Are You a Silo Builder or Buster?

Silos crop up in organizations when there is a lack of trust.  Departments, regions and co-workers try desperately to mark their territory and keep a tight fist on resources and information.  It’s not a healthy situation.  This results in closed doors, back stabbing and, frequently, loss of good personnel.  They take off for more forthcoming, open organizations.Silo Builder or Buster

Silos in your personal life crop up when you don’t tell your husband about the exam your son failed at school.  Why bring him into it?  He’ll probably get angry.  Your son will get embarrassed and defensive.  Let’s just put up a wall on the information to keep the peace.  Suddenly you’ve laid your first brick in your own personal silo.  The “keep bad news away from Dad’ silo.  In the long run, when someone finds out who knew what and when, the trust might be irreparable.

So how do you go about some silo busting?  Here are some ideas

1. Open.  Be open with your communication.  This can be difficult; especially, if the culture is to keep your cards close.  It starts with you.  If you just got some information that might negatively affect the business or one department in particular.  Take the first step and be open with the information.

2. Drop.  As in drop the assumptions.  This moment never happened before.  You really don’t know how that manager, child or customer might react.  You might have an educated guess but leave your assumptions out of it.  They are frequently a self fulfilling prophecy.  “Suzie always gets angry when I mention the sales forecast.”  Hmmm, regardless of Suzie’s reaction you are going to be looking to fulfill your assumption and any reaction Suzie has will be categorized in your mind as “anger”.

3. Love.  Sounds crazy but I do this especially if I am angry with a colleague (or ex) .  I imagine myself embracing them.  It’s hard to throw someone under the bus if you recently imagined embracing them.  We are all human and deserve caring folks around us.  It’s real hard to lay the first brick of a silo if you promote a caring culture.

4. Share.  This straight out of the “Essentials of Leadership” from Development Dimensions International,  “Share thoughts, feelings and rationale.”  It builds trust.  Explain to your husband why you were reluctant (feelings) to tell him about the failing test score.  Tell your colleague why (rationale) you would like to delay the project.  Trusting environments rarely have silos.

5. Promoter.  Be a promoter within your work group.  Make sure your employees are drinking the same Kool-Aid.  If your employees know that you are an open book on information and resources, they will follow suit.  Do not reward those who withhold important information to other departments.   It starts with you

6. Vacuum.  Don’t tolerate a vacuum on information or resources.  Take a deep breath and take the first step (this is more difficult for some of us who hate rocking the boat).  Pick up the phone or, better yet, (if you can) go be eyeball to eyeball with that guy you think is trying to build a silo.  “Hey Joe, I haven’t heard the status on Project X and my understanding is that you do….what gives?”  Be a silo preventer.

Depending on the organization, work unit or family culture, this can be difficult.  You can’t choose your family but you can choose the organization you work for.  If you are sensing there are too many silos and there aren’t any silo busters like you around?  The best strategy might be finding a place without any silos.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should: Squashing Gigaguilt

I’ve been reading CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD by Edward R. Hallowell.  The author coined the term Gigaguilt.  Initially, I figured that Gigaguilt was feeling regretful that I didn’t buy the 64 GB iPod and defaulted to the 16 GB iPod.  Like gigabite envy; it’s not.

It’s about the guilt associated with having access to so much information that you know that you are missing that 5k race for domestic violence victims, and the compensation conference in Tampa, and that comedian you’d love to see, or your son’s wrestling match that falls on the same night as your WordPress Meetup. girl_staring_at_mountains

Life was so much simpler when we didn’t get Facebook invitations to fundraisers for every charity under the sun.  They are all so deserving but how do you choose once the flood gates of information or connectedness open up?  There is this constant struggle between priorities in your life.  Some of which, up until about 5 years ago, weren’t even on your radar.  If you feel like you are overcommitted and are still beating yourself up that you forgot about the parents meeting at your child’s school, have 6 unanswered meeting requests in your inbox and your mother is exasperated that you haven’t returned her call –  You are suffering from Gigaguilt.

