When Your Partner Doesn’t Get It

Man and Woman TalkingAs many of you know, my company launched a new division to help people navigate their health journey through advocacy. In developing the company, we realized that we needed a couple of key partners to get this accomplished and I wanted to elaborate on the behavior of one because their handling of a situation is interesting to me.

The vendor bid on our project and mentioned that they would be willing to do it almost for free because they were not busy and needed the work for their team. We realized that letting them take the project on for free would not work and agreed on a fair price.

The project was moving along for about three weeks before the company had a huge bid accepted for another job. We realized our project would get less attention and continued to support our vendor’s activities even though they were not moving as quickly as we wanted.

The vendor scheduled weekly status meetings where instead of discussing project related issues, we were given their company’s CV and how much a larger company would have charged for this project. This went on for about 8 weeks before the vendor decided to let us know that we were a low priority for the firm now that they were busy, and they would only work on the project when they could fit it in.

We told the vendor we appreciated their honesty, and would it be possible to have the project back since we need it finished. What happened next was appalling. To date we have received 6 emails scathing our company and me personally because we did not want them to finish the project. One email asked, “How dare I?” and another questioned my integrity and loyalty- funny considering they fired us. Then we received an email saying basically they had to finish the project because of how it was developed as if the other 6 emails were never sent.

While we are still working through this, I found several best practices were ignored. The first was be careful what you put in writing. If I was more vindictive, I could have posted these emails and in effect would have ruined their company. Limit your communications to the pertinent facts in a case. Flying off the handle does not achieve anything positive.

The second is honor your commitment or work towards a compromise as soon as possible. Once the vendor took on the new job, we should have been given the option of dealing with a slower timeline or taking our project elsewhere. Or the vendor should have worked quickly to get our project off their plate. Lamenting that they were not making money on the project and insulting us was not the solution.

The third lesson is on my end- be careful who you decide to give a break to. Our collective guts told us that the vendor would be able to handle the project, but it would be painful. Boy, were we right. We liked them at their initial meetings and figured we were helping them as much as they were helping us. We were so wrong there.

Honest communication between and within both companies may have helped avoid this situation. Both companies wanted to help each other, but their vision of help couldn’t be more different.

Compassion Versus Sympathy and Empathy

SN Logo Final colorI work with a special needs sports program in my town.  One of my roles is to explain to our teenaged volunteers how we want them to interact with our athletes and what kinds of behavior are acceptable.  The class is a little heavy handed as we feel that our culture of kindness is the paramount reason why we are able to have success. 

One of the hardest parts of the class is when we discuss the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  In a simplistic manner, sympathy means you feel sorry for someone.  Empathy is that you can relate to what someone is going through, and compassion is understanding there are differences and you want to make it better.  We explain that our athletes want people who want them to succeed not someone who prejudices against them because of their uniqueness.

These phenomena happen every day in the workplace without people realizing it.  Leaders feel like they are bonding with their team by showing sympathy and empathy in inappropriate times.  A coworker having personal issues at home needs you to be flexible and understanding (compassion).  They do not need you to tell them you are sorry then relay a story about how you have gone through or are going through the same thing.

This is especially true when a leader rises through the ranks.  You tend to be very involved in your team’s lives since you were one of them.  To be their leader, you need to establish new ground rules and boundaries.  Caring about the person and their well-being is a critical part of team building, being overly involved is not.

As you are building your leadership tool belt, make sure you focus on compassion.  If you find yourself always telling stories that parallel your team member’s issues, then maybe you need to look in the mirror and focus more on how to help.

What Happens When No One Wants to be the Leader?

team-blaming-each-other-istock_000020967547_largeI was thinking about the horrible situation at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.  It was an institutional epic fail that is a classic case of no one stepping up to be the leader.  Everyone focused on their personal agendas and did not look to be the one to stand above the madness.

