Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.

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Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

The Danger of Assumptions

You assume that your boss remembers that you will be out of town on Friday. You assume that your partner remembers that you have a late appointment this afternoon. You assume that your co-worker didn’t include you in the invite because your opinion isn’t needed…or wanted. You assume that the CEO knows that you’ve been burning the midnight oil for weeks to get the financials done. You do it. I do it. We all make assumptions. It’s a dangerous path.

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Left unchecked and unexamined, assumptions can destroy relationships, teams and organizations. Your boss is expecting you at the ad hoc meeting she set up on Friday and is disappointed that you didn’t show. Your partner is angry that she left work early to surprise you at home, only to find you missing in action. You resent your CEO for not acknowledging all the extra work you’ve been doing on the financials. Assuming is easy. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Just a jump or two. Tying two dots together that really aren’t related. But looking down the assumption path a little further can reveal resentment, lack of trust and undermine your relationships.

Here is what you can do to fix it:

* Clarify. It seems simple to clarify. Obvious, really. But it takes effort. Your brain is hard wired for negativity. You have survived extinction because of this negativity bias, but there are no more saber-toothed tigers chasing you. It is easy to assume that not having been included in the meeting is an intentional slight rather than an oversight. But if you clarify with the meeting organizer that you would like to attend the meeting, if at all possible; or if you proactively tell your CEO that you’ve been working hard on the financials, you change up your personal dynamic. This is clarification and not boasting.

* Listen. Part of the Assuming Process is not actually listening. We ask a question we assume we know the answer to, and then don’t listen. I am so guilty of this. I think I know the answer and as a “show of concern”, I ask the question but never listen to the response. Just a short cut to save time, but so disrespectful. I get distracted by my grocery list or trying to remember if I need to go to the bank,  and never hear the response. It could be the time of the meeting that you assume is at 10, but has been pushed to 10:30. You are smiling and nodding but never connect to the answer. Listen.

* Be open to conflict. Yeah. I know. Most of us are conflict averse. We’d rather hold onto our assumptions than actually step into a conflict. Keep everything copacetic. Keep everyone happy. Don’t rock the boat. As a consequence, the safety issue is never brought up, or the budget short fall isn’t discussed, or your positive assumption he’s flirting with that woman remains intact. I actually recently assumed my husband was flirting with someone. When we actually stepped into the conflict, it turns out he was opening a new account with the restaurant she worked for. I lost some sleep over that assumption. Unchecked, it could have lead us down a completely different path. Step into conflict–you can resolve it.

* Slow down. Part of what fuels an assumption is taking a short cut. If you slow down the pace, you will stay in your prefrontal cortex, where you do your best thinking. When you are in a reactive mode, you’re in the back of your head, where your flight or fight response is. Where you don’t do your best thinking. This is why it’s called jumping to conclusions. Your anxiety is up, your cortisol is pumping and your body is ready to run from the saber tooth tiger. My coach starts off every session with a breath-in for the count of 6 a total of 3 times. Slow down and breath to quit jumping to conclusions.

* Forgive. This can be for yourself, as well as others. As Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” I’ve grappled with this myself. It’s hard to forgive someone for an assumption you created and may have carried for decades. It can be the frenemy who didn’t invite you to the graduation party back in 1979, or the family member who never thanked you for the gift, or even when you continued to meddle in your child’s life. The resentment is hurting you more than them. Take out a piece of paper or journal, and forgive them one and all–even yourself. Forgive early and often.

* Use technology. When I travel out of town now, I send my husband a meeting request with the airline information. I will frequently forget to tell him that I’m going out of town, and this keeps him proactively informed. Give your assistant access to your calendar. It’s still a good idea to inform people but a sure-fire safe guard is to use your technology to keep them informed.

* Be positive. Envision the upside. I recently saw Rick Hanson and his great Ted Talk on the topic “Hardwiring Happiness. It’s so easy to just decide that we are going to be worry warts for the rest of our lives. The thing is, you can develop a positive brain that lets the worry go. It takes work and practice, but we ALL have the capacity to have more positive reactions. This can help keep harmful assumptions at bay. Build positive pathways in your brain.

