I have spent most of the last 10 days on the road for both workshops and conferences. The last part of this trip has been an all-day everyday training workshop focused on helping organizations systematically plan for the future. The key is to ask the question, “What are the possible implications of…?” and to extend those possible implications outward.
So, here is one for you: “What are the possible implications of breaking your cell phone while you are traveling alone?” That’s exactly what happened to me on Thursday night. No need to go into the autopsy report, but the phone, which had not been doing well, had an accident and… you get the point.
Is there ever a good time for that sort of thing to happen? I doubt it. This was neither a good time, nor the worst time. It was a bit of a challenge, however. It was too late on Thursday to do anything about it, and the workshop on Friday was from 8 am to 5 pm, so that day really afforded no opportunity to do anything about it either. I left for the airport early Saturday morning, and after a “short” layover and delayed plane, I finally arrived home just in time to go to the mall and get a new phone. For approximately 48 hours, I was off the grid. I felt like I was in an NCIS Episode or something.
I wasn’t really afraid of being lost. After all, I am paying my daughter’s college tuition, so I knew she’d send someone to find me. However, the experience did make me think about how we communicate as leaders. Here are some thoughts:
- Stay in touch with your team – To apply my training, “What are the possible implications of going from Wednesday night until Saturday night without contacting my family just because my phone broke?” Ugly. Very ugly. So, it was not an option. There are a lot of excuses we sometimes make for why we haven’t communicated clearly with our team, but most of those excuses communicate just one thing to the team: “You are not that important to me.” The burden of communication starts on your shoulders as a leader, so find a way.
- Broaden the scope of communication– My wife is not inclined to take calls from unknown telephone numbers, so I knew there was a good chance that if I called from the hotel, not only would she not answer it, she might not even listen to the voicemail. My plan was to email her. However, I also know that she doesn’t always look at her email, especially at night. But my kids are Millennials. They wake up every two hours to check their phones just in case ANYONE has left any type of message about anything! So, I emailed my wife and all three of my kids. You guessed it. Instantly, I heard back from two of my kids, assuring me that they would tell Mom. The point—sometimes as leaders, we want to keep communication so tight that we exclude others who could actually help us achieve our goals.
- Know how to use technology – On top of the phone challenges, for reasons that I don’t understand, my laptop went on strike at the same time and refused to even consider the possibility that there was a thing called the internet to which it could wirelessly connect. (Seriously? Now?) I had to do a system restore just to get connected to the internet and email my kids. And it didn’t work the first time… or the second time… but it did the third time. I’m not the most tech savvy person in the world. I am just a technology user. However, I do know enough to be able to do that, and it’s a good thing. Like it or not, we live in a technology-driven world.
The good news is that I got a new phone (toy), I am off the road for a while, I was reminded of some important things about communication, and my wife appreciated the fact that it was important to me to communicate with her. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience after all.
It pains me to have to write a blog post like this for leaders of organizations, but I came across three e-mails recently that let me know that this must be said.
Do you remember back when you were little—before you could read? You’d expand your vocabulary by listening to others. So by the time you could read, words like “chaos” struck you by surprise because you had only heard it—not seen it.
Well, the same type of mix up is affecting some adults who use popular phrases. It’s apparent that these people are mishearing phrases and typing them accordingly.
Some of the most common mistakes for phrases that I come across:
- “I could care less if you do it or not.”
The phrase should be I could NOT care less. Basically, you don’t care one way or another.
- “I was literally drowning in my work.”
Literally means it actually happened. This sentence would only be true if you worked in the nautical field. “Figuratively” is the word you’re looking for, but it doesn’t flow off the tongue as easily.
- “I should of known.”
This is what happens when too many people use the colloquialism “shoulda”. It’s should HAVE known.
Some of the most common mistakes for words that I come across:
- Supposibly (it’s supposedly).
- Irregardless (I don’t know why people add the “ir” as a prefix. The word is regardless.)
