One of the most popular workshops I lead is called “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team” based on Patrick Lencioni’s best-selling book by the same name. It’s a bit of a misnomer because it sounds judgmental. (“Oh, your team is so dysfunctional, you need to read this!”) The truth is that in order to be most effective, every team has to overcome these dysfunctions because all teams are made up of human beings.
Perhaps that’s why one particular exercise in the workshop always makes an impact. The workshop is very interactive with helpful exercises that generate a lot of group conversations about things that really help the team overcome dysfunctional behavior. One exercise, however, always causes more than a few raised eyebrows. Near the end of the workshop, each participant is asked to write down one strength about every team member that he/she appreciates. After giving time for them to do it, we go around the table and each person shares what he/she wrote about Joe, then Sharon, then Jack, etc.
If you are a supervisor, you might be thinking, “That would never work with my team because there is so much animosity,” or “That would never work with my team because my team is made up of a tough bunch of men and they don’t share their feelings like that.” But after doing this workshop in a number of places with all kinds of different teams, my reply would be, “Not so fast, my friend, not so fast!” My experience is that, regardless of the makeup of the team, the participants not only really engage in this, they actually relish the opportunity to both give and receive encouragement.
Afterwards, people say things like, “We’ve never done anything like this before,” “It’s a shame we have to come to a class before we say things like this,” or “I had no idea people felt this way about me.” Supervisors seem amazed at how deeply simple words of respect, acknowledgment, and appreciation touch employees.
Frankly, sometimes it even surprises me. Inevitably, there is a new bond within the team after this exercise. In fact, sometimes the men, who seem to be less inclined to verbally affirm others, actually open up the most.
Why do teams love this exercise so much? Perhaps it’s because it brings together two powerful truths that we sometimes forget. First, as human beings we need encouragement to do our best; and second, the more we give, the more we receive. You don’t have to hold a workshop to experience this. Just try giving some sincere encouragement to the people around you. You might be surprised how powerful your words really are.
They are all around us.
Buzzwords and catch phrases.
You know, those words and phrases we use because everyone is using them. In training and development, it could be words like, “andragogy” or phrases like “blended learning.” We can also toss out concepts like “running a Lean organization.”
Here’s the thing though. Using buzzwords and catch phrases can actually hurt your organization if you use them to sound “in the know” versus using them to increase corporate knowledge.
The truth is there are no shortcuts to expertise. Before you start throwing around buzzwords or catchphrases, make sure you are able to “walk the talk.” Here are a few suggestions:
- Watch what you bring back from seminars – We go to seminars and get pumped up. We hear success stories that are sure to work in our context, and we return all fired up and ready to roll out a revolutionary program that is going to change the way we do business. While I am a fan of seminars, I think it is important to note that many presenters who speak at such gatherings achieve expertise over years of study and practice—not during one seminar. Come back from the seminar. Do tons of research. Contemplate costs, energies, long-term goals, etc., and then gradually begin implementing what you are learning over time—not just snippets of what you learned at a two-day conference.
- Wearing a jersey doesn’t make you a football player – You probably know this, but you can buy jerseys that are just like the same jerseys pro football players wear. They come from the same company. Heck, you can even buy a jersey that was worn in an actual game! But just because you can wear a real jersey, doesn’t mean you can play professional football. The same is true of buzzwords and catch phrases. Just because I use them, doesn’t mean I can revolutionize a company with them. Think in terms of a manager who says, “We need to start using Lean terms around here,” but doesn’t know how to construct a simple flowchart. Get what I’m saying?
- Purpose in our process – Everyone seems to be in a hurry today. No matter what they’re doing. Organizations can fall into the same trap! When it comes to developing your people, embracing the false narrative that one or two training events annually should suffice is truly short sighted. Instead, follow the counsel of performance improvement guru Richard Swanson who notes, “Developing expertise is not an event. It is a purposeful journey.”
Walk the talk, my friends. Your organization will be better for it.
I watched my recorded 65th anniversary broadcast of NBC 5 last night. The station went on the air in 1948—the first television station in Texas. Can I make a confession? I fast-forwarded through a bunch of it. Just a few seconds on the hand-drawn weather maps were enough to tell me: yes, I am glad there have been some innovations, and we do things better now—more animation, more graphics, more motion and color, and much better radar. The program got me thinking about changes and innovations, good and bad, through the years. And for some reason, the CueCat came to mind.
