Tag Archives: coaching

Dealing with the Tough Decisions

Every day each person makes a number of decisions.  Some of these decisions are easy and don’t usually have life changing consequences, like if I am going to have another cup of coffee or should I wear the blue tie with stripes or the green one with dots.  But, then there are the other decisions that need to be made, the ones where someone is going to be impacted, or someone won’t be happy.

As our society has changed, expectations have changed and handling situations where someone is not going to be “happy” has also changed.  These changes have complicated how leaders make the tough decisions as well as communicating these decisions.   So, how do you handle these types of situations?  How can we help those around us understand the rationale behind the decisions, without the baggage of a potentially socially charged situation?

First – Make the decision

When situations get tough or difficult, it is natural to want to avoid the “messiness.”  There is a tendency to put off the decision that Scarlett O’Hara moment where we say “I’ll deal with that tomorrow.”  Or, we want to wait and see if the situation takes care of itself.  While sometimes this is good, as it allows you to move from a potential “gut reaction” or allows some of the unknowns to become clearer.  The usual result is that the “messiness” just gets worse and worse and the implications of not making the necessary decision compounds.  The key is to make a decision, and then handle the consequences.

Second – Understanding that what is right is not always easy

Giving feedback to someone that they don’t want to hear, “you aren’t performing up to expectations” or “you can’t continue to provide a poor work product” or “you aren’t qualified for this task,” is never easy.  Leaders need to set expectations.  Leaders need to prepare individuals for the tasks that are to come or situations that they will face in the future.  Life comes with disappointments.  Life is full of failure (remember a good batter in baseball is only successful about one-third of the time).

Our society has changed. People are expecting to not have to work as hard for their goals.  They are expecting to be catered to in a number of different ways.  There is a sense well that doesn’t apply to me, because …….. (fill in the blank).  In this sense, leaders need to understand that they need to stand up for what is right:  meeting the expectations, applying the rules fairly and consistently, and doing the job.  The consequences of not holding to these standards are far reaching and ultimately become a death spiral.  A leader can’t make a decision or not take an action just because it resolves a particular situation today, they have to be aware of the long-term consequences.

Third – Understand it isn’t personal

One of the leadership skills that we all need is dealing with conflict.  If you go to a course on how to provide feedback, or how to deal with conflict; one of the skills that are taught is how to handle an argument by not making it about the person, but about the action or your perception of the action.  For example, you have a team member that is not performing or providing the necessary work product on time.  Rather than saying that the person is lazy, or can’t be counted upon; you should point out that the due date was not met and here are the consequences of those actions.  It is not about the person; it is about the actions and the results.

As leaders we have to understand that when we are taking the “hard line” on a decision, i.e. not relaxing a deadline or a standard; it is not because we don’t like the person; it is because we have to do this in order to what is right for everyone.  We also have to remind ourselves that the subsequent reactions of the individual are not really at us, but at the situation and ultimately at themselves because they did not meet their own expectations.

As true leaders, we will face these situations.  We will get negative feedback.  We have to continually assess ourselves to understand whether or not what we are doing is “right.”  But, the one thing that we must do: is make the decision, and handle the consequences in a tactful and considerate manner.  The key is not to let the situation fester; thus destroying the organization, those involved, and ultimately yourself.

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Leadership Lessons from Story Time

Kindergarten

From the title of Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book of life stories is as applicable today as when he published it in 1988.  And, you can learn a lot about leadership by participating in a number of summer activities that you might feel are “just for kids” like Story Time at the local library.

It has been a number of years since I last attended Story Time.  And, now that summer is here and I have the opportunity, I have begun to take my grandson to Story Time.  The format hasn’t really changed all that much – there is a gathering, a brief outline of what is going to happen, a song, a story, a song, another story, and an activity.  (Sounds pretty much like that standing weekly meeting, except that they aren’t as much fun, because we don’t get play along with the song, and the activities, well…..)

