4 Ways to Lead the Younger Generation

InterviewEveryone who knows me, knows one thing about me- that I love standing in front of a group to tell them how smart I am.  That’s why I jumped at the chance to become an adjunct instructor at the Temple University Fox School of Business.  For the next 6 weeks, I get to form the minds and actions of 30 future business leaders who need to take my class to graduate.

Initially I was apprehensive in sharing what I know with these students.  After all, they are much more tech savvy and in tune with the now.  I even wondered if I had enough class (RIP Prince).  Then a funny thing happened, we started talking about business.

And then I realized why experienced leaders need to be around.  We get it.  We can help turn a dream into an idea into a reality.  More importantly, I rediscovered how we can work better with the younger generation and become even better leaders.  The funny thing is, we already do most of them every day:

  1. Listen to what people are saying and discern what they mean. Many times, younger colleagues have their ideas have baked.  Take the time to think through what they are saying, translate it into your world and discuss options on how to make their idea possible.
  2. Take the time to care about what is being said. Understanding what is being said is not enough.  You need to take the time to personally invest in each person.  If you understand their back story, you will understand them.  This will help you lead them better.
  3. Understand what is not being said. Body language is a nuance that you need to learn, especially with younger people.  Know when they are frustrated, confused, angry and apathetic.  The most successful leaders master body language.
  4. Collaborate, don’t lecture. No one wants to be preached to outside of church.  “What do you think?”  goes a lot further than “Do it this way”.  Open ended questions like “Have you thought about this?” or statements like “Don’t forget to consider that” will spur conversation.

Being a leader is difficult.  When there is a large age gap, it becomes even harder.  By improving on your listening, comprehension, empathy, and open-mindedness, you will become an even more successful leader in this new world.

Sometimes Being a Leader Means Saying Goodbye

DrowningThere is a romantic notion that a leader is like a knight in shining armor.  They can save anyone and anything in any situation and everybody will cheer their efforts and laud them a hero.  As great as that sounds, that is not always the case. 

Sometimes, the best way for a leader to lead is to remove themselves from the situation.  The circumstances dictate that the right move is for new blood to tackle the issue.  Even the noblest of leaders cannot fix every issue.  Their skill set, belief system, or team constraints force them to step aside and let someone else try to resolve the situation.

In many instances, it is better for a leader to leave them wanting more instead of staying too long.  It is better to be seen as going out on top because when the failure to achieve occurs, the fall may be too great for the team to bear.

We see this a lot with celebrity CEOS, TV personalities, politicians, and athletes.  But it also happens every day in companies, non-profits, and schools.  The leader reaches a point where they are no longer effective.  Their message is tuned out, their results are not what anyone is accustomed to, and rather than accepting that they had a good run, they hang on too long.

Often times, the demise is self-imposed by doing things illegally or by cutting corners.  Other times, it is just the natural business cycle.  Someone was lucky enough to catch the wave and not smart enough to get off before the crash.

If you are a leader who does not feel they are being effective anymore, you need to evaluate whether you should still be leading that team.  Be proactive to figure out how to recharge your team and honestly access what they need to be successful.  If the answer is not you, you need to be the leader that you are and move on.

It may be scary to change positions or to be between positions, but your reputation and the team you leave behind will thank you.

Yes is Only the Beginning

bigstock-Business-people-shaking-hands-38603158I have been talking to colleagues who work in a variety of industries, different sized companies and all over the corporate ranks about the difficulty to execute projects in today’s business setting.  Even in meetings where everyone agrees to green light something, the next steps are taking weeks, months and years to execute.

We came to the conclusion that when people say “Yes”, what they really mean is “Time to start the arduous task of making this happen.”  The reasons are complex, but a simplistic view is that companies are more siloed and centralized than they want to admit.

Getting projects through the myriad of approvals, checks and balances, and legal clearance is taking longer than ever and is greatly affecting companies’ abilities to innovate, change and grow.

Take a company like mine, Halo Health, which provides patient education in waiting and exams rooms that customized to the health system or practice’s needs.  On the surface, the question is simply do we want to replace cable TV with a digital education system?  Which usually leads to a yes decision.

But in the environment we live in, from “yes” to installation becomes ten meetings, four requests for sample content, three rescheduled installation dates due to “IT” (which is never the case, so Techs don’t hate), and months of ultimately patients losing out on the ability to live healthier.

