Come Out From The Corner Office

Congratulations! You recently have been promoted to that management position and sitting in that corner office you’ve always coveted in your career. It’s new! It’s exciting! You feel you have finally arrived! You’re educated, trained, and have a wealth of experience under your belt.You can’t wait to get started and make your mark with your new team. You’re ready for the challenge!

At one time or another, we may all have had an opportunity in our career to feel that elation and excitement. How ready were you to manage right out of the gate? I know I wasn’t!

Reflecting back on when I started managing in a senior position, there were some key things that I wish I would have done differently, more, or better! So, when coaching or mentoring others, there are two major lessons learned that I usually share with them:

1) First, I should have spent more time outside of the corner office and engaged and interacted with my team more.

2) Secondly, I would have focused more on these key principles:

Motivating Employees

Tell your employees how much you appreciate them from time to time. Just go out and say it. Ask them out for a cup of coffee and tell them what you appreciate about them: They’re a hard worker; they effectively motivate other people; they’re easy to coach; they’re disciplined or go the extra mile; they always cheer you up, etc. Don’t mince words — just tell them straight out. An employee who knows just how much they are appreciated will work harder, enjoy what they do more, and pass that psychic happiness along to other employees.

Setting Goals

Make sure each employee knows what’s expected. Having concrete goals empowers your employees and keeps them focused on work. Explicitly outline what you expect, when the deadline is, and what you’ll do with the results.

Hold yourself to the highest standards. We all know the kind of manager who constantly shouts or bitterly complains when mistakes are made but gives himself a ‘pass’ when he fails. Don’t be this kind of manager. Ideally, be harder to on yourself than you are on your employees. This can have a trickle-down effect: Employees see the types of goals and standards you set for yourself and want to emulate you because they look up to you.

Delegating Responsibility

Assign tasks that will stretch your employees. As your workers begin to take on more responsibility and demonstrate that they’re capable, give them tasks that will expand their skills and help them take more ownership of their work. Not only are you finding out how much your employees can handle, you’re making them more valuable to the company.

Communicating Effectively

Ask questions. Intelligent questions show that you can follow the flow of the conversation and clarify when necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because you’re worried about appearing “stupid.” Effective managers care about understanding what’s important; they don’t care about how they get there. Know, too, that others will probably have questions and may not ask. If you ask their question for them, you can act as a facilitator and build your team’s engagement level. That’s the true mark of a good manager.

Embracing Egalitarianism

Treat everyone equally. Most of us aren’t as egalitarian as we’d like to be. Many times, favoritism happens on a subconscious level. The tendency is to give more positive recognition to the people who remind us of ourselves somehow and who actually like us, rather than to the people who make the biggest contributions to the organization. In the long run, it’s people in the latter group who will make the most progress in achieving the organization’s goals, so monitor your own behavior carefully and make sure you’re not accidentally short-changing them, even if they give you the impression that your positive regard doesn’t affect them. Some people shy away from positive feedback but appreciate it nonetheless.

Treat your employees well. If you’re good to your workers and they’re happy with their jobs, they’ll pass that kindness on to customers and invaluably bolster the image of your company. Or, they’ll do the same for their employees and maintain a positive corporate culture.

Coming Off The Island

Don’t try to go it alone. Swallow your pride. Take every opportunity to learn and draw upon the experiences of others every day. You will never know it all. Network and communicate with colleagues, peers, and seniors that have been there. Ask questions, observe, and reflect upon how you can adapt what you’ve learned to become better.

Seek A Mentor. It never hurts to have someone in your corner that you can trust and seek guidance from every now and then. Listen, reflect, and draw upon their experiences.

So, if you’re a new manager, I encourage you to come out from the corner office and engage with your team…

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.
— John Le Caré

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Life After The Pivotal Decision In XLIX

I’m sure most of you saw the last minute of Super Bowl XLIX and went to bed thinking about the pivotal decision that the Seattle Seahawks made at the one yard line with under a minute remaining that cost them the game. If you’re a football fan, especially a Seattle Seahawks fan, I’m sure you’re still shaking your head wondering why didn’t they call a running play in that situation? The obvious questions that are being asked in sports talk shows, in bars and restaurants, and around the water cooler this week are:

– Why did this happen?
– Who made that call?
– Why was that call made?
– Whose fault was it?

