Guest Post, Leadership

Practicing Self-Care Amidst the Storm

No Comments 01 November 2014

Guest Post by Sylvana Rochet
As the events in Syria and Ukraine unfolded this summer, I got to thinking about how delicate it is for leaders to respond to others’ conflicts and emotional distress, while attempting to maintain their own balance. Not only because it must be hard to witness such turmoil around them – despite the trappings of whatever power they may have – but also because it seems that whatever they do will (almost always) be criticized. For President Obama, that meant being crucified for “going golfing” during his vacation as Putin rolled into Ukraine and an American journalist was beheaded in Syria. If we look closer, we can see much the same happening, albeit on a different scale in our own workplaces, creating negativity among employees and stress for the leaders.

“Empathy” has made its way into the corporate lexicon, and this generates great benefits for the culture of the company when leveraged well, but empathy can also be confused with taking on behaviors like commiserating and being negative. So, how can a Conscious Leader show empathy for others during difficult times, while still remaining present to the task at hand – i.e. running a commercial enterprise?

As a leader you will inevitably get pulled into other people’s problems and conflicts. This is normal, as they likely see it as your responsibility to mediate human-related issues. Indeed, in his book, My American Journey, Gen. Colin Powell noted that, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them, or concluded that you do not care.”

To be fair, most companies don’t give employees much autonomy or tools for addressing challenges on their own, and the default position seems to be to “take it up to the managers or HR” at the first sight of challenge. A likely instance where you’ll be faced with people’s intense emotional states is during times of change. Because change at work feels directly threatening to people’s livelihoods (“Is my job on the line?”), it can violently shake an entire company if the leaders aren’t equipped to powerfully manage it. You must keep your pulse on the collective mood so you can prepare to weather the storm skillfully and, as captain, confidently bring the ship to safe harbor in the end.

By taking from the steps and examples presented, you might find some better ways to navigate hard times, while staying sane and clear-headed (and guilt-free!). These pointers apply to most situations, whether you are 1:1 with someone, or when presenting to the whole department after a particularly hard quarter.

  1. Validate people’s responses, fears, etc. You won’t be taken seriously until you have heard people out and recognized that this is difficult. When doing so, avoid using the “I” person (i.e. “I totally know how you feel”) as this can further pull you into the drama. As the boss, you’re expected to remain calm and objective, yet human. So your statements might sound something like: “Knowing how tirelessly you have worked on X, it is understandable / normal that you feel this way.” Usually, you can’t take ownership of their pain, so don’t try.
  2. Do not gossip or agree with any one story. You appreciate that everything is more complex than one person’s, or one group’s, perspective.
  3. Empower people to create their own solutions. Example: “It must be frustrating when IT does not respond quickly to emergencies. You have great problem-solving skills, so take a couple days to think up 3 ways to address this. I’ll be happy to go through them together and brainstorm some more, and I’m sure you’ll figure out a brilliant way to sort it out.” Bonus: it makes people feel great, and is less burdensome for you.
  4. Practice extreme self-care. Do you know what successful leaders do when things get stressful? They’ll meditate between meetings, sneak out for an afternoon massage or go for a mid-morning walk at the park. They have no problem telling their team: “I won’t schedule afternoon meetings before 2:00 pm because I’m doing CrossFit at lunch these days.” Why? Because they understand that their burnt-out self won’t be effective (or around very long). Your team deserves a leader who is present and energized, so it is your responsibility to do the necessary to be at your best – physically, mentally and emotionally.

If there is criticism for your practicing self-care (“Who does she think she is, going to Yoga after this morning’s meeting?”), first remind yourself that the company doesn’t benefit from you getting sucked into collective despair in order to prove your comradeship. It takes mastery to have empathy for others’ pain while keeping the healthy distance needed to stay productive.

This can also be a perfect opportunity to encourage them to do the same. Showing that you believe everyone deserves to tend to their well-being during stressful times will obtain their best support. This is what Conscious Leaders do: they model wholesome ways for all to become the best version of themselves too. Because that is what will get you through hard times faster.

