Keynote: Chris DeSantis – The Crucible of Experience as a Catalyst for Leading #ILTA13

ILTA13 Chris DeSantis is an independent consultant specializing in the delivery and design of management and organizational development solutions. This is how the ILTA conference website describes his talk:

As IT professionals in legal, we manage a variety of projects and initiatives in an increasingly challenging environment. To be successful, we need extraordinary communication skills and the ability to persuade and influence attorneys and clients, to build and lead teams, to get buy-in for initiatives and projects, and to manage difficult situations. Let’s not forget the balancing act is performed in a high-pressure environment and while trying to be innovative and strategic! In this unique keynote, we will participate in the crucible experience, hearing and sharing stories, and learning specific strategies for communicating effectively and leading teams, achieving results and influencing people.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2013 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

This keynote was an interactive session in which I had the privilege of participating. Along with Tracy Elmblad (conference team member and incoming conference co-chair) and Skip Lohmeyer (conference co-chair), I was asked to tell the group about a specific “crucible experience” I had as a leader. These stories were used as a launching point for the group discussions that were part of Chris’ excellent, high-energy presentation.

  • Leadership. Even if you do not have a formal leadership title, you have many opportunities to lead. You lead up (with respect to those to whom you report) and across (with respect to your peers) by exercising your influence.
  • Leadership Traits. After Tracy, Skip and I told our “crucible stories,” the attendees identified the key leadership traits evidenced by those stories:
    • Leveraging the power of the team
    • Passionate about what you are doing
    • Have clarity of purpose
    • Effective communicators
    • Humility, with little ego — “Greatness is a discovery, it is not a statement you make about yourself.”
    • Poise under pressure
    • Knowing what you can control and what you can’t
    • Creative in their approaches — there is no single way to accomplish the goal
    • Open-minded
    • Ability to build trust –Trust is evidenced over time, it is never something that can be compelled.
  • Leadership Competencies (Walter Bennis Model).
    • Adaptive Capacity.
      • You need hardiness, that helps you persevere in the face of risks. In addition, you need to be able to carry yourself in a way that does not display panic.
      • Be a first-class noticer: That ability to observe what’s going on around you is key
      • Constant learning is critical to success.
      • Proactively seizing opportunities. Chris DeSantis is a great believer in apologizing later rather than asking permission. Act first! Sometimes, this means creating a little anarchy.
      • Creativity: moving from problem to opportunity. The key is to see the opportunity in every problem
    • Engaging others by creating Shared Meaning
      • Encourage dissent. Remember the “no asshole” rule. If someone is a “permanent jerk” they need to be removed from the team. Otherwise, they act like a cancer. The best teams are the ones where the arguments are in the room. If there are no arguments, then you are the problem; you are the jerk who is suppressing free and productive communication.
      • Empathy: Being empathetic is understanding someone else’s perspective on a problem. It doesn’t mean that you are acquiescing to their perspective, but you do understand it.
        • A Model for Dealing with Objections = “AEIOU”:
          • A: Attend to the objection — just listen
          • E: Empathize — name the emotion behind the objection
          • I: Inquire — ask what they would like to see happen
          • O: Offer — tell them what you can do in response to their objection
          • U: Understand
          • Do not skip “AEIOU” by rushing to a solution when the objection first arises. You need to help the other person work through the emotions of the situation first before you can get to a shared approach.
      • Obsessive communication.  You must repeat a message at least 11-13 times before it starts to resonate with your intended audience. However, you can’t accomplish this by simply sending multiple emails. You need to identify the most effective ways of communicating in a way that actually reaches your audience.
        • Noodging may be necessary. You can remind your colleague or get upset with them. If you get upset with them, you are meeting your own emotional needs at the expense of their productivity.
    • Integrity
      • Ambition — everyone has a unique sense of ambition — it may not be identical to your sense of ambition. And, it need not be about moving up, it may mean making something better.
      • Competence — the higher you move in the organization, the further you move from your core competency. So your competency must shift from technological prowess to getting great work out of the people who work under you. In order to stay sharp, you need to keep asking people “Going forward, what do we need to do better?” The allows someone to focus on the future, rather than fighting their own conflict-averse nature to provide current criticism. (It is a more productive question than “How am I doing?”)
      • Moral Compass — are you an honorable person? Do you say what you mean? Is there a correlation between your intentions and the behaviors you manifest?
    • Voice
      • Purpose — people who are happy in the work have three key traits — a sense of purpose; autonomy to do the work they love; mastery of whatever role they are in.
      • EQ — Emotional Intelligence is the differentiator between a good and great performer in any organization. The higher up you move in an organization, the more of your role involves dealing with people. To do this work well, you need emotional intelligence:
        • It is not the same as “being nice.”
        • It does not mean operating at the same feeling level all the time
        • It is largely learned (as opposed to IQ)
        • Distinguishes star performers, especially at the highest levels of the organization
        • Critical to successful change initiatives
      • Women & EQ: Women generally have more emotional intelligence than men. They display nost of the key EQ traits EXCEPT assertiveness and self-promotion. Some of this is the natural outcome of childhood behaviors. Boys learn early to play games in which people die (war, cops & robbers, etc.), whereas girls plays games of connection (tea parties, playing house, etc.). In the process of these games, boys learn to bluff and brag.
