April 17, 2013
Some of you have heard the legendary stories from the rock band Van Halen and their energetic, volatile front man David Lee Roth. In addition to their penchant for tossing televisions off the balcony of hotel rooms, they also had a reputation for picky, princess-like request such as a bowl of M&M candies backstage with all colors except the brown ones. Roth was seen to go into full meltdown if he ever found brown M&Ms in the bowl.
What most people don’t know is that the brown M&M request was nothing more than a tripwire that alerted the band of potential trouble. You see, in the band’s early days, they would ride into a concert venue with up to 17 semi trucks full of stage and sound equipment. They had detailed manuals of how to set it all up, which were sent ahead to the crews who were contracted out locally. Buried deep in their detailed set-up requirements was the brown M&M request. Roth knew that if the M&M request wasn’t met, there was a good chance something else would be ignored. He would then flip out, requiring the crew to start over in their procedures.
Having a tripwire is a good idea, alerting you to potential trouble and danger. While most of us aren’t rock stars, we might benefit from a simple set of tripwires as an advance warning system.
In my world, working with individuals and organizations, I’m aware of several warning signs of potential trouble. Here are some:
- Your organization is being acquired (look for duplicate positions to be eliminated).
- Your organization just lost a major account or client (revenue will be down, cuts might be coming).
- You are being deliberately left out of important meetings and decisions (your job may be on the line).
- Your industry is competing with a technology that might indeed spell the end of it (think Kindle and Borders Books or RedBox and Blockbuster Video).
- Your company is signing on with a new benefits provider (look for your out-of-pocket costs to go up or your level of benefits to be cut).
- A major source of your client base signals an intent to monitor and cut costs (i.e. The Sequester: Agencies won’t be spending quite as much money).
- An RFP from a Government Agency has a very specific or odd-ball requirement for an assessment tool that is proprietary to one specific company and you have no connection to anyone in that agency (this proposal is a waste of your time – the Government has somebody hand-picked for this contract. You’re just being sought out to cover their requirements for three competitive bids.)
Yeah I know some of these seem unfair and almost illegal but trust me, they’re real. I’ve learned the tripwires in business development and have seen them with individuals and clients. Your job is to look at your own career, organization, environment, and situation and think about what you’ll set as a tripwire. If you see it sprung, at least you’ll be better prepared for the potential fallout.
Just a word to the wise. What do you think?
February 26, 2013
I’m preparing for a trip to Germany next month where the client wants me to speak about leadership. Not a stretch for me I guess considering I have a graduate degree in Organizational Leadership. The challenge though is to say something unique and yet practical in a field that has been written about ad nauseum.
So I put on my thinking cap and came up with a couple of new models. This is the first one:
The whole premise is that leadership is about getting results. Nothing new here. What I have been wrestling with though is people in my workshops see management and leadership as an either/or undertaking. I think it’s both. Here’s how I define them:
- Leader and Manager are simply titles. Pick the one you want and use it. I really don’t care.
- Leadership and Management are simply behaviors. Pick the RIGHT one for the situation and use it.
One’s not better than another. They both have a purpose. It’s like saying who’s more important: Grandma or Grandpa. Both are good, but different. It’s always better though when you have both!
You can think of Leadership as the use of influence to get things done. Influence is analogous to Steven Seagal – the 1980’s pony-tailed Aikido-using martial arts star. Aikido uses an opponent force against themselves. Fight Steven Seagal and you’re liable to find your arm twisted like a pretzel as you charge into him. He uses force against you. Leadership is like that. Influence is drawing people towards you (but if you’re using leadership, you do it nicely!).
Management is the use of power to get things done. It’s analogous to Chuck Norris – the now legendary martial arts figure (Chuck Norris’ mom has a tattoo that says “Son”) who uses Karate to take out a bad guy. You won’t have to look for Chuck Norris. He’s right in front of you raining down kicks and punches. He’s all about brute force. Power is like that. It’s pushing to get things done through people (but if you’re doing management, you do it nicely!).
So what’s the practical application?
- You have a bunch of employees to motivate. Some need to be pushed, and others pulled.
- You’re volunteering at your local PTA. Some of the members need to be pulled to get stuff done, others need to be pushed.
- You have two children. One needs to be pushed to go out and pick up dog crap in the yard. The other in influenced by the need to contribute to the basic tasks of a family.
