Open door policy is the key success for manager


July 2, 2015

Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

I was recently promoted to a supervisory position over my unit. There really isn’t much of a supervisory training program at my company so I’ve been teaching myself through books and the like.

One thing that I know is very important is to keep an “open door” policy. The problem I have with this idea is that every manager I have had in the past has said he had it but no one ever used it. People were hesitant to approach the boss with problems or just to talk because of some of the problems it caused.

I have a good relationship with my unit after having worked with them for seven years as their peer and then the backup supervisor. They seemed to feel good about coming to me then but I’m concerned that the open communication will soon end as I take over as their boss. Do you have any suggestions?


I can see why you were promoted. You care about the right things! One of the most important jobs of a supervisor is to stay close to his or her employees. Managers who lose touch lose out - in low productivity, morale problems and lack of commitment among workers.

Employees don’t listen to what their manager says, they watch what their manager does. An “Open Door Policy” is only as good as the manager behind the door.

You have a good history with your work unit but that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you like a hawk for any changes in your leadership style. They know you have always been under someone else’s wing and now your own personal style will finally emerge.


Here are some ideas to consider:

* When an employee comes to you with a complaint, spend more time listening than talking. Ask the employee many questions about why he or she is concerned and how this is negatively affecting them. Ask what they have done to try to resolve the issue. Then ask “How can I help you?” If you feel that your intervention is important and essential, discuss how you might help.

Be careful, however, that you aren’t jumping in where you shouldn’t. Often, employees will test a new boss to see where the new line is drawn. Don’t take their problems on your shoulders if they haven’t done all they can to try to solve the problem on their own first. For example, don’t get trapped into playing dad or mom when employees complain to you about some work issue involving their co-workers. Encourage them to discuss conflicts with each other individually or in team meetings.

* When an employee comes to you with a personal problem, stay objective. There is a fine line between being empathetic and being sympathetic. If, for example, an employee is going through a divorce and she is telling you messy details, don’t commiserate or offer advice. Instead, listen empathetically and respond with comments such as, “That must have been really tough for you.” Avoid making judgments such as, “He really is a rat. I couldn’t stand being married to someone like that. If I were you ...” You never know how your words will be repeated and to whom.

You open yourself to other problems when you get too deeply involved in someone else’s personal life. For example, the employee who is going through a divorce may expect you to “understand” when she starts having an attendance problem.

* Keep confidences. Nothing will slam that “open door” faster than betraying a promise. For example, if an employee has a problem with another manager in a different department and he comes to you for confidential advice, don’t jump the gun by calling that manager and explaining the whole situation. Stay out of it and coach your employee to take some action on his own first.

However, if an employee reveals something to you that you know you must act on, be honest about what you must do and why.

* If you find out that an employee has made a serious mistake, don’t explode. Chances are, the employee feels as horrible as you do and doesn’t need a finger wagged in his face. Instead, call the employee in and ask him what happened and why. Ask him what he is going to do about solving the problem. Resist the urge to solve it yourself. If you snatch the project away from your employee, you’ll demoralize him and punish him instead of treating him as he should be treated - like an adult who needs to solve his own problems.

Crisis situations are where you’ll show your true style. Employees will study and remember how you react in these situations and will forget everything else. If you blow someone’s head off, don’t be surprised if they treat you as if you always have a loaded gun ... behind a closed door.

All of these ideas have a common theme. Treat your employees as independent adults who may need coaching and a friendly ear but not a parent or a psychologist. If you do, your door will never be a barrier to open, honest communication.


Meetings present a maze of problems
June 25, 2015

If you want to get the most out of the meetings you lead, you must know how to manage different situations as they come up. Any group of people working together will bring a wide range of needs and abilities that you can direct, much like a traffic cop at a busy intersection.

Before we look at some problem situations, let’s consider the important leadership characteristics that establish a healthy, participative atmosphere. Without these, your meeting may never get off the ground.


Don’t be a road hog.  Let them do at least 76 percent of the talking, or more.

Don’t use your meetings to get on your pulpit or podium. Be positive and encouraging by looking for the merit in people’s comments and by encouraging incomplete, unusual or hesitant ideas.


Protect members from personal attack

Nothing will choke off participation faster than immediate evaluation or put-downs. This protection includes allowing everyone to get in their “two cents worth.” Be honest and good humored about admitting your mistakes and not having all the answers. Don’t be afraid to tell the group when you’re upset, tired, distracted or in doubt. Being human can build trust and credibility. If you do, the group will stay on your side.


Paraphrase and clarify

Even when all else fails, these two techniques will probably save you. They are key, meeting-leading skills.

Now let’s look at some familiar problems and how to handle them, as discussed in the book, “How to Make Meetings Work,” by Michael Doyle and David Straus.


The great silence

Avoid the temptation to fill the void. Wait for a while. If nothing happens, ask the group what the problem is. People may be confused, bored, lost or deep in thought. Don’t be a mind-reader, and never assume.

Ask for suggestions on what to do next. If nothing is offered, make a suggestion yourself and check out their acceptance. Or, ask each individual for his or her thoughts at the moment.

It may be a good time to summarize what has happened up to this point. You might even suggest a short stretch or break, or ask them if it’s time to move on to the next point. The important thing is to stay on their wavelength.


The traffic jam

When everyone talks at once, good ideas are lost and nothing is accomplished. Say, “Hold it, everybody.  We will accomplish much more if one person speaks at a time.”


The interrupter

Sometimes people are impatient and excited, or afraid an idea will be lost if it isn’t blurted out. Deal with the interrupter immediately. People will be watching to see if you protect their right to speak.

Don’t play favorites, either, even if the interrupter is a VIP. You could say, “Please hold on to your idea a moment, Frank. Let’s let Mary finish what she was saying.”


The rambler

Ramblers love meetings. They can smell a meeting from a department away. They often use this forum to voice complaints or share their years of experience.

They may have a lot of good ideas to offer, but lose them on a restless audience. Force yourself to listen for a useful idea. Then, wait for a natural pause or break, confirm your understanding of the point in the story and ask someone else for an opinion.


The attacker

It’s important to hear conflicting viewpoints, but when someone’s idea or personality is attacked, it’s time to blow the whistle.

Paraphrase the attacker’s idea, but leave out the personal references. Attack: “Where did you get an idea like that? You obviously haven’t had any experience dealing with that department.”

Your paraphrased response: “Let’s make sure we are capturing your criticisms. You feel that this suggestion is unrealistic and unworkable?”



Sometimes people are hesitant to state an objection. Whispering to someone nearby can destroy the concentration and trust in your meeting.

Look directly at the conversers. If that doesn’t work, say, “It looks like you have some ideas on this. Would you like to share them with the group?” Don’t embarrass them, or the group may protect them and turn against you.


The Dropout

If someone is silent, doodling or reading, don’t play “gotcha" by saying, “What do you think about that, Claudia?” She may be thinking about the problem at hand or preoccupied. Perhaps she shouldn’t even be there if she has no interest in the discussion.

You could try to bring her into the discussion by saying, “Claudia, I’d like to hear your ideas on this. I’ll give you a moment to think. How about you, Jerry?”

Ego and leadership - do you know any OE types? 

June 18, 2015

“It’s all about Charlie,” my colleague muttered, as we waited for him once again for a meeting. “He never thinks about anyone else’s schedule; his is always more important - and he’ll let you know it.”

Fifteen minutes later, with a few quick jokes and a dazzling smile, he swept into the room. Before long he was on his email, and then stepped out to take a call. What’s going on here?

Ego strength is a necessary character trait for leadership, but it can be a career derailer if it’s not in balance with other behaviors such as empathy and collaboration. Over time, Charlie’s self-absorbed behavior will erode the support of his colleagues, no matter how well he performs his job.

