Why to Be Surprised: The Power of Not Knowing

This weekend, on a flight out to Bend, Oregon to film am exciting project (coming soon), I clumsily dumped the manuscript for my upcoming book, Winning Well, on the lap of an older gentleman with sparkling eyes sitting beside me. We were about an hour into the flight, and up until then, neither of us had said a word–and quite frankly, we both seemed just fine with that. #thankgoodnesswegotpastthat

When I apologized and tried to recover the paper that was all over his feet and lap (#nexttimeuseabinderclip), he just seemed annoyed. Now, I know he was processing. A few minutes after my scramble, he said softly, “You writing a book?”

Now, as you can imagine, there’s nothing a woman like me wants to talk about more during this frantic final editing journey than my book.  In fact, when I check out at the grocery store and they say “paper or plastic,” I’m inclined to tell them “I like paper because it reminds me of my book which will also be available in Kindle, which I guess, is kind-of like plastic.”

I lit up past the embarrassment.

“Why, yes, I am. How could you tell?” I smiled, glad to have finally connected past the scramble.

“What’s it about?”  I launched into the Cliff’s notes version of Winning Well and getting results without losing your soul. (Hmmm… I wonder how I get Cliff to cover Winning Well. No, no, that would be a tragedy).

“Oh that’s awesome.” He shared. “I’m doing a talk at my daughter’s work next month. I’m trying to pick up everything I can about leadership. I’ve been watching TED talks. Trying to nail down my ideas.”

I jotted down his email, promised to send resources, and started to ask questions about the nature of his talk.

Imagine how surprised I was to find I was talking to  Frederick Gregory, astronaut and a NASA senior administrator who led the International management team responsible for the International Space Station (among other significant leadership feats and awards).

More to come on my new friend Fred. We’re connecting again later this week.

For now I’ll leave you with this piece of advice.

The biggest life and leadership lessons come when you’re surprised. 

Think about it. when you go on vacation, what stories do you tell when you get back home? The times when everything went just as planned? Or the more awkward moments, like when you had to ski down the blacks with your baby on your back because you made a wrong turn (been there), or followed your GPS only to find “You have arrived” put you deep into a dead-end of a National forest (#myweekend).

How we react, and what we do during the times of biggest surprise
are the moments that most shape us. 

Astronaut Gregory shared how surprised he was to find that the Russians he was working with during that tense time had some of the same childhood experiences as he, hearing a siren and being instructed to climb under the desk to practice in case the “bad guys” attacked. “Oh, we thought YOU were the bad guys.”

Being open to the surprise of common experiences helps us accelerate understanding and facilitate identification of a common goal.

When we’re so sure in what we know–when we let confidence trump humility–we lose the ability to learn from surprise. We can’t win well from that space.

Imagine the power of beginning each day looking forward to something that will surprise us, and expand our perspective.

How to Get Promoted At Work: The ASK Strategy

A guest post by Bruce Harpham

Getting promoted at works increases your responsibility, power and ability to grow as a leader. When you are seeking your first management role, getting promoted is a mysterious process. If you are seeking an executive role, the process is even more challenging. This three-part strategy is built on timeless principles that will deliver results in all industries. With this foundation in place, you can ASK for a promotion!

Allies: Promotion Requires a Team

Promotion decisions are generally made with the input from many people. That’s why you need to build up a team of allies to help you gain promotion. Here are three specific allies you need to develop:

  • Your Manager. A recommendation from your manager is often the single most important factor in winning a promotion. To get started, first observe your manager so that you can build a better relationship with her.
  • Your Peers. Having a few of your coworkers testify to your trustworthiness and competence goes a long way to strengthening the case for a promotion.
  • Other Departments. As a manager or executive, you will need professional and productive relationships with people in a variety of departments. Look for opportunities to do favors and treat these people well.
  • Friends in High Places. If you follow Karin’s advice to go through an effective mentorship process, you are likely to develop a good relationship with a VIP at your company. Remember – “Mentoring, at it’s best, is a magical elixir which shaves years off your learning curve through mistakes unmade.” A VIP such as an executive or other high-ranking person can recommend you or give you advice to get ready for promotion.

Relationship development is a vital skill, especially as you move up through the management ranks. It is best to start small in developing relationships – sending one thank you card per week is a great way to start.

