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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolve to Communicate

Let me start by saying that I really don't care for resolutions much, especially New Years' resolutions. Come on, we make commitments to ourselves or others, we often fail to meet our commitments, and then we feel bad. Not much fun.

While I don't like resolutions, I don't have any trouble resolving to do better about relationships or resolving to not be difficult with other people. What's the difference between resolutions and resolving to do or not do something? NOTHING. There's no difference. A resolution is by definition that act or process of resolving. So maybe I need to get over myself...again.

You see and hear "experts" say that the single biggest downfall for organizations, businesses, or other groups is lack of communication. I wholeheartedly agree. Regardless whether it's two people in a marriage or other relationship, a team, or a large group, true success depends on our ability to thoughtfully listen and properly convey our thoughts (click on the "communication" label in the bottom right margin of this blog page to see several posts on communication that I've written).

Let's use the New Year as an excuse, or better yet, a vehicle, by which we can resolve to better communicate with all those around us.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Get what you expect

I was meeting with a group of managers a few weeks ago. One of them asked me the best way to get a team to function effectively. One of the first things I said was to let the team members know what your expectations are. I was met with several blank stares.

These managers had the belief that their people knew what they were supposed to do and they didn't need to go around formally letting them know expectations.

To that, I responded, "How do you know they know? Have you asked them?" The answer was "well, not directly".

Our people typically cannot read our minds as much as we'd like them to.

So, how do you get what you expect from others?

1. Tell your team members what you expect in general and/or with a specific task or project.
2. Let your team members what they can expect from you.
3. FOLLOW UP to ensure they're doing what you expect and that they still understand what you want (especially if circumstances have changed a little).

Get what you expect -- by communicating with your people.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joy to the World: Truth and Grace

I was at the Christmas Eve service at my church last night and we had the opportunity to sing one of my favorite carols: Joy to the World. My favorite words from the carol are: "He rules the world with TRUTH and GRACE..."

I am a Christian. Images and words that reflect my belief in Jesus Christ are often very uplifting to me. The words of Joy to the World are like that.

I want to focus for a moment on the words I capitalized above: TRUTH and GRACE. As a Christian, these words are very important to me and the way I try to live my life. Even though their meaning is very great to me because of my religious beliefs, the power in the meaning of these words should not be lost on anyone, regardless of religious belief, background, or upbringing.

TRUTH: We all have our ideas for the definition of truth. When I looked up the definition in the Webster's Online Dictionary, the archaic definition really struck me (the world has been around since before the 12th century). The earliest meanings included sincerity in action and character. Forget that each of us have our own definition of truth. Think about the words in bold. The point of truth from these reference points is living lives that make others take us seriously and that encourage others to look to us to help figure out answers to important questions.

As positive leaders, we have to exhibit TRUTH in our lives.

GRACE: Grace is unmerited favor or mercy. It's a disposition to show kindness or compassion. In the leadership and business world, we rarely seem to do anything for anyone else without looking for our payback. I often talk about WIIFM (What's In It For Me) and all human beings look at life that way part of the time. There are times, though, that we are in the unique position to show mercy, kindness, and compassion for those in our care. There should be times when we do things for others and expect NOTHING in return.

As positive leaders, we have to exhibit GRACE in our lives.

I don't know what the holidays make you think of, but they make me think of the God's truth as well as His boundless grace and mercy. As positive leaders, we have the responsibility and need to look for opportunities where we can show kindness and compassion for those whom we serve.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How are your people handling the holidays?

Some of you might wonder why I would even bring up a topic like this. "Why everyone loves Christmas (or substitute Hanukkah, etc. as the case may be)!"

Au contraire, mon frère!

Just because you may have a great time during the holidays, with family coming in, presents to exchange, time away from work, that is not the case for a significant number of people...maybe even some of the people you work with.

For some people, the holidays remind them of sad events or circumstances, like loved ones who no longer live or are far away. The holidays can remind people who are struggling with relationships, with bad health, or with financial worries about how much they think their lives stink and, maybe, about past times when things were better.

So how are your folks handling the holidays? Do you know?

As a boss, that obviously means the people under your supervision. As a team member and leader in your organization, it can also apply to your coworkers or even your boss.

"But I don't want to interfere with my peoples' lives." Yeah, I get that. I also hope that you currently have, or are working on building, relationships with the people around you.

All you need to do is check in with folks. Show them the genuine interest that we know you already have and ask about what's going on. You may find that:
  • Everything's great and you can share in the other person's happiness of getting together with loved ones or doing something special during this season.
  • Not everything is wonderful and the person you're checking on could just use a sympathetic or empathetic ear.
  • You can actually do something to help make a person who's in pain feel better.
Who knows? At worst, you've checked on the people you care about. At best, you might make the holidays better or, at least, more bearable for someone close to you.

Do your job as a leader...and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fixing a dysfunctional team...from the inside

In my last post, Tascha, the manager I've been writing about, was working on the relationship with her boss, Jim (and before that she was working on building her team...she's been very busy with all that relationship stuff...).

Guess what? Tascha has been working hard on building that relationship with Jim and has had some level of success. It's amazing. Success has definitely led to success for her. First she got positive response from her team and then from Jim. Tascha is on a roll and doesn't want to lose momentum. Therefore she's going after another group where the relationships are pretty dysfunctional -- the one with her peer managers.

You see, Tascha is one of 1/2 dozen managers who report to Jim. One of the reasons Tascha thought Jim was such a jerk was because, instead of working to build a cohesive team with the managers, he seemed to like them to be at odds with each other. Tascha isn't really sure why, but maybe it's because Jim doesn't know what else to do and when the managers are fighting with each other, they're not ganging up on him.

What can Tascha do to help build a team where she's just one of the members and where nobody trusts anyone else? She feels it would be easier to do if she were the boss, but she doesn't want that obstacle to get in the way.

She's looking for guidance. Here are a few ideas (and you've seen them before) with a two-pronged approach:


WIIFM (What's in it for me): Help the boss understand how a strong, committed team can help HIM be successful. He needs to understand that people will respond to him (who doesn't like that?) and that this will make him look good and get him promoted (and who doesn't want that?).
Resources: There's a good chance that Jim doesn't know what to do to be a good boss and build a great team. Tascha needs to be willing to share the resources she's found and developed, when building her team, with her boss.
Credit: Tascha has to be OK with Jim getting all the credit for any success and even encourage the limelight being on him. He needs to feel the success and it will hopefully make life better for everyone.


Trust: Once bitten, twice shy, so reach out. Tascha needs to take a chance and be open with her fellow managers, but be careful because it might take a while for them to be able to pull their talons back and trust her. A great way to start building/repairing is to do something for each of the other managers while expecting nothing in return. Take small steps and work on one or two of the colleagues at a time.
Empathy: Tascha being able to put herself in the other managers' shoes is key in building any relationship and the effort has to be sincere.
WIIFM: Just like above with Jim, Tascha's coworkers need to understand what's in it for them to build a relationship with her, personally, as well with the rest of the team. You'd think it would be obvious, but unfortunately that's not always the case.

A very big challenge for Tascha is having the finesse and smarts to pull this off. She has to use her leadership skills to help the others feel good about what's happening and maybe even feel like whatever good things are happening are because of them (like it's all their idea).

I have to applaud Tascha. She is definitely working to better her organization and her life both vertically and horizontally. There will always be opportunities for this kind of work in any organization. What about you? Are you ready to be the catalyst for change like Tascha?

What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Managing Up

Tascha is a manager in a small town near St. Louis. If you've read any other posts about her, you've read where she has had to deal with team issues and what she can do to help her team work in a positive environment.

Now, Tascha needs to use her skills to help develop the relationship with her boss. You see, Tascha thinks her boss, Jim, is kind of a manipulating jerk (not my words...hers) who is exhibits double standards, plays favorites, etc. (wow, he does sound like a prince, doesn't he?). She doesn't like Jim and feels like the relationship isn't very positive. Of course, Tascha also knows there's no law against being a jerk (Praise the Lord for that).