Here are some practical tips on how to squash the gigaguilt:

1. Timer.  Put a timer on when it comes to social media.  Spend 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.  Check in, and do what you are there for.  Check your daughter’s page, your college group feed and wish everyone happy birthday, and Get OFF.  Out of sight, out of mind.

2. Select.  Be selective with your notifications, lists and resources.  I am on several lists.  I get several daily, weekly and monthly newsletters, articles and posts.  If I decide it’s not serving me after a few weeks or months.  I drop it.  If something new comes on the horizon, I sign up and see if there is a benefit.  If not?  I drop it.  You are going to need to draw the line.  If you are never going to be a painter or lawyer or PhD candidate, get off the list.  If you aspire to learn how to play guitar, be a better public speaker or want some leadership advice, sign up and take a test drive.  Just be willing to pull the plug if it’s not serving you.  Clutter produces drag.

3. Slack. As in cut yourself some slack.  It’s OK to not sign up for every 5k within a 20 mile radius of your home.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Don’t head down the self judgment trail.  You don’t need to be the perfect________(fill in the blank).  My son ran in the state track meet last year and I wasn’t there to see it.  I saw the video.  I’m still a great parent.  No judgment.  I didn’t get to run a 10k in April.  I’ll try it next year.  I’m still a runner…er jogger.  I didn’t get to go to the charity event I’ve attended for the last 9 years.  It’s still a great cause and I am still a generous person.  Remember:  No one is keeping tabs except you.  Judge yourself exemplary.

4. Expectations. Lay the ground work with those who are important in your life.  Tell your boss that you won’t be able to work Thursday afternoons during you son’s wrestling season.  Tell your mother that you don’t take phone calls during dinner.  Let your daughter know that you have a trip scheduled during her upcoming concert.  There is a lot less guilt and finger pointing if you lay out your expectations up front.

5. Present.  Be present.  If your partner is talking to you, stop looking at your iPhone, make eye contact and listen.  If you are on the phone with your friend, don’t look at email.  If your dog wants to be scratched, look her in the eyes and be with her in the moment.   If you are taking a walk, smell, listen and look at the sights around you.  You aren’t going to get this moment back.  Be there, in the moment, in every moment of your life.

I am by nature, an early adopter.  I will on impulse sign up for a Groupon that I’m not sure my husband is on board with.  I will sign up for the class that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to fit into my life.  I have learned to back off.  Take a breath.  Be selective and squash the gigaguilt.  Just be cause you can, doesn’t mean you should.

7 Steps to Conquering Stage Fright.

I was presenting to a group for the first time last week and while the slide said “Relationships – How to Be a Real Success”, I said something like, “Sex is real important in relationships” (I don’t know what I actually said because the embarrassment basically erased my memory). And the crowd erupted.  I went three shades of red.  We were all laughing, especially me.  It was easy from there.  Isn’t that crazy?  Somehow I connected to the audience because of my blunder.  I became a human in everyone else’s eyes.

I’m a big Zoe Keating fan (a fabulous avaunt-garde cellist).  She apparently has suffered from performance anxiety and was written about in an article by Therese J. Borchard in World of Psychology called Conquering Performance Anxiety: A Primer for All Phobias.  What is interesting is that she conquered her fear by not performing in front of a group of people that she knew but by “busking” (street performing) at a BART station in San Francisco.  She conquered her fear by playing for an uncaring audience because once they started leaving some money and showing appreciation for her playing, she was emboldened.  Even if she made mistakes, they still thanked her for her playing.  Being a parent of a musician, I can tell you that you don’t notice mistakes as the listener, but as a musician, it’s all you pay attention to.

I received some helpful advice in a training course for DiSC by Inscape Publishing several years ago which was, “It’s all about them.”  When you focus on the audience and your only intention is to bring knowledge, skills or a new awareness to the group in front of you, the fear is damped down.  Squashed like a grape.