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Sylvana Rochet is a NY-based executive coach and consultant. She works with leaders and organizations looking to optimize what they do with human-centered strategy and approaches.

by Bill, Leadership

Leadership Means Making Hard Decisions

No Comments 29 October 2014

HardChoicesAheadSignRecently, after a New York City-based physician returning from treating patients in Africa turned up with the Ebola virus (after having also traveled the streets of New York), and a nurse returning from similar duty seemed to evidence precursor symptoms of the disease, the governors of New York and New Jersey both reached decisions to involuntarily quarantine those deemed to pose a risk to the population.

At the urging of generals and military families alike, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has drawn a somewhat firmer line, announcing that, for the near term, military personnel stationed in Africa will (not might) be quarantined for twenty-one days before returning home.

The howls from the media, medical professionals, and others have reached, dare I say, a fevered pitch, and that’s okay. We’re all entitled by the Constitution to voice our opinions. There are two things we need to understand, though:

  1. Our rights as individuals end at the tip of our neighbor’s nose, lip, ear, what have you. I have every right to say what I want and to risk my own life, but that right doesn’t extend to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or imposing my risk on my neighbor, let alone an entire population. Those rights that we enjoy come with certain responsibilities.
  2. Whether in the workplace, government, or military, leaders bear the burden of making decisions that impact both individual and collective rights. That’s what they are appointed and get paid to do. Sometimes we like those decisions and sometimes we don’t.

For those of us who hold a leadership role, formally appointed or otherwise, I will submit that we have at least three obligations with respect to our decision making:

  1. To actually make the decision. Those who would follow us need to know that when a decision is required, we will actually make one. Making no decision is in itself a decision, and almost always the wrong one.
  2. Our decisions should be timely. Perhaps the 2nd greatest failing in our decision-making (next to not making a decision at all) is deferring the decision until it’s too late. In his book, My American Journey,  Gen. Colin Powell advocates against waiting until you have all the information: “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70% range, go with your gut.” In other words, don’t wait until you reach the end of your runway to take off.
  3. Utilize an appropriate fact-gathering process, then make your decision(s) on the basis of what you genuinely believe to be the right thing to do, NOT  what is popular, politically correct, or aimed at pissing off the fewest people. In the aforementioned book, Gen. Powell’s 18th precept is that, “Command is lonely.” Yes it is, General… yes it is.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

 

by Bill, Leadership, Think About It...

Ebola and a Lesson on Leadership

No Comments 20 October 2014

Since passage of reform legislation in March 2010, the U.S. healthcare industry has struggled with wrenching change brought on by movement of the tectonic plates underneath the delivery and payment sides of the industry. With the introduction of competition from new sources (e.g., diagnostics and urgent care via Doc In a Box), and the early melting of fee for service payment models, much of the industry is under tremendous pressure to adapt to completely new realities.

Particularly among hospitals, which are seeing demand for their services and assets shift, and in some cases decline, new fiscal pressures abound. As is too often the case whenever there is belt tightening going on, one of the first shoes to drop inevitably lands on the organization’s training regimen, as if working your way out of an earnings problem by dumbing down the organization is ever a workable idea.

We saw some of that play out on the world stage recently with the Ebola episode in Dallas, where it became painfully evident that protocols for handling even one Ebola-infected patient had not been fully worked out, let alone communicated and trained. The patient died, and a lot of good, talented people were unnecessarily exposed to potentially lethal health risk. So what’s that got to do with leadership, the focus of this blog? In a word, everything.

As leaders, our first obligation to the women and men who follow us into work every day is NOT to improve market share or optimize next quarter’s earnings, but to make sure that they leave work at the end of the day in the same (or better) condition than they got there. Second, it is our duty to see to it that they are equipped, by virtue of training, tools, and trust to do their very best work, and accomplish their mission. In other words, they deserve a fair shot at success. Indeed one of the cruelest things we can do to someone is to put them in a position where they are destined to fail (or worse).