It doesn't seem that Jim's too concerned about their relationship, either. She's not sure if he doesn't care, doesn't have time, doesn't like her, doesn't really know how to build the relationship, or a combination of these. Still, Tascha knows it takes Two to Tango and has felt empowered from the success she's had with her team so she's going to give their relationship a try. She also knows that Jim isn't going anywhere; therefore, unless Tascha is willing to look for another job right now, she wants things to improve.

What should Tascha do to help "manage up" regarding her relationship with Jim? You know, it's not really that different from relationship-building with any other individual (just maybe a little more least at first):
  1. Empathy: Sometimes it's easier to feel empathy with peers or team members than with the boss. After all, they get the big bucks and don't have any trouble letting "you know what" roll downhill. However, remember the adage, "it's lonely at the top". No truer words were ever spoken. Jim might really need someone who has some understanding for the stresses he's going through.
  2. Understand the WIIFM: Tascha needs to know the boss' WIIFM (What's in it for me)? Of course, it's money and power, she thinks. Or is it? What's important to Jim personally and professionally?
  3. Success: How does Jim measure success and how can Tascha help Jim be successful? Tascha is afraid of being used and abused by the which I reply, "you mean, like you use and abuse your folks?" Come on, every team member at every level of an organization has the responsibility to help the boss look good, just like every boss has the responsibility of taking care of the team.
  4. Reach out: Yes, like I mentioned above, Jim is the boss so it's really his responsibility to build a relationship with Tascha. That's probably not going to happen. Therefore, Tascha needs to make the first move by giving Jim the benefit of the doubt.
If Tascha is willing to try the suggestions above, she may find out that Jim is the rat fink she always thought he was. On the other hand, once she makes an investment in the relationship, she may find that Jim, for all his faults, is OK on several levels.

What say you? Should Tascha just look for another job or should she try to help build and manage her relationship with Jim? What other suggestions might you have for Tascha?

NEXT POST: Tascha works on building a team with her fellow managers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fostering a sense of team, Part III

This is Part III of a 3-part series on Fostering a sense of team I encourage you to read the previous two parts of the series as well as this one (click one of these links to see the earlier posts: Part I, Part II). Let's finish up with the tips on building your team:

5. Vision/Goals: What is the vision for your team? What are the goals? I’m not talking about the financial goals that you are given from above. I’m asking what you and your team want to be known for. With a winning sports organization or TEAM, the players not only have talent, but they have a vision (like winning the SEC championship) and goals to help them get there. What is your team known for? What do you and your team members want to be known for? Take some of #4 from Part II of this series and encourage your folks to be a part of determining their vision and goals. They’ll be much more committed and much more likely to have a sense of ownership ,as well as a sense of team, when they’re involved in their own fate.
6. Public/private: Fight for your team in public…kick their butts in private (and keep it private even if you have to take it to the next level). This kind of relates back to Trust/Respect in Part II.
7. Not too seriously: Don’t take yourself too seriously even though you take the job and goals seriously. Take time to have some fun with your folks. I’m not talking about “mandatory” team events outside of work (unless they ask for them…otherwise…gag!). Check yourself in the mirror. Do you see someone there who you would like to work for? Then S M I L E.

OK, well, that's it. I'm sure there are many more tips others may want to share on how to foster a sense of team. I'd love to hear them.

If you were looking for good team-building activities, buy a book. There are some very good ones available. Please understand, though, that there's not a team-building book in existence that will do any manager any good if a good foundation isn't already in place or at least in the works. It all comes back to you.

Good luck.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fostering a sense of team, Part II

This is Part II of a 3-part series on Fostering a sense of team (see also Part I and Part III). Let's get into some of the tips:

1. Trust: I mentioned this in Part I. Before you can build a team, your own people need to know they can trust you. This is not something they’ll believe by hearing you say the words “you can trust me”. They’ll be able to tell if you have their best interests in mind. They’ll know by your actions, your words, and your expressions. Ask yourself – do you have your team members’ best interests in mind? If you do, do they think so?
2. Respect: It's hard to respect a boss when the boss doesn't respect the team. Do you show respect to your folks? Do you respect their ideas, thoughts, and feelings? If not, the only team that may develop is your people banding into a group AGAINST YOU.
3. Model: Are you a team player with other managers and leaders in your organization? If not, your own people will see that.
4. Empower: While you, as the manager, can develop an atmosphere where the sense of team can grow, you can’t foster a sense of team with a group of people who are just compliant (only doing what they’re told). In a team environment, your people are committed, not compliant. They have ownership in their work lives. You, as their boss, value their thoughts and opinions. You know there’s more than one way to skin a cat and you let your people be involved in the team’s successes as well as in the solutions to its problems.

In my next post: Fostering a sense of team, Part III, I'll share the rest of my tips with you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fostering a sense of team, Part I

A reader commented on my last post that it would be helpful to hear about ways managers can help foster a sense of team. This is a great suggestion and great topic.

Before I get into the tips about fostering a sense of team, I have to say that managers have to have at least a few team members who want something more from work than just to show up and get a paycheck. Sure, often times there are a few people who do the absolute least they can do and even look for ways to “get over” on the system because they think it’s fun (and, hopefully, if you have people like that on your team, you’re working to correct their attitudes or eliminating them from the organization). Still, most people want to be a part of something that’s bigger than just them. They are open to being part of a dynamic team if the opportunity comes to them.

If you’re a manager who has no one on your team who cares about anything more than themselves, then you have a problem. You have to look at yourself and see what you’re modeling to your folks. The other area you have to look at is the culture of your organization. If your corporate culture is very cut-throat and dog-eat-dog, then you’ll probably have a much harder time building a team that is built on trust and common goals. It’s not impossible, but very hard. You might just need to decide if that organization is something YOU want to be a part of and then decide for yourself whether to stay or move on to a group with a more positive culture.

In my two next posts: Fostering a sense of team, Part II and Fostering a sense of team, Part III, I'll share some of the tips you might find helpful in building your team.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Keeping trouble out

So, in my last post, we talked about Tascha and Doug, her problem child. He was having major attitude problems. For more info on how to determine whether or not Doug should remain a part of the team, see my series on coaching (5-Part Coaching Series, Part I).

Whether Tascha decided to let Doug stay or decided to let him go, hopefully that problem is fixed. However, she still should be interested in ensuring this problem doesn't arise easily again (it's almost impossible to ensure it NEVER happens again).

What steps can help Tascha?

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate (and when she thinks she's communicated with her people enough, she should do it more). I'm not talking about communicating on a specific issue, but instead about having a pattern of consistent, proactive communication.
2. Set and MODEL expectations (I capitalized MODEL because if Tascha just sets the expectations for her folks, but doesn't walk the walk, her words can be pretty hollow).
3. Help the team understand what success looks like (relates back to #1 and #2).
4. Foster the sense of team (attitude problems are much less likely to crop up with a team as opposed to just a group of people who happen to work together).
5. Changing direction a little away from motivation and leadership, as a manager, Tascha needs to ensure there are backups for every position in the office so regardless of what might happen to one of her people (including someone getting a "wild hair" and then getting termed), no one is indispensable and the mission can carry on with little or no muss or fuss.
6. Of course, there need to be manuals or written instructions on how to do pretty much anything in the office.
7. Finally, for Tascha, herself, she needs to be tuned into her team, getting to know them and being able to read when things are not right. Also, if Tascha and her team are all on the same page, other team members may be more likely to help her out, letting her know when something "not right" is going on.

Any other suggestions for Tascha?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Attitude Problems

Tascha is a manager in a small town near St. Louis. You may remember Tascha if you read my last post. Tascha is in the process of figuring out why some of her strong performers left and that's been a tough lesson to learn.

