Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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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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As companies grow, they may outgrow some key employees

So you have an employee or a few employees who have been with you for a long time. He or she has proven to be a great performer over the years. You’ve probably built significant rapport and loyalty with this person or person’s. Unfortunately employees don’t always grow with entrepreneurial companies.  This is one of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur or new executive.

As companies grow, they tend to outgrow some of their employees. That’s not surprising: it’s hard for fast-growing organizations to provide enough time and development for employees to keep up with ever evolving needs of the organization.

I’ve seen many examples of owners, entrepreneur’s, CEOs starting small businesses or division with 3 to 5 people. One or two people outshines everyone with their commitment, knowledge and execution.  The owner begins trusting an individual because they know the person can be relied upon to get things done.  And typically their strengths are very different from the owner’s core strengths, so the value to the owner is tremendous in growing the business.

As the business begins to grow, however, a different reality sets in.  Expanding into a company with 20, then 30, and then 40 employees may require a different skill set.  The company may need a different type of leader.  The employee who’s great with your 20, 30, or 40-employee Company will not necessarily be the person to run and operate a business with 300 employees.

Often, I think we can recognize this in our gut, but because of the loyalty we’ve built up, we have a hard time determining and actually deciding to take action.  We let the issue fester, then it only gets worse.

The best way to deal with this situation is by addressing it head-on.

As soon as you notice the issue, or have a gut feeling that you might have one, address it with the employee.  Talk with them about how roles change rapidly in a growing company and ask them how they are feeling about how they are keeping up.

You may find the conversation alone heads off the issue.  Perhaps the person simply hasn’t realized that what is required of them has changed.  This will call it out to them.

Perhaps they are truly struggling and don’t know how to deal with the issue themselves.  This will open up the dialogue necessary to help them get past it.

Perhaps they believe they can make the jump.  This will give you the opportunity to discuss expectations and put them squarely on the table.

In most cases, employees who are struggling with this issue are more uncomfortable than you are.  Putting the possibility on the table (in the right way) communicates your respect for them as a person and gives them the opportunity to dispel the myth or be part of the solution.

Discuss alternatives.

After your initial conversation, your hunch should be either quickly dispelled or rapidly confirmed.  Once it is confirmed, it’s time to discuss alternatives.  If the individual recognizes the issue, discuss alternatives.

Perhaps the role has grown large enough that it should be split into two.  Perhaps there is a new role that is more aligned with their skill-set.

Because you have addressed the issue proactively, you do not have a performance issue.  Instead, you have an organizational optimization issue.  Work together to overcome it.

Part ways, respectfully.

Unfortunately, in many cases an employee is unable to recognize that the company has grown beyond their capabilities in a certain role.  Still others recognize it but are unwilling to embrace change.  They want to hold on to the role that they feel is rightfully theirs.

In both of these situations, it is important that you part ways, respectfully.

I have found over and over again that dragging this process out is painful and detrimental to both the individual and the employee.  It is most often a relief to both your organization and the employee if you take swift action.  When you do, remember, this was your go-to employee.  Take care of them.  Offer them a nice package and celebrate their success as they move on to their next challenge.


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Coaching for Personality Preferance

Not everyone is motivated by the same thing or in the same way. Personality preferences influence both the coach and the person being coached. For the coach, certain approaches and methods will come more naturally, depending on their personality. For example, if the coach is generally outgoing, he or she may be likely to expect the person being coached to be able to talk things through in the moment. Enough time may not be allotted for some who is introspective and needs to think about things. Conversely, if the coach has a preference for introversion, he or she may expect the person being coached to find great value in thinking through things ahead of time, rather than talking things out.

You can’t necessarily fulfill everyone’s wishes, but it’s crucial to understand what makes them tick.

