“Pick a Little, Talk a Little”

Do you remember that song from The Music Man? It poked fun at a bunch of chattering women, and the song comes to mind every time I’m exposed to “chatter” in public places. This week, I was surrounded by chatter about major plane delays due to storms around the country.

My family was converging in Virginia from around the country. A flight from LAX was cancelled and six people were split into two separate flights. A flight from Portland, OR was two hours delayed.

I had boarded my flight and was ready to go when they announced a delay of an hour. The flight crew allowed people to disembark as long as they brought all of their baggage with them. Twenty or so people stumbled off, laden with suitcases, only to find out that the delay wasn’t really going to be that long, so they had to come back right away.


Do You Make Your Customers Do Your Work?

Have you noticed the degree to which you are responsible for doing the work of a customer service representative? Simple example: we sift through the endless automated menus of our vendors instead of someone answering the phone and asking how they can help. Heaven forbid if your question doesn’t fit the menu – 9 times out of 10, you will be disconnected and need to start over.

I don’t know when this microtrend began, but it’s gaining steam. Recently, I requested something from my domain registrar’s tech support department, and it was clear that we were not speaking the same language. I asked the question several different ways, and with a sigh, the rep said, “I’ll explain it to you again for the third time….”

Wow. Imagine my response to their automated email follow up survey!


Civility in the Workplace

Christine Porath contributed a great piece in last Sunday’s The New York Times, “No Time to Be Nice at Work”. Many of you know that “badly behaving bosses” is one of my soap boxes, so I was interested in her article and the underlying research.

This problem of incivility occurs all too often. I’ve had dozens of executive coaching assignments where I’ve been brought in because senior level people treat others like road kill. They possess a level of self-importance that their point of view, their time, their “privilege” is more important than anything. They boost themselves at the expense of others.

Do you know anyone like this?


Do You Really Need to Adapt Your Style?

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you hear more. One of my CEO clients asked me – with some exasperation – why he had to adapt his style to communicate more effectively with his employees.

I share this story because this person is intelligent, passionate, and goal-driven. But, he has an abrupt demeanor and his acerbic delivery puts off the people who work for him. We’ve worked on this issue of effective communication for months, but he hasn’t processed its importance as a priority in his professional development.

In the particular situation that triggered our discussion, an employee did not understand his request. Instead of trying to explain it differently, he shouted at her. He was frustrated because he didn’t understand why she didn’t comprehend his request.


Seeping Knowledge

Is there one person in your organization who serves unofficially as your “historian” or “librarian”? These people typically have worked for many years and are the holders of your institutional knowledge.

They know how you did things 15 years ago and how and why processes changed over time. They remember your company superstars and what they contributed. They recall the good and bad managers, and the impact they had on the staff.

They know things about clients that are tucked away in the back of their heads, only to rise to the surface if something related to those clients appears.


Under the Microscope

I’ve had clients who have gone into negative spirals as a result of massive change and uncertainty that occurred in their companies. This isn’t unusual, but the more senior you are, the more you’re under the microscope when this happens.

Your boss, your peers, and your staff will respond to you in different ways. No matter how they see it – even if all they’re doing is picking up your negative energy – it can leave the wrong message and even undo your reputation.

When these things happen, you need to get a grip and remember to be the leader that people expect you to be. If you don’t like what’s going on in your organization, be careful where and how you voice this dissatisfaction. An “innocent” random comment can be repeated to someone who can use it against you.


The Docent and the Driver

My friend Linda and I were together on the occasion of our college reunion at Penn a few weeks ago. After the festivities ended, we had the pleasure of a leisurely Sunday afternoon visiting The Barnes Foundation, an amazing collection of post-Impressionist and early modern art.

We took a docent-led tour to enhance our experience. She was just “OK”. She knew enough to provide some insights, but frankly, her commentary was disappointing.

It didn’t matter, though, because the art was stunning and the experience was fulfilling on its own.


When is Enough Really Enough?

Some leaders face brutal situations, functioning in what you or I may think are unbearable circumstances. When you operate day after day under huge levels of stress, even the most centered person feels it.

The questions become, how long can you take it? When is enough really enough? Why can some leaders endure the adversity, while others crumble?

Values are often the differentiator. You can put up with a tremendous amount of hardship if you believe in and feel aligned with the situation. Yes, it’s demanding and can cause wear and tear on your nerves. But you can keep going if you associate with the underlying mission.


The Value of Thoughtful Decisions

Many managers make decisions which were appropriate when they were made, but don’t stand the test of time. For example, you might have promoted someone at an earlier stage of his or her career, but the person didn’t continue to advance as you expected.

Part of good decision making involves thinking ahead and imagining what a decision made today will look like in various future scenarios. This means that some decisions need to be evaluated more thoughtfully and strategically.

This isn’t as easy as it seems, particularly because we make dozens of decisions daily at breakneck speed. After all, who has time to reflect when you’re already on to the next thing?


Don’t Dilute Your Feedback

Many clients share woes about employees who don’t do this or should have done that. When I ask how their employees responded to feedback about these issues, I get blank stares.

Of course, feedback can be both positive and negative. In either case, you want to provide it swiftly. If you wait, you dilute the impact.

Think about it: have you ever waited to give feedback about a mistake or inappropriate behavior? When you finally get around to saying something, the employee has long forgotten about the incident and reacts as if you are picking on her.