How do you recognize an over-developed ego? It feels like arrogance, if you’re on the receiving end. The over-developed ego - I’ll call it the OE type - will typically jump in and out of meetings, disrupting the agenda. He or she will take calls during a one-on-one conversation. The OE will steer meetings to outcomes they want, blowing past other’s ideas. Often, the OE will have a larger than life personality, and sometimes that manifests in charm and charisma, other times the OE type acts like a bully. Either way, they aim to win.

OE types with talent often rise to the top of their field. They brush off rejection and failure - in fact, they barely notice it - as they single-mindedly plow ahead toward their goals. That works to a point and it’s particularly useful in an individual contributor role, like sales. But when they find themselves in a position of leadership, it can begin to unravel.

Here’s why:

* Rather than listen to other’s views about why something won’t work, he or she will push it through anyway. Resistance from the troops - both active and passive - will stall implementation.

* Rather than share the credit with those who deserve it, he or she will wear the team’s results like a personal badge. Team resentment builds and initiative and ownership flags.

* Peers, who have grown tired of disrespectful behavior toward themselves and their teams, will tend to passively watch the OE make a mistake, rather than jump in with corrective, honest feedback. They have learned it isn’t heard or heeded anyway, so why try to bail him or her out?

* Senior management, who is wowed with the OE’s star quality, will eventually have to face up to the OE’s “dark side.” If the OE’s bad behavior results in losing high potential employees, peer complaints, or lack of support for the OE’s upward promotability, the senior leaders will have to deal with that fallout. Ultimately, the OE’s career will stall or derail.

* The OE tends to hold many jobs in his or her career. Usually, they interview well and make a big splash early. But over time, they get themselves into trouble with comments and actions the culture rejects.

Sometimes the OE will have a life-changing event that will force him or her to look in the mirror. Sometimes they will benefit from an external coach, who is tough enough to call them on their behavior and teach them new approaches. If they are lucky, they will get a good manager who will call out the inappropriate behavior and mentor them to the greatness they are capable of if they can just get out of their own way.

Ten questions that will encourage open, positive performance discussions

June 11, 2015

Dear Joan:

I was recently promoted to a senior executive position in my company. I have worked with most of my direct subordinates for many years as their peer and now I find myself in the role of their boss.

Fortunately, my relationship with them is very good. My concern is that I must evaluate them at the end of the year and complete their performance review. Please be assured that I am not hesitant to give them honest feedback on a regular basis. What bothers me is that I prefer not to do a formal evaluation; I want to use the opportunity to build our new relationship and establish myself as more of a coach.

These people are all experienced, senior managers and are good performers. They would resent close scrutiny of their work and a “performance review,” yet, I want to set a good example and encourage them to hold coaching sessions with their employees. I find that evaluations tend to cause defensiveness and hard feelings, with an over-emphasis on the negative. What would you suggest?



You sound as if you know the difference between managing and leading; it’s no wonder you have a good relationship with your team.

You are not alone in doubting the value of an annual performance review. There is new thinking about the purpose of a review and whether or not it is really a helpful exercise, particularly if it is the only feedback an employee receives each year. It is much more motivating for employees to have built-in measurements (and coaching) in their jobs, which allows them to know how they are doing at all times in relation to the goal.

Leaders like you know that coaching and feedback should occur all year long. The performance review should be nothing more than a summary of the year’s growth and experiences and an opportunity to set expectations and new goals for the coming year.

I recommend that you hold a two-way discussion with each of them. It will give you a chance to build your new relationship. They will be wondering what kind of leader you will be and they may be anxious to see if you will change your stripes in your new job.

To set the tone, give them some questions like the following. These questions are designed to create a positive discussion that will stay focused on the right things.


1. What did you do that you are most proud of this past year?

2. What was your biggest challenge?

3. What was your biggest disappointment?

4. If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

5. What did you find to be the most stimulating and caused you to grow the most?

6. What was the most fun?

7. What are you looking forward to doing in the new year?

8. What worries you the most about the coming year?

9. What would you like to say about your performance one year from now?

10. How can I help you? (What would you like me to do more of, less of, the same?)

Is your inability to delegate holding your employees and you back?

June 5, 2015

Mary is a star in her new job. In fact, she’s so good, her boss has promoted her to a managerial position just one year after she took over as marketing director of a small company.

“I really love my job,” she said during our recent lunch, “but I realize I have a lot to learn about managing,” she confessed. “My employees are asking me for more responsibility and yet I hesitate to delegate the grunt work and I end up doing it all myself ... besides, it takes longer to explain it than to do it. My boss is thrilled with my results and I don’t want to do anything to mess that up with him.”

Mary has always been a sole performer who has had total control over her own work. The shift to delegating part of her work feels uncomfortable because she feels accountable for the results and she wants it done right. Like most new managers, she thinks that “letting go” means being irresponsible.

Her employees are lucky; Mary is smart enough to recognize her need to learn new skills. Managers, who don’t learn to delegate effectively, end up with employees who feel unchallenged and resentful. These managers tend to plateau at the first level of supervision and wonder why their To Do Lists are a mile long and their employees keep leaving.


Here’s what I told Mary: Your need to be in ultimate control could be your undoing. Your boss won’t think you are a star for long if you can’t “off load” your routine work to make room for new, more challenging assignments.

Managers who are reluctant to delegate for fear of “dumping” on their employees are missing the point. Employees who are worth their salt want to help their boss. In fact, bosses who treat their employees as partners in their projects are not seen as "dumpers" they are seen as “developers.”

Perfectionists like Mary have a hard time delegating. Part of the challenge of supervising others is knowing how to back off and let your employees complete tasks in their own way. They may even discover a better way to do the job.

A good place to start is to take a look at your To Do List each week and check the tasks that are routine or fairly straightforward. Even though it takes time to explain WHAT, WHY AND WHEN, it is a long-term investment because next time there will be no need for an explanation.

Be careful about the HOW. It’s fine to describe how you’ve done the task in the past but make sure your employees know they are expected to find new and better approaches whenever they can. Peering over their shoulders or re-doing their work will discourage and anger them (“If she wanted it done her way, why didn’t she just do it in the first place?”).

This is tricky. Spell out the results up front and set up interim meetings to coach and advise. Otherwise, keep your hands off. Ask yourself, “Does their result do the job?” instead of “Is it exactly as I would have done it?”

If a task requires a lot of judgment or decision-making or a senior manager has asked you to personally complete an assignment, don’t delegate it. The same is true of a project that has high visibility with an element of risk; don’t toss the hot potato to your employee unless they are well prepared for the job and the visibility could do them some good.

Make it very clear how much authority they have in the given task, so your employees don’t have to ask you for your approval at each step. If you let your employees have some decision-making authority, they will take more responsibility for their work because the end result will be their own.

If you only delegate the junk and keep the good stuff for yourself, your employees will become bored, and what’s worse, they will feel that you don’t trust them to do the “important” work. And if your employees can’t do at least some of the "important" work, you are to blame. A manager’s responsibility is to expose employees to more and more complex assignments so they learn to handle them.

You are ultimately responsible for tasks you delegate so don’t blame them when things go wrong. Find out why and look for ways to avoid making the same mistake again. And don’t delegate with an apologetic tone. They aren’t doing you a favor; you are giving them to chance to find challenge in their work and growth in their careers.

New teams need coaching

May 28, 2015

Many companies are implementing a “team” approach. They are experimenting with natural teams, management teams, self-directed teams, cross-functional teams, cells, process teams and matrix teams. These approaches can cause some exciting “wins” but they can also create a lot of confusion and frustration, especially for companies new at working this way.

For instance, self-directed teams aren’t appropriate for every company. And many companies are pursuing them as the goal instead of identifying the goal that is best for the customer and working backwards to figure out the best structure to get it.

Another problem is that companies jump into self-directed work teams too quickly, the workforce usually isn’t prepared for it. And neither is management. Too many companies simply deem a work group “self-directed” send them to a few training classes and then wonder why they aren’t taking responsibility. If you were suddenly thrust into “taking more responsibility” would you make a decision with little information in a culture that traditionally blames the person if it doesn’t work? If the culture isn’t modified to support the teams, they will fail.


