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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.