So how can you squash your fears and minimize your stage fright?  Here are a couple of ideas.

1.  Meditate.  Even 5 minutes a day can improve your focus.  It builds the gray matter in your brain and keeps the “stage” clear in your prefrontal cortex.  When you can focus, you are keeping your lizard brain at bay.  The more you practice meditation, the better the benefits.  You don’t see the Dalai Lama stressing out and having performance anxiety.

2. Beliefs.  My daughter told me the other day that she was nervous about midterms.  She said, “I’m bad at taking tests”.  If you believe that you are “bad” at taking tests, you will be.  If you believe that you are going to be nervous when you speak in front your Rotary club, you will be.  As Byron Katie prescribes, do the turn around.  Say to yourself that you are awesome at taking tests, inspiring at speaking in front of an audience, or that you’re going to rock this interview.  You gotta believe.

3. ReappraisalDavid Rock promotes this in his book Your Brain At Work. When you go on high alert because you feel a lack of control and uncertainty (such as getting on stage in front of a group or taking the SATs), try and re-frame your thinking.   I remember being given the advice that you should imagine that everyone is naked…really?  Now that is scary.  Try and reframe by saying to yourself, “Everyone is excited about what I’m going to say” or “I am really prepared for this test and I’m going to give it my best”.  When you can reflect and re-frame, you dampen down the fear response.

4. Transparent.   The audience cannot see inside your head.  Taylor Clark wrote in his book Nerve about the “illusions of transparency” bias. Put simply, we tend to believe that our internal emotional states are more obvious to others than they truly are. Outside of blushing and nervous twitches, the audience has no idea if you are calm and confident or shaking in your boots.  Assume the former and move on.

5. Move.  If you sit in the wings of the stage gnashing your teeth, you will raise your heart rate and stress level.  Take a ten-minute walk and get the blood flowing to your gray matter.  In fact, put your iPod on and listen to some uplifting music while you take that walk.

6. Alcohol and Caffeine. Your adrenaline is high enough.  There is no reason to pump up your system so lay off the Mountain Dew, espresso and dark chocolate.  You don’t want to be a jittery mess.  A shot of tequila or glass of Merlot is a not good route either.  You want to be on top of your game, so keep your gray matter in top form.

7. Prepare.  Run through your materials.  Don’t over think it but make sure you feel comfortable.  I find that I am always better the second time I give a training or speech.  I know where the lulls are, what questions come up and what material to throw out.  It’s the same when you take an exam for the second time in a class. You know what the professor is looking for the second time around.

Try one or two of these the next time your stage fright shows up.  Build from there. You can tame your fear with a little practice.

How do you conquer stage fright?

Think outside the Boomer Box. How to work with Millennials.

The next generation is invading the workforce and we are all going to need to adapt.  The expectation of a recent college graduate is vastly different than those boomers who are checking their 401k balance everyday and trying to figure out their escape plan.  For those of you who haven’t been in a college classroom lately, let me bring you up to date, the twenty-somethings are texting on their smart phones, sitting behind laptops and  have never cracked the spine on an encyclopedia.  So imagine the shock and horror, when they enter the workforce and they are dumped into a joyless cubicle, only have access to company approved websites and can’t use their cell phone because it’s prohibited by company policy.  Hmmm.  I think we have a problem.  We just put the handcuffs on; we’re bridling a generation that doesn’t even know what that means.

The average Millennial, born between 1980 and 2000, is expected to work 1.7 years at any given company.  In Human Resource terms, that is a blink of the eye.  Recruiting, attracting, on-boarding, training and retaining seem hardly worth the effort for 1.7 years of tenure (unless of course you are McDonalds).

So how are you going to retain these “kids”?  We’re going to need to take a hard look at our work environments, policies and leadership skills and adapt.  Some boomers may delay retirement for a few more years but there is going to be deficit in the skilled employable talent pool.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that within 8 years, Gen Y will be the majority generation in the workforce.