I remember that the CueCat just “arrived” at our house. I could not tell you the date, even the year. I remember holding it in my hand and thinking, “This seems pretty dumb.” And I have no idea whatever happened to my CueCat.
It came to our house to use with our Dallas Morning News. I think I was supposed to plug it into my computer, sit at my computer with my newspaper and the CueCat in hand, and whenever I read an article and wanted to know more or saw an advertisement and wanted to go to the website of the advertiser, I was supposed to run it over some bar code to scan the bar code, and then a website would magically appear on my computer screen.
I never used it. Not once.
(The Dallas Morning News took a $37 million write off on the CueCat. $37 million!)
Not easy and not convenient. In fact, in retrospect, borderline… stupid!
I think I speak for many when I say, “WHAT WERE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?”
Here’s what I think they were thinking: “Cool. This looks new, neat, and cutting edge. Let’s invest a mini-fortune in it, and we’ll be the wonders of our city and our country.”
Now, I’m a big fan of good innovation. It is critical to business advancement and business success. Very few businesses will stay in business if they fail to change, to tweak, to improve, and, yes, to innovate in products and processes.
And I know all the admonitions—you have to be willing to fail many times in order to succeed. You have to be careful about “punishing failure.” But, a bad idea is a bad idea no matter how well it is produced.
I don’t know if the folks who brought us the CueCat learned from their failure, went on to some much better idea, and succeeded spectacularly; but the CueCat does remind us that not all innovations are good, are they?
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
One trait that almost every great leader possesses is the ability to empathize with others. Empathy may or may not come naturally to you, but if you want to raise your leadership abilities to the next level, cultivate a greater sense of empathy. Having empathy for someone does not imply that you agree with them or excuse poor behavior, but it does mean that you deliberately and honestly look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.
Empathy helps create one of the most critical ingredients needed for successful relationships: trust. Anytime that a team is not functioning effectively, the first question a leader should ask is, “How high is the trust between us?” Trust may not be missing, but if it is, there’s nothing a leader can do to compensate for its absence.
What does trust have to do with empathy? Empathy helps create trust in at least two ways. First, if you as the leader can empathize with others, your trust in them is likely to rise. Secondly, when people sense that someone empathizes with them, their trust in that person rises as well. However, take away empathy, and trust can wither like a flower in a drought.
How can a leader cultivate a greater sense of empathy?
- Take time to get to know people. Discover their backgrounds. Learn about their family, their aspirations, and their lives outside of work. Find out how the work that others do lessens or adds to their workload. Dare to ask the question, “How am I, as a leader, impacting their lives? Is it possible that I am, inadvertently, adding unnecessary stress?”
- Listen without being defensive. We often feel crunched for time and this impacts our interactions with people more than we care to admit. Consequently, it is not uncommon for leaders to start formulating their answers, rebuttals, and rationales even while the other person is speaking. The result? We are too busy forming our defense to actually listen. Most people do not expect to get their way on everything, but they do long for someone to listen to them.
- Think humbly about yourself. You may not see the connection between thinking about yourself and feeling empathy for others, but there is a definite connection. We tend to attribute our own successes to the strength of our character, while attributing the success of others to their environment. (“I had to work to get to where I am in life, but, look how easy she had it!”) This inflated perception of our own character crushes the quality of empathy. Thinking a bit more realistically about ourselves frees us to think a bit more empathetically about others.
I don’t catch many shows on TV, but one show that I do enjoy watching when I stumble upon it is Undercover Boss.
The premise of the show is that an executive of a company disguises his or herself and infiltrates into one of that company’s franchises as a “blue collar” position. CEOs become cashiers, company presidents become salesmen, etc.
After working in the undercover role for a while, the boss starts realizing the difficulties the entry-level jobs face. (And sometimes those hardships are within the control of the executive to change.) Without fail, the executive starts seeing circumstances and making decisions based on what he or she experienced working on the front line.
“Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins you can’t imagine the smell.”
– Robert Byrne, American Author
The most reasonable bosses I have had were ones who started from the bottom and worked their way up. Not only do they know what they’re talking about—they have the work experience in the position they are affecting to back that knowledge up.
I’m pretty sure a police department would like a police chief who worked years in various public safety positions, rather than someone who just has a lot of formal education and certifications. The same applies to virtually any department that comes to mind.
