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Team Training Needs to be like Music Lessons

My humble set up. Love my Taylor guitar and the discipline of practice and working toward mastery.

My humble set up. Love my Taylor guitar and the discipline of practice and working toward mastery.

Team Training as Music Lessons

If you really want your team training to make a difference . . . fashion them after music lessons . . . not school.

Remember music lessons? You go, have a 30 minute “lesson,” get your assignment, and go home to practice, hopefully daily, some exercise, technique or mastering a piece of music. Similar, but critically different, than the experience of school—at least as I experienced it—where much of the time the focus was on imparting information—through a lecture for example—where the goal was to master content and demonstrate that through regurgitating it on a test. (BTW: I realize that modern didactic approaches are trying to address this singular approach . . . through recognizing different learning styles and more comprehensive teaching processes . . . but let’s allow the simple duality for the same of drawing, what I think is, an important distinction.)

Two Distinct Approaches

Think about the differences in these two approaches . . .

Music Lessons Classroom

Focus is on skill acquisition. Focus on imparting information.

Short, repetitive instruction and daily practice. Lectures, homework and testing.

Narrow focus: scale, song, technique. Broad focus: history, terminology, theory

Emphasis on practice. Emphasis on teaching.

Outcome: improved skills. Outcome: content mastery.

Moving from “School” to “Lessons”

To often, team training is modeled more on a “school” platform instead of a “music lesson” style. I worked for a time for an organization that had an internal “university” for training. Once a month, the managers would get together for training and typically it was some form of “telling us” about something that would help us do our jobs. At best, it was a way to get a break from the daily grind, conduct business during breaks with our colleagues, and impart some . . . some . . . useful information. Many saw it as a “requirement” and generally a waste of time. Did we walk away with new skills? Rarely.

Supervisors and managers are in their positions precisely because they have skills. But that does not mean they have reached mastery. Like a musician or artisan, the skill building process is on-going because every new situation requires the application of skills in a new way. Just like each piece of music is different and the student has to learn how to apply their talent to performing that particular composition.

Practice . . . and Mastery . . . and Superior Performance

Yo-Yo Ma, the world renown cellist, said, “The goal of practicing is to achieve a freedom of the mind that enables one to physically do whatever they want to do. Careful practicing eventually allows one the freedom to be spontaneous, to react onstage to the moment.” I also heard this virtuoso in a live interview once comment that if he missed a day of practice, he would notice. If he missed two days, his teacher would notice. If he missed three days, the audience would notice.

Yo-Yo Ma, Wikipedia

Yo-Yo Ma, Wikipedia

How many leaders dedicate themselves to continuous skill development? How many organizations allow for, or prioritize skill development, as a goal for leaders? In my experience, not many.

Two stand out in my experience. One provided their “point person” to take several weeks each summer for continuous training. Another limited the role of their leader to one primary task in order to have them continue to develop a high degree of skill in that task. In both cases, the results were spectacular. Those two leaders excelled in their roles and it was clear why. The organizational support for their practicing and mastering their talks was remarkable.

Organizations have come to understand the need. They provide coaches, they allow time for continuing education, they promote leadership development. But few, really have a clear focus on creating a “music lesson” mentality and a consistent focus on specific skill development. The well-documented decline in interpersonal skills in the age of social media and virtual relationships among younger cohorts of leaders makes this need an urgent focus for the future of leadership in organizations.

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Things You Don't Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

The more you think you know, the less you are inclined to listen and learn.
— Bryan G. Miller

Things You Don’t Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

Things I Know I Don’t Know

There’s a lot I don’t really understand. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that but I think in our complex world it is true for everyone. Take geysers for example. I can listen to an explanation (which I did several times at recent “Ranger talks” at Yellowstone National Park and understand the basic principles of geyser “mechanics” . . . but really understand it? No, not really. But then again, even the Rangers note that the experts have trouble predicting most geyser activity and not understanding some elements of the phenomenon . . . so I feel—slightly—better.

Side note: In 1973, my maternal grandmother, from Valdosta, Georgia, traveled to Nebraska and accompanied us to Yellowstone for vacation. Since then, I have returned to the National Park twice, with the last time being this summer. Yellowstone, if you have not visited, is a world-class attraction. Visitors come from all over the globe, in fact this last time I heard more languages and dialects in two days there then I have experienced in any other single place—even while traveling Europe. Being around people—just like your own family—who have markedly different cultural expectations for personal space, social mannerisms, communication patterns, among others, makes for an interesting study of the effects of your own culture and your own personal assumptions. But, that’s another post, now back to things I don’t understand . . .

Managers are Tasked with Understanding People—Do they really get it?

There are also other things, more understandable, that I don’t really fully comprehend. For example . . . protecting yourself from a bear attack. Yellowstone literature, signage, and it’s staff were replete with information . . .

If you spot a bear, keep 100 yards away; If closer, back away, slowly. Don’t run! If the bear approaches, use your bear spray. If the bear charges, fight back. If the bear stocks you, play dead—but only if the bear is a grizzly never play dead with a black bear. (Oh, BTW not all grizzly’s a tawny colored and not all black bears are black!). If the bear continues to approach you, fight back. And this last one gave me pause . . . If the bear attacks you in your tent, fight back. What? No backing away slowly? Really fight back? What other option is there? Probably didn’t help my sarcastic attitude that we were sleeping in a tent and I didn’t like the implication.

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

In Nebraska, almost no one—except perhaps in the far northwest corner—thinks about or would ever own bear spray. We in this state also are woefully lax in thinking about hurricane preparedness, forest fire prevention, or building for earth quakes. Most of us colluding identify a “circle hook” or have ever seen the halibut it is designed to catch. Yet each and every one of these things is critical somewhere to someone.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.


in my opinion, as an “aside,” this one good reason to encourage travel—and a reason I promote it for my children—becoming aware of what you don’t know including the predispositions that your local culture has hard wired into your own way of thinking and behaving. Why do we stand 3-6 feet away from others? Talk in financial terms about the choice of having children? ”We can’t afford it right now.” Or expect ourselves and others to ask if we are working “hard enough” rather than working “too much?” Culture.

But People are Different!

But, “People are people!” right? Well, if we mean that their are basic commonalities among all humans . . . basic needs like eating, companionship, etc. Then, sure, People are people. But people are shaped by their experiences, the age in which they live, and a host of other things that make each one unique—just like each geyser or bear “encounter” is unique. In a way, every person is a culture of One. Things shared and not shared with others.

But what is “culture?” I would suggest that it is the product of real experiences at specific times and places in history that develop patterns of thought, behavior, and customs. Functional or dysfunctional on a larger world stage . . . it has come about due to something real.

We happened to stop by my brother-in-law/sister-in-law’s home in another part of Wyoming on our way back home. While there, they collected the memory cards from their “trail cams” on their property and we reviewed its content . . . it included pictures of a couple mountain lions, a black bear, and a moose among others. They have had a black bear on there deck and found muddy paw marks on their sliding glass door downstairs. They talked about monitoring lighting storms and finding, reporting, and helping extinguish a first fire. Living with these threats, having lived only in the midwest and south, is also something I don’t understand.

Case in point, I have never felt the need to either a) buy bear spray or b) own a hand gun. However, I know from residents of Wyoming that these are often common items carried on trips in the wilderness. I get it. A story i saw on our return from Yellowstone about a “good samaritan” that saved a family from a wolf attack in Canada by kicking the wolf drives the point home. Is “kicking” a viable defense? The next day, there was this story about a hunter getting attacked by a Mountain Lion not far from where we traveled. He drove off the mountain lion with a pocket knife but lamented that if he had brought his pistol he could have shot it in the air and perhaps avoided harming the lion. In both cases, these people were lucky. The wolf gave up and the mountain lion retreated.

(Speaking of broadening your view, listening, and understanding . . . I know some people will take offense at my mention of a gun—even though the hunter thought the gun could have prevented the attack and eventual destruction of the mountain lion. This, I think illustrates the point. Too often, we don’t want to listen. No, I don’t have a need for bear spray or a “pistol” in Nebraska—but I don’t face wolves or mountain lions! Listening doesn’t mean agreeing—perhaps there are other ways to avoid these encounters—but it does mean “wanting to understand” and not just pre-judge other’s views based on your own preconceptions. Something quite the opposite to our current political climate. Judging other’s actions based on your own presuppositions is easy. Understanding another’s experience and viewpoint—before passing judgement—requires work.)

