Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Poor Performance or Lack of Communication

Recently one of my clients shared his frustration with one of his employees over what he perceived as a consistent shortcoming on the employee’s part. My client felt that this employee’s consistent failure to perform one task in a particular manner was unacceptable and he wanted me to help with taking disciplinary action.

I asked my client if he ever communicated his expectation of the specific criteria he was looking for in this report, i.e. content, format, the importance of presenting it this way. My client said no, but he should know this stuff, its common sense, he’s been here a while.

I then gently advised my client that he was really at fault here. I explained that if we have not clearly communicated our expectations to someone, then we have no right whatsoever to be irritated when that someone falls short of those expectations. To expect an employee (co-worker, friend, off-spring or spouse for that matter!) to meet expectations that have never really been communicated is simply unrealistic and sets that person up for failure.

A key component of communication in leadership is the ability to set our team up for success, by clearly defining what is expected of them and the manner in which you visualize those expectations being met. Then, if they have a different vision for how this task can, or should be accomplished, they have an opportunity to bring their adaptation of ideas to you for input and/or approval. Otherwise, they may proceed with their own ideas and when those efforts are met with disapproval, it can be disheartening and dis-empowering.

Clearly, there are times when a leader needs to give their team wings to fly with their own ideas and their own processes. In those situations, the leader needs to praise the positive results and/or let their team deal with the consequences and fix the problem if those process doesn’t work out.

But in those situations when a specific expectation is an imperative, respectful leadership and respectful communication requires that those parameters are clearly established up front.


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A simple thank you

Think of the last time someone really thanked you for doing something. Especially if that something was normal to you and you certainly didn’t go out of your way. You felt good and probably wanted to do it better next time. You cannot underestimate the power of a simple thank you. A long and sometimes grueling workday can melt away when staff members know their efforts were appreciated. It’s amazing how the last interaction of the day can become the last thought and make employees look forward to coming in the next day, knowing that their contributions were noticed.

The most effective leaders I know work diligently to thank their people. The validation can come from end of day departures and acknowledging extra effort on the fly, to even just thanking them for doing their normal work, giving input, or being positive throughout the day. These leaders know the value of their people and their basic need of feeling important, the feeling that their top three needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) are being met.

Take every opportunity to find reason to thank as often as you can. That presentation didn’t go quite well? Thank them for the time and effort they put in to it anyway. The account dropped out to do business with a competitor? “You did a great job meeting their needs Marcie!” The 2nd shift comes in when your first shift leaves; thank them for working strong during the evening hours. Simple and genuine acknowledgement yields committed people and sustained performance.

Thanking your people for their everyday efforts is a simple and easy way to make a powerful lasting impression in your organization. Make every connection a reason to find and give thanks to your people.

Image result for Maslow’s Hierarchy


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Lead by Example – A Powerful Story

I so admire those leaders who truly lead by example. They are easy to follow and their lessons are so much more meaningful and impactful than leaders that just tell you what to do.

I recently read a story of leadership by example and I wanted to share.  Over 200 years ago, a man in civilian clothing rode past a small group of tired and battled exhausted soldiers. They were digging what appeared to be an important defensive position.  The leader of the group wasn’t making any effort to help the soldiers. He just shouted orders and threatened to punish the soldiers if the work wasn’t completed within the hour.  The stranger on horseback asked “Why aren’t you helping?”  The leader replied “I’m in charge! The men do as I tell them.” He added “Help them yourself if you feel so strongly about it.”

To the mean leader’s surprise the stranger got off his horse and helped the men until the job was finished.

Before he left the stranger congratulated the men for their work, and approached the confused leader.

“You should notify top command next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men – and I will provide a more permanent solution,” the stranger said.

Up close, the now humbled leader recognized the stranger as General George Washington and was taught a lesson he would never forget!

I love leaders that are willing to dig with their team. I have been fortunate enough in my life and career to have such leaders. They weren’t just order “barkers,” but order helpers. My respect and trust for these leaders is off the charts. I was extremely loyal to them and they taught me to be such a leader.  When there is a job to do, I join the team in whatever capacity will help them accomplish the task at hand.  The loyalty you gain is unprecedented.

If you have you been blessed to have such leaders in your life? I would love to hear your stories. Please share.

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Common Sense in uncommon situations works better than any policy

By now, you have all heard more than you want to know about the passenger physically removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight to make room for airline employees.

This surfaces only weeks after United Airlines did not allow some girls on a flight because they were in violation of the United Airlines dress code which they probably never heard of.

I wasn’t there in either case, so it’s difficult for me to say exactly what happened, so I have to rely on the media reports. What I read and see isn’t the way rational people should respond. I guess they were just following Company policy.

However, look at the avalanche of negative publicity resulting from following a perhaps outdated policy. Since the ‘overbooked’ incident, United Airlines lost $250 million in market value as competition swooped in to pick up the passengers who are refusing to fly United.

These incidents should inspire all of us to seek outdated policies and procedures in our organization, then make adjustments to avoid a loss of business and / or employee turnover.  Everyone is busy and you cannot possibly have a policy or procedure that deals with every situation, much less keep it updated all the time.  But not taking the time could cost you big time.

Take the time to make sure employees understand how to deal with unusual situations using common sense. Start by asking everyone on your team this question, “if you were me, and it were entirely up to you, what is one policy or procedure you would update tomorrow?” Then go do it.

In one article I read, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said United did not give its managers “the proper tools, policies, procedures” they needed to use “common sense.”

I love it. He should have thought about that sooner. Let’s all communicate the importance of using common sense in uncommon situations.

