Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner

My business/mission is being a guide for people so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve and helping organizations achieve their business goals by aligning a people strategy behind them (and helping to build the strategy on occassion). In my experience walking in to unfamiliar territory, I have developed an ear for certain words. Here is a short list:

  • Crazy
  • Narcicist
  • Unreasonable
  • Abnormal
  • Wierd
  • Bipolar
  • Nuts

Get the idea? Sometimes I wonder how many people truly have a mental disorder, because it can feel like there is an epidemic in certain corporate settings. So I googled What percent of adults have a mental disorder?. This brought me to a site that shared the information that in any one year 28-30% of adults experience mental or addictive disorder. Of that group, only 5.4% have a serious disorder that is likely to last beyond a year.

Yesterday a friend shared with me the quote Nobody behaves well in the corner.  Another way I say it is that stress does things to people that often are not very positive.  Dr. Roger Birkman spent decades perfecting his own assessment along these lines that has become the Birkman Method.  This is a tool I use to help people name the source of their stress and the resulting behavior.  The Birkman Method provides input on both usual behavior (what people see), needs(mostly hidden, but identify preferred environment; clarify motivational needs, highlight inner strengths), and stress behavior(counter productive, frustrated actions).  Here is an example of what these sound like:

Area:  Relating one on one with others:

  • Usual Behavior:  Candid and matter-of-fact, minimal self-conscious feelings, outspoken and unevasive, at ease with superiors.
  • Needs:  Frank and direct relationships, genuine praise free of sentiment, direct/straight forward corrections and instructions, candor from superiors and associates
  • Stress Behavior (happens when needs are not met):  Inconsiderate in personal relationships, downplays the importance of personal needs of others, uncomfortable when relationships require sensitive understanding

Any of these sound familiar?  When we back people into a corner (low resources, threat of job loss, inconsiderate teammates, no communication, lots of long hours) some strange behavior often results.  The Birkman Method has been a great tool for leaders I work with to help them see the sources of their stress and deal with it.

There are some people that genuinely need professional help to address things they are feeling.  But beware of labeling without first understanding.  If someone is in a corner, that COULD BE the reason for their behavior.

Breathing and Leadership

I had the opportunity this week to go through a neurofeedback process at a local organization that revealed some cool things about my brain.  Here is a link if you want to know more.  http://www.theneurocore.com/ 

The big takeaway, for the body and the brain to work the best we have to do a better job at breathing.  Here is the sequence for Americans:

  • We take more breaths (17/min) but they are shallow and quick
  • The body does not get big doses of oxygen because of our breathing rate, so it has to work harder.
  • The heart pumps a little harder and has to react to the oxygen flow which is a bit irratic.
  • On and on and on . . . . .

Maybe a little oversimplified.  The good news – there is actually an app for breathing! 

My trU Tips that went out yesterday is about resilience and leaders.  (here is the video)One way to look at building resilience is to learn how to breath correctly.  When we get knocked off our feet by a surprise:

  • A key executive quits
  • Partner passes away
  • Sales dip 40%
  • We lose a large customer
  • A tsunami hits a key supplier

We freak out.  Yes – that is normal.  Then we start breathing normally, think, and react.  Resilience is not about getting knocked off your feet, that is called life.  Resilience is about how we start breathing normally again and live into/through the challenge.

Breath.

What I admire most about Steve Jobs – and it is not the iPad

As I watch the opinions pour out after the announcement of Steve Jobs stepping down from the CEO role, it makes me wonder if we are talking about the right things.  There are certainly lots of worries about not having him leading Apple.  Whether you are a shareholder, a reseller, a supplier, or an Apple lover worrying about future technology, this is certainly the changing of the guard at Apple and future success for the company is a big question.

As of today I do not own any Apple products (that might change tomorrow with an iPhone purchase) and up until I read the Fortune article about Apple several months ago I did not know much about him as a leader. 

I do know enough about his career to see some special accomplishments.  What I admire about Steve Jobs is that he did not quit, and much of his success came after he had been fired from his own company.   Often we forget that he lost his job at Apple and went on to a pretty mediocre second run with NeXT.  If I could talk with him for 5 minutes I would ask him two questions:

  • What did you learn from your time away from Apple that allowed you to be successful the second time around?
  • How has cancer impacted how you live and how you lead?

On a recent family vacation I dragged my family 30 miles off a main road in Iowa to visit the birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa.  It was partly because I was interested in seeing it and partly because I wanted to hear my kids complain for years about what a crazy Dad they had.   I love his movies, got a kick out of the memorabilia that adorned this small house, and the complaining exceeded expectations.  But the thing that impacted me the most was some letters on the wall that came from stars asked to record some memories to put on display in the museum/home that opened shortly after his death.  In a quick summary, George Burns said he “was tall” and Ronald Reagan said he “made great movies”.   I left wondering – That was it?