Here are some ideas on how to hold on to Gen Y and Z:

1. Purpose.  GenY can easily work for the Peace Corps in Africa for 2 years as work for a for-profit company. This group is looking for a higher purpose.  Profit for shareholders isn’t likely to cut the mustard.  If you can link your company’s vision and mission to a higher purpose, Gen Y might stick around.  Is your company giving back to the community, developing green initiatives or supporting a cause?  Are you communicating that or are you writing checks and keeping your mouth shut?  Communicate it.  Often.  And in varied ways

2. Feedback. Give it to them straight.  In an article from the Harvard Business Review by Meister and Willyerd called Mentoring Millenials, what Millenials want from their boss is someone “who will give me straight feedback”.  No sugar coating.  No veiled criticism.  Cut to the chase.

3. Recognition.  This is the generation where everyone got a trophy for just participating and in some cases, they didn’t get grades or never kept score during the game.  They have been recognized just for showing up.  This doesn’t need to be a huge budget for purchasing trophies for “just showing up to work,” a specific, sincere thank you for a job well done and why it’s important to the company’s goals will suffice.  This will build loyalty.

4. Freedom. You might think about how much latitude you are giving this next generation.   Antiquated policies about dress code, cubicle decorum and a staunch 8 to 5 work schedule isn’t likely to attract these folks.  If your business permits (I’m not suggesting that a bank teller should be able to work virtually), loosen the reins a little.  If you want some contrast, check out this video about Zappos culture.

5. Social. This generation has been collaborating and socializing since grade school.  Is your company culture open to supporting collaboration below the executive team?  Are your departments throwing a BBQ once in a while?  What are you doing to get to know your younger employees?  Get social.

6. Technology.  They are going to demand that you have technology.  A 2008 LexisNexis® Technology Gap Survey found that only 14% of Boomers access social networking sites from work; 62% of Gen Y do. Does your workplace permit such things as Facebooking at work? Have you figured out how to manage it?  The workplace is changing.

7. Challenge.  Busy work isn’t going to cut it.  This group isn’t about “paying their dues” for 10 years before having an opportunity to test the waters.  My nineteen-year-old daughter had an internship this summer for a documentary company.  Within three weeks of starting, they let her edit a piece of the documentary.  Is your company willing to do that?  How are you challenging this next generation? Challenge them early and often.

8. Open. Whether you are ready or not, within the next eight years more than 50% of the workforce is going to be Millenials.  Are you open to change?  Regardless, it’s going to happen.  Work/life balance, flexible work schedules and virtual offices are here to stay.  Think outside of the boomer box and open yourself up to the next generation.

I realize that not all industries can adopt all of these measures, but we can take some steps on one or two.  This is not one-size-fits all.  The point here is to stay ahead of the talent war looming  within the next decade.

Getting Past the Fork in the Road

Choosing which fork in the road can be excruciating.  About a year ago, my son is in the throes of choosing colleges to apply to.  There is an endless list of possibilities.  In today’s day and age, some kids apply to upwards of 20 schools.  How do you pare down the list?  How important is the engineering program?  Public or private? Close enough for Mom to drop by…or not? Too far and Dad won’t drop by and buy lunch once in a while.  Is their mascot a dancing tree, a tiger or an insect?  Are their teams worth painting his face for?   Do their dorms have air conditioning?  Can he even get in?

A colleague of mine quit her job last month.  Without notice.  Without a parachute.  Without telling her husband. She chose her fork in the road when she wasn’t even at the “fork”. Abruptly turned right…a sharp right.  She made a decision and she was relieved.  Empowered.  She bent the fork.fork-in-the-road-2-paths

The anticipation of making the decision can be far more painful than making the decision.  Ruminating through all the scenarios.  Sometimes it’s better to just deal with the aftermath rather than sweating over the “what ifs”.

