear the outcome won’t be “perfect.”

I blame TV. It exposed us to this fake universe where everything is beautiful. Humans are comparing creatures: Raccoons rooting through the trash don’t compare themselves to each other. But too often leaders are looking over their shoulders to see if someone else is doing a better job than they are. Their fear of messing up makes them hypercritical, and as a result, they turn that criticism on the people working around and under them.

LS.: Is that why so many executives come off as perfectionists? Because they think the mark of a good leader is someone who is highly critical?

McLeod: Definitely. Too many managers think a good leader is someone who points out all the deficiencies in their subordinates. The reality, unfortunately, is that they end up creating mediocre employees. By constantly highlighting the areas workers are not skilled in, they squash their talent. Even if that approach encourages employees to improve a few of their skills, it sucks the life out of them.

A better approach is to focus on and coach employees in the things they are good at. Not only with that make them feel better about themselves, it will inspire a renewed pride in their work. They will have more enthusiasm, and in turn that will make them want to do an even better job. By “forgetting perfect;’ everyone actually improves.

LS.: Can you offer a simple strategy for leaders to follow?

McLeod: The cardinal rule is that for every negative comment leaders make, they must offer five sincere compliments that are grounded in fact. If executives make that the bar, and force themselves to come up with five complimentary things to say before saying something negative, it will likely take awhile before they can revert to being perfectionists.

LS.: Why do you think leaders instinctively gravitate to the negative?

McLeod: Some do, and that’s because they let their egos get in the way. Take Donald Trump, for instance. He thinks all those people in the office actually work for him. True leaders know it’s really the other way around—they work for the employees.

LS.: In the 20-plus years you have spent working with top executives in this country, what have you found to be the characteristics that make leaders great?

McLeod: The best leaders are the ones who bring out [the best] in others. They understand their role is not more important than anyone else’s role. They see what makes each person divine, and them help develop those qualities. Of course, they are also skilled at pointing out when people are being hypocrites.

And good leaders are all around us—in business, politics and religion. They are the ones who are humble, who don’t let their egos get in the way. It’s not that they are unaware of their skills and talents. They just have such a high level of confidence in themselves that it’s easy for them to make others look good.

Learn more about Lisa McLeod: www.ForgetPerfect.com.

Exclusive Interview with Brian Chavis
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Contributing Editor / Leadership Strategies
www.briefings.com

Bring Employees to Consensus: Computer guru uses ‘Vulcan mind-meld’ to persuade followers

A good sense of humor, says business leader Brian Chavis, is what gets him through each day. It has also helped the 19-year veteran of the information technology industry turn his firm, the ARGroup, into one of the most successful computer network management services firms to be found in burgeoning Loudoun, VA.

Clients include more than 150 commercial and government organizations, including the Loudoun County government and Loudoun County Public Schools.

When talking about how his leadership style developed, Chavis can’t help but grin.

“When I was 28, 1 worked for a startup, and like all new companies it was very tumultuous,” he admits. “When one of the founders left, there was a hole in the organization chart and that’s when the new CEO made me a vice president.”

Chavis says he spent quite a bit of time considering how he should handle his new and oh-so-very-important role. He figured that at his tender age, he could not present himself as a sage and wise leader. He also knew that he did not want to demean others, as he had seen other leaders do.

“I opted to bring people to consensus, sort of like a Vulcan mind-meld. I figured that if I consistently presented my case convincingly, those working for me would follow suit.”

The approach worked, and a few years later when he struck out on his own he kept up with the same leadership strategy.

Case in point: Chavis describes the time a few years ago when the computer services industry struggled to strike a balance between repairing computers when they break, and keeping them from breaking in the first place. He knew he wanted his company to be on the cutting-edge of the shift, but he needed to gain buy-in from employees. So the clever entrepreneur tried the old mind-mend.

“I whipped out a ballpoint pen and doodled some cartoons to illustrate the ideas that were forming in his head,” he says. “I demonstrated the company as it was, and how it could be. And I guess a full-fledged comic book was born, one that conveyed the point that the ARGroup needed to reach out to customers in a new way. By making my team laugh, I got them to relax. And that made the transition a whole lot easier.”

As for those cartoons, the finished black-and-white drawings were so good that Chavis and his employees decided to turn them into a marketing piece to promote ARGroup’s services. They sent the art out to customers—with a pack of crayons.

“We packaged it as a contest to see who could do the best coloring job, but mostly it got customers to realize we were offering something new,” Chavis explains. “When you own your own company, you need to be accountable and to have no hidden agenda. You can’t drop the ball—but you can manage the situation with a smile.”

Learn more about the ARGroup at: www.argroup.com and about Brian at his blog: www.brianchavis.com.

Learn more about the ARGroup:www.argroup.com>.
Read about Brian at his blog:
www.brianchavis.com.

Copyright by Briefings Publishing Group, a division of Douglas Publications, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of these issue samples in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. For more information, visit www.briefings.com.

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• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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