Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy. ~ Buddha

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, one of my favorite holidays. I really enjoy the spirit of the holiday. No gifts are necessary, just cooking and eating delicious food. It’s a day to enjoy some relaxing time with friends and family, and to appreciate all your blessings.

There seems to be a lot of fear out there in the world right now. Fear that we aren't getting our fair share and that opportunities are slim. Certainly among my own friends and family, many of us have been laid off, are underemployed, or still unemployed. So it's even more important to realize how much we do have, and to enjoy and appreciate it all.

Here are a few of the work-related things I am grateful for:

I am thankful for my clients, for without you I have no income and no purpose. (And not much to write about.)

I am thankful for my blog readers. I know you are out there, even if you are really, really quiet. Without you, I have no one to write to. And I like to write.

I am thankful for my writing coach. She is supporting my efforts to write a book. So, faithful (or not-so-faithful) blog readers, I will be posting less often as most of my writing time will go toward my book.

I am thankful for my colleagues. Yes, I work solo out of my home, but I have a network of colleagues through my membership in professional associations, past employers, friends, and LinkedIn. You spark my ideas, support my plans, give me feedback and provide camaraderie. And sometimes, you provide me with some business!

I am thankful for my past employers, for you gave me tons of experience (both good and bad) which helps me in my current work and also gives me fodder for writing. Some of you also paid me handsomely which is very helpful when times are hard because I have that cushion that I built from back when I had a steady corporate job.

I am thankful for my equipment and software! What would I do without my computers, printers, scanner, copier, and telephone? Thank you to the inventors, engineers, project managers who created them, and to my boyfriend for providing (most of) them and keeping them up to date!

For your Thanksgiving enjoyment, here are a few of the gratitude quotations I've collected:

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. ~ William Faulkner

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy--they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. ~ Buddha

Whenever we are appreciative, we are filled with a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy. ~ M.J. Ryan

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Happy Thanksgiving!

The annual presidential turkey-pardoning, a strange American Thanksgiving ritual.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is Your Workplace a Learning Environment?

Leadership and learning are indispensible of one another.” - John F. Kennedy

As a leadership coach and workplace learning professional, of course I heartily agree with President Kennedy’s quote. I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t love learning and helping others’ learn. In fact one of my top four personal values is learning/teaching. I put them together as one value because they reinforce each other and to me, are just two sides of the same coin.

John Maxwell says in his book Leadership Gold, “If you want to lead you must learn. If you want to continue to lead, you must continue to learn.” He states that in his experience people fall into one of three categories:

The Challenge Zone: “I attempt to do what I haven’t done before."
The Comfort Zone: “I do what I already know I can do.”
The Coasting Zone: “I don’t even do what I’ve done before.”

As babies, we all start out in the challenge zone. But there comes a time in our lives when we no longer have to continue to try new things. That’s when people subconsciously decide which zone they will live in. Those who choose to remain in the comfort or coasting zones miss out on discovering and sharing things with others. They lose a part of themselves which they never truly get to know.

Smart leaders hire those who enjoy the challenge zone because they know those are the kind of people who help a company excel.  To keep these valuable employees working at their best, leaders must foster a learning and growth environment where employees feel comfortable offering new ideas, discussing new concepts and challenging each other. Interactions in such a culture spark the company’s growth as well as the individual's. Dynamic work environments like those often buck the status quo, and successfully so. One current example is which has, to Wall Street's chagrin, eschewed short-term profits for long-term success.  (Read more about that here.)

As a leader, you understand the value of continuous learning and the benefits it provides you, your employees and your organization. How do you ensure that your working environment is fostering growth and learning for your employees?

Maxwell says you can identify a growth environment because the following ten things are in place:

1. Others are ahead of you.
2. You are continually challenged.
3. Your focus is forward.
4. The atmosphere is affirming.
5. You are often out of your comfort zone.
6. You wake up excited.
7. Failure is not your enemy.
8. Others are growing.
9. People desire change.
10. Growth is modeled and expected.

How does your organization rate? If you can confidently say you foster those characteristics in your office, then you probably have a top-notch team and others who are lining up at your door to work there.

Out of their comfort zone and being challenged!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Conflict and Confrontation: How Do You React?

Meeting the Bear Face to Face

In workshops, I have an engaging (well, people do seem to enjoy it) story about what to do when you come face to face with a bear. I use meeting bears as a metaphor for encountering conflict.

I ask the class participants for a show of hands: Are you supposed to curl up in a fetal position and play dead? Do you spray them with bear repellant? Do you run? Do you shoot or throw rocks? Do you walk in the woods with bear bells, hoping the sound will scare any bears away? Each of these behaviors can be compared to how we deal with conflict.

For example, do we avoid it and pretend it’s not there (fetal position)? Do we verbally “spray” the other person with our anger? Do we get out of the way? Do we go on attack? Or my favorite: I would like to just walk through life with my bear bells, hoping conflict will avoid me.

When I lived in Alaska, I went to a seminar presented by Fish and Wildlife troopers to tell me how to live with bears. I lived on a dead end dirt road in the boonies, where hunters would park their beat-up trucks and go into the woods to hunt for deer and bear. I’m sure I was the only house in Alaska without a gun.

What I learned was that with black bears, you are supposed to raise your arms up high and look as big as you can. That way, the bear will acknowledge you as the bigger bear, and leave you alone.

While hiking the Summerland trail, I came face to face with a black bear. My sweetie and I like this trail, and you may have read another story I wrote mentioning it. We usually see marmots on this hike, and one year we saw mountain goats. We were about ½ hour into the 9 mile trail when we came around a slight curve and Bart said “Oh wow”, rather quietly. I looked up and lumbering toward us on the trail was a medium sized black bear. While we stopped, the bear just kept on walking straight for us.

That was a little disconcerting. We stepped to the side of the trail behind a fallen tree, which protected us to right above our knees. While Bart rummaged in his backpack for his whistle, I momentarily felt at a loss as to what to do. After the initial surge of fear when I realized the bear wasn’t going to leave the trail for us, I just felt helpless.

I moved my arms in a sweeping motion. “Go on. Go on, now. Shoo.“ I tried to convey to the bear that it should move off the trail. The bear continued mellowly walking toward us for a few steps, then as it closed in on us at about 30 feet, veered off the trail and started walking into the woods toward Frying Pan Creek. Just then Bart found his whistle and blew it, a weak, shrill sound that didn’t even reach a marmot cry. The bear didn’t react, just continued on it’s way down the slope.

Whew! We recovered and continued on our hike. Ten minutes later, I said, “Hey, we were supposed to raise our arms above our heads so we looked really big to the bear.”

How many times had I relayed that tidbit of information to a roomful of workshop participants? Do you think I remembered my own advice when the time actually came to use it?