Here are some suggestions about getting past the fork in the road:

1.  Deadline.  Make a hard deadline.  This is obvious in the college selection decision (you miss the deadline and it’s time for plan B).  Not so obvious if you are quitting your job, starting a business or purchasing a house.  So mark your calendar and hold fast to the deadline.  This will help move the process along.  If by year-end you still don’t like your boss or your commute (or even your significant other), move on.

2. Black Hole.  What is the worst-case scenario?  You are going to need to have a chat with your lizard brain.  What exactly are you afraid of?  If you quit your job, the world will not end.  If you leave your spouse, the sun will rise tomorrow.  If you start the new business, it might fail.  You can always work at Wal-Mart.  You can move to a cheaper living situation.  You can be alone.  Whew.  OK.  So now we can only go up from here.

3. Write.  Make a list of pros and cons with pencil and paper.  This process helps you focus.  Slowing down the thought process is important and improves the connections in your brain.  If you type out a list of pros and cons, it’s too rapid and uses both hands.  Writing with pencil and paper allows you to focus more and helps you be more deliberate and reflective.

4. Gut.  This was in a previous post. Be the Gut Whisperer.  Buried in your limbic brain is the right answer.  So over thinking can cause you to ignore your gut.  Do so at your own peril.  I remember when we bought the house I now live in.  My children came to see the house before we made an offer.  My ten-year-old daughter (at the time) loved it.  There were a ton of issues with the house (it had been flooded in Hurricane Floyd) but she knew when she looked at the view of the lake from her future bedroom window…this was the place.  We went with her gut and have never looked back.

5. Run.  Go for a jog.  Get the blood flowing.  As Dr. John Ratey recommends in his book Spark, regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and increases the neuropath ways within the brain.  You learn better, are calmer and will make better decisions.  So if it’s time to finally decide on which car you are going to buy, go for a run.

6. Jump.  Hold your nose and jump on in.  Turn down the job.  Buy the car.  Get engaged.  Shut the doors to the restaurant.  Go to the Ivy League school.  Give it your all, what ever you choose.  This is not the time to vacillate.  Commit to the direction and go.

So what fork in the road are you dealing with?

6 Ways to Stay Focused. Keeping Mind Clutter in Check.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast. index

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on you.  Don’t be a doormat. Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Modern Family” or who got kicked off of “Top Chef” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you stay clutter free.

What would you do?

Appreciation. A lesson from my Dad.

I posted this over a year ago and I felt like it was appropriate to repost on Father’s Day in appreciation of all the lessons my Dad has taught me.  Enjoy.

There isn’t a conference I attend or a book that I read that does not bring up the importance of appreciation.  It’s critical to everything: employee engagement, marriage, child rearing, influencing others and business success.  Appreciation is the root to success in all things.  But where is it?  Dig into your pockets and see if you have had your full load of appreciation today. It’s doubtful. Unfortunately, it’s the road less traveled.  Showing appreciation is that disappearing path in the woods that is covered in brush and kudzu. Most just don’t bother. My Dad and my brothers sailing on San Francisco Bay in the late '80s

When I was younger, my mother cooked for my family every night without fail.  My father complimented her on her cooking prowess every night without fail.  There we were, the five of us, sitting at the table as a family and with the first bite, my dad always said, “Hmm, honey, this is good.” This could be part of the reason she cooked every night. She knew she would be appreciated.

Dale Carnegie, Tom Rath, Marshall Goldsmith, Stephen Covey, Gary Chapman and  Patrick Lencioni (plus countless others) have all touted the benefits of appreciation.  And the benefits are countless.  So let me give you a few pointers on how to start down that road.

1. Notice. You are going to need to pay attention to the world around you.  Awareness of what is going on, or not going as the case may be, is the first step.  Did your son actually put all his clothes away without any hesitation?  Did your husband mow the lawn or finally replace that light bulb in the bedroom? Has your assistant updated that monthly report you haven’t looked at in three months?  If you aren’t paying attention, you will not have the opportunity to appreciate.

