leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Shoop Shoop Shoop – Are You With Me?

Driving home from yesterday’s 4th training session, the “Shoop Shoop Song” from “Waiting To Exhale” was playing in my head.  In many ways it’s also the perfect Friday song, and given some of the posts I’ve read this week, it’s appropriate for the end of what appeared to be a tough week.  Seems like a lot of us spent much of the week just waiting to let it go…

“And sometimes you’ll laugh, and sometimes you’ll cry

Life never tells us the whens and whys

But when you’ve got friends to wish you well

You’ll find your point when you exhale…”

You can add the ‘shoop shoops’ yourself – there are a lot of them.

Yesterday, I facilitated the last training session with the remarkable group of people of whom I’ve written before.  Next week, a colleague will join me for the last part of the program.  So in some ways, I had to say good-bye to a dynamic which has fueled, inspired and challenged me once a week for the month.  We’ll have a great time next week, and the team united as we know will morph naturally by the presence of a new person.  The thought of the upcoming farewells has my stomach more than just a little knotted.

Our topic yesterday was Performance Management – with emphasis placed on the fluidity of the process – the need for it to be a constant loop of communication, not the culmination of twelve silent months with no conversation about a person’s performance.  We addressed some of the real issues managers grapple with – the star employees who don’t receive enough feedback because ‘they know’ they’re terrific and other people require more attention; the poor performers who supervisors avoid because ultimately the anticipated hostility/tears/aggressive/defensive reaction (pick your adjective) is just too painful to endure.  The challenge of actively listening when studies show that adults really attend for about five minutes within a twenty-minute conversation.  How commentary is far more critical than a ‘score’ and how to move a firm and its people away from the numbers and in to substantive feedback.  Including the employee in establishing goals, and how to build those goals effectively.  We went straight through, with a quick break to bring in some lunch, and just kept going until we could go no longer.  They crushed it – figuratively and in a good way.  The examples provided, support given to those with a tough situation to handle, enthusiasm and trust in each other – all were so impressive.  They inspired me more than I can adequately describe.  Do you sense a ‘but’ in all of this?  Good – I’m so glad you picked that up.

When our sessions end, they go back to work.  At best their supervisors ask them if they’re enjoying the program, if they’re getting anything out of  it,etc..  That’s it – the curiousity and interest in the manager and his/her development stops there.   They are coming away from these meetings with new ideas, a renewed sense of purpose, some thoughts about bettering themselves and their department.  There wasn’t one person who affirmed that his/her boss would be interested in pursuing anything other than things as they are.  The most frustrating aspect of this reality, is that I just know what will happen to their enthusiasm, focus and intention.  Worse still, they do too.  I’m committed to being available to them should they need me,  but let’s be real –  as time passes everyone gets caught up in the rhythm of their days, and without someone encouraging movement and effort from their supervisors, there is an inevitable return to the norm.

If you are a director or C-level officer, are you really giving your direct reports the room, support and mentorship they need?  Are you working with them to formulate opportunities to practice that which they’ve learned once training programs end?  What’s your stake in their growth and how do you show that commitment?  I’m just wondering, because from where I stand this seems to be the most important part of your responsibilities and the easiest one for you to minimize or disregard.  I’m just sayin’…I know there are some exceptional senior executives who read this blog – it would be great to know what you do with and for those managers you send for professional development training once they’ve completed the program or class?

I will miss these Thursdays, yet that doesn’t diminish the value they have held for me.  I have met outstanding people, forged a bond that is predicated upon a shared desire to do the right thing for those they supervise and for their firms.  I wish them all the success, growth and all the happiness their hearts can hold.

So it’s Friday morning, and the sun is slowly rising.  The week ends with some exhausted by the emotional toll that the last few days have exacted; others are thrilled that the week has gone so well.  For everyone,  I hope the time arrives sometime today when you get to exhale.  Happy weekend all.

leadership, life lessons, management, motivation, training, work life

Schadenfreude? In This Economy?

Funny how I think I’m going to write about one thing, and end up going in another direction entirely.  Upon further reflection, if you knew how I drive this is probably not so surprising at all.  I adamantly believe that whatever direction I’m heading is north, think I’m going over underpasses and have been known to turn a map upside down when navigating a return trip from wherever.  I get lost a lot, though I’m perfectly comfortable asking for directions.  But, I digress….

A very dear friend of mine quit her job on Friday.  She enjoys a successful career, working at the senior levels of management.  On Friday she reached a limit that no one should have to push, so she packed up her office, provided her resignation and walked out the door.  I’m not going to spend too much time extolling my friend’s impressive qualifications and talents – her success is evident in the tenure, promotions and stellar reputation she has earned.  Besides, this isn’t a paean to her (though she deserves one), this is a cautionary tale.