Skills: The Rule of Three For Promotion

Skills make the difference in delivering results in an efficient manner. In many professions, technical skills and subject matter expertise are the way into the door. At higher levels, leadership and communication skills take center stage. To land a promotion, you need to determine what skills are required. Use these skills to get control over your skills.

  • Review three job descriptions.

Job descriptions are a valuable source of data in your pursuit of promotion. Choose a target job title (e.g. “IT Director” or “VP of Sales”) and then read three job descriptions. The goal is to find common ground of the different descriptions.

  • Complete gap analysis for the three top skills.

Gap analysis is a way to draw a map from where to you are to where you want to be. In this case, where you are is your current job. Where you want to be is your target job title. Look into both hard requirements (e.g. must have a PMP certification) and other requirements for skills and experience.

  • Validate your findings with three people.

Sitting in a room by yourself is necessary but not sufficient for promotion. You have to reach out to your network and ask for input. With the job descriptions and gap analysis in hand, reach out to three people to ask for their advice. Specifically, look for people who already have the job you want (Linkedin Advanced Search comes in handy here). You may receive validation for your idea or a brand new perspective.

Following the rule of three for skills development is an excellent way to focus your efforts. When in doubt, look for your skills you can develop over the next six to twelve months. In many cases, demonstrating a familiarity for the job’s subject matter and a commitment to continue learning makes a big difference.

Kill Your Bad Habits: What Got Here Wouldn’t Get You There

Have you ever noticed that you don’t need to think about your daily commute very much? That’s the power of habits. Habits also make a big difference in your work performance. If you seek promotion, then you need to avoid these mistakes.

  • Lack of Punctuality. Showing up on time – especially at meetings – is a simple way to demonstrate your professionalism. Bonus tip: arrive early.
  • Senior managers and executives have to act and make decisions – they cannot wait for perfect information to arrive.
  • Personal Disorganization. Losing track of appointments and meetings is an amateur mistake. Learn how to lead yourself with Getting Things Done.
  • Hiding Behind Email. As Karin explained, never assume they got the memo. In management roles, you need the judgement to use a variety of communication approaches including meetings, phone calls and conversations.

Take Action To Get Promoted

It is time for you to act to get promoted. Getting promoted at work means new challenges and excitement. Take a moment today to grow your allies – send a thank you note, buy a coffee for someone or simply listen to them. Relationships, skills and habits give you a great foundation for getting promoted.

Bruce Harpham, PMP, is the founder of ProjectManagementHacks.com, a career development resource. To reach your career goals faster, get your complimentary copy of the Career Advancement Toolkit by joining the Project Management Hacks email newsletter.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Have you every had a really crazy date? Or worked with a leader who was totally delusional?

Well that was me, about 15 years ago, single (again), feeling old (ironic now) and unsure on the Acela train.

It was just after the diversity council debacle.  I was sitting in the café car on my way to NYC for another meeting trying to rebuild trust.

I hadn’t looked up when the crowd pushed on at the Wilmington stop. It always gets crowded at that stop, and frankly I was really hoping no one would sit next to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling like company.

The conductor came on the overly loud loudspeaker to remind us they had just put on a fresh pot of coffee and the café car was open, when I heard a voice across the aisle, say, “You look really beautiful in that dress.”

To give you a sense of my mental state, it didn’t even occur to me that comment could possibly have been directed at me.

After all, I was beginning to believe my mother’s fear that at 35 it was too late to find someone new and I’d end up alone. In fact I was pretty much accepting the fact.

Five minutes later the voice came closer and I realized that the voice and the man it belonged to were standing in the aisle beside me.

“You know, it’s customary here on the East Coast to say “Thank you” when someone pays you a compliment. Where are you from?

I looked up and locked in on his beautiful brown eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Yes, thank you so much, err, very much. Do you want to sit down?”

We exchanged stories in a non-stop flurry of excitement. As it turns out Kurt was a West Point grad, also divorced with a small child, and spent half his time in Maryland, with his daughter and the other time in New York running his business. He had a similar juggling lifestyle, except I was in a row home and the Sheraton and he a Waterfront property in Annapolis and a penthouse.

“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

I told him my plans were to head back that night on the train.

“Is your son with his Dad?”

I said yes, totally relieved to find someone who got the picture before I had to explain it.