Things They Don’t Know

On our last night in the park, we were down on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and as we came back up to the road, a family with Mother, Father and two children—possibly middle eastern from their accent—met my son, “Did you see the coyote cross the road?” the Father asked. “No. I didn’t,” my son answered—probably wondering what the big deal was (we have coyotes in Nebraska). I followed. The Father inquired, again, of me, “Did you see the coyote"?” “No, I didn’t.” I replied. “Well, I didn’t have that” . . . he said, pointing to the bear spray on my belt . . . “so I picked up some rocks,” he stated, showing me the items in his hands. I suddenly realized that I had never thought of coyotes as a threat. Certainly not one needing the protection of bear spray or rocks!

Back home in Nebraska, we go out on late winter nights to listen to the lovely sounds of the coyotes and their new litters. We don’t take anything for “protection” and we don’t feel any risk. If you spot a coyote, they tend to “skitter away” . . . and their diminutive and normally ragged appearance is hardly threatening.

I didn’t try to explain all this to my new found “friend” at Yellowstone. In reply to his bravado—in picking up the rocks to face this unexpected threat—and bravely continuing on their path to the lake with his family, I simply said, “It’s probably a good idea.” I figured this to be true—for the family’s peace of mind even if not necessary for protection from the canid. But, perhaps his “coyote” was our “wolf?” So I did remind myself how the bear spray worked once again.

Leaders and Things they Don’t Know

The best Leaders have a good grasp on what they know, their own presuppositions due to their own experiences, and a desire to understand other’s experiences in an effort to lead the team or organization to it’s optimal performance. This is one reason that any effort on a leader’s part to better understand themselves is a good exercise! Because for the leader, their actions, their behavior and choices are the key tool of managing others.

Leaders need to remember that employee’s lie—mostly to themselves—and leaders also are at risk of believing lies about their own roles. Managing the “difficult people” is key to a manager’s success. Deciding if the employee has value or is not a right fit is a difficult, but necessary function for leaders.

The problem is . . . all these decisions are commingled with the leader’s own personality, experiences, and coping strategies. For example, one leader, who had very good insight, stated that their organization was struggling because they were trying to integrate a new team into an old one and the old team mates had all been picked for the same basic personality types—aggressive, rationale, fast decision makers—the new team had different strengths and the two groups were struggling to mesh. This leader understood that the strengths they are developed in the old group were now a barrier to integrating new team members. But many leaders could have fallen to the temptation to blame the new employees for failing to join this productive team. She didn’t, and the result was a better, more well-rounded, and even more productive team.

Often this journey to understanding can begin through an honest evaluation of who it is that the leader does not understand—those employees that most frustrate the leader. Or, another way of saying it is, “Who pushes your buttons?” This attempt at understanding is not a pass for weakness, managing by fear, or to enable the continuing of any unproductive behavior; instead, it is to help the leader determine what motivates this particular employee, analyze their relative strengths and weaknesses, determine if they can support continued growth in that employee . . . and if that employee can be a productive part of the organizational culture.

As a leader, here are some things I struggle to understand or traits that “push my buttons:” Employees or people who . . .

  • are not self-motivated

  • fearful avoidance that results in self-fulfilling failures

  • any behavior that seems disrespectful of others

  • acting in a dominant way and interpersonal tasks as a win-loss

  • lying and “selling” their integrity to rather than admitting a weakness or failure

What are your “hot buttons? How do these “issues” invite you to prejudge team members that may be different? Have you taken the time to understand their viewpoint before making a judgement about their motivation, commitment, or value to the team? Can you set aside your fear, temporarily, in order to listen and inform your decisions so as to minimize impulsive actions and steer a steady and predictable course to success.

No, this doesn’t mean to be slow to act, procrastinate on dealing with issues, or any extremes (that are just as destructive to a team), it simply means taking a moment to check your own assumptions, engage with the employee, listen well, re-check your assumptions, and then, act.

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Learn more . . .





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Employees lie

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

Employees lie.

How does that statement strike you? Do you respond with, “Yeah, of course!” Do you want to argue that “people are mostly good and wish to be honest?” Do you find yourself wanting to fall back on platitudes like, “Everyone tells white lies?” Do you believe that your context—a family business, church, for-benefit organization—makes your employees different?

As a leader trying to understand employee behavior, the most important question to pay attention to may not be, “Do employee’s lie?” But “Who is it that employee’s lie to?”.

Context

I grew up an a small midwestern town where you knew everyone in town—at least by reputation, even if you didn’t know them personally. If you didn’t know exactly “who they were” all it took to find out was a quick query and you’d soon find out. . A person’s reputation was regarded as paramount in that small town context. In that context, everyone saw others through the lens of “who they are;” meaning, of course, how their reputation had them labelled. From a sociological point of view, this it could be argued, was both helpful and harmful at the same time. But the good and bad of that societal epoch we will not debate here, I simply mention this context to paint for the reader the idea of the community in which I was raised.

Within that microcosm, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with parents who had integrity. Their private persona was no different than their public one, that as, they were who they appeared to be. The persona the public saw was actually who they were in private.

As a child in my home there was no confusing duplicity by my parents, no behavioral “skeletons” in the home closet, no hidden addictions or unexplainable emotional, cognitive or behavioral anomalies. I was blessed to grew up around people whose behavior, thinking, and emotions were predictable and reliable. Thus, my parents modeled a trust-worthy lifestyle (For example, see my post on the Greatest Act of Leadership) and I grew up trusting people and assuming that others were much the same. In short, I learned to trust too much.

Public school, particularly the washboards (waterboarding?) of “middle school” began to make me aware of the myopathy of this view, that people could be trusted. Fellow students, I noticed, were not always honest, self-critical, or displayed integrity. Amplifying my surprise, I learned that, many times, their parents did little to model better patterns than their children. Still, most of the people I “hung around with” had good models for parents and didn’t display “really bad” behavior. The others, were easily labelled, relegated to the “proper” recitative category, and dismissed. So, some residue of trust remained.

While life continued to educate me in terms of human behavior, It wasn’t until later—probably when I was working on my master’s degree—that I really had to come to grips with the variability in the true “nature” of humanity, good and bad. Or if you don’t like the terms “good” and “bad” perhaps you prefer, “useful” and “dysfunctional.” A step in the process of understanding the full variability of people’s behavior was discovered it in a Tennessee penitentiary.

Interviews with Inmates

As a student, we had to go interview people in many different contexts. One of them was in prison. Our professor gave us a list of questions to ask, in each context, during the interviews. The first question we were required to the prisoners was, “Why are you here?” So, I made the drive through the razor wire, past the towers, and into the interview room, and dutifully asked the question.

“They got the wrong person,” one said. “The judge had it in for my family,” said another. “I got set up,” a third told me. “No one else got sent to prison,” a fourth told me. The pattern was unmistakeable. It clearly wasn’t their own fault that they were in prison!

At first, I felt confused by their answers. “Could this be true?” I asked myself after the first few interviews. Could all these people be in prison for the reasons they state they are in prison? Had I, somehow, drawn a sample that was somehow skewed and not representative of the population in the prison—a population obviously deemed responsible by the judicial system? (Later I found that this pattern occurred across all grad student interviewers, which bolstered my conclusion that this might be descriptive on the population.)

Next, I decided they were lying to me. The excuses and blaming was stretching all bounds of credibility. “It can’t be true that all these inmates are here due to the action of others alone,” I began to think. While some explanations were more plausible than others, most had the characteristics of a thin veneer masking a much more complex surface—and one that certainly held some personable responsibility. “Yep, that’s it, I concluded. They’re lying.”

But . . . .

As I observed their behavior, I also noticed that there were few “tell tale” signs of lying. The eye-contact was steady. Their manner compelling. No flickers of guilt. A ready answer for any possible contest to their preferred story. I began to edit my summary judgement. It wasn’t only that these inmates were lying. They weren’t “simply” lying to me, no, I concluded they were in fact lying to themselves—and believing the lie.

I was not surprised later to find research that said that criminals, compared to other populations in the community, tend to have high levels of self-esteem. They think of themselves as good people—better than most. This belief persists, even when society has deemed that they have done something worth of incarceration.

People labelled “Employees”

Inmates are people of course. So are ones labelled as employees.