2. Value.  It’s the little things that matter.  The chore I hate the most in my life is emptying the garbage.  It’s a little thing.  It takes all of 3 minutes to haul the garbage bag out to the trashcan, but I loathe doing it.  So when I run across an emptied garbage can, it is a gift.  If the implementation team worked extra hours over the weekend to make the new software seamless first thing on Monday morning, it is a gift.  If I value it as a gift, then I know I will appreciate it.    My dad valued a hot, home cooked meal and he showed his appreciation.

3. Spontaneous.  Appreciation is not very effective if you drag your feet before you give appreciation.  OK, so for a wedding gift, I think the etiquette books give you up to a year—not true with the receptionist’s new haircut.  If you wait on complimenting her for, well, a year, it turns out to be kind of pointless.  If you love that color blouse on someone, tell them.  If you just realized that the dishwasher was emptied by the dishwasher elf (…the only person in my house that would do that is my dear sweet lovable husband), make sure you thank them (him).

4. Gossip.  There is nothing better than to hear that someone else spoke highly of you.  This happened to me this week and, frankly, prompted me to write this post.  A colleague of mine met, by happenstance, a Rotary friend of mine.  The colleague told me how my Rotary friend had been singing my praises as a Rotarian.  Wow.  If that isn’t the best appreciation to get…through a little gossip. 

5. Park it. Your ego, that is.  If you are worried about getting a compliment in return, this will not work.  If you come strutting in to the office with your new Jimmy Choo wedges, and start working your way down cubicle row complimenting everyone’s shoes; it will be obvious that it is more about you than them.  The appreciation faucet works best if it’s running in one direction…and that is towards others with no expectation of anything in return.  If you don’t park your ego, it could appear as if you are not sincere. 

6. Bask in it.  This is going to feel good.  Being an appreciator is like being a ray of sunshine.  You never know who you are going to run into that you get to shine that light on but it is really gratifying.   Paying it forward with one compliment at time.

So go out there and take a few steps down the road of appreciation.  See how many steps you can take each day.  As Ellen always says, “Be kind to one another…”

Interesting but Not Useful

I’m not sure this is a tenet of the NeuroLeadership Group or if master facilitator Paul McGinniss coined this phrase.  Heck, it may have been Albert Einstein who said it first.  Regardless, it’s a great concept.  I was working with my coach, Steven Starkey, this week and he corrected himself by saying “interesting but not useful”. It caught me off-guard.  Wow do I spend a lot of time on interesting but not useful.  It really cuts out the fluff and drama in daily life if you focus on the useful. interesting but not useful

Imagine focusing on what is useful in your daily conversations.  You know – if you stayed on track and didn’t go meandering into all the juicy details so you could raise your coworker’s eyebrows and if you stayed on message instead of whispering all the sensationalized (perhaps exaggerated) tidbits.  We wouldn’t need a water cooler anymore.  Going to work could be less Soap Opera and more DIY. What is the use in gossip if we are staying focused on solutions? Seems daunting, doesn’t it?

Here are some tips on focusing on the useful and steering clear of the interesting:

1. Solutions. Keep focused on solutions.  As espoused by the NeuroLeadership Group, staying solution-focused keeps the conversation out of the drama and details and moving forward. It’s good for your limbic system.  If you can keep it from lighting up, you are going to move mountains.  Fear shuts people down.  Reward or positive energy keeps people motivated.  Keep it solution based.

2. Listen. William Shakespeare said “Listen to many, speak to a few”.   Being present and listening will bring you a wealth of information.  Granted, there will be a lot of drama and details in that information.  But it will help you cull through to find the useful.  When you do the lion’s share of the speaking, it’s easy to go off track into the interesting and not useful.  Practice listening.

3. Silence. Be comfortable with silence.  I had a coaching client yesterday who really needed to digest and think.  I sat there in silence.  Listening to the clock tick.  Counting to 20 in my head.  Biting my tongue.  He had a breakthrough.  If I had interrupted to “fill the silence”, he wouldn’t have had the breakthrough to find the useful.  Accept and embrace silence.