“You can grab the 11:14 train home after having dinner with me at this awesome place in Central Station. I do it all the time. I’ll make reservations for 6 that will give us plenty of time to talk.”

By the time I got on the train home that night I began wondering how I’d stumbled on someone so interesting, smart, and let’s face it, rich.

I resisted the urge to call my mother and tell her so. As it turned out, that was a good choice. She never heard this story.

After a week of flirtatious emails and some flowers delivered to work, he invited me to dinner in Annapolis with his daughter, Molly.

“Don’t you think that’s premature?” I asked.

“Nah, It’s casual. I like to have her meet successful women. She needs a good role model. We hang out with friends a lot.”

The evening was going great until I found myself alone with little Molly at the table. “My daddy has already figured out how he’s going to ask you to marry him,” she said matter of factly.

I choked on my water.

“He has? Really. How?”

“Well he’s going to be at the finish line of your next marathon with a bottle of champagne, roses, and a ring.”

Kurt came back to the table and I locked in with those brown eyes again, but this time searching for signs of mental illness.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I told her your secret,” Molly sang out.

“We need to talk.” I said coldly.

“Later. Let me get Molly to bed and I’ll put on some coffee. I can explain.”

We got home and he encouraged me to wait downstairs in the rec room.

I smelled the coffee brewing, and could hear sweet daddy daughter chatter. Hopeful that this was Molly’s delusion, I made myself at home and poked around (as any self-respecting-freaked-out second-dater would do).

I opened the door next to the stairs and found his office–which was decorated as the spitting image of the oval office.

I was still standing in the doorway in shock when he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a cup of steaming coffee.

“What is going on?” I was shaking now.

“Sit down”, he said calmly, as if he had done this a hundred times before.

“Look, Karin, it’s like this,” he touched my hand sincerely.

“I’m very successful and very busy. I’ve got my life mapped out. I’m going to be President some day and I like my office this way as a constant reminder and inspiration. Every time I sit in that chair, I’m reminded of my goals. Anyone who visits knows my intentions.

I don’t have a lot of time to date, and quite frankly neither do you. We both have a hard time finding someone who meets our standards.

You meet ALMOST all of mine.”

Almost all ??? (I was insecure but still feisty).

“Yeah, you’re divorced and that’s not good for a first lady.”

I started, “May I point out…” and then stopped myself. Why in the world was I defending myself?

“But I’ve been doing a lot of digging. You’re attractive ENOUGH you make a good ENOUGH salary, you’re articulate,  and you go to church.”

And he continued, “I think we can make it work.”

My only thought now was how fast I could sprint to my car, whether I could outrun this West Point grad, and how many other first lady candidates he’d scared off on the second date.

I know you’ll find this shocking, but I’ve yet to see him emerge as a candidate.

Although this year, he might actually have a chance.

Accelerators have great vision, but they also know when to go slow to go fast.

Don’t scare off your team with audacious expectations too soon. Sure paint a vision, but make each step feel doable and realistic. Go slow to go fast. Burn the script and watch the magic unfold.

Two weeks later I met a grad student living in a rented room studying to be a teacher.

Two years later I married him.

But first, I checked the basement.

Experts Share Thoughts on Communication: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our August Festival is all about communication. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Festival is all about Building Effective Peer Relationships. New contributors welcome.

Refining Your Personal Communication Style

To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. – Tony Robbins

According to David Dye of Trailblaze, new leaders often focus on making an impression. He suggests that’s the wrong place to focus your initial communication. Rather, effective leaders first communicate service and authenticityFollow David.

Jeff Harmon of Brilliance Within Coaching advises that leading yourself requires that you slow down so you can assess and re-calibrate–and communicate with yourself.  Here are 19 questions to ask.  Follow Jeff. 

Robert Kennedy of RobertKennedy3.com relates that communication not only involves transmitting information but also involves being aware of the signals you receive in return.  Following some simple observations can increase the impact and power of your conversations dramatically. Follow Robert.

Melissa Lamson of Lamson Consulting admits there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. As a result, some professional relationships suffer and the team doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it could. She offers tips to help men connect with female colleagues. Follow Melissa.

Scott Mabry of Soul to Work shares the importance of communicating and aligning our beliefs, as leaders, for the people we serve, and the importance of letting them influence and inspire our beliefs along the way. Follow Scott.