This is not accomplished overnight. We are all works in-progress. Even if you just spend 5 minutes a day meditating on what is positive in your life, you can start breaking down the pathways to assumptions. One assumption at a time.

Traits of the Brilliant Leader

I want to share some concepts from Simon T. Bailey with you.  I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing him deliver a dynamic speech at the North Carolina State Human Resource Conference this past September.  He is one electric speaker.  He exudes energy and passion.  When he spoke of the traits of a brilliant leader, it resonated with me.

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I coach a lot of newly promoted leaders–most of the time, we call them managers.  Until they have the skills to be a leader.  It’s been said that almost anyone can manage.  It’s a unique skill set to know how to lead.  These traits are the attributes that both newly promoted managers and dyed-in-the-wool old school managers need to embrace to get the most out of their employees.  Managers push and poke.  Leaders inspire and engage.

 

Here are the 7 traits that Simon Bailey espoused:

 

  • Being Curious.  Bailey suggested that this trait is really an intellectual curiosity, or “the ability to see what is not yet.”  It is anticipating what might be coming.  This involves daily self-reflection and to be able to see: Where you have been, Why you are here, What you can do and Where are you going.  What about your direct reports?  Do you know where they are headed?  Have you taken the time to think about it? Trust me, they have.  This requires openness and  non-attachment.  Being curious is easier for me than some of the other traits.  My top strength from my Strength Finders assessment is “Lifelong learner.”  I am constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to learn and synthesize.  Be curious.  It will never take you down the wrong path.
  • Presence.  Bailey suggested that the mere presence of a cell phone or laptop at a meeting devalued the other folks at the meeting.  This was a huge wake-up call to me, even if my phone was face down.  He suggested that the mere presence of a device suggests that it was the priority–not the person or the people you were with.  I’m digesting this and trying to figure out how I can practically extract the presence of my phone while maintaining things like calendars and future meeting dates.  But you can see that if you are looking at your phone, you are basically not present for the person or people in front of you.  Presence means shutting down distractions and making the person in front of you the priority, whether it be a customer, employee or friend.  I’ve decided to leave my phone tucked away and out of visual presence, yet available if I need to schedule an upcoming event with the person or people I’m with. Prioritize being present.
  • Connect.  I remember teaching a leadership class some three years ago, and I suggested that every manager should know their direct report’s spouse/partner and children’s names.  Recently, I had a client who set out to learn three personal facts about their direct reports.  For many folks reading this, connecting comes easy.  For others, it feels like prying.  I can tell you that when someone asks me where I am traveling to next or when they say, “I saw you were in Asheville last week” (if they’re following me on Facebook), I am thrilled!  And I feel so acknowledged.  I can’t help but feel connected to that person. It makes a huge difference. Reach out and connect.
  • Consistent.  I can remember working for a boss who was a real hot head.  I never knew which side of hot head would be showing up that day or if the Rules of Engagement would be changing.  As David Rock has espoused, uncertainty puts your direct reports into a State of Fear: “an away state”.  Your direct reports cannot do their best work when they are in a state of fear.  Consistency in the rules and your temperament helps generate a “toward” or positive state.  They are much more engaged for the consistent leader because they feel confident that they know the rules of engagement.  Be consistent.
  • Relationships.  Bailey said, “Relationships are the currency of the future.”  I can remember my commencement speech back in 1983 by then Cornell President Frank Rhodes.  He said that the greatest thing that you are taking with you as you graduate are your friends.  This was very profound.  My relationships with my fellow Cornelians over the last 30 plus years has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my life.  They have been a source of advice, referrals and inspiration.  In addition, I have held onto countless other relationships from work and grad school that have enhanced my life as well.  Be sure to tend to the relationships in your life as they will prove invaluable.
  • Global thinker.  Think beyond your zip code, think beyond where you are.  I can say that since participating with a Mindfulness Coaching group, led by Satyam Chalmers, I have learned a more global perspective.  There were folks from Singapore, Australia and Ireland on the weekly calls.  As a born and bred American, I have and believe we can hold a very myopic view of the world.  The press does influence an American-centered viewpoint.  To be a great leader, we need to look for resources from all ends of the earth, be it products, services or thought processes.  Be global in your thoughts and share it.
  • Authentic Listener.  When I speak at various sites and venues, I frequently have said that the most important desire each of us has is the need to be heard.  Being present is an important part of this.  Regardless of whether your employee is in your office, cubical, gravel pit or service station, you need to pay attention and listen in order to understand.  This entails looking at their body language, the gaze of their eyes, the nuance of a smile or any other human indicator.  Be sure to respond with, “What I heard you say was… and did I get that right?”  It’s ok if you don’t get it right, because they know that you care when you ask for clarification.  Be an authentic listener.