Why’d she resign?  Because her boss – a V.P. who should have known better – was a bully.  This woman focused her energies on making other people feel really lousy.  For months she badgered, verbally lashed and demeaned her direct report – a senior manager.  Do I believe the karma truck is going to roll up this person’s driveway?  Oh yeah..I do.  It’s already in ‘drive’, for she can’t fill the vacancies she has, and now has one more opening in a critical space.  My hunch is that ultimately she will be ‘outed’ and invited to leave.  One has to have pretty strong ego needs to diminish the people you most need to build up – the ones who have your back and are carrying a  heavy workload on your behalf.  Greater is the pity that she will undoubtedly be packaged out with an impressive amount of money.

I don’t need to remind any of you about the potential legal implications of such behavior.  That’s a discussion for another day.  Apparently the V.P. enjoys this reputation she has earned and savours the unhappiness and unease that she engenders in others.  The sad irony is that she was vetted after joining the organization and people began wondering why such a hire was made.  What makes this even worse in my mind is that in the male-dominated environment where they both worked, this woman found her key to the executive washroom by belittling the efforts of another woman.  The examples of the daily exchanges, meetings and unrelenting personal criticisms could fill a very long tome describing various types of professional hell.

At the end of the day, my friend is fortunate.  She isn’t shackled by golden handcuffs and isn’t beholden to anyone.  She is taking some well-deserved time to restore, and ultimately wherever she goes, she’ll hit it out of the park.  This organization, however?  It’s too large to fold because of one really bad apple in its highest ranks (or two or three), and it would be naive to think so.  But the cost of irresponsible vetting, questionable accountability at the top and a weak professional value system will be high.  Whether it is realized in turnover, legal claims or diminished productivity – the impact of self-centered oversight is profound, expensive and long-lasting.  It’s too bad there isn’t a Hippocratic oath for supervisors at every level – “first, do no harm”.  It’s too bad that in some organizations, a person can thrive while fomenting unhappiness among those for whom she’s responsible, and climb the ladder in her Laboutins by stepping on toes and heads instead of the proper rungs.


anxiety, inspiration, leadership, management, work life

The ‘ShootingMyMouthOff’ & The ‘ShouldaCoulda’ Flu

I hope the title evokes thoughts of  Johnny Rivers or Aerosmith – that’s what was playing in my head this morning.

How many times have you said to yourself, “I shoulda said”, “I coulda said” or “I woulda said something, but….”.  It’s a common malady, the ‘should-woulda-coulda’ flu.  I’ve been infected more times than I can count – at work certainly, and in other areas of my life as well.  Its onset is so rapid you don’t even know you’ve got it until you try to open your mouth to counter a comment or action with which you take issue, and then rationalize why you shouldn’t say a word.

There is of course a corollary to this bug, which manifests itself with almost uncontrolled verbal expressions which are provided with or without invitation.  It’s also common in the workplace – the ‘shooting-my-mouth-off’ syndrome.  Again, there are no early symptoms, other than the overwhelming urge to say whatever is in your head without filter or forethought.

Although neither is recognized by the AMA, the effects of both can be lingering and negatively impact your relationships and your career.  The good news?  Both are controllable – and with a little exercise and a change in your emotional diet, you should feel pretty good about the prognosis.

There are times when we all feel the need or desire to speak truth to power – or at least what we perceive the truth to be.  You see an issue or problem that is being overlooked, diminished or ignored by those above you in the management hourglass.  In the first instance, you say nothing at all – you don’t want to be seen as negative, maybe you anticipate an angry or dismissive response or feel resigned that your perspective isn’t going to affect the outcome anyway.  In the latter, you tell your supervisor everything you see and hear, rationalizing that you want to keep your boss ‘in the know’,  assigning an ‘urgent’ rating to each conversation and feeling strongly that it’s your job to put it out there, and your supervisor’s job to remedy the situation.

Neither is absolutely right, neither can feel all that good and neither is reflective of your best professional aspect.  I believe that timing is everything – and though certainly I don’t always get it right by a long shot – I have learned to wait until I feel the odds are best for my audience to be attentive to what I’m saying.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I am undoubtedly also driven by my disdain for confrontation and will do what I can to minimize the likelihood of a conversation becoming hostile.)  No one controls what you say and how you say it other than you.  For those who feel your comments are futile – consider that you are in a position where there is an expectation for to you provide your insights, recommendations and perspective.  Although it may easier for you to ‘go along to get along’, if you can improve a situation you have a responsibility to do so.  And if any of you out there have a tendency to speak before thinking about the content and manner of your delivery – the expectations are the same for you too.  Impulsive, ill-conceived comments will sabotage your success with equal speed and force.

Take ten – ten minutes to stop and think about the problem that you see.  Evaluate its urgency, where your audience is at the moment and how to best disseminate the information.  Presuming the situation is not an emergency, think about the possible solutions you can recommend.  ‘Initiative’ is more than bringing an issue to someone’s attention – it also references your ability to provide some potential resolutions as well.  You need to take time to consider problem-solving alternatives before elevating the concern.  And for those who hesitate to say anything – you need some time too – to accept that this is part of your responsibilities and determine the approach that will be most comfortable to you.  Doing nothing is not an option, so don’t even go there.  The goal of the conversation is the same regardless of which ailment you may have – to identify a concern, assess its accuracy and provide objective recommendations for cure.