John Manning of Map Consulting says, “I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy and have demanding lives to lead. But what would happen if you made a commitment to set aside time to become a more engaging leader? I don’t just mean talking more to others in some sort of charming manner (although that can help). I’m referring to getting involved in other’s lives. Here are some tips how.” Follow John.  

Matt McWilliams of Matt McWilliams Consulting shares that good communication does not come naturally, even in the closest groups of people who have been together for years. So, communication must be taught and what is taught must be practicedFollow Matt.

Have you ever wondered, “Why is nobody listening to me?!” Leadership Coach Julie Pierce (Empowered by Pierce) shares the 4 critical questions to ask to make your communication count. Follow Julie.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame  shares that most communication is rife with jargon. To make a connection, learn to meet people where they are, understand their language and needs, and flex your style to build the relationship.  Follow Alli.

Stop talking. Questions make it worse. Don’t be yourself! Counterintuitive advice on how to have better communication, not just more communication from Skip Prichard of Leadership Insights.  Follow Skip.

Jim Ryan of Soft Skills for Hard Jobs discusses the importance of getting back to people quickly. Follow Jim.

Jesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership  observes that when people in the US work with people in other countries, we often expect them to adapt to our language and customs, without realizing how much more respectful it would be for us to adapt to them. She gives 8 simple and easy things you can do in your email communications that demonstrate your respect. Follow Jesse Lyn.

Communicating with Your Team

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. – Peter Drucker

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited gives tips to help you engage your more introverted team membersFollow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership simply states, “Conversations are the way that leaders get things done.”  Follow Wally.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares a post about strengthening and perpetuating communication throughout your team.  Follow Paul.

According to Dan McCarthy of About.com Management and Leadership, Many managers know how to “run” a meeting, but not all know how to “facilitate” a meeting. Meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one manager could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.    Follow Dan.

Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog  presents three techniques for writing compelling dialogue that also serve as important ways to improve communication with your team. Follow Robyn.

Communicating Well in Challenging Situations

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

Nikki Heise of Ridgeline Coaching shares a post giving leaders something to do when they hear the same “broken record” of resistance.  She explores the power of listening to and then acknowledging and validating people so they can get past objections and move to action. Follow Nikki.

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement says that most often there is no continuity or rigorous examination of past attempts in communicating change. In such situations I see no reason to be surprised that most people just see random changes by whoever is in charge that just must be survived until the next random change. Follow John.

Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America asks “How do low-trust leaders communicate when faced with a trust breach? Here’s a quick sampling of 10 one-liners pulled from the headlines over the past several weeks. Follow Barbara.

Terri Klass of Terri Klass Consulting notes that when we collaborate on a project, differences of approach can cause feisty debates with the people we work with rather than embracing perspectives that may be very different from our own. Here are four ways to communicate for collaboration.  Follow Terri. 

Jeff Miller of The Faithful Pacesetters asks “What are the consequences of leadership not being straightforward?” Misunderstood goals, Unchecked Improper Conduct, Destruction of an Organization. Follow Jeff.

When you are facing a change at work, home or community be sure to consider the grief process as you craft your message. Thanks, Michelle Pallas of MichellePallas.com  Follow Michelle.

The silliness of the way Hollywood movies and TV shows depicts the FBI is pure entertainment for someone like LaRae Quy of Mental Toughness Center! a former FBI agent. The danger that lurks, however, is that impressionable audiences actually start to believe all they see, read, and hear about bullying, intimidation, and rudeness. The fact is, FBI agents use persuasion to get the job done in the majority of cases, not brute strength and ignorance. Follow LaRae.

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS shares that the challenge in holding a conversation with someone who is in authority over you has to do with the quality of the relationship. This post breaks down how to talk to a boss and be more influential or even sell an idea or solution in a way that helps your manager understand the situation from a different perspective. Follow John.

Mightier than the sword: Ida B. Well’s battle against injustice inspires writers today. Thanks, Dr. Artika Tyner of the Planting People. Growing Justice Institute  Follow Artika.

Call for Submissions. The September Frontline Festival is about Peer Relationships. Please send your submissions no later than September 10th. New participants (including LinkedIn Bloggers) welcome. Click here to join in!

