Listen, Process, React

control-tense-situation-150x150A lot of business situations get blown out of proportion because of misunderstandings or misperceptions.  Careers have been destroyed, projects terminated and reputations ruined because people did not interpret what was written or said to them during a tense situation.

This is especially true for passionate leaders.  People who lead by putting their heart on their sleeve tend to “feel” about situations before they comprehend the situation.  This is one of their best and worst qualities as when they read the situation correctly, they are able to mobilize their team and solve the problem quickly.

Situations also tend to spin out of control for these leaders.  When they misread the situation, they tend to personalize the problem and it causes them to lose perspective.  They alienate their team, their key stakeholders and their allies when this happens.

To avoid this, I suggest that you use the “Listen, Process, React” approach to handling situations.  Much like “Ready, Aim, Fire”, this approach enables you to hone in on the target in a methodical way.

Listen– read or hear the words being spoken without any added emotion.  What is the sender trying to say without reading into the words?  Try to comprehend each sentence.

Process– what is the person trying to convey?  Decide what other information may be needed to truly understand the situation.  Think through the words and see how you are key to solving the issue.  Ask for more clarification.

React- in a positive manner.  Flying off the handle or going off the grid is not going to help bring the issue to a resolution.  It ends up taking an issue and having it grow into a monumental problem.  Ask how the issue can be resolved together.  Collaboration can defuse even the tensest situations.

Remember your goal as a leader to solve problems so that your team can perform at its peak.  Getting sidetracked by overacting to a situation before you either thoroughly understand it or have thought about how it is going to be solved is a sure way to reduce your team’s effectiveness.

This overreaction also will damage your reputation; many people say things they regret during heated moments.  You can have ten years of good ruined by one poorly chosen fit.

Leading Means Letting Go

carsafety_215111_600One of the hardest things you can do as a leader is to let go.  Your natural inclination is to do everything; trying to control your team, their outcomes, your supervisors, your clients, basically everyone involved in the success of a project.

As with a child who is learning to drive, you need to trust that you have trained your team, that they have the necessary skills and resources, and the conditions are favorable for the team to be successful.  You hope that the team’s issues are minor, like a fender bender or a non-points violation, and not totaling the car.

To get your team to this level, you need to:

1.       Improve Your Communication.  By clearly expressing expectations, challenges, successes, and the like, you will gain the confidence needed to give your team more leeway.  By taking time to know your team on a personal level, you will connect with them and build the trust needed to let go.

2.       Manage Your Time.  In order to have the time to communicate effectively, you need to master your own schedule.  Working with your team should not be an interruption.  Manage your day so that your work gets done as well as your team’s.  You can block your schedule, but always keep your door open.  Closed doors breed insecurities.

3.       Invest in Training.  Put the time in with each team member to make sure they are experts in their part of the team.  Find resources that help your team learn cross functional skills.  The more you invest in them, the more they will invest in your mission.

4.       Check Your Ego.  While it is tempting to “Be the Boss”, remember that you need to act like someone people want to follow. Being approachable, down to earth, and genuine will inspire confidence in you and will improve the performance of your team.

5.       Reward Superior Performance.  The fastest way to get better performance from everyone is by rewarding them when they do a great job.  Buy breakfast for the team, take them to lunch, hand out coffee gift cards, do some small token that acknowledges that you appreciate their efforts and results.

Leading by letting go is a skill that needs to be worked on.  These suggestions will help, but you need to also be ready for the inevitable failures that come with giving people more freedom.  That is why using a basic situational leadership style will help you manage the tasks and lead the persons.

Are You Really Prepared?

Sscarcar from the Lion King could not be more prophetic.  If you want to be successful in life, you need to make sure you are prepared.  However, even he did not follow his own advice and underestimated the ease of leading a team.

As a new leader, you need to learn the balance between being prepared versus being obsessive.  This is particularly hard if you are promoted through the ranks.  You know everyone’s roles and responsibilities as well as their work habits since you were “one of them”.  You assume that you need to know every part of everyone’s job, know your competition, your clients, and your potential clients, know what your colleagues’ jobs, etc.

But in reality, you only need to know how to access all of that information.  As a brand manager, I had to know every item number in the company in order to talk with manufacturing, shipping, purchasing, etc.  It was part of the expectation.  However, when I transitioned into a management role, my knowledge base needed to change.  I needed to know more about overriding goals, how marketing fit into the scheme of making the company go, how to better support my team, and other “more pressing” issues.  Suddenly knowing every component of every item did not seem as important.

As you grow into your role, you will find that knowing who the depositories of information are and how to access their knowledge is more important than memorizing information.  You will learn how to disseminate this information and then turn it into actionable forms for your team to use.  You will empower your team to know everything they need to know about their job and that you will trust that what they are telling you is complete and correct.

Then, once you do all of those things, will you truly be prepared to do battle.  You will also realize how much better you are at your job, how much more in sync your team has become and how your internal reputation has grown.

Integrating a New Team Member

happy-customersOne of the hardest things to do is accept a new team member- whether they are a new hire, a veteran of the company moved to your team, or a third party vendor/consultant. Most people’s natural reaction is to be cordial but guarded. The new person’s reaction is to try to impress. This leaves for some awkward conversations or worse silences as people are trying to feel out their turf.

As a leader, this puts you in a tough situation. You need to work to integrate a new team member, get their work up to speed, put your new team at ease, and start the trust building. But how do you do this without causing noise in the system?

  1. Temper the expectations of the new team member. While you are naturally excited to have a new person who brings new skills and perspectives to your team, do not make this person seem like “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh”. Your current team will immediately resent that person.
  2. Give your new member simple tasks that will build their credibility. Getting tasks done on time and correctly will show your current team that this person can be relied upon. Trust is simply the expectation of getting things done when they are supposed to.
  3. Do not rehash the entire project for the benefit of the new person at each meeting. This wastes the time of your current team and may make them worry why you need to repeat the project to this person time and time again. Take the time to get the person up to speed in a small group. This way everyone’s time is maximized.
  4. Assign the new team member a mentor. This person will be able to vouch for the new member’s value to the team. Personal recommendations go a long way in helping build team.
  5. Do not compare your current team to the new person. “Why can’t you be more like …” is a sure way to get the team to hate them.

Getting your new team member integrated is an important role for a leader. Do not “just let it happen”. Be proactive and you will be surprised at how well it will go.