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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?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When you provide service, what does it do to you?

I've talked several times about providing world-class, unparalleled customer service. Our focus is primarily on our customers and how it affects them and, consequently, how it impacts our organization.

I'd like to take a second to look at service from the angle of its impact on the provider. What does providing service do to us? In the last sentence, I didn't write "what does providing outstanding service do FOR us", but I wrote "what does providing outstanding service do TO us". This is an important distinction.

In a sermon by my friend Aaron Wymer last week, he said that a pattern of heartfelt giving and sincere service to others changes our character. It changes the type of people we are. Where we honestly give of ourselves to others; where we genuinely serve our fellow human beings -- that's where our hearts go. Then the act of true service goes full-circle impacting the customer, the organization, and us.

So, the next time we think about outstanding customer service and how it helps others around us, let's remember what it does FOR and TO us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Do you have to like something to be good at it?

I was recently in a conversation with an acquaintance. The person was saying that their child was doing poorly in one class because the child didn't like it. I blurted out, "the kid doesn't like it? Who cares if the kid doesn't like it?" This person looked at me like I had pulled out a gun or something.

That leads to me to my question for today? Can you be good at something and not like it?

I get the impression that most people feel that if you don't like to do something, you can't expect to be any good at it, let alone excel at it. That just boggles my mind. Our lives are filled with tasks and duties that we don't like or care for. Shoot, if you have children, you know there are plenty of distasteful things that you have to do because you're a parent. You don't automatically suck at cleaning up vomit just because you don't like to do it. It goes with the job and that's how most people deal with it.

How is it any different with work? I had a boss once ask me if I really liked one of the things I was working on. I told her, "no, I really don't care for it." She asked me, "would you like to do something else? Maybe you'd do better at that." I responded with "am I doing a poor job at this task?" She replied, "no, you're doing great, but I want you to be happy." I then responded, "happy? what does that have to do with anything? I like my job, but I don't like this. I'll deal with it." She said, "well, people do better when they like what they do." I came back with, "I'm a professional. I do my best at everything you give me to do. Whether I like it or not is immaterial."

So what do you think? Am I just a weirdo? Do you have to like what you do in order to be great or even good at it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

What do you do when you make a mistake?

Maybe this seems like a weird question, but I really want to know. What do you do when you make a mistake?
  1. Do you cover it up? Do you build elaborate stories and make up tales or lie to ensure no one knows you messed up? Do you blame someone else, especially if they will never know?
  2. Do you wait to see what will happen? It's not that that you will lie or anything, but maybe no one will notice. Maybe everybody else has so much stuff going on that they just let the mistake go and keep on moving. If people do notice, you can admit the mistake then.
  3. Do you act like someone else made that mistake? Do you act like you are as surprised or outraged as anybody else? "Who did that?" "How could that happen?" Then you just wait for things to blow over, admitting nothing, and then go on about your life.
  4. Do you admit your mistake proactively, before it becomes known? You know you messed up and the mistake could have an adverse impact on your business and on other people. You stand up and say, "that was me, I did it".
I suspect that there are a few people who "live" in one of these worlds with regard to mistakes and will rarely deviate. I also suspect that the rest of us have moved in and out of more than one of these worlds at one time or another. While I bet most of us were taught to handle mistakes like #4, is that the smart thing to do? Is that one of those options when you can be right and dumb and the same time?

What do you think?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do You Have A Mentor?

What do I mean by "mentor"? Well, the definition of a mentor is: a trusted friend, counselor, or teacher, usually a more experienced person. Back in July, I wrote a post called "No Leader Is Perfect" where I touched on the need for a mentor (you can read that post through this link). I'd like to expand on the whole idea of a mentor today.