- Per say (it’s per se).
And the list goes on.
If you’re unsure about whether the word or phrase you want to use is correct, look it up! Don’t go by what you hear and how you hear people say it. You don’t want a preventable mistake to cost you years of credibility.
I say this from personal experience. I didn’t lose credibility because I was only eight years old, but it took just one embarrassing mix-up with the word “gun ho” instead of “gung ho” to teach me to read it before I say it.
What mistakes do you commonly encounter or make yourself?
This week, I have been in Phoenix taking advantage of some great training for facilitators from Joel Barker. This particular training focuses mostly upon a new way to enhance the quality of decisions that groups make by considering many possible implications. However, a portion of the training has also been a great reminder about the power of paradigms and how they both aid and limit our ability to make decisions.
Here are a few random insights that I have been reminded about this week:
- Paradigms help you solve problems until they don’t.
Paradigms can be defined in many ways, but perhaps the easiest way to explain a paradigm is that it’s a way of looking at things. It includes our presuppositions, experiences, perspectives, and biases. And paradigms are helpful. They allow us to sort things out, establish patterns, repeat processes, and make decisions. Without them, we couldn’t solve problems consistently. However, every paradigm has its limitations, too. In fact, paradigms uncover the problems that they cannot solve, and that’s when we have to realize that the same paradigm that has helped us solve so many problems is not adequate to solve many other problems. They help us—until they don’t. Then they hinder us.
- New paradigms usually come from the edge.
Ironically, and sometimes unceremoniously, new ways of looking at things—new paradigms—don’t come from the people who have the most knowledge of the old paradigm. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Most of the time, our familiarity with the old paradigm keeps us from seeing the new paradigm, or even looking for one. If we are on the inside, and if we have used the old paradigm very successfully, it is very unlikely that we will abandon it for new paradigms. We can be painfully slow to see that it has become inadequate. Who sees it? Naturally, the ones who have no vested interest in and are not attached to keeping the old paradigm.
- Innovative leaders start looking for the new paradigm before they need it.
This is possibly the most important discipline that an innovative leader practices. He/she starts looking for the new paradigm long before they need it. They change before they have to. It’s one thing to reach a level of success; it’s much harder to sustain it because the paradigms are changing faster and faster.
What are your paradigms? How intentional are you being about recognizing the paradigms you are operating by, and how intentional are you looking for the next “game-changing” paradigm? What are you doing to honor the people on the edge so that they are empowered to see the next paradigm?
Over the next few blog posts, I want to offer some insights into unethical behaviors that all local government appointed and elected officials and employees should avoid. The behaviors are subject to context and the list is by no means exhaustive. This collection of posts is also not intended as a rulebook.
The avoidable behaviors described below are listed to increase awareness of the importance of an unwavering commitment to public sector ethical integrity. It is your responsibility to be familiar with your organization’s Code(s) of Ethics. If you lack clarity on a particular course of action, please contact your direct supervisor or Human Resources department.
- Absenteeism – All employees will invariably miss work for legitimate reasons: illness, death the family, vacation time, etc. Abusing your employer’s absentee policy, however, is in essence stealing time from your employer while simultaneously placing an unfair workload on fellow team members.
- Abuse – Verbal, sexual, physical, mental, emotional, and substance, or any other form of abuse in the workplace is unethical.
- Accepting a Bribe – It is unethical to accept payment in any form from any individual or organization attempting to persuade or induce favorable outcome.
- Appearance of Impropriety – Public sector employees should avoid behaviors that appear inappropriate. Embrace the following general rule of thumb: If making a decision looks or feels wrong then choose another decision; one that both looks and feels right.
- The Blame Game – It is unethical to shift blame to another co-worker, team, department, citizen, etc., when you are to blame. Another common term for this is “scapegoating”.
- The Budget Game – It is unethical to misrepresent budget numbers or purposely hide intent for budget dollars.