With Steve Jobs there is lots to talk about and a lot that I don’t know about him, which is all fine.  I just think there is a lot more to him than the touch screens, easy to use products, and well integrated services. 

Steve, thanks for trying again and not giving up.

Boss Watching: 3 Actions to Manage it

I was listening to a webinar from a seasoned OD/Leadership professional and she threw out a word that made me smile.  Her statement was – The #1 hobby in the office is boss watching.”

I was once reminded that people watch leaders.  After one of those month-long stretches of dealing with several difficult situations in a row I met one of our team members in a hall and greeted him with a smile and a “Hello Charlie”.  He provided a similar reply, and then added “it is good to see you smile.  I have not seen that from you in 3-4 weeks.”  It had been a tough month for me, and he had noticed.

Remember that 90+% of communication is nonverbal.  Leaders that are in a hurry provide information to the people around them in sound bits and actions.  It is also natural to gather information and fill in the blanks.  I think back to a game played with children where we make a circle and start by wispering a message in the ear of the person next to us.  The message returning is always different.   Our actions and non verbal cues are like little whispers to our teams.

Here are three purposeful ways to deal with boss watching:

  • Onboard well:  Tell new people up front what your nonverbals are around busy/buried with work, and when it is okay to interrupt.  If people know your habits and you know theirs it will be easier to understand/interpret messages.
  • Meeting Habit:  Weekly updates with your team should include a quick around the room What is on my plate this week? to address what stressors everyone is dealing with.
  • Make it clear – ASK!  If you hear a rumor that could have been generated from boss watching, address it openly.  Your script should sound like this:  “I have heard . . . . . . . . and know that I have been acting like . . . . . this week, so I can see how my actions could feed that.  Here is what is happening . . . . . .    If you ever wonder about such things please ask.”

What story are your actions  telling?

Here is a way to have some fun with this.  At your next team meeting ask three questions: How do you know when I am having a good day?  How do you know I am having a bad day?  What are my habits at work?  Just blame it on a leadership blog that talked about boss watching. 🙂

Building the Habits that Develop People/Culture

Recently an HR leader shared some good news – “Our CEO is now thinking about retention of people because we had one of our best project managers leave to go to another company.”  It is a positive thing to have the attention of your leadership on the retention and development of your high potential people.  But what is the cost of losing one of your best people?

I am reminded of a study done by a peer one time that estimated the cost to replace a leader in their organization at around $10,000.  These were hard costs and did not include team productivity, mistakes by hiring an outside person, etc.  In my work with growth organizations I think this number is low.  If the high potential or the leader is in charge of starting a new business or product line, then their absence will probably cost the organization 5-10x that amount.

Celebrating a CEO’s renewed vigor in retaining people is warranted, but when I hear the words refocus or renew it tells me that an initiative is starting.  An initiative is a response to an event with a plan to fix something that is broken.  What is broken are the habits that people see as a real commitment to their success – both job and career.

A solution – twice a year sit down and check how you are doing on your habits that, when done routinely, will make the need to initiatives go away.  I put together a list that is yours to use, it is called a Talent Scorecard and here is the link.   I also did a short video to talk about how it could be used.  Use the results to get your Habits back on track.

In all areas of our life, good habits make initiatives go away.  It is the day to day/week to week things we do around fitness, finances, relationships, spirituality, personal growth, and family that guide us to a preferred future.

It is in our habits that we tell people what is important to us.

Make a list of the weekly habits you have (meetings, conversations, personal, family)?  What do they say about your priorities to the people watching you (your people/your children)?

What is it costing your organization or you personally because certain key habits are not there?

Lifeguards for Leaders: Who is watching?

I am a father of four.  With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm.  Here is one of those moments . . . . .

Who is watching your new leaders or new teams?

At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything.  I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons.  Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂   Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time.  There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart. 

My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams.  My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools.  Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:

  1. Mentors:  Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
  2. Six month transition plans:  New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team.   Formal written plans helps make this happen.
  3. Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training.  Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network.  Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it. 

One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard: You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc?  Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?

Lots has been written about leadership transitions.  Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months.  Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary. 

A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings.  I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around. 

  • How safe is your pool for new leaders / teams? 
  • Who is your lifeguard?

As a Leader, What is Your Job?

A friend recently shared an article with me documenting the results of a study by Training Magazine and the Ken Blanchard Companies.  The study was focused on answering the question “What’s important in creating a motivating work environment and whose job is it?”.   The study looked at job factors,  organizational factors, and relationship factors.  Here is a link to the study.

When asking the question “Leader, what is your job?”, let’s look at the results from the question “Who, in your opinion, has primary responsibility for influencing and improving the following Job factors?”.  Here is how people answered that question:

Job Factor -Owner

  • Meaningful Work – Myself
  • Autonomy – shared between My Leader and Myself
  • Task Variety – shared between My Leader and Myself
  • Workload Balance – primiarily Myself, but My Leader plays a part
  • Feedback – My Leader

Two things to take away from this.