Forgetting good advice often flies out of our heads in the heat of an encounter. Under stress, we react, and revert to natural behaviors, not learned ones. Unless we have trained ourselves to behave in a certain way, we are likely to fall back on old behaviors that may or may not be the best way to handle a situation.

A study of the four behavior styles reveals how people will likely react when their hot buttons are pushed. As their behaviors align with their dominant styles, people can be pretty predictable.

Controllers (also known as D’s, Reds, and Drivers, depending on the behavior style system consulted) are likely to take over, dictate, suppress their emotions, blame and/or explode. Controllers are not afraid of conflict, in fact they are often the source of it. They will ask tough questions and make assertive statements with the goal of spurring action and getting results – not of actually causing conflict. However, for the other three styles, this often feels like provoking conflict or confrontation.

Persuaders (also known as I’s, Yellows, or Expressives) tend toward verbal attacks which may take the form of sarcasm and barbs, especially in the office where yelling is frowned upon. They also have a tendency to react emotionally and may cry, talk about the situation excessively, dump it on someone else, and then, may forget about it.

When Stabilizers (aka S’s, Greens and Amiables) are under a lot of tension, they will likely give in (and may later “get even”), avoid the situation or person, worry, wait too long to act, and tell others. They would prefer to avoid conflict and being relationship-oriented will have a very difficult time confronting the other about the stress they are experiencing.

When Analyzers (or C’s, Blues, and Analyticals) face conflict, they are more likely to withdraw – physically if possible. If they can’t leave the room, they will withdraw emotionally and verbally. They also tend to nitpick and try to prove they are “right”.

Essentially, two of these styles are more of the “fight” orientation (Persuaders and Controllers go on verbal attack or take over). And the other two styles tend more toward “flight”: Analyzers will withdraw and Stabilizers will avoid conflict and/or acquiesce. However, when pushed past their limits, each style will end up doing the opposite of what is their natural behavior. For example, if you see a Controller acquiescing, a Persuader withdrawing, a Stabilizer exploding, or an Analyzer going on verbal attack and getting over-emotional, you know they are out of control. These extreme behaviors mean it’s way past time to deal with the conflict in a constructive manner.

Although we all have elements of all four behavior styles, one is usually dominant. If you learn to identify others’ styles (and your own) you will gain a tremendous amount of insight into why they act the way they do and how to effectively communicate with them to create win-win situations and prevent unneeded stress and tension. Conflict is okay, in fact it is often a good thing, as long as everyone knows how to play fair.

If you’d like to learn more about how to deal with difficult situations and people, contact me for information on a workshop or coaching session. Understanding behavior styles is essential for creating positive influence and effective communication. It’s one of the most powerful tool’s in a manager’s toolbox.

And now when I tell my workshop stories, I can add one more metaphor for dealing with conflict: Shoo it away.

A baby black bear grazes the supermarket produce section in Ketchikan, Alaska, where I first learned how to live with bears.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: The "Leaderless" Movement on the Leading Edge

The Occupy Wall Street movement is against greed and corruption. But what are they for? What is their vision?

I’d like to think they are for re-instating the true essence of the American Dream.

The American Dream is played out a little differently if you are a recent immigrant or home-grown, but at it’s core it is about ensuring equal opportunity for everyone. Having friends in high places in order to get ahead  is not supposed to be what the US is all about. Americans are supposed to have equal opportunity to start one’s own business, to get an education, to find a job, and yes, even for health care. Citizens insisted that they had an equal opportunity to own their own homes, which unfortunately our financial and real estate systems tried to support (although primarily from a greedy motivation not a patriotic one) to everyone’s detriment.

We don’t truly yet have equal opportunity, of course, but that is what all our laws and regulations over the past decades have striven toward. And having lived and travelled internationally, we do have equal opportunity far more than most countries.

But has equal opportunity turned into the American Pipe Dream?

The “white man’s sickness” of needing to have more and more has eroded the American Dream. Perhaps this culmination was inevitable. We watched from the outside as Washington power-brokers rewarded each other for their favors with contracts, tax cuts, and donations. Huge corporations got huger, and politicians and CEOs got explosively richer.

But as long as we were able to live in relative abundance with our computers, fancy phones and other gadgets, we let it slide. Most of us were pretty happy with our level of comfort and managed to turn a blind eye to the growing population of homeless and poor.

But now we feel the pain too. We have cut back, slid back, and spun our wheels trying to stay in place to no avail. Yet the barbs keep coming to remind us that there is a huge gap between the average American and that one percent. CEO pay is one of the most obvious:

• Since the 1970’s median pay for executives at the largest US companies have quadrupled, even adjusting for inflation. Over the same period, average pay for a non-supervisory worker dropped more than 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• CEOs at 299 US companies had combined compensation of $3.4 billion in 2010, enough to pay 102,325 workers, according to the AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch. Average pay per CEO was $11.4 million.

• According to an October 10th, 2011 fact-checking article on Politifact, the latest CEO-to-worker pay ratio in the U.S. is “185 to 1 in one study and 325 to 1 in another -- and those numbers were not generated by groups that might have an ideological interest in downplaying the gaps between rich and poor.”

• The average American large-company CEO makes 225% more than the average large-company CEO in the other 13 largest industrial countries. According to Lawrence Mishel's study "The State of Working America 2005, 2006" from the Economic Policy Institute.

There is no doubt that compensation for large company executives is so out of whack that it can lead to poor employee morale and an increasing ‘us against them’ mentality. That type of thinking leads to employees cutting corners and not engaging in such a way that creativity and growth suffer. It’s just poor business strategy in the long run.

And now, the relentless economic struggle has resulted in the Occupy Wall Street movement. This movement is said to be leaderless but seems to me to be filled with leaders. They are the leaders of all of us complacent disgruntled Americans who have done nothing but complain and become dismayed and depressed at our lack of forward momentum. They are on the leading edge of those who want to take back the American Dream and refresh it with a more collaborative, honest and egalitarian commitment. And they want to see that commitment to refreshment and change from the current establishment powers-that-be.

We - "the 99%" - may have the education and the initiative, but the opportunities are lacking. Most of us don’t have the connections that 31-year-old Chelsea Clinton has, who was recently offered a $300,000 per year Board position with IAC. The playing field is not level and never has been. But it has gotten so enormously steep in the past couple of decades that we are exhausted trying to maintain our footing.

Things have got to change and the leaders of the change are out there camping in the streets. These leaders are redefining leadership as we are used to viewing it. How are they articulating their vision? Are we on board yet? If so, why? If not, why not? Does it have anything to do with their leadership style? What results are they getting? What relationships are they building?