 

You don’t need to have people be your direct reports for all of these traits to be useful.  Whether it’s interacting with your child, your spouse, a volunteer organizer or networker, all of these ideas can come into play.  Take the time to be brilliant–and you will be!

6 Ways to Build Culture. The Third Entity™.

The Third Entity™ is concept developed by The Center for Right Relationship (CRR Global) to describe the relationship that connects us but essentially has an existence of its own. In an organization it’s called culture. If the founder leaves the organization, the culture (and Third Entity) change. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to corporations.

The same thing happens at home when my husband and I have had an empty nest for 6 months and suddenly have it disrupted by having an 18 year old at home. The Third Entity shifts. The relationship has more of a strain because there are more needs to be met (and more food to be purchased) and boundaries tested (dishes being washed at 3 AM). The Third Entity

I had the privilege to test out the Third Entity of my Rotary club a few weeks ago. I say, test out, because I had never used some of the tools that I learned from CRR Global until I used my Rotary Club as guinea pigs. I have to say it was an eye opening and inspiring experience. I’ve been a Rotary member for over 10 years but to actually work with this group to discuss our culture and aspirations was really gratifying. You just don’t know until you know.

So this is what I learned about the group culture that ties us together:

1. Alliance. It’s really important to clarify the team alliance. When was the last time you verbalized what your marriage or culture or relationship is all about. What is the basis for its existence. I asked the club what sort of culture they wanted to create and the first thing that anyone said was “Fun”. I have to say it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy getting up every Wednesday for a 7 AM (yes…7 AM) meeting; we always have fun. Always. There is always good natured ribbing, crazy birthday hats and a joke that’s just clean enough to tell but raises a few eyebrows. Clarify your team alliance.

2. Flourish. What will it take for your team or relationship to flourish? I was surprised that there were many viewpoints on this question. Some folks said we needed more members, others said more fundraisers, and still others said more participation. These are all very different tangents for a small club of some 30 members. When is the last time you asked your spouse or partner or organization at-large what it will take to flourish? I think you would be surprised at the answer. It might be time to ask.

3. Conflict. Find out how you want to handle conflict. As in Patrick Lencioni‘s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and certainly business.” If you can’t debate and raise some of the “Elephant in the Room” issues, it is impossible to progress. If you are surrounded by a lot of “Yes Men”…you are not likely to be making the best decisions. Create some ground rules on how to handle conflict and to make sure it’s not taboo.

4. Alignment. It’s not critical that we are in lock step as much as that we are headed in the same direction. You and I don’t need to be on the same exact path for us to succeed but we need to be in alignment. Marketing and Operations are going to take very different paths but if they know and are aligned with the overarching goal of “Outstanding Customer Experience” then we can succeed. Marketing might be creating authentic marketing collateral while Operations is making sure the quality and delivery times are superior. Different paths but aligned to the goal. Be aligned.