I realize that when you’re under the weather with symptoms of  either virus, such counsel may be unwelcome.  Yet the bottom line is – real business concerns need to be brought forward – and your professional stock will rise if you do so in the right way and at the right time.  Walk around the block, take some Vitamin C and if you need to,  practice your comments before you make them.  I speak with many managers all the time who feel there is no point in bringing issues out in the open.  I feel their sense of resignation and I ache at their feelings of futility.  I have to say that there are some conditions far worse than the two I’ve mentioned today.  Giving up and giving in to indifference is a far more dangerous and intransigent bug – one which spreads with impressive virulence.  Your views do matter, your recommendations are important and valuable – just make sure your outlook is healthy before you speak.

humor, inspiration, life lessons, work life

Ode To The Indifferent

I spend a lot of time writing about work, life, finding your rhythm and remaining engaged in the dance.  Well, I think I owe the under-achievers among us a sincere, heart-felt apology.  I mean, what if you don’t want to be regarded as an outstanding contributor?  What if you don’t want Tony Robbins to change your life (well, he doesn’t do much for me either, so let’s move on)?  What if you just want to get by, listen to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ over and over again, hide under the desk until everyone’s left the office and then sneak out?  What if you see mediocrity as the goal, and barely-getting-by as the preferred course of action?  How have I helped you???  I fear, not at all.

Well, that changes today.  Yes, this is a bit self-serving for I always hope to expand my readership.  Of greater importance though is the transference of information I have gleaned over the years which may help you in your quest to achieve nothing while still receiving a paycheck.  I believe in you – you can do this.  All it takes is a minimal amount of effort.  Try the following:

–  As often as possible, tell as many people as possible how busy you are.  There are surprisingly very few folks in the workplace who realize that if you are able to talk about how busy you are, you’re probably not – so this is a pretty safe bet.

–  Suck up to your boss.  It isn’t necessary that you know exactly why you think s/he is terrific; no need to comment about skills of which you know nothing.  Just make sure you give  him/her sufficient ‘atta boys’ and ‘I’m with you’ and ‘I swear, I don’t know how you do it’ to make them feel your investment (even if you and I both know that your investment is de minimus).

–  Learn how to toggle from Facebook or YouTube to your work screens with incredible alacrity.  If you really want to achieve nothing, this is a critical skill that is worth spending some time developing.

–  Always offer to help others in your department – and then graciously explain that you would if you could, but you’re under the gun and won’t be able to assist right now.  Assure your colleagues that you’ll be there for them next time.  If you do this often enough, ‘next time’ will take care of itself.

–  Don’t engage in any gossip about your company and/or your boss.  The idea is to draw as little attention to yourself as possible – this one is a no-brainer.

–  Dress appropriately – by that I mean lots of beige, grey, ‘greige’ – anything that can help you get lost in the background of the office.

–  In team meetings, you should occasionally yell out “I was just going to suggest that!” when someone comes up with an idea that is met with enthusiasm.  Don’t do this too often, for you could appear more interested in what is going on than you really are, and we all know where that can lead.

–  Show up.  I actually had an employee tell me that she deserved her paycheck just because she showed up every day.  If she happened to do any work, that was icing.  True, she didn’t last very long but that’s another story.  Try not to get the flu on Thursday nights or Sundays – it’s too obvious.

Ok my friends, this was just a beginning.  I’m hoping others can add to this list.  If you find inertia difficult – just keep trying.  You know what they say – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, you’re about average’.  Keep on not keeping on!!!

leadership, management, motivation, training, work life

So You Want To Rock The Management World?

Oh boy, are you going to be mad at me when you’re done reading this.  Reader be kind, and understand that sometimes the best advice may not make your top ten choice for best lyrics and the rhythm may be hard to dance to, but it is destined nonetheless to replay in your head ceaselessly (kinda like “Mandy” by Barry Manilow – you want it to leave, and it stays and stays and stays…).  I hope today, I am your “Mandy”….

I began leading a five part training program yesterday, working with new managers and supervisors on the fundamentals of their jobs now that they are responsible for people other than themselves.  We had an energetic and productive day; the conversation was lively, thoughts were unfiltered because the environment was conducive to the trust and acceptance that comes from working on a level playing field.  We’re all looking forward to next Thursday.  Do you hear a ‘but’ in my written voice?  Please tell me you do, for there is one.

Here it is – if everything went so well, why do I feel ambivalent about the results?  Why are these engaging people attending this program? (“Oh, Mandy….”).  I know the obvious answers – the syllabus looked intriguing, they need/want training that will enhance and/or introduce new skills to their managerial toolkit, their supervisors want to feel like they are according them with professional development opportunities, etc  (“You came and you gave without taking…Oh, Mandy”).  I get all that.  Each person left with a detailed commitment to doing one thing differently before next week.  And their takeaways were good.  Talk about ‘koombaya’ moments – it doesn’t get much better for someone like me.