A leader who cannot put themselves in the shoes of others—and realize what the job titles under their management entails and how a decision may affect the people doing those jobs—is nothing but a talking head piece. The education is there, but the proficiency to make sound executive decisions is not.
Even though you probably don’t have time to spend days doing the tasks of every worker on your team, think like an undercover boss. Get to know what the people you supervise do. Know how they spend their day, what their work frustrations may be, and how their job duties directly affect yours. You’ll gain a greater appreciation for them, and the way you make important decisions will change for the better.
Leaders do not have the luxury of saying, “This is who I am. They will just have to understand that this is how I _____________ .” You can fill in the blank with a lot of words: communicate, motivate, lead, show appreciation, correct, etc. The point is that everything has an impact on the way people perceive us as leaders. That perception of us makes a huge difference in how effective we are as leaders. Notice, it’s more, much more, about their perception of us, than it is our perception of ourselves.
Certainly there are things that we may not be able to change about ourselves. For example, I know of a great leader who has a speech impediment. He has worked hard throughout life to correct it, and he has made substantial progress in overcoming it. Nevertheless, it still shows up at times. This has not kept him, however, from becoming a great leader and a great communicator. He has mastered the technique of, while working to minimize it, knowing how to use it in a disarming way to help him be more effective.
You may be able to think of things about yourself that you have limited control over changing. Certain things about our physical body may fall into this category.
However, when it comes to leadership and communication skills, I would suggest that simply saying, “That’s the way I am” is not the best way to approach weaknesses. For example, saying, “The tone of voice that you hear me use is not really me, it’s just how I sound” is refusing to accept ownership for how you are impacting the people around you. The burden of communication is largely upon the shoulders of the sender. If you recognize that your tone of voice is not congruent with the intent of the heart, why would you expect the receiver of the message to “decipher” that? Perhaps it is simply easier to use the tone of voice that you’ve always used rather than to develop the discipline of self-awareness and self-control; but leaders, great leaders, do not have that luxury.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and spending too much energy on improving your weaknesses may not be the best use of your time. However, no matter how strong your strengths are, if your weaknesses are “deal breakers,” then these weaknesses, not your strengths, will be the thermostat that controls your effectiveness.
Maybe it’s time for a self-checkup. Take a look at it from the other side of the table. If you didn’t “know” the real you, would you follow the “surface” you? If you aren’t so sure, maybe the truth is that explains why they aren’t either.
This is the last post in a five-part series on SMART Goals. To review, we noted that goals should be:
When helping employees create SMART goals, it is wise to make sure a time element is involved, if possible. This can be a little tricky if the goal is highly technical or will involve a lot of time to accomplish. In that case, consider establishing objectives to act as guides related to speed and benchmarks.
To illustrate, think about various instruments and signage that assist you when traveling from point “A” to point “B.” Each mile marker lets you know how far you’ve come and how far you have to go. Your speedometer tells you how fast you are traveling. Sometimes, an unexpected outside influence, like a patrol car, can encourage you to slow down.
Even though speeding tickets aren’t issued at work, we can certainly identify time-bound elements to assist employees to stay on goal. It can be simple, as in, “Please finish the report by Friday at 2 p.m.” Think about the same goal without the time-bound element, “Please finish the report by Friday.” Let’s suppose the report is labor intensive and involves all kinds of technical data and subsequent synthesis. Then consider time-bound objectives such as, “I would like for your team to have one additional chapter completed by 10 a.m. every Friday between now and the last Friday of next month. At that time, we will see where we are, and if necessary, make adjustments to our goals.”
Creating SMART goals reduces rework, provides clear expectations, and provides an audit trail that contributes to team accountability. The only thing better than SMART goals are SMART goals that are co-developed among team members. So, check your calendars and get out there and set some SMART goals!
You can call it focus. You can call it concentration. You can call it obsessiveness. But what you have to call it is a triumph. And it really was a critical moment in this techie-centered world we now all live in. (The photo below is courtesy of Darren McCollester/Getty.)
Walter Isaacson has a remarkable article on Bill Gates and the birth of the personal computer. The article, “Dawn of a Revolution”, is in the Harvard Gazette.
In it, he described the phenomenal ability of the young Bill Gates at Harvard to focus. The centerpiece of his article is the eight weeks that Bill Gates (with a little help from a couple of well-known friends, especially Paul Allen) invested in developing “the BASIC interpreter for inclusion on all Altair machines.” Eight weeks of completely ignoring everything except the task at hand. It had to be finished fast. And he got it done.