This phenomenon, of lying to oneself, is not limited to inmates. Although “criminal minds” may take the “cat-bird’s seat” in the pervasiveness of this self-deceptive trait—it still demonstrably exists in smaller quantities in many others. Some teenagers for example, will blame everyone, except themselves, for the consequences of their decisions and actions. These “oppositional” teens may, or may not, be headed into criminal behavior but the thinking is reminiscent of the mind-set of the inmates and maddeningly resistant to parental “reasoning.”

But it is not limited even to populations we might define as “oppositional.” More normative populations exhibit it but in different ways. What about a individual with low self-worth? Or one with a super-inflated ego? Well, a close examination reveals that they too lie to themselves! Only the outcome is different. The first, blieving that they have little value, are unlikeable, doomed to failure, they act on those beliefs and co-create that self-fulfilled outcome. Giving up on tasks, assuming others know more or could do it better, self-sacrificing to the point of martyrdom. These employees may avoid engaging at work due to their own self-doubt, and thus are not providing their very best to their teams or organizations. While the second, keep the focus on themselves and create an erosive effect on their team.

Here we are not talking about common reasons communication fails (we’ve written about that elsewhere) or problems with the “creating a positive employee culture” but ways that individual employee’s beliefs constrain their ability to become high achievers within a team.

Leadership and Employee Lies

So, what’s to be done? Well, if you are a leader, trying to evaluate your team, ask yourself, “How is this particular employee lying?” and “What does this lie do for them?” Then ask, “How does this lie prevent them from being their very best?” Then begin to find a way to help the employee confront their own lies about themselves and to begin to again, grow and learn.

(Be careful here. Understanding human motivation and behavior is quiet complex. Still, every leader has the need to evaluate employees. The question is, will they do it well or poorly? Evaluations can be a subtle way to blame and shift the focus away from the leader. Thus, our final comments, below, on item 10 in our list of ways employees lie to themselves! If this still doesn’t make sense, check out our post on leadership and facts.)

[Jimmy Carter lacked] . . . the passion to convert himself from a good man into an effective one, to learn how to do the job. Carter often seemed more concerned with taking the correct position than with learning how to turn that position into results. He seethed with frustration when plans were rejected, but felt no compulsion to do better next time.
— James Fallows, The Passionless Presidency, The Atlantic, May, 1979

Okay, here we go . . . Ten lies employees tell themselves . . .

  1. I am well-aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. Few people develop good self-awareness without considerable “work” and an outside viewpoint. Coaching, mentoring, training. Self-awareness should be a continual process. (Have an employee who is not real self-aware? Here are some extra tips for dealing with a Maverick.)

  2. I am not a good/capable/smart/effective employee. Some employees fears stop them from continuing to grow. They hide, avoid, or give up rather than to strive, learn, and grow.

  3. If I fail, I am a bad employee. Some fall trap to a perfectionistic mind-set. Do things right and you will succeed. Fail and you will be a failure. The truth is we all strive to not fail but our failures or mistakes can be some of our best means to improving.

  4. Being open or sharing feelings makes me look weak. While no one respects someone who “over-emotes” and makes work a personal counseling session, that doesn’t mean being cold, distant, and aloof is better.

  5. I am a very valuable employee—more valuable than most. While “confidence” can be a good thing—event if it may be a beneficial myth—if it borders on arrogance or narcism it can be destructive to a team. If it is an unrecognized bid for control then it works to undermine leadership if not addressed.

  6. Playing it safe, avoiding conflict, and taking no personal risks makes me a good employee. Some employees “hide.” By playing the “yes person” and appearing to be a team player they are protecting themselves and not providing their full input into the team.

  7. I am good with people. I am a good listener. Any conflict is due to other’s poor behavior. It is remarkable how some employees, despite conflict or problems consistently “swirling” around them, can maintain the belief that they have good or even superior skills with people. But they do.

  8. I am not good with people. Despite the fact that I have a following. The opposite of the item mentioned above, some employees struggle to see that they have good people skills and may even be an informal leader within their team.

  9. People will “get over it” if I lose me temper or am reactive. Employees whose behavior is unpredictable, impulsive, or reactive often believe it is a virtue. Comments like, “It least everyone knows where I stand” or “I don’t play games” cover up the fact that others accomplish these same outcomes without the behavior that is damaging to the team.

  10. A final lie you should examine—once you’ve finished assessing your employees . . . is this, “What lies am I telling myself?” This may be the most important analysis of all. After all, “I’m the boss, this doesn’t apply to me!” may be the biggest self-deceit of all.

    (P.S. Here is a personal story you might like on teams and trust: My Coach is the Coach of the Year! Trust and Team building.)




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Hydrant Repairs . . . and leadership values

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Repairing, not replacing, Yard Hydrants

Repair or Replace? On my “to do” list this summer is fixing a couple of frost-free hydrants. To get technical, one is a Woodford Y34 that is starting to leak and the other a Woodford W34 that tends to freeze in the winter (see below). These two hydrants were put in roughly 15 years ago and only now are we having some minor issues. Interestingly, they are not our oldest hydrants. We have three that were already installed when we bought our property, 18 years ago, and which are at least 5 years older. But, the two hydrants with issues that I am repairing are the most used hydrants on the property and perhaps it is this fact that has led to the issues.

Notice, I said “repairing” and not “replacing.” Why? Why am I attempting to repair and not just replace them? Well, not because of aptitude or confidence, in my ability to fix mechanical things, that’s certain. I have never install— or fixed—a hydrant before and, if you are a regular reader of my blog you’ll know, I am not particularly mechanically inclined. But . . . I am cheap . . . and I don’t like the feeling of paying 3-4 times more than it’s worth to have someone else do the work if I think it is possible that I can accomplish it with a little—hopefully not irrational—faith and a willingness to take on small risks.

So, this kind of “new mechanical test of my adequacy” is, admittedly, threatening to my psyche. Fraught with danger . . . I struggle how to approach these tasks and minimize the nagging anxiety of failure hanging over my head. Do I order lots of extra parts to make sure I have the right ones? Resign myself to making multiple trips back and forth to the store? Try and figure out exactly what I need and order only the parts I think I need? Each of these options are laced with potential for feeling like I have failed. Extra parts? Waste of money. Multiple trips? Berating myself for not being smart enough to analyze the needed parts correctly. Exact order? What if I don’t have the right parts and have to delay the repair. Each feels like a failure, looming, like the foreboding outline of a turkey vulture, just waiting for death.

Yes, I know this is part of my irrational expectations for myself—is it too much to ask to just succeed, each, and every time . . . without too much trouble? An irrational product of a brain conditioning over time to fear even minor set backs. My healthier “mind” knows that even people who have good mechanical aptitude may have these issues and even do these same things . . . they just don’t appear to define it as proof of their ineptitude the way my brain does.

But this post is not about repairing my irrational thoughts and beliefs, but about how repairs reveal a leader’s values. (BTW, If you have the same unrelenting standards for yourself, like I do, you might want to do yourself a favor and read what I learned watching a choir make mistakes).



Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Choices Revealing Values

Lucky for me, that You Tube exists today! You Tube is often my source, or security blanket, for mechanical courage. So, one of my confidence boosting activities, is to watch videos, often times several, of repairs that I am attempting. Seeing the repairs made on the videos makes if much more possible for me to step over the threshold of fear and get started on my own challenges.

But repairing the hydrants reveals something about me and my values . . . here are some of them and, as it relates to leadership, I want to focus on the last one—wanting something that is common.

  1. Yes, I’m cheap. I don’t like “wasting money” that doesn’t have to be spent. So, I am inclined to repair things if possible unless there is a clear advantage to replacement. I know not every one shares this value. Some want “new.” Fine, but I”ll take value, old or new, over “shiny” and “trendy.” Personal preference or value.

  2. I prefer good quality over “new” and often trust that older items have escaped some of the present cheapening of manufacturing that does not make new parts, especially on the cheap end, better than old ones.

