Here at exaqueo, we're so often promoting the virtues of understanding your workforce. It's easy to be heads down, making assumptions about people, how they work and what they do. At a macro-level we have to change this and take the time to understand how and why people work. One of the best ways to do this is to start with your leaders--training them to understand how people behave at work, and how to get the best work out of them.

To explore leadership at this level, I sat down with Mike Figliuolo, Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS LLC. A veteran leadership trainer and coach, Mike uses his West Point, McKinsey and corporate experience to help leaders think differently about how to lead. 

Susan LaMotte (SL): Why do people so often fail at leadership?

Mike Figliuolo (MF): I think they treat it as management and they get sucked into the day-to-day of operations and meetings. It's just a task list and they see the people on their teams as one more task. The leaders use the same style and techniques with everyone and you end up with cookie cutter management.  This means you're missing the growth, development, motivation and inspiration that's essential to leadership.

SL: Leadership success is all about behaviors--what caused you to dig into the behavioral attributes of leadership?

MF: When I coach folks I hear "she's not motivated" or "he's not doing a good job." So I always ask them to give me an example. I want to come at it with the facts first. Sometimes we lead by interpretation instead of relying on the facts. For example, Joe always comes late to Friday morning staff meeting so I don't think he's a team player. So I start trying to make him more of a team player. But if I stop and dig into the behavior, I may realize I am leading him wrong.  Maybe Fridays are when Joe visits him mom at the nursing home. So now that we understand, we can fundamentally change how we interact with him. 

SL: Tell me about your new book, Lead Inside the Box. I really identified with the Leadership Matrix, "The Box" and how to think about your team members' behaviors.

MF: My co-author, Victor, had the original idea of the Leadership Matrix and I added on the ability to learn how to drive the behavioral change since the coaching and training I do is all about changing behaviors. We have to teach people how to lead differently and not just tell them “be better.” They want to do that (learn how to actually lead instead of manage) but you have to give them the behaviors to do so.

SL: One of the things I really like about the Leadership Matrix is that you provide a leadership strategy to deal with each kind of team member you define. But at what point do you stop developing people and give up on trying to change someone?

MF: When you're not seeing them contribute as much as you are behaviorally. You give them a chance and they mail it in and refuse to try. You can try to figure out their motivation but if you give them a reasonable period of time and they don't make the effort it's time to stop. On skills, as long as you see growth and development, you don't give up on them. But if you see no progress then you want to direct them to something more appropriate.

SL: Who should read the book?

MF: For new managers and younger leaders, this should be a staple. It's also wonderful for leaders who say they don't have the time to manage their people. I'd argue that it's a misallocation of time. The book helps you learn how to reallocate your time to best lead. For example, giving everyone 2 hours of your time isn't helpful. Not everyone on your team needs two hours. For people who are struggling with where to spend time and how to spend it, the book is perfect. 

SL: How do I know if I am allocating my leadership time the right way?

MF: If you want to begin to evaluate how your people are behaving and evaluate your investment in them, we have an assessment we've developed on our site to do just that.The assessment is a great way to understand how are you spending your time and are you getting the return on your (people) investment. 

SL: Tell me about your own leadership style? What you have learned about yourself studying and teaching leadership?

MF: I've gotten much quieter over the years and become a better listener. And as far as my style, everyone on my team is a high-performer and I have gotten a lot better at giving direction and getting out of the way. I'm more enthusiastic about their different training styles so they can play to their strength.

SL: Thanks Mike for taking the time.  Learn more about Lead Inside the Box or purchase the book.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps  companies build cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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