Category Archives: Blog

The Bomb: A True Story about Leadership, Trust, and Control

stressed studentThere was a bomb threat at a small private school recently.  The head of school received the threat on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday.  She immediately alerted law enforcement and gathered the appropriate group of leaders at the school and then contacted the parents to let them know school was cancelled on Wednesday (out of “an abundance of caution”) while they dealt with the threat.  The local police and FBI swept the school with bomb-sniffing dogs multiple times and even had a helicopter fly overhead to inspect rooftops.  They identified the perpetrator and made sure the school was safe (and swept again) before reopening school on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the head of school held a special assembly for parents and explained what had transpired in as much detail as law enforcement officials would allow her to.  She then opened the floor to questions—and that’s when the real explosions occurred.  Parents criticized her actions and motivations.  They thunderously applauded each other’s accusations and tried to derail the meeting with emotionally charged diatribes.  I will stop here to tell you why I am recounting this story.

This is a story about leadership. 

No matter how much the head of school did right and how high she prioritized the safety of the children and how much she communicated with the parents, it wasn’t enough.  Nobody said, “Wow, that must have been a tough situation for you and you handled it well.”  Instead, they focused on themselves, raising one complaint after another about how little they were involved in the situation.

This is a story about trust. 

While the school leaders were managing the situation on Tuesday night, one parent called the local TV station to send reporters in to spy on what was going on and broadcast it for everyone to see.  This raised the question: why was there so little trust?  Was it the leader who was not trustworthy or was it the parents who weren’t able to trust?  I think it was the latter.

This is a story about control. 

People who have a high need for control aren’t able to trust others.  Our society currently encourages people to have a high need for control by drawing attention to everything we don’t control, like natural disasters, terrorism, and aging.  We run around in such a panic that we crave control and many of us end up trying to control things we can’t, like our children, their teachers, and even their bosses.

It’s time to loosen the grip.  Yes, it would have been a tragedy if a bomb had detonated at the school and hurt children, but it didn’t, and it couldn’t have because they closed the school.  They got police, FBI, dogs, and helicopters to ensure the safety of the school.  They did a good job.  It’s time we get hold of ourselves and learn to let go and trust others.  We can’t control everything, and we can’t control most things.  But we can control ourselves.  And we need to, if not for our own well-being, for everyone else’s sake.

Look at what the anxiety caused in this situation.  On Thursday, by total coincidence, someone inadvertently set off the fire alarm at the school.  The children were so stressed out they ran around and screamed and hid under desks.  Why do you think they were so stressed out?  Because the parents were out of control.

Anxiety is rampant right now among children and adults in our society.  According to the New York Times Magazine, hospitalization for teen suicide has doubled in the past ten years and so has the number of college freshmen who feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.

The Millennial generation of adults has the highest level of anxiety of any generation to date.  In fact, approximately one in five Millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Bloomberg BNA.  This is no laughing matter.  Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on health and can lead to drug use and suicide.

We as leaders, parents, and adults need to take a deep breath, learn to trust, and role model composure for the people of the next generation.  The stakes are too high not to.

 

The Key to Shedding Apathy and Reengaging

https://static.pexels.com/photos/36785/soldier-military-uniform-american.jpgPeople sometimes ask me why my work is important.  While I’m normally pretty clear on the impact of the work I do, lately I’ve been questioning it.  Beaten down by daily news of a divided country, threats of war, mass shootings, and natural disasters, it’s hard to think that anything I do makes a difference.  I’m not alone in this thinking.  I run across it with others all the time.

To stay engaged, I have to keep remembering why I do what I do.  I consult, speak, and coach to help people—to help individuals be more successful and happy in their lives and to help organizations be more successful by improving the performance of their people.  No matter what goes on in the world around us, making the world a better place—even at a small level—is important, and that’s what keeps me going.

We all are making the world a better place in one way or another.  The key is to figure out what your impact is and not lose sight of it.

To keep sight of how you are making the world a better place, look at the ways in which you impact the world, either through your work, your organization’s products or services, or in your life outside of work.  Here are some things to consider.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/196652/pexels-photo-196652.jpegHow does your work itself impact the world? Here are some examples of how people’s work positively impacts the world.

  • You provide a service that helps people, like performing surgery to unblock arteries.
  • You provide a service that makes people happier, like teaching meditation to help people relax or doing standup comedy to make people laugh.
  • You increase human knowledge, like conducting scientific research to find cures for diseases or look for life on neighboring planets.
  • You help the earth, like by developing sustainable farming practices or delivering farm-to-table dining.