There is an overall fear of making a decision.  People are hiding behind workloads, data, and insecurity.  We as leaders need to break through this muck.  99% of the decisions that you make can be reversed, altered, or forgotten about.  Do not let “no-brainers” get bogged down because you are worried that in the above case, a patient may switch doctors because they like watching CNN.  WHAT!?  That flawed logic tells me that you need to spend more time on making sure people know your differentiation from the competition.  And hopefully a lack of patient education is not seen as a positive.

Leaders must balance flexibility and conviction.  If you believe in the project that you just turned on, take it by the horns and run it through your company, knowing that you are going to run into roadblocks and challenges.

Communicate to stakeholders on the status of the project.  If it is a low priority project, tell everyone.  They appreciate knowing where they stand.

Hold people accountable.  Projects losing steam because of bureaucracy are costing everyone millions of dollars in hard costs and thousands of hours in soft costs.

Shorten time from yes to go and you will be a corporate hero.

The Key to Success is Knowing What Details to Attend

checklistI tend to snicker when people tell me that they have great attention to detail or that they are big picture strategists so details aren’t their thing.  Both kinds of people raise red flags to me when assembling my team.

People who are self-proclaimed detail oriented tend to look only at what is in front of them and fixate on the current issue.  Big picture people often overlook their day to day responsibilities as they try to “take the long view”.

When assembling your team, you need to identify people who know what details they need to perform their tasks while keeping their focus on both short term and long term results.   This is especially important as most companies can slice and dice data on every piece of minutiae regarding their business.  Start asking yourself:

  1. What is the goal of this piece of information? Does it help me perform my job better?  Help a corporate or customer issue?  Solve a problem?  If the answer is no, look for better data points.  Sales reports that just show units and sales are a good example of this.  You need to understand so much more before you decide what the best-selling items are like average price, gross margin, net margin, availability, etc.
  2. Is this information “repeatable”? Meaning, is this something that I need to share with my team to help them perform their job better?  A report that shows customer payment terms and trends can be a great report, especially if a customer who is complaining about their margins does not take their discount terms.  That type of report is good for anyone who touches your customers, including finance.
  3. What if I don’t know this data? Or more likely, what if I forget the data?  How will the lack of knowledge affect my team?  If it is something that is easy to look up, like a list price, then don’t commit it to memory.  If it is something that you need for a presentation like a deadline or project milestone, you better remember it.

Use the 80/20 rule when going through the details.  Remembering the 20% that drives progress is the key.  Good luck.

Maneuvering through Conflict is a Necessary Skill

 

Business People YellingI have spent a lot of time dealing with conflict resolution over the last few days, and how it affects my team, my key stakeholders, and me.  As a leader, you like to think that every situation has a cut and dry ending.  If this happens…then that. 

 

However, business and life are not that simple.  For every rule, there is a caveat.  For everything that you know to be true, there is a potential loophole.  And for every instance of conflict, there is an opportunity for you to lose your team.

 

Seldom are there absolutes when dealing with conflict.  But here are some that may help you.

 

1.       Whomever Yells First, Loses.  When managing a difficult situation, you need to keep your cool.  You need to keep your judgement clear and screaming and hollering to get your point across will not yield success.  You have ceded control to your opponent.

 

2.       Keep an Open Mind.  To understand the real issue, you need to listen to the other person’s view and try to see where they are coming from.  By getting to the root of the conflict, you can see what a fair and equitable resolution may be- even if you don’t win or agree.

 

3.       When Possible, Seek Input.  Not every situation affords you with the opportunity to get input from impartial observers.  But when it does, make sure you use those resources. When you are knee deep in the drama and stress of the situation, these people can make you take a pause and see things in a different light. Remember that input is different than gossip. 

 

4.       Scorched Earth Does No One Any Good.  If you are inevitably going to lose the conflict, destroying everyone associated with the issue does more harm than good.  You still need to lead these people, but losing their respect will cause you to be ineffective.

 

5.       Gloating is Worse.  No one likes a sore winner.  You need to handle the “win” in stride and continue to conduct yourself with class and dignity.  People watch how you act in wins and losses to decide whether to follow you.

 

Staying above the fray, taking a long view of the situation, seeking out others’ input and being a gracious winner/loser are all ways to handle conflict correctly.  If all else fails, remember Ralph Cramden’s advice- “Say pins and needles and needles and pins, it’s a happy man that grins.”  Then count to ten, you will probably already feel better.

 

Leading When Your Team is Not 100%

unmotivated-employees-in-meeting_pop_18933When your team is firing on all cylinders, it is a beautiful thing to watch.  High quality work gets done on time, on budget and everyone is moving in harmony.  Your team works as one and becomes the envy of your company, heck even your industry.