How to Tell a Great Story

Have you ever noticed how much easier is to remember someone’s point when they wrap a story around it? So why do so many leaders stick with dry PowerPoint presentations and yawner “motivational” pep talks when they could tell a story? How could you better use stories to galvanize your team toward stronger results?

This summer, I’ve trained hundreds of people on my STORIES model of impactful communication. You can watch an excerpt here.

The STORIES Approach

S- Setting

  • Where were you?
  • Who was there?
  • Who’s telling the story?

T- Trouble

  • What happened?
  • How can you describe the tension in a memorable way?

O- Other

  • Who is the sage that intervenes?

R- Response

  • What did our hero do?

I- Interest

  • What makes this interesting?

E- Evaluation

  • What did they learn?

S- So what

  • What does that mean for us?

This method works. I see HUGE improvement in the quality of participant’s stories after participating in a half day impactful communications workshop (we also work on simple delivery techniques). These workshops also have a significant teambuilding effect when teams go through this together– creating lasting bonds as teams reveal themselves in their stories.

If you would like me to custom-design a storytelling workshop for your team, please call me at 443-750-1249.

9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentations

I Googled “Death by Powerpoint” and got 12.6 million results. That’s a whole lot of frustrated ranting going on. Look, I get it. In most companies, if you’re serious about your project, you can’t show up to a meeting without a “deck” to explain it. But if people are glazing over, you’re not inspiring their best thinking.

Shortly after returning to Apple Steve Jobs said:

I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

For most of us that’s a nontroversy. But the Powerpoint requirement is still the norm. So for goodness sake, do us a favor and follow these 9 tips.

9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentation

1. Start With Your Message

What do you want your audience TO DO as a result of your presentation? I’m always amazed at how fuzzy that often is. Don’t start with the deck, start with your message. Outline your talk track BEFORE working on the slides. Your slides are gravy, not the meat.

2. Simplify Your Text

Keep to the rule of one point per slide and make your point pop. Reinforce it with a 5-7 word call out box.

3. Use Clean Fonts

Don’t use more than three fonts. If you have to reduce font size to less than 24pt, you’re cramming too much in.

4. Let Your Headings Tell a Story

Go through the presentation and just read the headings. If your headings don’t tell a coherent story on their own, revise them.

5. Use Your Layout to Focus Attention

The most important places to put information are the heading, upper left side and the bottom.

6. Build a Model

Models go a low way in simplifying complex messages. Think food pyramid or Sinek’s Golden Circle.

7. Use Compelling Visuals

DO NOT use clip art. Instead find clean photographs that tell your story. If the image doesn’t enhance the meaning leave it out. If you present frequently, look for unique pictures as you’re out in the world, capture them with your phone and save them in a folder.

8. End with a Call to Action

Ask your audience for what you need or want them to do.

9. Create a Separate Leave Behind

One of the main reasons Powerpoints are so crammed full of words and data is that they’re created to be “cascaded” and shared by someone other than the presenter. If you want to capture your primary audience’s attention, build a few slides that truly support your main ideas. Then create a separate document with additional detail and supporting data.

Differentiate your message with clean slides that enhance your story, and your audience will have more energy left to engage and do what you need them to do.

Does Your Boss Have Your Back?

When I was fairly young in my HR career, I was walking by my boss’ boss’ office (let’s call him Eric) while visiting our corporate headquarters in Manhattan. Without leaving his desk, he called out:

Karin, can you please do me a favor? You see there’s this meeting that I’m unable to attend, and it would be great if you could attend it for me. Sally, the Senior VP of our call center division has an absence problem. She asked me to attend, but I’m busy. I think it would be great if you could go talk employee engagement. It’s starting in a few minutes so you should head down now.

Honored to be asked, and delighted for the exposure, I eagerly said “Yes!” and ran off to the meeting. As I entered the room (apparently late), all conversation stopped.

“Who are you?” Sally barked.

“Oh, I’m Karin, Eric couldn’t make it, but asked me to come instead.”

“This is an important issue, and needs to be handled at the senior level! Doesn’t Eric care enough here to show up? Why didn’t he let me know he was sending you? What’s your role? Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.”

She slammed the door and called Eric.

“You can stay, she grumbled.”

Oh, wait for it. It gets worse.

The VPs around the room had all kinds of ideas for how to “fix those people;” none of which involved actually talking to them to understand root cause.

I piped in and told them so.

I was completely ignored and they went on with their planning.