So you can choose lots of terms can’t you? Management (power, push, Chuck Norris) or Leadership (influence, pull, Steven Seagal). Just be clear on what the outcome is, who needs to get it done, and what your role is in making it all happen.
February 13, 2013
This past weekend I took my son Dustin to the DMV in Maryland for his road test. True to form, the place was packed and
running behind schedule. Dustin ran into one of his friends who was also doing the road test. Both were nervous. I was too.
There were two testers. One seemed like a really nice lady. Smiling, friendly, and seemingly understanding. The other looked like a cross between a mean cop and a scowling drill instructor, complete with protruding square jaw and mirrored “cop” sunglasses. The road test consisted of a three minute timed parallel park and then a backup exercise. Pass that and you’re on the open road. Dustin’s friend was up. He got the “mean guy”. We watched out the window as he quickly failed the parallel park. Both of us were sweating now. Our number was called. We went out and pulled the car around, crossing our fingers we’d get the lady tester. Lo and behold, out walked the “mean guy”. I watched in agony as they headed out to the test course. Dustin nailed the parallel park in one try, easily backed into the space, then headed out on the road. 15 minutes later he proudly walked up to me with his tear-off number meaning that he passed! He’s now a licensed driver in Maryland.
Sometimes it feels great to go up against the best and beat the best! If Dustin had failed, there would be no shame. If he had the nice lady and passed, his friend would have chided him saying he wouldn’t have passed if he had the “mean guy”. But go against the toughest and succeed? Now that’s a confidence boost!
Every once in a while I get a very tough audience or client. It’s stressful as I plan the workshop or intervention and yet when it ends successfully (and it always does!) I feel a real sense of accomplishment. It boosts my confidence for the next one.
If you take the easy challenge every time, success isn’t really that hard. If you pad your record with easy wins, what good will it do when a real challenge comes along? Fighters get accused of that all the time. Building a winning record against “tomato cans” means little when a mediocre contender can take you out.
If you believe that losing to a tough challenge teaches wisdom, resilience, and additional experience, than why not tackle something challenging this week?
- Sign on for a difficult client.
- Volunteer for a challenging project.
- Step up and lead a team with a history of poor performance.
- Teach a workshop to an audience who doesn’t want to be there.
- Confront a troublesome and volatile employee and call them out on their poor performance.
The worst that can happen is that you fail. You won’t really fail though if you learn from the experience. You’ll show resilience and strength for taking on the task. The best that can happen is that you’ll succeed. Your confidence will bounce. Your knowledge will grow. You’ll be ready for that next big challenge.
I suspect that someday, Dustin will be facing a tough challenge and will think back on the driving test success. Maybe that win will be enough to push him forward.
How will your win against a tough situation benefit you in the future? You’ll never know until you take one on.
What are you waiting for?
February 4, 2013
Blenco tells the story of Andrew Hernandez who reflects on lessons learned from his mentor Leon Cook. Hernandez is selected to recruit and manage a team and manages to get a short mentorship by Cook. The seven principles change his perspective on management and assist him an a remarkable career progression.
Who Should Read This Book
This book is designed for people who are new to management and don’t have a lot of formal education and need to get up to speed quickly.
My Final Thoughts
This was a great book. Personally, I think it’s better than Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager (which is one of my all-time favorite management books – and the first one I ever read). If you love books written in the style of Patrick Lencioni, you will enjoy this book!
January 20, 2013
Recently, I’ve been working with a lot of organizations who are wrestling with major changes. One of the biggest challenges is learning to be credible in implementing the changes while also building, maintaining, or even in some cases, rebuilding trust. Trust is one of those things that’s difficult to establish, challenging to maintain, and nearly impossible to rebuild once lost. Sadly, we all blow it at times and our actions reduce our trustworthiness.
If you’ve ever wrestled with the dilemma of reestablishing lost trust, consider the following 5 steps to begin rebuilding:
- Be Competent. Perform your duties and obligations competently. Individuals should continuously strive to demonstrate proficiency in carrying out their obligations. As others contemplate how much to trust you, they will assess your qualifications and ability to perform.
- Be Consistent and Predictable. We can enhance the degree to which others will regard us as trustworthy when we behave in consistent and predictable ways. Every effort should be made to ensure that our words are congruent with our subsequent actions and that we honor pledged commitments. Our integrity is reinforced to the extent that we Do What We Say We Will Do.