Yet with all this good stuff, there is a reality that can’t be ignored.  The supervisors of these people – whether at the C-level, director, administrator – regardless – send people to training with some implicit expectation that they will emerge more seasoned, greatly enhanced and/or permanently, positively changed by the experience.  The supervisor gaveth the training, and the new supervisor is now minted.  Well, I’m going to shoot myself in the foot here – give me a moment, while I consider the value of self-harming…hmmm..

Ok, I’m going to do it anyway.  Sending people to training – even the most outstanding training on the market – doesn’t mean a damn thing if you are not planning to hold people accountable for their post-training results.  It is critical that supervisors expect that along with attendance comes a post-seminar conversation that addresses any ‘aha’ moments the individual may have had, what revised goals or objectives might be derived as a result of the training and then (drumroll, please we’re getting to the bridge of “Mandy here” – oh, and can I have a shield to protect me from your pelting tomatoes)  – you have to hold them accountable.  There is no training in the world that is going to catapult a new supervisor into the sphere of rock stardom.  No course is offered from which managers will emerge forever changed – unless someone is following up with them.  People may feel short-term inspiration, pumped up about the interesting conversations and ideas, hopeful that they can now deal with a challenging employee in a new way.  But you know as well as I, that the ROI is not measured in the first days post-training (“But I sent you away, oh Mandy….”).  It is measured in the engagement of employees within the department, the quality of the intra-and-inter-department communication, the effectiveness and facility with which newly trained managers pay-it-forward.  As I have said before (sigh…”And I need you today…”) – people aren’t ‘managed’; people are ‘developed’.  That takes time – your time.  How accountable do you hold yourself for ‘developing’ your people?  Tougher question – how accountable do you hold yourself for getting involved in the professional progression of your people post-training?  Besides asking how the program was, what do you do to ensure that their ‘takeaways’ become organic elements of their management style?  How often have I heard a participant say, “My manager would never let me do that”, “How can I get my boss to see that this is really a good idea?”, “I have the title, but not the authority to really impact the team”….

So there’s my big ‘but’ (please note the spelling of the word) – If you’re going to invest in your people financially, recognize that it doesn’t get you off the hook.  It puts you directly on it – as it should.  You are now going to have to invest your time, your flexibility, your willingness to walk the walk and talk the talk if you want to truly maximize the impact of  training and development programs.  It’s so not about the money – it is so about you.  After all…”…[you] write the songs that make the whole world sing…..”  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  

discretion, humor, life lessons, management, mindfulness, work life

Um..Are YOU Googling ME??

Dear Young-Talented-Eager-Person-Seeking-Challenging-Employment-Opportunities;

Thank you for your interest in our company.  Your education and experience closely parallel that which we consider in candidates for employment.  I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recent Oscar win for ‘Best Short Film’ – the images of the hollers of Appalachia were hauntingly beautiful and Morgan Freeman’s voice overs provided a lyrical gravitas.  When I think that you are also under consideration for a Pulitzer, you should be applauded for accomplishing so much in your relatively short tenure in the work force.  As an aside, we are all beneficiaries of your full-time efforts while in college to discover the cure for the common cold.  You are truly an impressive individual.

As such, it is with great ambivalence that I must advise you of our decision to extend an offer to a candidate who we feel may enjoy greater success within our organization.  In the interest of full disclosure, the suggestive pictures on your Facebook page, coupled with the salacious conversations between you and your friends gave us pause.  Also, in the future you may want to Google yourself, for there are some rather unflattering comments about you written by some anonymous person claiming to have been held as your unpaid valet during elementary school.  We found the incident concerning the rain boots particularly disturbing.

In closing, I want to thank you again for your interest in employment opportunities with us.  We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and great success going forward.

Best regards,

Will Nothire

There’s been quite a bit of press about the appropriateness of employers asking for the Facebook passwords of potential employment candidates.  On its face, there is nothing legally wrong with an employer asking for this information, just as there’s nothing wrong with you denying to provide it.  This is however a far thornier problem than access to a personal site, which may or may not have anything to do with one’s ability to perform a job satisfactorily (I can hear some employers arguing that such information can tell you quite a bit about one’s judgment, but so can really good interview questions…I’m just sayin’)

In the days of MySpace, employers could (and did) access people’s pages and discovered some very disturbing material that certainly impacted their views of prospective and/or current employees.  People would share confidential information about their employers, posted pictures of themselves in compromising situations, wrote about co-workers in ways that bordered on the libelous.  Under circumstances such as that, what would you have done as the employer?  The answers are complicated, and reveal a gold mine of questions pertaining to personal and professional integrity.

Do employers ‘google’ applicants?  I know that some do – and rarely consider that some of the information on the ‘Net may be completely inaccurate (like the ex-boyfriend who posted an article about his girlfriend on a professional web site, which became part of her technological footprint without her knowledge).  Most firms do background checks – carefully ensuring that the information they are seeking is part of the public record and relevant for the position being sought.