To add to it, Tascha is observing rumblings on her team. One of the team members, let's call him Doug, just has a bad attitude. He's negative, argumentative, surly, and brings the rest of the team down. Now, I haven't told you this before, but while Tascha is not extremely new in this position and has contributed to some of the team's successes and troubles, she didn't put the team together originally. Tascha does have the responsibility, however, of building the team into an efficient and effective unit where the members are actively committed to their success and that of the organization.

If you were advising Tascha, you might tell her that if Doug is just being a jerk then he needs to be offered the opportunity to look for another job. The thing is that Doug is very experienced and very talented. He knows how to perform some tasks in the office that no one else can do. Some might even call him an expert in his field. Making him "available to industry", so to speak, might help solve one problem and cause several others. Because of that, previous managers had buried their heads in the sand, prayed, and hoped for the best instead of dealing with Doug. It was just easier.

Tascha is trying to decide what to do...just deal with Doug and try to make the best of things like her predecessors OR tell Doug to hit the road. Either way, her decision will create pain.

What Tascha needs to realize (and perhaps does, but is ignoring the fact) is that you can train skills, but you can't train attitude. The best she can hope to do is help align Doug's attitude with how she expects the team members to act. If he's unwilling to make any attitude modifications and Tascha doesn't do anything about it, she could lose even more of her team members than she already has because they may just get so frustrated with Doug that they leave. If they stay, the team will most likely continue to have issues moving toward being dysfunctional. Tascha can't build her team the way it is now.

My advice: "Hey Tascha, you need to have a 'come to Jesus' meeting with Doug and let him know that things have to change and soon. Let him know your expectations moving forward regarding his attitude. Be willing to let him go and be willing to accept some of the pain that is sure to follow as you and your other team members work to pick up the slack. There's no better time to start than NOW. Get going."

Next time: what Tascha can do to ensure another Doug doesn't develop in her team.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Tascha is a manager in small town near St. Louis. Tascha works hard to be a good manager and leader. There are problems, though. She is realizing that, based on some strong employees who have left, things are not right. Tascha would tell you that she never saw the departures coming.

She remembers what she was taught about employees leaving bosses before they leave organizations. Therefore, Tascha wisely looks inward to try and understand why people might want to leave. There are different reasons why her team members might have been thinking of their exits. Tascha wonders, "why didn't my people talk to me? I had their best interests at heart. I've always tried to be approachable."

Let's focus on the "approachable" idea for the rest of this post because it could really have had an impact, not only on Tascha's understanding of what happened, but also on a key way that the problems might have been avoided.

Was Tascha really approachable? She thinks she was and she felt she let her people know that. The questions that come to mind are 1) did Tascha actually let her team members know that she was interested in talking with them? 2) If she did so, did Tascha's actions match her words; in other words, did she make a habit of talking with her people and were her mannerisms (facial expressions, etc.) aligned with the approachability she was trying to convey?

If Tascha wasn't overly approachable, then that would definitely be something she could work on. Let's say, however, that Tascha's people found her very approachable. That's great, but the problems haven't been resolved. What else could it be?

Once Tascha's people approached her, was Tascha really engaged in their communication? 1) Did she actively listen to what her people said? 2) Did Tascha take what they had to say seriously or did she dismiss their comments? Even though some things her people would have told her might have been frivolous or even inappropriate, did Tascha let the staff know they were important by expressing her appreciation for them coming to her?

Strong communication is so often the key issue when problems surface and, just as often, a great way to fix or even ameliorate problems before they get out of hand.

Look at yourself. Do you see any Tascha in there?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Perception and Reality

I had the pleasure of discussing the saying "perception is reality" with a friend of mine today. My friend and I didn't completely agree.

It can be considered trite and naive to believe that reality is up for grabs. As far as people, people management, people science, and all that are concerned, there are typically some, at least, socially acceptable truths. Someone's reality might be based on bigotry and this person might foster the belief that all short people are somehow inadequate, for example. There is no basis in conventional wisdom for that belief so one might say that this person's perception is not, in actuality, reality even though the person believes it. Norms of reality exist, huh?

So, we're comfortable with the idea that reality does exist. Great. The rub comes, however, when we get too wrapped up in what we call reality as opposed to what others call reality. We all have filters through which we look at life (see my post here on Reality Filters). These filters are often composed of our experiences both as children and as adults, as well as what we've been taught by people who have been influential in our lives. These filters are really powerful and can help us shape our personal reality. They can even help us slant the "conventional wisdom" realities to where they fit better into our beliefs. The bigot I mentioned above most certainly used filters to shape his "short hate"., reality exists, but we have trouble pinning it down. Or, perhaps we have NO trouble pinning it down ourselves, but everyone around us just does a lot of head scratching, wondering what the heck we're thinking.

Perhaps the best thing we can hope to do is have faith. For me, that means faith in God. It also means that, except when I'm being really cynical, I have faith that people are basically decent, as a group. Other than that, we should look really hard at what our reality is and try to help it align (I didn't say agree) with those who are important in our lives.

The other thing we can to do is try to have empathetic spirits. We can to try to understand the reality of those around us. We don't have to agree with those realities, but we can to try to understand them so we can use what we've learned to better interact with others. We can be willing to accept (gulp...) that our ideas might be wrong or, at least, not necessarily the best ideas around. Since many of us have pretty strong beliefs, we should to try to temporarily "suspend" our assumptions (see my post on that here) and beliefs on a subject to help us better listen to other ideas and perceptions. Maybe the group will agree that I am right, that someone else is right, or that we both are (we can have multiple ideas, can't we?).

What about you? How do you handle the idea of reality and your views on it?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Consider Almost Everything

Different people have different outlooks on life. Some are pretty open-minded and some are fairly closed-minded. Regardless of our outlook, almost everyone has areas where their minds are already set, already decided.

For whatever reason, whether it's based on upbringing, painful experiences from the past, having a "particular" attitude about certain things (like different people or cultures), or just being difficult because we like it, we can often shut out some possibly great ideas or experiences.

The thing is, just because we look at or consider an idea doesn't mean we have to agree with it or do anything about it. There are plenty of bone-headed ideas out in the world (I might mention a few, but then maybe that would just be me acting closed-minded). Aristotle wrote:
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
Think about the great achievements and advancements in medicine, science, and business that might have never happened if leaders had not been willing to tolerate another person's ideas. Humans might not have advanced near as far with automobiles or airplanes. We might never have traveled into space or mapped the ocean floor without leaders thoughtfully considering ideas.

Now, grounding the topic a little bit and considering our daily lives, it's our responsibility as managers and leaders to try and consider pretty much everything that we run across. We should look at suggestions and ideas from all angles to see if they have merit in our particular situations. That's how we can help others grow as well as move our organizations and ourselves forward.

Just consider it, OK?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Daily Motivation

"People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily." ~Zig Ziglar

What I'm seeing Zig say is that we need to take time every day for self-motivation and to motivate our folks. On one hand, that seems kind of overkill. The last thing I would want to experience is a new motivational video every day from YouTube. Just thinking of it makes my brain hurt.

On the other hand, it's easy for us and for our team members to get weighed down -- weighed down by the stresses in our personal lives that come from things like family, money, health, and safety. Add to it the stresses from work and before we know it we could feel like we've got the weight of the world on our shoulders. It can happen quickly and easily.

In that respect, I definitely can see where Zig is coming from. It's part of our job as leaders to help lift and maintain our people's spirits (and, therefore, our own since our people often mimic our moods). It's part of our duties to help them feel like work is a place they want to be which should help them be more productive and pleasant to work with.

