VIDEO: 3 Things a Leader Can Do to Slow Down Time

We are so busy doing what we do that we don’t take enough time to assess where we are now — and where we want to go in the future. It becomes the leader’s job to discipline self and team to slow things down a bit and take stock.

Here are things leaders can do to focus themselves and their teams on the challenges of the moment as well as the opportunities of tomorrow.

  1. Think deeply. Make time to think about what it happening around you.
  2. Communicate clearly. People are looking for direction.
  3. Provoke action. Mobilizing others for common cause is a leader’s chief responsibility.

Thinking, communicating and provoking: Three simple words that can help you channel your leadership energies.

Note: This video was inspired by a book jacket endorsement quote by author/historian S.C. Gwynne in praise of the book “Tribe,” by Sebastian Junger.

First posted on Smartbrief.com 5/05/2017

Help! My Team Thinks I Am a Bad Leader (HBR)

“We’re shocked, shocked you even get it, pal” smirks the woman into the conference phone thinking that her boss on the other end of the line cannot hear her. Her colleagues seated around the table chuckle knowingly. But when a young staffer pokes his head into the conference room to say the mute button on the phone is not working, the lighthearted mood evaporates. “Bye, bye bonus!” mutters a colleague.

While this scene is part of a Xerox commercial, the context is real. Many of us would like to tell off our bosses.

But take a step back for a moment. What if you are the person being insulted, held up for ridicule in front of your team? What should you do? Well, there are two things you don’t do. 

First, you do not over-react, insulting those who have insulted you. That merely puts you on the same level as your direct reports. Second, you do not ignore the situation. Reflect on the situation and consider your next steps. Thinking and planning are critical. 

Specifically, do three things:

Examine the context. Consider what is going on in the workplace. Is work going well, or are people feeling overwhelmed? Venting at the boss is a typical reaction to stress that may result from over work or a feeling of helplessness. Perhaps the business is doing poorly and people are feeling nervous and tense about their situation. The boss becomes an easy target.

Consider the source. Not all employees are worth their weight in gold. The person who insulted you may be a malcontent or wiseacre. Or it may be the best performing employee you have. Consider what they say and why. You’re entitled to have a conversation with the individual to find out why they feel the way they do. If their grievance is legitimate, you must talk it out and find some common ground.

Address your team. As painful as this situation is, it need not be the end of your management career, even with the people you are managing. You can turn the moment of criticism into a learning opportunity. Think about what you need to do to win back their confidence. Be open and honest about your failings. Ask for input from them to make things better.

Most importantly, share ownership of the issue. Once you bare your soul and own up to the problem, it’s time for your team to demonstrate accountability. It’s easy to throw stones, but it is harder to do when you are the one who must fix the broken windows. You’re still the boss so you are right to demand responsibility from your team. Be specific about what you expect from them and make it clear that you will be holding them accountable for results. Those who don’t pull their weight may need to find work elsewhere.

None of us is above making mistakes. How we deal with mistakes, even those that may threaten our credibility, is the measure of our leadership. Ignoring the situation is tantamount to giving permission to your team to do whatever they want to do. Taking joint ownership of the situation is what leaders do.

If you, or a boss you know, has been insulted by his/her team, tell me about how you dealt with the situation.

First posted on HBR.org 9/15/2008

Mea Culpa: 3 Lessons Learned

Sometimes you don’t know until you know.

That’s how I have been feeling in the wake of a post I wrote for Forbes.com about the incident that occurred on the National Mall between students from an all-boys Catholic school and a Native American elder.

The piece generated a lot of page views as well as ire directed at me. Most critics wanted me to apologize for my errors, and so let me talk about what I have learned from this episode.

One, don’t rush to judgment. The viral video that showed the confrontation between Nathan Phillips and the students bothered me. But I did not decide to write anything until I had heard Phillips’ side of the story. It turns out he gave varying accounts of the story and so some of what he said was not accurate. Additionally, more video appeared depicting the incident, notably showing that the boys had been provoked by the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Two, avoid criticizing kids.My intention was to call out the bad behavior, but I ended up directing scorn on the boys. I was wrong to cite them, frankly. As teens they deserved my discretion and I did not show it.

Three, apologize.I am sorry for focusing on the kids. Just as I was asking for “adult supervision,” I should have acted as an adult and withheld criticism of the boys.

Of this incident columnist David Brooks of the New York Times wrote, “The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control. In this technology, stereotype is more salient than persons. In this technology, a single moment is more important than a life story. In this technology, a main activity is proving to the world that your type is morally superior to the other type.”

The sad part is that we do not spend enough time listening to one another. We live in bubbles of our own making. Too often we socialize with people who think and act like us and even watch the same cable TV news shows. So, when we encounter a different point of view, we react negatively, regarding that person as unworthy of our respect. I am cognizant of such behavior, and yet I know I sometimes fall prey to such negativity myself.

While rhetoric at times can be hostile, I want to quote the advice of two former presidents.  Bill Clinton said in his First Inaugural Address, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” Ronald Reagan said, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” 

Amen!