Here are some tips for guiding groups who are new at team behavior and responsibilities:

1. Don’t just turn them loose. This is irresponsible and will set them up to fail. Provide them with a seasoned coach and mentor. Ideally, this person will be at a high enough level to be their connection to the top of the organization. This guardian angel can steer them clear of political sinkholes and teach them how to gather data, work across boundaries and sell a new idea. This coach can also act as their liaison for setting up training to build skills and for getting information they need to make decisions.

2. When the team works on a project, give them a clear picture of what you want and what the boundaries are. Too often, well-meaning management decides to let an inexperienced group solve a problem without giving them any guidance and structure. Then the group process breaks down or the solution is unrealistic or solves the wrong problem. For inexperienced groups always provide a process facilitator.

3. Clarify what the authority limits are. Sometimes managers in their haste to “empower” people send them charging off to work on a problem only to find that the solution isn’t acceptable. Now the managers feel that they are held hostage and must accept the group’s decision or risk looking non-supportive of empowerment.

By and large, employees are adults who will work within the limits you set. It’s irresponsible to presume that employees who are inexperienced in working in teams will hit home runs in their first game. Start out with limited authority and work up to more freedom as they gain experience. And don’t forget: You don’t ever have to say yes. Just be honest and tell them the truth.

And remember, the reason their solution is unrealistic may be because they don’t know all the facts. It’s management’s job to provide them what they need to make the best decision. That’s why pairing up inexperienced teams with experienced people can work well.

4. Don’t do it for them. One of the most difficult things traditional managers need to learn in this new environment is to let the employees do it. If they ask questions guide them to find out the answers for themselves. If they stumble don’t grab the work and do it yourself so it’s done “right.” Use it as a teaching opportunity and let them fix it. If they need information from another department, let them go get it. It’s the only way they can learn good judgment and feel a sense of ownership.

Good communication goes beyond email, memos and meetings

May 21, 2015

As organizations get more complex, it becomes increasingly important to communicate clearly and quickly. Wherever I go these days, I keep hearing, “We need to communicate better!” At the same time, I hear complaints such as, “We spend all our time in meetings and can’t get anything done.”

Why not take an audit of your communications systems? I often find that people don’t think about the way they communicate, and as a result, they do things the same way they always have ... for instance, the staff meeting on Monday where everyone reports on what they’re working on (yawn). Meanwhile, there’s an interdepartmental war going on over a new project and there is no established way to talk to each other in order to work out new procedures!

Often an audit will reveal that a company’s communication system is outdated or ineffective. If you compare it to upgrading software, upgrading your communication process may get information flowing in ways you never thought of.

Here are a few suggestions you may want to use to upgrade your communications system:


The huddle

Most teams require constant communication throughout the week, as the workflow changes. A quick huddle once or twice a week can keep everyone informed and part of the process. Rather than a lengthy meeting, a huddle is often a stand-up affair, no longer than 15 to 20 minutes, right in the work area. Its format is loose and simply assesses how things are going and helps determine what changes are needed. This is particularly useful for a team who works together in a fast-paced environment to reach a common goal.


Production meetings

Frequently, departments operate independently. The warehouse fills orders, customer service takes orders, billing sends invoices, and so on. Too often, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and the customer suffers. Production (or Process) Meetings are a great way to bring each area together at least once a week. One way to conduct them is to have each area represented by one supervisor and one worker from the area. Each week, this worker can rotate. Then the supervisors and the employees go back to their respective work units and hold a unit meeting to relay what is happening between all units that week.


Quarterly business meetings

We hear a lot of talk about empowerment, yet we don’t hear a lot about companies creating an atmosphere where empowerment can occur. In order for employees to feel comfortable making decisions at their level, they need to know how the business works. They need to know things such as how much raw materials cost, how the company makes money, and what the customers are saying They also need to know where the company wants to go in the long and the short term. It is important that the numbers are broken down into understandable language, and the connection to each person’s job is made.


Quarterly feedback discussions

Most people feel that they don’t get enough ongoing feedback. In some cases they don’t even get an annual performance review. One way to remedy this is to schedule quarterly feedback sessions that last no more than one hour. These can be scheduled all at once, in the beginning of the year, so everyone knows when they are and can anticipate them. At this meeting, you can discuss progress toward goals. If you have a performance review form, you can use it informally as a guide to discuss how the person is doing.


Career development discussions

Everyone is concerned about job security these days, and the best way to stay ahead of the game is to keep on learning and developing new skills. Employees whose managers actively help them grow are more committed to the job and the company. At least once a year, the manager should sit down with each employee and take the time to find out how the employee wants to develop on the job. Then the manager can do career development “on the fly” all year long. In other words, when a work assignment is made and parts of it are connected to the person’s goal, it’s a win/win for everyone.

Being a good communicator doesn’t just mean doing more of it. It means choosing methods that fit the work, the environment, and the person. Many people are buried in emails, memos and meetings. Taking some time to revamp your communication will revitalize productivity and boost satisfaction.


Are you a micromanager?
May 14, 2015

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you frustrated that your employees don’t do their work as well as you would do it?

2. Do you frequently correct your employees’ correspondence and redo their reports and presentation slides?

3. Even if you don’t do their work for them, do you review their work and have them redo it according to your specifications? Do you even send it back again and again until they get it the way you want it?

4. Do you find you spend more time on projects and technical work than on coaching your employees to do the work?

Ironically, if you ask micromanagers why they do it, they’ll tell you that they have high standards and a heightened sense of accountability. That’s fine if they are going to do the work themselves, but it is deadly when they are trying to over-control the actions of their employees.

These back seat drivers kill initiative and motivation. Good employees will become frustrated and leave and mediocre employees will become drones, doing only what they are told to do.


So how do you direct and coach, without over doing it?

* When you are delegating work, spend enough time on the front end discussing and clarifying the desired outcomes, rather than saying nothing and then critiquing at the end. Even a short project requires clarification on the front end. Saying, “Handle this,” is a micromanager’s trap.

* If an employee seems off track, ask the employee to share his or her thought process with you. If you think employees are overlooking something say so, but then put it back in their lap and ask them for alternative ideas. By listening to the thoughts behind their actions you will learn where their blind spots are. Once they see the problem, they may be able to solve it on their own. If not, you can guide them to a better solution. Do not take the work back and do it yourself. It doesn’t teach employees any skills and makes the manager the chief “doer.”

* Ask for regular progress reports but don’t expect your employees to be “Mini-mes”. As long as they get to an acceptable end result, resist the urge to make them do everything your way.

* One way to keep in touch without overdoing it is to have regular weekly updates. It’s an opportunity to check in and see how their projects are coming. This allows you the opening to coach as the work evolves. The operative word is “coach” not “tell.” If you have a history of micromanaging, don’t be surprised to find that employees try to hide their work from you. They don’t want you meddling. Your new approach will gradually encourage them to be more open about what they are doing.

* Master artful questioning and careful listening. For example, “How do you plan to approach this?” “How are you planning to get buy in on this?” “What are you going to do to get Marketing involved?” “Do you have any ideas for solving this problem?”


Once a micromanager pulls his nose out of the weeds, he is likely to ask, “If I don’t control the day-to-day work, what am I supposed to be doing?” It varies but often includes getting closer to customer needs, developing strategies and new initiatives, communicating and collaborating with other divisions, and in short - leading.

When your coworker throws temper tantrums and your boss turns a blind eye

May 8, 2015

Dear Joan:

I have been in my job for several years and enjoy it very much. It is in a creative field and it offers me many opportunities for interesting work and enjoyable surroundings.

I have been having a problem with one of my co-workers, however, and this is threatening my job satisfaction. My co-worker throws temper tantrums. He throws things, swears, shouts and generally upsets everyone in his path. This really bothers me and I would like to know how to stop it or control it.

I’ve gone to our boss about this and his response could be summarized: We all know he has a big ego and we’ve all know how talented he is so we’ll just ignore it.

