Do People Really Matter?

I had an advisory conversation with a young graduate student, Vanessa (not her real name), about her career aspirations. She’s an intelligent person who knows what she wants, and frankly, has little interest in the opinion of others as she establishes and achieves her professional goals.

Her behavioral style is direct to the point of bluntness, factual with little feeling, and ambitious with inconsequential concern for others. Vanessa could benefit from enhancing her emotional intelligence, especially given the brusqueness of her communication style.

Vanessa feels that none of this is important. If she gets a job where her drive for results is rewarded, how she goes about it doesn’t matter. She views revealing her personality on the job as a liability to avoid. Just the facts, ma’am.

Roles and Responsibilities

Do your employees have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities? If you gave them a job description once upon a time, now it may be a historical document. If you haven’t given them anything, it’s likely that their understanding of the job is vague.

I recommend identifying some combination of roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators (KPIs). When you articulate these factors (and your expectations), you’re much more likely to see a higher level of performance and productivity.

Here are some scenarios that clients have shared with me recently. They are great examples of what can happen when you’re not specific.

– Partners in a professional practice tasked a small group of senior people to up their leadership game by raising the morale of the staff. With the best of intentions, this group unexpectedly elicited a complaint session that unleashed an angry mob of employees.

Go Team!

Have you ever held a team meeting with a stated, “official” purpose but really had an ulterior motive? Most leaders do this at least once during their careers, and more often than not, this tactic is rarely successful.

Your employees are smart enough to know when the official reason isn’t the real reason, but may not always figure out what’s going on beneath the surface. When that happens, everything ranging from gossip to distrust emerges.

And then, you’ve lost them.

Reframe With Humor

What would we do without humor? A daily dose of humor diffuses stress, anxiety, and other nasty things that cause our bodies and minds to go off kilter.

I look for the humor in everyday, routine activities and generally find that when I share something amusing, people appreciate it. Think about it: when people laugh together, they are aligned at that very moment. It’s a tiny break from the humdrum of the day that can spark everything from fresh perspective to hope to optimism.

Laughter does indeed have proven physiological benefits. It boosts the immune system. It decreases stress hormones, including cortisol. I even learned about laughter yoga from my friend, Margie. It’s a form of yoga which involves prolonged voluntary laughter, which in effect creates the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of laughter.

Big Value from Small Ideas

Do your employees offer ideas for improving the way their jobs are done? Are they even comfortable with the idea of making suggestions?

Your organizational culture influences how your employees will actually participate. If you welcome input, you’ll receive it. If you say you welcome it, but poke holes in their ideas, people will retreat to their cubicles. If you say you welcome it and do nothing with the ideas, they won’t take you seriously.

But if you welcome input and actually do something with it, you’ll awaken much more from your staff.

Your people have many good ideas that they don’t even realize could be valuable to their co-workers. As a leader, your willingness to solicit and try out these ideas could be a game changer.

Mixed Signals

Performance appraisals present interesting challenges for leaders. Many times you procrastinate because you’re either really busy with other priorities or you just want to avoid doing the reviews.

Hint: you’re always busy. You need to make the time.

Employees want to know how they’re doing. They want your feedback (even though they may disagree with it). They want a formal opportunity to express their views.

When employees are doing well, it’s easy to reinforce and encourage them. If they’re doing poorly, presumably you’re already dealing with it (as poor performance needs to be nipped in the bud – never wait for the performance review).

Clarifying Expectations

How many times do you have conversations when you think everyone is in agreement, only to find out later that people interpreted the discussion differently?

Alas, this happens all the time. It can happen in a conversation between two people, let alone in conversations with a larger group. It’s a good idea to identify where possible misperceptions occur so that you can clarify any confusion ahead of time.

Clarification is usually needed when some gray area exists. The challenge is that you might think something is black and white when the other person is thinking gray.

For example, you may tell someone that a project is due on Thursday. You may expect the completed work by Thursday morning, when the employee thinks that the deadline is close of business on Thursday (or even worse, Thursday evening).

“Teacher’s Pet”

You may recognize this species: A person who can do no wrong no matter how much wrong he or she does. A person who has the ear of the boss no matter how busy the boss is. A person who tries to fit in with coworkers in spite of the fact that no one trusts her.

This description is remarkably similar to that of a teacher’s pet, except this is the adult version.

I’ve seen many variations of this prototype among my clients, and will share three. In variation #1, the CEO is well aware of the games this person plays, but doesn’t want to deal with the severe discomfort that is likely to happen by disentangling the relationship.

Variation #2 happens when one boss favors an employee while another boss feels differently. The outcome of this inherent conflict is that the employee is treated as “protected” while the other boss stews about it. (I’ve seen this play out when the immediate manager does not favor the employee, but the manager’s boss does.)

“I Want Your Job (….Can’t You Just Give it to Me?)”

My friend Glen hired a young man (who I’ll call John), as an apprentice at his company. Glen established ground rules which were of the “work hard, learn as much as you can” variety. If John followed these ground rules, in six months he would move into a new and more challenging position, possibly even a position of his preference.

OK. I know you’re clairvoyant, so it won’t surprise to learn that it didn’t work out. John was lazy and did the bare minimum to get by. Glen had the first of several “shape up” conversations with John during his first week on the job, but John’s behavior never changed.

At the end of their exit discussion on John’s last day Glen asked, “By the way, if you had the choice, which position would you have wanted?” to which John replied, “Yours, of course.”

Leadership Musings from the Blizzard of 2016

Did you survive last weekend’s blizzard? If you live in a large swath of the eastern seaboard of the United States, you experienced quite the storm. Of course, you may be tired of thinking about it because it dominated our lives for a few days, but I wanted to share a few leadership musings.

New York City received 26.8 inches of snow, and just missed tying the record set in February 2006 by a skimpy one tenth of an inch. I was contemplating the idea of “not quite coming in first” which triggered some thoughts about superior performers.

Superior performers strive to be the best and to come in first whenever given the opportunity. Think about what happens when your team misses achieving a revenue record by a scant amount or doesn’t get awarded an important deal.