It reminded me a lot of a couple of organizations that I worked with.  They had very talented followers, but no one wanted to become the leader of the group. No one wanted to handle the tough decisions, everyone wanted to be seen as the good person all of the time.  They had great meetings, made great action plans, and never held anyone accountable and no was accountable for the failure.  As a result those organizations, like the two listed above, ended up mired in situations that they were ill equipped to handle.

Every organization needs to have at least one official and many unofficial leaders.  These people need to want to take the responsibility of leading their team through the inevitable successes and failures that organizations have.  They need to have the vision to inspire, the knowledge to teach and the integrity to have people believe in them.  Organizations without these people are rudderless and will fail- either through scandal or lack of performance.

A smart mentor once told me to see a need and fill the need.  Sometimes that meant taking the trash to the dumpster, other times it meant running a project or team that needed help.  None of the times did it mean to dump the situation onto someone else’s lap.  When you are in this situation, be sure to think about who is leading the project and how you can support them.  If the answer is no one is leading, fill the void.  Your co-workers will appreciate you stepping up.

A Lesson in Credibility

credibilityI had a little misstep in my class the other day.  I shredded the attendance sheet before I had a chance to input it into my spreadsheet.  So, I did what every trusting professor would do, I asked the students at the next class to mark whether they attended the previous class.  Then a funny thing happened.  Only one person who missed the class was truthful and marked herself absent.

Seeing this, I decided to address it in the next class.  I mentioned that trust, integrity and honesty are the paramount cornerstones of leadership and that without these attributes, it is going to be hard to get hired, keep your job and advance in the company.  I also told the class that if you did mark yourself at the class, do not come and apologize because it is hollow.  You are only doing it because you were caught.

My friends at the Colonel’s Leadership Council have a great seminar that focuses on the key attributes that people believe leaders must exhibit if they want others to follow them.   Honesty, competence, inspiration, and forward thinking are the traits most commonly associated with a leader.  However, the foundational attribute is credibility.

Credibility is simply the quality of being trusted and believed in.  However, in today’s business environment, it is very elusive.  Between claims of fake news, real news that has to be fake, and every day interpersonal situations that end with disappointment, it is harder and harder to be seen as credible.  Fewer people are walking the talk.  They tell you want you want to hear then do something else.

That is not the type of a leader I would like to follow.  I want to be led by people I can believe in, trust, and know that my best interest is near the top of their priority list.  I also would like to believe that the people I lead feel that my credibility is beyond reproach. 

If you want to be a successful leader, you need to realize that your reputation is your key leadership criterion until you are able to establish relationships and prove that you are honest, competent, inspiring and forward thinking.  Any blemish will diminish your ability to build relationships and establish credibility.

To all of the people who think you are getting away with getting in right before or leaving right after the boss, who spend all day on the internet, their smartphone or gossiping, or who are mailing in your work, know that people notice this stuff and your credibility is taking a huge hit.  And don’t be surprised when you’re passed over for that promotion.

Learn to Let It Go

let-it-go-frozenNo, I was not watching Frozen this weekend, but rather was thinking about the unrest that festers in the workplace.  More and more people are feeling slighted and holding onto these perceived slights to the detriment of their health and the health of their team.

Instead of moving forward and working towards common goals, people are pushing their agenda to vindicate that they feel are affronts to their character, intellect or abilities.  Many times, the anger stems from a manager’s criticism of their work.  Other times it is because a company decides to fund or green light a competing project.

If you are going to be a true leader, you are going to need to work through these issues and get your team back on track.  Much like parenting every child is different, dealing with an “insulted” team member is unique.  You are going to need to:

  1. Have Two Way Communication. Most grudges happen over miscommunications.  You need to speak openly, honestly, and respectfully so the person understands where you are coming from and that you understand their position as well.  Speaking from the mountain top does not help heal wounds.
  2. Forgive, But Not Forget. You need to be the bigger person as the leader.  Forgive the person who wronged you or accept the apology of someone who slighted you.  But also learn from the experience- both about how you could have handled it better and how you can manage through the situation better with that colleague.  Don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  3. Keep It Close to Your Vest. The lasting thing that needs to happen is for the disagreement to go public and have people choose sides.  That may work in movies, but in business, chasms are really hard to close and overcome.  The end result is a poorly functioning team where no one wins.  Here is an obvious lesson, but needs to be said if you are asked which side you are on, simply state that you are Switzerland.