I believe we all should have a mentor figure in our lives, someone who we can count on us to give good solid advice and be there when we need them. Here are a few questions and my thoughts regarding each:

1. What are the main duties of the mentor toward the person being mentored (let's call that person the "mentee")?

  • TRUST (if this isn't present, the relationship should not exist)
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Strong, active listening
  • Guidance
  • Coaching

2. What are NOT duties of mentors?

  • Fixing problems
  • Inserting themselves in the mentee's chain of command
  • Being a spy for the mentee's boss

3. Is it possible for two individuals to positively mentor each other? I think so, especially if each of the individual's strengths are a little different. In fact, there are some distinct advantages to two people mentoring each other in that they can build a strong bond of trust and really understand how each other ticks.

4. Should a boss be a mentor? No, no, no. Was I clear enough? NO. I know there are people who would disagree with me here and I've had bosses who thought they should be my mentor. It's just that bosses are supposed to help fix problems whereas mentors should help their mentees see how to fix problems themselves. Plus, there may be times when the mentee needs advice on a conflict or issue with the boss. That can't really happen when the boss is the mentor. Additionally, when you have a great boss and a great mentor, then you have two really good sources of guidance instead of the one.

5. Should a subordinate ever mentor a boss? What? Are you kidding me? This is a real question, though. Team members can definitely give their bosses their opinions and their advice, but it is totally inappropriate and unprofessional for team members to mentor their bosses.

6. Can I have more than one mentor? I believe individuals can have several advisers especially if the individuals are managers or leaders, because they probably have varying responsibilities that different experienced people could help with. Mentors are different than advisers, though. Mentors build deeper relationships with their mentees. There's an element of openness, trust, and honesty that mentors should garner and that advisers probably cannot. So I think, that individuals should limit the number of mentors they have to one or two, as a rule of thumb. There's no problem at all with mentors having more than one person who they mentor, though.

7. Should the mentor be older than the mentee? The mentor should be more experienced and, in most cases, that makes the mentor an older person, but not necessarily.

What other questions are there regarding the mentor relationship? Is there anything to add? Do you have a mentor? Do you think having a mentor is valuable?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Aspiring to Greatness

I just finished watching an interview with Captain Chesley Sullenberger where they talked about the "Miracle on the Hudson" as well as what his life has been like over the last 9 months, since the accident. Yesterday, when digging through papers looking for my DD-214 discharge form from the Army, I came across several photos from around 20 years ago. I posted these photos on my Facebook page and have probably looked at them a couple dozen times since then. They bring back such a flood of memories, both good and bad. That part of my life was so long ago.

As I'm counting the days to my 50th birthday, things like the photos and the interview cause me to think about what I have and have not done in my life. They cause me to think about success and greatness and then I try to take my measure. It's really not the most fun exercise I've undertaken recently. I see so many people who have accomplished so many great things in their lives (at least, great by my standards) and it kind of gets to me.

Then I remember a very smart boss I once had, Dr. Cynthia Wike, who used to tell her people, when they were having a bad day, "OK, you've got 15 minutes to whine and feel sorry for yourself. Then you're done and you need to get back to work."

Thinking about Dr. Wike's words, I know we have to remember the past and pay it our respects, but then move on with life. I think the point should be to aspire to greatness, not in the sense of fame or fortune, but as human beings. How many lives have we touched, how many people have we helped, how much service have we provided to God and to our fellow humans? We also have to remember that when we fail (and we will, repeatedly), we do not give up like a bunch of losers. We can have our whine time and then get back to it because we are not quitters and the causes to which we aspire never stop, never wane.

Well, my 15 minutes are up. I need to get back to work now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"...3 fingers pointing back at you"

I heard this phrase the first time when I was a young lieutenant (I mean, majorly wet behind the ears). I was a Signal Corps officer assigned to a Field Artillery battalion in the 4th Infantry Division. I was responsible for all the communications assets and was one of a handful of non-artillery types in the battalion's group of officers. I had gone to speak to my battalion commander about how the other officers and their men were not taking care of the communications equipment and how they wouldn't follow the manuals regarding communications training.

The colonel looked at me and said, "OK, Lieutenant Hall, I'll get on the other officers about this. However, remember, when you're pointing your finger at someone else, you have three more pointing back at you." I didn't get it. First, I'd never heard that phrase before and second, THEY were at fault, not me. At least that was obvious to me.