Is Occupy Wall Street a revolution in leadership as much as a movement against greed and corruption? I, for one, am going to pay attention and find out.
Or is it just a movement of bums?  (Warning:  foul language!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boss's Day Sentiments

Have you ever heard or uttered those words before? Chances are you haven’t. I have never been in an office where the day was observed, although I am sure there is some happy outpost where the employees are honoring their boss on that day.

Eighty-five percent of employees like their boss and think they are doing a pretty good job. If you think your boss is in that 85% too, why don’t you take a moment to let them know you appreciate them? A little honest appreciation, as you know with your own employees, can go a long way.

I know many of you don’t feel comfortable giving cards or writing sloppy sentiments to anyone, much less your boss. That’s why I have come up with some snappy messages that you can add to a card or note. I suggest you forego the electronic message for something a little more time-tested and traditional. Paper, whether a fancy greeting card, a blank notecard, or even just a sheet swiped from the printer, makes a stronger impression than a virtual message, no matter how many sounds and colors are attached. How quaint, I know, but usually true.

For your greeting-card ease, check these out:

The Haiku

Haikus traditionally reference nature. They are a good choice if you work in international business or your boss appreciates poetry, the outdoors, or sushi. It’s pretty easy to create a poem with the 5 syllables – 7 syllables – 5 syllables formula. Here are three examples:

In stormy work times
Your equanimity is
An island of calm.

Your guiding presence
And encouraging support:
Like sun in winter.

“Awesome job!” you say
And I work harder for you.
I return the praise.

Try it out yourself, it's not hard.

The Limerick

Limericks are a little trickier to write than haiku. The limerick is often a little bawdy and may not be the best choice for your boss unless you have a very good relationship with them, they love jokes, and you can keep it clean. Here is the formula to write a limerick: Lines 1, 2, and 5 of limericks have seven to ten syllables and rhyme with one another. Lines 3 and 4 of limericks have five to seven syllables and also rhyme with each other. I may have fudged a bit on some of that below:

There once was a boss from Intel
Who implored her staff, “Sell, sell, sell!”
Her staff did her bidding
The boss did no ridding
And all stayed together in hell.

Oh, oops, maybe that wasn’t quite right for Boss’s Day, and anyway that was too specific for general use. How about another?

There once was a generous boss
Whose staff was prepared for loss
When layoffs came round
New money was found
So the boss did not have to toss.

Our boss is an exceptional guy
He knows how to tie a tie
And when he walks in
Respect replaces the din
On him we can rely.

There is an amazing man
Who leads a misfit clan
With patience and care
Smarts, humor and flair
With him, succeed we can!

A little Yoda-speak there on the last one, but you get the idea.

Perhaps that’s enough “poetry”, if you can call it that. But using a standard poetry vehicle lifts the seriousness and eases any discomfort about telling people how we feel, while still conveying appreciation.Once again, I encourage you to give it a try.

But sometimes you just want to say something simply. All kidding aside, you really want to let them know you appreciate what they do (at least most of the time, right?) The most straightforward and probably most appreciated note would say something like one or a combination of the following:

I am lucky to have you for a boss. (Why? Give a specific example like “no one else has ever taken their role as a coach so seriously” or “I have experienced more success working for you than anyone else.”)

You have a knack for …(managing our diverse team, simplifying the confusing, inspiring our efforts, handling difficult situations, etc….) and I am learning from you.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. (and then give a specific example of when they encouraged or supported you or say something like “There are so many instances where your encouraging words were just what I needed.”)

I appreciate your … (fill in the word: patience, persistence, creativity, resourcefulness, sense of humor, appreciation…)

You get the idea. I know finding the right words can be difficult sometimes so I hope these examples will help you express your gratitude. So don’t forget - October 16th is Boss’s Day. Since it’s a Sunday, you may want to celebrate this Friday, or at the least Monday. But really, any time is a fine time to convey appreciation.

A simple note could have prevented this public appreciation fiasco!

If you can't see the 1.48 minute Parks and Recreation video, here is the URL:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do Leaders Need to Use Social Media?

What is a leader today?

I was listening to a teleclass from Linda Bernardi from the Bernardi Leadership Institute and she said the word “leader” should be changed to “collaborative influencer.” The word leader, she said, brings up old experiences with authoritarian types, and that’s not what a leader should be today.

Leaders today, she emphasized, need to be able to engage their constituents in a cooperative manner with the intent to create an awesome customer experience together. A leader today needs to take advantage of the two-way conversations and transparency that social media channels provide. In this case, they need to be able to effectively text and blog, Facebook and Twitter, and do whatever it takes to interact honestly with their constituents: customers, employees, investors, lenders, vendors.

I don’t think a two-syllable word is going to be replaced by a nine-syllable one, but I understand what she is saying. There is a shift going on. Leaders are being forced, due to the internet and it’s social media channels, to be more transparent. If they want their company to be taken seriously by their customers and themselves to be respected by their employees, then they need to know how to engage with them on their terms.

Many of my clients eschew these modern avenues of communication. They say they don’t have the time, are not interested, and/or don’t like the lack of privacy. However, social media is not going away. It is getting bigger. They need to know that to be an effective leader today, they need to be able to carry on relevant conversations that show their knowledge of their topic, and their interest in their constituents.

A leader today needs to be a collaborative influencer both face to face and virtually. These skills are essential . The very definition of a leader is one who influences. And others won’t allow themselves to be influenced – or can’t – if communication is not in the form they use and expect.

Does your CEO use social media effectively – to influence collaboratively? Do you? How important do you think it is for your organization’s leaders to be able to use social media effectively in order to build trust, respect and business?

Are you a “collaborative influencer”?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Layoffs Reveal Your Leadership Qualities

I just received an email with the subject line ‘Checklist for Terminating an Employee’. It turned out to be an advertisement for a book called From Hello to Goodbye. For some reason, although the book is about the entire work span of an employee, the only chapter that was mentioned in the message was the one on how to “terminate the employment relationship”.

This how-to chapter was the sole selling point for the entire book. The email came from the Society for Human Resource Management, so it is intended for HR professionals.

Although I’ve never been “fired” per se (although one insensitive career counselor moved a colleague to tears when she told our group of newly separated workers that being laid off was the same thing as being fired), I have been laid off several times and each time the process was handled very differently. No matter how Human Resources, legal departments or senior management define the termination process, the ultimate responsibility for how the separation is actually handled rests with the worker’s manager.

The coldest, most impersonal layoff I experienced was probably done according to the above-mentioned Checklist. My boss had been distant for some time. When he called me into his office where another manager was sitting, I immediately knew this was it. It offended me that he felt he had to have a witness. Without any emotion, he said he’d decided to outsource my position, explained my severance package, and asked that I pack my things and leave that afternoon. This was the least sensitive layoff I’d experienced, and the one done most “by the book”. My boss was Vice-President of Human Resources.

