Liz Kislik is a management consultant, executive coach, facilitator, and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Her TEDx “Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It” has received more than a quarter of a million views. She specializes in developing high performing leaders and workforces, and for 30 years, has helped family-run businesses, national nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies like American Express, Girl Scouts, Staples, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their thorniest problems. Connect and follow on Twitter (@LizKislik), on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizkislik/), and on her website at https://lizkislik.com.
QUESTION: You wrote a post for Harvard Business Review entitled, "Leaders, Are You Feeling the Burden of Pandemic-Related Decisions?" What are the six ways that you recommend leaders re-channel their energy to create a better work environment during and post-Covid?
(Post referenced: https://hbr.org/2020/10/leaders-are-you-feeling-the-burden-of-pandemic-related-decisions)
Liz Kislik: I’m going to answer this question based on things that have been happening since this piece was written in October 2020.
(1) The most important thing is to learn what your people need and to gauge how you can support them. How will they work best and be able to participate most, given their personal health requirements and home lives? Look for ways to accommodate team members’ needs as much as possible.
(2) Stay up-to-date on all the medical information and changes in direction so you can adjust inside the organization and provide the most relevant content to your team. Whatever your plans are, craft at least a Plan B and a Plan C, because things keep changing, and that’s not likely to stop.
(3) Stay in touch personally as much as you can, and encourage all the other leaders in the organization to do the same, so that both employees and other leaders feel like part of a community rather than feeling isolated in any way. This is important whether you are all on-premises, working remotely, or are in a hybrid situation.
(4) When you have to change direction or status, explain why the change has occurred. If you’ve made an error in judgment, or are adjusting based on push-back from the team, own up to it and thank whoever helped you come to your current position.
(5) Encourage team members to engage in self-care, from getting enough sleep and exercise to spending time with their families and taking rest breaks. Explain how these behaviors will help keep people fresh and that you recognize that grinding or gutting it out will create burnout or brittleness in the long term.
(6) Model the behavior you want to see. Don’t send emails after work hours, for example, or make clear that you’re not expecting responses till the next workday. Share your plans for rest and relaxation and ask team members for theirs. Acknowledge that you’re all figuring things out together.
(7) And an extra — cultivate colleagues or experts that you can consult with when you need extra information or want to talk things through. Don’t try to get through hard times alone when there are people available to help you.
QUESTION: You wrote a post for Forbes entitled, "How To Use Corporate Culture To Help Get The Results You Want." What are the six ways you think can improve an organization's culture?
(Post referenced: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizkislik/2021/02/04/how-to-use-corporate-culture-to-help-get-the-results-you-want/?sh=50e8bb136c9d)
Liz Kislik: The six points in this piece are based on Netflix’s culture — all of which are relevant, but here’s a bit of a restatement.
(1) Be clear about your purposes and intentions, both in terms of the goals and objectives of the organization and the kinds of behavior, interpersonal dynamics, and cultural norms you expect all to abide by.
(2) Acknowledge that people are different, and all have to find their own expression of and commitment to your organizational principles. Discuss these concepts and real-world examples frequently enough that you can feel confident that everyone on the team has bought in and knows what’s expected of them.
(3) Communicate more than you think is necessary. This means both outbound — notifying, explaining, and describing plans, changes, concerns — and inbound — soliciting employees’ input and concerns and listening, listening, listening. And taking action on what you hear.
(4) Be willing to raise uncomfortable issues kindly and with compassion, and also to hear criticisms and complaints with equanimity and open-mindedness especially when they are about your behavior or your deeply held opinions.
(5) Invest in the best candidates, tools, and other resources. In general, you get a better return when you invest up front rather than wasting time, money, and energy to repair less-than-best choices and decisions.
(6) Experiment with new approaches to increase growth and excellence. Let employees run tests and pilots and build prototypes of process improvements, training approaches, market outreach, etc. You can learn more from lots of little experiments than from big changes that may not match the realities of your organization.
QUESTION: Which three leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?
Liz Kislik: I’m going to focus on three current leaders, for very specific reasons. I’ll start with Dolly Parton. Not only is she extraordinarily skilled at her craft, she is always on brand. She knows the world expects to see Dolly in full Dollyness, and she never disappoints. In particular, she took her masses of money and targeted child literacy and a Covid vaccine as some of the noteworthy projects she wanted to fund. She’s not looking for her own aggrandizement, she is trying to build up and protect community.
Dan Price is the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, an online credit card processing company. He’s famous for reducing his annual pay from $1.1 million to $70,000 so he could increase all employees’ pay to at least $70,000. He speaks out consistently on topics of social inequality and social justice and right now is urging other CEOs to consider team members' needs and preferences rather than requiring that everyone return to their physical offices.
Stacey Abrams is a politician, author, lawyer, and voting rights activist. When she lost the fiercely-contested Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018 in the face of numerous accusations of voter suppression against her opponent, she did not make public complaint. She dusted herself off and doubled down on her organizing efforts.
All three of these individuals use their success and platform on behalf of others. They are resilient and dedicated, and they persist in their efforts to accomplish their goals and bring their beliefs to life.
QUESTION: How can people without impressive titles lead others?
Liz Kislik: Impressive titles are only meaningful to strangers. When you’re in a real working relationship, if you want to feel comfortable and confident about following them, it helps to see that they’re willing to understand what you care about, they’re curious about how things work and how they can be improved, and they’re willing to experiment — and to let you experiment — and will take responsibility for results whether those results are satisfactory or not. They use their political capital and personal reputation to provide cover for their colleagues when things are bad, and share credit and resources all the time. They demonstrate an ability to navigate relationships and spaces that you may not have — and they share the benefits of that experience with their colleagues rather than using them only for personal advancement.
TWEET THIS: Impressive titles are only meaningful to strangers. -@LizKislik #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
Liz Kislik: The first thing is that leaders have to actually love their products/services/other offerings, and what they accomplish for customers. And they have to love their customers and express that love as part of their business-talk, so employees learn to understand how important customers are, and how their company’s offerings affect people’s lives for good. Leaders’ authentic excitement goes a long way to demonstrate to employees just how important, meaningful, and valuable their company’s offerings are.
The other thing is for leaders to show that they love their employees, so that employees are happy to be associated with the company and its offerings and proud to talk about their experience with the company and with the company’s offerings.
QUESTION 6: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others." What does that quote mean to you?
Liz Kislik: Believing that you’re the smartest person in the room could actually lead you to ignore the wonderful contributions that others can and are willing to make. The understanding and contributions of the group can be so much more powerful than that of any one individual. As the leader, it’s your job to recognize the barriers to their progress, and try to get those barriers and deterrents out of the way so your team members can all shine and be and do their best.
TWEET THIS: Believing that you’re the smartest person in the room could actually lead you to ignore the wonderful contributions that others can and are willing to make. -@LizKislik #DebbieLaskeysBlog
My thanks to Liz for sharing her inspiring insights about management, leadership, and the overall employee experience here on my Blog.
If you’d like to read Liz's free E-book, How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts in the Workplace, here's the link: https://lizkislik.com/resolve-conflict/
Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.