What I came to find out later was that my men had not properly trained the "gun bunnies" on how to use the equipment and I hadn't done as good a job working with my fellow officers as I could have. It was very uncomfortable to deal with when those officers got chewed out and then they proceeded to let the colonel and others know how the Signal guys had dropped the ball.

I point all this out to say that whenever we're not happy with what other people have done or failed to do, whether they're family, friends, coworkers, or people who report to us, we will be sorely mistaken if we don't take a serious look at our potential role in the problem. What did we do that helped cause the problem? What could we have done to ensure the problem didn't get this far or never existed at all?

Bosses take heed. When you're not happy with your people's performance, ask yourself what role you had to play. Ensure you've done your part and more before you start pointing fingers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Keeps You Awake At Night?

Someone once asked me what keeps me awake at night. You know, what is it that worries me more than anything else.

I reflected on that and realized I worry most about being fair to other people (my wife told me that's also what keeps her awake more than any anything else). I wonder why that is. The world isn't fair by any means. People mistreat each other constantly. People are unfair to each other regularly.

There are people dying in this world constantly, from starvation, from violence, and from disasters. We have two children who are going off on their own to build their lives. We have parents who are getting older and some relatives and friends who are sick, yet we worry most about being fair to those we deal with?

Could it be because the trust thing is so personal? I'm not sure that's it because what's more personal than your children, family, and friends? Being treated fairly by Bob Hall has got to rank at the bottom of the spectrum when compared to what some people are experiencing.

Could it be because my word and my personal values are so important to me (I can't speak for my wife here)? I definitely would rather have someone's respect more than friendship (did I really say that?).

Could it be that I believe how I treat others is something I can control when so many other things in my life are out of my control? I think that could be it. I'll think about it some more.

What keeps you awake at night?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If it's not illegal or immoral...

That's always been one of my mottoes. When I've been asked to do something I didn't like or I felt was distasteful, I would often say, "OK, I'm not really crazy about this task, but if it's not illegal or immoral, well, you're paying me so I'm bound to do what you want."

I think I used this line for the first time when my boss asked me if I would return a dress to the store for her. I didn't really want to do it, but it did get me out of the office...and I worked for her.

Some people get so worked up about being asked to do things they don't want to do at work. What do our wants or likes have to do with anything at all?

So, what if what we're told to do is S T U P I D, I mean bone-head stupid? What do we do then? For me, I would most likely tell my boss that I didn't recommend performing whatever task he or she had for me and then I proceed to explain why. If, after my boss listened to me, I was told to carry out the assignment anyway, I would do my best to make it my own...regardless.

What about you? What do you do when you're given a task that you don't want to complete, especially if it's stupid?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturn...out of touch and going out of business

Did you ever see the ads? I would laugh every time I saw them. A man in a bright green shirt said "Saturn builds cars that people want to buy" as argument against the idea being professed that America couldn't build cars that people wanted to buy.

Are you kidding me? I was supposed to believe that Saturn built cars that I would want to buy just because some employee said so? There was nothing compelling in that ad; nothing touched on what I would get out of such a purchase. Instead, the ad seemed to be saying that if I was smart, I would know that Saturn was the brand to buy.

I'm not saying anything good or bad about Saturn or the cars they make. I know plenty of people who've been very happy with their Saturn vehicles. My point is that, in order to stay profitable and moving forward in business, we have to stay in touch with our customers. We have to understand what they want. Consumers buy based on their perceived value (their WIIFM -- see my post on WIIFM here). If they feel what they are purchasing is of value to them, then they're happy to move forward.

Inside any organization that has customers, it's our job to help the customers imagine the value they will receive when they purchase what we're selling. We have to help make their imaginations come to life (like "if I buy that car, I will never have to worry about breaking down again" or "if I buy that car, there will never be another person as cool as me...everybody will want to be like me"). Many experts will tell you that most purchases, especially large ones, are made based on emotion (the heart decides and the brain rationalizes) and we have to tap into that. If we're not providing the value that our customers want, we need to realign our value proposition to meet the wants and/or help the customers realize (imagine) why they need our products or services.

