VIDEO: Influencing People Who Don’t Report to You

Maybe the toughest thing in management to do is persuade others to go along with you when you have no authority over them.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider these five action steps.

  1. Do your homework. Find out what your colleagues in different functions think about the initiative.
  2. Make your case. Demonstrate how the initiative will make things better in the long run. Acknowledge short-term pain for longer-term gain. Argue the business case.
  3. Listen, listen, listen. Pay attention to what your colleagues are telling you.
  4. Push hard. If this initiative is important and if senior management is counting on you to drive it through, and then keep on it.
  5. Be there to follow up. This is critical. Make it known up front that you will be available to help implement the initiative.

First posted on SmartBrief on 6/10/2016

Help Your Team Build Resilience (HBR)

“Every day you read what a terrible age we live in. Well, I’ve heard that all my life,” said Horton Foote in a 1988 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. “I don’t think any age is any worse. There are just new [and different] problems is all.” Foote, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, died recently at the age of 92. Many of his plays drew upon the memories of preceding generations of relatives, who inhabited the small towns and by-ways of Texas. Foote and his family had certainly seen hard times, such as war, drought and the Great Depression as well as personal loss. Some could not cope with their losses, but some, like Foote, did.

Foote’s words, now twenty years old, remind us of the resilience of the human condition. We are very capable of enduring hardship. And for the most part we bounce back. Managers need to kindle this spirit of resilience in the workplace. Here are some suggestions to perpetuate it:

Gain perspective. The magnitude of this recession is unprecedented to anyone born after 1945. Millions of people have lost their jobs and many more will do so. Yet, if the past is any indicator, most companies will survive and new ones will be born. More importantly, we as a people will persevere.

Show resolve. If you have a job, and the majority does, apply yourself to helping your organization succeed. Management and employees need to work jointly. Employees are not beholden to management or vice versa. Each is beholden to the other.

Share stories. Foote was a gifted storyteller. Many of his plays dealt with adversity and loss. The heroes of his dramas learned how to survive. Managers can borrow from a playwright’s example by collecting the stories of people who are making it. It may be possible to turn a portion of regular staff meetings into story time. Not as a means of kvetching but as a means of coping; and, more importantly, as means of learning from the example of others.

Nurturing resilience is not simply an exercise in making people feel better. It is a way to keep them engaged in the work. When a manager devotes time to share his stories, he demonstrates care and concern. It also encourages employees to feel better disposed toward working for that person. In a world of increasing uncertainty, working for a boss whom you trust is a plus.

This resilience is good for the organization, but it is also good for individuals, especially those who may one day lose their jobs. If they have made it through trying times in their current job, they can do the same in the next job. Such fortitude may also keep their spirits up as they look for that new job.

In Horton Foote’s Tender Mercies, a young boy is curious about the past of a recovering alcoholic country-western singer, Mac Sledge, who has moved in with the boy’s mother. As Mac (played by Robert Duvall) strums his guitar, the boy asks him if he thinks he will ever be rich again. “Well, I tell ya what, Sonny, I don’t lay awake nights worrying about it.” Mac then sings and calls out chords on his guitar. A music lesson proceeds, just as life does.

First posted on on 3.09.2009

VIDEO: Meditating for Success

Mental preparation is critical to success.

Too often, the temptation is to prepare externally for a challenge while ignoring internal preparation. That is, executives go to great lengths in doing the work — doing research and marshaling resources — that they ignore their own mental state.

When adversity strikes you are at a disadvantage because you have not strengthened your inner self. You may buckle at the first sign of resistance.

One way to prepare is through the practice of mindfulness, which is the state of being fully present in the moment. You are aware of self and situation as well as what you can do or not do.

Meditation is one method for learning to become more mindful but not the only way. What is required for mindfulness is learning to take stock of yourself regularly as a means of gaining perspective on your performance and your interactions with others.

First posted on Smart Brief on 5.13.2016

VIDEO: Coaching by Flash Cards

If coaching is to succeed, it must be simple and specific. That’s why I am a big believer in flash cards. Maybe this goes back to my childhood when my patient mother used them to help me learn phonetics, words and arithmetic. You can even make a master flash card for dealing with complex problems by doing the following:

Square the circle. Focus on the core problem and its root causes, not peripheral ones that may be clouding the picture.

Determine action steps. Be specific about what you can do as well as what you cannot do.

Move forward. Take action when called for.

Flash cards can serve as your prompt to think through a problem, as well as to take action in a deliberate manner.

First posted on Smart Brief on 4.29.16

Ask Yourself Questions So the Whole Team Learns(HBR)

One of the exercises I put myself through before promoting a new book is to interview myself about what I have written. No, I am not delusional to the point of self-flattery. My wife makes sure of that.

The point of the self-interview is to look at your work from a different point of view. This process is not simply for authors but for anyone in a leadership position who is working on a project that will have impact on the organization. And if the self interview is done as the project develops (as opposed to being finished like a book) you can make changes as you progress.

As a creator, you are thinking about what you are developing. As a leader you must focus on the end result, that is, the effect it is having on others. For example, if you are in product development, the process is important, but what matters is how customers react to your product. How it makes them feel when using it. Same goes for someone in IT. You must have discipline in your network planning but users care about what your system can do for them in terms of managing the business.

Interviewing yourself is not as easy as it may sound. You want to avoid questions about action steps; that is narrative (good for stories but not for analysis). You want to focus on process and outcome. Stepping back and assuming the distance of someone else is good discipline. Here are three questions to ask:

Why are we doing this project? This question provokes a reiteration of purpose and mission. What you are doing and why? Most projects begin with such statements but so often the statement gets diluted due to distraction or misdirection. Reaffirming the mission is important.

What do we want our end-users to say about our outcome? Marketers use this question to prod developer to focus on what customers need and want rather than what developers want to produce. Sometimes there are reasons for deviation. New applications, new technologies and new competitors may alter original intentions. Nothing wrong with that as long as you are aware of them and adjust the project (and its mission) accordingly.

What are we learning? Project teams often employ existing best practices at the outset, but as the project develops you learn more about the team’s capabilities as well as available resources. By asking this question you can apply what you have more tactically, as well as strategically. Consider the obstacles you have overcome; they may lead you to avoid similar setbacks as you progress.

The self-interview can be expanded to include your team. Try the exercise yourself and then ask your team do the same, either individually or collectively. You can compare answers. Then, to borrow the “feed forward concept” pioneered by my friend, Marshall Goldsmith, you can use the self-interview questions to ensure that you are holding to the project intentions, milestones and budget.

Leaders who subject their work (or even themselves) to self interviews are those who are willing to face up to shortcomings. Better to face them as the project unfolds than when it is complete.

When you ask questions as you go along, you are seeking to influence your outcomes more directly. You may come to greater understanding of customer needs and make adjustments. Or very often you learn more about the capabilities and competencies of your team and can utilize their services more effectively. Such awareness may not only lead to better outcomes, but also better use of people and resources.

First posted on 3.21.2009