5. Listen. We need to be able to listen to dissenting voices. Some of the Rotarians wanted more members and others joined because we were a small group. These are dissenting views. But it had to be spoken. It needed to be acknowledged. This shows up all the time in parenting. Dad wants Johnny to go to the concert and Mom doesn’t. Let it be spoken so both sides can be heard. Listen to the dissenting view even if you don’t agree. Acknowledge the differing viewpoint. “So I hear you saying that Johnny shouldn’t go because there are likely to be drugs present”. Listen to dissenting views.

6. Decisive. Someone needs to make a decision; whether it’s the president of the Rotary club, the parent or the department head. Are we after more members or are we going to let it be? Dad acknowledges Mom’s apprehensions but they decide to say “Yes”. Decide and commit to move forward. If you don’t, there are back alley deals that will go on which will undermine the Third Entity. As Patrick Lencioni espouses, “Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus, and find ways to achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible.” Give up on consensus, make sure everyone has had their say, decide, commit and move on.

I think what surprised me the most about coming up with the team alliance with my Rotary Club is how much we were of the same mind. Here is a diverse group of professionals from varied fields, industries and backgrounds but we all had the same ideals. Service above Self. It’s the team culture that holds us together.

Empathy in the Workplace. How to be Human And Not be Called a Wimp.

First of all, sympathy and empathy are similar but different. As Dictionary.com explains ” You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.” So if your cat just died and I’ve never had a cat, I have sympathy for you. If you are disappointed because you didn’t get the raise you wanted, I can empathize, because I’ve “been there”. Empathy, from my point of view, is one rung up the emotional intelligence ladder from sympathy. It’s the ability to stand in your fellow co-worker’s shoes and “feel” how they feel. Empathy in the Workplace

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For most Baby Boomer managers reading this, the “F” word or feelings, is their kryptonite. We associate good management with the tough minded, angry, direct communication style of Mary Tyler Moore Shows’ Lou Grant or 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy. The F word means shedding tears over budget shortfalls or kumbaya moments around the water cooler. Actually my association (being a Boomer manager and all) is with the 70’s radio hit by Morris Albert called “Feelings”. Listen to it at your peril, as it is a sure fire earworm. Whoa, whoa, whoa…feelings. Feelings = weakness. It’s not true. The single best way to lead others, have more productive employees and bring more money to the bottom line is through empathic leadership.

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So here are some ways to bring empathy skills into your wheelhouse:

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1. Learn. The first thing to know is that it is possible to learn to be more empathetic. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait. It can be learned.” (Shapiro, 2002) This is great news. So just because you aren’t sure how to be more empathic, you can take baby steps toward the goal. Read some books, google it or take a class. The key is to start learning.

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2. Listen. There has been a lot written about active listening. We spend way too much time listening with the intent to respond, or argue, or repute. Try listening with the intent to change your mind. Wow, what a concept. Try to dispel some of your long held beliefs. This is truly listening; listening to agree with another point of view. Conservatives and Liberals alike are looking to find more information that backs up their point of view while ignoring anything that might refute it. If you want to stand in another person’s shoes, listen with the intent to change your mind.

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3. Observe. Observe the feelings of those you are listening to. As written by Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, “First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.” I think of this as what Jane Goodall, the anthropologist must be doing when observing primates in the jungle. It needs to be devoid of judgment and focus only on the facts. It’s so easy to be wrapped up in our own “stuff”. Be the anthropologist and just observe.

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4. Label. Most models including Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) state it’s important to label the feelings that you have observed. My shorthand for this over the years has been “I hear that you are frustrated”. Mostly because most people are frustrated and it’s not as triggered as “angry” or “upset”. I find that when I coach folks and I try to label or clarify the feeling they are having, that, even if I am wrong, they will help to redirect me to what they are feeling. They know I am listening. So Joe might say, “No, I’m not frustrated, I’m disappointed.” OK, so we are clear on how Joe is feeling. Try and label the feelings of the person you are talking to.