The most humane termination experience I had was the time my boss defied the HR rules. My supervisor rounded up our team of four and said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, and you can’t tell anyone else. But lay-offs are going to happen next week and all of you are among them.” She then took us out to lunch and gave us the rest of the day off to “go sign up at the unemployment office”. It was a Friday and on Tuesday of the next week, dozens of people were called into a large room and told en masse that their jobs were eliminated. Stunned co-workers wandered the halls, but gratefully, we weren’t among them.

In the second example, some will say my boss acted rashly and laid the company open to possible lawsuits by doing what she did. But my opinion was she was a very smart leader. First, she knew us well and knew that getting laid off would be a hardship for us. She wanted to give us the news in as helpful and human a way as possible. She showed empathy and concern.

Second, studies have shown that ensuring the dignity of terminated workers goes a long way toward heading off lawsuits. One study of displaced employees found that 15 percent of workers who felt their severance experience lacked dignity or respect had filed wrongful termination lawsuits.

Honesty, sensitivity and caring for an individual help mitigate the devastation of layoffs. As a leader, you must take care to make clear, fair and informed choices about which employees to let go and which to keep. By being transparent about how the decisions are made, and making an effort to over-communicate the what, why, and how of the layoffs, you are showing your employees respect.

One study reported that losing one’s job created more stress than a divorce. It doesn’t matter which euphemism is used – downsizing, rightsizing, workforce reduction, delayering, made redundant, releasing, and on and on – if you are laying people off, you are the instigator of perhaps one of the biggest stressors of your employee’s life. That’s a lot of weight to carry.

When feeling stressed, it’s common to make more errors and to react emotionally. If you serve as an example of calmness and empathy during challenging times you can help spread that behavior. The worst situations are an opportunity to reveal the best in you.

Unemployment is still high and the news in the last week reminds us that cutbacks are continuing. Unfortunately employee layoffs are one of the primary management tools used to increase efficiency and reduce expenses. Bank of America announced over 30,000 layoffs in the coming year. You just need to check Daily Job Cuts or the BLS site Mass Layoff Statistics to see the gloomy updates.

It’s not easy to be the one to communicate a termination or to be among those left behind. By choosing behaviors that show respect and caring, especially when times are very difficult, you have an opportunity to illustrate true leadership qualities.

“At the heart of leadership is caring. Without caring, leadership has no purpose.”
– James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart

A new euphemism: "We have to synergize backward overflow."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coaching Virtual Teams

A good manager is also a good coach. But what if your team is a virtual one, spread out in different cities or countries? A lot of leaders with virtual teams choose to ignore that part of managing and prefer to focus their precious time on their projects, not their people. It is definitely taking the easy way out, but when their companies don’t particularly reward efforts at employee development you can’t blame these managers much.

Being good leaders, we know this is short-sighted, especially when there is a dearth of good leadership which is only going to get worse as people switch organizations, opt out of corporate work, or retire.

Developing future leaders starts with being a great coach to them.  Building trust and respect is the foundation of coaching. I know your time is limited but adding a few minutes to your schedule should pay off when you don’t have to spend time onboarding a new hire after your employees quit for more enticing opportunities. Here are a few suggestions for developing trust and respect and for coaching those remote employees:

• Talk one-to-one via the telephone to each direct report periodically. Include a little “personal time” talk to find out what they did during the weekend, how their family is doing, and milestones for them and their kids. Write down their kids’ and spouses’ names and important facts like their hobbies or birthdays. Put the birthdays and other milestones into your calendar.

• Be sure and send a text or email message acknowledging those milestones when they come up in your calendar. Follow up with questions about events and people that are important to them. Your direct reports will be impressed that you remembered or cared. This is all about relationship-building.

• Listen carefully during conference calls and take notes. Listen to how your employees communicate and interact, ideas they may present, or priorities they focus on. Listen first of all for things you can reinforce with a little praise and appreciation. Listen second for things you can help them improve in order to be more successful. Respond immediately out loud on the call for the good stuff. Call them later for a ‘coaching to improve performance’ conversation for the other.

• Stay collaboratively influential with social media. Be sure your team has a Yammer or Sharepoint site, or even a Facebook page where you can share ideas and observations with each other. Besides messages about the projects your team is responsible for, this allows you an open forum for team coaching.

Studies have shown that 5:1 is the “magic ratio” for optimum relationships. That means in order to develop and maintain good relationships (whether personal or professional), there should be a minimum of 5 positive interactions to every negative one. That’s even more important to keep in mind when you can only communicate virtually. Just talking about business all the time is neutral, and not necessarily a “positive interaction”.

How to manage performance and coach employees to develop is a challenge when it’s face-to-face, much less virtually. Managers need to be even more vigilant and observant in order to detect those teachable moments and identify those coachable direct reports. But if you don’t want your people to jump ship at the next opportunity, you need to be the boss they want to work for. That means helping them be successful in their current work and coaching them on how to be ready to advance in their careers. No matter where they are.

How do you build trust and respect with your virtual team members?

Communicating with your remote team members can have unforeseen challenges.

The Playing for Change folks must be incredible at virtual teaming to come up with these amazing performances!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Department’s Reputation = You

Twenty years ago I worked at a company that was and still is known as one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. My department and most of the people I worked with were fun and supportive. We worked hard, had a chance to be innovative, and were appreciated for our efforts.

But one department that I had to work with on a regular basis was a nightmare for me. In fact, the department was so difficult to work with that it had acquired a nickname in the company - the “Estrogen Explosion”.  Needless to say, the top two or three people from the vice president on down were women who perpetuated the B-word. And I don’t mean boss.

I had many run-ins with these women and I often left our bi-weekly meetings feeling frustrated and put-down. My own boss, a very nice man, didn’t have a clue as to how to work with them effectively and so I didn’t receive any coaching on how to deal with their behavior.

I tried everything I could think of to improve the situation. I hosted appreciation events with both of our departments to strengthen working relationships. I tried holding my ground and talking sternly back to them when they got on my case. I tried letting their sarcasm and snide comments wash right over me without reacting. In the end, they “won” as I left the company, feeling exhausted and somewhat abused. My nice boss had left two years earlier and had been replaced by one not so understanding or supportive. Between him and the constant stress from working with the Estrogen Explosion, I needed a long break and I took it.

I was one more person who left a good job with a good company due to poor leadership.

Do you know what your department’s reputation is? Is your team known for being easy to get along with, knowledgeable, and high-performing? Or do other employees dread inter-departmental meetings with your people?