        • Remember: you are never bragging if you are stating facts. Do not use hyperbole.
        • Remember: surround yourself by people who know you and can speak to your strengths — this is a critical form of reciprocity. (Then you don’t need to self-promote.) The problem is that most of us are not good at giving compliments, so this takes some effort.
      • Self-awareness — you need to recognize your strengths/weaknesses,  your moods and the impact they have on others. Since subordinates spend a lot of their time thinking about their bosses, your mood can have a disproportionately negative impact on their productivity.
        • Lawyers are volatile — the problem is that lawyers tend to share their moods excessively, which creates an environment in which it is hard to maintain a calm and reasonable demeanor.
      • Self-regulation — the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses is critical.
      • Empathy
      • Social Skills — you need to know the difference between your own needs and the needs of your team.
        • Introverted leaders — tend to prefer one-to-one meetings. They also need to be aware that sometimes their team needs social time to get to know each other and build a sense of team.
        • Extroverted leaders — tend to prefer large meetings. However, they also need to be aware that sometimes their team needs quiet time to reflect or create.
      • Motivation — this is about passion for your work. It is great to create a team of people who are passionate about your shared work. However, a leader has an obligation to help redirect people who do not match the passion of the team. If necessary, you have an obligation to help them “leave with grace.”
  • Leading and Managing in Action. A leader is someone people want to follow. A manager is someone people have to follow. Managers get compliance; leaders get commitment.
    • Transformational Leaders:
      • this is more about leadership than management
      • establish self as a role model
      • delineate future goals
      • communicate purpose, vision and values — this needs to be done with compelling clarity
      • explain your reasons
      • examine new perspectives for problem-solving — help create better thinkers. They are harder to hold on to, but when you have them they are great contributors.
      • focus on developing and mentoring  — we have an obligation to mentor.  In fact, mentoring is particularly critical for Millennial employees.
        • The children we have raised are very collaborative and participative. And they are very comfortable with being in a warm relationship with their boss — they are a trusting generation who view you (at least initially) with a great deal of affection
    • Transactional Leaders:
      • this is more about management than leadership
      • clarify responsibilities and create rewards and consequences
      • manage by exception — pointing out errors. This can give rise to problems when managing Millennials:
        • The problem is that the younger generation has been “raised in the bubble of love.” Therefore, you need to provide them with proportional feedback . Young people think they are brilliant people who can do anything (because their parents have told them “you can do anything” all their lives), therefore, you may be the first person who tells them otherwise. To lead them, show them explicitly what a great performer looks like and then coach them to success.
      • deal with failure in a productive manner — don’t start by asking who messed up; start by asking for the facts — what happened here? Then focus on what we can fix and what we can learn from the event.
  • Generational Differences.
    • Traditionalist (1922 – 1943)
    • Boomers (1944 – 1964)
      • They tend to lead in a classic, top-down style.
      • They like to be listened to and don’t understand people who talk too much.
    • Gen X (1965 – 1981)
      • They tend to be less trusting and more private. We tend to lead with our doubts.
      • We were raised in a scary world — our mornings were colored by pictures of missing children on milk cartons.
    • Millennials (1982 – 2002)
      • They are more communicative. They tell stories about themselves as a way of establishing relationships.
  • Teams versus Groups. Teams are an intimate collection of people with a strong sense of group identification. Groups are larger and with loose sense of shared purpose or group identification.
  • 5 Stages of Teams.
    • Forming — this stage is about getting acquainted with each other and with our goal
    • Storming — this is when the members of the team question and push back. This is the stage at which dissent will be heavy.
    • Norming — this is where we establish how we want to work together and what our shared expectations are
    • Performing  — this is when we get down to work and produce together.
    • Mourning — High-performing teams are unique to the personalities of the group. When one member of the team leaves, the entire team moves back to the forming stage. Therefore, when a person leaves you need to celebrate the team and its achievements, honor the person leaving, and then close down the team. Next, in order to form the new team that includes the new person, you need to initiate the forming stage. You cannot simply slot a new person and expect the old team to continue as it was.
  • Difficult Conversations. See Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time *
    • The problem is that we usually set the conversation up badly. Don’t start by asking “How is it going?” Instead of setting someone up to possibly look bad (and also destroy trust) when they reply “Fine” and then you respond with, “Well, actually….”
    • The first 60 seconds are critical:
      • Give the troubling behavior a tagline: e.g., commitment
      • Describe the evidence of the lack of commitment:
      • Relate your own emotions — I am frustrated/concerned about your lack of commitment
      • Describe potential consequences — I’ll need to re-evaluate your place on the team
      • Own your role in the issue– I should have raised this with you earlier, but I was avoiding a tough conversation
      • Ask for input and then next steps
      • To do this well, you should rehearse this several times before you actually meet with the person.
  • Leadership is about Good Storytelling. Lectures work minimally, but storytelling is a far more effective way of inspiring and sharing lessons learned.
  • What happens when team members don’t work well together?  Meet with them, hear each of their alternative perspectives, and then ask them to jointly propose a third alternative. This will prompt cooperation or make it clear that the work relationship is irreparably broken.

*Disclosure: This link is through my Amazon affiliate account and may generate income to me.

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