  3. I like learning and becoming more mechanically competent . . . even if I’m afraid of “failing.”

  4. I derive a strong sense of success seeing the results of overcoming my fears and items in good working order.

  5. I want a popular quality name brand. I don’t want something that is unique, hard to find, an outlier. This is not true in other areas of my life. I like something different, unique, unusual. But not when it comes to hydrants. I want easy to find parts, An item that won’t be hard to repair or replace. There will be on-line advice on how to operate, fix, or replace. (Seven different You Tube videos so I can find one with the right tools, procedures, etc. that make it “doable”) These are the things I value. So, I have Woodford hydrants—one of the oldest and leading manufacturers of hydrants.. (If I was installing hydrants in a place like Mata Mata, New Zealand, better known as Hobbiton, I wouldn’t want Woodford. But then again, I’d probably be hiring someone else to manufacture and install them!)




Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Values and Leading

Recently, someone was telling a business owner about how we help repair human systems in organizations. He struggled to explain to her how we use intensive interviews, focus groups, executive reports, action plans, on-going consulting and coaching . . . to help leaders, teams and employees. Her response? “Why don’t they just fire them?” He retorted, “Sometimes you have an employee so valuable that you want to give them a chance to succeed.”

Now, any of us who have managed large groups of employees know that, regrettably, there are many times where firing someone is the solution that is needed. For me that demarcation line of an employee being “workable” or “not workable” is tied to things like integrity, safety, and honesty. An extreme example will make the point; for most leaders, in most situations, an employee who threatened other employees would be a cause for termination. Stealing, falsification, absences without leave . . . there are plenty of examples. But, most situations, involving people are not this clear.

So, I don’t want to be too hard on this owner. I don’t know what he was thinking . . . maybe it was about a situation most would consider a fire-able offense . . . or what situations he has encountered where repairs were made or were successful.. But I would propose that there are times, many times, when replacement is just not the best option. Let’s consider these from a view point of general principles.

  1. You know that the overall product is good and of high quality. It just needs some upkeep or repair and it will work well for many more years. The cost, in this case, of replacement often exceeds the repair. In business terms, terminating an employee, advertising and recruiting, hiring, on-boarding . . . there are a lot of potential costs to turnover that must be accounted for in the decision. In human terms, what impact does firing someone have on the culture, the motivation, and production of the other employees. For every action there are reactions—positive and negative—that should be considered. There also may be the value of being fair, forgiving, loyal, or other values that make a leader want to factor in past years of good performance.

  2. Replacing sometimes leaves you with an inferior product. Sometimes you just can’t get a good quality replacement or the cost to get the same quality “part” is too high. What do you lose when the experienced employee leaves? What if you can’t get a quality replacement? I recall the impact on an organization who fired a Child Psychiatrist in a rural setting. It was very difficult to find someone to relocate under the circumstances. The organization would up paying for a locum tenens Psychiatrist out of Boston for an extensive period—I’m sure that did not help the bottom line. Similarly, I run a 1948 Ford 8N tractor to do a lot of my shredding/mowing partly because the cost to replace it would be very high.

  3. Replacing a part when the new part undermines the entire system. There is an ancient phrase, “You can’t put a new patch on an old wineskin.” At times a new part is “too much” for the old system. Often organizations bring in a new leader because of problems but if nothing has been done to deal with the underlying issues, these new leaders often either fail to make significant process or are “run off” Then the organization or team is often labelled as “toxic” and failure becomes an expected “explanatory fiction” of the “way it is” making transformative change extremely unlikely.

  4. Replacing a part when it’s role is more than just it’s functional value. I mentioned the Ford 8N tractor earlier. The truth is, it is more than just a tool. It is my father-in-law’s tractor, passed down to his daughter, and an item around which many family memories have been made and core family values have been reinforced. That farm-born independence, hard-working, care for your equipment, cherished memories of past accomplishments . . . Maybe, someday, this tractor will pass out of our family’s ownership, but I don’t see it happening for the next generation or two for sure.

As a leader, conveying a belief that 1. your employees at their core possess good qualities, 2. that replacing them will not automatically lead to a better product, 3. that the system will react tot the seismic shift as an employee leaves, and 4. that employees and their relationships within the organization are not just a transactional exchange of function and remuneration can go along way to creating a valued culture where high performance can be built. It is not the “be all or end all” but it’s a good start.

Repair or replace? What ever you as a leader decide it will express your values and may define how you are perceived as a leader. Keeping a defective hydrant is frustrating, and discouraging to those interacting with it, and it may lead to more damage of the system. It needs to be replaced. But sometimes, really understanding the problem, taking it apart, and replacing the deteriorated bushing, refreshing the old hardened rubber with new, and a little paint gives you something more valuable, and less costly, that buying new.

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

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I'm a fanatic . . . about culture . . . but it better be real!

Yep, I could be  that guy!  I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Yep, I could be that guy! I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I admit it. I’m a fanatic. No not a ranting, in your face, zealot. I’m from the midwest after all. Our zeal is a little more tempered. Stoic. Nice. That reminds me, our state once thought the best tourism tag line for our state was to promote this . . . “Nebraska, nice.” Ugh. Doubt it helped much. Anyway, back to me, the fanatic. I bear all the hallmarks of being a “true believer,” I have the gear, I study carefully everything about my passion, I’m drawn to others who share a similar love for the object of my obsession, I’ve done it all . . . except the tattoo. But then again, I’m from a different generation and, again, midwestern.

So, what is it that I am fanatical about? Well . . ., before I tell you and some of you sign off—concluding that your passion is not mine, and thus irrelevant—let me say, this post is not about the object of my fan-dom (fan-dumb?) but about the power of culture You see, the entity upon which my interest is focus is, right now, not worthy of such devotion. Ouch. It hurts to even admit that, I’m such a homer when it comes to college football.

The truth is the truth however and it is undeniable that my beloved team—the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, or “the Huskers” for short—has been awful. Last year? 4-8. The year before? 4-8. Dismal. Yet, this team has a top 15 recruiting class this year. They have been projected to finish in the top 20 by a number of prognosticians. Enthusiasm is high among the fans. Hope is abundant. What gives? Well a change in leadership but perhaps even more importantly the establishment of a new culture.

You can feel it. In the way the players talk, in the way they play, in their belief in the team and coaches and their willingness to voluntarily commit their discretionary effort to the team’s goals. Just watch their body language. A few years ago, under a different coaching regime . . . we won’t name names, I saw players on the side lines with their heads down, looking away or even pushing past . . . and thus avoiding . . . coaches who were trying to talk to them. It was not surprising when, over time, they began to look like they weren’t united in trying to win and the results began to mirror that disconnect. My observations were confirmed when a friend, and former division I quarterback, made the same observation, “You can tell they don’t want to play for this coach,” he said, “Just look at how they act when they come off the field.” Finally, someone close to the program also stated it. “They lost faith in the coach.”

So what has given this new culture its legs? Not success . . . not yet. Unless it’s the reputation of past success which these leaders have or the progress being made. But, success in the present? No. The team started out 0-6. The first time in the history of the program. Amazingly, the team continued to fight. They appeared to improve over the course of the season. They fought no matter what the circumstances and even looked better when they lost. It was clear that they “had each other’s back” and the team was, in fact, a Team. Having played both for teams that were not united or had a successful culture as well as teams that were very high functioning (including a national coach of the year) here are a few observations (from an outsider’s view) of what has made this work.

  1. The leaders have a deep understanding of—and deep connection with —the broader context of the program and how to utilize the context to promote success. The Coach grew up in Nebraska. Population 1,325. The “Walk On Program” here at Nebraska—the recruiting of local kids—is at least as important as the getting the “blue-chippers”—highly ranked recruits— in the context of Nebraska football. He gets this. He praises the fans and the culture as being “like no other” and highlights its strengths—joking about how “blue-chippers” think they’ll see a football stadium in the “middle of a corn field.” Early cohorts talked about valuing the walk on program but in practice . . . they didn’t get it.

  2. The leaders demonstrate a commitment to one thing—success. I hear statements like, “We are going to be good.” or “ We’ll see if he can contribute.” Even doubts, “Some may not be with the program” It’s clear that the goal is the focus and they believe reaching for that goal will help everyone who buys in. You could call it the “while no one is an ‘expendable crewman’ . . . some are more expendable than others.” But the message is clear. This is about being successful as a team. You can “get on board” or not but it is the single clear focus of the program.