Later that day…

I was on the elevator when the doors opened and Sally walked in. When was this day going to end?! I tried to get absorbed in the crowd, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When we stopped at her floor, she asked me to step off with her for a moment.

You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers. You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix my absence problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

She smiled for the first time that day.

It was the start to a beautiful mentoring relationship. She always had my back.

Two VPs with position power: one with his back firmly against the wall, protecting himself. The other taking a risk on a naive but passionate kid. What a difference it makes when someone has your back.

How Do I Get My Peers to Trust Me?

Honestly, I wish I learned this sooner. Having a tight network of trusted peers is as vital (and often trumps) your relationship with your boss and your direct reports. Trust matters even more with your peers because it’s TECHNICALLY optional and therefore more meaningful and sticky. There’s no “official” accountability levers. It’s easy to put them last on your trust-building priority list.

Your peers aren’t evaluating you on an employee engagement survey, or writing your performance appraisal. Often they have competing agendas, and of course you know it’s you against them in the stack rank.

So many of us buckle down, approach our peers with cautious pleasantries, and watch our backs.

Real trust develops when no one is watching…when you’ve got something to lose, and choose to be vulnerable anyway.

5 Ways to Get Your Peers to Trust You

Building trusting peer relationships starts with you. Here’s how.

1. Get Naked

Well not all the way, but at least take off your parka and mittens. Let them know what scares you (yes, yes, I know getting naked scares you. Do it anyway.) People trust those they can see. Share a vulnerability or two, and then wait for it. It might not happen right away, but stay open and investing as trust grows.

2. Give More Than You Receive

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a company and seen two teams with the same objectives, doing the same work, both with best practices that they’re completely keeping to themselves. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” is old school. Show your great idea first without worrying about what comes next.

3. Take a Field Trip

I learned this from one of my direct reports in my sales exec role. His peers in the finance department were not approving contracts for a subset of our customers. My deeply southern district manager got in the car and drove three hours for an old-fashioned visit. They had some sweet tea, cleared up misconceptions, developed a streamlined communication protocol, and our acceptance rate for that market skyrocketed. These were qualified customers that “didn’t look good on paper.” But the paper didn’t do them justice.

4. Lose a Battle

You don’t care equally about every issue. Know what’s worth going to the mat for, and what isn’t. A few concessions can gain you the reputation of being “easy to work with.” When you really need something, they’ll be more likely to trust your motives.

5. Lift Them Up

As a customer service director, my friend Dan and I stumbled on this one by accident. We were peers (who were always stack ranked against one another), but we also realized we had different gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit, he went first. He rolled up his sleeves and helped me tremendously on the operations side. He even silently sat in on a few tough customer calls and privately messaged me with what to do while I was getting my sea legs.

I then came to his region and helped him attack his employee engagement issues.

In every operations review we genuinely credited one another with our success. A high-tide rises all boats.

Don’t overlook the importance of trust amongst peers. It’s harder, it makes a difference, the big guys notice, and the relationships last a lifetime.

Are you looking to take your team to the next level? Please give me a call at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

How to Get Employees to Care About Your Company

Great commercials, strong PR, a brilliant social media strategy all warrant effort when building your company’s reputation. But there’s no better PR than an army of loyal employees living and breathing your brand. You know the type–folks with enthusiasm bursting from their veins–talking up your products and services with their friends at every bar, baptism and bat mitzvah they attend.

“No, I’m telling you this works, I’ve seen it from the inside! This product has changed my life! Let me show you.”

Or  “I’m so sorry you had that experience, it’s not usually like that.”

Yes. Define your image. Yes, yes, advertise it. But don’t overlook the power of your employees to tell your story.

7 Way To Turn Your Employees into Advocates

Your best employees want to be part of the inner circle. If you want them to act like owners, treat them that way. Here’s how.

1. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t blow smoke. They know the truth better than anyone and how it’s been received. Don’t sugarcoat the issues. Share your concerns and get them involved to fix them.

2. Listen to What They Hear

Don’t discount their feedback as “noise” really listen to what they’re hearing from customers. Nothing is more disconcerting that watching employees share relentless feedback in focus groups and having execs finally pay attention when the consultant comes in and says the same thing.

3. Give Them Context

Share the bigger picture and dynamics of the parameters you’re up against. Creativity comes best when the constraints are clear.