As you go about your business this week, take stock of how well prepared and how safe the people on your team are. Do they have what they need in the way of training, tools, information, and trust to do their jobs successfully? Safely? Make sure, damn sure, unless you want to get to write a letter like this:

http://texashealth.org/images/letter-to-the-community-101914.jpg

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Leadership

On Caring and Waiting

No Comments 09 October 2014


Recently, oral arguments on what could prove to be a landmark labor relations case (Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc v Busk) were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case hinges on claims by two former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Nevada-based contract staffing firm, that, in their assignment at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, they were required to wait upwards of twenty-five minutes (on their own time) at the end of each shift, to clear security before exiting Amazon’s premises. The two workers have advanced a claim that, as the wait was purely for the benefit and at the behest of Integrity (and Amazon), they should be compensated for the time spent waiting. Integrity feels otherwise. What makes this an even bigger deal is that copycat suits against other retailers are in the cue.

Two admissions before proceeding further:

1. We tend to be well-satisfied Amazon customers and vendors who are generally in admiration of their operation.

2. As evidence of the fact that I am a recovering HR exec., I couldn’t care much less about the arcane legal arguments as to whether or not Amazon, or Integrity Staffing in their stead are legally liable to pay for the time. That said, if you’ve never seen a dozen well dressed attorneys dancing on the head of a very small pin, this could be the time to watch.

What does matter is that this should never have become a legal issue in the first place. About the second time that someone from Amazon or Integrity management noticed the backed up security line, efforts should have begun to overcome it. Really. Think about it. This is a company whose very existence is based on convenience and speed. How I can order something on Saturday, or even Sunday sometimes, and have it Monday is amazing. Never mind what they can do with their Kindle devices. Remember who has been talking lately about using delivery drones in order to get stuff to you faster? Nothing, nothing sits around there and waits.

The very presence of a long queue (that should keep our British fans happy) is evidence of the kind of systemic defect that keeps people from doing their very best work (or even wanting to), and when prolonged, drives them crazy. It’s just the kind of thing that good leaders are supposed to take care of. We get paid to get the system off our teammate’s backs so that they can do their best work.

In a speech at the U.S. Army War College, Gen. Melvin Zais told a group of assembled officers that, “If you care, you make sure that your soldiers don’t have to stand around and wait… because the only (repeat, only) reason that soldiers stand around and wait is because some dumb, jerk officer didn’t plan it right, or planned in such a fashion that his soldiers would have to pay for him not wanting to miss a deadline.” Nuff said.

Our suggestion to you is this: Make it a part of your daily (yes, daily) routine to find and root out the kind of systemic defects that keep your people from doing their best work. They will appreciate it, and then reward you with better work.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Richard, Exemplars, Favorite Folks, Leadership

Truett Cathy: A Life Well-Lived

No Comments 08 September 2014

truett-cathy A mighty tree fell in the forest of business leadership today, with the death of 93-year-old Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Truett was a pioneer, an innovator, and a true gentleman of character and courage. He improved the lives of millions, way beyond “sellin’ chicken”, and leaves a legacy that makes him a real standout in the annals of American business.

I’ll quickly dispense with the elephant in the blogpost and acknowledge that not everyone likes Chick-fil-A, whether it be their food or their values. But I’ll allow to speak for itself the fact that their supporters overwhelmingly eclipse their detractors. Just drive by any Chick-fil-A restaurant any day of the week (except, of course, Sunday, on which they’re closed), and you’ll see what I mean.

It was my privilege to meet Truett on a couple of occasions, while we were conducting leadership training for Chick-fil-A, and he was gracious enough to let me interview him in 1997, while Bill and I were writing our first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk.

 

Here are 3 things I know about Truett Cathy:

 

1 – He was authentic. Truett’s faith was his life, and he uttered no apologies for it. He went from millionaire to billionaire years ago, but continued to teach a boys’ Sunday School class at his church until his health failed. You could count on his word. Many, many people did, and have built very successful businesses and fulfilling careers.

