VIDEO: How to Teach Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is a word that was common in the lexicon of our grandparents, those men and women who were adults in the Great Depression and had to make do with very little but found a way to not only survive but sometimes thrive.

Resourcefulness is the ability to make do with what you have and to see possibilities where no one else does. Great entrepreneurs possess this ability but you don’t have to be willing to start your own business to benefit from it. Every organization can benefit from it.

Resourcefulness is a trait that many employees possess. It’s up to those in management to put it to good use.

First posted on SmartBrief on 10/04/2013

How to Keep Your Team Loose (HBR)

During his wrap-up comments after the University of Southern California football team beat Ohio State University in Columbus in 2009, Brent Musberger, ABC/ESPN’s long-time announcer, said that he believed that one of USC head coach Pete Carroll’s greatest attributes was his ability to keep his team loose.

Managers can learn something from Carroll’s loosey-goosey sideline demeanor. He prowls the sidelines but is often clapping, cheering, and giving “atta-boys” to his players. USC is a football juggernaut but even talented teams can get caught up in emotional swings, and Carroll’s style helps keep everyone calm, and inevitably, more able to pay attention to what is happening and what they must do.

The purpose of keeping a team loose is not entertainment; it’s a matter of keeping people focused. And that’s why managers — especially those coping with challenging conditions like declining resources, tougher competition, and more demanding customers — can do well to keep their teams loose. Here are some suggestions.

Instill camaraderie. Optimal team performance depends on people pulling together for one another. Camaraderie-building can happen naturally between teammates, but managers can encourage it by creating groups or units of people whose talents complement each other. Injecting some humor into the mix through jokes and gentle teasing can speed the meshing of individuals. Camaraderie builds when people can laugh with each other, not always at each other. (That is, you can tease, but make certain you are available to be teased yourself.)

Get personal. Know your people and their capabilities. The secret to maintaining a loose atmosphere is belief in individuals’ and the team’s ability to perform. Trust that people know their stuff and will execute. Being light and loose with underperformers is not advised. You need to get people in gear before you can ease up with levity.

Coach ’em up. The art of management is putting the right people in the right places so they can succeed. Toward that end, good managers spend their time coaching their people for performance. If a manager has established good rapport with individuals through his light-hearted demeanor, he has a better ability to connect and get them to listen. (Note: too much joking will undercut a manager’s ability to be perceived as serious.)

Make no mistake, too much fun and games is not healthy; it can be distracting and adversely affect morale. (USC lost its game to the University of Washington the following week.) Therefore, a manager must always make certain that people understand the importance of what they do. Treating people as though their contributions matter is critical. Likewise, holding people accountable for results is vital.

Just because work is serious does not mean everyone needs to take themselves or others seriously. You can be light and lively as long as you respect individual boundaries and the culture of work. Keeping things loose is not always easy, but it sure makes coming to work a bit more pleasant. And when people want to come to work, it’s a good thing.

First posted on 9/23/2009

How to Develop Your Leadership Pitch (HBR)

Ever see an executive fumble an answer to a question from a reporter, or maybe even an employee? Of course, it happens all the time. There are times when we simply may not want to answer a question, but the key reason for flubs is that we are unprepared to speak. One way to become more articulate is to prepare yourself in advance.

Essayist Arthur Krystal addresses inarticulateness and the power of writing to resolve it in a recent article for the New York Times Book Review. Krystal paraphrases an email interview with Harvard psychologist Steve Pinker and states, “thinking precedes writing and that the reason we sound smarter when writing is because we deliberately set out to be clear and precise.” Novelist Vladimir Nabokov, whom Krystal also cites, understood this and it’s why he used index cards during a televised interview recorded in the late Fifties about his book Lolita. Nabokov may have looked rumpled, but he spoke eloquently.

It’s a good lesson for every executive — be prepared before you speak. Such preparation is not reserved solely for major presentations; it also applies to impromptu messages that executives need to deliver constantly. I liken these leadership messages to elevator pitches in reference to their brevity (a short ride) but also their importance (selling a big idea).

Leadership is about persuasion — convincing others of the soundness of your point of view. Writing out your thoughts is good practice and I believe that doing so is not onerous because managers regularly script their thoughts in email. Here are three tips for preparing your leadership pitches to be more persuasive.

1. Think it through. Consider the key issues facing your team; it is a good idea to have a short leadership pitch for each one. What the issues are is up to you, but they should reflect the big things that are happening — initiatives, issues, and challenges. Your pitch needs to reflect your reasoning and your point of view as well as why people should support you and your idea.

2. Script it out. Write out your thoughts. This gives you the opportunity to focus on the issue and think about what you want to say. It’s always good to provide a short explanation and then segue into your argument. Leverage the business case for your idea and talk about the impact your idea will have on others and the on the organization.

3. Rehearse it. Yes, it is important to practice your messages out loud. Many executives I have coached practice on their drives to and from work. You might also use a voice recorder (often integrated into your mobile phone) to get used to delivering the message out loud. The recording is for you; no one else need listen. What’s more, as my colleague and consultant Kathy Macdonald advises, you can time yourself. That’s good practice for keeping messages short and tight. (Note: do not try to drive and record at the same time.)