4. Treat Them with Deep Respect

“PR or HR or Staff or the VP knows best” never really plays well at the front line. Respect their perspective, and they’ll respect yours.

5. Encourage Them to Speak in Their Own Voice

Once this deeper understanding is established, I’m always amazed at the insights and eloquence of the frontline. Scripting may keep you out of trouble, but I’ve never seen a script create a best-in-class brand.

6. Allow Them to Be the Hero

There’s nothing more frustrating to a frontline employee than when an executive swoops in and does EXACTLY what they would have done but their hands were tied. Execs chalk this up to common sense that apparently they think they have but I’ve met many who question whether anyone they’ve hired to service their customers could possibly be that astute.

Give your employees a few opportunities (at least) to do what you would do in such circumstances. Can you imagine what would happen if you could replicate that level of prudence and critical thinking?

7. Encourage Swagger

This part may seem unnecessary. But I’m telling you, it matters. I remember when I first started working for Bell Atlantic (as a transition from my teaching assistanceship at the University of MD). All I wanted for Christmas was for my husband to get a hold of a Bell Atlantic sweat shirt. Here I was ready to be a spokesperson and to wear it proudly, but I couldn’t figure out how!

When two decades later I led the outsourced call center channel, it became obvious in about 37 seconds that these outsourced employees working for Verizon Wireless were wild about getting a hold of some VZW gear and would be honored to wear it. They felt passionate about being ambassadors of the brand.

When in doubt invest in the tee-shirts.

Effective brands are built from the inside out. Clever brands build the external engagement. Lasting brands build internal and external excitement concurrently.  What steps could you take to build an army of brand advocates?

One Thing to Eliminate From Every Job Description

I asked a group of managers (coming from a variety of industries and positions) “What do you think most bosses want from their employees?” They reached quick consensus: responsiveness, self-sufficiency, creativity, and candor topped the list (with a beautiful argument about the pros and cons of compliance).

I then asked, “How do you know what YOUR manager wants?” The responses were more varied and cryptic.

“You’ve got to watch for clues.”

“You learn by trial and error.”

“You’ve got to watch their body language.”

“You learn what not to do when others screw up.”

“Or worse, I learn when I screw up.”

And then the obvious question. “How do you think your team learns what you expect?” Crickets. Apparently mind-reading is a common, yet invisible requirement in many job descriptions.

How much time would we save if we were more explicit about what we want and need?

How much energy could be diverted to actually working on the work, rather than guessing what’s on one another’s minds?

  • “A response to my questions within  12 hours is vital. Let me explain why. We had this client _________.”
  • “I travel a lot so I’m going to count on you to make some important decisions when I’m in the air. Let me explain my process of evaluating a good decision.”
  • “There are some areas where I expect 100% compliance. All security standards must be followed at all times and we never jeopardize a customer’s private information.” In other areas I’m all for creativity and experimentation. I expect you to push back when something feels stupid. Let me tell you about a time _______.”

You know what you want and need. Your employees know what they need in order to meet your expectations. Imagine the possibilities with just a little more communication?

7 Questions to Improve Your Team's Communication

Nothing will improve your team’s productivity faster than better communication. Having a deliberate process and cadence of communication will save hours of lost time, productivity and drama.

If you don’t have a formal plan, or haven’t spoken with your team recently about how communication is going, it’s worth taking the time to communicate about communication. Gather your team together for a focused hour and talk about the questions below, and then build your plan. It’s helpful to revisit the strategy once a month to see how it’s working and determine if anything needs to be revised.

7 Questions to Improve Your Team’s Communication

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
-George Bernard Shaw

1. What’s working/not working?

Start with the basics.

  • What is working well about the way we are currently communicating?
  • Where is co​mmunication breaking down?
  • What do we need to be talking about more? Less?

2. Who are our stakeholders and what do they care about?

Giving your stakeholders the right amount of information how and when they want it reduces their anxiety and gets them off your back. And let’s face it, when you stay in front of the need-to-know curve, you look smart.

If you don’t know what your boss (or her boss) really wants to know–ask. Also if you produce and distribute reports and updates, it’s often wise to ask who’s looking at them. I knew one manager who just stopped sending all the mandatory reports his team was producing for three months, and no one noticed! I’m not suggesting this approach, but a quick check-in may save you some valuable time.

