Greg Gilbert's notes

Entrepreneur, founder of Corporadio

In the past, I have written why I believe a good leader ought to talk about risk with their team and how this kind of discussion should happen regularly. I argued that it is a powerful way for the leader to deal with the fear of letting people down.

Of course, there is also an ethical aspect to it; people deserve to know what kind of adventure they embarked on.

There is another important reason why one should be open about complex topics with their team. It's a benefit that ultimately outweighs the threat of creating a wave of panic within the group.

Talking about problems and challenges allow everybody to partake in their resolution, and in the culture. People develop a feeling of ownership as they see the whole picture—a nuanced picture with both good and bad.

Communicating on the positive exclusively makes employees suspicious. People are smart. They often recognize partial or deceitful communication.

Consequently, voluntarily omitting the negative and the sensitive topics can lead individuals to think that the leader has an ulterior motive.

But when the leader openly discusses some of the organization's difficulties and the thought process towards their resolution, then communication becomes a powerful means of engagement.

It chokes the rumors and invites people to build solutions together.

This is my take on a question asked on a leadership Q&A page.

When thinking about an approachable leader, one might hear:

“My door is always open!”

In reality, a leader is approachable because of a series of traits and conducts.

The very first thing that will make you approachable is to be predictable. People will feel safe coming to you if they know what to expect. They somehow know how you will react to the news, good or bad. So be consistent.

I opened this article with the cliché open door policy. If you want to be an approachable leader, you must do the opposite of waiting in your office for people to show up. Instead, you need to go and meet people where they are and create opportunities for them to talk to you.

Some leaders schedule a regular, one-on-one 15-minute chat with their teammates. Others leverage the organization's gatherings to meet and talk to as many people as possibly.

They either initiate the conversation, create the conditions for it to happen, or leverage opportunities.

Plus, allowing people to interrupt you at any time puts you at risk for a moody or inconsistent reaction. And the whole point of being approachable is that people will come to you if they need you. The door opened or closed.

Finally, approachable leaders aren't afraid to appear vulnerable. When you work close to people, they will sometimes share an anecdote with you and instantly regret it. Being able to respond with one of your own stories will strengthen the relationship.

Ultimately, to be an approachable leader, try and be an approachable person. Use informal conversations to build rapport.

Be good, compassionate, open, and respectful, and people will start portraying you as accessible.

The mere fact that you are wondering how to be approachable tells me that you are already on the right path.

How can you participate more enthusiastically in building the culture?

Over 15 years ago, when I was younger and didn't know the first thing about personal development, a friend shared an essay that made a strong impression on me.

It was titled “Showing up.”

The author affirmed that the most important step towards any goal achievement is to show up. Again and again and again.

I have, since then, become a fervent advocate of consistency and observed that whenever I successfully convince myself to engage in something regularly, progress always happens.

As a leader, the very first step towards improving the culture of your team or organization is to show up. 

Deliberately deciding, every single day, that you will enthusiastically participate in building the culture. 

This is how you show up.

Think about something you've known how to do for a long time: driving a car.

You have learned how to coordinate your body to manoeuver this dangerous machine safely.

Most of us would call ourselves good drivers. But if we're honest, we'd have to recognize that we developed a few bad habits over time.

We drive a little above the speed limit, hold the steering with one hand, or don't use the blinkers each time we change lanes.

Experience taught us the bad behaviors we could get away with.

When I started writing this article, my initial thought was about the people sent to work remotely during the pandemic.

I was pondering how one could set up a system to welcome them back to the office.

To ease them back in and acknowledge what just happened.

But I realized that re-onboarding employees should be something an organization regularly does anyway.

Because even the most expert of them have developed their ways to do and think about things.

When these hacks are better than the official system, the latter should be updated.

When they are not, serious problems might be brewing under the surface.

Re-onboarding people allows you to correct bad behaviors, improve their feeling of ownership, and learn about possible process updates.

What is the difference between training and re-onboarding?

Training usually focuses on a specific area or skill of the employee.

A re-onboarding, though, has a more holistic approach:

  • it starts with a dialogue with the direct supervisor,
  • it spends a lot of time on re-aligning the employee to the mission of the organization,
  • it makes sure the employees have the proper context about the company (history, what are different departments, etc.),
  • then, it moves on to the specifics of the job.

Awfully similar to what is done during the onboarding of a new hire, isn't it?

A good onboarding aims at equipping the new employee to enable them to perform at their best in the context of this specific organization. It makes them fully engaged. It makes them care about the organization's goals.

Why not try to renew the strong engagement your employees once felt?

This is my take on a question asked on a leadership Q&A page.

What people in leadership positions fear most is to let people down.

As a young entrepreneur, I was afraid not to be able to make payroll. A poor decision could hurt the whole staff.

These people took a chance on me when they joined my business. They believed in the vision and started following me.

When people accept to follow you for any other reason than authority, they entrust you with something they care about.

In some extreme situations, it can be their lives. At work, it can be their careers or the next promotion.

If you are concerned about people, experiencing fear is normal.

I'd even argue that it's healthy. It keeps you alert and gives you the motivation to try your best.

Now, you don't want to let this fear grow out of control.

To keep it in check, approach the issue methodically.

Start by defining what you fear and put words on what scares you.

Then, make sure that people are aware of the risks. Don't brush them off, thinking that risks are evident.

Be honest and transparent.. without scaring people. It's a fine line; you don't want them to panic, but you certainly don't want them to follow you blindly.

Great leaders make sure that everybody understands the risks, terms, and rules at all times.