VIDEO: Passion for Your Purpose

Passion is energy and engagement for people and the work they do. Passion as an emotion is a valuable trait when channeled appropriately.

Being focused on helping others understand and doing good work is positive passion. Losing your cool when things go wrong is negative passion. The challenge is to channel the positive to ameliorate or eliminate the negative.

Investing in employees with training and development leads to caring about customers. In turn, the company is committed to giving back to the community.

Passion becomes the catalyst that galvanizes individuals to commit to their own development as well as to deliver products and services that customers need. Passion is a powerful driver when applied to purpose. It is the personal commitment to making a positive difference!

Note: This video owes its inspiration to the work of my colleague Alaina Love.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 4/21/2017

Three Traits of a Tough Leader (HBR)

“Who’s next?” is a question that senior executive and succession planning committees consider with regularity. Amid the debate about who can succeed a VP of marketing or even who will become the next C-suite officer, one factor sometimes gets overlooked: Toughness!

I am not referring to what’s on the outside (gruff and ready), but rather what is inside the individual (character and resilience).

Toughness matters because you need a leader who has the wherewithal to stand up for what she believes in, as well as stand up to others to achieve team and organizational goals. More important, toughness matters when things are not going well, when the economy’s tanking, the market’s shaky, and a brand-new competitor’s appeared on the horizon. Also, toughness matters when heads are being counted and everyone is wondering if the next head to roll may be theirs. Tough times demand tough leadership. In my new book, Lead By Example, 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results, I talk about some of the ways leaders demonstrate toughness:

They defuse tension. Performing under pressure is a prerequisite for leadership, but too much pressure can be a prescription for disaster. It falls to the leader to maintain the sense of urgency and momentum but also to give people some breathing room. This is not an excuse to slack off; it is an invitation to be careful and deliberate. Also, keep in mind that tension that comes from interpersonal conflicts is seldom positive; leaders need to eradicate it by making some hard decisions about who works with whom and why.

They get up off the floor. There’s no shame in getting knocked down; youth sports teaches that lesson very well. What matters is what you do next. Strategies will miss the mark; wrong skills will be applied; and projects will fail. Such is life in the organization. It’s a leader’s job to get back into the game and keep slogging. That requires resilience, an ability to flex with adversity as well as persevere when the going gets rough.

They let off some steam. If you are a team leader, and someone on your team makes a big mistake, one that he was obviously warned about, it’s natural to become annoyed. It is also acceptable to focus some heat on the person who made a mistake. The challenge is to focus your irritation on the action, not the person. He needs to know your displeasure; it may help him pay more attention the next time.

There is another aspect of toughness that sometimes seldom appears in a discussion of the topic. Humility. A leader who can admit he was mistaken is a leader who has the right kind of inner toughness. Owning up to failure is not a weakness; it’s a measure of strength. First, it demonstrates a willingness to accept consequences. Second, it demonstrates humanness; human beings make mistakes. It also creates opportunity to move forward. Rolling over in despair is not what leaders do; they acknowledge their miscues, learn from them and resolve to move forward. Toughness gives backbone to a leader’s purpose, and gives one the strength to continue.

First posted on HBR.org 9/19/2008

VIDEO: Make the Right Decision for You

Have a tough decision to make?

Write down your options on small pieces of paper. Place them into a bowl. Place the bowl on a high shelf. Take a step back, take a deep breath and then reach up and pick one.

Read it. Evaluate how you feel. Glad or sad? Excited or dejected?

Likely you will feel a sense of relief. Why? Your instincts will take over and your heart will tell you whether you have selected the choice that appeals to your emotions.

Of course, you are not obligated to make your decision on emotion, but your reaction will tell you how you will feel about it. Whatever you decide, you must live with the outcome. Time will tell if you make the right choice. In the meantime, trust yourself. It is the best you can do.

First posted on SmartBrief on 3/24/2017

Help! My Team Thinks I Am a Bad Manager (HBR)

“We’re shocked, shocked you even get it, pal” smirks the woman into the conference phone thinking that her boss on the other end of the line cannot hear her. Her colleagues seated around the table chuckle knowingly. But when a young staffer pokes his head into the conference room to say the mute button on the phone is not working, the lighthearted mood evaporates. “Bye, bye bonus!” mutters a colleague.

While this scene is part of a Xerox commercial, the context is real. Many of us would like to tell off our bosses.

But take a step back for a moment. What if you are the person being insulted, held up for ridicule in front of your team? What should you do? Well, there are two things you don’t do.

First, you do not over-react, insulting those who have insulted you. That merely puts you on the same level as your direct reports. Second, you do not ignore the situation. Reflect on the situation and consider your next steps. Thinking and planning are critical.

Specifically, do three things:

Examine the context. Consider what is going on in the workplace. Is work going well, or are people feeling overwhelmed? Venting at the boss is a typical reaction to stress that may result from over work or a feeling of helplessness. Perhaps the business is doing poorly and people are feeling nervous and tense about their situation. The boss becomes an easy target.