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5. Needs. Acknowledge that we all have needs and they are either being met or not. In NVC, the process includes stating yours or your coworkers unmet needs without blame or judgment. This is a tall order. So much of our language includes blame or judgment. “You’re selfish…lazy…self-centered.” All judgments. “I’m feeling disappointed because I am not confident that I’m going to meet the deadline.” In this statement, I am not blaming or judging but owning my unmet needs…that of being on time. State your needs without judgment.

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6. Shoes. I recently learned a process through ORSC called “The Third Entity Exercise” on how to understand someone else’s point of view. In this case, I was coached through understanding mine and my son’s point of view. The coach had me stand in my point of view and speak to my son (hypothetically). I was upset that he would take so long to get ready. The coach then had me physically stand in the opposite space (as if I was my son) and then speak from his point of view. Light bulb moment. Suddenly I could see how demanding I was being. I understood the dynamic of our relationship. He was reacting to my bluntness. I was lacking empathy. As the coach said, ” your 18 year old son went to Key West with you?” Wow. Cut him some slack. If you get a chance, physically stand in someone else’s shoes. It’s incredibly enlightening.

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Maybe the real end result is compassion. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and understood. Regardless, it creates a healthier more productive workplace. Folks want to show up and do their best work when the people around have an empathetic compassionate heart and they feel understood and appreciated.

6 Ways to Squelch the Micro-Manager Within. Tyrant Repellent.

A micro-managing puppet master, have you ever worked for one?  It’s a nightmare.  You will never be right.  You will rarely be listened to.  The nit picking will be never ending.  You start to wonder if you should get permission to go to the bathroom.  My very first job out of college was for a catering firm run by a micro-managing control freakish Tyrant.  The angle of the bread was never quite right, the food portion incorrect, the manner in which we sent orders out was inefficient and any decision I made (did I mention I was the manager?) was misguided. All according to the Tyrant.  I left the job after 18 months.  I was new to the workforce but I was stressed out beyond repair of cigarettes and alcohol.

I’ve seen many micro-managers since leaving that job, but I’m happy to say, I’ve never worked for another Tyrant.  I think I must have radar to spot them when interviewing for a new opportunity.  I’ll speak my mind too freely during the interview and somehow I don’t get a call back.  Hmmm…“she’s too independent,” “thinks for herself too much,”  “that will never do.”

What about looking in the mirror?  Are there places and circumstances in your life where you are a bit of a Tyrant?  Been a helicopter parent?  A controlling friend?  A meddling daughter?  I think there are parts to everyone’s life where we just can’t let go.  My husband micromanages Christmas morning, deliberating who gets what present and when. But hey, it’s once a year.  He can be the elf if he wants.

If you want to control the Tyrant within? Here are some suggestions:

1. Listen.  “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey.  I might add, “They listen with the intent to be right.” This has Tyrant written all over it.  There was a Tyrant colleague of mine who “asked” for guidance and then did the complete opposite.  He wasn’t listening.  He was paying me lip service.  The first step to earning respect is listening to understand.

2. Accountability.   In Liz Wiseman’s book  Multipliers, she suggests that the manager own 49% of the decision and that the direct report own 51%.  This is a beautiful balance.  This doesn’t take the person who delegated out of the picture but the accountability rests, by the slightest margin, on the direct report.  It’s empowering.  This is your project but your manager is going to be there to fully support you.

3. Challenge. This is frequently described as a stretch goal. This is asking someone to go beyond their normal limitations, to stretch or challenge themselves.  I was just talking to a friend yesterday about a race that is coming up.  There is a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k.  I was vacillating between the 5k and the 10k.  He challenged me.  “You can do the 10k, Cathy! You’ll be ready in four weeks.”  His confidence inspired me to sign up for the longer distance.  Challenge those around you.

4. Present. As in, be present.  Let go of past and future.  If you are thinking about all your failures (i.e. past relationships, weight gain, enemies) and how this isn’t going to work, you are not present.   If you are calculating what your spouse is going to do the minute he gets home (i.e. dump the garbage, mow the lawn), you are not present. Marching to your own agenda and maintaining your image is not going to inspire those around you.  Tyrant’s live in Paranoia-ville.  Stay clear.