I like the idea of morning huddles (see my "huddle" post here) with my folks. What about you? What do you do to daily motivate your people and yourself?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pride in the team

As bosses, we often spend a significant amount of time putting out fires and dealing with problematic issues. We have more to do than there are hours in the day. It can, at times, seem overwhelming. It can, at times, cause us to take a "head down" approach to our work lives, focusing on the bad stuff.

Hopefully, if we're fortunate enough and we're doing good stuff as a leader, we lead a great team. Maybe the team is great in spite of us, but more than likely the team is strong, at least in part, because of our efforts.

We need to take a moment, every now and then, to celebrate our blessings. We need to come up out of our funk, take a breath, and take pride in the team of which we're a part.

When we look at our folks, imperfect as they are (just like us), we can hopefully revel in their great efforts: in helping keep the operation moving forward, in providing outstanding service, in making your office a wonderful place to be.

Now, go de-funkify and take some pride in the team.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Humility...a sign of weakness?

Most of the leaders I've observed and worked with over the years have been concerned with appearing strong and in command of their teams, their position, and their lives.

Some of them were naturally arrogant and some developed an arrogant posture to seem tough and strong. Some even took to bullying others. Sometimes the bravado appeared to be a thinly veiled attempt to cover up a fear of inadequacy.

There were a few leaders who were different from the rest. They were calm and self-assured instead of seeming full of themselves. They were even deferential with others, knowing that they weren't special, but just another member of the organization who was trying to do their best. They respected those around them, both above and below, for the contributions they made, knowing that all team members are capable of sharing.

Instead of an air of cockiness, these people adopted one of humility. They knew they weren't perfect, but they also knew they were competent. When they made a mistake, they didn't try to deflect the responsibility on someone else. When they messed up, they stood up and were accountable; then they worked to correct the problems and make modifications to ensure the problems didn't reoccur.

Leaders should always want to deal with issues from a position of strength. So, what does that position of strength look like? Is it all about strutting around and looking superior or can it be quiet confidence rooted in maturity, experience, and self-awareness?

So I ask, is humility a sign of weakness...or is it a sign of strength?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Double Standards

Do as I say and not as I do.

Isn't that what we often like to tell our children? Isn't it often what we subliminally say to our team members at work? Don't our actions often give us away here?

It's been a long time since I was in the Service, but waaay back then, we used to have to periodically wear our chemical protective suits and gas masks 4 hours at a time while performing our normal duties. The idea was to help us get acclimated to wearing the gear so we would be better prepared in case of a gas attack. As you might imagine, the suits were very hot and the masks were very hard to breathe through, especially when making any exertion at all.

If any of the soldiers were caught sneaking a breath of fresh air during the exercise, they would definitely get in trouble. However, many of the leaders would find opportunities to sneak away and peel off their masks for a few minutes. The thing is, the troops weren't stupid. They knew their supervisors had gone "missing". Sometimes they even saw their bosses "cheating."

The excuse was that they were older and had issues with heat or lung capacity, but I suspect the real reason those leaders took off their masks was they thought they could get away with it AND they deserved special treatment because their rank afforded them such. It was just one more bit of "evidence" to the soldiers that a double standard existed even though it was regularly denied.

We probably wouldn't like it if our bosses adopted a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude, would we? Then why would it OK to embrace that same attitude with our folks?

I challenge all of us to take a look at the requirements we place on our team members and ourselves; then we need to evaluate how we measure up to our requirements. Our team members probably know, so we should, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What, How, Do

I've heard someone say, "I pretty much know everything about leadership. Oh, there might be one or two small things, but very, very little. I don't need those seminars. I don't need those books. I already know what to do. My problem is that I just don't do it."

On the surface, besides the arrogant nature of the comments, this person seems pretty dialed in on the whole leadership thing: lots of training, lots of exposure. Then the question is asked, "So, why don't you do it?" The answer might be, "Well, none of us is perfect, blah, blah, blah." Cop-out...

Could it be that there's a piece missing? Could it be that the reason the "expert" isn't doing what he or she knows, is that the person doesn't know HOW to translate the knowledge into action? Could it be that it's not:

Knowledge -->> Action
But, instead, it's:
Knowledge -->> Practice -->> Action?

Could it be that there's been no practice, or more likely, not enough practice (if there's such a thing as enough practice)? Does this example work?
I know what to do to fix a computer. I have the instructions right here. Still, I may not be an expert at fixing computers until I've practiced fixing them: breaking parts, frying components, and corrupting or erasing files until I've made enough mistakes and fixed more computers than I've broken on a regular basis.
Now, I'm picking on leadership folks right now, but perhaps this idea of practice could extend to any number of areas, like service, management, or coaching (Hey! These are the things I write about!).

The saying is "practice makes perfect" and since we can never be perfect, I guess that means we must endlessly practice. Of course, that may lead to another question of "If I'm not perfect, can I truly be an expert in my field?", but that's a topic for another time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Common Vision

When have you felt the most fulfilled at work, in your current job or some time in the past? For me, it was when I was a part of an organization with a common vision.

The absolute best organization I was ever part of was NOT the place where I had the best job. I had better jobs that I liked more with other groups. This organization, however, was the place I felt most energized and alive. It was the place where we had the most compelling common vision.

I briefly alluded to this organization a few days ago when I wrote about being the Communications Officer for 8-43 Air Defense Artillery at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas (see the post here). The core group of us (about 25-30) shared this common vision: to build a battalion of 700 soldiers, equip it, train it, and move it 8,000 miles to West Germany where its PATRIOT missiles would help protect our forces from the enemy.

Our commander lived and preached the vision. We were his disciples and we made believers of the soldiers. We knew what we had to do, we knew the importance of our duties, and we had an aggressive timeline to meet. We took the 10 months the Army gave us and, through exceptional leadership, made a cohesive unit, rolling to the field every week for 16 weeks. At first, we were inept and awkward. Tasks seemed to take forever to complete. However, over those 4 months of intense, repetitive training, we built and honed our skills until we could practically perform them in our sleep.

We had our vision, we had our culture, and we made it happen. It was glorious.

Unfortunately, and perhaps almost inevitably, when we got settled into our facilities in Germany, we got into the habit of our duties and things got kind of humdrum and monotonous. Our great adventure was over.

I've looked back at that experience periodically, over the years, and wished I could recapture that spark we had. I've been in organizations that came close, but never quite made it. I've worked to recreate it in places, as well, but the current culture was just too strong and never allowed it to take hold.

What about you? Have you ever been in a group that had a great common vision? Have you ever been involved with a vision that just swept you up and swept you along?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Skilled Incompetence"

"Skilled Incompetence" is a phrase coined by Chris Argyris, a business theorist who taught at Harvard and is known for his work in the area of "Learning Organizations". I was reading some of his ideas on this phrase in my favorite management book, "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge. Senge is commenting about this during his comments about "the myth of the management team".

Skilled Incompetence, according to Argyris, is the consequence of "teams full of people who are incredibly proficient at keeping themselves from learning". This is in reference to business teams who keep from learning because it's not "safe". The thing is, this problem is often present in any organization, be it business, volunteer organizations, charities.

What's one the main reasons for skilled incompetence? It's the culture. It's a culture of knowing instead of a culture of learning. It's a culture of protectionism, ensuring each of the group members look good, instead of a culture where it's OK to disagree and to make mistakes in the search for the best way to operate.

How many times have you heard (or even thought, yourself) someone say, "I don't agree with that idea, but I'm not going to stick my neck out..."? How many times would you love to be able to say what you are thinking and be in a dialogue where you and your teammates are free from fear of challenging the status quo and are allowed the freedom to truly brainstorm and create?

As long as business is good, skilled incompetence doesn't necessarily show or, at least, seem to get in the way, too much. However, when there's crisis or chaos, teams like Senge speaks about often fall apart.

Have you ever seen or experienced Skilled Incompetence? What, if anything, has the organization done about it? What can be done to rid teams of this malady?