So, let’s look at the leadership opportunities that are present:

The Gathering – While it is one thing to “wrangle” 20 to 25 kids under the age of six plus their tag along adult into a seated position and ready to listen, it is another to bring together a team of professionals, right?  Not so much.  In fact, I sometimes think it is easier to deal with the children.  They want to be there.  They are expecting certain things.  They are anticipating positive outcomes.  The adults, well…..

So, what is the lesson?  When pulling together a meeting, a training session, a presentation, etc., we have to include the hook, some predictability, and a desired outcome.  Sure, you won’t always be able to have grab everyone and some of these are “have to be there, because” type meetings.  But, you don’t have to allow them to be painful, boring, or last longer than they need to.  Posting of agendas is necessary. A stated purpose is necessary.

And, you have to allow for the gathering to occur.  You can’t rush it.  And, it this may be the most important part of the event.  These interactions are what make your teams cohesive.  The real work of an organization is usually done in the hallways, the break room, and in those few minutes at the beginning and end of meetings.  This is where the innovation occurs.  It is where work gets streamlined.

The Outline – OK, even if the agenda was posted. At Story Time, even though it follows the same pattern every week, the outline for the next hour is repeated.  Why?  Because, there may be a new child, a new parent, or someone who is not yet familiar with the routine.  In the business world, the attendees may not have read their email, you might have a guest, you might have an observer, or they just need the outline to get them focused on the task at hand.  Humans like patterns.  We need patterns.  The repeating of the outline helps us grasp that focus that we need to be productive.

The Song, the Story, the Song and the Story – The purpose of the first song at story time (and it usually the same one from week to week) is the initial grabber.  It gets the participants involved.  These are the standing agenda items: the safety moment, review of last week’s sales, etc.  All the attendees know what is about to happen, but they are watch for anything new or how the new individuals are going to react.  And, it allows you to slide into the flow of the event.  Then there is the story.  It is new information, we are actively listening.  We are applying the information.  All are key things for adults as well as for the children.

This is followed but round two.  But, this time the song is different.  We have to be more engaged.  We are applying something new.  But, it is bringing us all together and bring the focus back to the group.  This is where the buy-in occurs at the business meeting.  It is followed by another story.  For the business meeting, this is where the connections with the organization’s mission occur.  The why.

The Activity – During Story Time, this is where the children get to participate and really do.  The activity is usually related to the stories that were presented.  So, connections are made.  New things are tried.  And, learning is masked as something fun.  For professionals, the activity usually means discussions of the work, the goals, the plans, etc.  There are the normal workflows that must occur.  And, how the information presented will be applied.  The only difference – we don’t get to see it as fun or play.  (Sometimes, you need a bit of play to keep the creative juices flowing.)

Thus, Story Time is a learning experience.  There are lessons to be learned.  There are observations to be made.  You might want to take a bit of time to be “outside of the concrete, steel, glass box” and take a trip to Story Time, it may be more beneficial than that leadership symposium.

Curiosity as a Leadership Trait – How to make sure you keep it.

Watching the world leads to questions.
Watching and observing leads to one to more questions.

There is an old idiom that says “curiosity killed the cat,” which means fundamentally means that inquisitiveness leads one into danger.  According to The Phrase Finder, the first use of the phrase can be attributed to the English Playwright, Ben Johnson, in 1598.  But, what are leaders without curiosity?

Leaders by their very nature are and should be exploring the “what ifs.”  One cannot lead without thinking about how something should be done, or what will result from a specific action.  Thus, if a leader does not have a curious streak, how are the other leadership traits developed? In fact, the archaic meaning of the word curiosity (according to Dictionary.com) is “careful attention to detail” and “desire to know and learn.”  Essentially, one of the key traits attributed to leaders.

Curiosity while there is a potential downside, it can lead one along a dangerous path, is fundamental to our desire to learn and solve problems.  Without asking the “what if” questions, how is one supposed to grow?  How is a business supposed to plan for its future or for potential threats?  How is the next innovation supposed to occur?

