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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
However, if an employee reveals something to you that
you know you must act on, be honest about what you must
do and why.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Paraphrase and clarify
when all else fails, these two techniques will probably
save you. They are key, meeting-leading skills.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
June 11, 2015
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?
sound as if you know the difference between managing and
leading; it’s no wonder you have a good relationship
with your team.
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.
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.
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
What did you do that you are most proud of this past
What was your biggest challenge?
What was your biggest disappointment?
If you had to do it over again, what would you do
What did you find to be the most stimulating and caused
you to grow the most?
What was the most fun?
What are you looking forward to doing in the new year?
What worries you the most about the coming year?
What would you like to say about your performance one
year from now?
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
June 5, 2015
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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?”).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
you a micromanager?
May 14, 2015
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?
Do you frequently correct your employees’ correspondence
and redo their reports and presentation slides?
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?
Do you find you spend more time on projects and
technical work than on coaching your employees to do the
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.
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
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
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?”
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 -
When your coworker throws temper tantrums and your boss
turns a blind eye
May 8, 2015
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
key is to keep all emotion out of your voice. If it’s
dripping with disgust or anger, it will only add fuel to
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.
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
Even talented managers can have career-derailing blind
April 27, 2015
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
apples & lax bosses - use diplomacy when complaining about
April 22, 2015
small department has a problem with an individual who
takes advantage of a lax boss.
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.
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.
there anything that can be done by the co-workers to try
to improve the situation?
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.
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?
have a clear, unemotional writing style, which suggests
you could describe specific behaviors to your boss
without accusations or theatrics.
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.
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.”
calmly spell out some of the facts as you’ve observed
them. Make no assumptions or you will weaken your
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.”
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
bosses hesitate to confront employees with rotten work
habits because the employee’s production is still good.
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.
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,
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
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
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Team-oriented companies use peer hiring to build
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
Manager urged to confront hostile employee
March 29, 2015
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.”
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
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
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Organizations that want to inoculate their organizations
against rigid thinking are wise to take some of the
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.
meetings, squash nay-saying and premature evaluation of
If an employee has a new idea they are convinced will
work, let them test it and monitor its effectiveness.
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
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.
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.
makes an organization a great organization?
March 12, 2015
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.
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.”
general, the best organizations have:
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
Communication - Managers who recognize their role as the
“key connection” between the people and the
Rewards - Systems, benefits and pay systems that reward
the right behavior.
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
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.
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
Managers understand their role as the “key connection”
between employees and the company.
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
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.
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
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.
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
best leaders I know have certain personal
characteristics in common:
They have the
ability to focus attention on the vision for the future.
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
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.
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.
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.
coach by simultaneously challenging and supporting their
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.”
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.”
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!”
are we so afraid of? Perhaps it’s the fear of saying the
wrong thing, alienating an employee, receiving a
grievance or becoming unpopular.
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
was angry and frustrated. For most of his life, he could
win by being smart and driven but now it wasn’t enough.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Go group by group and ask the spokesperson to stand and
state their group’s comment or question.
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
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.