5. Finger pointing. Fall on the sword.  It may not be your fault that the dog got sick on the carpet, just clean it up and move on.  Your assistant messed up the report? My instructions must have been incomplete.  I’ll do better the next time, and so will she.  Maybe the process needs to be tweaked.  This is not the time to call anyone on the carpet.  Casting blame only makes you build walls to your kingdom and breeds distrust.

6. Invest.  It takes time, money and resources to build up those around you.  There are countless avenues to empower the people in your life. A summer camp session for your kid.  Web course for your partner.  An excel class for your assistant.  Encourage and invest in those around to pursue their passion.  They will remember you for your support.  They’ll have your back as well.

So here is your Tyrant repellent.  Try out one or two and see if you don’t reap the rewards.  Be a better leader regardless of your job title.

What do you do to lead others more effectively?

7 Steps to Turning Around Your Slacker Employee.

Human Resource professionals have experienced this and are usually on the losing end of the stick.  Here’s the situation:  The manager has an employee (dare I say slacker) with a  performance issue but they continually overlook their shortcomings. They figure it will just go away.  So whatever the behavior – it is ignored.  Normally, Human Resources gets brought in when the manager is fed up and wants to take action.  Usually the employee is oblivious because they’ve not known there was a problem. This is a losing battle.   IT WON’T WORK. 130321123933-office-slacker-614xa

Stalling or waiting for something to turn around is like hoping the grass will get cut on its own.  There aren’t little fairies that will come in the middle of the night with a weed whacker.  You’re going to need to get out the lawn mower.  Um.  (Not literally for the employee – that would be a different HR nightmare).

When you have an employee, client or child who is consistently late – stalling is going to exacerbate the problem.   When someone’s task or functionality is wrong, incomplete or insufficient; stalling will not correct the issue. Nine times out of ten, when you are sitting in your office, sofa or car rolling your eyes because you are not happy with the outcome, yet keeping silent;  you are stalling.  And.  IT WON’T WORK.

So if you are ready to get out the lawn mower and stop believing in lawn fairies, this is what you need to do:

1.  Grip.  As in, “Get a grip.”  You are going to need to address this.  You need to wake up and realize that putting it off is not the solution.  You are assuming that the offender knows what they have done.  Odds are they don’t.  They don’t have x-ray vision and are not clairvoyant.  You think they should know.  Isn’t it obvious that they have been late for the last three weeks?  If you haven’t said anything, they don’t know.

2. Facts.  Gather the facts at hand.  Did you say they needed to turn in the weekly report by Friday?  How many times have they missed the deadline?  Go through your email, your inbox, your files and figure out when they were late or incomplete.  Get your facts together.  Write it up.

3. Review.  Was there a reason they were late?  Look at the calendar.  Were they sick, on vacation or working on a last minute project?  Why are they always late with this particular report?  Is there a valid reason?  Make sure it makes sense and that your expectations are reasonable.  If you expect your son to cut the lawn and he’s been at camp for the last six weeks – this would not be a reasonable expectation

4. Craft.  Craft your expectations into a reasonable non-threatening sentence or two.  If you can’t describe the issue in less than two sentences – you are trying to tackle too many problems.  You should not be trying to decimate someone’s self esteem.  You are trying to resolve an issue.  Pick the one that is bugging you the most and craft your two sentences.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Don’t bite off too much.  Zero in on THE issue.  If you tell your son he hasn’t adequately cleaned his room, is late doing the dishes, did a lousy job at mowing the lawn, and still hasn’t called his grandmother, he will be lost and dejected.

5. Jump.  Go for it.  Find the right time and place(see my post on Unresolved Conflict) and then address the issue.  It might just be as simple as, “I’ve notice you’ve been late three times this week and four times last week.  It’s important that we are on time because our customers are depending on us.”  Or, “Your reports have been on time but weren’t as complete as I expected.  There weren’t any notes on productivity or quality parameters in the last four reports.”  This works much more efficiently than shooting from the hip.  You’ve got your facts, you verified that they are reasonable and you have zeroed in on what it important. Whew.