It’s difficult to work around him because he upsets me so much when he reacts this way. I get flustered and angry myself. Is there any answer to this problem?

Have you ever watched a toddler throw himself down in a grocery aisle and kick and wail for a box of cookies? I always study the parent when this happens. If they give in to the child I shake my head and mumble something to myself about the bail money they’ll need to start saving for bigger tantrums fifteen years from now. If the parent simply ignores the child and walks away, or firmly conveys their disapproval, I smile at the child’s good fortune.



Your boss has given your co-worker many boxes of cookies. You have little hope of changing your co-worker’s theatrics since your boss is giving in to keep your talented peer happy. Your co-worker may be using these fits of unacceptable behavior to exercise some power over his boss. Because his boss hasn’t challenged it, your peer has probably stepped farther and farther over the line. To pull him back at this point would cause a confrontation your boss isn’t willing to risk.

The point is, you can’t control his behavior so you’ll have to learn to manage your own reaction to it. In fact, pushing this point with your boss could boomerang. You probably aren’t the first one to complain about him. Imagine a scenario in the future: Your boss is giving you a job reference and he says to your potential employer, “She’s very talented but has difficulty working with some of the heavy hitters with big egos and you know how many of those we have in this business!”

Wouldn’t you rather have him say, “She works extremely well with all different types of personalities, in spite of the fact that some egos here can be tough to work around!”


Here are some ideas to try:

Next time objects fly through the air, simply turn and walk out of the room. When the audience walks away, the behavior may extinguish. If you are working together on a project, and don’t want to appear huffy or parental, simply say, “I can see how upset you are. Why don’t you come and get me when you want to continue.”

The key is to keep all emotion out of your voice. If it’s dripping with disgust or anger, it will only add fuel to his fire.

By suggesting that he find you when he’s finished fuming, you have put the responsibility on him to collect himself and decide to get back to work. The trick is to detach yourself from him and let him be responsible for his own behavior.

Another way to think about it is to change your relationship from parent/child to adult/adult. If you judge his behavior or try to control it, he’s likely to react like a child and the cycle will continue.

If you would like to talk to him about it, I’d suggest that you only speak about your feelings, not whether his actions are right or wrong. For example, you could say, “You probably don’t realize this but when you express your anger at work it really upsets me. I get very tense and find I can’t concentrate.” He may have fallen into this pattern of release and be unaware of the effect he has on those around him.

Whatever he chooses to do about his anger will have no effect on you, since you will continue to appear competent, cool and effective no matter how many temper tantrums he throws. In the end, it can only work to your advantage.


Even talented managers can have career-derailing blind spots

April 27, 2015

The Protectionist

The Protectionist can only see her team through rose-colored glasses. She hired them, she’s groomed them, she sees them as talented and an extension of her own ability to create a great team. Like a mama bear with her cubs, no one had better get too close.

An example emerged during a recent RIF (reduction in force). All the managers were struggling to make the tough decisions about whom to lay off, in order to meet the mandate set by senior management. Five percent had to go. But when it came to Amanda’s team, she adamantly refused to budge. Her team was full of superstars, she contended, and no one was to be cut.

Amanda also showed her protectionist blind spot during project reviews. Mistakes were never the fault of her team, and she was quick to point out the failings of other teams. Her own team basked in her perception of them, and, as a result, didn’t collaborate well with other departments. 

Some ways to modify this behavior (besides honest feedback and coaching) is to move The Protectionist to lead other teams every few years or give her responsibility for a cross-functional team, so she is forced to get a broader view.

The Controller

The complaints from employees who work with a controller are always the same. “He makes us run everything past him. We have to rework our communications and presentations so many times, they’re reduced to a meaningless shadow of what they were intended to be. Then, just when we think we are ready to move forward on something, he calls it back because he has some other concern. We can’t stand it and people are leaving.”

The Controller is usually overly concerned about his or her political standing in an organization, and worries about how decisions will reflect upon him. Often an analytical thinker, The Controller can’t seem to get enough data to make decisions and will obsess beyond the prudent time to act.

A coaching manager will be clear about the need for empowerment and put mandates in place for the Controller to let go and delegate both responsibility and authority.


The Loyalist

If you aren’t in his group of pals, you’re likely to get less time and attention ... and possibly less career opportunity. This can be a big problem when you see your peers going to ball games with the boss but you’re not invited

The Loyalist believes either you are with him or against him. Like Knights of the Roundtable, they pledge their allegiance. In exchange, the Loyalist gives them protection and shares the currency of the organization - information and opportunity.

A wise manager will direct the Loyalist to expand his or her circle at work, and strongly suggest the same for social outings.   The manager will also push the Loyalist’s employees to lead projects on their own and across the organization, which will force them to have some accountability to other leaders.


The Introvert

One-on-one meetings will be this leader’s style, if she meets with her employees at all. She eschews meetings because they make her uncomfortable. You are likely to find her hunched over her computer screen, maybe even with her door closed. She’s the master at data crunching, knows her department’s outputs to the tenth of a percent, but couldn’t tell you the name of her administrative assistant’s kids.

The Introvert tends to think more than she talks out loud. The problem is that she often thinks she’s told you something, but in reality, she only had the conversation in her own head. She tends to overlook the importance of communicating the big picture messages, such as “Where are we headed?” “How are we doing?” “What are our priorities?” As a result, employees line up outside her door, and projects can get bottlenecked.

The Introvert is wise to partner with a natural communicator - on her own team, HR, or an outside coach - to get assistance with the important messages, facilitation of planning sessions and a weekly meeting structure that gets the job done.


The Player

He’s often the favorite of top management. He knows how to work a room and how to spin a presentation. Usually gifted with interpersonal skills, the player knows who’s who in the organization and makes sure he knows the right people. He sometimes rides his team like an army mule, demanding results and riding roughshod over egos and personal schedules. But when it comes to sharing credit for those results, he’s front and center accepting the awards.

Exit interviews and 360 feedback tools are perfect to expose this behavior and modify it. The Player’s manager is wise to have one-on-one contact with the Player’s staff and insist that the Player invite his or her staff to make key presentations.


Bad apples & lax bosses - use diplomacy when complaining about co-worker
April 22, 2015

Our small department has a problem with an individual who takes advantage of a lax boss.

The individual comes to work as much as one half-hour late repeatedly, and over-extends the lunch hour. A lot of company time is spent conducting personal business such as paying bills, making or receiving numerous personal phone calls, as many as three or four per hour. The matter is compounded by an unwillingness to work in harmony with other employees.

I believe this type of behavior creates a negative environment in the department, especially since the boss chooses not to reprimand this individual. He also does not document these actions so that any disciplinary measures can be taken.

Is there anything that can be done by the co-workers to try to improve the situation?


This rotten apple is spoiling everyone’s attitude. You’ve called your boss lax. I call him irresponsible if, indeed, he has chosen to do nothing.

Is there a possibility he is unaware of the specifics? I suggest that a spokesperson be nominated by the group to make sure he hears the facts. Since you are motivated to solve the problem, why don’t you volunteer to speak to the boss on their behalf?

You have a clear, unemotional writing style, which suggests you could describe specific behaviors to your boss without accusations or theatrics.

If you do approach your boss, start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt. Say: “I know how busy you’ve been, so you may not have noticed what’s been going on.

“We have hesitated to come to you and we’ve tried to overlook this problem but we can’t anymore.

“We need your help to solve it because it’s starting to affect our attitude and motivation.”

Then calmly spell out some of the facts as you’ve observed them. Make no assumptions or you will weaken your position.

For example: “When I went to the copy machine at 10:30, she was planning a party with her friend on the phone. Her invitations were on her desk, and I heard her discussing the food to be served. Ten minutes later, when I returned, she was balancing her checkbook.”

This is much better than saying, “I’m sure she wastes company time by conducting personal business at work.”

Also, by mentioning the task you were doing, you won’t appear to be a gossip who does nothing but spy on your co-workers.

Some bosses hesitate to confront employees with rotten work habits because the employee’s production is still good.