I have experienced both extremely collaborative departmental cultures and the opposite. Sometimes the team is on the whole very cooperative except for one odd person who is insecure or competitive or both. Leaders set the tone - they reinforce the values which become the culture of their areas. If they are competitive, secretive, and power-mongering, then their organization will tend to be the same. If they keep themselves and others accountable to a higher set of behaviors, then those will morph into the culture and reputation of not only their department, but will become their signature leadership qualities as well.

As one (and not the only one) of the casualties of the Estrogen Explosion, I observed first-hand the different leadership styles and their effects on the people around them. This experience was one of the catalysts for changing my career from international sales and marketing to a coach and consultant. So I did get something positive from that prolonged ‘learning experience’. And I pass my hard-earned wisdom on to anyone who needs it.

From my position now as a leadership coach and trainer, I know that there were things I could have done at the time had I known of them. I can see that my behavior style was a direct opposite of the vice-president’s and her manager’s. Had I known then what I know now about flexing my behavior style, I could have mitigated the confrontations to some extent. Roles, responsibilities, and expectations should have constantly been reviewed because there was overlap between our two departments that also contributed to the conflict. And, my nice boss also had a behavior style which was in conflict with theirs. If he had understood what I do now, he could have coached me on quite a few options to try in order to improve circumstances.

What values are you reinforcing? What behaviors do your employees see you employing, especially when circumstances are stressful? Are you keeping others accountable to high behavior standards or do you let them get away with (seemingly) minor transgressions as long as you get the results you want? What you say and do ends up affecting your entire organization, but most of all, it affects you and your direct reports. Find out what your department’s reputation is, and if you want to change it, it starts with you.

Testosterone Explosion? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Could Your "Difficult Employee" Have a Personality Disorder?

In a study of over 29,000 men and women in the U.S. workforce, it was determined that 18% of men and 16% of women have personality disorders that cause them to deviate from societal norms when interacting with others. The most common of these personality disorders, in order, were obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anti-social behavior, and paranoia. (Contrary to how the layperson usually defines it, anti-social behavior refers to behaviors such as lying, cheating and stealing.)

Personality disorders are less serious mental illnesses than diagnoses such as depression or bipolar disorder. But they do cause difficulties for the afflicted and those around them. Employees with personality disorders lost their jobs at about double the rate of those without disorders, and experienced serious problems with bosses or co-workers three times as often.

This study, published in the January, 2011 edition of the journal Industrial Relations, might explain any “difficult employees” you have. It seems every office has at least one. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the most prevalent and usually the least offensive. I know my exercise teacher exhibits that at every class: when others try to help her take down equipment after class she gets upset when they put away things in the “wrong” place or wrap up cords and things the “wrong” way. If they try to help her by setting up chairs she will rearrange them so they are “just so” – alternating sets of two and three along each wall. We old-timers have learned not to help her and she appreciates that.

At work, these common personality disorders may show up as interpreting emails in distorted ways, taking innocent comments as personal insults, refusing to accept different ways of doing things, or seeing conspiracies where there are none. And of course, lying, cheating and stealing.

Although one of my clients told me, “Managers have to be psychologists!”, you really don’t have to be the one to make a personality disorder diagnosis, nor should you be. However, you should be alert to these types of behaviors so you can work with the individual in the best possible way. Just because someone has a personality disorder doesn’t mean they can’t still be a very valuable employee.

As with any employee, here are some management approaches to keep in mind:

   •  Assign responsibilities that may take advantage of their disorder’s challenges: for example, have them proof outgoing communications to ensure benign interpretation and proper procedure.
   •  Allow them to redesign tasks to fit their work styles.
   •  Ensure that your professional expectations are clear and hold them accountable when they don’t meet them.
   •  Understand that they may work best independently and try to assign responsibilities that allow them to do so.
   •  If there are repeated negative encounters with no improvement, yet the employee meets work output expectations, encourage them to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program or other health benefits your employer may provide.
   •  Again, if there are repeated negative encounters with no improvement, it may be wise to consult with your legal and human resources departments to understand how best to deal with individuals with mental health challenges, and how to screen for them when hiring.

No one chooses to have a personality disorder. Diagnosed personality disorders are covered in the United States by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are treatable.

The researchers estimate that their study results showing 17% of the workforce struggling with a personality disorder is probably low. Like my coaching client said, managers do need to be somewhat of a psychologist in order to be able to manage people effectively. It’s important to be aware of common psychological challenges that your employees may be dealing with and to have some options for managing them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ask, Don't Tell

In this blog, I give a lot of advice. I am a teacher at my core and I like to share tips that will help others. This blog is a great outlet for me, because when I am in “coach” mode, I turn the advice off.
The best coaching is the kind that helps the other person access their own wisdom. (I know, doesn’t that sound wise?) The best coaching means asking questions that help the person clarify their thinking and consider looking at things in a different way. The best coaching helps them become a better thinker, a better solution-finder, and allows them their own “ah-ha” moments that really don’t happen when someone else tells them what to do. The best coaching allows people to transform into their better selves through the simple act of asking questions and listening.
Sure, occasionally a client is “stuck” and insists on getting some answers from me. I try to be careful with this. I offer suggestions and tips that may or may not work for them, giving them the ultimate choice about whether to try them or not. After all, they are the only ones who are walking in their shoes, and they are the only ones who know whether something will work for them or not. And, taking another’s advice is often not very motivating so it is bound to fail when they don’t follow through on it. (And then they may blame the advice-giver.) However, if through questioning and coach-guided pondering, they come up with the answers on their own, they will be more inspired to follow through on what they’ve come up with.

The exact same reasoning applies to your employees. Too many managers believe that being a strong leader means knowing the answer. Leaders think that is what they are there for, to provide solutions. They jump in with the answers when their employees come to them for help. Unfortunately, by providing the answers, they are keeping their employees from developing, and therefore keeping their organization from developing healthily too.

Providing answers trains your employees not to think or be creative. It trains them to stay dependent and when people feel dependent, they feel held back, repressed, and powerless. Sounds like a mix that generates low morale and low motivation, doesn’t it?

A client recently told me that one of the most significant behavior changes he made as a result of coaching was to pause and ask questions of his employees instead of providing answers and advice. Because of this one conscious change, he said it has allowed him to be more transparent, sharing what he doesn’t know or understand, and has allowed him to learn about new issues. “If I slow down,” he said, “I can get some meaningful responses. Sometimes it validates what I already know, but it really helps me get buy-in. Before, I would just tell them. Now, I listen first and talk second. I am less of a policeman, less of a controller; I just let things happen more and don’t try to control them. I am more into the moment - building dialogue and connections."

Wow – building dialogue and connections. What a great way to develop and motivate his staff.