- Charitable Contributions – It is not unethical to solicit charitable contributions; for example: public safety personnel may solicit, “Toys for Tots” during the holiday season. Obviously, it is unethical to use any charitable contribution for personal reasons/benefit. There are gray areas that must be contextually defined. Your organization should implement standards related to charitable contributions from vendors, contractors, service providers, and businesses your organization regulates and/or does business with. Many local governments depend on the generosity of local businesses, faith communities, etc., for holiday gift drives, back-to-school supply drives, etc. Clarification of expectations is important in such relationships in order to avoid any quid pro quo expectations. For example: a faith community engages in a police-sponsored holiday gift drive, and a later signage code violation is ignored.
We will share more unethical behaviors to avoid in our next post.
Through the years, I have read books that tried to make sense of big-picture issues of the new and soon-coming age. I’m not sure that I have always known how to put such insight into practice, but it just helped to be able to think, and feel, and say: “Oh, so that’s what’s going on.”
My current book is The Second Machine Age.
I strongly recommend this book for your reading list. It has a lot to say about:
- What technology will and will not replace in the workplace
- How fast the changes are coming and
- How wrong the “predictions” can be.
(One of the authors described how he told his classes that the driverless car was a long-way off. He was wrong about that! Thus, what may seem like it will take a long time to arrive may be coming more quickly than any of us can imagine.)
This is an optimistic book, but also sobering. (Where will the jobs be for the people “replaced” in this second machine age?)
Three characteristics of this second machine age are: exponential, digital, and combinatorial.
It is now truly “winner take all.” No longer can a seller of substandard services expect to feed on a continuing stream of naïve or ill-informed consumers. No longer can the seller expect to be insulated from competitors in other locations who can deliver a better service for less.
Here are six policy recommendations from the book:
- Teach the children well
- Restart start-ups
- Make more matches
- Support our scientists
- Upgrade infrastructure
- Since we must tax, tax wisely
And here are my five takeaways:
- The breakthroughs will come more rapidly, more amazingly – faster and faster.
- The better educated will have a shot at genuine success, but…
- The less-than-well-educated will be in real trouble
(We will lose more jobs than will be created. And this job loss problem will most likely accelerate…)
- We’ve got to get better at teaching children how to think—especially “pattern recognition” and “following your curiosity”
- You cannot survive much longer if you are not the best. Best equals “first/top ranked.”
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Sometimes employees honestly feel that they have not received any feedback from their supervisor throughout an entire year (or more). Of course, they find this to be very frustrating.
I have not had a supervisor admit to me that he/she has gone an entire year without giving an employee feedback, but I have had many supervisors admit that they are not as good at giving feedback as they need to be. I don’t know what reasons a supervisor might give for letting an entire year pass without giving an employee any feedback, but I suspect that one reason might be because they don’t feel like there is any “criticism” to offer.
However, that supervisor may be looking at coaching as being only related to what I call the “difficulties” type of coaching. This type of coaching is needed when there is a gap between what is expected and the employee’s performance, but if the employee is not having any difficulties in their performance, does that really mean that he/she needs no coaching? I don’t think so.
In fact, “difficulties” coaching is just one of at least three different types of coaching. Two other types of coaching are: debriefing and development. The supervisor that goes an entire year without giving his/her direct report any feedback is possibly ignoring these other two types of coaching.
For example, even the employees who are performing their assigned tasks adequately could benefit from the supervisor debriefing situations with them. It may not be possible to do this after every event, but just doing it on a regular basis could pay huge dividends in helping good employees perform even better. Debriefing doesn’t have to be centered on criticism. Debriefing is centered on examination. Good coaches can lead employees to examine their performances through asking some strategic questions. These might include:
- Who were the stakeholders that you didn’t give as much consideration to?
- Who were the stakeholders that you gave more consideration to?
- What outcomes were you anticipating?
- What surprises did you encounter?