2 – He was a giver. In addition to his personal philanthropy, Truett’s company has given more than $68 million to more than 700 educational and charitable organizations in the last three years alone. Since its inception, the company’s Team Member Scholarship Program has provided more than $30 million to help more than 30,000 employees attend more than 500 different colleges and universities. Through its WinShape Foundation, it has invested millions in programs directed toward helping young people. And the company regularly donates food to people who are hungry, and provides organized relief for victims of natural disasters.

3 – He was a forgiver. Here’s a story we relate in our 2007 book, Contented Cows MOOVE Faster: It was told to me by Truett’s son, Dan, Chick-fil-A’s Chief Operating Officer, when Dan invited me to travel across the country with him on a whirlwind grand opening tour to the Midwest and California.

Dan and his father were walking around the original Dwarf House restaurant (the forerunner of Chick-fil-A) one evening, inspecting the premises. It seems that a gaze upward revealed a fresh collection of empty beer cans on the roof of the Dwarf House. As alcohol never has been on the menu of the Dwarf House, or Chick-fil-A, it was determined that, unfortunately, the spent vessels most likely came from an employee engaging in off-label activities on the job. As much as Truett didn’t like to think of any of his beloved employees drinking at work, he suspected a middle-aged fellow named James.

When Truett confronted him, he gently extracted a genuine confession. What happened next owes to James’s greatly improved judgment in having told the truth about the incident and to Truett’s exceptional maturity. Name any employer. Drinking beer on the clock and then littering the premises with the evidence would pretty much be grounds for dismissal without intervention from even the most liberal of unfair labor treatment folks.

Instead, Truett forgave James. James didn’t get a lecture about how wrong it was to drink on the job. Truett figured James was an adult and therefore knew what he did was wrong. He didn’t get fired. He didn’t get written up. He barely got a reprimand. He got forgiven. Which is not to say his deed got overlooked. By forgiving rather than firing James, Truett took the bond of trust between the two men to a completely new level, something that was not lost on James over the balance of his long career with the company.

Many prayers, including ours, are being said today for the Cathy family, and in thanks for a life well-lived. Godspeed, Truett.

 

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Leadership

A Physics Lesson for Leaders About the Use of Power

No Comments 27 August 2014

The first lesson learned by every new leader, one that should be permanently tattooed onto their gray matter, is that by virtue of occupation they have inherited a simple, high school physics problem – There are more of “them” than there are of you. Repeat, there are more of “them” than there are of you. Translation – You are outnumbered, perhaps vastly by the group of people whom you are expected to lead. You shouldn’t let that rattle you, but neither should you forget it.

In Einstein’s theory of Mass-Energy Equivalence, Energy [E] equates to the Mass [M] of an object, times the Speed of Light [C] squared. It rather elegantly ties together the relationship among three seemingly disparate elements. Having slept through high school physics, that’s about the extent of my physics knowledge.

But here’s something I do understand. In human interactions and especially the workplace, the “Energy” of a group of people relates to their Number (mass) times the Leadership that is applied. A group of people, even a tiny group, well led, can accomplish truly amazing things. Conversely, that same group of people led poorly (or not at all) can and will become disengaged, uncooperative, or downright unruly.

Witness recent events in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, where, following the tragic shooting death of a young man, the town’s police attempted to put down a street demonstration with automatic weapons-toting officers wearing gas masks and dressed in battle fatigues.

It didn’t turn out well. Yet, the very next night, an even larger crowd was considerably more peaceful and better behaved as the result of fresh leadership in the person of Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson.

What Captain Johnson clearly understands, and what every leader needs to grasp, is the fact that just because you have a big stick doesn’t mean that you’re well advised to wave it around or use it indiscriminately, especially when the power of your personal presence and persuasion will work a lot better. Captain Johnson didn’t just permit another night of demonstrations, he led them, from out front, using his personal presence to set the tone, a more orderly and peaceful tone.

Some lessons for us:

Keep Your Powder Dry – A leader’s position power is a necessary tool, and we mustn’t be afraid to use it, but use it sparingly. There is a finite supply, and once you’ve deployed it, you have nothing left to resort to.