4. Generous.  Be generous with your attention.  It’s always about them.  Them as in, your boss, your assistant, your coworker, your spouse, your child, your client.  Focus on what is useful for them.  The greatest gift you can give is your attention.  Give your attention generously.

5. No judgment.  Unless you are in court, and behind the bench, don’t judge.  Take some time today to listen to how often you hear judgmental statements.  “Can you believe?”, “I don’t understand why?”, “Did you hear…”.  Or worse yet when people put themselves down or limit themselves.  “I’m horrible at this”, “I’ll never be able to…”, “I can’t…”  Judgment is negativity in disguise.  Optimism is the road to the useful.

6. Bless his heart.  When you hear this in the Southern United States, run.  Whatever is coming next is not going to be positive.  This is the southern, gentile way of saying, “I’m about to run the bus over someone.” This makes whoever is saying it feel superior to whoever they are blessing.  It’s apologizing before you put someone down.  Stand clear.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not fun to do interesting but not useful things.  I was an avid Sudoku player for a while and I am an Anthony Bourdain addict, although I doubt I’ll be eating at a roadside stand in Myanmar anytime soon.  The point is that if you want to get something done and have more productive conversations, focus on the useful instead of the interesting.

Dogs, Pink Jackets and Lessons on Leadership

Dogs are amazing at reflecting back what humans’ desire.  Most of us treat our pets like they are part of the family but I think my dog, Baci, thinks that she is an employee and a damn good one.   My relationship with her has taught me as much as any off-site training or college course.  Our relationship is simple and can guide you in your relationships at work.Baci

1. Trust. Baci expects her meals to be timely and fair.  She’s the first one to speak up if the kibbles are late to the bowl.  My employees and customers expect the same when it comes to compensation, goods or services. You better be on time and accurate or there will be attrition.

2. Appreciation.  There isn’t a dog who doesn’t demand their belly scratched once, twice, countless times a day. Your coworkers, boss or clients want the same “scratch” but I doubt they are up front about asking for it. Show them appreciation and more frequently than they expect.

3. Dutiful.  Baci has very clear duties at the Graham House, keep it free of all squirrels, geese and lizards.  She does an outstanding job. I am confident that she is on duty no matter what.  We haven’t had squirrels take up residence, so I know she is on top of her game.  You should have the same confidence in those who surround you at work. It’s best to assume they have your best interest at heart; that they are looking out for you. If some squirrels move in, then clarify what your expectations are.

4. Perspective. Baci has a different lens. She views things from ground level. I might be cutting up raw beef on the kitchen counter or potting a plant.  She doesn’t care except for whatever falls on the floor and hopefully it’s the former. Your clients, cohorts and boss all have a different perspective and some are from the penthouse and others are in the basement. Make sure you know their perspective if you end up dropping something.

5. Attention.  I admit that I lose sight of Baci’s priorities when I’m in my office concentrating on work.  Sometimes I get up from my desk to find her sprawled at my feet and surrounded by her army of toys. She has carefully brought each toy as a gift while I wasn’t paying attention. Are your direct reports doing the same? Showing up early, staying late, working extra hours on that overdue project…are you paying attention?

6. Needs.  Baci is exasperating at times. She can’t decide if she wants in or out, to sit on my lap or my husband’s; upstairs or down. Are your clients fickle and difficult to figure out? Are they changing their minds and causing you frustration. They are taking the cue from your guidelines and how malleable you are (I give in more easily than my husband on letting Baci in or out). Are you meeting your clients’ needs or tuning them out?

7. Team player.  I love to dress up Baci.  And she is happy to oblige (ok…I’m not sure she’s happy). Whether it’s some Halloween monstrosity or a pink rain jacket that I happen to think is cute; she patiently shows up to be the team player; poses for pictures and moves on.  I bet there are things your co-workers put up with just because you think it’s cute or critical.  Are you letting them put on that pink rain jacket once in a while?