- What would you do differently if you could do it again?
- What was successful about this event that you can apply to future situations?
Leading an employee to debrief events with strategic questions like these helps him/her to develop the practice of self-reflection even when the supervisor doesn’t do it with him/her. If you can lead an employee to reflect on both successes and failures, they will not only do their current jobs more effectively, you will be laying the foundation for them to become proficient at new things, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about coaching employees because I’ve been teaching a class on it several times a week. I have come to the conclusion that we may be thinking of coaching too generally and that every supervisor/coach might be better at it by breaking it down more specifically.
I say that because I’m convinced that while there are some common strategies, skills, and tactics that pertain to all types of coaching, there are some skills that are unique to each type. Furthermore, even when it comes to the universal aspects of coaching, they aren’t of equal importance, and they are used in different ways with each type of coaching.
I think you can make an argument for saying that coaching employees falls into three different categories:
De-briefing is the kind of coaching that takes place when a supervisor leads an employee to reflect upon a recent event, project, or transaction. Think of a football player watching the game film following either a win or a loss. It’s recognized as an important part of coaching—even at the high school level, but I am surprised at how many supervisors admit that they rarely, if ever, de-brief things with their employees. Sadly, if we don’t have coaches that do it with us, many of us will not have the discipline to do it by ourselves, either. If that’s the case, real improvement is not nearly as likely.
Development coaching is the kind of coaching where the supervisor is developing an employee by giving him or her new assignments, new responsibilities, and new challenges. We often say that good coaches see delegation as a means for development, not just as a means to get more things done. This is different than what takes place in de-briefing in several ways. De-briefing is about doing the same thing better. Development is about doing something new and developing new competencies. We’re told that a large part of the American workforce is disengaged from work, and I’m convinced that one way to change that is to do more development coaching.
Difficulties is the kind of coaching that supervisors have to do when there’s a problem or a difficulty with job performance. That could be attributed to many causes, but regardless of the cause, it requires a meeting (usually a series of meetings) where the supervisor leads the employee to see the problem and to work together to correct it.
If you are a supervisor or coach, I’d like to hear your thoughts. I’d like to know which kind you do the most and which type you tend to neglect.
Despite the “reruns” of blog posts that you’ve seen from me on Fridays, I was out on maternity leave. (Yes, the baby and I are fine. And no, the first day back wasn’t difficult on me, but that isn’t what this blog post is about.)
Even though there were some sleepless nights, maternity leave provided me with something that I haven’t had in a while—rest.
Of course I’ve had vacations before; but for some reason, I always pack those “free” days with a list of things to do.
This time was different.
I actually had days where I wasn’t running around filling up my day with events and errands. I had time to think… about life, and specifically, my career.
The time spent to meditate on my career path allowed me to come back with a clearer sense of what I’d like to do and how I’d like to do it. It gave me a second wind about my professional passions.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Often times, we’re too busy to simply stop and think.
Do you like what you do? Do you like how you’re doing it? What changes do you need to make to ensure you’re not getting caught up in the cycle of waking up grumbling, going to work complaining, and going back home frustrated?
Life is too short to make your paycheck your only incentive. If you’re not satisfied internally about what you’re doing, it’s time for a change. (There goes that “c” word again.)
And don’t feel bad if you find out that you need to make a few tweaks—or a major overhaul—to what you’re doing. Coming to that realization doesn’t make you any less of a leader. In fact, it proves that you have leadership traits.
As the author John Maxwell said, “The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” So relax, rethink, and react to make those necessary adjustments.
When was the last time you performed a random act of kindness?
I try to sprinkle them throughout my day. Whether it is extending a compliment to a co-worker, holding the door for someone at the post office, saying thank you to a server, or offering a word of encouragement to someone who looks like he or she could use it—the impact of random acts of kindness should not be underestimated.