To create a sense of urgency, choose examples that can be tied to production. If you can point to delayed projects, missed deadlines, complaints, or cases where the group has been forced to take her calls or do her work, your boss will be compelled to take action.

If your boss fails to reprimand this employee, he probably isn’t going to reward your good performance either. Both require good judgment and leadership. If this is the case, consider looking for a new job.

There are a few circumstances that may be worth staying for: If your excellent performance is highly visible to others; if a promotion is less than a year away; if the technical skills you’re learning will be highly marketable; or if your boss is about to retire.

Confronting this employee yourself will only make matters worse. If he or she flouts the rules in the face of authority, your intervention will probably be ignored or create more hostility. If you decide to stay, focus your energy on your own performance. Don’t be tempted by the philosophy: “If he gets away with it, I’ll do it, too.”

If your attitude begins to decay, it could destroy your good record. Maintain a healthy, motivated outlook and make a promise to yourself: “Someday, when I’m the boss, I’ll confront and resolve problems before they affect the morale of the team.”

Just whose job is it to motivate employees?
April 16, 2015

Dear Joan:

People talk about the paramount importance and the need to keep employees in the organization motivated. Some management gurus also keep saying a monetary allowance is not the only way to keep employees motivated. I understand there could be plenty of ways to keep people in the organization motivated, but can managers practically keep all the employees in the organization motivated? The organization has diversified staff, with heterogenous mindsets, with differences in perception and wants.

Is it necessary for the managers to break their heads in trying to keep people motivated? Does it bring about any positive returns to the organization?

My belief is, if people are hired to perform what is clearly defined and indicated in their job description, it is his or her own job. Why do managers have to motivate staff to perform their duties, for which they have been hired and paid?

Some blame it on the selection process, but where is a foolproof mechanism to ensure the people in the selection panel have all knowledge, skills and ability to select the best candidates? We may not be able to study and understand the people during an hour or two interview sessions.

When all is said and done, I have reservations about whether the managers have that responsibility to motivate people. If someone fails to do what he or she is supposed to be doing, or if someone has a negative attitude toward his or her duties, I would say those kind of people should be dismissed without second thought.


Every manager has probably asked him or herself that same question. Just like every parent has probably wished that their child’s self-motivation and success would take care of itself. While I’m not suggesting that the manager has the same influence over an individual as a parent, I do think there is some basis for comparison, when it comes to nature versus nurture.

I believe the answer to motivation lies in the combination of three main areas: the person’s internal self-motivation; the manager’s behavior toward that employee; and the work itself. If one or more of these is flawed - the person lacks initiative, the boss is a jerk, or the work is boring or a poor fit - motivation will be a problem.

First, let’s address the hiring process. Selection interviews are far from scientific. That is why testing has become popular, panel and multiple interviews are used, and behavioral, open-ended questions (used to tie former experiences to job-specific requirements) is considered a best practice. But even though the past is a good indicator of future success and motivation, it’s no guarantee.

While I agree that everyone is motivated by different things, I do think it’s the manager’s job to find out what trips the trigger for each of his or her employees. For example, for the person who loves challenge, it would be in the best interest of the manager to feed that person varying assignments and opportunities to grow her responsibilities. For the person who just wants to do his job and punch out at five o’clock, the manager should be able to support that, as long as the person is willing to keep up with quality and quantity demands, pitch in during peak times and meet the changing expectations of the job.

But let’s move beyond the internal drivers and consider what happens when a self-motivated individual is managed by a bully, or a micromanager, or someone who doesn’t pay much attention to anyone but themselves. Even the most self-directed person will begin to be affected negatively over time. And even with an average manager, most people won’t flourish on their own.

So, to your chicken-or-the-egg question, my answer is “both”. The employee is responsible for applying himself to the job for which he was hired. If he doesn’t meet the basic requirements of the job, the manager has every right to fire the person (provided, of course, that the necessary training and tools have been provided). And to your point about someone with a negative attitude, I agree that attitude is an essential part of job responsibilities - it affects co-workers, customers and teamwork.

However, it’s the manager’s responsibility to contribute positively to the equation as well. I have seen many situations where the “negative attitude” was caused by the manager. For example, he should treat employees with respect, value their contributions, communicate expectations and provide feedback. With that, the employee will probably be satisfied.

If, however, that manager takes the extra step to discover what each person’s internal motivators and goals are, and then tries to tie those to the work at hand, motivation will soar. After all, isn’t that the added value a manager should be bringing to the mix? If we lived in an ideal world, where everyone was perfectly matched to their work and were completely self-motivated, the manager role would never have been created.

Team-oriented companies use peer hiring to build stronger teams

April 14, 2015

Teamwork is so important at work these days ... everyone has to do their share to produce a good end product. And if one of your co-workers isn’t pulling his or her weight - or worse, isn’t qualified - it hurts the whole team’s results. Have you ever wished you could be the one to hire your co-workers? Well, you may get your wish. Peer hiring is one of the fastest growing new trends in team-oriented companies.

Here’s how it works:

First, decide who the interviewing team will be. It might be peer managers along with the person who is to be the person’s manager. It could be a combination of peers, employees and “internal” customers who will be interacting with the new person. Ideally, the group will make the ultimate decision by consensus, so if there is anyone who could veto the choice, they should be included from the beginning.

To start, the team gets together to list all the qualifications they want in the new position. It might be a good idea to have an independent facilitator to help the group stay on track.

It helps to create two lists: 1.”Musts” (qualifications that are requirements) and 2. “Preferred” (qualifications that are desirable but aren’t absolutely required). For example, it might be a requirement to have “two years of customer service experience in a retail environment” but a bachelor’s degree may be preferred but not required. The manager or team leader should write these on a flipchart so the team can see both lists as they are developed. The team may not be experienced at this process, so the manager may want to suggest some criteria.

Next, the team figures out what questions to ask each candidate and which people will do the interviewing. In most cases, everyone participates in determining what is needed but only a few actually interview. For example, one person who has the best technical skills might ask candidates all the technical questions. Two people who work with customers could focus on customer service questions.

It’s also a good idea to educate the group on how to conduct a good interview. The interviewers on the team may need some help developing open-ended questions. For example, they may need coaching on how to avoid asking illegal questions and how to probe after a general answer is given.

The team may decide to do some behavioral interviewing, where real life case studies or role plays are developed to evaluate candidates. For example, a team I was working with decided to present candidates with a “problem customer” scenario to see how they would handle it. The position was a customer service manager and a cross-functional team of employees and managers were on the interview team. The team predetermined the appropriate response to the “problem customer” and were able to objectively determine if the candidates indeed had the behaviors they were looking for.

Once a few candidates are chosen, they are scheduled to move from interviewer to interviewer. Afterwards, the team gets together and rates each candidate against their original list of required qualifications. If there are a few people who aren’t doing the interviewing, it may be a good idea to at least introduce the final candidates to them. For example, in the prior example of the customer service manager, the entire employee group had a chance to meet the two finalists and ask them some questions. Once a consensus is reached about who to hire, the manager takes over and makes an offer.

Team interviewing does take more time but it is particularly effective when hiring a key position where a lot is at risk or where employee buy-in is critical. The team feels a sense of ownership about the decision and they are committed to making sure that person succeeds. When you consider the high cost and emotional destruction that comes from hiring the wrong person for a job, the time spent on the front end is well worth it.

The candidates I’ve spoken to who have gone through this process often comment about how impressed they were. They are more eager to work for a company that includes employees in the hiring process because it demonstrates a strong, participative culture. The candidate is well informed about what the expectations are as well as about with whom they will be working. Candidates are impressed with the depth and breadth of the questions they are asked. It’s no surprise when you consider how closely team members will scrutinize a potential co-worker who can influence their results!


Manager urged to confront hostile employee 
March 29, 2015

Dear Joan:  

I am a supervisor and I have a problem that requires help. One of my employees resents it whenever I have to talk to her about her performance. It has gotten to the point that she gets quite hostile. I have become intimidated by her attitude and it has affected my ability to properly supervise her. How do I overcome this and regain my position while lessening her hostility?


