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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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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Serious Kindness

The best advice I can give to a new manager is to be kind and caring and make the world a better place for your employees. This does not mean that you should be a pushover or a patsy. You still need to get your work done, be a star performer, etc. but serious kindness gets you serious results.

It’s not always easy to be kind. It’s hard when you have to tell people with no talent for what they are doing that they are in the wrong field or when you have to terminate someone and tell them this will help them find what they are good at. Equally hard is when you have to tell a person who has lots of talent and skill that their co-workers really don’t like them because of their communication style, sarcasm, negativity, oh and let’s not forget “body odor” and that if they don’t improve (correct) they may not succeed in their role.  This is difficult news to pass on, and managers who don’t care ignore the problem or shuffle the person off to a new, unsuspecting manager. A kind boss helps a person find a new path, and sometimes that means termination.

Many times in my role I have to help people see why their current job is not a good fit for them. As a manager, you are a counselor, helping people to see their highest potential be it with you or at another type of position or another type of company.

As a manager you are in a position to make peoples’ lives better. You can give them more interesting work, better coaching, more flexibility, as well as other things that you have always wanted in a job, and you should do that.

But, don’t go overboard. The company comes first. And your job is to be the best for your company. Which is everyone’s job. You get an opportunity to manage people because you are going to make things better for the company. The company wants happy workers, but not at the expense of effective workers.

So here’s another piece of advice for new managers: Success is about balance. A good manager balances the needs of his/her company and the needs of his/her employees, and after that, a good manager uses his/her power over peoples’ lives to make the world a better place.

The cynics of the world will say, “That’s not realistic. I never got that.” But don’t ask yourself if you ever got that. Ask yourself if you ever gave it. It is possible to go through your life doing good deeds and just trusting that they’ll come back to you, in some way. Management is the power to make a difference. Do that, without wondering what you’ll get in return.


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One of the hardest things for leaders (and all people, for that matter) to deal with is criticism. We all want to be right, do right and have others consistently agree with and admire us. But every leader who has been around for even a short while knows that criticism is part and parcel of the experience. There is simply no way of avoiding it.

Consider all of history’s greatest leaders. Regardless of their era and role, every person that we would associate with positively changing the course of history was censured during his or her lifetime, often in scathing, relentless terms. It makes no difference whether they were people of great character or not. Nor did it matter if they were on the winning side of the argument or struggle. If they stood for a cause, led a nation or advanced a noteworthy agenda, then they were at times discouraged, condemned and perhaps even physically impeded from achieving their goals and aspirations.

If fact, why would anyone want to assume a leadership position when the potential for constant critique and pushback looms large? Why would anyone want to risk affecting their relationships with friends, colleagues, co-workers and other associates in order to assume a leadership post?

The answer, of course, is that leaders want to make a difference. They recognize that change is not easy for people and that any efforts that demand of others will invariably draw criticism. But they push forward anyway as they deem appropriate, knowing that criticism is simply society’s way of saying that what you’re doing matters and deserves attention.

Of course, there are many things that leaders could and should do to gain support and buy-in, such as building equity, developing a values system, and communicating (and listening) well. Still, there is no leader worth his or her weight in salt that can expect to adequately fulfill their responsibilities without experiencing meaningful criticism and backlash at times.  Change initiatives are in many ways similar. They can be painful at present, affecting staffing levels, roles, reporting, workloads, work processes or similar things. But often these changes are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the organization.  Sure, leaders need to account for what they do, how they do it, and the impact that it may have on their constituents. But they must also possess the courage and drive to advance change that they believe is proper and necessary. The backlash that they will invariably receive is not necessarily the result of anything bad that they did. Quite the contrary — it may, in fact, be the best indicator that they are on the right path and are doing what is necessary to genuinely fulfill their leadership duties.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston S. Churchill


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What does poor communication cost businesses?

Between reduced productivity, lost talent and other direct and indirect losses, a recent Unify survey indicates lackluster communication can cost businesses up to $5,000 per employee each year. Communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require thought and care.

A cornerstone of business communication is the feedback system, whether formal – by way of performance reviews, or informal – addressing an employee’s performance (good or bad) and outlining potential course corrections.

Feedback, especially among a leadership team, is critical to a business leader’s growth and decision-making. Frequently, however, the idea of feedback – what it really means – gets misconstrued. Sometimes those in leadership positions think they are providing proper feedback when they simply reprimand an employee as a result of a mistake or error.  And while it is important to address mistakes and errors, as C-Level leaders, feedback is often inefficient because there’s no plan in place for these types of communications. “Gotcha” leadership is no leadership at all.

Some of the common feedback mistakes include examples like an executive giving his/her opinion instead of stating facts, another making sarcastic and/or disparaging remarks about an employee’s error, and still another would be to berate an employee in such a way that it changes the very subject of the conversation – the employee’s performance, and shifted it to “what the heck did I do to deserve this?” then subsequently having a discussion that yields no positive outcome regarding individual growth.

In order to correct (or sustain) performance, we need to engage employees and improve the business enterprise, proper feedback needs to be helpful (first and foremost), as well as relevant and timely.

To be clear: feedback is information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve. If a leader isn’t trying to help someone grow/improve, he or she isn’t providing feedback. Criticism, more than likely, but not feedback. A true leader finds ways to sincerely help subordinates, not use veiled criticism or overt tongue-lashings. Face it; it doesn’t take much skill to be a jerk.