But what happens when life gets in the way?  Maybe a team member or their family is dealing with a private health issue, or someone just gets into a funk.  How do you work to bridge that noise in the system to get the team back up to speed?

1.       Communication- you need to talk to your team member about what is going on and how you can help them.  You also need to discuss with your team how to improve its performance with that team member potentially pulling less than their weight for a time being. 

2.       Confidentiality- However, you are not to disclose what the issues may be.  That is for the team member to share if they feel comfortable.  The leader should never be the one to break that type of news nor should they speculate on that person’s condition or state of mind.

3.       Clarity- you need to keep the team’s focus and goals in plain sight.  Changing or wavering on the team’s direction because of a personal issue brings great unrest to the team.  Keep everyone focused on the tasks at hand.

4.       Comfort- depending on the situation, you are going to need to assure your team that they can achieve their goals- even if a key contributor is not able to perform at their normal level.  You also need to reassure the team member that they are valued and will have plenty of room for growth when they return to 100% focus.

5.       Confidence- now is not the time for you to lose faith in your team.  You need to believe in them even more in times of adversity.  They look to you for guidance and strength.  Be a pillar for them to build momentum and peak performance off.

One more thing, you need to get HR involved.  They are experts in helping team leaders get through issues like this.  Their insight helps you steer and guide your team through the trials and tribulations of life.  Ignoring them would be foolish.

Good luck and become well versed in the 5C’s.  Unfortunately, your leadership road is going to be filled with adversity.

Leading Means Watching Your Team’s Time

man late looking to his watchAnyone who knows me, knows that I am not a clock watcher.  I believe you dedicate the time to get a job done- whether it is completing a project or perfecting a skill.  But as a leader in the new workplace, I find myself watching the clock.

 

Labor laws were not made for our 24/7 social media world that we are living in today.  The laws are based traditional 40 hour work weeks with overtime laws based on working more than the 40.  This leads to a huge issue for leaders.  You have a mix of professionals, support staff, and production workers who are all classified and compensated differently. 

 

Not only do you need to be mindful of what your team is doing during traditional work hours or shifts, you need to be aware of their personal time too.   Contacting hourly employees or salaried employees who earn less than the Department of Labor’s thresholds during their off hours needs to be documented, and the employees’ hours need to be adjusted.

 

You might just be asking your admin to check your flight, but that fifteen minutes of work while he is at home needs to be tracked.   The same goes for the texts and emails that get sent (and you expect the recipient to answer) from customers, colleagues on different shifts, etc.  Don’t forget the “Can you post this?” requests as well.  They are all work requests that are not happening during traditional work hours, but need to be tracked.  Otherwise both your team and you are out of compliance with the law. Remember every communication sent and received is time stamped.  It is not hard to figure out that your team is answering out of work.

 

This is especially dangerous with shared services, especially when you are responsible for the cost center, but not all of the work comes from your team.  Multiple bosses may be asking for a person to complete tasks without them realizing it. 

 

There are some ways to make sure your team is covered and compliant. 

 

1.       Ask your “affected” employees to track their time spent out of work on work issues and deduct it from their weekly in office rules.  For instance, if you notice that a person spends three hours a week working at home, let them leave at 2 pm on Fridays. 

 

2.       Encourage non-essential workers to not bring home their laptop, check email or answer company related texts.  This way they are truly out of pocket. 

 

3.       Be more mindful of your requests.  If you are no longer emailing at 2 am, chances are your team will stop too.

 

4.       Shorten your “in office” work week to compensate for the out of work responses. Working 8:30-4:30 reduces your work hours to 37.5 hours meaning that the first 2.5 hours working out of work are covered.

 

Some labor attorneys are going to make a lot of money on this with a class action suit.  Make sure your team is not the reason your company goes under.

 

Yo! Millennials are People too!

Happy co-workersThat was the comment from one of our Millennial employees after our office was doing our usual bashing of his generation.  And while it is easy to classify an entire group of people as lazy, self-absorbed, and coddled, it is very dangerous to do this as a leader.

From the beginning of time, the establishment has complained about the younger generation.  The Traditionalists complained about the Baby Boomers, Baby Boomers about Generation X and now everyone about the Millennials.  Whether it was blue shirts and long hair or a better work life balance, there has always been a biased against the younger generations.