But, let’s face it, what’s done is done! All this commentary won’t change the outcome, will it? But, as I sit here and hear all of this, I wonder: how does an experience like this really affect someone that’s directly impacted by it? In this case, the Seattle Seahawks…

Obviously, for the Seattle Seahawks football team and organization, the end result of Super Bowl XLIX was very disappointing and will leave a sour taste in their mouths for awhile. But, really…where do they go from here? How will it affect them psychologically? What will their mojo be like going into the offseason and training camp in 2015?

Like him or not, Pete Carroll is not only good football coach, but he is a good mentor and leader. He’s a catalyst of an organization that promotes a team culture built upon trust, loyalty, and learning. Just like after every game, the coaching staff won’t point fingers or repeatedly dwell on the negatives. They will breakdown the game plan, play scripts, and the game tape to determine what happened, what they could have done better, learn from the experience, and start preparing for the next season. My guess is that this team and organization will rebound stronger than ever because they believe in its mission and culture. I believe that their psychic and mojo will be just fine.

So, for the rest of us, what we can we take away from this? Well, to start, a team or organizational culture like Seattle’s just doesn’t magically happen without effort. That’s true with any business or organization as well. It’s psychic, culture, and mojo must start at the very top and trickle down through the rest of the organization. The best organizations promote learning cultures to make themselves better by continually assessing their performance , successes, and failures and share and teach what was experienced from good or bad decisions with their employees, members, or followers.

In a nutshell, they don’t point fingers, they get to the root causes, learn and teach, and correct the flaws to make every one better for the good of the whole.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
– Jack Welch –

An effective CEO, like Pete Carroll, will make that happen…

The Leader In Me

At one time or another, I’m sure that everyone of us can step back and think about someone we met for the first time, a play, show, or production we attended, a book we read, or a talk or speech we heard, that made a lasting impact or impression on us. It could have been a story line or theme, a specific line or quote, or a profound message that hit home with us. Recently, I had such an experience that I would like to share with you.

Periodically, I offer my services as a part – time substitute paraprofessional teacher in a local school district for elementary and middle school children. Just last week, I was supporting a third grade class where the teacher was reviewing basic math skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) with his students to increase their proficiency. What was intriguing was not only how he did it but what he was trying to instill in the class at the same time. Let me explain what I think I saw and understood…

What Was The Teacher’s Primary Objective?: Teach and increase proficiency in basic math skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).

What Was The Teacher’s Bonus Objective?: Introduce the students to the concepts of fair and respectful team play and the importance of integrated team leadership.

What Was The Teacher’s Approach?: The teacher instructed the boys to lineup and sit on one side of the room and the girls to lineup and sit on the other side. Taking turns, the teacher had one boy and one girl approach the front of the room and stand in front of him. The teacher then quickly flashed a math card with a question (e.g. 7 x 2 = ?) to the two students. Whichever student answered the question correctly would earn one point for their team. That student could then earn bonus points by shooting and scoring a Nerf basketball into a basket on the opposite end of the room. Depending upon where the student chose to stand, they could earn two or three additional bonus points if they made the basket just like in a basketball game. Whichever team provided the most correct answers and accumulated the most points within two 15 minute “halves” won the game.

What Was The Teacher’s Expectation?: While the game was in progress, he expected the students to “stay on course.” In addition, the rest of the class understood that they were to remain quiet, and not cheer for either team, until a correct answer and any bonus baskets were attempted (whether made or not). Regardless of which team answered correctly, and whether bonus baskets were made or not, they were expected to encourage and cheer for both participants. If any behavior was displayed that did not meet these expectations, that team’s point total was docked two points. In a nutshell, he expected them to stay focused, participate and do the work, support both teams, and have fun.