One thing that works for every person whether they are manager or individual contributor, parent or friend, is listening first, asking questions second, and offering advice as a last resort, if at all. Think about how much advice people give you. How much of it do you actually take? What if, instead of offering you advice on what to do in a situation, they walked you through thinking through the problem to find a solution? What if they asked questions like:

What outcome do you really want?

What do you need to do to take the next step?

Would it help if I acted as your sounding board as you went through possible next steps and their scenarios?

What resources do you have right now that can help you with taking the next step?

What is in your way that is impeding your progress?

How would achieving your goal affect you and the people around you?

Questions like these help the listener focus on the solution instead of the problem. They help the other person develop their own problem-solving skills and determine and commit to next steps without getting overwhelmed.

Sometimes people come to you with a problem and they don’t want your advice or to be walked through to a solution on their own. They really already know the answer; they know what they have to do. But they just want to vent. That’s okay. You may need to ask: ”Do you want to talk through a solution to this or do you just want to vent?” If it’s vent, let them complain for a few minutes. Everyone needs to let off steam once in a while. The best bosses allow their employees to come into their offices just to vent for 3 minutes. That’s enough. Let them know they can come in to let off steam with no repercussions any time. Empathize, then send them on their way.

Leaders have to realize that employees, especially younger ones, probably need to be retrained in order to think for themselves. For their whole lives, from childhood through college, their parents and their teachers have told them what they should be doing. Rarely do parents and teachers teach them how to think for themselves, as students are rewarded for the “right answers” and kids are rewarded for “minding”. Now they are employees and you, their manager, are just like their parent or teacher. They want to please you so they want to do what you want them to do.

What you want them to do is think for themselves, be creative, and be solution-oriented. Listening to them, asking them questions, and coaching them will help them become motivated and productive knowledge workers.

So next time someone comes up to you with a problem, resist the initial urge to give them advice. Pause and ask a question. “What do you think?  What do you want the end result of this situation to be? What can be done to get there? How does that work?” Give your employees their own power back. They hold the best answers to their own problems.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Setting Clear Expectations Prevents Fly-By's

The other day before leaving for a hike I asked my boyfriend if he had his water bottles with him. He said “Yes, I have my water bottle.” I said “No, water bottlesssss. Plural. Do you have them with you?” “Yes”, he said.

We drove for a couple hours to the Summerland trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park. We laced up our hiking boots, and I swung on my daypack. He fished a bottle out of his car trunk and stuck it in his pack. “Where’s your other bottle?” I asked. “It’s in the back seat, but it’s empty.”

Now, did I make a point of asking him if he had more than one water bottle before we left the house? Yes.
Did I ask him if he had filled both water bottles? No.
Stupid me. I thought it was understood that water bottles would be filled with water before an 11-mile hike up the side of Mt Rainier.

I had two full bottles of water. He had – one half a bottle. Yes, that’s right, the bottle he stuck in his pack was only half full. It had been sitting in his car for a month. Before we left the house he had not bothered to bring his bottles in and fill them. Apparently, it was too much trouble to wait for my Brita pitcher to refill after I had emptied it into my water bottles. On the Summerland trail, there is a bubbling creek, Panhandle Creek. His solution was “I’ll get some creek water and boil it for tea.”

I was livid. “You can’t drink that on the trail! I’m tired of holding back on my water intake! The last 5 or 6 hikes we’ve been on you haven’t brought enough water and I feel like I have to ration myself! And so do you! Why do you think I asked you specifically if you had water bottles with you???!!!”

He was extremely apologetic and for the rest of the hike made a point of thanking me every time I offered him a drink from one of my bottles. (Making me feel small and mean, especially when I had water left over at the end of the hike.) Since then, he's always brought his own two full bottles of water on our hikes. He learns quickly. Plus he’s the best man I know.

So did we have a “fly-by”? Was that “unclear expectations”? Or was he just not listening to me? This last possibility was the one that made me the angriest. The first two possibilities implied that I was partly to blame too, which I really didn’t like to consider.

But, hard as it is, I have to admit: I didn’t make my expectations clear. He answered my question truthfully: yes, he did have two water bottles. I didn’t explicitly state that I expected them to be full of water. Difficult as it may be to understand how my question could have been misinterpreted, this kind of thing happens all the time.

What’s obvious to you is obvious to you. You know what they say about making assumptions. You may not have the best man like I do, who takes the blame, accepts the feedback, and says “You’re such an amateur when it comes to getting mad.”

So be proactive: be clear. Get confirmation that what you are expecting to happen is understood the way you understand it. Make your expectations crystal clear.

Without expectations that are understood and bought into there is no basis for coaching. No basis for asking for accountability. And certainly no basis for blame, recriminations or punishment.

It is the team leader’s responsibility to set clear expectations and ensure that they are understood. And it is the team leader’s and the organization’s responsibility to provide the resources, training and support needed to carry out those expectations.

Here are Effectiveness Institute’s steps for setting clear expectations:

Clear Expectations…

1. Are understood
• Tell the why, what, how, when, where and who
• Clarify the discrepancy between what there is now and what is wanted.

(I should have done this at the house. “Do you have two full water bottles? The last few hikes I felt I was rationing water so I want to make sure we each have enough. This is going to be a fairly long hike and it’s important to be well-hydrated. Ten essentials and all that, you know.”)

2. Are specific and concrete.
• Isolate the desired behavior and results.
• Clarify the measurement.
• Establish time frame.

(“Let’s fill up all four water bottles right now before we go.”)

3. Are realistic.
a. Provide a challenge
b. Can be achieved
c. Are within the control of the employee

(“I know you have to go get them out of the car and wait till the Brita refills. Kind of a drag, but we have time. Or, you can just fill them up with tap water.”)

4. Are confirmed.
• Ask the individual to verbalize what he or she understands the expectation to be.

(“I want to make sure we don’t have any fly-by’s. I want us each to have two full bottles of water for the hike. Are you with me?”)

As a trainer and consultant, I know how important it is to explain the “why” behind an expectation or request. I do it at work. I explain to clients how to do it, and of course, why to do it.

Yet, here in my personal life a simple why up front could have prevented a whole lot of grief, mainly my own!

Why was I asking if Bart had more than one water bottle?

Only I knew. If I had cared to make the effort to share why, I’m sure Bart would have gone the extra few steps to fill his bottles. The same rationale applies to your employees. For a more productive and happier workplace, don’t forget the 4 steps.






Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Got Vision?

“Most leaders undercommunicate their vision by a factor of 10 (or more)…” 
 -John Kotter, Leading Change

“He lacks vision,” said the Vice President of Organizational Development. I had just asked him if there was anything in particular that he thought my new coachee needed coaching on. Hmmm, I thought. Coaching a leader to “get vision” is like teaching a rhythmically challenged person to dance. It’s certainly possible, but they will never be a natural. It will always take a lot of concentration and conscious effort.