But you need to know that nothing is private.  Whatever you put on your FB page; the article you wrote for your university that called for a boycott of classes until the administration conceded to lowering the number of required courses in order to confer a degree; the tweets full of epithets and disconcerting shout-outs to the judges on “The Voice” – it’s all out there for the world to see.  And judge.  Whether it is right or wrong is not the issue we will solve today – or tomorrow for that matter.  But the presumption of privacy when all of our information is dancing around on a cloud with everyone else’s is naive.  Think before you post, consider who may end up being your audience.  And if you really want to be safe – here’s a crazy thought – pick up the phone and talk.

humor, leadership, life lessons, management, motivation, work life

B-B-B-Bad To The Bone

There’s something to be said for being bad – and there are many who have become quite successful for their complete lack of ability (presuming of course that one is represented by some tremendous PR people).  The examples come quickly to mind – any Kardashian, reality tv (I’m sorry, I know many of you love it – I just think watching people reduced to tears because of their appearance, love life, swapped spouse or horrific fashion sense is just not, well…good), shock jocks, Paris Hilton, etc.. I get it – there’s a lot to be gained by being talentless – fame, money, one’s own personal posse, Louis Vuitton doggie carriers, an interview with Dr. Phil…

So I’m here to help in the only way I can – I can provide you with some very clear guidance on being a lousy, really bad boss (without violating any federal or state labor laws).  Please, please – no need to thank me.  If this is what you’ve been searching for all along, I share your surprise at the dearth of information than can help you be a terrible supervisor.  Perhaps some of this has been obvious to you all along, yet with all the emphasis on self-improvement, professional development, challenging one’s self to embrace excellence, I can see how the simple steps one needs to take to reach farther down can get lost in all of this positive, ‘you-can-do-it’ energy.  Sit back and relax dear friends – let me offer some basic actions that you can apply today in your quest to hit new lows in lousy leadership.  I promise – you too can make your company’s “Worst Supervisors” list and begin your descent into infamy.

– Don’t give a hoot about the people for whom you have responsibility.  This can be done in any number of ways – ratchet back your feedback to the barely relevant;  assure you’ll get back to someone asap and don’t do it; provide conflicting information about a project’s requirements.

– Say ‘no’ as often as possible.  Leave any affirmative responses for times when you are under untenable duress and see no other alternatives.

– Gossip as much as you can – ideally about people within your department.  If you can manage to engage in these conversations with others on your team, all the better.

– Complain – a lot.  Don’t feel that it is your responsibility to make the workplace a collegial, energized, collaborative environment.  Put that on someone else and then find fault in whatever efforts s/he makes.

– Own as little of your job as possible, and demand that your people take full ownership of theirs.

– Play favorites if you can, though I caution you that you may begin a slippery slide down the path of discriminatory practice.  I’m not looking to help you become a defendant here.

– Take everything personally and react as defensively as possible.  After all, isn’t it all about you?

– Keep your people in tall, separate silos – the less they know what is going on around them, the better.

– Try to understand as little as possible about what your people are doing – there’s nothing more demoralizing than having a boss who has no clue what the hell you do everyday.

– Maintain an opaque quality to your communications.  God knows what could happen if you sought the maximum amount of transparency – people may get ideas, offer their thoughts about a given objective, feel part of a bigger whole, etc.  Ix-nay on the communication, ok?

– Don’t commit to doing what you assure people you’re going to do.

– Keep your door closed, don’t walk around and whatever you do – try not to smile – even to those who may acknowledge you warmly.  The good news is that if you keep doing these things, you will quickly not have to concern yourself with anyone greeting you at all.

– And finally, I would tell people that all that matters is results, though I wouldn’t disclose what those measures are.

See?  I told you this wouldn’t be tough.  I am confident that if you follow these simple guidelines, you too can be really bad at what you do.  Of course, if you are one of those people who responds to reverse psychology, I apologize in advance.  You may end up responding in the exact opposite manner than that which is outlined above – and we all know where that gets you.  You’ll become one of those people who is driven by the challenge of making a positive difference in your day and the days of the people with whom you work – ugh!.

humor, leadership, management, motivation, work life

The Wizard And I

“The Wizard Of Oz” – not to be confused with The Wizard Of Menlo Park of course.  After all, one was a movie musical with a series of limited but determine characters in not-so-subtle costuming, the other referenced Thomas Edison, thought by many to be one of the greatest Americans of all time.  Given that scores and scores of books have been written about Edison, I think it is my duty to address the brilliant management and leadership lessons that one can learn from following a yellow brick road.

1 – There’s something to be said for being ‘the man behind the curtain’.  The strongest leaders do not need to advertise their power, rather they advertise the talents of those around them.