What Was The Result?: From what I witnessed, the primary and bonus objectives and the teacher’s expectations were communicated, understood, and met successfully.

I have to tell you! My jaw dropped! How in the world did he get these third grade 9 year olds to understand and buy – in to the these objectives and expectations and actually get them to have fun and perform proficiently at the same time? Here’s what I found out that day…

At the beginning of the year, the teacher introduced a learning theme for the class named: “The Leader In Me.” Wherever he could, he integrated this learning theme into all his subject lesson plans. Just like he used a game for the math proficiency review, he tried to use “fun things” to get the students interested and engaged to help their learning and proficiency in those subjects as well. Slowly, he focused on seven “habits” to help the students understand the theme and to drive proficiency and individual and team leadership in the classroom.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive – “You are in control and choose your actions”

Habit #2 – Begin With The End In Mind – “Have a goal, work hard, and have a plan”

Habit #3 – Put First Things First – “Have a plan and do important things before unimportant things”

Habit #4 – Think Win Win – ” Everyone can win and learn, support others, and be confident in yourself and your fellow classmates”

Habit #5 – Seek First To Understand Then Be Understood – “Listen closely to see what others think since it is good to be different and everyone has something to contribute”

Habit #6 – Synergize – “Work together to listen and create new ideas”

Habit #7 – Sharpen The Saw – “Recharge, relax, and have fun”

When traveling home after class that day, I reflected on what I had just experienced. What did I learn? First, with the right teaching, coaching, and mentoring, leadership traits can be developed and groomed even at the simplest grass roots level.

Past research suggests that leadership is 30 percent genetic and 70 percent a result of lessons learned through life experiences. ScienceDaily University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

Granted, there’s no guarantee that everyone will be a leader regardless of what teaching, coaching, and mentoring that they receive; however, it’s a step in the right direction to help them be successful, be positive contributors, and be team players in whatever endeavor they choose. Second, it’s important nowadays to teach, demonstrate, reinforce, and encourage active involvement to achieve desired results. What better way to learn! This teacher was truly a leader that was making an impact! Finally, think about this. If corporate and executive leaders promoted a learning culture where their mission statements, charters, and values of their corporations, businesses, and organizations were centered more around habits and teaching moments like these, the meeting of challenges, pressures, and issues they face might just be a little more palatable and solvable.

In closing, here’s a parting thought: if it’s happening at the simplest grass roots level…then why not elsewhere? Think about “The Leader In Me.”

Want To Improve Performance? Just Ask…

There are various tools and techniques you can use to assess your business or organizational performance, right? But, which ones should I use?  I won’t get into a discussion about answering that question here. But rather, I will give you some simple advice. Use this one and it won’t cost you a thing. Get out there and talk to people. Some of the best information that you can gather comes from the folks on the front- line. From my perspective, consider asking them two basic open-ended questions and LISTEN:

  • Could you tell me the top two or three things that help you do your job well?
  • Could you tell me the top two or three things that prevent you from doing your job well?

Let them speak openly, and strike up an open conversation with them. If you give them the time and are sincere with them, you stand to gain a wealth of information to help you start improving your performance.

Are Communications Important? Bet On It…

Whether you are changing your organization’s strategy or direction, implementing a new process or system, or changing a policy or procedure, change affects people. If the right people aren’t communicated with effectively, and at the right times, you can bet that the desired change probably won’t be accepted nor achieved fully, on time, or at all. So how should we be communicating with people?

Foster Your Talent

There are various key drivers for any business or organization to achieve sustainable success;however, I firmly believe that if human capital isn’t nurtured and developed, failure looms. People are what drives success from the CEO down to the entry level worker. I truly believe that everyone has something positive to contribute…but sometimes they just don’t realize it or know what or how to do it. We are in a position to foster talent everyday.

Leading Change Could Be Lonely

Leading a change effort could be a lonely proposition…if you let it. Effectively communicating, implementing, and managing change takes effort. Communicate,  build partnerships and obtain buy-in, and work with your stakeholders throughout the change effort to avoid being lonely.