  3. Hard work is the route to success. How do you go from 4-8 two years in a row to the 13th ranked recruiting class? Hard work. Weight training. Husker Power. Strength Coach Zach Duvall. The coaches have not shied away from saying that players were not where they needed to be. In fact after the final game to our Iowa neighbors, the coach said it hurt to see that they were bigger and stronger than we were. How’s that for honest clarity? Yes, the coaches are careful to allow that there are many paths to success (that other coaches may have tried) and that previous coaches may have had a different focus and emphasis, but it’s clear that the team did not meet their criteria for strength, speed, and commitment. It’s also clear that anyone wanting to be a part will dedicate themselves to these attributes.

  4. Finally, over everything else, the emphasis is on people. The clear message—and one that resonates as not just being "coach-speak”—is that this is about the players. Helping them become better men. Developing their potential. Becoming a close-knit group and having fun together. Yes, fun. In fused in everything is this belief that hard work, dedication, team chemistry, and success is fun and worth the effort. The mission is not just winning on the field it’s being successful as a person.

In Coach Frost’s own words . . .

As I was writing this blog, an Omaha World Herald article by Sam McKewon came out where Coach Frost talked about the importance of culture. Here’s part of what Frost was quoted as saying . . . “Culture eats scheme for breakfast . . . I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays we can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have . . . people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, [i.e.; the right culture] I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”

Frost boils it down to two factors, 1. players making decisions in the best interests of their teammates, and 2. a desire to excel and no fear of failure.

Will this, ultimately, lead to the success the coaches want? If we’re talking wins . . . it’s unknown. In fact, due to the variables at play in such an endeavor it could be argued that their is no way to determine what causal factors lead to success on the field. Fair enough. But if you just look at the players behavior, other on and off the field, you can already see a clear and vital difference. It’s clear that this focus on culture has brought a new energy, a willingness to commit voluntary effort to succeeding, and cleared aways a number of hurdles that were detrimental to success. A strong culture, at the very least, increases the likelihood that success is possible—in athletics and in business.

P.S. I was told by someone who worked with transportation for recent Husker teams would leave the bus “trashed” when they got done with a trip. Not anymore. The Coaches, from the first, made players clean up after themselves and appreciate the service they were being given. Coaches talk about representing the state, university, and each other. The message is clear—even in this minor detail, “We will treat people, including ourselves, with respect.” Sometimes it starts that small to build a great culture.

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The Slippery Slope of Facts . . . as we are Conditioned to Know Them . . .

Beware of the facts! Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Beware of the facts! Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Slippery Slope

Circa 1975. I was starting high school (Yes, I’m that old!), and with a particular interest in all things science, I looked forward to delving further into physical science, chemistry, and biology. I was intrigued by the things I had already learned about the world and how science could help us understand the world. Little did I know that the facts I learned then . . . would change! To wit:

  • The electron “is the smallest particle in the universe.”

  • We are facing a new ice age.

  • We only have 50 years left of fossil fuel.

  • We will be unable to feed the world population by the year 2000.

Today, science tells us . . .

  • Quarks are smaller than electrons.

  • We need to be worried about global warming . . . no, . . . wait, . . . climate change.

  • We still are going to run out of fossil fuel . . . and besides it is destroying the Ozone.

  • Water is going to become a major crisis for the world.

I’m not here to dispute or challenge the scientific dogma, old or new, or the merits of each of these theories, I just note it to say, “the facts have changed!” Some would argue, correctly I believe, that this change is exactly what science is supposed to do! Change as new knowledge and better models are discovered. I agree. But others would see a more sinister pushing of agendas that might have other motives. Perhaps this too is true.

In either case, it illustrates that far too often theories are confounded with proven facts. My teachers, in 1975, made this error. Presumably they had been taught that scientific theories and data are only consistent with projections and are not, in and of themselves, facts . . . but that is not how it was presented. It was presented as a scientific certainty. It proved not to be true and it is still happening today.

Blame it on lazy thinking, poor educational systems, a lack of higher education . . . what ever you will, but again I am not hear to debate those theories but to talk about the slippery slope of facts as it relates to business.

Businesses, Organizations and Facts

One of the greatest challenges to helping businesses and organizations change is what “they already know.” Einstein encased the problem of “knowing” succinctly in his oft quoted adage, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” When working with leaders one of the tell-tale signs of whether an “outside consultant” can help is if they are willing to have what is known challenged and if they are actively looking for new ways to approach the problems. If not, they are doomed to repeat the cycle that produced and sustain the problem.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? The problem is, most leaders think they are open to questioning the facts as they know them—and I think they honestly believe they are. However, too often, years of conditioned responses makes them resistant to change.

The Power of Conditioning

To illustrate the power of the conditioning, I will at times, after meeting with them for some period of time, raise my hand and extend it toward the leader. Instinctively, they will raise their hand to meet mine. Then I ask them why they did that . . . “well, you wanted to shake hands,” they reply. “Did I? Did you?” I set this up after we have talked a while specifically because a handshake is not expected at that time. We didn’t just meet and it’s not time for the social practice of shaking hands, but the leader didn’t consider if some other response would be better—other than a passing thought of confusion— or if the gesture could be something other than an expectation of a hand shake; they are just responding to years and years of conditioning.

Leader’s lead in ways they have been conditioned to lead. Do the facts lead them to exert control? To lead by being inclusive? To work for warm relations and a collegial approach to team building. Why? Too often, they really can’t explain their approach because, like the handshake, it is an unconscious and conditioned response.

But it works! Until it doesn’t.

I’m not really being critical of leaders. We all operate on conditioned responses. it’s what makes the world operate smoothly. My mind is not cluttered up with analyzing each and every “handshake” to determine what to do. I don’t have to think when the brake lights come on ahead of me, my foot automatically moves to the brake pedal.

Leaders are elevated to their positions because their conditioned responses are affective. An impulse to shake hands when one is extended to you is a social “grace” that eases the awkward meeting of two people. But, ever know someone who keeps wanting to shake hands? I did.

One school I attended had a student I’ll call Gary. Gary had a habit of shaking your hand, then repeatedly reaching out again, through the conversation, to shake your hand again. Alternately, he would simply continue to grasp your hand and not let go. Talk about awkward. What do you do? Many people, myself included, tried passive ways to try and extricate our hand, or avoid the multiple handshakes. Some, I have no doubt, avoided Gary. I’ll admit, I at times, wanted to as well. Those additional handshakes when unwarranted, creates an awkward barrier to further relationship building.

I personally was stuck by the “facts” as I knew them. One, people interacting with Gary had certainly “indicated” — with their behavior and words — that this handshaking behavior was unusual and an unwanted behavior. I had personally witnessed another student respond with “Let go of my hand! What’s wrong with you?” Two, Gary probably did not need anyone else making him feel like he was a “problem” and “unliked” and that “knowledge” had not stopped the behavior. Three, I wanted to be a good person and treat people, even if their behavior made me feel uncomfortable, in a respectful way. Accommodating Gary’s strange behavior did no harm and actually was helpful. Right? The facts, as I viewed them, led me to be passively engaged with Gary and ignore what was really happening . . . that Gary’s behavior made me, and many other’s uncomfortable, and to “be kind” — pretending I was not uncomfortable and not talking directly to Gary about these facts with kindness and the real respect he was due.

The solution came in the form of an older, and wiser, man — a school professor. A man whose interaction with Gary I got to witness. After shaking the professor’s hand, Gary, predictably, extended his hand, again, to the professor. “Why do you want to shake my hand again?” the professor asked. His voice was quiet. His tone warm and sympathetic. I had no doubt that if Gary had suddenly come up with an honest and insightful answer—”I’ve never felt like people like me and shaking hands make me feel accepted” or “I’m sorry I have a compulsion and it sometimes gets the best of me” — the professor would have been willing to shake his hand a second time. Unfortunately, Gary looked uncomfortable. He stammered out an answer or excuse, and shuffled away.

Afterward, I notice that Gary’s handwringing exercise diminished. Had he considered what the professor had asked? Had he learned something about himself and the conditioned responses he had learned? I don’t know. I do know the problem was largely resolved.

The professor, in my view, was the one person I witnessed who had the courage to be both kind and honest. He was not thinking about how Gary would view him or how it might affect how others would view him as a professor. He did what was in Gary’s best interest, period.

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P.S. Ironically — isn’t life funny? — the day before I finished this post, I had another “handshaking” incident. a young man I know and admire, but who suffers from a significantly anxious temperament, was bidding me goodbye. In that process, over 5-10 minutes, he extended his hand at least three times. Caught off guard, I shook it each time. Now, the challenge is, “Do I talk to him about it?” Chances are the answer will be, “Yes!”