2 – Mentors typically don’t make themselves known by descending from the sky in a transparent globe, holding a wand and wearing a crown.  But they’re out there.  Mentors can be people within your organization who have successfully navigated its twisty, winding paths, know where the flying monkeys lurk, who have the magnetism and talent that people gravitate towards and/or have the technical expertise from which you can learn.  They also may not be looking for you, so it would behoove you to seek them out.  And parenthetically, it’s probably better if they don’t sing soprano with an insufferable vibrato.

3 – Some days you’re the house, other days the house falls on you.  Either way, neither state is forever (unless you happen to be a wicked witch – and if you are, there’s probably better reading for you out there).

4 – The best teams are comprised of people with markedly different talents.  It’s best not to duplicate areas of expertise, rather seek those who’s abilities will be complementary.  Chances of effective project completion are highly increased, everyone emerges stronger and more well-versed than when they began and you can maintain a shared vision of the goal without introducing individual competitiveness.

5 – It’s good to carry a bottle of water around with you at all times.  At the least, you’ll stay hydrated.

6 – The easiest way to achieve insurrection is encouraging people to follow you by dicta rather than by choice.  Rest assured that your people will leave your side at the earliest opportunity if their contributions aren’t valued, their input ignored and their chances for professional exploration limited to a narrow, controlled orbit.

7 – Help your  people realize their professional goals.  Not only is it your job, it will enhance the talent stream, engender loyalty and infuse the work place with energy.

8 – Courage means different things to different people, but supporting your people as they break out of their comfort zones is an enriching experience for you and a thrilling new beginning for them.

9 – Show your heart – it only makes you appear stronger, more authentic and relatable.  It will not diminish your authority at all.

10 – Work and home are inter-connected.  They don’t exist in separate silos.  It is impossible to separate the two when there are issues or concerns involving one or the other.  It is far better to recognize this and determine the best way to reconcile the two rather than having them at war within you.

And finally, if you really feel you need to, invest in a pair of ruby slippers.  They aren’t going to help you get anywhere, but they should appreciate greatly over time.

leadership, life lessons, management, work life

Written From The Bully Pulpit


The new documentary dealing with bullying of school age children is getting a lot of well-deserved press.  The excerpts I have seen and heard evoke my tears, rage and yes, personal memories.  Nothing can justify what these children endure on a daily basis.  There is no rationale, explanation, excuse or defiant bluster that can in any way mitigate the pain – both physical and psychic – to which these kids are subjected.  In these situations there is no such thing as ‘toughening up’ in order to take it.  The only acceptable response to such behavior is that it stop.

The reality is, bullying doesn’t stop with adulthood.  There are bullies in the workplace – different from those who harass others within the context of federal and state EEO and Sexual Harassment Prevention statutes.  There’s time enough to write about the latter; my passion this morning is directed to the leaders and managers who are aware of the bullying that occurs on their watch.  While I agree that education and zero tolerance must begin with and for our youngest children, the fact that such behavior is deeply affecting adults in the workplace suggests that perhaps we need a bifurcated approach.  In more basic terms – we should not condone any hostile or aggressive behavior in our offices – hard stop.

“In a prevalence study of U.S. workers, 41.4% of respondents reported experiencing psychological aggression at work in the past year representing 47 million U.S. workers (Schat, Frone & Kelloway, 2006).  The research found that 13% or nearly 13 million workers experienced psychological aggression on a weekly basis”.  This is inconceivable to me – and I hope you are as enraged as I am.

When I started working at the firm, we had an unwritten (but enforced) ‘no asshole’ rule.  I found this to be part of the firm’s value system that I respected the most.  The vetting process was almost absurdly extensive – potential associates and partners traveled to as many offices as possible, meeting as many people as possible to learn about the firm and vice versa.  Believe it or not there were some pretty impressive business producers who were not pursued after this exercise – they couldn’t pass the ‘no asshole’ rule.  Was the firm replete with only genuine, engaged, gracious, respectful people?  Of course not – sometimes somebody made it through.  Parenthetically, none of these people were put into positions of power; their sphere of influence was limited as much as possible and of greatest importance – they were told why their contribution would continue to be valued in money, but never in leadership roles.

That was then, this is now and I’m not there anymore.  Further comments about whether or not such a philosophy is still in practice is specious and of no value to this dialogue.  But I will always applaud the organization for uncompromisingly articulating its abhorrence of bullying and those responsible for its horrible consequences.

Aggressive behavior in the workplace can range from subtle to overt.  Being the frequent recipient of invalid hostile criticism, receiving continuous unwarranted and/or fictitious blame, being sworn at, experiencing social and professional isolation and/or exclusion are examples of bullying.  I ask that you apply a ‘reasonable person standard’ to this description, for I am aware that an occasional misguided comment or decision doesn’t meet any threshold that is being discussed here.

As a current or future leader, you must be acutely aware of the ramifications of such toxicity.  If you consider the impact purely from an economic perspective, you will find decreased performance, higher turnover, distorted information flow and high levels of distrust.  Bummer for your profitability.  As a compassionate leader, the consequences are equally dire – disaffected employees, higher incidences of medical leaves, depression, misdirected frustration and criticism, dysfunctional collaboration,etc.  Bummer for morale.