6. Listen. Let them vent, explain, bitch or cry.  Now it’s all about them.  Let them fix the problem.  You can add your two cents but let them work out how they want to resolve it.  Don’t take the monkey back and don’t tell them how to resolve it. This is their issue and if they don’t decide how to resolve it – they will not have buy in.  Advice giving is a buzz kill.  You need to just be there for the brain storming.  The monkey is now officially on their back.

7. Faith.  Make sure you have let them know that you believe in them.  This might be difficult when you are exasperated but it’s important.  People want to live up to your expectations but they can’t give what you want unless you give them the latitude and faith.  “I know you can be on time going forward Suzie.”  “I can’t wait to see the next report because I believe we have resolved the issues.”  “I’ve seen you to a great job on the lawn before and I trust you to do it right the next time.”  End of discussion.  Pat them on the back and you are on your way.

Communicating is always a work in progress.  Don’t get discouraged if it’s messy the first few times around.  Just make sure you take that step.  Quit rolling your eyes in disgust and start addressing those issues that are bugging you.  Turn around that Slacker, one conversation at a time.

What would you do?

How to Break Out of the Status Quo. Or are Your Heels Dug in?

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

How do you break out of the status quo?

Interrupters Anonymous.

This is really hard to write about.  I’m Cathy Graham.  I’m an interrupter.  It’s been 3 hours since my last interruption.  So you other interrupter’s out there are saying, so what?  I’m sure you have something important to say.  What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal.  It shuts the door.  It says that my idea or thought or rebuttal is more important than your idea or thought.  I am not saying that I am the only guilty party.  We are a society of interrupters.  Every good political debate, decent reality show and “60 Minutes” investigation usually involves someone interrupting someone else.  Shame on all of us.

Some of you aren’t interrupters.  Thank you. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness.  For the rest of us those who will admit we have a problem let me give you a few pointers on how to get over to the other side.

1. Listen.  I know I’ve written about this before but it cannot be over stated.  Actively listen and quit letting your mind wander into the war zone of rebuttals and/or watching the clock so that you can pretend that you are really listening.  Hmmm.  I’ve let my co-worker talk for at least 2 minutes, so now is my time to jump in.  Stop.  Turn on all receptors.

2. Digest.  Take in the conversation or discussion.  If this is a team meeting, take it all in.  Try and get the whole picture of the other participants’ viewpoint. Is your teammate telling you he can’t get the project done; or just not done in the parameters that the team wanted?  Or by the deadline he initially agreed to?  Take in every detail.  Knowing all the details will help you in the end and the rest of the team will be impressed with your knowledge of the facts and details (pretty cool, huh?).

3. Suspend.  Stay far away from making assumptions.  This is dangerous territory.  If you are assuming then you are not digesting.  There is no way possible for you to read someone else’s mind.  You might have a good guess as to someone else’s motivation but you can’t know for sure.  Your boss might have shot this idea down ten times before but assuming she is shooting you down now puts you on the defensive and lights the match for interrupting.  Suspend all your beliefs and assumptions.  Really.

4. Pause.  As in, wait a cotton pickin’ minute.  OK, maybe not a minute, but wait 5 seconds.  Let there be a little air in the room.  Let everyone take a breath.  Don’t be waiting at the ready to rebut and/or shoot down whatever idea has just been floated.  Pause and take a breath.  And if someone else jumps in, this is your opportunity to learn patience (not my strong suit…this is where I struggle).  Engage in listening mode and bite your tongue.