3. What more information do you need from me?

Start with you to ensure you’re giving the team everything they need. Then it’s good to go around the room and have everyone ask this question. Be sure you’re clear on what you need from each team member and what they need from one another.

4. How will we use email?

If you haven’t talked about this explicitly, I’m sure there are strategies you could use to be more impactful.

5. When will we meet (in person or by phone) and why?

Every meeting should have a purpose (tied to improving results or relationships). If the purpose of some of your meetings is simply to update, brainstorm alternative communication strategies.

6. How will we ensure our meetings are effective?

Talk about the best way to monitor meeting effectiveness (see meeting NPS). Do you start each meeting with clear objectives and desired outcomes? Do you stick to the agenda? Are action items clearly documented with responsible parties and follow-up dates?

7. How will we resolve conflict?

Talking about how you’ll address conflict and disagreements before you have one can go a long way in improving team dynamics. Agreeing in advance that you’re open to feedback and the best way to deliver it will also help promote healthy dialogue. Introduce tools such as the expectations matrix to help structure discussion.

So many teams settle for good communication when it could be great. Or worse, assume miscommunication is just part of working in a team. Checking in on the process every now and then will reap huge dividends in future productivity.

Sarcasm is Not a Leadership Competency

I’m not sure why so many people in positions of power think sarcasm is a leadership competency. Sure a quick wit, used well, can energize the team and lighten the load. But a sarcastic remark meant to belittle those who don’t dare fight back diminishes confidence, degrades trust, and leaves folks looking for the nearest escape route.

In fact, an audience member asked me again last week (anonymously through my polling app), “Can you talk about the danger of sarcasm? Our VP uses it often with people he doesn’t know and it ruins his presentations and upsets people.” I thought, “I know that guy.” I bet you do too.

Why is sarcasm so rampant in the workplace? Why would a manager demean someone they’re trying to “motivate?”

Why Sarcasm is So Dangerous

  1. It creates shame in the target.  People will do almost anything to feel good about themselves. If you shame a person when you have positional power, you have put them in a difficult “fight or flight” position.
  2. You get the opposite of what you want. A very skilled self-aware person might come and talk to you about it, but otherwise, they’ll find another way to “get even” – perhaps they resort to similar “humor” behind your back, undermine you, or reduce their work effort.
  3. You give permission for everyone to do it. Before long, your clever comeback has turned into a caustic workplace where negativity reigns. (At the extreme, this can even cause human resource problems with hostile work environments.)
  4. It doesn’t build anything. You might make someone stop doing something by being sarcastic and shaming them, but you’ll never create a new positive behavior this way.
  5. You limit creativity. Consistent sarcasm creates an atmosphere where no one will try a new idea. The risk of failure and incurring shame is too great.
  6. It drains energy. We do our best work when we’re in “the zone” – feeling competent, challenged, and ready to do our best. Sarcasm and humor at another’s expense create doubt and negative energy.
  7. It destroys trust.

How to Be Effective and Funny

  1. Start With Results: When you’re tempted to use sarcasm, stop and ask yourself what you really want. What results do you look for? Encourage, inspire, teach, coach, demonstrate…these are always more effective than sarcasm.
  2. Address Issues Directly: Never use humor to deal with behavior or performance problems. As we’ve seen, it creates more problems and does nothing to help the situation. Address these issues directly and professionally.
  3. Use Humor Effectively: Any comedian can tell you that there is always one safe target to make fun of– you. Self-effacing humor displays humility and tells your people that you don’t feel like you’re better than they are and that don’t take yourself too seriously. It builds trust because people know you own your problems and understand your own shortcomings.
  4. Deal with Your Own Junk: If you’re carrying around hurt or insecurity and regularly mask it with sarcasm or making fun of others, take some time to reflect on what’s going on there – maybe work with a coach. If it’s deep, talk with a counselor.
  5. Clean Up: If you have potentially hurt others in the past, apologize, and make it right.

We love to laugh and we need far more of it – but if you’re a manager or seeking to influence others, avoid sarcasm or making fun of anyone (except yourself) and watch your credibility grow.

David Dye and I write more on this topic in our book being published by AMACOM this February. Winning Well: A Managers Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul. Please call me on 443-750-1249 if you would like more information about including your organization in our Winning Well Speaking Tour this Spring.