I’m not saying either approach is wrong. It’s just a simple example of a complex topic.  A coach needs to be able to recognize his or her own personality preference as just that – a preference. And, the coach needs to approach each coaching situation with curiosity– to discover the style preferences of the person being coached – before determining the coaching methodology.  It means, do unto others as they would have you do unto them. It recognizes that you have to take yourself out of the situation and look at it as if you’re viewing other people playing your role. You have to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes and really empathize with them. But it’s also just as important to see yourself as others see you. If you can do that, it gives you a 360-degree view, and then you have more understanding. It doesn’t make a hard job easier, but it gives you a framework.


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Corporate Vision – Does your team need one?

The only things more painful to read than most corporate mission statements are corporate vision statements.  Many vision statements are written by committee.  They start out direct, clear and compelling but as everyone involved has their turn at contributing their input those visions lose their luster.  The direct parts of the vision get watered down as not to offend, exclude or intimidate people.  Also, things are added to the vision because people want to ensure that their pet function or goal is included in the vision statement and this lengthens the document and makes it more confusing.

Eventually some vision statements come to look more like a bill that has moved through Congress, where everyone involved has tacked on their personal amendment, than they do a compelling articulation of what the organization will be in the future.

Before you go skipping forward with the defense that you do not write vision statements at the corporate level, you must realize you are responsible for setting direction for your team.  You as a leader must create a vision statement for your team when your team is large enough to warrant having one.  Any team that is responsible for a discrete organizational function should have a vision.  It doesn’t matter if that team is as small as five people or as large as five thousand.  You can write a powerful vision statement as long as all members of that team are focused on delivering the same goals in the same functional area.

Whatever your situation or your title happens to be, the simple fact remains – you need to articulate a vision for the future state of your organization or team.  We usually leave this up to the C-suite but writing a vision statement at any level is a powerful exercise.  Your people want to be excited to come to work.  They want to be part of something bigger than they are.  If you can paint a compelling future picture for them, they will be more excited to follow you to that destination.  If you do not paint that picture, they are likely following you out of laziness or just morbid curiosity to see what is going to happen.  The earlier in your career you learn how to create vision statements the more successful you will be at writing them as your responsibilities expand.

Writing a vision statement requires a great deal of thought and an ability to step outside of your daily grind and into a time beyond the foreseeable future.  When you write it you need to make it concise and it must clearly explain how your organization creates value.  This value creation component is easier to articulate than you might think.  Ask yourself “what will the business outcomes and results be if I achieve this component of my vision?”  Your vision should include several key phrases and you should be able to link each phrase to a desired business outcome.

To create your vision, look five years into the future and ask yourself what your organization should look like.  Using a five-year planning window will generally help you balance between being achievable but not too ambiguous.  This is because it is a short enough time frame for you and your team to have a measurable impact and feel like you have made progress, but it is far enough in the future that you can be aspirational in how you describe that vision without protests of “we’ll never achieve that goal in that short an amount of time!”  Conversely, visions set beyond five years into the future can lead your team to feel like the world will change so much over that period that the vision will be neither achievable nor relevant.

Below are some thought starters to assist you with tackling this big question. Do your best to answer as many of them as you can even if at first glance the question does not apply.

– How big will your organization be?  How will you define its scope?
– What new skills will your team members have?
– What new capabilities will you build over this time period?
– How will the way you work with other groups change?
– What should your customers, both internal and external, expect from you?
– What will set your team apart and distinguish it when it is compared to other teams?
– What is your future vision for your team?
– Will they be excited by it?
– What aspects of it will they find inspiring?

Once you have drafted a preliminary set of answers to these questions look at all the answers as pieces of a bigger puzzle.  Create the most powerful elements into the simplest statement you can.  Write down the statement that captures what your team is all about.  That is your first rough draft of a vision.  As you evaluate the resulting vision ask yourself:

– Is my vision clear on how my organization creates value?
– Is the vision ambitious but realistically possible?
– Is the vision worth pursuing and does it win people’s commitment?
– Does the vision explain how we differentiate ourselves from competitors?
– Is the vision concise and does it consist of only a few critical words?

How does the first draft of your vision stack up against these questions?  If you are not happy with your vision relative to these questions, continue to revise it until you are.