5. Unselfish. It’s all about them.  Unless this is your wedding day, Eagle Scout induction or your retirement lunch, this is always about them.  Them, as in, everyone else in the room; your teenage daughter, your boss, your coworker, the soccer team or the class.  If you keep them as your focus, you slowly eliminate the amount of interrupting you are doing.  If you can keep your focus on them, on their ideas; you will break your habit.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Just like your shampoo bottle recommends.  Just keep on keeping on.  There will be times when this is irresistible.  Like when someone tries to instruct me that Napa Valley has the best Zinfandels.  I need to just smile and listen patiently and choke the words back that want to spew forth.  Let them have their peace.  Let them impart their knowledge.  When a manager tries to explain a labor law that I know intimately as well as the latest regulations I  smile and let them have their due.  I’m not going to say that I won’t say anything.  But if they ask?  Sonoma Valley Old Vine is the best, in my humble opinion.  But what do you gain by interrupting to bestow that fact. Unless you’re tasting wines or buying a winery, let them have their way.

I find this to be especially effective with hot button issues like politics, religion and most sporting events (my college Alma Mater is worth interrupting for).  I will say that when I listen patiently, smile and acknowledge others in a heated debate or team discussion, it really improves your reputation.  People gravitate to the person who listens rather than tries to interrupt.  So if you have the habit, acknowledge it and start working on it.  You will be on your way to being a social magnate.

Advice-Giving. The Ultimate Buzz Kill.

I think we all know this.  Unconsciously.  We’ve told our spouse how to load the dishwasher, our assistant how to set up the report, or (God forbid) told our teenage son how to drive a car. And there is there is the eye roll.  The exasperated sigh.  Once you start giving the how…all engines shut down.  Buzz. Kill.

If you think about it –  where is the engagement, the decision making, the buy in; the autonomy in someone else telling you how?  Dr. Srinivasan Pillay explains this in his book, Your Brain and Business. According to Dr. Pillay, “brain imaging shows that when advice is given, it “offloads” the value of the decision options from the listener’s brain, so that there are no correlations between brain activation and attributed value when advice is given, as compared to when it is not given…that is, advice turns the brain of the listener “off”.

Whoa.  I need to rethink my next road trip with my 17 year old at the wheel.  So if I tell him to “put both hands on the wheel” or “slow down”.  It is shutting his brain down.  Not a good thing when traveling down the freeway at 55 miles an hour.Buzz Kill 5

I am the same way.  I had a coach tell me what goal I was working on for the next two weeks and I felt myself slide back on my heels.  I didn’t lift a finger towards the goal; not a finger.

OK. So how do I stop giving unwanted, unsolicited, mind-shutting-down  advice?

These are the FOUR Not so Easy Steps:

1. Listen.  Isn’t this always the first step?  Is your spouse just really venting about the frustrations of the day?  Do they really just want some understanding? a comforting smile and nod? instead of you jumping in with a 25 step guide on how to fix their problem.

2. Ask.  Use open-ended questions like “what do you want to do?” or “what options do you have?”  Having the listener give you their ideas creates buy in and helps them brainstorm their own options.  Guess which idea will have the most weight? Yup, their idea.

3. Don’t Judge.  Unless they are asking for feedback…don’t jump in and start giving them all your wisdom.  If they ask for the feedback, give it constructively and sparingly.

4. Brainstorm.  If it’s going no where and the listener can’t seem to decide or is requesting your wisdom, ask for permission to brainstorm.  In brainstorming, there is no “how” or “wrong answer”.  Just throw out some off the wall ideas and see if the listener can glean their own answer or muddle their own idea from piecing together different ideas.  Making them their own.  Don’t take the lead. Or there will be no buy in, no finger lifting.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why “Dear Abby” was so popular for so many years?  Did anyone ever really take her advice?  Was the column there just for all of us armchair advice givers to live vicariously through Abby?

So I have to say, I try to keep my mouth shut when my son is driving.  Instead of advice, I say, “I got snagged for going 15 over the speed limit here.  Did you know those tickets are over $200?”  I’m just telling a story.  Enlightening him on my experience.  It’s not easy but I must say it’s a much less frustrating experience and he usually slows down.  Keep your advice to yourself.