Being forward-looking is an essential leadership quality. Your leadership position is an indication of how far ahead you need to look. The more strategic your role, the further out you should be looking. All leaders should develop their abilities to look forward a minimum of five to seven years. For senior leaders, it should be at least ten years. Leaders responsible for large organizations need to be able to envision twenty years and beyond.

If you have vision, you can create a vision. According to John Kotter and Kouzes and Posner of The Leadership Challenge, “one of the most important practices of leadership is giving life and work a sense of meaning and purpose by offering an exciting vision”.

Without holding a strong vision and communicating it, a leader ends up expending energy prodding people forward instead of inspiring them. Without a vision, employees don’t have a guiding light, and like a boat without a star or lighthouse to guide it, they are bound to meander into undesirable waters, wasting more time, making more errors, and feeling more frustrated, than is necessary.

Coming up with a vision involves asking important questions such as what does my ideal organization look like? What are we passionate about? What do we want to create? What legacy do we want to leave; what impact do we want to have on our customers and our community?

It takes time and thought to create an exciting vision, and no doubt you will continue to fine-tune it often. But once you have it, don’t keep it to yourself. Learn how to convey your vision in stories, in verbal images, and for sure, in graphic images too. Invite conversations about the vision. Find new ways to communicate it. Get others talking about it. 

If you think vision is not a strength of yours, you can exercise your vision muscles. Ponder others’ visions, study visionary leaders, keep informed about future trends. Develop a vision for yourself personally, and for your family. If your organization already has a vision, figure out ways to engage your employees so that they are truly inspired by it. Show your employees how their individual work connects directly to the vision. Mention it often.

Speak from your heart, and spark imaginations with your stories and emotions. Sharing a vision engagingly and often is one of the most fun things a leader has to do. Don’t miss out!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ten Essentials for a New Career

Not feeling fulfilled at work? Tired of the day-to-day grind? Ever dream about owning your own business or “following your passion”?

If you think you want a new career, it’s time to do some serious preparation. As an “outdoor enthusiast” (thank you, REI Marketing) and former REI employee, I am very familiar with the Ten Essentials - a list of essential items recommended for outdoor safety in the backcountry. As a career coach and a career changer myself, I have taken the liberty to compile my own list of Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career.

Now, sometimes people are forced to change their career whether they want to or not. Just ask anyone who has spent their life devoted to the newspaper business how they feel about changing their career. I had several ex-newspaper clients who had a tough time with the process. They were traumatized and understandably so after spending a lifetime – many of them twenty or thirty years – in a profession they loved and then being forced to find a new way to make a living.

Whether you choose it or not, a career change is an adventure and like all adventures, you want to be as well-prepared - physically, mentally and emotionally - as you can be. In these examples of famous career switchers see if you can find some common themes that may give you some tips for successfully changing your own career:

Alton Brown, the Food Network host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America and creator of two food mini-series, has received numerous awards and recognition as a food guru. Brown started out his career behind the camera as a cinematographer. He decided he could do a better job than the cooking show chefs he was filming. He enrolled in cooking school and at age 35 graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. A year later, no doubt building on his connections in the TV world, Brown aired his pilot show for Good Eats on PBS. It was picked up the next year by Food Network and continues to air today.

Bill Gates founded and led Microsoft full-time until 2006, when he began transitioning into working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2008, at age 52, Gates began working full-time as a philanthropist devoted to health and education research, quite a change from computers and software development. Gates, an avid reader, studied philanthropists and schooled himself on issues such as third world health challenges, taking advantage of his access to those most knowledgeable in the world on the topics.

French artist Paul Gauguin initially worked as a stockbroker. He spent his free time painting, visiting art galleries, purchasing art, and befriending other artists such as Paul Cezanne. At age 37, he decided to follow his passion and began to paint full time. Although his career change broke up his marriage, he ended up becoming a leading post-Impressionist artist.

Famous career changer Martha Stewart was also a stockbroker. However Martha started out as a model, and became a broker at age 26. Growing up, Stewart learned cooking, sewing and canning from her parents and grandparents. She found she had a knack for domestic arts and at age 35 she began a catering business with a friend from her modeling days. Martha was contracted to cater a book release party by her husband who was president of the publishing company. At the party, Martha met the head of Crown Publishing, who was impressed with her talents and asked her to create a book, Entertaining. Entertaining was released in 1982 and became a New York Times bestseller. Stewart was contracted to produce many more books and her career blossomed from there.

A few others:

Championship heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey started a restaurant at age 40. A celebrity attraction, Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in New York City stayed open for nearly 40 years.

Josie Natori worked at Merrill Lynch, where she rose the ranks to become the first female vice president in investment banking. After about ten years as an investment banker, Natori changed her career to fashion and in 1977 founded the Natori Company in her living room. Today, the Natori Company sells upscale fashions, home furnishings and perfume to department stores in at least sixteen countries.

Greg Mortenson was a nurse with a passion for mountain climbing when in his late 30’s he started raising money to build a school in Pakistan. Mortenson is now founder and executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, as well as a writer and speaker.

These are just a few of the famous career changers. There are thousands more, but just looking at these examples, there are some similarities which are important to take note of:

• They each had a cushion of money to start with. And if they didn’t (like Greg Mortenson), they were adept at raising it. Because it takes time to get established in a new career - and often you are starting at the bottom - you need to have the financial wherewithal to sustain you for a couple of years at least. You may need money to take classes to gain skills or certifications. It’s important to do some financial planning before making the switch.

• They each used their connections to help launch and sustain them in their new career. Jack Dempsey, for example, was not known as a great cook. But he did pal around with a lot of celebrities, who all wanted to be seen at his Times Square restaurant.

• They each did what it took to gain the skills and knowledge required to be successful in their new career including going back to school, taking classes and finding mentors. Besides studying third world diseases and education, Bill Gates read up on philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and used their work as benchmarks for his own organization.

• They each made a commitment to stick to it, and that wasn’t difficult because their new careers consumed their interests, made good use of their natural talents, and inspired them. Josie Natori was so impassioned with being an entrepreneur that she tried other ventures such as owning a McDonald’s franchise and reproducing antiques before she found the perfect business for her.

• They each took a while to transition to their new career, usually a few years.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for, the Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career:

1. Guts
2. Persistence
3. Self-Discipline
4. Patience
5. Humility
6. Hard Work
7. Planning
8. Financial cushion
9. Connections
10. The right skills and knowledge necessary for your chosen career.