Making A Difference

Good leaders make a difference in the lives of the people they serve. I didn't write "good leaders make a difference in the lives of people who serve them". I also didn't write "GREAT". I wrote "good". Most of us are not and never will be great leaders even though we hopefully strive to be great every day.

I have written several other posts on "leaders" in this blog. Some are: Visibility, Leaders are There, Leaders Never Quit, Servant Leadership. This time the post is about how we, as leaders, can make a difference in the lives of our people.

I've been blessed to have several really good bosses over the years. The "hands down" best boss I ever had was Colonel Joseph J. "Jake" Simmons, IV. Why was he the best boss I've ever had?

It's because he:
  • invested in me.
  • believed in me.
  • challenged me.
  • helped me grow.
  • cared about my well-being.
  • patted me on the back and kicked me in the butt.
  • helped me believe I was a winner.
Good leaders have the most unique of abilities and opportunities...the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people they serve.

On Veteran's Day, I remember Colonel Simmons and say "thank you, sir" to his service to his God, his country, his people, and to me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Change...a clean slate

Change can be a scary thing. So much of what we want, as human beings, is to feel secure. We like things the way we like them and we don't want them to be different.

Of course, change is inevitable and it's really hard to have growth without change. One thing I do find very inviting about change is often the ability, in a sense, to wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When we start in a new position at work with a new group of people, or we take a new job, or the makeup of our team changes, it can give us the opportunity to "start over", even a little bit.

We all make mistakes and, hopefully, we learn from our mistakes. Still, our mistakes can haunt us or taint us a little bit, if only in our own minds. Change can give us the chance -- can be the catalyst -- to leave some of our mistakes and baggage behind and start fresh.

This attitude toward change is very positive and can help us move forward more energized, focused, and dedicated than we have been in a while. It can allow the real, "improved" us shine to those around us.

A clean slate is good, don't you think?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Checking Up

Do bosses have to know how to do their people's jobs in order to be able to check and ensure they're being performed correctly?

I remember having a discussion with one of my team leaders about spot-checking the work of our teams. He was adamant that a boss needed to know exactly how to perform his people's work in order to accurately determine if the work was being performed and performed correctly.

I disagreed with him. I said that key indicators often let a boss know whether work was being performed. Sure, the quality of the end result or product will let bosses know 100% (more traditional key indicators), but then it's too late to make any corrections. Let's face it, bosses are supervisors, not worker bees, and it's often not possible to realistically know how to perform every step of every team member's job.

I gave the team leader my example of ensuring that maintenance was being performed on a fleet of trucks. I said that, while I didn't know how to perform all the preventive maintenance, checks, and services on the trucks, I could check the tire pressure, the cleanliness of the oil dipstick handle (it was very large and easily got dirty), and battery cell levels to get a decent idea if the maintenance was being performed. I believe I convinced him of my argument.

What do you think? Are there checks that bosses can perform that allow them to see their teams' work is being done? What examples do you have?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Before we "jump"

How many times have we KNOWN the right answer before we even knew all the facts?

How many times have we gotten upset with someone because we jumped to the result before we heard all the information?

How many times have we jumped in and tried to solve the problem before we even knew if our team member wanted our help?

How many times have we Looked Before Leaping?

If we, as leaders and bosses, are to have any credibility with our team members, we have to stop, listen, and think before we act. Nothing turns our people off more quickly than knee-jerk reactions from us.

Credible leadership is mature and thoughtful leadership. Let's take a minute to think about that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


ARMY Story (this is a follow-on to this post "Leaders are there").

When I was the Communications Officer for 8-43 Air Defense Artillery back in the 80s, we spent a ton of time doing maneuvers out in the New Mexico desert. The reason we were out in the field so much was that we had just formed the unit from an initial group of 25-30 of us and built it up to about 700 soldiers in preparation of our move to Germany as part of the air defenses against the Russians and the Soviet bloc (this was before "the wall" came down, you know).

8-43 ADA was a PATRIOT missile unit that was heavy on communications (some called it a communications system that shot missiles). Anyway, I digress.

If the control vans and the launchers couldn't communicate, the unit was useless, so we trained, trained, trained. Back in the 80s, the doctrine was to move at night because we were less visible to the enemy in the dark. I did my best to be on site whenever a missile battery moved into position so I could watch the Commo guys get everything set up. Those days, people like me didn't get much rest because some unit was always moving and when that wasn't happening, other communication issues had to be dealt with. I would sit on the hood of my vehicle, watching the soldiers getting the equipment all set up and operating, trying to stay awake. I often looked at my watch to see what time it was...0200, 0300, 0330 and thinking about when I'd get some sleep. That's what I did.

"OK, great. You looked at your watch", you say. Yeah, yeah, I'm getting to the point. After our 4 months of rolling to the field every week was finally over, I was speaking to the Commo section sergeants from one of the PATRIOT batteries about how fast and efficiently his team had been...even more than the others. His response surprised me. He said, "we had to be fast, sir, since I saw you were constantly timing us." I started laughing. He asked what was funny. I said, "I wasn't timing you. I was just tired and kept looking at my watch to see how much sleep I'd get that night." He said, "And all that time, we thought you were timing us and I was determined my team was going to win the competition." I wish I had thought of that.

Visibility and interest by the leaders are key to the success their people. Even though I didn't realize it, I was giving the sergeant the perception of my keen interest (and I was interested) and my expectations of him and his team.

Do you have other examples of how leader visibility positively impacts the team?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Down the wrong path

You're working on a project or task and, after working on it for a while, you realize you're just heading in the wrong direction. You've got a lot invested here. There's a lot of visibility to your work and your reputation could be at stake. What do you do? Can you afford to deviate? Can you admit you made a mistake? Should you just move ahead down the wrong path and make the best of it?

From my perspective, there's only one thing to do: S T O P !

You need to stop, regroup, realign, and get on the right path. Think about hikers out in the woods. They probably use a map to keep heading the right direction. If they find out they're heading the wrong way, do they typically keep on going or do they stop, get back on the right path and move on? Of course, they do otherwise could be disastrous.

So it should be with us. As bad as it may seem to admit you've been going down the wrong path, it could be many times worse to stupidly keep going just because you can't be wrong.

Is there ever a time to keep on going down the wrong path?.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What do you have to get done today?

There are a million things to do and a hundred deadlines to meet. You've got to write emails, you've got to make phone calls, you have to sit in meetings and try to be engaged...and in between all of it, you have to get your daily work done.

How many of us feel this way on a regular basis?

What do we do about it? We get flustered, we respond to the loudest voice or the squeakiest wheel of the moment, and we try to get everything done. Or maybe, we run and hide, thinking that "doing the ostrich" and burying our heads in the sand will make it all go away. Regardless, we're most likely not being efficient and effective and we may be rough to live with while it's all happening. This kind of living stinks.

Is there a way out?
  • Well, the first thing you have to do is ask yourself if you need to be doing everything you're doing. Are you doing some relatively simple work just because you like to do it or you're really good at it versus delegating it out?
  • Moving on, is there anything you can say "no" to? As far as work is concerned, maybe that's not reasonable, but maybe there is. There may be some opportunities personally, too.
Great, you've delegated and you've pushed back and you still have a ton of things to do. There's no end in sight. Where do you turn? Stop and ask yourself this simple question:

"What do I HAVE to get done today?"

Just ask it. It seems so simple, yet when we are frazzled and feel overwhelmed, we often just forget. We forget to take a few minutes and prioritize.

So, shut the door, take a deep breath, and ask yourself the question. It may help you get through the day.

What other ways work for you in dealing with too many tasks on your list?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Benefit of the doubt

It's really easy to misunderstand someone else, especially in writing and especially on email. If people can start wars with the flick of a pen, think about the damage we can do with email. In fact, I wrote about this a while back (see post here).