Consider the source. Not all employees are worth their weight in gold. The person who insulted you may be a malcontent or wiseacre. Or it may be the best performing employee you have. Consider what they say and why. You’re entitled to have a conversation with the individual to find out why they feel the way they do. If their grievance is legitimate, you must talk it out and find some common ground.

Address your team. As painful as this situation is, it need not be the end of your management career, even with the people you are managing. You can turn the moment of criticism into a learning opportunity. Think about what you need to do to win back their confidence. Be open and honest about your failings. Ask for input from them to make things better.

Most importantly, share ownership of the issue. Once you bare your soul and own up to the problem, it’s time for your team to demonstrate accountability. It’s easy to throw stones, but it is harder to do when you are the one who must fix the broken windows. You’re still the boss so you are right to demand responsibility from your team. Be specific about what you expect from them and make it clear that you will be holding them accountable for results. Those who don’t pull their weight may need to find work elsewhere.

None of us is above making mistakes. How we deal with mistakes, even those that may threaten our credibility, is the measure of our leadership. Ignoring the situation is tantamount to giving permission to your team to do whatever they want to do. Taking joint ownership of the situation is what leaders do.

 

First posted on HBR.org 9/15/2008

VIDEO: Listen to Your Inner Voice

All of us need to pay attention to our instincts. So often what we think is a good choice may indeed be the right choice.

Such a decision may not be deliberative, but it was the right call. And I think the lesson for leaders is that we need to trust ourselves to make the right call in the moment.

On the other hand, spur-of-the-moment decisions can be disastrous. Deciding to buy a house you cannot afford, quitting your job because you are mad, or marrying a partner after a first date may not be sound decisions. They may work out, but chances are they will not.

Your inner voice no doubt will point you in the right direction.

First posted on SmartBrief on 3/10/2017

Fostering Trust Between Managers and Employees (HBR)

A colleague told recently me a story about a sales professional he knew who was struggling.

He was not making his draw and as a result was feeling tremendous pressure. His job seemed to be in jeopardy, save for one thing: his sales manager believed in his talent. The manager sat the young man down and told him to forget about not making the draw or repaying it. Focus on the customer. The young man did and, within weeks, his sales improved. Soon, he was the company’s top performer.

Stories such as these fuel the sales profession, but they have implications far beyond the sales transaction, including to those of us who have not sold anything except candy for a school fundraiser. The nut of the story demonstrates a key aspect of developing your people. Trust. We speak often of how managers need to earn the trust of those who report to them, but we don’t talk as much about how managers and employees need to trust one another. Here are some tips for fostering trust in the workplace.

Communicate openly. Just because you can speak doesn’t mean that you’re communicating. All of us are so pressed for time that we listen only when we are pushed against the proverbial wall. That’s too bad because when you take the time to listen — managers to employees, and employees to managers — you learn what’s really going on. Often you learn about problems before they occur; you may also learn ways to do things more simply and cost effectively.

Go with your gut. As with the story about the trusting sales manager, instinct plays a huge role in fostering trust. Managers who’ve been in the saddle for a couple of years soon learn to separate the strays from herd. They know who’s putting forth the effort and who’s just clocking time.

Tune your antennae. Watch for the warning signs – absenteeism, tardiness, and missed deadlines. But also watch for the positives – staying late, helping colleagues, and volunteering ideas and projects. Too often we focus on the negative (that’s our culture) to the detriment of looking for the good things people are doing.

Following these guidelines will help you foster mutual trust, but such pointers will not make up for the missed call. More than one manager – in fact most managers – have been burned by putting too much trust in an individual who did not deserve it. Your gut can deceive you, especially if you’re dealing with a crafty employee who knows how to pull one over on you. They know how to play you like a con-man coming in for a score. They specialize in emotional blackmail, getting the boss to feel bad for the employee’s inability to do the job.

As a result of these types, managers take a jaundiced eye at any employee, failing to provide them with the support they may need to succeed. It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of employees want to do a good job – chiefly because it’s in their best interest to do so – but also because their desire to succeed is grounded in their perception of self.

My advice to managers is simple: don’t let one or two connivers cause you to downplay the intentions and contributions of the people who really do work hard.

First posted on HBR.org 9/26/2008

VIDEO: When a Leader Steps Down to Save the Company

John Riccardo was the CEO of Chrysler who hired Lee Iacocca.

Iacocca later wrote in his autobiography, “John was sacrificing himself to save the company. He was over his head and he knew it. He blew himself out of the water to bring Chrysler back to life.” Iacocca paid Riccardo the ultimate compliment by calling him “a real hero.”

Two things stand out in Iaccoca’s praise for Riccardo, and both are important to leadership. Let’s take them one at a time.

Self-awareness is a form of self-knowledge that emerges when you know your strengths as well as your weaknesses. A self-aware leader knows when he can succeed as well as when he’s licked. Such a leader has the strength of character to step aside in favor of a better alternative. It’s not quitting; it’s called sacrificing for a better alternative.

Sacrifice is a practice not much talked about in business. The concept of sacrifice when framed as doing the greater good is something we attribute to first-responders and service personnel.

It is not something business people get much credit for. But some like John Riccardo deserve our remembrance.

First posted on Smartbrief.com 2/17/2017