These are key questions that leaders ponder each and every day, so it is apparent that leaders have a healthy curiosity streak.  But, what about the downside?  This is also something that leaders have to consider.  Leaders need to think through potential actions to avoid the downside.  You can just open the box, without thinking about what consequences might arise.  Leaders have to look at and examine the potential unknowns.  They have to anticipate some of the consequences, knowing full well that all the consequences may or may not be apparent depending upon the specific situation. It is the unintended consequences that have the biggest potential to get us all into trouble.

So, being curious and acting upon the curiousness that we have as leaders is a careful balancing act.  Leaders need curiosity but need to be deliberate in how we proceed.  Leaders have to look for and consider the potential dangers, not just the potential benefits.  Leaders have to look at more than their next action, they have to think about the subsequent actions due to the intended result (or in how the results are implemented).  Yet, without curiosity; we as individuals and society don’t progress.

Thus, leaders must:

  • Not lose the curiosity that got you to this point
  • Not take things for granted
  • Not stop asking questions

In order, for us to do this, leaders must:

  • Continue to explore – Whether through travel, reading, discussions, etc. as a leader you have to be exposed to different ideas and points of view.  You have to expand your frame of reference.
  • See learning as an opportunity to open the mind – Leaders have to stay abreast of what is happening around them. They have to monitor changes in their chosen fields.  They have to study new ways of applying techniques, and tools.  Learning is a constant in a leader’s daily life.
  • Understand that curiosity is an active process – As a leader, you must actively engage in exploration, actively ask questions, and actively seek to learn. It is not a passive endeavor.

My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity.I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.

Mario Testino, Photographer

Random Leadership Orts

It is a Friday afternoon in July, which is a perfect time to jot down those strange little thoughts, mind orts.  These are just a few brief scraps of leadership knowledge/experience that have been floating around my desk for a while.  Not a single one of them is lengthy, but they have merit.

Recognize someone. It only takes seconds, but it can mean a great deal. Even a small thank you to the mail person, or to the parking attendant makes a huge difference for both of you.

Act.  Most of us have an idea that has been lingering, a job we don’t want to do, a task we have been putting off, or even a conversation that we have been dreading.  It gnaws on you.  It takes away from the present.  It erodes your energy.  It makes you grumpy.  It is time to act – do something about it.  It is counterproductive to let it continue to fester in its current state.

Pay it forward.  We have all seen the benefits.  We have had mentors.  We even know how it makes us feel.  Have you ever had a bad day, and when you go buy your cup of coffee – you don’t have the right change – but the person behind you says – here take this nickel?  How does it make you feel?  It changes your entire perspective.  We get into the habit of thinking that to make an impact, it has to be big.  It doesn’t.  Most of the times, it is the little things, like helping a mom pick up something she has dropped when the kids are pulling at her for attention.  Recognizing that your office mate’s coffee is empty and bringing back and extra cup.  Speaking to a young family with children at a restaurant when their children are well behaved.  Sitting with an elderly gentleman and letting them tell you about that time when….  Our society, workplaces, and homes have gotten so wrapped up in electronics, our daily tasks, and other stuff – we have forgotten simple acts of kindness.

Learning is necessary for survival and it isn’t easy.  If you don’t learn, you don’t progress.  Learning is hard work.  You have to be observant.  You have to be open.  You have to accept that you may not be perfect.

– Everyone has their own style, and it may not mesh with yours.  This is something to remember when dealing with others.  This little tidbit is responsible for more miscommunications, disagreements, misunderstandings, and conflicts.  People have always said that you need to see the others perspective or be able to put yourself in their shoes.  You need to understand that we don’t always see the same thing the same way.

– Take some time to reflect, refresh and rejuvenate. This leads to more productivity, fewer errors, and innovation.

A few scraps to get you to thinking before you start preparing for the next week.