The thing is, most of the time we're not trying to be difficult when we write to someone else (although I could be wrong). When misunderstandings take place, it's more about the receiving party taking the meaning differently than intended. We miss the tones and inflections and so we take the words however we want to or based on the mood we're in.

So, how many times have we misunderstood the message? How many times have we received an email that was innocent or benign, put a negative spin on it, and taken it as an attack? How many times have we ripped off a scathing response, one that anyone would KNOW was negative, only to find out later that the original message was not intended to be antagonistic?

We need to give email writers the benefit of the doubt. Unless we know the person at the other end is out to hurt us (and has proven it in others ways besides email), we need not jump to the negative.

We have several choices of how to take an email's meaning. Let's choose to put a positive spin on them and give the writers the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You Don't Have To Be A Superstar

I used to work with a sergeant whose platoon (around 35 soldiers) was always the best. These men and women were head and shoulders above the rest of the platoons in my company (and probably in the entire battalion of about 600 soldiers). Typically, a platoon is led by a lieutenant and a Sergeant, First Class. This sergeant was so young in his career that he hadn't made it to Sergeant First Class, but was still a Staff Sergeant AND he had no lieutenant most of the time. When we were short of officers, I would let this sergeant lead on his own.

One time, Sergeant H and I were talking and I asked him, "why is it that your platoon is so strong? Why is it that they're so obviously superior to every other platoon around them?" His reply was, "Sir, my guys aren't superstars and I don't expect them to be. All I expect them to do is their jobs. All the others around them who don't perform will make them look like superstars."

Now, depending on how you choose to look at it, you can see this as an indictment on most of us OR you can look at it from the perspective of focus, teamwork, guidance, and expectations. Sergeant H didn't expect his people to perform miracles. He just expected them to do their work; he expected them to do their jobs.

What do you expect of your people? Do they know your expectations?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is it your honor?

Do you consider it your honor to be a leader? Is it your honor to be a boss?

When your people come to you for guidance or advice, do you consider it an honor that they ask or are they being pests?

When one of your team members is messing up, do you consider it a pain to have to coach them or do you see it as an honor that you're entrusted to help him or her grow?

When you have customers who are unhappy, does it upset you to have deal with them or do you consider it an honor to be able to perform great service recovery and help them be even more loyal patrons?

Sometimes I think that, as bosses and leaders, we forget that we have been chosen and entrusted to help grow our organizations, develop our teams, and make fanatic fans of our customers.

It IS our honor.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What does it take to get you to act?

Specifically, I'm talking about discipline. What does it take to get you to respond to behavior that is not up to your standards?

Anger: When I was a young leader, it often took me being upset or angry before I could openly and directly face someone not doing what he or she was supposed to be doing. I used to have to mentally "fire myself up" or have one of my junior managers help me get riled, reminding me of the inappropriate actions, in order to go take care of business.

Prodding: Sometimes it takes an event to get bosses to act, perhaps like some evaluation, especially if it's an evaluation of you. Maybe your boss is wondering how you're handling a situation or situations. Regardless, you're not going to act unless poked or prodded. Is it OK to take this approach as long as the behavior gets modified?

Self-prodding: This is the approach I've seen taken a lot by good managers. Someone isn't performing up to standards and you know you need to take action. You don't want to. It bothers you, perhaps to the point of almost making you nauseous, because you really don't like confrontations. However, you're a professional so you don't stick your head in the sand. It's your job and you know it. Your mind won't let it go until you deal with it. Eventually, you make corrections, but you've probably spent a fair amount of time worrying about how your team member will respond or how good a job you'll do at the correction. Your focus may be taken away from other priorities. Is all this OK as long as you get your person back on track?

Just another task: You are a mature, self-assured manager. You just see the need for a correction as another task on your list for the day. You don't worry about it. Sure, you may be a little disappointed that the correction is needed, but it's a part of life. Of course, you do think about the best way to proceed with that team're not cavalier about it. Perhaps you have such a strong relationship built with your people, based on open communication and mutual respect, that it's not a big deal to correct, coach, and move on. This approach seems the most healthy.

Think about it. Where are you among the different approaches to discipline? Can you identify with one of these or is your approach different? Are you at the place you want to be? If not, what will it take to help you get there?

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Your stare will melt ice.

When you walk into a room, a cold wind begins to blow, dogs begin to wail, and mothers grab their babies and scuttle off to safety.

When you show your displeasure, strong men drop to their knees and begin to weep, "for the love of all that's good in the world, please spare me!"

And you like it.

What is it that causes some bosses to appear pleased when their people are afraid of least a little? One manager told me, "when you walk into a room, your people should take notice and be at least a little nervous."


Is that how managers build a cohesive and loyal team (cohesive against you and loyal with each other against "the bad boss)? Is that how leaders promote efficiency and effectiveness?

This certainly was the case in the not too distant past and it probably still exists some places.

The boss I mention above is not a builder, but one who tears down. Instead, we need to be approachable. Our people need to know that we care about them and the contribution they make to all our success. Sure, we set standards and stretch goals. Of course, we let our people know what we expect. It just needs to be in a positive and respectful setting.

Is there ever a time when you think it's OK for a boss to rule by intimidation?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stepping into your shoes

Succession planning is a hot topic these days. We, as managers, are supposed to develop and groom suitable team members to replace us when we get promoted or move on to other opportunities. It does make sense considering the potential loss of productivity that can occur when your replacement has a long learning curve.

This is not something we typically do very well. A few possible reasons spring to my mind:
  1. The ever excuse of no time, which might be true, but could just as easily translate to not knowing what to do.
  2. General issues with delegation that are present already.
  3. Fear that one of your people might be better than you (shoot, I think it's great to have people smarter than you on your team. When I was lucky enough or smart enough to have that happen, it really helped me stretch and grow).
A great way to start with succession planning is to determine who you think most likely to be your replacement, even if that never comes to pass because this person moves on or your bosses choose to replace you from outside your team. Your candidate could be one or more of your team members.

After you know who you'd like to have to fill your shoes, then you can actively work to delegate some of your traditional tasks as well as allowing the team member to weigh in on decisions, strategies, or programs. When you're away, like on vacation, you can put this person in charge and give them a sense of what being in your position might be like. You could even have the team member head up an initiative with higher-level exposure to give them some face time with the honchos and learn while you're still around as a safety net.

The key for the least impact to your departure is to start thinking now about who could replace you and what you would want them to know in order to do your job. Then execute on the plan.

What other suggestions do you have for successful succession planning?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I know people who spend their lives trying to avoid conflicts or disagreements. They consider disagreements as bad and that, while resolution to conflicts is good, avoiding any disagreements in the first place is always best.

What's wrong with disagreement? Is disagreement always bad? I guess it is if we have to always be right...then it definitely is a problem. I'm happy when others agree with me, but having others always agree with us isn't necessarily productive.

If everyone always agreed with those around them, how would we ever improve as human beings, as nations and cultures, let alone coworkers, friends and family? I don't think disagreement and conflict are bad at all.

Disagreements and conflicts are bad if we never resolve them. It's in the very act of resolution, if what we're doing is trying to learn and progress, instead of just mollifying or acquiescing, that positive outcomes can develop.

If we realize that we, personally, are not infallible, and the groups we are a part of are not perfect, then we know we have areas where we can improve.

When I think of a project team working to build a better widget, how far can it progress if all the team members are just going along with the leader instead of thinking, analyzing, and challenging the plans? The project might progress somewhat, but it will never reach it's optimal result unless the team members embrace disagreement as they challenge their ideas and the ideas of their colleagues.

What do you think? What other ways do disagreements and conflict fit into the picture as we look for innovation and growth?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Employees Leave Their Bosses

I was just re-reading Monday Morning Leadership in preparation for a meeting. One of the comments in there was about why employees leave a company. That caused me to do a little Google search where I found this post called "The Real Reason Why Employees Leave" on the IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals) web site.