Even if you work in a seemingly meaningless corporate or government bureaucracy, you still have the ability to make a positive impact in your daily life.  Think about the power you have to improve someone’s day by simply giving them a smile or asking them how their day is going, or by helping them with a task.  You can bring meaning to any job.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/212286/pexels-photo-212286.jpegIf you don’t see how your role impacts people or the world in a significant way, what you do may be part of a bigger organization that has positive impact. How does your organization improve the world?

  • Your organization provides a service that helps people, like healthcare.
  • Your organization provides a service that makes people happier, like entertainment.
  • Your organization increase human knowledge, like through scientific research.
  • Your organization helps the planet, like by developing sustainable energy.

I consulted for one pharmaceutical company that reminded its employees daily that the mission of the company was to save lives.  The company researched, developed, and sold products to manage diabetes and to manage weight loss.  Every single employee at the company was helping to fulfill that mission, whether they were a scientist, an administration assistant, a food service worker, or member of the janitorial staff.  Every job was necessary to save lives.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/302083/pexels-photo-302083.jpegPerhaps your work isn’t your contribution to the world. Rather, you use work as a vehicle to do other things that make an impact.  How do you make an impact on the world through your family, friends, or activities?

  • You raise children or grandchildren or take care of other family members who need it.
  • You give advice and companionship to friends.
  • You volunteer at an animal shelter, school, veterans’ association, museum, or some non-profit organization that is helping make the world a better place.
  • You write, create art, or perform and share your talent with others.
  • You vote.

These are only a few examples of the good that people do and the impact that people have on the world.  Yours may be big or small, but every bit counts.  In fact, these are precisely the things that do count when there is so much negativity that is outside of our control.

Master the Art of Making Mistakes

anxietyToday was an embarrassing day.  I was on the radio being interviewed by phone and I accidentally hung up right in the middle of a sentence.  I was mortified!  Fortunately, I had entered the phone number in my speed dial so I was able to get back on quickly.  The problem was, my heart was racing and I felt like such a fool and I had to continue with the rest of the interview.

How do you maintain your composure when you make a huge mistake in front of lots of people?  That is the situation good leaders must be able to handle.  We all make mistakes from time to time.  How we handle them differentiates the seasoned leader from the less experienced.

Every leader I have ever interviewed has said they have made numerous mistakes to get to where they are.  And I’m not just saying this to make myself feel better.  Research supports this, as does testimony from the most powerful leaders in the world.  Warren Buffet, for example forgave one of his leaders for making a $360 million mistake, saying “we all make mistakes.  If you can’t make mistakes, you can’t make decisions.  I’ve made a lot bigger mistakes myself.”

“It’s dangerous to be safe” said the president of a large Chicago-based construction company in Bill Treasurer’s book, Leaders Open Doors.  Treasurer tells leaders creating purposeful discomfort is a way to develop future leaders.  In other words, they must learn how to handle uncomfortable situations to grow.

Ironically, in the radio interview, I was talking about my book, Flying without a Helicopter, and how important it is for leaders to be resilient.  I was saying how younger people are getting fewer opportunities in their childhood to build resilience.  And there I was—sink or swim.  I had to be resilient in the moment to not only save face, but be a good role model to my listeners.

It wasn’t my best interview ever, but I got through it and live to tell about it.  It wasn’t fun at the time or for several hours afterward, but it turned into a learning opportunity.  And so it will for you when you make a big mistake in front of lots of people.  At least it will give you a good story to tell.

Women Leaders: Master the Art of Emotional Intelligence!

three-girls-1057194-1279x852Women leaders are scrutinized at work for how they handle emotional situations.  To be successful, follow these five tips to improve your emotional finesse.

  1. Be emotionally flexible

One of the biggest challenges for women leaders is to navigate the fine line between being “too strong and decisive” (a.k.a. masculine) and “too friendly and nice” (a.k.a. feminine).  Eagly and Carli call this the “double bind” in their book, Through the Labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders.  In other words, it’s important to be able to flex your leadership style and hence your emotional expression.  Learn the contexts in which expressing warmth is beneficial and when stern would be a better approach.  Learn which people need friendliness and have earned your trust and which people would do better with a firm handshake.  Practice being able to move in and out of these modalities so people respect you as both a leader and a woman.