As a leader, you need to massage egos all day to get what you want accomplished.  Do not let yours be the biggest in the room.  Stay focused, grounded, and engaged to keep your team working well.

The Two Real Keys to Success

welcome-freshmen11As many of you know, my daughter has started college this Fall.  Her workload is daunting as she majors in physics and music.  Not surprisingly, about a week ago, I got the call.  “Dad, we need to talk.”  Like every other freshman, her world has been turned upside down.  Surrounded by tons of people 24/7, but not really knowing any of them, suddenly having freedom, but buried with school work, she was living the avalanche.

During breakfast, I learned that she was confused and anxious about school, her abilities, and her “after life”.  Some time during this, I decided to tell her the key to success.  I made her hold on to the table with both hands and look at me.  Then I told her- “The Key to Success is Having a Big Ego”.

She looked at me quizzically because we have stressed humble and kind before it became a song.  I told her that if you do not have extreme confidence in yourself, what you are doing and what you believe, no one else will.  You cannot be successful if you can’t speak about your ideas without conviction.  And you have to believe that you will ultimately succeed even if you are hit with obstacles and temporary failures.

Since I was on a roll (and my fifth cup of coffee), I decided to tell her the next biggest key.  You need to be flexible in your journey.  When I was 18, I wanted to be an accounting major then get a law degree.  Today, I hate numbers and don’t like to read volumes of legalese.  I would have never succeeded if I didn’t change my path.

The goal for Katie was to give herself a large enough base that she could follow either of her passions or become something else.  By studying both arts and sciences, she can achieve that.

How does this relate to you?  Are you confident in yourself and your abilities to stand up for what you believe?  Are you willing to stand on the proverbial ledge to do what’s right?  Can you fail, pick yourself up and try again?  Do you roll with the punches?

Unfortunately, the answer for most people is no.  And to compensate for this, they use arrogance and bravado to cover for a lack of good ego.  You need to work at being comfortable in your own skin and do what you feel is right- even if it is not the prevailing thought.

In this time of social discord, make sure you reflect on what you believe is right and follow it.  It will make your personal and professional lives better.  Please let me know if you’d like to discuss further.

Labor Day is Time to Be Accountable for Your Work

Setting_Sun_from_Saltdean_Beach_-_geograph.org.uk_-_634681Monday marked the unofficial end of summer.  No more cruising to the beach, laid back office vibes on Fridays and Mondays, and vacationing co-workers.  Starting today, you are in the home stretch for your year.  Time to dust off your review, goals, and bonus plans and measure where you are compared with where you are supposed to be.  Look at your team’s metrics as well and do a similar analysis.  The put plans together to achieve all of the collective goals.

Why all of the goals?  Because being a leader means having accountability to your company, your team your customers, your key stakeholders and yourself.  You cannot be a credible leader without a proven track record of success and owning up to the reasons why you may not have been as successful as you had hoped.

When thinking about accountability, you should look at a number of factors including:

1.       How is my performance?  Am I leading my team to its capacity?  Am I giving the effort, insight, and attitude needed to help my team and me to succeed?

2.       How is my team’s performance?  Are we working to the best of our ability?  Do I need to coach, mentor or guide my team more?  Do I have the right people on the team based on how the challenges have evolved?

3.       How do I work with my key stakeholders?  Are we working collaboratively or are we combative?  Do we have the same end goal in mind or are their hidden agendas?  Do our performance metrices work together or is the success of one team contingent of the failure of another?

You need to be honest about your assessments.  You are doing anyone any favors by propping yourself up unnecessarily.  Take a hard look in the mirror.  If you are happy with your team’s and your efforts, then work to figure out how to close the gaps that are occurring.  If you feel like the reduction of effectiveness is self-inflicted, start the process of breaking the cycle and get back to where you belong.

Owning your situations in life will not guarantee success, but it will guarantee that you can live with the repercussions each situation gives you.

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.

How Do You Measure Up to Olympic Athletes?

Rio LogoLike everyone else, I have been enthralled with the Olympics. I love the stories that are told about athletes and their struggles to become Olympians. Overcoming obstacles is one of the greatest keys in life. Anyone can succeed when there are no pitfalls, it takes a special person to find hope in setbacks.

The other thing I like about the Olympics is the different ways the athletes handle success or failure. It shows a lot about their character, leadership and personality. There were three instances last night alone that pointed to these traits.

The first one was the 400M Women’s Hurdles qualifying races. A young woman from NJ had just run in her estimation a horrible race. She was obviously devastated and took her 15 second interview time to make four separate excuses on why she did not perform well. As luck would turn out, her time was good enough to advance. Are the type of person who dwells on the negative or do you look for the silver lining? To be a great leader, you need to take the time to see the wide view, even in a moment of perceived darkness.

The second one was after the Women’s 400M race where the winner literally dove across the finish line- denying a two time defending champion a chance to win a third time. The silver medalist was obviously disappointed with her result and let the world know it. The racer did not lose because of the dive, she lost because she was not fast enough that day. Every person in that race except for one would trade places with her in a heartbeat, but her first reaction was to blame the winner for doing everything it takes to win. Are you that way? Do you want to be the best, but make excuses when you aren’t? If you want to be the best in business, you need to prove it every day.

The last one was in the Women’s Balance Beam event. The prohibitive favorite came in third. She had been crushing the competition all week. And in one of her best events, she made a major mistake. Again, she was obviously devastated, but unlike the other two athletes, she said and did the right things. She congratulated both other winners, was exited to received her medal and gave a very gracious interview. Could you act that way? If you are a true leader, you absolutely must. Leadership is about actions, words, and attitude. Any negative vibe in any of these three areas, make you vulnerable.

There are countless other examples of these types of behavior. These just happened to take place while I was watching last night. Take time to watch through those eyes this week and see how you would react in disappointment. You might surprise yourself.

What You Do Next is the Key…

Baseball season enderWhile watching the Home Run Derby last night, I started to think about all of the players that flamed out after a year or two.  Players like Mark Fidrych, Mark Prior, Joe Charboneau, and Dontrelle Willis.  They all had tremendous initial success, but were not able to sustain it.  This is compared to a player like Tim Duncan who was outstanding for almost 20 years in the NBA or Derek Jeter formerly with the Yankees.

This also happens in the business world.  A product manager has a hit, is on the fast track, then somehow gets derailed and their career stalls while another one gets product after product into the marketplace and their career grows exponentially.

It got me thinking about why someone is able to sustain their initial success and why others aren’t.  In my opinion, most times it boils down to effort and attitude.

  1. Effort- our world today is all about instant gratification.  What can I do now to make myself- happier, looking or feeling better, etc.?  By having success at an early age, most workers will become satisfied and consciously or unconsciously have their drive diminish.  What separates them from the “best” is that the best drive themselves every day to improve.  Instead of only looking at the positives in a project, they look at the negatives to see where things could be done more efficiently or effectively.
  2. Attitude- being told “how great you are” tends to give you an inflated opinion of yourself.  If you believe that hype, your attitude wanes and you become an expert in all things.  Being a valuable member of a team is no longer a goal of yours, you need to be the smartest person in the room.  As this happens, your team loses its trust and faith in you.  It makes being able to adjust to your environment harder and harder until you become a dinosaur in your company.  A person with a great attitude is always will to improve and adapt.  They are able to literally hit whatever is thrown at them.

There are no one size fits all ways to be successful for a sustained period.  You need to constantly work hard and be a team player- even if you are the boss.  By staying humble and driven though, you will most likely be able to stay a star.