The article references a study by the Saratoga Institute that says:

"89% of managers believe employees leave for more money. But, in fact, the survey found that 88% of employees leave for reasons other than money."
You know the #1 reason people leave a company? It's because of us, their bosses. People don't leave companies, they leave US.

Sure, there are a percentage of "job hoppers" out there who are never satisfied or who are looking for 25 cents more per hour. Most employees, though, want to be where they are valued and appreciated. They also want to respect who they work for. Come on, who wants to work for a boss who they have no respect for?

That's our job as bosses: to value our people and ensure they feel valued; to set clear standards and expectations that all can follow, including us.

What are some of the ways we can help our folks feel valued and appreciated?
  1. Communication: We regularly converse with our people. We don't just talk TO them, but we converse WITH them, keeping them informed soliciting feedback.
  2. Respect: If we want our team members to show us respect, we have to do the same for them. The rules that apply to them should apply to us, as well.
  3. Interest: We need to be interested in our folks and understand what's important to them. We need to learn their priorities and their goals. We need to understand what makes them tick.
  4. Management: One management technique DOES NOT fit all. We need to tailor our approach, at least somewhat, to the people we're supervising. That doesn't mean we're wishy-washy or vague, but it does mean that we understand the subtleties and individuality of each employee.
What other ways can we help ensure our people know they are valued? What other ways can we help them exhibit the respect they want to give and we want to get?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A knot yanked in your tail

I once had a young lieutenant working for me who was an outstanding officer. He was one of those few people who really was a natural leader.

One day, though, he ran afoul of me. He made an inappropriate comment to me in front of other people. Needless to say, I took him aside and, in private, chewed off a pound of his behind.

Somehow, a few hours later, the subject came up between him and me again. Maybe I said I hoped I hadn't been too harsh (must have been a moment of weakness on my part). His response was, "No sweat, sir. Everyone needs a knot yanked in his tail from time to time."

Even though exchange happened almost 20 years ago, I still remember it. Once or twice since then, I have even said the exact thing to a boss after I got chewed out.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, we do things that are inappropriate. It's our boss's job; no, it's our boss's responsibility to yank a knot in our tails and help get us back on track.

Has anyone ever needed to yank a knot in your tail?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lonely at the top

Here's another well-known, but very true saying: It's lonely at the top.

While this is a very familiar expression to most of us, it still seems to come as a surprise to many new managers when they move into a supervisory role. What the phrase means to me is that when an unpopular decision has to be made or when the outcome of a project or an activity isn't as good as hoped, the accountability lies with the boss...and no one else.

Like I've mentioned in the past, bosses can pass on responsibility to their team members, but they cannot pass on accountability. It stays with the boss (to read more on accountability v. responsibility click here).

So how do bosses often handle it when they start feeling all alone or singled out or blamed when things don't go right?
    1. They tough it out and try to stand tall and straight...all alone. This is lonely, for sure, and a quick way to get burned out. This is not healthy.
    2. Bosses sometimes try to share their problems with those in their chain of command, the people they supervise. This is not healthy, either, and can often give the picture of a leader who cannot handle the stress (whether accurate or not).
    3. They sometimes try to blame others. While blame is not useful at any time, errant and desperate leaders can try to deflect the heat from themselves onto others. Not only is this unfair, but it is a sign of very immature leadership. This is a quick way for those leaders to get escorted off of the "credibility bus".
    4. Smart bosses find a confidant or mentor to share their frustrations with. This person could be a colleague or someone who has no connection the the boss's work at all. A confidant/mentor can help the boss have a safe place to vent and then provide support as the boss figures out how to move forward positively.

What other ways do you know of that bosses use to keep from feeling all alone?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The future...head for it

WARNING: Trite expressions used throughout this post.

There's a temptation, when things aren't working out the way we want, to look at the past and remember it in a positive know, through rose-colored glasses.

It's nice to have memories like that at times. I can remember a job I had or the people I knew and think of good times. I can remember great times my family and I experienced together. It's not so nice when they get in the way of moving forward.

If you take your positive past experiences, wrap your arms around them, wallow around in the mud with them, and spend more than a passing amount of time with them, then they're not helpful.

As we know, as we've heard, as we've said, time waits for no one. We can't be wasting what time we have on this earth dreaming about the past. We can look to the past on occasion because it's pleasant and because it can help guide our paths forward. We can appreciate the past for how it has shaped us, but then we have to put it back in it's appropriate spot in our lives.

The future is now. We need to live our lives now and not hold onto the past. It just doesn't do us any good. "Carpe' diem", sieze the day: for a just cause, for the ones around us, for ourselves. This is the way we need to live.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sometimes it takes a 2x4

I'm sure you've experienced it. Maybe you're a straight-forward person -- not too hard, not too easy. You let your team know of an update in procedures for your office. This change is critical and must be implemented every time without fail. You give them plenty of warning, walked through the procedures step-by-step, and ensured they all know what to do. They agree.

Then, because you're such a competent boss, you check back in a few days to make sure the new procedures are being followed. Pretty much, all your staff are towing the line. There's one person who is not following the guidance, though.

You let the errant team member know that this procedure is critical and he'd better get on board with everyone else. There is agreement and you go off to work on something else. Then it happens again, maybe a couple more times.

You don't get it. Everyone else is following the rules. You've been very clear. What's it going to take to get your "rebel" on board?

In a group, there are some people who only need to see a look of displeasure on your face and they self-correct. I love people like that. Then there's the rest of the group who pretty much do as their instructed and allow themselves to be corrected, as necessary. Sometimes you just have one or two people who just won't follow the rules for whatever reason. They need different oversight.

Sometimes you just need to smack them in the forehead with a 2x4 (not literally, of course). As much as you hate to do it, it's time to get serious. Maybe you raise your voice; perhaps you warn of ramifications; you follow up the conversation with documentation. For whatever reason, some people just don't respond unless they get a smack between the eyes.

The thing is that, in order to be fair to those who doing their jobs, you have to ensure all your team are held to the same standard. That means that you sometimes have to interact with people differently, even when it comes to discipline. What you can't afford to do is ignore the won't go away on it's own and might even get worse. Plus, the rest of your team will know the other person isn't pulling his own weight.

Do you know any people like I'm referring to? Do you have people on your team who only respond to the 2x4? What do you do to help realign them?

Guidance without Substance

I heard a story once that a junior manager came to his boss and said, "Business is bad, as you know. Morale is suffering and I've tried everything to motivate my team, but nothing seems to help."

The boss came back with, "the measure of a leader is not being able to motivate their employees when things are going well, but to motivate their people when times are tough." The junior manager, considering himself a strong leader and wanting to impress the boss, said "you're right. I'll work on that." The conversation ended and the junior manager went on his way.

As I think back on this story, it seems like the guidance provided was accurate, but there was no substance. It sounds like the boss really didn't have a good response for the manager so just came up with a "surface" answer. How about providing some pointers on how to motivate folks during tough times? How about training the junior manager (and perhaps other managers in the same boat) on what to do and say as well as how to say it?

Bottom line: Bosses need to provide guidance that is not only sound, but is applicable. If training is needed to go with it, then the training should be provided. That's what bosses are for.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"It's nice to be nice to the nice"

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of M*A*S*H. When I was in college, we would sometimes watch the show 4 times a day. I remember some of the scenes and a few more of the quotes. If I remember correctly, one of them is from MAJ Frank Burns to his girlfriend, Hot Lips Houlihan, when she is complimenting him on being nice. He replies "it's nice to be nice to the nice" and then the laugh track yuks it up while he makes a silly face.

Well, duh. It is nice to be nice to the nice. Maybe that's what's so inane about his comment. However, what do we do about people who aren't so nice? Do we just give up on them or do we try to make a connection?