Things have gotten out of hand and in order to correct the situation, you are going to have to manage your own emotions. If you are unable to deal with this employee in an objective, firm way, not only will the situation worsen, you will lose stature with the rest of your employees and your boss.

It’s time to deal with this employee’s attitude straight on. Up to now, her hostility has gotten her exactly what she wanted and you have backed off. No more intimidation games. Now, in addition to her performance problems, she has an attitude problem to work on.

This employee has successfully deflected the negative feedback because she sensed you felt uncomfortable giving it. The next discussion you have with her will be controlled by you, not by her. Your confidence and control will come from the knowledge that you are prepared. Let’s get started.

First, write down the expectations this person has not been meeting. In other words, what is it she should be doing and to what degree of quality. For example: “All weekly reports must be completed by Friday at noon and contain X,Y and Z.”

Next, write down examples of her poor performance. It’s not enough to say, “She hasn’t been doing it.” Instead, you might say something such as, “Reports for March 10, 17, 31 and April 14 and 28 were turned in two or three days late. Errors included: X was missing on 4 of them, Y was incomplete and data collected was inaccurate on both of the April reports that were late.” Include as much detail and as many examples as you have.

Now say to yourself, “What are the consequences of her poor performance?” Perhaps her poor work is slowing down production or is affecting the quality of the product. Other team members may be negatively affected. Use as many detailed examples as you can.

Write down some ideas you have for solving the problem. Make sure the ideas you come up with are the responsibility of your employee. For example, if the problem were really poor reports, as in the previous example, an appropriate solution would not be for you to rewrite or edit them.

Finally, decide how you will follow up on this problem. Will you check her work daily? Will you have an experienced employee work with her? And when will you need to have another follow up discussion to check on her progress?

Now, you are ready. Call your employee into a private area and get ready to manage your own reactions and stay removed from hers.

Concentrate on only this: This employee has created her own problems and she needs to take steps to correct them or she could eventually be fired. Your job is to get the work done. You will not be sidetracked with accusations or any other form of hostility. The facts will speak for themselves. The consequences of her poor work will clearly show that she is hurting the operation. Your job is to be fair to the company and the workers by solving this problem.

If she retaliates with an accusation that you are picking on her, say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I don’t like having this conversation any more than you do but as you can see, these results speak for themselves.”

If she glares in silence, ignore it and say what you have to say. If she refuses to answer your questions, say, “I was hoping you would be more cooperative and we could work together to solve this. The choice is yours but I must tell you that failure to improve could result in more disciplinary action or even termination.”

If her attitude has begun to affect the way she relates to you in front of others, be ready with examples that you found inappropriate. Keep a steady, calm tone of voice and make it clear that you want that behavior stopped. For example, “Yesterday, when I gave you your work assignments you rolled your eyes and slammed the papers down on your desk in front of the others, I felt that was inappropriate. If you have something to say to me, I am happy to discuss it but reactions like that are beginning to affect the rest of the team and they must stop.”

Keep the discussion focused on what she wants to do to solve the problem. If she has an idea, let her try it for a period of time and monitor how it works. Bring in your solution ideas, if she has none, or you don’t think hers are acceptable.

After the discussion, summarize it in memo form and give a copy to her. Tell her you want to make sure there is no misunderstanding. In the memo, detail the problem, the negative effect it has on the unit, her solution ideas, the terms of the follow-up arrangements and the date of the next discussion. This should leave no room for questions in her mind regarding what must be done.


Inoculate your company against rigid thinking 
March 19, 2015

Dear Joan:

I was thinking of you at a staff meeting we had today. I thought you might appreciate an anecdote from the field about a regular occurrence: incorporating new people into a work team.

Today, I had the first management team meeting with a new employer. I found the situation to be productive and extremely comfortable. Of the nine people in the room (all upper managers), three of us had less than a year with the employer, three had over 15 years of experience, and the other three were somewhere in between. What made the meeting special was the interchange of ideas and a good dose of humor. The newcomers were neither singled out nor ignored. Even though we had little experience as a team, the humor helped us to build the relationships we will need to be effective in the future.

Contrast this with two other employers with whom I tried to build a career. Virtually from day one, it was made clear that “We won’t even know your name until you’ve been here for 10 years.” Although it was a joke, it was also a sad truism. It was difficult to bring anything new to the table because the culture excluded contributions from newcomers (even at high levels).

One of my peers was constantly on the defensive as a manager because long-service, lower-level people would go over her head to other long-service executives. Tens of thousands of dollars in recruiting fees were wasted because the employer did not have the gene that incorporates new contributors into the organization. Both employers had high turnover of middle management employees hired from outside the company. (And in neither case was I given the opportunity to give an exit interview.)

I believe there is so much to be gained in the collaboration of long-service employees with those who have other work experiences. Employers who do that are truly “employers of choice.”


Every organization is like a living, breathing organism with its own personality, emotional health, ethical standards and an immune system that rejects behavior and ideas that threaten its state of being.

When a foreign object - such as a new idea - is injected into the system, the organization’s antibodies rush to surround it and destroy it before it can spread to the rest of the organization.

In a healthy company, the foreign behavior that isn’t tolerated may be that of a disrespectful sales rep, who verbally abuses the internal sales assistants. Or, the organization might drive out an employee who refuses to work cooperatively on her team.

In an unhealthy organization, it sounds like this, “Oh, we tried that already and it doesn’t work,” or “Nothing changes around here unless the boss says it’s okay,” or “OK, try it if you want but I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if it doesn’t work.”

This kind of insulated, narrow-minded thinking usually comes straight from the top and the only way it will change is through a change in leadership (or seeing the Ghosts of Christmas Past). That’s one of the reasons old-line or closely controlled companies with calcified cultures so often start by looking for an enlightened leader with a strong stomach for initiating change. The problem is that the executives and managers are conditioned so well, it is very difficult to change years of reinforced behavior.

Organizations that want to inoculate their organizations against rigid thinking are wise to take some of the following steps:

* Hire enough people from the outside to keep fresh ideas in the company’s blood stream.

* Make it a point to take full advantage of lessons learned somewhere else. Ask, “Jack, you’ve had experience with this at ACME. When you were there, how would they have approached this problem? Any lessons we could apply here?”

* Do 60-day interviews with new employees to find out how they like the organization, if they are feeling accepted and if there is more you can do to tap their experience.

* In meetings, squash nay-saying and premature evaluation of new ideas.

* If an employee has a new idea they are convinced will work, let them test it and monitor its effectiveness.

* Do a “Post Mortem” on projects that fail or ideas that didn’t work. Rather than blaming those involved, make them a valuable part of the analysis of why it didn’t work and what can be learned. Thank people for their efforts.

* As an executive or manager, have the emotional courage to stay open to new ideas yourself. Admit when you’re wrong. Ask for advice. Try something for the first time.

Even the smartest companies fall into the “not invented here” trap. If you think it’s seeping into your organization, it may be time for a booster shot.


What makes an organization a great organization? 
March 12, 2015

Dear Joan:

There are, or at least there used to be, companies/organizations reputed to be especially good places to work. What qualities and characteristics do such places of employment possess? What is it about these companies or organizations that causes their employees, and often the community, to feel so positively about them?


Sometimes I feel like a very lucky fly on the wall. Because our consulting firm has an opportunity to work with so many good companies, as well as companies who strive to be, we learn so much about what really works. And because we are on the lookout for the latest studies and research, we have discovered some common traits that just simply come up time and time again.

Here are some of those observations. Perhaps they will be useful fodder for your next staff meeting. Why not say, “Let’s rate ourselves on these things and create an action plan to close the gaps we have.”


In general, the best organizations have:

1. Focus - Senior leaders who are of one mind about the kind of culture they want to create, and who consistently send the message through their actions and decisions.