To me, the larger issue is the need for us to address this with unrelenting, unwavering commitment in our schools and in our companies.  It is not enough to say that we are anti-bullying – we need to step up and be as unequivocal in our actions as we are in our words.  I realize I do not sound like a compassionate therapist here – the workplace is not the backdrop for working through the long standing issues that plague most bullies.  The bully is hurting your people, diluting any humanistic value system that your organization holds dear and eroding your profitability and reputation.  Zero tolerance policies are truly that – without caveat, rationalization and multiple do-overs.  Your people are entitled to be led by the best you have to offer – and that includes establishing and invoking a ‘no asshole’ rule.Image

humor, leadership, management, motivation, Uncategorized, work life

Back To Basics – Part 2

I feel a little vindicated.  An article in Forbes recently appeared that dealt with the overabundance of email and its impact on the development of quality professional relationships.  The author offered a solution you may have already read on this site – the idea of having a ‘no email’ day – invoking a day where people have the choice of getting up and talking with each other or at the least getting on the phone.  Please don’t burst my happy little bubble by delicately suggesting that this is hardly a new idea.  I know – but it sure felt good to see it in a more legitimate, well read format.  As my babelicious nephew would say – “True dat, Mimi”.

So I’m intrepidly going out on a limb, despite my fear of heights, and offering some other basic principles which I think could bring your employees greater professional satisfaction, enhance the quality of your leadership and perhaps, just perhaps improve your results.  At the least it may give you something to think about.  And as always, if it can provoke a smile, all the better.

1 – You can never learn anything while you’re talking.

2 –  You can have a happily-ever-after work experience – especially if you look at is day by day.

3 – Presenting yourself as one who knows it all, doesn’t inspire confidence or make you a great boss.  It makes you insufferable and impossible to work for (or live with for that matter).

4 – Try congratulating the person who owns up to making a mistake.  I’m serious – I used to do it all the time.  To me it was reflective of the individual’s willingness to take responsibility for the work under his/her jurisdiction and greatly increased the likelihood that such an error wouldn’t occur again.  What I never did was let them take the fall in public – I took the hit.  When all was said and done, I’d ask the employee what the ‘takeaway’ was and was never disappointed by the thoughtfulness of the response.

5 – If you’re going to take professional risks – and we all should – put your faith in those with whom you work.  Let them know that you’re willing to back them and show your trust in them in deed.

6 – I used to have regular meetings with my team.  Twice a year though we engaged in an exercise called “Building BHAGs (big, hairy, ambitious goals).  The rules were few – the goals had to be a little scary, strategically important for the firm, and require that they be achieved collaboratively.  Timelines were established with the knowledge that they could be somewhat fluid and each person tracked their contributions on a SharePoint site.  Eventually they asked me not to come to the first meetings because they wanted to do it themselves, showing me their final recommendations.  They were amazing.  In other words – you don’t have to put your mark on every piece of paper, idea and/or project.  If you’ve developed your people well, give them every chance to shine.

7 – “I’m sorry” are two of the most under-utilized words in the workplace.

8 – “Any new venture goes through the following stages:  enthusiasm, complication, disillusionment, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent and decoration of those who did nothing – Anon”.  If you are in a position of responsibility, you can change this outcome with a modicum of effort and close attention to the rhythm of the work that is being done, the tenor of the conversations that are taking place and the quality of the activities that will drive the result.  Oh yeah – that’s your job too.

9 – Always, always hire people who are smarter than you and then give them the substantive work that will make them thrive.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but I promise you will not be hiring yourself out of a job – rather making room for you to take on more signficant projects of your own.

10 – Mike Ditka was right – failure isn’t fatal.  The corollary of course is that success doesn’t last forever either.  Learn to accept the ebb and flow of the realities of work.

Finally, think about your professional legacy.  Do you want to be known for something other than showing up?  I’m convinced most of you do. Identify the values and leadership style for which you will want to be associated even when you have moved on to new adventures.  Try one thing differently every week – big or small – and see if there is more you can do to ensure you will be remembered in a way that will satisfy and please you.  And Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone – may each day hold at least one four leaf clover for you.

leadership, management, work life

The Color Of Money Can Make You Green

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today by Greg Smith titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs”.  After an impressive career with this professional services powerhouse, Mr. Smith found that the values he embraced, touted and evangelized for the firm now rang hollow.  He speaks about the erosion of a culture that embraced the priorities of maintaining client trust, reflecting a “spirit of humility” and teamwork.  Those were the big draws for Mr. Smith when considering his professional options.  I don’t want to sound naive – Goldman, as any other firm of its kind, will always reward rainmakers with additional compensation and bonuses, and though it may downplay the ever-present eat-what-you-kill undercurrent that permeates much of the professional service zeitgeist, it is certainly a widely accepted approach.  All professional service firms do it to some degree.