  1. Acknowledge the limitations of rational thinking

“But it’s a rational decision!”  “Why don’t they see it’s clear from the data?”  Even rational, data-driven decisions involve emotions.  Data can be disappointing and saving face might be important.  Emotions are there whether we like it or not.  Assuming people will check their emotions at the door is like wearing blinders into the workplace.  By acknowledging that emotions are present, you are taking more information into consideration when you plan your strategy and make decisions.  The book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a great resource.

  1. Look for signs of emotions

As a leader, it is particularly important to take note of where others in the room are coming from.  Are they in agreement?  Are two team members not getting along?  Does your team suffer from a lack of motivation?  Use your senses to “feel the temperature in the room.”  The first sense is sight.  Use your eyes to see how are people are sitting.  Are they slumped back, facing away from each other (or you), avoiding eye contact, crossing their arms, or frowning?  This is valuable information for you to use as you try to influence the team.  If there’s a lot of negativity in the room, you’ll need to start from a different place than if people are in alignment.  Too many leaders skip this step and find themselves floundering in deep water without understanding why.

  1. Learn how to talk about emotions

It’s hard to talk about emotions and most of us aren’t very good at it.  Moreover, as women leaders, we may fight the temptation to talk about emotions to avoid being negatively stereotyped.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Women (and men) who are able to articulate their own and others’ feelings tend to be effective leaders because they connect with people and manage difficult situations.  Talking about emotions doesn’t have to sound soft.  Look at these examples.  “That sounds frustrating.”  “I’m anxious about the upcoming deadline.”  “I’m really glad you’re back. We missed you while you were gone.”  “It’s crushing to lose a sale that big. How are you handling it?”

  1. Allow people to express emotions

Have you ever been in a meeting where nothing got done because there was an underlying tension that kept people from being productive?  Sometimes it helps to start a meeting with a 10-minute check-in or vent.  If you give people a chance to let it out, they can get it out of their system and move on and stay focused.  The key to success in this situation is to close the vent or celebration session and tell people it’s time to get down to business.  Usually, people are calmer and can move on.  If someone is holding on, however, you may need to invite them to take a break and come back when they’re ready or offer to set up a one-on-one after the meeting.

What Does a Bad Hire Cost You? 3 Tips for Hiring Good People

working-with-laptopWhat does a bad hire cost you?

Research shows a bad hire can cost your company at least 30% of their salary, but there’s more than just money at stake.  Your personal success is on the line too.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you working too many hours because you’re covering for an ineffective employee?
  • Is a single employee dragging your whole team down?
  • Are you getting pressure from above to deliver more than your team can accomplish?
  • Are other teams performing better than yours?
  • Is your boss telling you to be tougher on your employees?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider what action to take.  Whether you choose to give the person a chance or let them go depends on a number of factors.  However, you can learn how to avoid this situation in the future by following a better hiring process.

No one is perfect, so the key is to hire someone who has or is able to develop the necessary skills and characteristics to succeed at the job.  Determining that requires a systematic, objective process.

It’s worth investing time and money into a solid assessment of job candidates.  It pays for itself when you have a successful employee and it avoids much greater costs when you don’t.  Plus, it helps protect you against unfair hiring practices that could bring about even costlier litigation.

3 Tips for Hiring Good People

1.      Create a detailed job description

A good assessment process starts with a detailed job description that includes specific behaviors and characteristics necessary to be successful at the job.  For example, an engineering job description might include: “operates computer-assisted engineering or design software or equipment.”  A logistics manager’s job description might include: “maintains metrics, reports, process documentation, customer service logs, and training or safety records.”

2.      Choose predictive assessment methods

Whether you conduct interviews, tests, or job trials, it’s important to do them in a systematic and objective way.  For example, structured interviews with job-relevant questions are better predictors of performance than casual interviews that differ between candidates.  A test of emotional intelligence might be a good fit for candidates for a team leader position.  With tests, however, it’s important to have a qualified person read and interpret the results.

3.      Train people how to assess candidates

Invest in assessment training for those involved in the hiring process.  Teach employees and managers how to interview and how to rate candidates.  Help them understand what questions are good and which ones are either ineffective or illegal.  Walk through the job description with them so they know what they’re looking for in a successful candidate and make sure they ask the same questions to all candidates.

Alternatively…

If your team is strapped for time or just not interested in learning this skill, hire an outside firm to do the assessment for you.  It doesn’t cost that much and it can save you a bundle in the long run.