Keep Your Ego in Check – Being in a leadership role is not about you. Rather, it’s about your team and its mission. You needn’t remind people of your position and the fact that you can shut their water off. They get that already, and don’t react well to having it rubbed in their faces.

Envision – Jack Nicklaus, doubtless one of, if not the greatest golfer in history, encourages players to envision their shot before swinging. See the ball arcing past the oak tree, landing ten yards short, and running onto the green, pin high. Leaders should similarly think through and mentally rehearse their next move, especially if that move involves a use of position power.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Richard, Leadership

Be the Boss You Always Wished For

No Comments 18 August 2014

good-bossWe’ve all worked for bad bosses – people who attained their lofty positions by virtue of one of the following two qualifications: 1. They were good at their non-management job, or 2. Their last name happened to be spelled exactly like the name on the building. I once reported to a boss who felt her job had not been done until she’d demoralized every member of the team into quitting; another was a nice enough guy, but had the backbone of an amoeba, and all the organizational skills of the painter Jackson Pollock. No hate mail, please. It’s a metaphor.

Although I, too, was made a manager far too early in my career, with a hard-earned Bachelor’s Degree in Management from an accredited university, but scarcely an hour’s worth of leadership training, I did give a considerable degree of thought, during my pre-management days, to what a good manager should be like.

I’ll bet you have, too.

At one point, to divert my attention from griping about the clowns I was working for at the time, and do something a bit more productive, I decided that when I became a manager, I would do my level best to be the kind of manager I’d always wished for. Mind you, I had had, in the past, two or three really great leadership examples as bosses, and so I was hardly starting from scratch.

This is anything but an exhaustive list of leadership qualities, but it represents three of the traits and attributes I hoped to emulate and develop when I was entrusted with the leadership of others. Perhaps these three rose to the top of my list because they had been so sorely lacking in some of the bosses I’d toiled under:

  1. Focus
  2. Compassion
  3. Encouragement

Here are some ways I’ve learned to develop each:

  1. Focus: go to your team, today, and ask this simple question: “What do you believe to be our top three business priorities?” Compare the responses you get. That will tell you everything you need to know about the current focus of your team. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t blame them! Tighten your focus. And then teach your team what the real priorities are. This is where repetition can really help. I’ll say it again. This is where repetition can really help.
  2. Compassion: No, I’m not talking about being a pushover, or falling for every excuse in the book. But I am talking about engaging your heart, not just your head, in the leadership of those you need to follow you. I heard a great CEO/leader once tell his management team, “When a team member is enduring a personal hardship, go the extra mile for that employee. When you do, you’ll have their full attention when you talk about going the extra mile for your customers.”
  3. Encouragement: Here’s something else you can do today. You know that team member of yours who’s having a rough day? Yeah, that one. Find something encouraging – in their work or elsewhere, and go out there and remind them of it. An act like this has one of the highest ROI’s going.

 

 

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Struggling Supervisors – Coach ‘em Up or Move Them Out

No Comments 04 August 2014

Confirming what many had been sensing for some time, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President, Richard Fisher said recently that increasing numbers of workers are quitting their jobs voluntarily, and concomitantly, employers are finding that it’s taking longer to fill open positions. Those are two fairly strong indicators that the job market is heating up.

But they aren’t the only indicators. For several months, we’ve been watching managers going into a defensive crouch and lowering their work performance standards in an ill-advised effort to hang onto people rather than coach, discipline or terminate, and then face the prospect of replacing them. In many cases they’re turning a blind eye to problem performers, the existence of whom is aggravating to fellow workers and customers alike.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. They’re not yet well-assured that they can get quick internal approval to replace.
  2. They know that hiring a replacement off the street will take time (the talent pool isn’t deep yet for many positions), and it will likely cost them more money.
  3. There’s more than a little guilt involved, as the involved managers know in many cases that the individual is struggling because they themselves have not had (‘er taken) the time to properly train and coach their staff members.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of level 1 supervisors and managers. And, sadly, nowhere do we pay a higher price for this condition. Having an inept or uncommitted level 1 manager wreaks havoc in an organization. Think about it. These are the folks who represent the “last mile” in the management communication and strategy execution chain. They have more daily touchpoints with frontline workers than anyone else, and thus have the capacity to disenfranchise greater numbers of solid performers – the very last people you want to lose.