What has happened at Goldman is also not unique.  I think it is indicative of the cultural shift that occurs when firms move farther and farther away from the tenets that made them great.  Organizations that were seen as formidable now seek to become formidable-on-steroids.  Firms that aspired to greatness – and achieved it – through the principles of trust, team effort, shared focus, may no longer be practicing such fundamentals of good business.  These are still the words that are espoused, but the authentic practice is devalued – and certainly no longer rewarded.  The most foreboding harbinger of all is that some who excel at making money, used to be content with increasing monetary rewards.  Now they are expecting to be provided positions of leadership as part of some perceived additional entitlement.  I have been in the world of professional services for more than twenty five years (true, I started when I was three :-)), and it is undeniable that Mr. Smith’s observations reflect a train that is racing out of the station.  Firms like these will always compete with each other based on their financial results; perhaps in the past they compromised less on the collective ethos upon which such success was founded.

I do believe there is good news for those of us who forlornly watch the Kool-Aid we drank becoming increasingly rancid.  I think firms will return to their basic values over time.  Firm will become indistinguishable from each other for awhile, distinctions only made my profits and global reach.  Each organizations’ Web page will speak to the brilliance of its teams, state-of-the-art-technology, ability to respond to client needs in real time any where in the world.  Ultimately though clients will demand the return to an organizational philosophy that is evidenced in action as well as word.  Clients will drive the pendulum back to the values of trust, quality and collegiality, for the color of money will be making them green (with figurative nausea).  Profits per partner may go down – and they arguably should if it means a return to humility, shared effort and collaborative success.  Perhaps this is the dark night of the soul for firms like Goldman.  Perhaps it is the only way they will again experience the dawn. Continue reading “The Color Of Money Can Make You Green”

humor, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Goal Setting – A Creative Approach

After majoring in partying during my first two years of college, I got serious and then decided to double major.  Psychology and Education.  Did I envision being a Chief HR Officer?  Absolutely not.  My path to this profession was remarkably serendipitous (at least in my mind) and as it unfolded seemed to occur with what I perceived as very little input on my part.  Stuff just seemed to happen.  I realize now that this perception was inaccurate and skewed.  It allowed me to react with predictable self-deprecating dismissiveness at my successes, and passionate self-flagellation when absorbing my failures (in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve always had a flair for high drama – I’m particularly good at self-flagellation).  The truth of the matter is that I’ve always had goals.  Yes they were fluid, without question the path to their achievement was often more circuitous than direct and at times these goals were downright misguided.  But as my hopes for the future crystallized, the navigation of my ‘goal map’ became easier to read  – even when I was heading directly off course (have I also mentioned that geography was never my strong suit).

Just as advertisers use story boards when constructing a client pitch, I am a strong believer in using story boards to help determine what our goals are and how they may be achieved.  Think of the success of PinInterest.  Basically, you are ‘pinning’ and ‘repinning’ pictures that resonate with you on a visceral level – be they of places, nature, humor, etc..  Not only does it feel good to look at the compendium of your personal favorites, it’s self-reinforcing.  So…you pin some more – and if you look at your collection closely, you will see certain patterns.  In effect, it becomes a story board about you.  I used to encourage people to build story boards at work when training on the topic of goal setting (Creativity in a law firm?  A bit oxymoronic I suppose).

Try it – cut out pictures that inspire you, print off quotes or thoughts that excite you and tape them onto a piece of oak tag (if that sounds too dated, just stick ’em up on a bulletin board).  See what messages you glean from what may seem like a random display.  Don’t be discomfited by the pieces that don’t seem to fit – if it was all perfect, it wouldn’t be self-reflective.  What you will find though is that there is a pattern in that collage of yours.  And it can help define what it is you want  – in your professional and/or personal life (depending on what your story board is focused on of course).  One quote that appears on my current board, first appeared on the board I created when I left the firm.  Kofi Annan once said, “To live is to choose.  But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to go there.”  It fuels my pictorial narrative.

Once you get a sense of what it is you want and need to do – take a deep breath, have a glass of wine, revel for a moment in the clarity you have found.  Then communicate your thoughts – write them down, tell a colleague, share them with your team.  And this is where it gets a little tricky – remember that a goal is only as achievable as the objectives that support its completion.  Objectives are the discreet, actionable steps that are taken to make a goal attainable.  For big picture people this is definitely the harder of the two steps, for it’s where you break it all down into timelines, responsibilities and commitments.  When you write objectives, use verbs that imply movement – there is no room for the passive voice in the world of achieving goals!  I realize that this is no easy challenge I’m throwing out into cyberspace, but I believe that you can take your dreams, your unspoken hopes and turn them into concrete goals with clear, defined steps.  Perhaps the dreaming part is more romantic; the realization of a dream is more fulfilling and enriching.  And one of the gazillion wonders of life is that we can dream many dreams, understand where our values and life choices intersect and create as many story boards as we want to help chart our path.  And that, is pretty damn terrific