VIDEO: Look on the Bright Side of Your People

Wise leaders look at what an employee can do rather than what he cannot do.

The lesson for leaders who evaluate people — that is, every leader — is to adopt a “glass half-full” versus a “glass half-empty” attitude. An executive who is evaluating talent should ask three questions about the individual:

  • Does this person have the skills to do the job?
  • What has been holding this person back from achieving?
  • What can I do to help this person succeed?

Talent is not a commodity. It is the lifeblood of the enterprise and those leaders who look for it, nurture it, and seek to capitalize on it are ones who achieve their objectives.

First posted on 4/12/2013

Use Nap Time to Maximize Your Up Time (HBR)

Want to make better use of your time? You might want to consider taking a nap.

new study from Pew Research shows that one-third of all people who earn $100,000 or more take naps. These folks spend more time napping than those earning between $30,000 and $100,000. (Too much napping is not good for your income: those who napped the most earned less than $30,000 annually.)

While I cannot attest to the earning power of napping, I can vouch for its leadership effectiveness. Winston Churchill and John D. Rockefeller took regular naps, as did my grandfather. For nearly thirty years, Grandpa John worked full-time and ran a weekly newspaper on the side. Naps were essential to his ability to keep working productively.

Napping is something I’ve been preoccupied with lately as I recuperate from foot surgery. Since I have been instructed to stay off my feet as much as possible, the tendency to snooze has caught me more regularly — typically it’s a quick doze on a hard floor. When I awake, I am refreshed and recharged, and possess an extra stipend of energy.

The chief purpose of a quick nap is less about the time spent resting and more about the energy it produces. Some refer to this as power napping. Here are some suggestions for making your naps more productive.

1. Find a comfortable spot and stretch out. This can be hard to do in an office setting but it’s not impossible. If appropriate, keep your eye out for a clean stretch of carpet, perhaps in a conference room or unoccupied office. [You can also snooze in your chair but make certain you are not cramped and that you are positioned for safety so you won’t fall out when you fall asleep.]

2. Close your eyes and focus on a project. Do not get wrapped up in details like budgets and deadlines. That will only provoke anxiety; focus on possibility, that is, on how you will accomplish the project and with whom.

3. Relax as you mull over concepts. As your mind wanders, let your body relax, too.

4. Doze. For me, fifteen to thirty minutes works. Any longer makes me a bit groggy, but do what works for you. (Note: naptime is not heavy REM sleep; often I do not actually fall asleep but I do feel rested upon waking.)

5. Wake up. Rise slowly, and as you regain your balance, stretch your arms and legs. Time to get back to work. Enjoy the sense of renewal that comes from a quick nap.

Chances are if you follow these simple tips, you will be more than ready to get back to work. You may find yourself with a bit more pep in your step and zip in your thought processes. You may not make more money but you will likely be more refreshed and able to tackle the challenges the rest of the day presents.

From my point of view, naptime is not slack time. It is self-time. Use a nap as you would exercise or reflection; it is a time to connect your thoughts to your eventual actions. And for leaders that can be a very good thing.

First posted on on 8/06/2009

VIDEO: Bad news? Deliver It with Dignity

Have some tough news to deliver?

Use a one-two approach: affirm their value, then critique their performance. Too often managers open with the tough stuff, and when they do they cause the other person to go into a defensive posture — or shut down as psychologists say — and hear nothing else.

If you play it straight and with dignity, you demonstrate that you care about your employees.

First posted on SmartBrief on 4/26/2013


How to Speak to an Unruly Crowd (HBR)

The speaker was doing his determined best to continue speaking but the audience had other ideas. Those in attendance were restless and eager to get to a reception for free drinks and snacks. Still, the speaker plowed on through his presentation, seeking to talk over the catcalls and murmuring. 

This scene came back to me when watching news coverage of protesters disrupting town hall meetings on health care reform that congresspeople are holding in their districts. Most members of congress are not as naïve as the speaker I described; they know enough not to ignore hostile crowds. Some seek to engage the protesters; others pack it in and call it a day.

There is no best way to handle an unruly crowd but clearly the executive just described did the wrong thing; he ignored the audience. More adept speakers, like politicians, will seek to engage the audience. If that is your choice and it is safe for you to speak, then here are some suggestions when dealing with a tough and vocal audience.

Be prepared. Every speaker must learn what her audience expects before she arrives to speak. In the case of the executive, he did not consider the fact that he was the final speaker of the day and the only thing standing between the audience and a reception. On a more serious note, if you expect people to be hostile to your message, study up on the reasons why they may be upset. You want to integrate your counter arguments into your presentation, or be prepared to deliver those arguments if questions arise.

Be flexible. If someone heckles, acknowledge it. Comedians, who often earn their stripes by performing in small nightclubs, learn early in their careers how to have fun with hecklers. Sometimes you can parry the jibes and have a quick back-and-forth dialogue. This demonstrates that the speaker is in control, not the heckler. But cut off the debate quickly and move forward with your presentation. You cannot cede control to the crowd.

Be resolute. If the shouters will not be silenced, then give the rest of the audience an opportunity to voice their opinions. Negotiate time to continue but promise to take questions from the audience as soon as you finish your remarks. If this occurs, abandon the script and speak directly to the audience. Be brief. And keep your cool. Shouting back makes you one of the mob; speaking with confidence acknowledges your authority over the message.

There is no guarantee that any of these suggestions will quiet a crowd. As we have seen with the health care protests, some attendees are not coming to listen — they are coming to disrupt. As with unruly and spoiled children, there is little reasoning that can be done. When a disruptive mood prevails, or if you feel unsafe, walk away. Do so calmly and purposefully. Stride confidently off the stage to a quiet and protected space. (Of course if people are throwing things at you, exit hastily.)

It takes a strong sense of self to face a restless crowd. The operative principle when engaging an audience is control. If you have it, continue; if you lose it, retreat.

First posted on 8/11/2009