The true leader is the one that knows how to tap into each of their team members and get the best results from them and the group collectively.  You need to understand what drives each team member in a few key areas:

1.       Values- Millennials tend to value their individualism above all else.  The one size fits all mentality really has become one size fits none.  You need to work to understand and know each team member as a person and what drives them.

2.       Business Worth- Millennials believe that their contribution to the company is the key to their work.  You need to spend time recognizing their good performance way more than you point out how to improve.  Being part of the team is fine for them.   

3.       Business Focus- Millennials have grown up with the “It’s a Small Word” mentality.  They care about the Global impact of their job and how networked their job is to the rest of the world.  You need to explain the big picture to them so that they understand and embrace that their task is making the world and their company better.

You need to adjust your style for Millennials and focus on team work, celebrating small victories, and adding variety to their tasks.  You need to understand that for them, effective work is greater than hours worked, that “paying their dues” is not a reason for a task to be done, and that there is no line between work and family time.  You need to help them grow up in life as well as in the workplace. 

Failure to incorporate this into your management style will cause you to be the “old person” in your office.  And no one wants to be seen as the dinosaur.  Every generation can agree on that.

Leadership Involved Lots of Massages

massageYou see it every day- fat cat CEOs sitting on massage tables, relaxing, and burning the money that their hard-working employees bring in, save and manage.  It is a totally disgusting sight.  Sorry. Wrong article.

As a leader, you will be working with tons of different personalities.  Some are easy to manage and figure out how to get peak performance from.  Others are super complex and take years to figure out.  By one thing is constant- to lead effectively, you need to become a master masseuse of egos.

Everyone everywhere wants to feel important.  To get the most out of each person, you need to make sure they do.  That means most of your day is putting out mental fires.  Taking the time to connect with each person, making sure they realize how valued they are to your team and the overall organization.

So how do you do this?  Depending on the number of direct reports that you have, create a “10 Minutes Every Day” culture.  As the title suggests, you need to have an individual 10 minute meeting with each team member every day.  During this time, you need to cover what is going on with their tasks, what is going on with their lives and how to improve performance in both to achieve your team goals. 

Your team members should feel comfortable to bring up issues that are hurting their performance and tell you “how they feel” and “what they think”.

Over time, these sessions will make every part of your job easier.  Performance reviews become obsolete, bonus tracking is a daily occurrence, and everyone should know where they stand with you and inside the team.

When I managed really large teams (16-20 direct reports plus their reports), this took about 3.5 hours of my day.  Considering I was working 10-12 hours a day, spending 25% your time with your team is not outrageous. 

What happened was that my team knew every pitfall that was ahead of them from a corporate standpoint, what they needed to improve upon and where they were exceling.  The calls were punctual, during times that were not invasive since we confirmed the next day’s call based on our mutual schedules and helped build lasting relationships.

Even the toughest personalities to work with eventually liked the open forum of our calls.

Don’t Ease Up at the Finish Line

lady-at-finish-lineAt this point in the year, everyone is comfortable in their company.  They know how the company should finish the year, what kind of bonus to expect and whether their position is likely to move forward into the new year.  They know what is expected of them to perform their tasks and who to work with to accomplish that.

As a leader, you are also probably feeling good about your team.  You are looking forward to the natural ramp down due to the holidays and recharging your batteries to drive your team starting in the new year.  Budgets and goals have been approved and unless you work in a seasonal business, meeting frequency has dropped.

But a true leader knows that now is not the time to rest on your laurels.  You need to keep your forward momentum going.  There is no on/off switch on your team’s performance.  Allowing the bad habits of being content creep into your culture will take months to remove.  Everyone deserves a little coasting time, but not at the expense of team performance.

Now is a good time to:

1.       Review holiday vacation schedules.  Coverage is key.  Clients (both internal and external) will still need your team to perform at peak efficiency.  Having your entire team out at the same time will surely hurt your company’s performance.

2.       Do a “final review” of this year’s goals.  Before bonuses and performance evaluations start, take the time to go through each member’s goals and challenges to see where they will end up.  If they need to schedule a continuing education class, now is the time to do it.

3.       Have a preliminary 2017 team meeting.  Let your team know what may be expected of them in the coming months so they can mentally prepare for it.  Go over challenges, rewards, and plans.

4.       Review your goals with your management.  Without their buy in, getting anything done will be next to impossible.  Ask them specifically for ways for you to improve personal and team performance and efficiency.

Use this slow period to position your team and yourself to have the best year as possible.  Waiting until January to do that is not smart and will only cause your team to not live up to their potential.