- Be a Great Communicator. We can improve trust by improving our communication. The message we give should be accurate and understandable – at face value and “between the lines” to all in our department. This helps the other party calculate our trustworthiness accurately, because we are willing to act transparently and to be monitored for compliance. It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
- Be a Person of Action, Not Just Words. Trust often needs to be given for it to be returned. There is symbolic value in soliciting input and sharing decision control with others Likewise, when such control is hoarded and others feel that they are not trusted (such as with monitoring and surveillance systems), they may be more likely to act out against this with behaviors that reinforce a distrustful image.
- Be Concerned and Care for Others. People are emotional beings. They must be managed on an emotional level too. The trust others have in you will grow when you show sensitivity to their needs, desires, and interests. Acting in a way that respects and protects other people, and refraining from engaging in self-interested pursuits to the detriment of others will also contribute greatly to the trust others place in you. When you violate someone’s trust, they deem that you are acting in your own self-interest. Accordingly, their attention will be diverted to their own self-interest and self-preservation. Learn to listen and re-frame statements to gather more information.
So that’s it, simple, but not simplistic. If you’re facing a situation where trust is lost, don’t sit there like a dummy and hope it improves! Get busy and work to rebuild it! Not easy, but certainly worth the effort.
October 22, 2012
Last week I had the road trip from hell. Left on Sunday and flew to California – way out in the sticks – a place called Grass Valley.
Spent Monday through Wednesday there and then drove to the San Francisco Airport to catch a red-eye flight to Hartford via Detroit. I had to deliver another workshop on Thursday morning so I was on a very tight schedule. It all turned out just fine and I made my connections, but I learned something about life in First Class.
My assistant Amy was able to talk my client into letting me fly that red-eye in First Class because #1 they wouldn’t have to spring for a hotel room for me and #2, my arthritic hip wouldn’t survive that long sitting in the middle seat on an overnight flight. Since I normally fly Southwest Airlines everywhere, I have no loyalty points on other airlines which means I’m usually relegated to Coach.
I’ve always heard that the people who fly in First Class are a nicer grade of people. Some flight attendants have admitted this to me. Now I know why.
From the moment I stepped into the First Class cabin, I was greeted with a big smile and friendly greeting. My butt barely hit the seat and I was offered a drink, pillow, and blanket. The flight attendant offered to hang up my coat. I was treated like royalty. After all that, how could you be anything BUT nice to the flight attendant. I’m sure they all though I was a nice guy too. But as the REST of the passengers boarded, I saw them hurriedly rushed to the back of the plane. No offers of pillow or a whole lot of smiles. For some reason, those Coach passengers seemed really grumpy and mean. I wonder why?
The longer I live, the more I realize that we all get back what we first give. We align very nicely with the Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon that happens when others are led to believe that we are nice, intelligent people. In 1968, educators Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson studied the Pygmalion Effect in the classroom. Their study showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, then the children did indeed show that enhancement. The purpose of the experiment was to support the hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. Rosenthal found that biased expectancies can essentially affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies as a result.
What does this mean for us? Think about the following:
- You give a passenger friendly service and they reciprocate with a kind demeanor.
- You give a passenger “attitude” and they respond back with “attitude”
- As managers we treat our direct reports with empathy and respect and they respond with great performance.
- We see our direct reports and lazy and disengaged and they fulfill our low expectations.
- Our kids are told they are important and talented and they take on bigger challenges and become successful.
- You treat your kids like they’re a failure and they simply become that self-fulfilling prophecy.
Each day all of us have opportunities to treat people and situations with optimism and respect. I firmly believe that we get back what we give. This week, think about how you see the people around you? Maybe this is the week nice guys and gals should start finishing first.
What do you think?
August 27, 2012
Book #21 of 52
Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are. In this book, Lencioni brings together his vast experience and many of the themes cultivated in his other best-selling books and delivers a first: a cohesive and comprehensive exploration of the unique advantage organizational health provides.
Who Should Read This Book
This is a book that will appeal to management development and organizational development consultants. It may not appeal to Lencioni’s typical audiences as it’s not written in fable format.
My Final Thoughts
Pretty good book. Certainly some good suggestions for planning meetings and strategy in organizations.
August 27, 2012
Book #20 of 52
Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others written by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas was a book that caught my eye at the BWI bookstore. I ordered it for my Kindle App.