I'm sure there are a lot of very smart people at General Motors. They know all the right business ideas and probably know way more than I will ever know about marketing. It's just that this knowledge doesn't seem to have translated into reality.

What am I missing here?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Revisiting Laid-back Management

I use a web counter called Site Meter to see how many hits I'm getting on this blog as well as see the geography of the people who visit. By more than 2 to 1, the entry page to my blog over the last few weeks has been to the article I wrote on 8/8/09: The Opposite of Micromanagement...Laid-back management?

I can even see the searches people entered to get to this post. The most common was:
  • "Opposite of micromanagement"

I wonder why there's such an interest in this.

Are people looking for tips on how to manage a certain group of people, like laid-back individuals? Are bosses afraid they might be micromanagers and want to think about their alternatives (highly doubtful...I really don't think that when we micromanage, we realize we're doing it). Are supervisors trying to figure out how to rein in a "boss gone wild"?

Why do you think people are so interested in the opposite of micromanagement?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Two Kinds Of People"

I ask that you to read this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (see her bio here). Then I will finish up with a few comments.

There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Two kinds of people no more I say.
Not the good or the bad, for it's well understood,
The good are half bad, the bad are half good.

Not the happy or sad, for in the swift-flying years,
Bring each man his laughter, each man his tears.
Not the rich or the poor, for to count a man's wealth,
You must know the state of his conscience and health.

Not the humble and proud, for in life's busy span,
Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
No! the two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.

Wherever you go you'll find the world's masses
Are ever divided into these two classes.
And, strangely enough, you will find, too, I mean,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.

In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of the overtaxed lifters who toil down the road?
Or are you a leaner who lets others bear,
Your portion of worry and labor and care?

Do you see yourself in any part of this poem? I sure see myself in there. If we are servant leaders, those who put others before ourselves and work to help our people flourish, then we must take heed of these ideas.

We can either be givers or takers. We're human beings so we at least spend a little time doing both. I challenge each of us, me included, to reflect on the words above and be ever vigilant to ensure we don't spend the majority of our lives as the latter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can we ever break the 80/20 rule?

Is it possible?

You know the rule, right? It's the Pareto Principle and it is used as a guide for everything from wealth (20% of the people have 80% of the wealth...although it's probably more like 99/1 now), to land ownership (what the original principle was showing in Italy), to the relationship between computer problems and crashes, to what percentage of customers are going to provide the most business.

However, I digress. My question is regarding our teams and their work. Since conventional wisdom says that 20% of the employees perform 80% of the work, as leaders, can we break the Pareto Principle? Is it possible to attract the best talent and hire the best people so we can change the rule?

Another way to look at the Pareto Principle is that 20% of the people are being highly productive and the other 80% are exhibiting less productive traits. What if we could change the percentages to 50% of the people do 50% of the work or even 80% of the people do 80% of the work?

Wouldn't it stand to reason that if 80% of the people were doing 80% of the work, we'd be able to get a lot more work done because more of the employees would be productive?

I believe the Pareto Principle is a guide or a norm. It's where most teams and most companies lie. However, if we are great leaders and bosses who surround ourselves with the best talent and give them outstanding training, guidance, direction, and leadership that allows them to flourish, we are not bound by that principle.

What do you think about breaking out from the norm? What do companies and teams have to do to push the Pareto Principle out of the way? Is it realistic to try?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Backing up your people

Scenario: Your boss gives you a job to head up. Maybe the project is a little controversial and some leaders aren't terribly bought in on the idea of what you're doing. Still, your boss gave you the project and you're bound to roll it out.

Then, all of a sudden, there's a ground swell of negative chatter about the project. Regional managers are up in arms. They think it's stupid. They say it won't work. Who came up with such a bone-headed idea? "That person should have his or her head examined." Next thing you know, people are coming after you because your name is listed as the project manager. Some of the naysayers are pretty high up and you're starting to really feel the heat.

