Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Praise or Flattery? Know the Difference

We’re all inundated with the message that successful leaders give praise.  Maybe praising other people even comes easily to you.  But it’s important to remember that all of your congratulatory high-fives are not equally effective—or even welcome.

Flattery is about something that someone has no control over and did nothing to earn. Praise, however, acknowledges performance, behavior,
or character.

Flattery: “You’re a great dresser; you look like a leader.”

Praise: “You delivered a complex project on time and built solid relationships. That was first-class.”

Application: Praise is desirable but has to be earned to make a difference to the recipient. Flattery can leave people feeling
like a Cocker Spaniel who just received a pat on the head.

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The talent you bet the house on is not worth the money!

Late last year one of my clients was recruiting for a senior level marketing manager.  They decided to use a recruiting firm with a
hefty price tag I might add.  It was down to three candidates and they selected what appeared to be a “superstar”.   The candidate promised to deliver, the company paid high dollar and expected a big return on its investment.

However, from the start it didn’t seem that this individual was doing what they committed to do.  No new ideas, no new customers, and the company did a better job of creating marketing campaigns on their own.  They couldn’t understand how all the references, background checks and conversations indicated this person was going to be a real superstar for them and yet it wasn’t working out that way.

This is where I came in.  They explained the circumstances leading up to the employment offer and the lack of performance since the start date.  After some research, I determined that although their new hire had been a superstar in the past it had been under very specific circumstances and this company’s requirements were a little more demanding.  My recommendation, make a change now before too much time passes.  They may also want to look at any guarantees the recruiting agency offered.

So, what can you do when your own star performer suddenly loses his/her luster?

Ask yourself these three questions:

What is the upside to keeping him on board? Talented performers are the spice of every organization. It is not merely that they are good at their jobs. They deliver exponentially, that is, they deliver in multiples – ideas, productivity and results. And often they do it with ease. But the upside lasts only as long as the star shines.

What is the downside to keeping him?
Just as stars perform well, when they fail, they often do so spectacularly.  Often their performance carries the team, so when star slips, the team does, too. Also, there is the issue of maintenance. The effort managers must expend coddling star talent can cause discord in a team or  organization. Less gifted, but still productive, employees resent the favoritism bestowed on the superstar.

Is this situation going to change? You need to evaluate the performer’s resiliency.   Successful leaders face hardships and emerge better for the experience. Many superstar performers have fragile egos; one setback – a failed project or a denied promotion – can set them back forever.
They may never recover. Such people are talented but they have not learned what it takes to succeed when the odds are stacked high.

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Delayed Gratification

You can change lots of “things” in an instant – but not people. When it comes to making professional changes, we need to allow time for people to put any new information into context, validate it from their perspective and try it out in some way.  Only then can they really figure out what and
how much to change. Then they decide the ‘when?’ question. If you’re a manager or lead people in some way, you probably get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people develop and grow.  Sometimes the gratification doesn’t come right away, but delayed gratification is part of being a leader.  Your job is to coach; giving time is part of the game.

The Exception

When managing a performance issue, the game changes: it’s your job to set the deadline for ‘when?’ Be clear about the urgency (when) and the context (why). This can help speed up the learning process or enable the individual to realize, “This isn’t for me.”  If they don’t realize it
during the set timeframe, you need to make a decision and act upon it.

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I’ll be happy when ???

“I’ll be happy when….” is the way many people think as they are living their lives. Yet, happiness is not something that happens to you. Happiness comes from the inside.  What do you need to have, to allow happiness to surface?

Happiness = K (knowing who you are) X D (discovering your life’s work) X L (learning not to tolerate what’s not important).

That’s the formula for happiness–know yourself, your true calling and that you get what you tolerate.  By the way sometimes your true calling is exactly what you do everyday.

When you know your innate signature talents, your values, assumptions/beliefs, guiding principles, vision and passions are you
able to bring your true self to your professional and personal lives.

In medicine, you look at how ‘well tolerated’ a drug will be related to its side effects. At work and at home, many people evaluate new
opportunities related to what can be well tolerated.

Yet after life, most people don’t want their tombstone to read, ‘He tolerated stuff for other people because they paid him.’  Especially, when we realize that we can make more money and have more fun doing work that engages our passions. Life is too  short for doing work you don’t enjoy for people you don’t respect.

Your Life Signature is the tracing of the talents you are given and how you express them in your life and in everything you do.

Food for thought for your Monday morning.


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Stop problems before they start

We’ve all read or heard the old English nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty who fell from that darned wall. Humpty was irreversibly damaged  and could not be put back together again.

In business, we spend a lot of effort fixing what has been broken, rather than preventing the breakage in the first place. Think of your own organization and recall how much effort went into trying to fix that last big problem that could have been critical to your business and, ultimately, sales and earnings. No doubt that once the issue reared its ugly head, you went into fire drill mode, running around to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it immediately, as measured in hours and days, not weeks and months.

Stop and think about the cost, the interruption factor and diversion of effort this “pick up the pieces” exercise inflicted on the organization. Key people had to drop everything and scramble, not to make a penny but to stop the loss. Of course, every business periodically hits a slick spot and has to maneuver quickly to regain control; it comes with the territory.

Wouldn’t it have been easier, however, to prevent the crisis before it became one? Just ask BP about its oil spill last year and what it cost in hard dollars (or pounds), not to mention the almost irreparable harm to its reputation and perhaps long-term future. This is a dramatic case of failing
to take the necessary steps to avoid the oil damage itself, as well as the near cataclysmic peripheral stumbles made in handling communications. The poor PR efforts are what really pushed BP’s Humpty Dumpty, aka the Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Horizon spill, off that proverbial wall. What actions can your company take to ensure you don’t encounter your own Humpty Dumpty?

Sure some companies have risk management programs, which involve assessing potential dangers, working to prevent them and determining
the costs if the unimaginable does occur. Unfortunately, too many companies apply the risk management thought process only to issues that are most associated with accidents. The Humpty Dumpty theory has to be extended to all areas of a business, from customer service to employee productivity and everything in between.

It starts with paying attention and sweating the small stuff and taking action when the first whiff of a problem occurs. It’s almost a gut
feeling that surfaces when good executives encounter something that just doesn’t seem right. Call it a sixth sense, but it can happen at any time and in some of the most unusual places.

As an example, you’re reviewing an internal report on an important new project, and as you study the material, something just doesn’t
seem right. The numbers add up, but nonetheless you know that all the dots aren’t connecting as they should — you’re just not sure what’s wrong. You put the report down for a minute, and start addressing something else and then it hits you.    A subtle yet critical step was omitted from the plan. Now that you’ve found the missing piece, you make a few calls and a potential problem that could have easily transformed into a big
issue is squelched.

These same gut feelings apply to “reading” people, not necessarily by what they say or do but many times by what they don’t say or do.
Here’s another scenario, your biggest supplier, best customer or employee  normally touches base with you like clockwork, sometimes if only to say hello. One day you realize you’ve not heard from this individual recently. You wonder what’s up with this? However, you’re busy and the thought quickly passes.

Big mistake.

You should have picked up the phone, found out what the story was, and if there was an issue brewing, fixed it then and there.

It all gets down to trusting your instincts and recognizing when your Humpty Dumpty might be leaning too close to the wall’s edge. That’s
the same wall from which anything can topple and shatter beyond repair.  Preventing that from occurring requires paying attention, looking for telltale signs of change and then being perceptive enough to know that there is something that needs scrutiny — even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why or what.

The risk in your own little kingdom is that when your Humpty Dumpty falls you may not have enough of the King’s horses and men to put the
pieces back together again.