  1. Leaders, it is not all on your shoulders.   Your people have to and WANT to own certain pieces. 
  2. As a leader, your primary responsibility to to make sure people are getting feedback and to partner on task variety and autonomy.

There has long been a conversation about the importance of leaders as coaches.  The voice of a leader/coach is not giving directions, but asking the What and How questions in their interactions so people become problem solvers and build the confidence and competence to make decisions.  This is autonomy!

These results highlight what many other studies have shown, people need great leaders, and great leaders do not own everything!  As a leader, you need great followers.

Print this study and review it at your next leadership team meeting.  Ask the follow-up questions: 

  • How does my leadership style  promote/disrupt autonomy? 
  • What do my feedback habits look like? 
  • What is one habit I should add?

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Why People Don’t Hear – 3 Actions To Help

  • I did not see this coming.
  • How can you let me go?  Just last week you said I was doing well.
  • It is too late for a counter offer.  The decision has been made.

I have seen lots of different situations in 20 years of working in and around organizations.  It was not until recently that I stopped being surprised by situations in which people did not see the news they should have heard.  We could discuss the endless reasons why, but that would not stop it.  Here are three ways to make most of the confusion go away.

  1. Write it down: Verbally telling people their performance is not up to par is only half the task.  When asking for more or defining minimum expectations it has to be written down.  Limit yourself to a page, but write it down.  If it is positive, do the same thing.  I am confident that 100% of the time verbal feedback is misinterpreted.
  2. Never deliver ANY news (good or bad) without scheduling a next step:  Bad news:  Take this and think about it for 48 hours and then lets get back together and make plans for  what will fix this situation.  Good news:  You are very valuable to this organization and I would like to come up with a list of projects/roles we should be working towards over the next 3-5 years.  Give it some thought and lets sit back down in a month and do some planning together.  People need time to process bad news.  Good news needs to be celebrated, then processed.   Next steps ensures the processing time is valuable.
  3. Ask them what they heard:  It is important to check for understanding in either situation.  In the delivery of good and bad news leaders usually talk too much because of nerves.  That is normal, but it is always a good check to end with – I have talked a lot, and it is important that some key points were clear.  What are you taking away from this conversation?  If they cannot repeat the main points you should repeat them (even if they are written down).

Assumptions are dangerous and we all have a hard time telling / hearing certain messages.  Follow these simple steps and make the confusion go away.

Do you have any helpful hints to add based on your experience?

The Resilience Formula – for Leaders . . . for Followers

I grew up in a community of scientists. I went to school with lots of engineers.  While science is not my passion, connecting the dots for people by finding a way to simplify big things is how my brain is wired.  I see a need to understand what stress looks like for leaders in transition, people trying to self-manage through over promised and under resourced projects, individuals starting a new company, and a host of other situations.  More than understand, a key life skill is to figure out how to get unstuck and moving forward.  This is resilience.

Through personal trials, coaching, walking with friends, leading, and a host of other experiences I’ve settled on an equation I use to represent resilience.  

Hope > Fear + Anger + Despair + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + Mistrust + (Fill in the blank)

When the > (greater than)sign switches and the right side takes over our personality changes.  Is it normal for the equation to change on occasion?  Yes.  That’s life.  Is it healthy to let the right side dominate too long?  No. 

This has been talked about before.  In Good to Great Jim Collins talked about the Stockdale Paradox.  Admiral James Stockdale’s(a prisoner of war) presented the survival method of acknowlodging the brutal facts of a situation but never losing faith that he would prevail.  This is resilience.  

As leaders, we need to take care of ourselves.  Exercise.  Prayer.  Vacations.  Healthy Diet.  Reading.  Naps.  All of the above. 

Remember that your resilience will rub off on your organization.  When you are leading from the right side your stress behaviors come out and your ability to react/flex your leadership style to manage others goes away.  The Birkman Method assessment identifies these as stress behaviors.  When we name them, we have a chance to manage them.

In a slow economic recovery, resilience becomes as important as cash.

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Your voice is smiling

Recently I had the opportunity to share some good news with someone over the phone, and as I listened to their answer I could hear some added energy in their voice.  My comment back was “Your voice is smiling”.  The giggle (and it was a giggle!) on the other end of the line confirmed my suspicions.  It was a special moment.

Business puts us on the phone a lot.  As I listen to voices or the standard “I am not available to take your call right now . . . . . ” messages, too often I do not hear a smile.  Business can still get done without smiles, but the energy of a smile makes it feel different.

For you:

  • Record your message this morning while smiling, then listen to the replay.  Can you hear your smile?  What difference will it make with your people?  Your clients?
  • Start your next voice conference with a “Share some good news . . ” section.  Do you hear smiles?
  • When you hear a smile, use the same line I shared above.

As kids we played follow the leader purposefully, as adults we do it unconsciously, but we still do it. 

Today, try leading with a smile.

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