3 Ways to Say “No” to your Boss Using the Word “Yes”

business-man-modified-1241003For most of us, it’s hard to say “no”—if not all of the time, at least in some situations. One such situation is when you think it might harm your career.  Ironically, sometimes, not saying “no” might actually hurt your career more.

For example, it’s important to say no when you are being asked to do something illegal or immoral or something that you are not likely to succeed at.  You might not succeed at a task because you are too busy to do it well or because you aren’t skilled enough to do it well.  In either case, it will reflect badly on you when you fail.

When I tell people they need to be able to say ”no,” they often balk and say that they can’t say “no” to their boss.  Then I say, “How about if you say ‘yes’ to your boss?”  Their eyes light up when I tell them it’s possible to say “yes” and “no” at the same time.  Try the models below.

Model 1: “Yes…  If I do this then I won’t be able to do that…  Which do you think is more important?”

Example:

Boss: “Could you take on the budget proposal for the new product we’re developing?”

You: “Yes, absolutely.  I’m currently working on the financial analysis of the old product though.  If I take on the budget for the new product, I won’t be able to finish the analysis as quickly and I had originally estimated.  Which do you think is more important to do first?”

Model 2: “Yes…  If I do it in that time frame, however, it won’t be my best work.  I could offer to do this instead…  What do you think would be best?”

Example:

Boss: “Could you write up the 40-page report by tomorrow morning?”

You: “Yes, I’d be happy to.  If I write 40 pages in one day, though, it won’t be polished.  If I had till the end of the week, I’d have time to go over it a second time and proofread it.  What do you think would be best?”

Model 3: “Yes…  Would it be okay to delegate that to …?”

Example:

Boss: “Could you manage the offsite planning?”

You: “Yes, I’d be happy to be responsible for it.  Would it be okay to delegate the work to Marnie?  She’s looking for more leadership opportunities and is good with logistics.”

These exact phrases may not fit with your style, but you get the idea.  You accept the work with full disclosure of the sacrifice (not completing other work, not your best quality work, or not you actually doing the work) and give your boss the opportunity to decide what is more important.  If your boss says, for example, that she doesn’t need your best quality on a 40-page report, just a rough draft, or maybe even an outline, then you’ve brought it down to a reasonable task in a short time frame.  If your boss says he needs it to be top quality and would rather wait, then you have turned it into a reasonable time frame to complete the task.

Bosses don’t want their people to fail.  It reflects badly on them too when you fail.  They want the work done and done well and done on time.  You need to speak up when you won’t be able to deliver.  A positive way to do that is to help the boss find solutions, rather than raise obstacles.  Bosses like solutions.  And the bosses who don’t like to hear “no” like to be able to decide what is more important.  If you give them that opportunity using the models above, then you will be able to keep your head above water too.

Are you hiring the job candidate or their parent?

parent-at-interviewIncreasingly, parents are getting involved in the job hiring process.  This presents a challenge for employers because you don’t know how much of the candidate you’re getting vs. their parents.

Things parents do for their adult children today:

  • Go to job fairs and open houses.
  • Write resumes and cover letters.
  • Fill out job applications and send them in.
  • Call employers to set up interviews and follow up.
  • Attend lunches and interviews.
  • Negotiate salaries with employers.
  • Decide which job to take.

Too much parental involvement in the job hiring process is detrimental to both the candidate and the employer.  The employer needs to assess whether the candidate is qualified and is a good fit for the job.  The applicant needs to assess whether the organization and job are a good fit for them.  When parents take over, neither side gets an accurate picture of the other.

What can employers do to move parents to the sidelines?

  • Make it a policy not to talk to parents during the hiring process.
  • Discourage candidates from involving their parents.
  • Politely but firmly refuse to speak to parents when they call or show up.
  • Put your no-parents-during-hiring policy on the website for all to read.

A bad hire is detrimental to both the employer and the employee.  Too many times I’ve heard employers complain that the person they hired “looked great on paper” and had “all the right things to say” in the interview, but wasn’t able to perform once hired.  This is a bad situation for the employer but an awful situation to be in for an employee.  Failing at your job, especially your first job, has long lasting effects on self-esteem.  It’s better for everyone involved—including parents—if the employee is hired for a job they can and want to do.

How can employers tell parents to back off?

Pushing parents away can be touchy for both the parents and the candidates.  How do you do it without losing good candidates?  Here are some suggestions from College Recruiter: How Employers Should Deal with Helicopter Parents.  One of the suggestions is mine.