There are some people around who take unfriendly people on as a challenge. They say to themselves, "I bet that person really is OK, way down deep" and they don't give up. Some of the ways I think they do it are:
  • Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he or she is having a tough time. Who of us really knows what troubles so many of the people around us may be going through in their private lives?
  • Be approachable. Be willing to let the other person reach out, just in case they might.
  • Look for good in the other person and then let them know what you have seen.
  • Be persistent. These people just don't give up on others. They just keep chipping away until they make some headway in a relationship.
I don't believe the bullets I just pointed out will work with everyone. These are just a few of the actions I believe are taken to try to build a connection with folks who don't seem the nicest ones around.

Can you think of any other actions you've seen?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Power of Apologies, Part III (Family/Friends)

This is Part III of a 3-part series I've written on the Power of Apologies. Click here to read Part I and Part II.

Today's post is about the Power of Apologies in regard to relationships with family and friends. I find this part the most difficult of the three because of the parties involved. As people say, we treat the ones we love the worst.

Of course, there are the "amiable" people in relationships who go straight to "I'm sorry" as soon as there's any conflict because they just can't stand it. I don't think they're part of this discourse today.

I'm thinking more of the person who either chooses to get mad because someone is upset with them ("you have no right to be upset with me so I'm going to be mad at you") or kind of feels apathy toward the situation ("You're upset with me for what I did? That's OK. You'll get over it.").

So, when we mess up personally, why is it that we often withhold the apology from those we care for the most? Maybe it's easier to apologize at work or with customers because we know there can be serious ramifications if we don't. Maybe we're tired of being nice to other people all day and don't think we should have to do it with our loved ones, too. Of course, there's the "familiarity breeds contempt" argument where, the better we know people, the more likely we are to see their faults; so why should we have to put up with anything from them?

I was speaking to my wife about the subject this morning and she said she would just love to hear, "you're right and I'm sorry." My best attempt at that is to often say, "you know it's your fault" to which my wife has finally learned to respond, "I know, because it can't be yours." I think it's funny (sort of) and is a way for me to say I'm sorry without admitting it. Needless to say that she just puts up with my "witty banter" and shakes her head. What she'd rather hear is"that was my fault and I'm sorry."

We certainly appreciate it when someone admits responsibility and apologizes (especially if they do so before we have to point it out). I'm sure we know how to use the power of apology at work and with customers so, perhaps, we just need to get in the habit of using that same power with the ones we care for the most. The key here is to be respectful of the people closest to us and exhibit awareness regarding our actions and words when we disagree or we mess up.

I'll keep working at it. What about you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Power of Apologies, Part II (Customers)

This is Part II of a 3-part series I'm writing on the Power of Apologies. Click here to read Part I and Part III.

Today, this post is about the power of apologies when it comes making our customers happy. Business calls it "service recovery" and it really is important because happy customers = repeat customers and referrals.

Sooner or later, regardless of how hard we try, we will not meet customer expectations. Maybe we will just fall short of their expectations or maybe we will mess up royally. The first thing out of our mouths should be "I'm sorry." Yesterday, when writing about the power of apologies at work, I said there were people who never say "I'm sorry" unless it's in response to personally messing something up. It's an interesting point and very debatable. HOWEVER, with customers, whether something is our personal fault or not, we must accept responsibility and say we are sorry.

Experts say that happy customers who've had no problems with our organizations are not our most devoted patrons, however. It's not that these people won't purchase from or use our services again. They just haven't experienced the power of the apology.

The power of the apology: there is power in the words "I'm sorry", but the real power comes from the actions we take to recover from our mistakes or even the perceptions of our lapse in service.

The following is my vision of me as a customer who's now a raving fan because of the right service recovery:

I travel all the time so I spend a lot of nights in hotels. This last week, my day had been very long with frustrating travel and meetings that didn't go the way I wanted. I went to the hotel where I've stayed many times because it has a decent rate. Other people in my company stay at a different place and I've been tempted to move, but this one is fine.

I go to my room, set my bags down, and get ready to try and relax. I walk into the bathroom and find that it's not clean. Then I look around and see that the room was not prepared for a new guest...not at all. This is very upsetting to me and tops off a pretty bad day.

I call down to the front desk and let the manager on duty know my situation. I ask for another room. The manager says he'll be right up. The manager arrives and he immediately says "I'm sorry, this is not the way we like to treat our guests. Let me help you move to another room." We get on the elevator and he takes me to my new room. To my surprise, it's not an identical room, but an upgrade. That makes me very happy. Then he tells me, "Again, Mr. Hall, we are very sorry for the inconvenience. Please let me know if this room will meet your needs." I tell him it's great. He then says, "here at XXX, we value you very much. In fact, here's a voucher for a free breakfast. I also want you to know that we will investigate why your original room was dirty and do our best to see that it doesn't occur again for you or for any customer. Please call on me if I can be of any further assistance."

A week later, I received a personal note from the general manager apologizing for my inconvenience, thanking me for my business, and letting me know the issue had been taken care of and steps put into place to ensure my experience was not repeated for me or any other customers. Finally, there was a voucher for a free night's stay at the hotel.

Now, the hotel had just turned me into a raving fan. Why?

  • Both managers apologized for the problems.
  • The night manager not only fixed the problem, but he gave me a better solution.
  • The general manager let me know that the problem had been addressed for the future.
  • The GM also provided me something extra for the inconvenience I had experienced.

I was WOWED.

To me, this is ideal service recovery. I was fine with the hotel before my bad experience. However, I am a total fan of the hotel now. I would never consider staying anywhere else because of the great response when things didn't go right for me.

Do you have any other examples of the power of apologies?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Power of Apologies, Part I (Work)

This is Part I of a 3-part series. Click here to read Part II and Part III.

I've been thinking some about apologies and apologizing lately and how they can affect ourselves and those around us. My wife and I were discussing this and I asked if she thought apologies should be discussed as a whole or broken into different sections like work, customers, family, etc. She suggested that I break them up because we might have different roles with each of the groups I mentioned.

So, over the next several posts, I'm going to write a little about The Power of Apologies: Part I (Work), Part II (Customers), Part III (Family/Friends). Today I'll spend a little time with apologies in the work place.

I'm a big John Wayne movie fan when it comes to his cavalry movies of the 1940s. In one particular movie, "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon", he's Captain Nathan Brittles and he's as hard as his name. He gives about the best chewing out in one scene that I've ever experienced in real life or not. At the end of a particular chewing out, one of his officers says, "I'm sorry, sir". Captain Brittles' reply is "Never apologize! It's a sign of weakness."

I wonder if there's anything to what Captain Brittles said. Don't get me wrong. I think it's stupid to never apologize. Come on, sometimes all it takes to let tension between two people ease is for the "offending" party to apologize. In personal situations, it's never a bad thing to apologize when you're wrong.

Still, what about when people apologize because that's just what the other party wants to hear? What if the plan failed, but you didn't? Do you apologize then? If things just go wrong with an action or plan, I've watched people admit the results might have been disappointing or bad, but they never said "I'm sorry". Why? My guess it that, while it might be easier to say "I'm sorry", there are plenty of people out in the world ready to place blame and to want punishment meted out. They are ready to go for the jugular vein. Maybe that's why Captain Brittles indicated that apologizing is a sign of weakness.

OK, I got off track a little. If you're a boss or supervisor and you mess up, I think it's a sign of strength and not weakness, to apologize when you mess up. There are two big reasons that come to mind:

  1. It shows you are human and you can mess up just like your people. You're walking the walk regarding standards you, hopefully, expect of your team members.
  2. Once you apologize, perhaps it takes some of the pressure off, so to speak, so you can focus on making improvements instead of being defensive.
It would be kind of weak if you just start whining and apologizing and that's all you ever do. The key is to learn from what you did so you can do better the next time and, not to be judgmental when someone else messes up.

What other positives do you see to apologizing to your people when you make a mistake? Is there anything bad about it?