In addition to being helpful to an individual employee, feedback in business should be helpful to the enterprise as a whole. Leaders must think beyond performance reviews and reactive feedback necessitated by a mistake or problem. Take a proactive approach to feedback by identifying and focusing on the desirable behaviors and making corrections as needed, but in a thoughtful manner. Feedback is most effective when leaders take the time and attention to outline a proactive communication plan, instead of relying on performance reviews during which the manager will feel obligated to restate old one-liners and stock company blurbs. Or worse, a software solution that fills in the wording automatically.

If feedback isn’t relevant and engaging, leaders are wasting their time. Non-specific feedback, at best, leaves the employee wondering how he or she can improve or avoid making the same error(s) in the future; at worst, non-specific feedback leaves the employee totally confused and unmotivated to improve performance. Vague communication at performance reviews leads to misunderstanding and often future meetings to better clarify the feedback given.

Relevant, engaging feedback is personal and tailored to ensure the employee can actually comprehend the message. Before a leader begins the dialog, he or she needs to begin with the end in mind. Determine if the goal is to simply win an argument, or if the goal is to act as a change agent for an employee (trying to change behavior). Hopefully, the desired outcome is to improve the employee’s performance, and the leader can dedicate a little time and heartfelt effort to preparing for the communication, to decrease the likelihood that the topic of the feedback will be subject matter next time around.

Leaders should also give feedback in a way and at a time that can be best received by the employee. Let’s say a marketing executive makes a boneheaded snafu in a press release by mistakenly using 2013 sales data instead of intended data from 2014 – the latter of which provides a year-to-year profit bump of 20 percent. If the CEO would rather string the EVP of Marketing up outside the window than speak in a helpful and relevant manner, then perhaps the CEO should wait a bit before talking with the marketing chief. That’s not to say that a reprimand be avoided, but only that feedback should be practical to the event, behavior or action that necessitated the discussion and provided at a time when its relevance can be best understood.

Certainly, threat of a severe reprimand may help prevent such an error from occurring in the future, but does it improve the EVP of Marketing? Does it benefit the whole enterprise, or merely lend credence to the longstanding belief that the head honcho tolerates no mistakes and, thus, can be impossible to work for? Timely, responsive feedback fosters awareness and understanding, creating an environment focused on personal and professional growth; growth that positively impacts the entire enterprise. The sooner employees recognize that and truly believe that is the environment in which they work, the better the organization will be.

Leadership success is established and developed through helpful, relevant and timely feedback. Feedback fosters trust, and trust is the currency of leadership. The more employees believe in their leaders, the more comfortable they will be providing feedback and helpful insight to their managers. Proper feedback – provided, accepted and acted upon – creates a system of learning after every mistake, making them, therefore, easier to swallow. Employees crave feedback that improves them professionally, and perhaps personally as well. Without it, leaders may only get what they pay for and not an ounce of effort more.  And perhaps as damaging – the organization may have a very difficult time retaining talent.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And in this case, an ounce of prevention may be worth $5,000 per employee per year.


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Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.

If I could teach only one value to live by, it would be this: Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose, so never allow yourself to ever do anything that would damage your integrity.

We live in a world where integrity isn’t talked about nearly enough. We live in a world where “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many. Sales people over promise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quota for the month. Applicants exaggerate in job interviews because they desperately need a job. CEOs overstate their projected earnings because they don’t want the board of directors to replace them.

Investors understate a company’s value in order to negotiate a lower valuation in a deal. Customer service representatives cover up a mistake they made because they are afraid the client will leave them. The list could go on and on, and in each case the person committing the act of dishonesty told themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity.

It may seem like people can gain power quickly and easily if they are willing to cut corners and act without the constraints of morality. Dishonesty may provide instant gratification in the moment but it will never last. I can think of several examples of people without integrity who are successful and who win without ever getting caught, which creates a false perception of the path to success that one should follow. After all, each person in the examples above could have gained the result they wanted in the moment, but unfortunately, that momentary result comes at an incredibly high price with far reaching consequences.  That person has lost their ability to be trusted as a person of integrity, which is the most valuable quality anyone can have in their life. Profit in dollars or power is temporary, but profit in a network of people who trust you as a person of integrity is forever.

Every one person who trusts you will spread the word of that trust to at least a few of their associates, and word of your character will spread like wildfire. The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured.  For entrepreneurs it means investors that are willing to trust them with their money. For employees it means a manager or a boss that is willing to trust them with additional responsibility and growth opportunities. For companies it means customers that trust giving them more and more business. For you it means having an army of people that are willing to go the extra mile to help you because they know that recommending you to others will never bring damage to their own reputation of integrity. Yes, the value of the trust others have in-you goes beyond anything that can be measured because it brings along with it limitless opportunities and endless possibilities.

Contrast that with the person who cannot be trusted as a person of integrity.  Warren Buffet, said it well: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”  A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may not be today, and it may not be for many years, but you can rest assured that at some point there will always be a reckoning.

A word of advice to those who are striving for a reputation of integrity: Avoid those who are not trustworthy. Do not do business with them. Do not associate with them. Do not make excuses for them.  Do not allow yourself to get enticed into believing that “while they may be dishonest with others, they would never be dishonest with me.” If someone is dishonest in any aspect of his life you can be guaranteed that he will be dishonest in many aspects of his life. You cannot dismiss even those little acts of dishonesty, such as the person who takes two newspapers from the stand when they paid for only one. After all, if a person cannot be trusted in the simplest matters of honesty then how can they possibly be trusted to uphold lengthy and complex business contracts?

It is important to realize that others pay attention to those you have chosen to associate with, and they will inevitably judge your character by the character of your friends. Inevitably we become more and more like the people we surround ourselves with day to day. If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll surely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity.

Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Remember, success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.