2. Communication - Managers who recognize their role as the “key connection” between the people and the organization.

3. Rewards - Systems, benefits and pay systems that reward the right behavior.

If an organization is successful in these 3 areas, employees will be clear about what is expected of them in their culture and make a personal commitment to their part of the “contract.”

Senior managers are enthusiastic advocates for a healthy culture.

Excellent companies recruit executives who are focused on a lot more than just the bottom line. They set aside time to talk about the culture and recognize that it is an important component of strategic planning. The president or CEO is usually the strongest advocate and holds his or her senior managers personally responsible for being role models.

The senior management does not wall itself off from the next layer of management. They often meet together to plan and decide how best to roll out new initiatives with employees. Senior managers value the input middle managers can provide and they expect managers to actively encourage employee involvement.

Senior managers periodically interact personally with employees in small group settings, or electronically, to help them understand the company’s direction, a new initiative or just to keep communications open.

Senior management takes an active interest in the systems, benefits and pay systems that are created. They know that these are powerful tools that can help them shape the culture they are trying to create. They usually want flexible systems that encourage people to self-manage and take personal responsibility. They also tend to be creative with their perks and benefits; things such as, flextime, work at home, incentive bonuses, etc.

Managers understand their role as the “key connection” between employees and the company.

They act like the “hub” of communication and decision-making. They don’t just focus on getting the job done; they care about each individual. They care about their career interests, their families, their morale and satisfaction with their work.

Managers demonstrate their respect for employees by encouraging their involvement and by valuing their ideas. They also help employees experiment and implement their ideas. They have lively team meetings, where problems and solutions are discussed, but they also spend some one-on-one time with each person, to provide direction and to give honest feedback. They look for “teachable moments” to keep employees on track and to give them career coaching. They look for ways to challenge and grow employees; big assignments, job rotations, lots of responsibility, visibility, etc.

Probably one of the toughest things to do, but one of the most important, is a culture where managers deal with conflict early and honestly and hold people accountable for making changes. They aren’t afraid to let someone go if they aren’t performing or are hurting the team.

They also find ways to make work fun and lighthearted. They celebrate successes and take care to thank and compliment employees personally and in group settings.

Healthy workplaces expect a lot from their employees.

Each employee is expected to take personal responsibility for his or her own behavior. They are clear about what is expected in their culture and when they sign on to be a part of it, they are held accountable. They are expected to step up to changes, learn new skills, and speak up when they have a new idea or a complaint. They are expected to get involved on a meaningful level. And an entitlement mentality is not accepted. In short, the unspoken contract is that employees are treated like adults and then employees are expected to come halfway as adults in a mutually beneficial partnership.


The best managers are the best leaders
March 5, 2015

What do managers do all day? Put their feet up on the desk and think deep thoughts? Spend the day keeping track of everything their subordinates do? Make broad policy decisions and command whatever resources are needed? Surely, life must get less complicated as the manager moves up the pyramid.

Ask any upper level manager and you’re likely to get a long, low chuckle. Most of them will quickly tell you that these widely held notions are myths. Well, then, what does a good manager do that makes him or her a successful leader?


The best leaders I know have certain personal characteristics in common:

They have the ability to focus attention on the vision for the future.

They are single-minded about the direction they wish to chart. In staff meetings, speeches, work assignments, the theme is the same. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind what the goal is and what values support it. This framework helps his or her direct reports make their own decisions, since they can evaluate each situation against the goal. If quality customer service is the vision, for example, then it becomes a criterion in the decision-making process for everyone in their organization.


They have patience and a sense of timing.

They have the ability to assess the power structure of the organization and determine - on any given proposal - who will support it, block it and all areas in between. No matter how sorely they want to push an idea through, they will seldom challenge when a corridor is blocked, preferring to wait for it to open up. These leaders are able to move the organization toward the goals they’ve set by finding opportunities as situations arise. They watch the trial balloons of others and put their finger to the wind, always looking for an opening. They recognize the futility of trying to push total packages or programs through the organization, if it isn’t ready. They are willing to take less than total acceptance in order to achieve modest progress toward their goals.


They have a talent for keeping themselves informed about a wide range of operating decisions.

As they move up, their network expands across many departments. When necessary, they will bypass the formal lines of authority to get the “whole story” about a situation. Their subordinates know they must keep them well-informed about decisions they make. These leaders know that if they isolate themselves from operations, their decisions will be based on limited knowledge.


They avoid meddling in their subordinates’ work.

Because they are well informed, they can help guide and position their employees’  ideas or projects, but they avoid telling them how to do their work. They don’t make - or unmake - their subordinates’ decisions. Rather, they are alert to potential problems or opportunities. Their primary functions are to open doors, support and influence decisions, play devil’s advocate and act as chief questioner and strategist.


They coach by simultaneously challenging and supporting their subordinates.

In your own career, you probably can recall a boss who supported you but seldom challenged you to the limits of your capabilities. Or, you may have had a manager who provided you with more challenges than you could handle, yet was never around when you needed him or her. Leaders who can do both are likely to have high-performing employees who aren’t stagnating or burning out.


They can build commitment.

They know how to energize the organization at all levels, to create and exploit change. They know that employees who are involved in the decisions that affect their work are more committed to their work. They encourage participative meetings and welcome any creative idea. They praise people who identify problems as much as those who bring good news. They know that continual change is necessary to discover new combinations of opportunities.

An organization is doomed to mediocrity unless it is guided by good general managers in key positions. No matter how rich its other resources, an organization will not excel unless it is led by what are becoming increasingly rare individuals ... superior leaders.

Employees deserve honest coaching

Feb. 26, 2015

Jack’s secretary drove him crazy. She forgot to write meetings in his calendar, sent memos to the wrong people and was curt on the phone.

Last week he exploded in a fit of anger and fired her. She was dumbfounded. “He never told me there was anything wrong! He seemed crabby sometimes but he never said he was unhappy with my work.”

Tom is a vice president for a medium-sized company. One of the managers who reports to him is a weak performer. In spite of the fact that the president has urged Tom to take some action, he can’t seem to bring himself to demote him or fire him. When pushed, Tom makes excuses for his manager rather than hold him accountable. After all, he reasons, this fellow only has six years until retirement.

Janet is a supervisor in a small manufacturing plant. Janet has gone to her boss on several occasions to discuss her promotability. He always tells her the same thing, “Don’t worry, your performance is just fine. Something will come along that’s suited to your skills.”

After four years of hearing the same old story, Janet left the company and is now working as a manager for a competitor. After she left, a former co-worker told her that her old boss made negative remarks about Janet’s communication style.

Jack, Tom and Janet are self-muzzled managers. They are unable to level with their own employees about what they want. They not only hurt themselves, they cripple the very people they are trying to shield.

Under their leadership, good employees lose their enthusiasm and poor performers propagate. Political gamesmanship flourishes because the person with all the cards can’t be depended upon to keep things fair. Decisions rarely get made and those that do are easily unmade by those who choose not to be accountable.

Some of it boils down to a reluctance to deliver bad news. The fear of being disliked for making a judgment sends these managers scurrying for their rationales: “I’ll hurt his feelings,” “She might cry,” “He’ll be devastated,” “He’ll lose his motivation,” “She’ll stir up trouble in the unit.”

An interesting thing happens when you ask managers like Jack, Tom and Janet a question about their own bosses. Ironically, they often complain about a lack of honest feedback or coaching. “How can I advance unless I really know what I must work on?” “I’d give anything to know what he really thinks.”

Ask any working adult this question: “If you were doing something at work that was getting in the way of your performance or advancement, would you want your boss to tell you?” The person would probably respond, “If it is something I had the power to change, of course I would want to know!”

What are we so afraid of? Perhaps it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing, alienating an employee, receiving a grievance or becoming unpopular.

Here are some tips for you to use the next time you feel like holding back important performance information:

*  Don’t postpone the feedback. The longer you do, the more likely hostility will build toward the employee and the problem will be blown out of proportion.