Three suggestions:

  1. Take a hard look across your organization at your level 1 and 2 managers. Which of them seem to be struggling or experiencing abnormally high rates of regrettable turnover? Find out why, and get them some help if needed. If it’s too late or they are misplaced in their role, take action now, while you still have options.
  2. Resolve to make leadership ability a “must have” for anyone placed into a management position. Specifically, before putting someone into a leadership role at any level, there should be credible reason to believe that they have the courage to make and communicate tough decisions, the humility to realize that they put their pants on just like everyone else, better than average judgment and interpersonal skills, and that they are comfortable in their own skin. Absent any one of these factors, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are. Keep looking.
  3. And speaking of looking, you could do a lot worse than to spend time daily working on your talent pipeline. Make daily efforts to give internal candidates, your leaders of tomorrow, some coaching or encouragement. And at the same time, make sure that your external pipeline is well stocked.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Be Willing to Tolerate a Little ‘White Space’

No Comments 17 July 2014

 

*Please see special note below before leaving this page.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to do some contract training for Steve Stowell and Matt Starcevich, co-founders of CMOE, the folks who gave birth to the highly effective 8-Step Coaching Model. I remain grateful to them to this day for the work, and for helping me launch a productive and enjoyable career as an executive coach.

One of the activities used in their management coaching seminar involved doing a ten minute, pre-learning role play coaching discussion between two people, both class participants. The conversation was audio-recorded and then the audio was replayed and critiqued. Nothing unique there. What was unique is that, during the replay, we calculated how much of the conversation was consumed by each participant, AND how much dead air (silence) existed.

Almost without exception, the amount of time consumed by the person playing the ‘manager’ in the role play exceeded that of the ‘employee’ by a ratio of anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1. Some conversation.

As to the latter point, in a typical ten minute managerial-type coaching session, how much silence do you think occurred, on average? A minute? Two minutes? More? Think again. I’m fairly certain that I led at least a hundred of these workshops, with 5 or more groups doing this exercise in each one, and can’t remember a single session where there was more than 15 seconds of dead air out of the 10 minute total! Most were in the 6 to 8 second range, if that. We’re talking about only 1% of the total time of the “conversation.” In most cases, we had a good bit of the opposite of dead air. .. both people talking at once! That was more than twenty years ago. I hesitate to think what the ratio would be today.

I was reminded of this while watching evening television over the last week, and seeing two well known, otherwise quite professional news anchors stuttering and stammering because due to the fear of incurring a few seconds of dead air, their mouths were outrunning their minds. It happens to us all, particularly in the midst of a big presentation, sales call, or uncomfortable business meeting. We see it often with relatively new managers who are deathly afraid of what will happen if they shut up and yield the floor for a few seconds in a conversation with one or more of their team-members. A couple of thoughts:

1. In working recently with a C-level exec on reducing his snarkiness, I encouraged him to adopt a 3-second response delay, much like the ‘Iron Dome’ of cursing on American television, that would give him just a little more time to reflect on the message that was about to leave his mouth. Aside from reducing unintended verbal messes, that brief delay also allows the last thing that was said to him (and to you, if you adopt the idea)  to ferment and register a bit more. In other words, it aids listening. Indeed, it has been said that the opposite of listening is waiting to talk. To wit, if your mouth flies open at the very nanosecond the other person goes silent, it’s a good bet that you haven’t been listening. Rather, you’ve been waiting to talk. Don’t be afraid of a little dead air, or white space  in your conversations. Indeed, you’ll probably hear more, and your conversation partners (including spouses) will appreciate the difference, and the feeling that they’re actually being listened to for a change.

