Being a Leader Means Dealing with Negative People

control-tense-situation-150x150There have been a ton of posts, articles and segments recently about removing the negative influences in your life.  The general theme is that you will have a simpler, more productive life if you can eliminate the negativity and increase the positive energy in your life.  While I agree that “mean people suck”, it is impossible for a leader to remove all dealings with people who are not 100% positive.

A leader must choose what is best for their team as whole and as individuals.  These decisions will not be universally liked and people will complain.   And people on your team may be great performers but not have sunny dispositions.  The key for a leader is to handle the negativity when it falls into a few different buckets:

1.       It affects your team’s morale or performance.  When the negativity affects how the team performs, the issue needs to be addressed directly and without emotion or bias.  Speak to the individuals who are causing the issue first then the rest of the team.

2.       It comes from inside of your company but outside of your team.  If a co-manager or a boss are increasingly negative towards your team, it needs to be handled right away.  Otherwise, it will spread across teams and become companywide.  This happens a lot during management changes and acquisitions.

3.       It comes from your clients or vendors.  When your key stakeholders- either the revenue generators of your company or the material suppliers- are negative towards your team, you need to get to the root of the issues immediately.  Any interruption in supply or demand will adversely affect the performance of your team and company.

These issues are company killers once the negative energy starts to build.  As a true leader, you need to become the chief problem solver for your team and make the relationships harmonious again.  But as you well know, the issues are endless.

Once these issues are handled and you still have chronic naysayers, you may need to replace them regardless of performance.  After all, you can only have so much negativity in your life!

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Leaders- Don’t Underestimate

balanced-livingYou are sitting in yet another meeting.  The same old gang is bringing up the same old ideas.  Then something happens, someone comes up with a brilliant solution to your problem.  Everyone takes a clue from the spark and suddenly your meeting is exciting and worthwhile.  The results will be so strong; they will erect a statue in the lobby of you being hoisted by your team.

Yeah, that usually doesn’t happen.  However, one of the truest measures of being a leader is not underestimating the ability of your team.  This can be either in performance, potential, or awareness.  Any of these three areas can damage your ability to lead.

1.       Performance-  this is the obvious one.  Underestimating how your team can perform will undo your leadership.  You need to give your team realistic and challenging goals.  Goals that half of the group may not achieve.  Bonuses are not extra salary.  Giving everyone easy targets will yield them to be lazy and not put forth the effort to excel.

2.       Potential- your goal as a leader is to maximize everyone’s potential; whether that is someone who will end up as the CEO or as a key contributor in a key position for years.  By underestimating what everyone can individually achieve, you are doing their careers a disservice.  And guess what?  Leaders who do not get their teams promoted don’t get promoted either.  Understand where each person wants to go and help them achieve it.

3.       Awareness- despite working for you, your team is not stupid.  People are keenly aware of your perception of them, what is going on in the company, and how other teams are treated.  You are sadly mistaken if you think that people will follow you just because you are their boss.  They may listen to you and do the job asked, but you are not inspiring them and building your village.

You need to take the time to analyze how you treat your team, how you perceive your team, and how your team performs relative to the rest of the company or industry.  By being truthful with them, you will be truthful with yourself- which is the real key to becoming a leader.

Lead by Listening

old-man-business-suitNext to “Waiting Your Turn”, listening is the hardest thing to do.  In our Type A, fast paced work environment, the popular feeling is that you only get ahead by telling people your ideas, telling them how to do their jobs, and telling the customer what they want.

But that is exactly how a leader should not act.  To become a leader in your industry, company, or team, you need to listen and hear what your key stakeholders have to say.  A leader needs to listen, hear, comprehend and process what is being told to them.  They need to understand not only what the person is saying but what they actually mean.

As you develop your skills as a leader, remember that conversations are two way communications.  You need to listen at least 50% of the conversation otherwise it is a lecture.  I have developed some techniques that work well for me.

1.       Take Notes.  By writing down what the person says, you are able to remember and reference their points during the conversation.

2.       Maintain Good Eye Contact.  By actually looking at the person talking, it makes you feel what they are saying.  This will help you look between the lines.

3.       Let Them Finish.  Too often you interrupt the person because you want to make a point or interject a rebuttal.  Wait until their point is made.  It gives you extra time to process their point of view.

4.       Say Nothing.  This works really well when someone is worked up.  Nod so they know you are listening, but let them get it off their chest. 

5.       Paraphrase Their Point.  By repeating the issue or idea back to them, you build consensus in what the topic is.  Reiterating the point also shows you listen and understand them, even if you do not agree.

6.       Ask More Questions.  When someone is really intense about a subject and you are having an issue understanding, ask more questions until you can guide them into what they are actually talking about.

These issues are even more important when you are reading emails or other correspondence.  It is immensely frustrating when someone requests a meeting to discuss something and you answer with a sales pitch.  Listen to what they are asking for- even if ultimately you are trying to sell them something.