*  Analyze the severity and urgency of the problem. If it is getting in the way of his or her success, you have a responsibility to be honest with this employee.

* Bring up only one issue and give a description of the problem, not your judgment about it. For example, “I believe that it is important that staff meetings start on time. I know you’re very busy but I’d like you to make a stronger effort to be on time.” Don’t open with, “You are always late for staff meetings and constantly waste everyone’s time.”

* Only bring up behavior the employee has the ability to change. Your employee can learn to give smoother presentations but probably can’t do much about a squeaky voice.

* Give feedback in a private area. However, making a big production out of finding an out-of-the-way place can make the message seem worse than it really is.

* It’s very important to tell the employee about your positive intent and your desire to help him or her succeed. For example, “I know you are interested in getting ahead. I want to help you succeed in this company. As I see it, the best way to help you is to give you honest coaching.”

* If you don’t have quantifiable facts, say, “It appears to me...” or “As I see it...”

* Once you have made your point, don’t apologize for it or sugarcoat it. Calmly listen to your employee’s reaction.

* Your employee may benefit from examples and advice you may have for solving this problem. It’s also wise to ask your employee if he or she has any ideas for solving it.

* Hold the person responsible for solving the problem. If your employee blames others or makes excuses, re-focus the discussion by paraphrasing, “You feel that your late reports are Sue’s fault. You are accountable for the overall results on this project. What can you do to make sure you don’t miss your deadline?”

* Don’t forget to ask what you can do to assist your employee. Often, managers get in the way without knowing it and don’t give their employees opportunities to tell them so.

* Finally, speak in a matter-of-fact manner. If your tone and demeanor are upbeat and natural, your employee is more likely to see the discussion as helpful coaching. If you wrinkle your brow, avoid eye contact, sugarcoat your words or lean forward in a worried pose, your employee will become alarmed. If you are straightforward about the discussion, your employee will be able to hear it for what it is - helpful coaching from someone who cares enough to help them succeed.


The smartest guy in the room

Feb. 19, 2015

As a kid he was always bored in class. He took a tough curriculum in college and sped through it, with honors. He had plenty of job offers and took a position that enabled him to use his talents and shine. So why isn’t he getting promoted five years later? In fact, he was just pulled off a cross-functional team project and was appalled that the project leader role was given to someone he considered inferior in intelligence.

“I think he got the project because he was kissing up,” he said. “They are going to fall flat on their face without me. They don’t have the technical capacity and knowledge I have.” He may be right about the intellectual contribution he provided but the project was crashing because of him.

Why? Because he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room and his behavior was a turnoff to others on the project. They resented his arrogance and his refusal to listen to the ideas from the group. It was clear he thought he was the only one who could solve the problem. He dismissed their offers to help and tried to be a one-man team.

Complaints started among the team - quietly at first. But over time, their frustration grew and it started to leak out in wider circles. The negative reputation started to spread like oil in the water.

The noise about him reached his boss’s ears and he was pulled from the high-visibility project.  When he marched in and demanded to know why, his manager said, “You don’t play well with others. You need to be more collaborative and build a working team that is going to be engaged and buy in to the final solution. I was hearing too many concerns about you trying to do the project on your own, without the team.” 

He was angry and frustrated. For most of his life, he could win by being smart and driven but now it wasn’t enough.

He was lucky. His manager arranged for him to work with a coach. It was going to take some rewiring and some new behaviors to get his career back on the rails. And he had a big hole to dig out of - his peers had already decided he was a jerk.

Collaboration skills are prized in the modern organization and in many jobs are more important than intelligence alone. I can think of few jobs where an employee can succeed in isolation today. Most organizations have morphed from a siloed (vertical hierarchy) to a matrix structure. It’s common today to have “solid line” and “dotted line” reporting relationships, where the solid line is the “real” boss and the dotted line is the internal customer, or co-dependent peer. If you can’t collaborate with others, your career will stall.

How are your collaboration skills? 

* Do you seek out the opinions of your customers and other stakeholders? Do you really listen to their advice? Then, do you get back to them to tell them how you used their suggestions? Most people don’t close the loop and miss this opportunity to build the relationship and make colleagues feel valued.

* Do you wait to offer your opinion until most people have offered theirs? Or, are you quick to jump in and push your opinions on others? Even if their ideas aren’t completely solid, there may be a nugget that is valuable. And listening to them will make them more inclined to hear your ideas, too. Paraphrasing can curb your desire to speed ahead.

* When you are the project leader, do you facilitate meetings so everyone is heard? Creating a safe place for people to share their ideas is a key to the success of a team. If the only voice in the room is yours and the heads around the table are simply nodding, you aren’t doing your job.

* Do you make it safe for team members to challenge each other and look for the best solutions? If some people are silent for too long, you are missing something. Often, they’re silently disagreeing, or finding a flaw but hesitating to speak.

* Are people showing up for your team meetings and acting engaged? If they start finding reasons to leave early, show up late, or not at all, they are telling you they feel it is a waste of time.

* Do you know how to ask good questions? Or are you too busy talking? People who are full of themselves don’t learn to ask good questions because they think they know all the answers.

* Have you worked on your facilitation skills? Do you know how to create a process that focuses the team on the right work at the right time? Do you pay attention to the group dynamics - or are you so down in the details you forget you are leading the team, and not the sole problem solver?

Ironically, the smartest person in the room is the one who makes everyone else feel they are smart, too.

How to ensure understanding and get engagement when presenting to large audiences

Feb. 12, 2015

Do you want to convey an important message to a large group and get commitment and buy in? Simply standing in front of them and speaking, even if it is accompanied by a great set of PowerPoint slides, usually doesn’t do it.

Why? Because the individuals in the audience haven’t been living it and discussing it for weeks like you and your senior team have. They don’t have the context or background information you have.

You exclaim, “But I ask them if they have any questions and I get nothing!” Of course people aren’t going to stick their necks out in a political atmosphere - in front of peers, bosses, employees - and look like they don’t get it. Or worse, like they are challenging or questioning it!

Here is a technique I call “The Huddle Technique” that will help you engage with your audience (even hundreds of people), assure they get their questions answered in a safe environment, and experience firsthand what your audience really comprehends and buys into.


1. Tell the audience upfront that you are going to be using a new approach to get questions and dialogue after your presentation. This puts them on notice that they will have to do something different, and as a result, they will listen closely.

2. Present your material in a concise, conversational manner, using slides that graphically illustrate your points (if slides are necessary). Keep it short - 15 minutes is ideal.

3. Once you are finished, say, “What I would like you to do is to huddle up in groups of four or five, with whomever is seated closest to you. Your assignment over the next 10 minutes or so is to discuss what was presented and come up with one question or one comment per group.” Then give them time to buzz.

4. Interrupt them after about 10 minutes and say, “Can I interrupt please? Now would you go back into your group and choose a spokesperson, who will ask your question or make your comment.”

It’s important to wait until the group has had a chance to discuss the topics without a leader before naming a spokesperson. (If you ask for a spokesperson upfront, they will choose the highest ranking or most outspoken person-who tends to dominate the conversation and influence the group with his or her own ideas.) Give the group a few minutes to regroup and decide on their question or comment. This will automatically create a quick prioritization.

5. Go group by group and ask the spokesperson to stand and state their group’s comment or question.

The beauty of this approach is that it is “safe.” It’s the groups’ question and not a person’s question. They feel more anonymous. Your objective is to answer the questions as honestly and transparently as possible. You may want to direct one of the other leaders to take a question. If the question is something you can’t answer yet, say so and let them know when you will tell them (perhaps in another session like this). If you run out of time, you may want to collect the remaining questions and address them via conference call or email. You may want to ask one of your leaders to write down the questions asked verbally, or collect them on 3x5 cards. Usually there are a lot of similar themes, so even if you have a large audience, a few groups will represent the rest.

The goal of this process is to address their concerns in the meeting room. If you don’t, it’s likely the real concerns and questions will be voiced in the hallway and behind closed doors for days to come.










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