Power Questions sets out a series of strategic questions that will help you win new business and dramatically deepen your professional and personal relationships. The book showcases thirty-five riveting, real conversations with CEOs, billionaires, clients, colleagues, and friends. Each story illustrates the extraordinary power and impact of a thought-provoking, incisive power question. To help readers navigate a variety of professional challenges, over 200 additional, thought-provoking questions are also summarized at the end of the book.
Who Should Read This Book
Awesome book! Perfect for anyone in any area of work or life. The power questions are relevant for anyone!
My Final Thoughts
One of the top 5 best books I’ve read this year. Applied the principles already!
August 27, 2012
For as long as I can remember, people continually try to decipher the difference between leaders and managers.
I’ve wrestled with this question, even studying it in my graduate work in Organizational Leadership. Recently I’ve grown disillusioned as I see a growing trend towards leaders being these visionary geniuses while managers are relegated to corporate drones who wallow in the mire of organizational politics. One has to be better than the other and when compared apples to apples, leaders are superior to managers.
However I’ve finally figured out the difference and realized that they are two very separate entities and cannot be compared to each other. It’s like comparing apples to door knobs. Here is the correct pairing:
Attributes of Leaders
- Take charge of things
- Come up with answers to perplexing questions
- Establish a strong network of resources
- Provide a way out of a confusing situation
- People you go to when you can’t figure something out yourself
Attributes of Managers
- Provide structure and order
- Master technical details and teach them to others
- Provide sound judgment and critical thinking
- Possess the right interpersonal skills to gain consensus and get the job done
Both are important and the correct audience for these individuals then follows what they need.
Followers are people who might be successful in task or career but don’t possess the necessary assertiveness to proactively solve problems or think strategically. There’s nothing wrong with them. The simply gravitate towards leaders who are comfortable in difficult situations and can provide the solutions followers require.
Subordinates are the technical experts and individual contributors that provide the substance of an organization. Typically, they take comfort in a position where their expertise is needed and appreciated. They might not have aspirations to supervise and depend on managers to provide the structure in which they thrive.
Neither of the four is better or worse. They simply exist.
Fortunately, you can choose which of these you’d like to be. You can choose to be a leader or a follower. You can be a manager or a subordinate. Just don’t confuse them with each other or think of one as better than another. If you’re comparing them, compare them correctly. In the next few weeks, I’ll lay out strategies to be a better leader, follower, manager, and subordinate.
Which one are you?
August 19, 2012
Last week we took a family vacation down to Ormond Beach in Florida. Thankfully my kids are older now and are content to spend time just
lying on the beach. The days of endless lines in the sweltering heat at Disney appear to be behind us (until grandkids come along eventually). We did however take one day and went to SeaWorld as they offer free admission to Active Duty Military and their families – Kudos to the Anheuser Busch family!
Anyway, we decided to get all the rollercoasters done first and then catch the Noon Shamu show. The shows are now a combination of theater, music, and of course the Killer Whales themselves. During the decidedly new-agey, pro-environment, sustainability-themed show, I was amazed at how the trainers got the numerous Orcas (I think Shamu is really not a single whale, just kind of a group name for all of them) to wave to the crowd, splash the crowd, and make big leaps out of the water.
The trainers used long, apparently waterproofed cattle prods to shock the whales. Some smacked them with whips. They threatened them with angry words and mean scowls on their faces. The huge mammals enthusiastically obeyed.
Of course if you’ve ever seen one of these shows, you know that’s not true. After all, only a moron would use threats to coerce a killer whale into doing a trick when they could take you out with just one big bite. The method for training these whales is all done through reward and encouragement. After each trick, the trainers smile, dole out massive handfuls of fish, and scratch and rub Shamu. It’s a constant stream of positive energy.
If this method of motivation works so well in a very dangerous environment like the water tank at SeaWorld, why do executives, managers, parents, and spouses still using negative reinforcement or punishment to motivate people? Now let me clarify one thing. If there is an identified WILL problem (“I know what I’m supposed to do, I just don’t want to do it”) then punishment or termination is appropriate. But when someone may not KNOW how to do the job or needs more information to do it better, punishment isn’t the answer. You can certainly give a person a little encouragement through a friendly tone of voice, a smile, a small reward, or other incentives to encourage them to keep at it. It’s also good practice to actually go out of your way to catch someone doing something RIGHT now and then.
This week, take a look at the people in your life that you bear responsibility for. When motivating them, think about taking the SeaWorld approach first – using encouragement and rewards to note good behavior first. You may be amazed at the response you get!