You look for support from your boss. You wait for him or her to back you up. After all, they're the one who gave you the project in the first place. What do you end up hearing? You may hear either:

1. The boss trying to downplay the controversy or trying to shift the focus of the attention to something else going on, but no verbal support of acknowledgement that the project came from them.
2. "Bob's over there...go get him" as they step out of the way.
3. Silence...nothing, nyet, nada, nicht...the boss is MIA.

I hope this scenario has never played out in reality for you. It has for me. It's a terrible feeling. So, what should your boss have done? The CORRECT option is:

4. "I put Bob in charge of that project. It was my decision to move forward with that and if you have problems, come talk to me."

I play out this mock scenario, not to tell you about some of my past experiences, but to remind each of us how important it is to back up our people, especially if they're just doing what we task them to do. Even, if our people are screwing up, it's our responsibility to deal with them, not someone else. And, if our people are being attacked for trying to be good followers of ours, we should ensure we take care of them...regardless of the heat.

Our people are counting on us.

Have you ever experienced anything like I detailed? How did it play out for you?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Connecting with Strangers

Some people are just naturally outgoing and have never met a stranger. I said, "some people". I don't think most of us could be considered naturally outgoing.

So, for those of us who need or want to connect with others, be they strangers or just people we don't know very well, there's a quick, easy way to accomplish our goal. The answer is to talk about the other person's favorite subject. 99% of the time that favorite subject is them and their lives. We probably can't connect with that other 1% so let's focus on the majority of the people out there.

I was at a family reunion a couple of years ago. I found myself sitting next to the husband of one of my cousins (we'll call him Barry). I didn't know the man very well at all. Pretty much, all I knew was his name. I guess I had a few choices. I could move to another spot on the patio and speak with a relative who I knew better, I could just sit there, or I could engage the man in conversation. I chose the latter.

I let the spotlight (as author Leil Lowndes calls it) shine on Barry. We talked about his work, family, hobbies, etc. and it was a pretty enjoyable conversation. I just made up my mind, at the beginning of the conversation, that we weren't going to focus on me. Every time the "spotlight" shifted in my direction, I gently pushed it back at Barry. Like CBS correspondent, Steve Hartman, says in his feature series of the same name, "Everybody has a story." So did Barry.

Before I knew it, Barry and I had spoken about 2 1/2 hours. I learned a lot more about a relative and he seemed to like it that someone was interested in hearing about his life (we all would like it, right?). I felt like we both came away from the conversation with a better understanding of the other and that's a good thing.

We can use this approach with just about anybody. We just have to be willing to NOT be center-stage for a few minutes. The results can be huge whether our conversation partner is a client, a colleague, a relative, or just a stranger.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


There are a certain number of people we deal with, whether in our personal or professional lives, who deal with most situations in a passive-aggressive way. There is another segment of the population who occasionally deal with problems in a passive-aggressive way.

What do I mean by this behavior? It's passive resistance or covert obstructionism. It's behavior that consciously on unconsciously fights demands for adequate performance in work or social situations. It can be caused by people feeling they're being judged or by generally fighting authority. It's just not overt, either because the person doesn't feel he or she is free to express feelings or because the person is uncomfortable with confrontation. It can definitely get in the way of progress.

Some examples are:
  1. Procrastination
  2. Stubbornness
  3. Sullenness
  4. Inefficiency
We can't escape it. It's present in our teammates, in our employees, in our bosses, and in our families. So, what do we do?
  1. First, we respectfully address it with the other individuals. How direct we are depends on the person and our relationship with them (this is tricky with bosses and may never work or even be worth trying to fix when we have no leverage). It's critical that we focus on the behavior, not the self-worth of the individual. It's not the person we are having difficulty with, it's the behavior.
  2. We share our perceptions and solicit theirs. We try to understand their viewpoint and hopefully get them to see ours. We have to be willing to suspend our beliefs during the perception-gathering phase.
  3. We should think about our potential role in the behavior. Are we being so heavy-handed in the relationship that the only way the person believes he or she can deal with us is to respond in a passive-aggressive way?
  4. Once we have shared our thoughts, if the other person agrees that the behavior exists, we should be willing to help them as they try to fight it, perhaps by reminding them when it is occurring. If the person is a direct report at work, we can revisit the behavior as we periodically meet for our 1:1 sessions. We can also support them if they seek professional help to overcome the behavior.
  5. If the person cannot see the behavior (and we still believe it exists) or acknowledges it, but is unwilling to make any behavior modifications, then we either need to learn to live with the behavior (only in personal, boss, or peer situations) or take steps to remove the person from our team or from our interactions.
  6. The one thing I don't think we can afford to do, especially in a work environment, is overlook the behavior.