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Betrayed! The ultimate test of emotional intelligence . . . and character.

Photo by  Xavier Sotomayor  on  Unsplash

 

It's easier to forgive an enemy than it is to forgive a friend." ~William Blake

 

Everyone feels betrayed . . . eventually.

Yeas ago I saw an article that said 90 percent of men engaged in a particular habit. What caught my eye was the subtitle, which said, "10 percent lie." When it comes to the topic of betrayal in business I am tempted to re-assert the same adage, to wit: 

Ninety percent of people will feel betrayed at work. Ten percent lie. ~Bryan Miller

 

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The type of organization makes betrayal more, or less, of a risk

Where you work may determine if this sense of betrayal is easily managed or not.

For example,  if you work in a big conglomerate or corporate entity, a public or private sector workplace, or the military, you may be able to set it aside philosophically with a rationalization such as "it's only work" or "there is always one jerk" and alter your actions to minimize the impact  on your work-life.

But what if you work in a very small company? Or you work in a small professional practice, non-profit, or family business?  In these cases . . . it's not so easy. (see our posts on Preserving the Family Business or 9 Common Lies Family Business Owners Tell  Themselves.)

Experts have noted that their are certain types of organizations that are prone to present as more "emotional" than the typical corporation--these organizations often have the advantage of sharing stronger bonds (more like Blake's "friends" in the quote above) and are thus at a greater risk of a sense of betrayal. In fact, it is these close bonds--and the implied trust inherent in it--that makes the betrayal an especially dangerous threat.

 

When people feel betrayed, leaders need to step up!

Ever hear the statement that the employees know "where the bodies are buried?" Think about that statement for a moment . . . and about the literalness of that statement. The employees know "who has died (killed?) and that their final resting places are known." Maybe the burial plot is in marketing, or the warehouse, or the "other office."

It's too easy for leaders to ignore times when employees feel betrayed. Sometimes they blame the "victim" --"they take things too personally!" At other times, the threat is dismissed, "You don't have to like the people you work with." But feelings of betrayal will often erupt in conflict at critical moments or eat away like cancer on your organizational body.  Production will drop, employees won't be willing to contribute any more than necessary, negative behaviors increase.

Like it or not, a leader needs to "get into the problem" and help the effected parties come to a resolution. They need to "get over" their own issues with trust . . . and lead. But this often creates a threat to the leader . . . so, often, the leader can revert to "taking control" or they kick this task "down the road" . . . avoiding, for the moment, dealing with the threat of a diagnosable "organizational disease" or perhaps the need for surgery--possibly even amputation..

 

When you are betrayed, your Response reveals your character.

Yep, I get it. You're hurt. Your angry. What has been done is unjust . . . to you. It's patently unfair. It could have easily been avoided if only the other person would have just taken the easiest, and most normal, of actions. The one you would have taken. The one any good and decent person would have taken.

Maybe, it's even true, maybe someone acted, intentionally, in a way that violated a trust with, or allegiance to, you. Or perhaps a fair-minded person would have concluded it was a misunderstanding, poor communication, or the circumstances that was the causal factor. Never-the-less . . . it still feels like a betrayal.

When you are the one betrayed--whether real or perceived--how you respond says more about you than the event itself . . . or the other person.

Yes, there are true betrayals . . . the acts of people who truly have a cancer of the soul . . . but let's face it most of the betrayals that impact people can be, are typically are, seen differently by the two people involved. That is, the common "sense of being betrayed" is different from a empirical fact of being betrayed." Unfortunately, seeing this as something other than a genuine betrayal takes a certain amount of detachment--a detachment that is particularly difficult to find when one is hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Yet, it is the time when it is most needed.

So, don't tell me how rational you are being. How logical. How professional. The truth is, you feel betrayed. No amount of "pollyanna-ishness", sublimation, or denial . . . will eliminate this fact. Often those that are the most "detached, unaffected, or stoic" . . . are the best at hiding this truth from others, and sometimes themselves--but they too feel a deep sense of hurt, anger or resentment. So, the question is, "What are you going to do about it?"

When I was barely in my 30s, I faced this question--"What are you going to do?"--in a very personal and dramatic way. My younger brother, Kirk, was killed in a car-bike accident. Despite it being "no one's fault" the sense of betrayal--on many levels--was real. I won't burden you with the details, but I bring it up to say that when faced with this kind of pain, resentment, anger, etc. you need to make a choice to respond to it and move beyond it. 

Here are few suggestions:

1. Don't over-cook it. We all, at times of betrayal, focus on trying to avoid pain (see "Move through it" below) or wallow in the injustice of it. (My common adage about pain is, "When do you want to quit suffering? Yesterday.")  Of course, it is natural to rerun the events that lead to the sense of betrayal. Our minds are trying to understand and incorporate what happened. But there comes a time when we will make a choice (including the choice to not choose) and often it is too tempting to continue to re-live the sense of injustice. Don't do it. Sometimes, it's driven by the person's sense of guilt or shame in a form of unconscious self-punishment.

2. Move through it.  Yes, you can try to avoid it or go around it but the shortest path, and often the only choice that leads to a good long-term outcome, is to go through the experience of betrayal. What does this mean? It means acknowledging the sense, and the impact, of being betrayed. It means taking the time to sort through the repercussions of the even and finding perspective about the event and deciding how to act based on what actually happened. It means applying emotional intelligence to the other person, yourself, and the situation. This isn't easy. It takes courage and a willingness to feel vulnerable or "at risk" for a while.

3. Create a plan of recovery. Part of acknowledging the sense of betrayal and deciding how to act is to make a plan for how you will recover; It's not anyone else's job and, really, no one else can do it. Now, a plan doesn't necessarily mean "a plan." That is, some will actually draw up, make a list, or schedule activities to help themselves recover. They are the "list-makers" and it works for them--"Good on ya." For the rest of us, creating a plan for recovery means allowing yourselves the time and actions to recover. Adopt some boundaries with others to protect yourself. Do activities that have the possibility of "feeding you" rather than demanding more of you. Lower your standards . . . for a while. Take care of yourself and let yourself recover . . . just like you would if you had major surgery.

4. Get outside. No not "outdoors" (although maybe that helps too!) Get outside yourself. Focus on someone or something else. When you have been betrayed the focus narrows. For a while all the energy is focused on "how could they do this to me?" News flash: You are not the first, nor will you be the last, person betrayed. This initial focus, as we said earlier, is quite normal. But don't get stuck there. Often people begin to recover by focusing on something else; a person or cause where they can focus that energy in a positive way. This begins to remind us that it's "not all about me" and gives us motivation to keep going. To move on you need perspective this can help with that but often it takes time and choice to make this effort.

5. Find support from the right people. It's nice to have indignant friends that "have your back" and will be appropriately miffed at the betrayal. There role is to "make the right sounds" by affirming that you were betrayed, that the other person treated you unjustly, and you have the right to feel what you feel. But, as reassuring as this is . . . It's more important to have well-balanced people who will both support you and, when the time is right, refuse to "jump on the band wagon"--taking sides in an on-going dispute (being "loyal" or an "apologist" for the other party), and carefully helping you to move away from being stuck in your betrayal. It's great if you have that person in your circle of family or friends. If you don't, you may need to use a professional coach, consultant, or counselor.

 

 

 

Bryan Miller is the President of Human Systems Consulting; HSC helps leaders sleep at night and enjoy work again by improving the human-side of organizations. Bryan is the author of Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business and other helpful resources.  Questions or comments? Contact Bryan here.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

 

 

 

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Professional Burnout

Photo by  Yaoqi LAI  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

My private practice, it seems, has recently become an oasis for professionals experiencing burnout in their careers and personal lives. I’m not talking about professionals who just can’t cope or who have personality traits that make them doomed to burnout; I’m talking about successful helping professionals–experts who have been practicing and thriving for 15 to 35 years who suddenly cannot stand the work they once chose and loved.

While I’ve written about ways to prevent burnout in the past I am still learning things as I help these experienced professionals–who are often very insightful and creative in their own right–reinvent their professional and private lives to make their work-life balance manageable and sustainable forms.

I wrote this almost two years ago, and I followed it with some reasons I think successful professionals suffer burnout. (My original follow up post was entitled "Regaining the Joy of Your Career!"

