Why To Be Unpopular In A Politically Correct World

As we warm-up to Mean It Madness month on Let’s Grow Leaders, I’ve taken our show on the road. I’m honored to be included in the SmartBlog and Switch and Shift Joint Series On Communication. Great authors, great reads. I encourage you to check it out. I chose to tackle the vital, often un-addressed, discussion of being politically correct. I invite you to travel with me over to SmartBlog to read the rest of the post.

“Being politically correct means always having to say you’re sorry.”
~ Charles Osgood

The Wrong Side of Politically Correct

It’s tragic when otherwise-smart leaders make poor choices in the name of being politically correct.

  • “We all know why this project went south, but it wouldn’t be politically correct to bring it up. We can’t remind him of that decision. Let’s just blame it on poor execution.”
  • “If this were my business, I would make a different choice. And I know you would do the same, but the optics on this are just too intense, I think we need to go in the other direction.”
  • “I know John’s the most qualified for the job, by Kelly’s really the executive favorite. We’d be doing John a disservice if we promoted him over Kelly. He just wouldn’t have the support he needs.”

When fear of ticking off the wrong person trumps “right,” the business suffers on many levels: wasted time, poor decisions, inferior talent. You’ll never find “politically correct” on a short list of company values, and yet, political correctness is an unspoken part of the decision-making process in many companies. When leaders groom their protegés to follow a similar pattern, the destructive cycle continues…continue reading.

When Work Is Play

Work should be fun, but should it be playful? Pause here. What were your first reactions when you read those words?
Perhaps some of these thoughts are running through your mind:

  • “Work is not fun, that’s why they call it work”
  • “Play is not good for my leadership image”
  • “Sometimes, in the right context.”

In my day job, I work with different companies with unique cultures. I was in one center this week, which had developed a Jimmy Fallon meets training sort of way to keep their reps up to speed on breaking news and key initiatives. It was funny, upbeat, engaging, and most importantly sent a crystal clear message.

This video streams live to reps computers every few days, and they look forward to the next edition. After watching that short segment, reps are crystal clear on what’s important and what to do next.

The “bloopers” they shared at the kickoff were even more entertaining.

When I spoke with the COO about the approach, she shared that one of the leaders who is “anchor” is normally so serious and results-driven. It’s nice to see him leveraging the lighter side of his personality to engage these young reps. He’s a well-rounded leader using all his strengths. Results are on a hockey stick trajectory.

My Play

Ask my team, I’m dead serious about results (and we achieve them). But, I’ve also been known to play from time to time. This round of kickoffs includes a video with me doing one of my kickboxing stunts and pretending to clumsily knock over one of my Directors (p.s. no leaders were actually harmed in the making of this film).

When I was in sales, and we were launching the Droid phone, I rented professional Star Wars costumes for my leadership team (I was Leia) and we drove hundreds of miles visiting our retail locations. It inspired the team and the customers loved it. My little guy even dressed as Luke at met us at one of the stores before school (kids make great leadership side-kicks.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Of course this is not every day, but a sprinkling of leadership play can go a long way.

Your Play

I’m collaborating on a book with LaRae Quy, Alli Polin, Terri Klass, Chery Gegelman and others on Energizing Leadership. I’m on point to write about play at work. Would love your insights to any or all of these questions. Or any other ideas you have on the topic in the comments. I would appreciate you passing this along to any playful leaders you know. Looking to cast a wide net for stories.

  • Why is play important at work?
  • What are the dangers and downsides of play?
  • What’s the difference between productive play and down right silly?
  • What is your most memorable playful work experience? What made it great?
  • Are you a playful leader? Why? How has that impacted your leadership?
  • What examples can you share of play leading to breakthrough results?
  • What examples do you have of play backfiring?

If this is really your scene, or you know others I should talk to, please drop me a line at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com

5 Reasons Your Great Boss Is Hurting Your Career

Like other good things in life, a great boss relationship, taken to extremes, can wreak havoc with your career. I’ve seen otherwise smart and talented people lose credibility by over-aligning with a great boss. Be sure to diversify your relationship investments. Perhaps you’ll recognize these career-derailing characters. Avoid these common traps.

Great Boss Traps

The Coat Tail Rider

On the surface it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship. You’re her right hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. She gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over. It’s comforting for her to have a someone familiar she can rely on, and you get a promotion, or a new assignment. Win-win, right? Then it happens again, and again. Sweet deal?

Although it’s comfortable and feels like the fast track, beware of riding coat tails, particularly into more than one assignment. Your identity will become enveloped within your more powerful, great boss. People will begin to see you as a package deal. If her career derails, so will yours.

Also, the best leadership growth comes from working with a variety of leaders. Although the devil you know feels easy, you’re both limiting the growth you would get from working with a wider variety of leaders. Better to let your relationship morph into a mentoring relationship, or friendship, while you each continue to pursue the next steps of your career.

The Mini Me

Your great boss is successful, so you work to emulate his every move. You begin dressing more like him and picking up mannerisms. After all, it works for him, why not you? In fact, you may not even notice you’re doing it. Trust me, others do.

No matter how great a leader your great boss is, resist the urge to lead like him. Your best leadership will come when you lead from a place of deep authenticity.   No one wants to follow a copy-cat.

The Tag Along

Your great boss is looking to develop you, and has your best interest at heart, so he brings you along a lot: to the big meetings, to the charity fundraiser… to happy hour. When there’s a company function, there you are right by his side. You always find your way to his table at dinner.

After all, powerful people hang out with other powerful people, right? Be careful. Some such exposure is healthy but over-exposure will burn. Give your peers a chance for the face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.

The Name Dropper

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your bosses name. “Karin said this MUST be done by tomorrow at 5.” Weak leaders hide behind the power of other leaders. Even if your boss is the one asking for something to be done, resist the urge to use that muscle. In the long run you’ll have much more credibility when you own your asks.

The Good Soldier

Your great boss says jump, you say how high… every time. You trust him. Now of course, there’s a time and a place for good soldiering, but real leaders know when to question and put on the brakes. Sure your boss may reward you for your consistent execution of her directives, but she’ll be amazed when you challenge her with innovation and suggest creative, and better alternatives.

Work to build a fantastic relationship with your great boss, but beware of such co-dependencies. What feels easy and comfortable, could damage your career in the long run.

Transitions: An Inspiring Story Of Meaningful Work

Today’s post is from Bill Holston, Executive Director at Human Rights Initiative of Northern Texas. Bill is a regular comm-enter in our LGL community. As I’ve gotten to know Bill, I’ve been inspired by his amazing career transition. The work his team is doing changes and saves lives. I invited him to share his story. He offers insights about moving toward your calling, transitioning to an executive role, and leading in a mostly volunteer environment.

The Transition from Attorney to NGO Leader

For more than 30 years I practiced business law. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge. But over time, I realized my passions lay elsewhere, inspired by the volunteer work I had done over the years.

The journey began 25 years ago when I said yes to a pro bono political asylum case representing Martha, a young mother. Her husband was a truckers’ union leader in Guatemala, killed by a death squad. When Marta received death threats, she fled her country. I helped her win asylum and was totally hooked. Since that first case, I’ve represented people from twenty different countries. I took the cases as a volunteer with the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a local non-profit. Two years ago, the position of executive director opened. My wife and I talked it over and I decided to apply. I was 55 and ready for new challenges.

The beauty of the organization I lead is the pro bono model. We recruit and train volunteers to do the work. This permitted us last year to do almost four million dollars of free legal work, with a staff of only ten. The cases are extremely time-consuming. Many of our volunteers are from big law firms, and all have very busy practices. We clearly communicate the level of commitment. They do the work, because it is extremely rewarding. They get to do for once, what they imagined doing as a lawyer, changing, even saving lives. Another key to our success is recruiting a talented staff, who make sure that we are accepting cases worthy of our volunteers time and providing first class training and supervision of the casework. We do not hand over a file and wish them good luck.

The transition from lawyer to executive has been difficult. Of course I had passion for the mission, but there are many tasks I had to learn. As a small shop, I pay the bills, do the HR, and do development work. My primary role, however is to provide leadership to our team. It’s my responsibility to guide our extremely dedicated staff to do emotionally difficult work, with limited resources, with a commitment to excellence.

The most difficult part of the transition has been learning how to set priorities. It’s challenging to determine exactly what the best use of my time is. Thankfully, I’ve found the thing I enjoy the most is the best use, that is relationship building with our staff, volunteers, Board, and media.

Considering a Transition?

Maybe some of you are considering a transition. First, let’s talk money. I was able to pursue this passion at this stage of life primarily because of my lifestyle choices. My wife and I have avoided debt and live in the same modest house we purchased in 1986. Because our values coincide, we can afford to live on a non-profit paycheck. Next, you should be working as a volunteer in order to know first of all what mission interests you and second learning the work from the ground up. Pay attention to building good relationships in your community. These will prove invaluable.

Meaningful Work

So, what has our team accomplished? Among many others, we helped a young aid worker from Zimbabwe, tortured for whom he chose to deliver food to. We helped a young woman avoid the brutal practice of female genital mutilation.

We assisted a young man from El Salvador, who refused to join a violent street gang. They took him, slit his throat and left him for dead. These are sobering stories, but because of our volunteers, all these people are obtaining legal status and live free and safe lives in America. I’ve never looked back.

Hear Bill share his story in his Ignite speech.

The Trouble With Servant Leaders

“I’ve failed.” Mark’s voice shook as we met to discuss next steps for Lisa, his troubled employee. He’d tried everything to help Lisa succeed. She’d get better for a while, but then her old habits would surface. Lisa was impacting the team and results. It was time for her to find something new. “I can’t believe I couldn’t help her, I’m usually better than this.” Mark kept shaking his head. This servant leader was filled with compassion for Lisa, but had none left over for himself.

I know that feeling. Seeing such potential, investing everything you have to help, and then watching the backwards slide. The truth is humans are complex. Most of the time we can help a great deal, and sometimes what we have to give is just not enough. You bring in reinforcements, and they still struggle. When they fail you feel like you’ve failed. It’s hard to let it go.

Servant leaders have such compassion for others, that often they have little left for themselves. They forgive others when they struggle, but don’t offer themselves that same latitude. Servant leaders don’t want to let anyone down in their serving. They hold themselves to a higher standard, and feel depressed when they can’t be everything they hope to the people who need them.

Words I’ve heard from some of the best servant leaders I know, this week:

  • “My team’s working so hard, I’m doing everything I can to help them… I just feel so bad for them.”
  • “I know he’s got issues outside of work, but I should have made a bigger impact.”
  • “I’m so sorry, I couldn’t pick up your phone call, I was taking my son to school.”
  • I feel so guilty, I just haven’t had enough time for my kids this week.”
  • “I’m sorry to let you down (she hadn’t), I’ll do better next time”
  • “I just wish I could do more.”
  • “I’m so tired.”

My Wish for You

  • Give yourself the same compassion and understanding you give those you lead.
  • Know that sometimes people will take too much, you don’t need to serve takers
  • Know that tomorrow’s challenges bring more opportunities to serve.
  • Know others appreciate you more than they say.
  • Know that you’re more helpful than you think.
  • Know that others are wrestling too.
  •  Know you will fail, and that’s okay.
  • Know you can’t help everybody.
  • Know that your best is enough.
  • Know that you’re not perfect.
  • Know that life has seasons.
  • Know that it’s okay to rest.

* Photo by Larry Kohlenstein

Winning Against The Odds: Olympic Imperfection

The odds are against you. With all your imperfections, odds are: Someone else is more qualified, your marriage won’t last, your new business will fail, the publisher will reject you, you won’t win the election, or you’ll never make the olympic team.

“If we do what is necessary, all the odds are in our favor.”
~ Charles Buxton

Better to save your energy, and your pride.  Shoot for something more realistic.  Stay where you are.  Stick to what you know.  Where you are now, is not that bad, after all. Calculating the odds is prudent, but not always helpful.

Imperfect People, Winning Against the Odds

The Wall Street Journal article, Imperfect Bodies Chase Gold lifts up numerous, interesting examples of imperfect bodies, beating the odds. These athletes just weren’t cut out for their sport of choice. Until they were. Take hurdling star Lolo Jones, who decided it was time to bobsled.

When she first met Todd Hays, Olympic coach in 2012 he was skeptical: “I have her two chances to make the team, slim and none.” Hays says of their first encounter. To Hays, Jones was strong, but in the wrong way for bobsledding. Her muscles were long and sinewy and lacked the explosiveness to push a 375-pound sled.” Until it did.

The Wall Street Journal now reports, “countless squats and clean-and- jerks have given Jones thighs like tree trunks, a bulky rump reminiscent of a NFL running back and the shoulders of a lumber jack.” Not what I’m going for (don’t worry, Marcus), but it’s her dream…so game on.

Jones knows the odds are against her, which is all part of the fun:

“Yes, it’s my first Olympics,” Fenlator shared in a recent interview.” Yes, I’m an underdog or whatever you want to say. But I’m here on a mission. And I have expectations to do well. Thank goodness for expectations.

Will Lolo win? Perhaps. Not sure it matters. What would be far sadder is if she never chased her dreams.  No one wins a race they never start. Where will your imperfection take you?

Expert Advice On Creating Connection: A Frontline Festival

This month’s Frontline Festival sets a new record for submissions. I am grateful for all the experts sharing their insights on creating connection.

Connecting the Dots

Barbara Kimmel, Trust Across America Blog, shares Collaboration, What’s in it For Me. Collaboration leads to better decision making and working together people can achieve extraordinary things. Follow Barbara @BarbaraKimmel.

Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak shares Mintzberg Rejects Macro-Leadership. When Dan asked Henry Mintzberg for the advice he most frequently sharing with leaders and managers, he said one word, “Connect.” Follow Dan @leadershipfreak.

Alli Polin, Break the Frame shares Watch Your Language.  Engagement and connection start with your communication. Do your words build walls or bridges?  Follow Alli @AlliPolin

Kate Nasser, Smart SenseAbilities shares Don’t Make Connection So Hard. 8 Simple Action Steps!  Creating a connection is not that difficult. We make it hard. Let’s change that. Here are 8 simple action steps from The People Skills Coach™ to make connection easy! Add your #9 and #10!  Follow Kate @KateNasser

Chip Bell shares The Leadership Echo.  Innovative service goes viral when it is echoed from a leader who treats associates exactly the way customers should be treated. A powerful, compelling leadership echo happens when leaders connect with employees instead of cocooning in their office on meetings.  Follow Chip @ChipRBell

Jon Mertz, Thin Difference shares Empathy: Making the Connection.  Maybe with all the social media connections we are missing the real connections as real people pass us by almost unnoticed. Empathy connects us and we need to activate it.  Follow Jon @ThinDifference

Chery Gegelman, Simply Understanding Blog shares Everything the Light Touches.  When have you engaged or been engaged by a complete stranger? Did the day get a little brighter? Did the world get a little smaller? “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” -Ben Sweetland.  Follow Chery @GianaConsulting

The Chatsworth Consulting Group shares Why Winnie the Pooh Leaves His Corner of the Forest.  The post offers the wisdom of Pooh who reminds us that if we want to accomplish something, we must take responsibility and make an effort and get out of our comfort zone – our comfortable corner of the forest. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to model this behavior so that our teams (or families, or organizations, or selves) can step away from what they know, make a first attempt to connect with others, and not stay waiting in their corner of the Forest.  Follow the group @ThoughtfulLdrs

Nurturing Connections

Frank Sonnenberg, Frank Sonnenberg Online shares A Marriage Made in Heaven.  What makes relationships last? How do you create a marriage made in heaven? This article examines the elements of successful relationships.  Follow Frank @FSonnenberg

David Dye, Trailblaze shares 18 Truths You Really Can’t Avoid if You Want to Stay Relevant, Effective, and Connected. Connection, credibility, and influence with your team requires awareness of, and connection with, your environment. In this post, David shares 18 truths to avoid organizational decline and maintain your relevance and connection to the world around you. Follow David @Davidmdye

Wally Bock, Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog shares There’s Always a Connection.  Work doesn’t have to be the only subject you discuss with team members. Find out what you have in common. There’s always a connection.  Follow Wally @WallyBock

Tracy Shroyer, Beyond the Stone Wall: Leadership with Dr. Shroyer shares The Power of Self-Disclosure.  In preparation to teach her Interpersonal Skills college course, Tracy took some time to reflect on self-disclosure, one of the topics for an upcoming week’s class. Is there someone who you share thoughts, feelings, and information with? How has that been a positive experience for you?  Follow Tracy @TShroyer2

Aboodi Shabi, Aboodi Shabi and Company Limited shares The Available Leader.  A large part of leadership has to do with your availability or unavailability as a leader. Discovering how you show up as a leader is a key part of your leadership development.  Follow Aboodi @aboodishabi

David Spell, of David Spell:  More Than Management shares A Thorn in Your Side. Often those that seem to be the cause of our greatest problems can be the source of our greatest growth. Look beyond the obvious to see what lessons those around you have to teach.  Follow David @davidallenspell

Connecting in Groups

Mike Henry Sr, Lead Change Group shares Mary C Shaefer’s post In Leading, There is No Substitute for Human Connection.  Mary presents an interesting, practical case study of a client who both learned and helped his internal “customers” learn the value of connection in the workplace.  Follow Mike @mikehenrysr

Mary Jo Asmus, Aspire shares Being Grateful for All of Them.  Even though this post on being grateful of others was published close to Thanksgiving, it’s a reminder that gratitude for others is important at any time of the year.  Follow Mary @mjasmus

Tanveer Naseer, TanveerNaseer.com shares Learning to Connect to Boost Employee Engagement.  Find out what 3 critical steps leaders should be employing to connect with their employees in order to help boost employee engagement levels in their organization.  Follow Tanveer @TanveerNaseer

The Festival’s Connection Art comes from Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group, LLC  (above right).  Follow Joy @Joy_Guthrie

Connecting in Community

Bill Benoist, Leadership Heart Coaching shares Valentine’s Day Engagement. Although we strive for a balanced life, in reality home, work and school are all connected. When we are engaged, these connections allow us to fire on all cylinders.  Follow Bill @leadershipheart

Julie Pierce, Empowered by Peace shares 3 Circles of Community Every Leaders Needs.  Ever feel lonely in your leadership? Leadership Coach Julie Pierce shares 3 must-have circles of community for every leader.  Follow @Julie_Pierce

John Hunter, Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog shares Networking is Valuable but Difficult to Quantify.  The benefits of networking are unpredictable and not easy to control (to specifically target – you can do this, it just has fairly uncertain results). Web sites are great because they give you a huge reach right away, but deeper, personal connections are much more powerful.  Follow John @curiouscat_com

Chantal Bechervaise, Take it Personel-ly shares Your Choices Influence Others.  Influence is a topic that Chantal find very interesting. When she searches twitter she finds two types of people; those who are angry or do nothing but complain and those that make the effort to engage and really go out of their way to “talk” with people. They make a connection, create positivity and genuinely seem interested in others.  Follow Chantal @CBechervaise

Matt McWilliams shares How NOT to Network on LinkedIn.  This is a humorous look at how not to use LinkedIn, using an example from my network. In your efforts to develop a network, please don’t make the mistakes this poor fellow made.  Follow Matt @MattMcWilliams2

Subha Balagopal, From the Principal’s Pen shares I Didn’t Take This Job to Give Up On You.   A leader’s job is about people and connecting with others often leads us to wrestle with what we believe in. Subha is an elementary principal and her post was inspired by a situation at school that caused him to grapple with the authenticity of his words and beliefs.  Follow Subha @PrincipalsPen2

Unique Ways to Create Connections

Sal Silvester, 5.12 Solutions shares The 4-Step Feedback Process.  Most leaders struggle with how to give team members feedback. Use this model to provide feedback in a way that will engender team member commitment.  Follow Sal @512Solutions

Ali Anani shares a slideshare, Avoid the Comfort of Closed Social Circles.  Connecting with others requires having dynamic circles that aren’t limited to whom you like.  Connect with Ali at anani.ali1@gmail.com

Tom Eakin, BoomLife shares How to Become Powerfully Social and Socially Powerful.  Success is getting what you want AND being the person you want to be. This article describes how GPS Theory can be used to help, and get help from, the people in your world to live your core values, because you can’t get what you want if you are not, first, the person you want to be.  Follow Tom @goboomlife

Sean Glaze, Great Results Team Building shares How Low Tech Events Provide High Tech Results.  When considering a corporate event to connect your team, the purpose is not only to enjoy the few hours of the event together. Your team should ALSO be able to refer back to the fun interactions and take way applicable insights that will positively impact your organization weeks or months or even years later.  Follow Sean @leadyourteam

Connecting with Yourself

Bernie Nagle, Altrupreneur shares Your “Inner Other” – Connecting to Feminine & Masculine Leadership Energy. Connecting to our “Inner Other” simply means we have learned to access and honor both the feminine and masculine aspects of leadership energy within each of us – essential for self-awareness and development as conscious leaders.  Follow Bernie @altrupreneur

Lynette Avis and David Brown, Avis and Brown shares The Stars at Night.  Connecting to the vast night sky brings about a greater awareness of self, others and the universe. Follow Lynette and David @avisandbrown

Thanks to Ben Evans, LGL intern, for his work on coordinating this month’s Festival.

March’s Frontline Festival will be part of the March “Mean It” Madness on Let’s Grow Leaders.  The topic will be sincerity and meaning what you say.  Submissions due March 7th, Festival will go live March 14th.  Click here to submit.  If you know others with a meaningful “mean it” story (no blogging necessary, just a story) , please encourage them to share it here.

Focus On The Fundamentals

I walked into the call center training room and the team was all working on the call center equivalent of a basketball “3 pointer”. Even the rookies. Figurative basket balls were bouncing off the rim and the walls and one another. Every now and then one would go in, and the coach would go wild, “see YOU CAN do this woot woot!!!”

They were all concentrating on our hardest call type, the one that’s getting all the executive attention. Clearly they had heard my message loud and clear. Everyone was breaking a sweat. Bless their hearts, the stress grew more intense with each missed shot. Sadly, their efforts didn’t show in their results. In fact, not only were they not shooting 3 pointers, they were missing the lay-ups.

“I wasn’t real quick, and I wasn’t real strong. Some guys will just take off and it’s like, whoa. So I beat them with my mind and my fundamentals.”
~ Larry Bird

In the next room the coach was calmly talking fundamentals. He had a few in the corner practicing their 3 pointers and coaching one another, but the rest were focused on the basics: sounding friendly and empathetic; really listening to the customer; using their tools. Sure, they talked about what to do when you must shoot from the outside, but that wasn’t the focus, until they were ready. Here’s the crazy part, not only was this team out executing the first group in all metrics, they were nailing more 3 pointers.

Why We Ignore the Fundamentals

As leaders it’s easy to assume our team is ready for more. In fact, over-all results can be deceiving. We see trends improving, and we start teaching Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. It could be just a few superstars influencing the trend.

Plus, fundamentals are boring. Your team is tired of practicing, “one more role play and I’m going to barf.”

And then there’s the pressure from folks like me. “Come-on, the other centers nailing 3 pointers why not you?” Great leaders tell overly zealous leaders to chill down, and focus on the fundamentals.

 How to Nail the Fundamentals

  1. Know what skills matter: First figure out what fundamentals are really driving your performance
  2. Don’t assume winning means they’ve got it: Congratulate the win, and dig deeper into each skill
  3. Encourage teamwork: Find ways for the team to help one another, pair them up for skills drills
  4. Understand each player’s performance: Customize a development plan for each team member
  5. Teach in confidence bursts: Build confidence through the small wins
  6. Constantly refresh: Develop a regular cadence of back-to-basics practice
  7. Don’t grow too fast: Be sure you have a critical mass nailing the fundamentals before you rapidly grow the team

When Running Away Is Running Toward

“Hello, How are Y…?” “Carl” interrupted my greeting before I could finish. “Karin, I have to leave my company.” Not your typical Saturday morning phone call. He was fired up. He’s an old friend, and he’d been with his company for nearly two decades. 

I figured he was calling to have me talk him off the ledge. I’m familiar with that ledge– I’ve been there, and I’ve talked more than a few off it over the years. So I opened the window, climbed out, sat next to him, and listened.

Running Away or Running Toward?

I’ve always believed that running away is not the answer, much better to be running toward. His urgency had all the signs of a full-out sprint in one direction, away. But then I heard his story:

  •  “I’ve lost all respect for leadership.”
  •  “I fundamentally disagree with the values at play here.”
  •  “The wrong people are losing their jobs.”
  •  “I’m a Christian, and this just feels wrong.”
  • “I was raised better than this.”
  • “At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and feel like I wasted my years.”

Questions From the Ledge

Oh boy. This was going to be harder than I thought. If even half the stories were as bad as they sounded, the situation was extreme. “Why aren’t more leaving? I asked, already knowing the answer. It’s tough to leave the security of a well paying gig. I continued with my line of questioning.

  • Are you sure you have the whole story?
  • Have you shared your concerns with leadership?
  • Have you talked with HR?
  • Have you done everything in your power to improve the situation?
  • Have you looked seriously at other job prospects?
  • Are you financially prepared to make less?
  • Can you take some time off to think about it?
  • Does your wife think you should go?
  • Will you please wait until you have an offer to resign?

He answered, “yes” to all.

And then he shared, “Karin, it’s almost Spring. I have a sense this is exactly what’s supposed to be happening. New growth, new life.” You write of Seasons. It’s time for a new one.

I realized my role was not to be talking him off the ledge, it was holding his hand while he jumped. I stand corrected.

Sometimes running away is running toward.

Carl was running toward authenticity, wholeness, adventure, integrity and peace. Amen.

3 Listening Lessons We Can All Use From Political Leadership

A Guest Post from Rose Fass, CEO at Fass Forward.

Many leaders talk a good game. Some have even managed to talk their way to the top. But ironically, there’s one leadership quality that often gets the silent treatment. It’s listening to how the message was received.

Politicians are masters of message discipline. They speak in sound bites, which gives repeatable expression to their ideas. Next, they listen to focus groups, surveys, polls, and constituents to see how their message landed with their audience.

Did it create a buzz? Did it move people to action? Did it win them votes? Conveying a message isn’t enough. Leaders need to know how it was perceived and if it was effective in winning over their people. Say what you will about the world of politics, there are at least a few things leadership communicators could learn from political leadership.

The power of real leadership starts with the conversation. You have them every day…and those conversations have a powerful impact on your people and how your company does business…every day. If listening isn’t treated as a critical piece of message discipline, it certainly adds additional meaning to the expression, “He’s all talk.”

Listening Polls

Let’s assume that you lead by carefully crafting concise messages and conveying them with clarity. Then, you move on to the next piece of business. On the other hand, if you take the time to really listen, you’ll get two earfuls of terrific, actionable information. Suddenly, you can hear what your people have been trying to tell you all along. You’ll also have a better grasp of everything from what customers are saying to what’s frustrating your followers.

Listening more carefully to employees and customers can help close those gaps that open up unexpectedly at the intersection of strategy and execution.

Listen to yourself, too. Many leaders talk to themselves. Surprisingly, not enough listen to themselves. Successful leaders need for their ideas, visions, strategies and messages to come across clearly. Listen to what you’re saying. Is it being interpreted as intended? Is everyone on the same page? Are there breakdowns in execution? It all comes down to how your message lands. So be sure to spend more time in the land of listening.

What Gets Heard Equals What Gets Done

Listening is a two-way street. They want you to listen to them. You want them to listen to you. So listen up to these message discipline leadership tactics to ensure that what you say is what gets heard so what you envision is what gets done.

Listen To What You Say

Start with your message. Craft it carefully. Simplify it. Edit it until only the essence has been captured. Distill it down so it only delivers details that frame a solid main idea.

Next, Ask Yourself:

  • Are my expectations presented clearly or have I opened the door to confusion?
  • Will my people know how to pick up where my message left off?
  • Can our cast of corporate characters all see the roles they’re playing in the overall picture?

Listen To What Gets Heard

Hear your people. Ask for feedback. Now, get ready to:

  • Absorb the feedback and take decisive action.
  • Listen to what people are telling you with sensitivity.
  • Address all critical concerns and unmet needs.

Listen to What Gets Done

You delivered your message. You know it was heard. You now want action. Keep listening and continue to:

  • Hold yourself and your people accountable.
  • Monitor results and look for marks that have been missed.
  • Analyze whether your message is aligned with your strategy, company direction and what people are doing.

Three Points to Remember

  1. Message discipline drives operational discipline.
  2. Strategy is validated by execution of the message.
  3. Leaders who don’t listen are missing a lot.

What Great Customer Service Looks Like

The best Superbowl advertisement ever: It was Superbowl Sunday just before kickoff. It was the first appointment the Apple Genius Bar had available, my hard drive had crashed, and I was in a tailspin. The book I had finished that weekend, was stuck in a system that wouldn’t boot, the last third lost with no back-up. Not to mention the trapped keynote presentations and other docs I’d lost.

“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.”
~ Steve Jobs

Apparently, the editing of the video we filmed Saturday was just too much for my little MacBook Air. I waited with fearful expectation for my turn and diagnosis, anticipating the rolled eyes I deserved. After all, what ding bat does a big project without a net? I felt like a rookie.

Tony called my name and I shared my story. I was disturbed by his odds, but strangely comforted by his approach:
Oh, Karin, that’s just terrible, it could be bad. I’m not sure we can recover your files. But, you have my absolute commitment that I’ll do everything in my power to fix this. OUR goal is to have you leave here with your book, the rest of your data, and a fully functional laptop. It’s complicated, and I can’t make promises, but here are the first 3 options we’ll try if those don’t work, I’ll explain our other options and we’ll decide together,

After my 30 minute appointment morphed into full surgery, Tony brought in reinforcements. The prognosis was improving, but it would take a while.

Chatting to keep me off the ledge, Tony shared gently: You know the video work you’re trying to do on this is a lot for this computer. It will work, but it’s not ideal. I know you don’t want to think about that now; just something to consider in the future.

I had time to kill, so I told him I was off to wander around. Tony introduced me to John to answer any questions I had while I browsed. I told John the whole story. His eyes brightened.

“You’re writing a book! Oh way cool, what’s it about?” (HE LISTENED)

He shared, “I write too, mostly fiction, screen plays. Working on a sitcom. (NOW I’M LISTENING)

And I do video, this is what I use. That’s actually my dream, but I love working here because I stay up to date on all the technology. (I’M LISTENING AND LEARNING)

Are you using iMovie? (HE’S LISTENING)

How’s that been for you? (HE’S LISTENING MORE)

“Do you like to travel,” he continued. “I find most artists like to travel, I sure do. (NOW HE CALLED ME AN ARTIST. NICE)

“You know, once you publish your book, you should bring it in so we can all celebrate together about the book we saved. (WE WERE IN THIS TOGETHER)

He continued, it’s so nice seeing someone pursuing their passion. (THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL)

So there we were two “artists” spending Superbowl Sunday chatting about dreams. I left the store with my book, a working laptop, a new desk top computer, and a joyous heart inspired with possibility. I woke up at 3 am the next morning, gave the book a once over on my new machine and hit send, feeling like an “artist.”

 Great Customer Service Feels Like

  • Respect
  • Deep Caring
  • Human connection
  • Commitment to resolution
  • Being “In It” together
  • Leaving the customer feeling like their best possible self

Whether your customers are external or those you are leading, connection matters.

8 Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Every time “Elizabeth” asks her boss, Carol for feedback, Carol tells her she’s “doing great.” But this is Elizabeth’s 5th year in the same job and she’s starting to wonder. She’s watched peers who don’t seem any more qualified get promoted or selected for special assignments.

Her performance reviews are always solid, but never outstanding. She likes her job and the people she works with, but she’s beginning to feel like she’s treading water. Her mentor tells her, “just ask your boss,” but every time Elizabeth’s tried to approach the subject, she’s chickened out.

Elizabeth needs to set up a meeting with her boss just on this topic, rather than trying to squeeze it in as a footnote to some other meeting. She should also do it outside the context of a formal performance review. Let this be its own event. Here is an approach, I’ve developed to help Elizabeth– maybe you will find it helpful too.

Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Start by sharing how interested you are in her insights. A little flattery can never hurt in this arena 😉 Express your desire for deeper feedback that will help you be more effective for the company. Ask for specifics that will help you identify some new behaviors to increase your effectiveness.

Take it all in and step back and consider the possibilities from the conversation. You don’t have to agree with it all, but if you want to open the door for richer insights, it’s important that you respond well.

Of course, you don’t want to bombard your boss with all of the these in one sitting, but here are some options to get the conversation started. It matters less what you ask, then just getting the dialogue started.

  1. What’s the most important priority for our team this year? 
  2. What do your peers say about me?
  3. If your boss were to give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  4. Who should I be working with more closely?
  5. What could I be doing to make your job easier?
  6. To what do you attribute your own career success?
  7. How can I be more effective in that area?
  8. Which parts of my style concern you the most?
  9. Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for ___________ (insert the job or assignment you are most interested in here).

You have more power in your career than you may think.  Take the time to invest in yourself by starting a good dialogue with your boss.