Kindness is defined as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
- Are you friendly? When someone steps up to the counter, or walks over to your truck, or pops into your office, do you smile? Do you offer to help? Even if they are upset, do you put your best foot forward or does your verbal and non-verbal communication relay impatience, ingratitude, and general unfriendliness? The former may not always win the day, but the likelihood of de-escalation and resolution is greatly increased when friendliness is part of the equation.
- Are you generous? Do you give time to both internal and external customers? Do you expend energies on behalf of others, or do you default more to a “that’s not in my job description” posture? We typically tie generosity to financial giving, and as a result do a great disservice to the word. Be generous with customer service. Be generous with honesty. Be generous with ethics. An investment of generosity may yield some of life’s greatest returns.
- Are you considerate? Do you show up to work on time? Do you volunteer to take out the trash on occasion? Do you consistently, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? When you make such choices, you make the world a better place. Perhaps Winnie the Pooh said it best, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” And indeed it does.
You may not think a few random acts of kindness will amount to much, but as my friend Patrick Mead says, “Snowflakes on their own don’t make a big difference. But if you get enough of them together, they can shut down Atlanta!” How wonderful it would be to see a “kindness snowball” run through the public sector and make our communities better places for all.
Start small. Offer a compliment today. Listen to the needs of a customer. Really listen. Ask someone, “May I help you?” And then help! Perhaps an avalanche of kindness is just around the corner.
Without revealing any details about this, I’ve recently spent a total of nearly seven full hours talking one-on-one to employees about the job they feel their supervisors/managers are doing leading them in their work. (A company hired me to seek this feedback).
It was not pretty.
This was a large company, and a very small corner in this very large company. So, one would suspect that this corner was not the only one with the problem. (Although, the problem may be a little more obvious in this corner – thus, the reason they brought me in).
The problem was this: some of the people in positions of leadership weren’t very good at actually leading the people. Oh, the tasks, the work got done. (Sometimes in spite of the leaders efforts, or lack thereof.) But, the feedback seemed to say that the people in these positions of leadership:
• did not listen to the people they were charged with leading
• did not respond to needs expressed by the people they were leading
• did not pay attention to the career advancement and development needs of the people they were leading.
In fact, one of the comments stated by quite a few of these folks went something like this:
“he (she) cares more about his own success and reputation than he does about the success of the team and the team members.”
In other words, the leader was concerned about his career, his development… he was in it for himself. He was not in it for his team members.
I know this is like a broken record on this blog, but I would like to suggest a new job requirement for every supervisor, manager, department head… every leader of any kind. This leader should be required to read Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner on the weekend before they begin serving in their new position. (If it’s too late for that, make them read it this next weekend). And then, they have to report to their boss how they will implement the teachings from this book in their own department, as they lead their own team members.
I’ve blogged about this book now somewhere around 86,000 times. It is simply the best book I know for people given the task to lead others. Oh, there may be other books about “Leadership” in a bigger picture way. But this book is practical – this is what you do to get the best out of the people that you actually lead, the people you should be interacting with regularly.
Let me remind you of the seven principles of Encouraging the Heart, from the book:
The seven essentials of encouraging
- Set clear standards
- Expect the best
- Pay attention
- Personalize recognition
- Tell the story
- Celebrate together
- Set the example
And, maybe the greatest of these seven is “Pay attention.” Everything stars with how well you pay attention!
Here’s a question: if you do lead others, what would those folks say about you in a candid, anonymous interview about your leadership? If you don’t quite know, then that’s your first problem. If you do know, and you have some people skills, care-about-them deficiencies; if you are not great at a “let’s focus on the team’s success rather than/more than on my personal success” style and approach… if these are the kinds of deficiencies in your leadership — then read this book, and get to work fixing these deficiencies.
People deserve to be led well. If you are a leader, your people need you to be a good, build-them-up, always-encourage-them leader. So, if you are not doing that, get to it. Now.
A good place to start is to read Encouraging the Heart, and put the ideas of this book into practice.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis