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.

Fearless Leaders are Doomed to Fail

patg013There is a certain image of a fearless leader.  Maybe it’s General Patton storming through Europe in World War II or Tom Brady putting his team on his back to win a Super Bowl.  Then when asked about their victory, they tell you how they always knew they’d be victorious and there was never a doubt in their mind about it.

They seem to forget to mention the hours of planning, the sleepless nights trying to figure out the best path to winning, and the missteps that they took to find the right path.  This is a huge problem for you as an aspiring leader because you believe this myth to be true.

You tell your team what they are going to accomplish and to follow you to make sure it will be done.  You ride them to ensure tasks are completed, push them to their limit to get the best results out of each and every one of them, and you blaze a path in your company leaving everybody not on your team in your wake.

In real life, this cannot happen.  Aside from the enemies you will make with this no holds barred attitude, it is impossible to be a true leader without doubt and introspection coming to light.  You need to have a healthy fear of failure because that grounds your decisions and forces you to continually check the competitive environment, your team’s “temperature”, and your companies’ attitude towards your project.  Going haphazardly guns a blazing will cause your team to burn out and for you to miss the mark in the long run.

Instead, understand that a little uncertainty in your mission will cause you to be a better leader.  You will be able to access your situation more clearly.  You will be able to see the big picture and understand the goal of your project, not just the tasks that need to be accomplished.  And you will develop empathy for your team.  Your Emotional Intelligence will grow and that is a real skill that measures your long-term success.

Unless you work in a military style environment, how you understand and treat people will contribute more to your success than the hard driving style of a fearless leader.  Remember, just because you buy into the project, doesn’t mean your team has.  Having that awareness will help you get the results you all need to be successful.

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.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Man and Woman Talking.jpgSometimes there are no truer words when it comes to leading people.  I work with a company that has hired five people for the same position over the last 7 years.  It is a tough job in that the person has a lot of autonomy, it involves mostly computer work and has surge work but should all be finished in a traditional 40-hour work week.

As we were discussing their next steps, we agreed that they need to invest in their latest person who was not meeting expectations.  There is a myriad of reasons why it is better to invest versus removing the person- it is costly, disruptive, and no guarantee of better performance.  But the biggest one is that it is forcing my client to look in the mirror and decide how they want to lead this person.

When you see constant turnover in a position, department or company, it is not always because they hired the wrong person (despite what they tell you on an interview).  Sometimes it is because the people leading are not doing it right.  They lack the skills, finesse, tact, direction, or interest to lead effectively.  The leader may not be equipped to be a leader- having been thrust into the position through sole contributor competency, attrition or need.  The leader may not be ready to handle the stresses surrounding leading and fall into a shell.

Or the leader may just be a manager- focused on their job, making their bonus, and not rocking the boat.  They may give too much space to their employees because they are too busy, distracted or overwhelmed themselves.  They may look and only see flaws and decide to harp on shortcomings and demotivate their team.

A true leader understands that when a team member fails, so do they.  They did not reach that person to maximize their potential.  They failed in their most basic duty- motivating their team to meet and exceed expectations- their company’s, team’s, and personal ones.  Before you eliminate a person because of performance, take a second to make sure you did all that you could to keep that person liable in your company. 

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.