They do not hesitate to regularly check in to make sure that people are still following willingly. And that they know what it entails.

When people buy in on a vision, they need to own their share of the risks, too.

Even though you will do everything in your power to protect them.

And why you should care about the way you package your communication.

Recently, I had to write a detailed email to a customer.

I answered some of his questions regarding my company's software and provided guidance to help him improve results.

My reply drew from my experience working with similar companies. When I was done, it looked like a report I'd send at the end of a short consulting gig.

What I'm implying here is how long this email was. A small litany of bullet points and over 1500 words.

And that was after severe editing to make my reply easy to parse and process.

I turned to my business partner and asked:

“Should I turn this long email into a multipage document?”

“Why would you do that?”, he inquired.

“To highlight the work that went into this.”

I wanted the customer to understand how much I cared about his issue. I wanted him to have a sense of the value at first glance.

Email doesn't do justice to the content.

When you buy luxury goods from Hermès or Louis Vuitton, they come in stunning, well-designed packaging.

Vuitton famously includes a dust bag.

While I recently learned that there is a market for these dust bags that you can't buy separately from a Vuitton product, this is not what the customer initially wanted to purchase.

However, it participates in the experience of the buyer.

Nobody would imagine a handbag with an exorbitant price tag delivered in a cheap supermarket plastic bag.

I ended up sending the email. The content was premium. I felt like I sent it in a plastic bag.

This is my take on a question asked on a leadership Q&A page.

Some might be inclined to say that a leader needs to be both task-oriented and people-oriented.

My answer is that it's either-or. It depends on what is expected of the leader.

Scenario 1: The leader is an expert in their field. Initially, they were hired for their skills and experience.

Now, they have the responsibility to show the team how to reach a certain quality threshold. How to perform at a high level of expertise.

They are leading by example. And that requires to be task-oriented since that's what you want from the team following them.

Evidently, a bit of people skills are always required. For instance, the leader needs to possess pedagogical abilities.

Scenario 2: The leader is the manager of the team. Their main tasks include mediation, facilitation, supervision, and development of their teammates.

This leader is accountable for the collective outcomes.

And to achieve team performance requires to be people-oriented.

When leader number one leads by example and through an authority built on skills and experience, leader number two needs a strong understanding of psychology.

Organizations often want to have a leader 1+2.

A leader who has the knowledge of the craft (and is task-oriented because of their background) and can also empower individuals to achieve collective performance.

So they promote their most senior people to leadership positions. They train them with accelerated leadership education and send them back on the pitch.

It rarely works.

A better way to do it is to leverage complementarity.

Create an outstanding duo instead of relying on a mediocre soloist.

This is my take on a question asked on a leadership Q&A page.

Father of modern management Peter Drucker said:

“[...] to get strength, one has to put up with weaknesses.”

Don't waste time trying to get rid of weaknesses when you could be furthering strengths instead.

Anyone has a set of skills and character traits. Hopefully, some of these are relevant strengths to their position.

But some of these traits might be perceived as weaknesses in the context of a particular job.

When you hire people who excel at what they do, excessively pronounced traits are part of the package.

Extreme traits leave no room for somewhat opposite characteristics.

You can't hire an amazing creative and hope to get a risk manager. Likewise, you can't hire a disciplined project manager and complain about their inflexibility.

Try to convert their weaknesses, and you will destroy what made them great for the job in the first place.

So how, then, can you have your cake and eat it too?

You can reduce the impact of your teammates' weaknesses by managing situations.

If a project could be at risk because of one's weakness, you assign it to someone else.

And if you need this person and no one else, you pair them with a teammate whose strengths complement their weakness.

Creating beautifully complementary teams is part of the art of management.

One last thought.

Some weaknesses can't be overlooked even if the person is exceptionally gifted. Integrity, for instance, is one of them.

Try to mitigate these at your own peril.

“If the software crashes during the demo, it's game over for us!”

This is something I'm still guilty of: using hyperbolic, epic language. Part of me probably believes that this increases motivation and concentration.

The reality is that it rarely works. It adds stress to the existing pressure.

Of course, we know this demo is important!

A better approach is to turn this pressure into positive energy. Channel the existing tension by looking at the potential, positive outcome.

When an upcoming situation stresses us, chances are this situation carries some tremendous rewards.

Focus on that, but remain moderate.

Experience teaches us the stakes are rarely as high as we think. We are resilient animals. Most of what we create is as well.

When I read the passage below, I immediately highlighted it on my kindle; I recognized this tendency in me.

I'm working on fixing it, but it's a work in progress!

How many times do you need to repeat something to your team to truly get heard? Many, many times.

I've read in a book that when you have something important to communicate, you should repeat it until people start making fun of you.

Extreme? Maybe. But I'm willing to believe it.

A few years ago, people doing marketing commonly said that it took seven expositions to a product or a brand for someone to consider buying it.

In an ocean of information, I'd bet that this number is way more significant today. Probably more than tenfold.

The same applies to the ideas and information you share with your team.

The number of things you are competing against for their attention has also increased.

People always had thoughts about their personal lives and work.

However, what is new is that your message is now competing against thousands of micro information battling fiercely for their attention.

I'm talking about the kind of information spread through digital. Accessible via the person's mobile, these attention stealers have invaded the workplace. Not necessarily during work time, but during the break.

Behind many of these posts and ads are marketers who understand how to make people care about what they have to say.

Add to these skills the firepower to expose people to the same idea 5, 10, 20 times across the day.

This is what you, the leader, are competing against.

If you have an important message and want to get heard, you need to start finding ways to repeat your message over and over again. Until people start making fun of it.

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