Animals teach us humility, patience and appreciation.  Maybe it’s time we apply those lessons to the human race. 

What has your pet taught you?

Gotcha Management

This is the first cousin to the Tyrant and leads to pointing fingers and silo building.  It’s the story of the boss who pulls the rug out from under her team to point out all their flaws. It’s when the status quo is suddenly way too low and she’s going to make sure you are shown the error of your ways.  It’s kind of like, if suddenly cops actually started pulling you over for driving 60 miles an hour in a 55 speed zone.  You’re saying to yourself, “Really?  It’s only 5 miles over the speed limit.  I’ve been driving like this for 30 years and now you’re going to start issuing tickets?” Gotcha Management

The Gotcha boss feels emboldened because they have “such high standards”.  She feels like she’s really calling the shots and making folks tow-the-line.  In the meantime, her team is living in fear and not producing.  They are constantly struggling to CYA and quickly pointing the finger at the rest of the team members so that everyone else ends up low person on the totem pole.  All the other bosses start building up their silos so that the fingers don’t start getting pointed in their direction.  Ah yes.  There is safety with a thick, high wall between departments.

 

So what do you do if you are unfortunate enough to report to such a boss?  Here are some tips:

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1. Open.  Keep open communication.  If your boss is always busy and won’t make time for you, send an email.  Subject line: Can we meet for ten minutes on the following?  In the body of the email: list the bullet points of what you’d like to discuss.  This gives your boss a heads up as to what the discussion is about.  They get to prepare (if they need to) and don’t feel blindsided when you finally get the meeting.  If your boss isn’t defensive, the communication will be more effective.  Keep communication channels open.

 

2. Solution Focus.  Don’t dwell on the details and drama.  When you bring an issue to your boss, bring the solution with you.   It’s best to bring three options.  Three?  Well, the first option is easy, the status quo.  Option one is to keep on doing what we are doing: “Let’s keep the budget sequence the same and live with some being turned in late”.  Option two is your desired outcome: “Let’s move up the deadline by two weeks and I’ll be responsible for following up with late comers”.  Option three can be a stretch or your best case scenario but you’re not sure the boss will go for it: “Let’s schedule a meeting one week before the deadline to go over everyone’s budget which will reinforce completing it on time”.  When there are three solutions, your boss won’t feel like it’s an ultimatum and will feel more in control.  Focus on the solutions.

 

3.  Sword.  You might need to fall on the sword.   Take responsibility for your part in the mess. “Boss, I didn’t follow up on those budget reports the way I should have.  It’s my fault that 50% missed the deadline.”  This might ensure that the rest of the team isn’t blind-sided and it should built authenticity if not trust with your boss.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a slice of the boss population out there that might abuse this but, if that’s the case; it might be time to update your resume.  In the meantime, fall on the sword.

 

4. Optimism.  Stay optimistic.  Focus on what is working.  It might be that we aren’t losing as much money as we did last year or that sales are flat but we aren’t losing ground.  It might be that you’ve retained your customer base or that your employee turnover rate is holding steady.  Find some nugget of good and emphasize the positive. As I have pointed out in previous posts, staying positive is the best for your brain and build better, stronger pathways to solutions.  Be optimistic.

 

5. Spine.  You’re gonna need a backbone.  Don’t cave if it’s something you believe in.  Explain the rationale in your thinking to your Gotcha boss.  If she can’t point out some flaws in your thinking, then remain steadfast.  Sometimes you just need to go with your gut and stand up for what you believe in.  If the boss doesn’t back you, work on your Linkedin profile and plan your escape.  Have a backbone.

 

These tips can help those of you who need a strategy to improve your relationship with your boss.  Some strategies won’t work.  Many years ago I worked for a boss who didn’t have my back and I was put in a precarious ethical situation with the corporate office.  I planned my escape and got out.  All the advice in the world isn’t going to fix an unethical situation.  Some Gotcha bosses can be turned around if you give it a try.