Passive-aggressive behavior is totally unproductive. It's our responsibility to wisely work to address the behavior so it will not impede our responsibilities.

How do you deal with passive-aggressive behavior? It is as big a problem as I appear to see it?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our Circumstances...We Own Them

There's always a temptation, when things aren't going right, to blame someone else for our problems. If we have trouble with the boss, it must be that there's something wrong with our supervisor. If we have money problems, then it's because our taxes are too high or our pay is too low. If we lose our jobs, someone has it in for us or it's because the poor economy made it happen. We can even blame God. Why is God letting bad thing happen to us? We're good people.

I'm not really interested in playing the blame game. It doesn't necessarily matter whether any of our bad circumstances are our fault or the fault of God or other people. We may be totally innocent of anything negative that happens to us (although unlikely).

Regardless of all that, the circumstances are ours and, like it or not, we own them. We own our own circumstances. No one else is going to fix them for us. As soon as we get that idea into our heads, we can start to do something about our lives.

We can choose to do nothing about our predicaments or we can become people of action. We can take our problems and fix them. If they're not fixable (like illness, maybe), we can choose to focus on things we can affect, ever moving forward.

Bottom line: Whatever circumstances we are experiencing, they are ours and we own them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Looking for Heroes...

...or, at least, leaders.

I saw a news story this morning about Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger. He's started flying again and the hero worship has picked back up. Now, I do believe Captain Sullenberger is a real hero and that he and his crew did heroic things.

However, we Americans throw the term "hero" around very easily. We seem to be looking for people who we can crown with that honor. It's just that, often, heroic deeds, in my opinion, are really people doing their jobs...probably very well, but not heroically. The definition of the word "hero" from is "A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life" and "A person noted for special achievement in a particular field". These definitions surely don't seem to fit many of the people out there in the world. That's why heroes are special.

So, why do we throw the term around so loosely? Maybe it's because we're so disillusioned with our leaders, be they public servants, religious people, or business bosses.

I'm not sure the leaders in place today are really any worse than those of the past. However, with technology what it is, we have the opportunity to hear about the dark side of many people.

I think that puts more pressure on leaders than ever: to be solid, conscientious, loyal, trustworthy people of integrity and honor who inspire others to excel and achieve.

With the ease of scrutiny, the bar that leaders have to reach is higher than ever (really, it was always a high bar so maybe it just means leaders had better not miss). People can only fake those virtues for so long.

Bottom line: Each leader needs to act and be a real leader, not just an image of one.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Making Leaders Takes Time

I was reading an overview of an article about why leadership development efforts often fail. The article said (and I agree) that it's because companies go for the "quick-fix" with leadership training just like so many other initiatives.

Companies are tempted to hire high-priced consultants or to buy off-the-shelf packages to provide their leadership training. It's not that the consultants or packages are bad. It just that leadership is one of those skills that is rarely learned quickly and consultants and leadership training packages often don't stick around that long.

Strong leaders (shoot, even moderately experienced leaders) aren't developed over night. It takes years of training, observing, coaching, messing up, etc. for most managers to be competent as leaders. Some are naturals and catch on quickly. Others never do.

Even though it's not the norm, the best leadership programs are ones that take a long-term, disciplined approach. As part of the ongoing curriculum, companies may take advantage of consultants or "products", but these components are only a part of a much larger strategy of leadership development.

What does your company do regarding leadership training?