Many of you reading this may be saying, “Great idea, but who’s got time for this?” My response is make time. One executive who helped me learn the importance of leadership messaging is Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman’s — once judged by Inc. magazine as “one of America’s coolest companies.” As Ann Arbor-based Zingerman’s grew from a deli to a collection of food-related businesses, the number of employees grew exponentially. Paul found himself stretched thin as all entrepreneurs do, but he disciplined himself to think ahead to how he could continue providing insight and direction to key employees. He prepared messages in advance so that if he encountered a person he needed to speak to he would have something cogent and coherent to say, not in greeting but in the form of tangible advice.

Preparing your key messages in advance has another advantage. It will help scripting more formal presentations easier because you will have a collection of key thoughts prepared. This will help you become a more fluent and polished presenter. And when you are asked questions, you will have the verbal dexterity to deliver a reply that shows command of the issues as well as an ease that radiates confidence.

First posted on 9/30/2009

VIDEO: Don’t Act Like the Smartest Person in the Room

Sometimes it pays to shut up! Especially when you are really smart.

As a bright and capable performer, you will have plenty of opportunities to show what you know and how you know it but one thing you can never do is – show off! People in power don’t like it and people you work with find it annoying.

Smart people who know when to speak up and when to act on their initiatives are a special breed. Don’t squander your opportunities by showing off. Let your cool demeanor speak for you.

First posted on Smart Brief 11/01/2013


Three Ways to Remove Ego from Decision-Making (HBR)

When President Barack Obama wrestled in 2009 with the issue of what to do next in Afghanistan, there is absolutely one thing he could not do: Make it personal. That is precisely the mistake that his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson made when escalating the war in Vietnam.

Again and again, as is made clear by listening to tapes of him in the Oval Office, Johnson personalized the war not as the United States versus North Vietnam (or Russia and China), but as LBJ against the world, be it the enemy abroad or those inside his administration and throughout the nation who protested the war.

Let us be clear, personalization is not the same as passion. Leaders need to have conviction about what they do; they need to love their work and the people who do it. That’s passion. By contrast, personalization is the conflation of ego and hubris; it causes a loss of focus because the executive puts what he wants to do ahead of what the company should do. Personalization is the enemy of the business case, and for that reason you should avoid it. So here are three questions that every leader must ask when making a decision that will have significant consequence on the organization.

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First posted on 10/08/2009


VIDEO: Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence

What do people want most from leaders? The real deal!

This is especially true when leaders open their mouths to speak.  We want people in charge to be honest and we want their words to ring with integrity. Never is this truer than when the leader is making a formal presentation or delivering speech.

The Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence” focuses on delivering the authentic message, and doing it as a leader full of presence. There are chapters on crafting the presentation as well as delivering it. Communication leads to authenticity. A leader’s presence affirms that what a leader says is an indication of what he believes. And when we sense that the leader means well we will want to follow his lead.

First posted on Smart Brief 11.13.2013


The Smart Way to Influence Your Boss (HBR)

How can I sell this idea to my boss?

This is something that executive coaches hear regularly. It usually comes from someone seeking to lead from the middle. To begin to answer this question, let me tell you a story.

Ronald Reagan is credited with hastening the end of Cold War between the USSR and the USA. While he had long preached nuclear disarmament, his argument gained personal impetus after watching the made-for-TV movie, The Day After, which depicted the destruction of Lawrence, Kansas, after a nuclear blast. The movie, according to The Dead Hand, a recent history of the Cold War era by David Hoffman, left Reagan depressed for days and gave him even more resolve to seek nuclear banishment. Skeptics may scoff that it took a movie to influence the president, but as Hoffman explained on NPR’s Fresh Air, movies helped to shape Reagan’s world view.

Few managers who seek to influence upward have the resources to make a motion picture, but many managers have the cleverness and street smarts to craft an argument to win their cases. As I illustrate in my new book, Lead Your Boss, The Subtle Art of Managing Up, critical to developing a strong case is first and foremost to frame your argument according to the business case: why is it good sense for the organization to pursue your idea? Without a foundation based on either improving or saving the business, your idea has no chance; with it, you can begin.

To build upon your business case, you must frame your argument, in effect your sales pitch, in ways which appeal to the person with authority. Here’s how.

1. Adopt your boss’ point of view. Marshall Goldsmith taught me that if you want to influence the CEO then you need to see the world as he or she sees it. CEOs take a corporate-wide view of performance, of course, but each of them has hot button issues around products and services, employee morale, or their legacies. If you have a boss who’s a cost-cutter, frame your pitch as a means of cutting costs, or at least reducing expenses. Likewise if you have a boss who is focused on customer issues — frame your pitch as a way to improve customer service or product benefits. The angle of your pitch depends upon the boss’ interest.

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First posted on on 10/14/2009