Start by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

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Leading with Integrity

Great Leaders makes mistakes, it is what follows the mistake that demonstrates true leadership.

Following graduation from the United States Naval Academy, Scott Waddle was commissioned an Ensign, a rank within the US Navy, and embarked on a 20-year career in the submarine force. In June of 1998 Waddle was handpicked from a highly competitive field of 250 officers to command the USS Greeneville, an improved Los Angeles class fast attack submarine.

On a fateful day in February, 2001, Commander Waddle’s life was forever changed when he gave orders to perform an emergency surface maneuver, inadvertently causing the 9,000 ton Navy submarine to collide with the Ehime Maru, a 500 ton Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine people on board.

Against the advice of his attorney and the Navy, Waddle took responsibility for the accident, was honorably discharged from the Navy, and retired from active duty as a Commander.

From this tragic event Waddle has learned that failure is not final, and the true measure of a man lies in how they endure crisis through challenging times. When you are a leader, integrity, responsibility and accountability are absolute.

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Transforming fear in to Empowerment

Do you ever allow fearful thoughts to erode your confidence and diminish your sense of empowerment? It’s a common trend for many people, and when you’re stuck in the midst of fear and uncertainty it can seem like an impossible task to pull yourself out of it.

However, fear and empowerment are actually like two opposite sides of the same coin. On one side is the belief that you are not strong or capable enough to handle challenges or life in general; while on the other side is the certainty that you are fully in control of your own life and have the power to triumph over adversity.

Transforming fear in to empowerment is as simple as flipping the coin so it lands on the other side! The “coin” in this example is a little thing called “perspective.”

In order to release fearful thoughts and become empowered, you need to be willing to see yourself and your life circumstances in a different light.

Many people believe that in order to empower themselves they need to have massive amounts of courage and inner strength, but that usually comes later. Instead, be willing to start small and empower yourself more gradually. Start with one small action that makes you feel nervous and push yourself to move forward and do it. As you face your fear and master one small challenge, you’ll begin to feel stronger and be willing to take on more, which will continue to build your strength and empower you.

Fearful thoughts often cause you to doubt yourself, which creates more fearful thoughts! To reverse this, begin affirming that you’re strong and capable as often as possible – and most especially when you begin to feel disempowered. Affirm not only your strength and capability, but your flexibility, resiliency and resourcefulness to handle anything that comes your way. The more you affirm it, the more you’ll begin to believe it.

See the unknown as a good thing. I know, not always easy.  Fear of the unknown is one major factor in feeling disempowered. You’ve likely gotten used to seeing the “unknown” (anything you have not encountered before) as a bad thing, with dangers and pitfalls waiting around every corner. Most often you don’t even know why you feel fearful, you just believe there is reason to feel that way! However, if you instead shift that perception to one of optimism and enthusiasm for the unknown, you’ll feel less threatened and develop the willingness to do and dare more.

When it comes right down to it, empowerment is usually nothing more than a choice; being willing to believe that you are stronger than any challenge or difficulty that arises. The more you focus on releasing fearful thoughts and strengthening your belief in yourself, the less intimidated you’ll feel by outer influences.

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Don’t Let Your Ego Stifle Feedback

Experienced leaders typically do their homework before presenting their ideas to their team.  However, all your communication style or behaviors may be intimidating, even to other experienced leaders.  Is your style preventing you from exploring better ideas and solutions for your business?

Try this.  The next time someone disagrees with your business idea, rather than defending your point  try to say a silent ‘thank you’ for the opportunity to test your ability to stay balanced and open to new ideas.  Then, listen to the other person’s input – really listen. Watch what happens.  It’s a pretty sure bet that the best of both ideas will combine to create one idea that is far more powerful than the sum of its parts.

I personally experienced this when several years ago when I was fairly new at an organization and I attended my first executive “collaboration” meeting.  The CEO discussed the benefits of our company partnering with another company to provide customers with specific benchmarking tools.  The customers had been asking for this component in our product for a long time and the CEO wanted to respond.  The company the CEO wanted to partner with was not a leader in the industry and really didn’t have a better tool than other similar companies.  The group discussed some other options, but the CEO was pretty adamant about his solution.

After the meeting some of us went to lunch and discussed the value of the proposed partnership.  To my surprise not one individual on that team supported the CEO’s idea of partnering with this company.  They expressed some very valid reasons for exploring other options.  I asked, “why didn’t you speak up”?  The table got very quiet.  One of my colleagues started laughing and said “it really doesn’t matter”.  I was still confused and told them it was vital that they speak up before the company spent all this time, resources and dollars on something they unanimously agreed wasn’t going to be effective.  Another colleague said I didn’t understand.  He said, this is your first meeting.  Those that know me will tell you that not understanding was not an option for me, so I continued to push.  Turns out although the meetings were supposed to be collaborative, anyone who disagreed with the CEO was doused pretty quickly.  Long story short, we went through with the CEO’s suggested partnership and it failed miserably.  In the end some of the suggestions we discussed at lunch almost 9 months earlier would have been far more effective for the company and its customers.

Too often, better ideas are stifled by egos.  One reason that even large organizations wither is that leaders feel they can’t challenge the old, comfortable ways of doing things.  Real leaders understand that their job changes daily as the business and customer needs change. The proper response is to change our activities to meet those changes before someone else does.  Effective leaders offer and welcome different perspectives.

So, this ‘silent thank you’ when you least feel like it may take practice and restraint, but it is fast to become a habit when you see, first hand, the results of not needing your idea to be THE ONE.