2. Note to Leaders – Put some of that same white space in your calendar. Smart leaders are not, repeat, not the ones who have the greatest calendar density. Rather, they deliberately build in some “me time” and thinking time to their daily schedules, and they take great pains to preserve it.

* Special Note: If you missed it, take a few minutes to view cancer patient and ESPN personality Stuart Scott’s acceptance speech at this year’s ESPY’s.  It’s probably his finest moment on television to date, and just might change your life.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Metrics and Managing – Be Careful What and How You Measure

No Comments 08 July 2014

One of the time honored, oft repeated (sometimes mindlessly) management mantras is, “What gets measured gets done.” It seems harmless enough on the surface, right? After all, if you visibly go to the trouble of measuring or inspecting a particular method or outcome, the very act of doing so suggests to onlookers that it’s important to you. And, if those onlookers happen to be junior to you in the organization’s food chain, it provides a not so subtle signal that they probably ought to pay attention. And generally, that’s exactly how things play out. Fair enough.

The trouble with that principle is that, because it tends to be such a powerful inducer of behavior, you better be real careful what you are conspicuously measuring, monitoring, and thus encouraging people to do.

One of my early jobs out of college was with a large DP services company. After stints in two regional offices I was moved to headquarters as an HR staff professional. (I guess I had screwed up enough things for them to want to watch me more closely.) As happens with anyone starting a new assignment, in an effort to assimilate and better understand the organization and my new cohorts, I paid pretty careful attention early on to the prevailing norms and habits.

An observation that to this day remains firmly embedded in my mind is the visual memory of the then company C.O.O. making twice daily rounds through the corporate offices (once shortly after 8AM and the other around 4:30PM). He was a very bright, and nice enough guy, but not a very good actor. The purpose of these jaunts was unmistakable – he was taking attendance. Nothing more, nothing less. With his head swiveling left, right, left in order to scan every office, he didn’t stop to speak, socialize, inquire about status on a project, or see if anybody needed anything. No, he was merely calling the roll. In retrospect, I wonder why he didn’t just issue us all timecards.

The net result from that little exercise? People aren’t stupid, and we all made it a point to be physically present for check-in when we were in town. Physically present. I can assure you that no more work got done, and no work got done better because of it. In fact, some of us spent a good bit of time amusing ourselves by placing bets on the over/under of the precise time that he would pass a certain office door. Worse yet, his actions reinforced the premise that merely being present meant more than just about anything else. After all, if the number 2 guy in the company was spending the better part of an hour every day checking up on it, it must have been pretty important, right?

So what’s the point? In the age of ‘big data’, with nearly limitless amounts of cheap computing power available to us, we seem to be reaching the point where absolutely everything is measured, stored, and rendered into analytics. That’s fine until we’re crunching numbers just because we can, and, dazzled by the myriad implied points of emphasis, our people become utterly confused about where we’re going, why their work matters, and what they are supposed to do. In short, we run the risk of feeding people information through a fire hose, just as we have done with email. While you are chewing on that for a second, here are a couple thoughts:

1. Let’s not confuse measuring and processing data with leading. Measure all you want, and use metrics where it makes sense to do so, but leaders still need to lead. Let them. They need to build teams, set direction, focus effort, motivate, reward, make decisions, hold people accountable, and refine business processes by trial and error. Some of those activities depend more on hard data, while others require learned perspective, judgment, and experience. Analytics can tell us a lot about the what, where, when, who, and how. Not so much the why.

Despite achieving a team best winning record in 2013, NBA coach, Lionel Hollins was reportedly shown the door by Memphis Grizzlies management over this exact issue. Without his Heart + Head balanced approach, the team performed nowhere near as well without him this past year. And Hollins just signed with the Brooklyn Nets for a fat raise in pay. Note to Nets opponents – watch out.

2. Share the data with your team, but don’t let your players get lost in it. Test your teammates regularly for their knowledge of the organization’s highest priorities. If they can’t articulate the three highest priorities in their sleep, something has broken down, due quite possibly to an avalanche of you guessed it… data. Oh, and by the way, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow them onTwitter.

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