Reasons successful professionals experience burnout:

  • There is an emotionally overwhelming triggering event.

  • They have an exaggerated personal accountability for their work.

  • There is denial of the effect of exposure to traumatic emotional events.

  • Self-care is seen as optional (and sometimes selfish!).

  • Accountability is universal (I have to do everything well!) and not subject to rank ordering.

  • Unrealistic comparisons to others lead to a lack of balance.

  • The isolation of the profession diminishes their perspective of life.

  • Emotional avoidance of guilt, fear, shame, rejection often underlies unhealthy behaviors. (just like our clients . . .)

  • The “supporting cast” of family and/or friends reinforce unhealthy functioning.

  • Band-aids are applied when surgery is needed.

At the time since I wrote this list, conditions in the profession seem to be exacerbating the problems. (Faithful readers may remember when I challenged myself to state what our field needs in just 4 words.) Today, some insurance companies are requiring professionals to pay application fees and annual fees just to be on their boards (the customers don't pay the overhead now the service providers do?), cutbacks in public funding is threatening services, demands for "validated" therapies threaten to make healthcare the paper-pushing cousin to education, and professionals in other fields are developing services that challenge the mental health industry.

More and more professionals I talk with are seeking a way to mediate these negative forces, or leave the healthcare industry through adopting private pay or concierge practices, marketing life coaching, contracting directly with organizations, retooling into another industry, or retiring.  (Not all experts are the same Organizations need people-experts to advise them.) Often professionals, unprepared for a shifting healthcare context, burnout under the vicarious trauma of a long career. Seeing more clients that is sustainable in a healthy manner. Today, more than ever professionals often need a backup plan and exit strategy.

What can you do, in the short-term, to prevent burnout? Here's a few ideas:

  1. Don't expose yourself to additional trauma through your entertainment choices.
  2. Limit your clinical work by mixing in other business ventures.
  3. Find and maintain restorative hobbies, activities and friends.
  4. Listen to music and turn off the news.
  5. Take a break--a long one--from social media.
  6. Create a long-term business/career/life plan that includes diminishing the heavy clinical load.
  7. Broaden, or narrow, your niche to include activities that are not saturated in traumatic material.
  8. Develop a network of social contacts that are not from the healthcare industry.

Good luck!

Read: The greatest leadership lesson I ever learned.

 

 

Interested in decreasing your dependence on insurance? Check out Private Practice through Contracting. It will help you "think outside the box," encourage you to seek work you love, guide you into paths that are sustainable . . . and it's free.

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Are leaders born or made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

I remember the summer I came home from camp and my brother was standing in the kitchen, alternately bouncing then "palming" a basketball with each hand. I knew my days of being the "top dog" on the basketball court were numbered . . . he had hit his growth spurt that would make him my "superior" in height and value as a player. Still, it is almost less of a shock to find out that your younger sibling will out grow you than it is to find out that they have acquired wisdom that you don't possess. Such is the case as I work with Keith after his long military career. As we sit down with owners and managers, Keith's practical, operational, and personal focus helps us advise our clients to create effective and well-functioning teams. 

So, I invite you to hear my "little brother" talk about Leadership . . . then get the accumulated wisdom or 21 years of leadership.

As a retired Major in the Air Force, Keith spend 21 years leading professional men and women to accomplish critical tasks as part of his career. But Keith is not your "typical" command-and-control type. Keith's success has come from his genuine heart for people and this concern shows in his leadership style.. So, take a moment to watch our short video and listen to him reflect on whether leaders are born or made. Then check out below his leadership manual Lessons Learned Around the World. You will not regret it.

Are leaders born . . . or are they made?  Major (Ret.) USAF Aubrey Keith Miller talks about what contributes to people becoming leaders in a new video.  http://hsc-university.teachable.com/courses/leaders-born-or-made

Keith also has developed a manual for leaders called Lessons Learned Around the World: People-Centered Leadership that we have used to train managers on how to become person-centered, emotionally intelligent leader. For the cost of a cup of coffee, Keith shares the knowledge of his 21 years of leadership across the globe--challenging leaders to engage in a person-centered style that will make them more effective and minimize the challenging of managing people.

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Special Eary-Bird Opportunity: The first three people to get Lessons Learned Around the World may enter the code word "learn" and take off an extra $2, bringing the price down to only $2.99.

HSC also offers free resources to subscribers like Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people and Family Legacy: Protecting family in the family business. 

 

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Mavericks . . . and Tips for Preventing Implosion at the time of Transition

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

 

After I had finished speaking, a family friend approached me.  He said, "I really enjoyed what you had to say, but I noticed that your parents walked out on you!"

It started like this . . .Several years ago I was speaking in a city near where my parents lived. It just happened that they had travel plans and were leaving from the airport in that city and told me that would swing by and listen to my "talk" . . . but, they would have to leave before I was done to catch their flight. I connected with them before the speech, started my presentation and, when they stood up--waving as they snuck out the back--I nodded in their direction to acknowledge the prearranged plan.

My response to my twinkle-eyed friend who delighted in putting me on the spot? I told him, "Well, that's okay, you can't teach your parents anything anyway!"

Which brings me to talking about Mavericks. Sometimes they are charismatic leaders. Entrepreneurial types. Visionaries. Sometimes they are ideologs--passionate about their mission. Sometimes they're family.

Too often the vary characteristics that make these Mavericks successful often sow the seeds that cause their work to implode once they are no longer "in the driver's seat." The dynamics of following a leader who was a "golden child" or domineering force are turbulent with threats of comparisons, resistance to change, and stress.

To make things more complicated, Mavericks rarely see the risk. After all, their nature tends toward confidence, maybe over confidence. They believe they can succeed where others do not--create a new product or market, improve upon the established product or service, out hustle and out sell the competition. The challenges of continuing that success beyond their reign seldom is a focus.

So, how do you help these Mavericks avoid an implosion that brings down the fortifications they have worked so hard to build?

  1. Determine who, relative to the Maverick, has the position or relationship that will allow them to be "heard.  As my opening story implies, relationships impact how information impacts us. If it hadn't been my parents who left and my friend had said, "I noticed someone walked out on you." The meaning is very different than having your parents walk out. Will the Maverick trust the guidance of a long-time advisor, a colleague, industry expert, extended family member? Who delivers the message can be critical to its success or failure. 
  2. Acknowledge their willingness to take risks and the importance of their leadership. Mavericks often react to any implication that they are not willing to face changes or that their ego is too attached to being in charge. Once again, the confidence they often exude does not lend itself toward being self-critical. Acknowledging that they have been willing to take risks and change (certainly true) set up the next step.
  3. Use their experiences to frame the present as a challenge . . . in a series of historical challenges. By getting them to review the decisions they had to face, the risks they had to overcome, and the threats they faced you can highlight how a failure to act would have resulted in missed opportunities or even failure. 
  4. Explore how the current situation is like past challenges. Mavericks once again tend to have a wonderful focus. They know what they think and believe. They know what their end goal is. What they often don't do well is to adequately consider factors that go against their vision. But, they have a history that where they have encountered roadblocks and threats. They have met them and made adjustments to survive. Help them recall this and focus on how to be proactive to prevent future threats.
  5. introduce the need for facing the current risks. By now, you should have gathered enough information to tie their experiences into a well-defined "argument" for how the current situation calls for facing the challenge and  risks of change. Lay out your argument. But don't offer a pre-designed solution. 
  6. Don't back down. The Maverick's first response may be to challenge you. After all, they are confident in their own thinking and simply trust other's take on a situation they know better than anyone. Displaying confidence here will likely help them consider the idea more seriously. Vacillating will only send the signal that you are uncertain and the Maverick will likely see this as a need to provide confidence and control and stick with their own plan.
  7. If they agree, utilize them to come up with a plan. After all, these tend to be very capable people at least in some areas. Engage them in coming up with ideas. But remember to challenge their thinking in areas in which they are not strong. So in the case that follows the answer is not "the son needs to be like me!" the answer lies in "how to support the son's growth-with his own strengths--as a leader."
  8. Give them a role or job. I think of the typical Maverick as a "working dog." Like a Border Collie or similar breed they do best when they have a job to do. Whether that job is to develop a new product line, find the right advising team for the son, or become a philanthropist or community leader . . . simply stopping or stepping back is a harder concept than doing something new. 
  9. Be willing to give up your position to help the organization. Who ever has the task of challenging the Maverick needs to accept that this may "poison" the relationship with the Maverick if he or she is not ready to consider and accept this new challenge. So often this role needs to be taken by a board member, colleague, advisor, or and "expendable crewman" for the sake of the organization. A family member, especially in a family business context, may be the wrong messenger due to the fact that this may have irreparable consequences for the family

I once talked to a family business owner who confided that he did not think his son could make his own independent decisions. He feared that this son, and mid-life manager was overly-attentive to what others thought and therefore needed his continued supervision. I was incredulous!  In fact, the two men were very similar in personality and willingness to be "in charge" and run the business. The younger man however had more "sensitivity" to employees and did not "run rough-shod" over them in his decision making. I knew this younger leader, and in my opinion he in no way, demonstrated an indecisive, tentative, "people pleaser" leadership style.  I challenged the father. "So, you are telling me that you raised a son that can't think for himself and make his own decisions?" Thinking this would make him rethink his assessment. It didn't. He replied, "Yes." 