Do you have anything to add? If you’ve changed your career, let me know what you think of my list.
The process of changing your career should be something you are looking forward to doing almost as much as the actual new career.  To a mountain climber, the hard work and focus of the climb itself is what creates the sense of fulfillment.  And like a mountain climber, when you have become successful in your new career, you’ll have accomplished quite a feat, one I think comparable to summiting a challenging mountaintop. If you’re well-prepared for that climb – with my handy Ten Essentials as your checklist – you’ll be able to handle any  'rough weather' along the way.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can You Take the Feedback?

In my blog articles I often suggest that a 360 degree assessment is important in order for personal and professional development. For those who are not familiar with a 360, it is a confidential questionnaire sent to a leader’s direct reports, colleagues, boss, and customers that rates the individual on a series of behaviors, skills and attitudes that are deemed important for success in their leadership role. It helps one identify blind spots and strengths and is a benchmark for professional development. I use the tool extensively in my coaching practice.

If you don’t want to hear feedback though, then a 360 is useless. And it is surprising to know how many leaders do not want to hear feedback. I had one President and company owner tell me forthrightly “I don’t like feedback” when I asked him if he would do a 360. (He didn’t do one.) I’ve also had clients who agreed to the 360 but then dismissed the results with such statements as “They don’t know me very well”, and “I know who said that and they are referring to an isolated incident.”

I have to caution my clients not to try to guess who said what, because invariably they are wrong, and due to confidentiality, I can’t tell them that. I just tell them a story about a VP who was upset about some negative feedback and was certain she knew who it was from. She stormed into her colleague’s office, slammed down the 360 report, and said “I need to talk to you about this.” The other vice president sheepishly looked up at her, reached into his in-box, and pulled out the questionnaire. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to it”, he said.

In one of my volunteer roles I work for someone who hates to receive feedback. Twice in ten years she has asked for written feedback via anonymous questionnaires. I collected the questionnaires and before I gave them to her, I read them (since they included feedback for me too). Every single thing written was positive. But because she hates feedback, it took her a few weeks before she could bring herself to read them, which she finally did only after I told her there was not a single negative comment.

And that is what you will often find, just as my clients do who submit to my 360’s – they get a lot of positive feedback. Sometimes it is surprising to them to know that what they do or say is noticed and appreciated.

As a speaker, trainer, and coach I distribute and read evaluations after every assignment and workshop. Frankly, it is the part of my job I like least. I always take a big breath before reading them, steeling myself for something terrible. Luckily, my dread is usually replaced by relief and a justification that yes, I am in the right job doing good stuff. Once in a while, though, I find myself rationalizing poor feedback – “That person is just not happy in their job” or “I just can’t satisfy everybody.” But I know that due to feedback I have received I have been able to improve my work.

Recently I spoke with a friend who ventured into a new career role as a publicist. She had just finished working with her first client, who, she said, rarely took her advice on things he could do himself to increase his visibility. As a result of course, he didn’t get quite the level of recognition he was expecting.

So if you do ask for feedback or advice be prepared to take action on what you hear. If you don’t ask but get some anyway, then take a hard look at where the advice is coming from. If it is from someone you respect and is experienced in what they are talking about, take the information to heart. It can make a difference in your success.

In another article I wrote about how to gracefully receive – and ask for – feedback. In this one, I just want to encourage you to ask for feedback. Don’t ask if you aren’t going to act on the information. Don’t ask those who you don’t think will tell you the truth. And don’t ask those who aren’t in a position to know you well enough to give you thoughtful feedback.

But if you want to be more successful at what you are doing, do ask.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stamp Out Indifference with Common Courtesy

Indifference is one of the most common offenses that managers make toward their employees. Sure, there are bullies and narcissists, liars and crooks. But they are, luckily, the exception. What disgruntles employees the most is (probably unintentional) indifference.

What do employees want? A lot of things, sure, but at the root of them all is respect. And not acknowledging, noticing, or involving employees shows a lack of respect.

I’m not going to talk about compensation, benefits, bonuses, perks and rewards. I’m not talking about challenging work, new responsibilities and promotions. I’m not even really talking about positive feedback. All of these are important for a high functioning organization.

I’m talking about simply noticing. And letting it be known that you notice. Really, I’m talking about good manners.

Little acts of omission make a big difference, and add up to feeling like one is not valued at their workplace. Things like:

• Walking into a room and not being acknowledged.
• No “Thank you” for doing something, whether it is in your job description or not.
• Not being listened to, even when your ideas are meant to be helpful to the organization.
• Having a meeting with someone who is constantly checking their phone.
• No “Good Morning”, eye contact or nod of the head, even after you greeted the other person.

Management, distracted and overburdened, may overlook how important common courtesy is. And since you are the leaders, what you do and say is often picked up and re-generated throughout the company. If employees observe that it’s not important to acknowledge a good job, then they will perpetuate that. Soon an atmosphere of indifference permeates the department.

If there is a lot of turnover in an area, it may not be due to manager “abuse” but manager indifference. Not communicating, not acknowledging, not noticing, are all acts of omission that can create a culture of disrespect.

Quite often, the perpetuators of this indifferent behavior are not even aware of what they are doing. Managers who are not self-aware are the biggest culprits in the population of so-called “poor managers”. They just don’t realize what they are doing – or not doing – and the impact on everyone around them.

Stated in a 2006 Sirota Intelligence Survey: “While almost half of senior-level managers feel they are shown a great deal of respect, just one-quarter of supervisors and only one-fifth of non-management employees feel the same way. In fact, one out of every seven non-management employees actually feels they are treated poorly or very poorly.”

On a brighter note, in a more recent Sirota Intelligence Survey 82% of respondents (1.3 million employees of all levels were surveyed worldwide) agreed with the statement “My immediate manager treats me with respect and dignity.”

However that is a decrease of 6% from a 2009 survey. And, only 57% agreed that employees get a fair hearing for their complaints, a decrease of 7% from the year before. Fifty-six percent agreed that “Senior management’s actions are consistent with what they say”, a decrease of 5%.

For more data on the positive side, here are some areas that are trending upward:

 Normative Item (abbreviated text)
2010 % Fav

I am satisfied with the availability of the information I need to do my job


Rate the effort made by management to get ideas and opinions from employees like yourself


Top management encourages reporting important information up‐the‐line, even if it’s bad news


I have the authority I need to do a quality job


The upward trend is a positive sign, but obviously there is a lot of room for improvement. I wait for the day that the scores are in the 90’s.

Courteous behavior is a simple start. Just remember the golden rule – don’t you like to be acknowledged and noticed? Find ways to acknowledge and notice others so they will feel respected and valued. And respect is the gift that is returned almost immediately.

If you haven’t got a good 360 degree feedback system in place, devise one now. Take to heart the information you receive, and engage a coach or just a trusted colleague to help you improve. It can make all the difference in the world between being a poor manager to being a revolutionary one.