Here are the key excerpts:
Gates began to rock back and forth, as he often did during moments of intensity. When he finished the article, he realized that Allen was right. For the next eight weeks, the two of them embarked on a frenzy of code writing that would change the nature of the computer business.
Gates ignored the exam cramming he was supposed to be doing and even stopped playing poker. For eight weeks, he, Allen, and Davidoff holed up day and night at the Aiken lab making history. Occasionally they would break for dinner at Harvard House of Pizza or at Aku Aku, an ersatz Polynesian restaurant. In the wee hours of the morning, Gates would sometimes fall asleep at the terminal. “He’d be in the middle of a line of code when he’d gradually tilt forward until his nose touched the keyboard,” Allen said. “After dozing an hour or two, he’d open his eyes, squint at the screen, blink twice, and resume precisely where he’d left off — a prodigious feat of concentration.”
At night they would fan out the printouts onto the floor and search for ways to make it more elegant and compact. By late February 1975, after eight weeks of intense coding, they got it down, brilliantly, into 3.2K.
Eight weeks of absolute devotion to the task at hand—whatever it takes to be successful. There is a lesson here: to be successful, one has to focus and concentrate on the task at hand until it is finished.
You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever spent that amount of time on any task with anything close to that kind of concentration. I’m feeling just a little intimidated…
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
When I was a young leader trying to learn how to build teams and lead organizations, I remember reading something that Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, wrote that has stuck with me. Welch said there were four kinds of employees at GE.
- Those who shared the GE values and produced
- Those who shared the GE values but did not produce
- Those that did not share the GE values and did not produce
- Those that did not share the GE values but DID produce
Welch said it was easy to know what to do with the first three groups.
- Group 1: (those who shared the GE Values and produced) were to be rewarded.
- Group 2: (those who shared the GE Values but did not produce) were to be given training and another opportunity.
- Group 3: (those who did not share the GE values and did not produce) well, you had to free up their future for other opportunities.
But what about Group 4? Technically, Welch said that if an employee didn’t share the GE values, then he didn’t really want them on the team; but in all honesty, Welch said he would look at their performance and think, “But, oh those numbers!!!”
I think that every supervisor has felt the tension that Welch felt. We know that when an employee is not aligned with the core values of the organization, it is like playing with fire. We know that tolerating someone who is guilty of habitual dysfunctional behavior is like protecting a cancer within our team. Leaders have a stewardship to the organization not to trade in long-term health for short-term gains or convenience.
Values matter. They are like the “out of bounds” markers on a playing field. You can do a lot of different things in a lot of different ways within the boundaries, but you can’t go out of bounds or the play doesn’t count. It’s the same way with your core values. If you cross the line on your core values, then you are out of bounds. No one wins when you violate your core values.
We often repeat a quote from John Rockefeller who said that leading a business is a lot like raising preschoolers. He said, “Have a few rules, live by them, and repeat yourself over and over.” If you hope to build an organization that attracts and keeps people who are both passionate for your core values and excel in execution, Rockefeller’s timeless advice is worth hearing.
Have the self-awareness to know your core values and the courage to live them. That’s what great leaders do.
“… and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” – Abraham Lincoln
This basic definition of democracy is from one of the most famous speeches in history—the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln had the right idea, but somewhere down the line, some government officials got off track and decided that “for the people” should really mean “for the benefit of political parties”.
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that the federal government is shut down. It doesn’t matter to which political affiliation you belong—the bottom line is that an agreement could not be reached; and subsequently, the government missed its deadline.
Maybe the most frustrating part for Americans is that these uncompromising elected officials are still receiving a paycheck while an estimated 800,000 federal government employees are on furlough, which forces them to stay home without pay.
I understand there are major issues being debated on Capitol Hill. However, it also seems more like a game of “chicken” between political parties rather than a consideration for “the people”.
It doesn’t only happen on the federal level.
Some local level public servants make the mistake of looking out for the benefit of their friends and family, rather than for the common greater good. Don’t let personal agendas and motives get in the way of doing what is right for the majority.
You were entrusted, and maybe even elected, into the position you hold—don’t give anyone a reason to lose that trust.
This post isn’t meant to stir hate for the people in government offices. It’s a plea for anyone who is called to be a public servant to never get too caught up in the details that you forget about the people.