While I still did not believe the father's assessment was correct--I saw the son as trying to move toward a more collaborative and inclusive style of management perhaps as a reaction to the autocratic and forceful personality of his father and the father being over confident of the success of his management style--this father's "reality" was where we had to start. "If that's true," I rejoined, "then you need provide the right conditions to help him develop this ability."  He didn't disagree. From this, we began to talk about how the father's experiences helped to develop the confidence to make decisions and take prudent risks. We then explored his experience and his son's, noting how the circumstances were different for his son and began to craft a plan to help the son grow in his abilities--including a planned "backing out" of the father's role, some training, and continuing and increasing some industry-specific coaching they had begun to continue support for the son.

We can never forget that most Mavericks truly care about the future of the business in most cases. Even if that caring at times makes them "hold on too tightly." They generally are motivated to help the next leaders succeed. But they may have trouble seeing the practical steps that need to happen to turn this into success without their direct involvement and may need someone to help them find a way to let go of the reigns.

 

Ebook available: Family Legacy: Protecting the family in family business. No cost, no obligation.

 

 

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The Greatest Act of Leadership? Doing nothing!

Marbly L. Miller. Still teaching at the college at 86, the students called him "Mabe the Babe." For most of his career he was just "Doc."

Marbly L. Miller. Still teaching at the college at 86, the students called him "Mabe the Babe." For most of his career he was just "Doc."

The greatest act of courage and of  leadership, to me,  is when someone acts on deeply held principles in the face of personal loss. I saw it "up-close and personal." Here's that story . . .

What's the greatest act of leadership you've witnessed?  For me, it was watching my father deal with my brother's death.

We all know that no one gets through life without getting "the call."  You know the dreaded, gut-wrenching, terrible, traumatizing call that informs you that some disaster or another has happened; a disaster that will alter the rest of your life. No I'm not trying to be melodramatic here. I do mean that call. That call that hopefully is a very rare event.  For me, there have been two such calls that stand out. One was the call telling us that our son's fiancee had cancer; the other call was from my father telling me my younger brother had been killed.

Now, before you "click away"--perhaps in self-preservation, not needing to subject yourself to another heart-rending, emotional, saccharine out-pouring of syrupy emotion--I promise, it won't be that post. No, this post is about courage and leadership. 

When we got the call about my son's intended, it was our duty to pass the phone on to our son. When my son got the horrible news, and in the days, weeks and months that followed, I has a father, of course, suffered--though not in the same proximity to the events--but never-the-less just as intimately, right along with him. "What was he thinking?" Could he do this--to support his bride-to-be through this ordeal, no-matter-what-the-outcome, at such a young age? How will he handle her suffering, her sorrow, her fears?

Should I, as a Dad, "put my oar in the water" and "help" this young man decide what to do? But he hadn't asked me to give my advice. Should I anyway? What would I say? The fear of what might happen in the event of his decision-making and coping weighed heavy.

Fortunately, this call wasn't the first call. This call was the second. This call came after witnessing the most personal act of courage and leadership I have ever witnessed and gave me the courage to face the fears of saying nothing . . . .

In 1992, my younger brother, at age 27, died. It was in a car-bike accident. But this story is not about that. Except that it was the context of the single greatest act of leadership that I have ever witnessed

Now I told you I'm a father. I have six marvelous children. At the time of my brother's death I already had three children myself. They are, each and every one of them, a true gift. I cannot imagine the pain of losing one of them. So, I can't imagine the pain my mother and father were experiencing, not to mention being able to function in the face of such an overwhelming loss. Yet, I watched my Mom and Dad do exactly that.  Here are a few things my Dad, the active leader of the two, did . . .

When he called me to tell me my brother had been killed--only a short time after the police informed them--he had already called my father-in-law; my father-in-law was, at the moment of the call, coming in my door as I got the news. My father had decided, I assume, that we shouldn't be alone at such a moment, and  that we should have support, so he called my father-in-law to alert him-before he called me. As a father, I cannot imagine having the presence of mind at such a moment to think this clearly. Not only was it good to have his caring presence,  I had someone who was not emotionally overwhelmed to drive me--safely-- to my parent's home some 45 minutes away. 

Later, when my brother's landlord wouldn't return his deposit to my parents because "my brother didn't give 30 days notice"-- and despite the fact the family had spent the weekend cleaning out the apartment so they landlord could, and did, get renters into the apartment before the first day of the month--and, immune to the rationale that they shouldn't hold onto his deposit because . . . "oh yeah, he was killed" and grieving parents should not have to deal with such issues even if somehow it seems "fair"--I decision which caused my normally stoically-reserved family to react in disbelief and anger. My father calmly replied, "I think we'll just let the lawyer take care of it." He did. (On a side note, something in me would have liked to hear that conversation. "So, would you like to go to court and tell a judge why you are keeping this money from the deceased man's parents?")

Finally, the conclusion of the courage and leadership came when I went with my father to the arraignment of the young man responsible for my brother's death. The family had decided that the only thing they would request--given the cause of death was an accident and the driver wasn't impaired--was that the young man have a physical check up to make sure this wouldn't happen again. I witnessed my father ask the court for this and then graciously accept the apologies--and extended hand-- of the young man and his parents with a handshake . . . and no drama . . . essentially doing nothing.

If there ever was a moment when my father showed me that he lived with courage, and understood the power of the position he held as a leader of the family--it was at this moment, when he stood by the principles he preached to us. 

Crisis often illuminates, more than any other time, who a leader really is and what they care about. Leadership "under fire" inspires others to want to follow that example to lead because you;ve experienced the gift and personal benefits of that leadership . . . .

So, as I watched my son and his marvelous fiancee faced their own personal tragedy . . . postponing their wedding, focusing on the treatment needed to get into remission, handling the fears and "what ifs?"--I said nothing about what they should do. This was a time for them to make their choices.. Not mine to make or take from them. My role was to support, my son and through him, his betrothed as they battled this disease. I watched as my, now current, daughter-in-law, with the support of her great family, face this illness with courage and strength. I saw my son support her selflessly though the process. What amazing character I witnessed in these two "early-twenties" young  people.

Only, recently, many years after these events took place, and after the happy events of remission, marriage and two beautiful granddaughters, did I tell my son about the internal "struggle of my brain," fearfully worrying about doing the "right thing" in those dark days. I wanted him to understand (as if his actions didn't already demonstrate this knowledge) the role that leadership plays in freeing others to follow their own path and create their own future . . . as he will undoubtable face these challenges in the future, himself, in some way. "I never considered doing anything different," he said, referring to the steadfastness of going through the treatment with his fiancee. "I just thought that's what you do," he concluded.   Thanks Dad!

 

Another leadership lesson I learned from Dad . . . how Dad got the bus moving again when the coach, and this year's coach of the year, and the bus driver couldn't . . . and saved the game.

From "Doc" to "Mabe-the-Babe" --growing and changing as a leader.

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Leading is all about people. If you don't understand them you will fail. Bryan, with a doctorate in human development, has written a free eBook to help leaders find a framework for understanding people. Based on the principles of Schema Theory, Dr. Miller helps the leader understand the "worldview" of employees that seem difficult and hard to lead. Subscribe and get it free or check out his eBooks for Family Business leaders and professionals that want to move away from insurance dependency into contracting and consulting.

 

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