Getting into Character


Happy Halloween! In the spirit of the holiday I want to talk about how those days as a kid, pretending to be a princess, superhero, or zombie, can help us as leaders today.

Pretending to be something you are not can actually help you to relate to people that are different from you.  This can be done with role-playing or simply imagining people’s reactions to statements, strategies, initiatives, etc.

So for the non-actors in the room, how can you get inside the head of someone to understand their perspective?

  1. Give them a backstory.  If you can piece together the past of someone, then you can better understand how they turned out the way they are.  People are conditioned by their experiences.  You are no exception.  Even if you don’t know the history of someone, create one in your mind that helps to explain their personality.  It is easier to relate at that point.  Just be careful not to mix up your imaginary story with the real one…that would be awkward.
  2. Understand their motivations.  People have agendas and rarely are they the same. For some it is as simple as earning a paycheck to take care of their family.  For others it is about the shortest climb to the top of the mountain.  If you know what drives people, you can relate to their reasons for acting the way they do.  Knowing this can help you motivate your team.
  3. Put things in context.  Don’t isolate the reactions you get or the behaviors you see to a single moment.  There was a series of events that led to it and created that response you saw for that one instance.  Try to understand where it came from and you will better understand the person.
  4. Get a common language.  There are a couple of tools that tell you different things about a person.  There are Myers-Briggs, FIRO-B, and DiSC that help to describe different personality types, behaviors, and decision-making processes.  These “tests” can help you get your team on the same page and help you understand how people think.  It also gives you a way to help identify where people are coming from and why they act the way they do.  Check out the links for more information.

I always try to remember that people typically want to do a good job and be proud of their work.  That is not an absolute, but a great place to start.  As a leader you should try to understand the individual as well as the dynamic of the team.  Take the time to get to know your people and then practice putting yourself in their shoes.  You may just learn something about yourself along the way.


How to Make Anger Your Ally

angerWe all get angry…even great leaders…especially great leaders.

Anger is a symptom of passion.  However, just like a fever is a symptom of the flu, the symptom must be put into check or else it can be just as damaging.  So how do we turn anger into a powerful motivator, not just for us, but for our teams as well?

  1. Understand that being angry is not bad.  Don’t be ashamed of it.  If you are angry that something is not going right it just means that you care about the outcome.  If you don’t get angry anymore then you need to change your profession because you have stopped caring.
  2. Don’t make it personal.  You can be angry for a lot of reasons, but don’t make it a personal attack.  This is true at work and at home.  Say, “I am angry because you said you would have the project finished by January and now we are going to slip customer deadlines,” not “I am angry because you are a procrastinator.”  You have just attacked the character of someone, and that lowers morale.
  3. Explain your anger.  If anger just shows up out of nowhere, it can be scary.  Make sure that people understand why you are angry and how it can be fixed and, in the future, avoided.  At least people will get where you are coming from and hopefully they can relate.
  4. Be consistent with anger.  Don’t let something slide and say it is okay when it really grinds your gears.  Tell them about it.  You don’t have to be boiling mad before you show your dislike for a behavior or bad habit.  It may even keep you from popping your top.
  5. Don’t apologize for being angry.  You can apologize for your actions because of your anger, but not for being angry.  “I’m sorry I raised my voice” is completely acceptable, but “I’m sorry I was upset with you for losing that account” is not.  You should be upset and you have every right to be, but you could have acted differently about it.  Understand the difference between emotion and action. 
  6. Build emotional bank accounts all of the time.  I know this analogy is out there and overplayed, but it is a good one.  Making emotional deposits all of time will allow you to slip every now and then and not lose credibility with people.  You stay friends with people even after they get mad at you because they are good people and you just had a spat.  It is the same at the office.

These six pointers are just a start.  Understand that bottling your anger is a poor decision.  Controlling your responses to your anger is where the money is.  Making anger your comrade-in-arms is a process that will take much time, effort and self-patience.  Good luck!

Let me know what you think about anger and how it has affected your professional life.

Constructing a Team from Scratch


We talk a lot about leading teams, but what about building them?  There may be several situations where you need to build a team from nothing; a new department, a new project, restructuring.  Below are some pointers on how to build successful teams when you don’t have a platform from where to launch. 

  1. Don’t think about who, think about why.  Structure your team based on the talents and skills you need.  Many people fall into the trap of thinking about the people that are close to them or may be in a similar role already.  You need to think about the talents that will make your team successful before you start fitting people into the role.
  2. Imagine even workloads and staff for it.  It is difficult when you put together a team and create roles and then one person is doing all of the work.  If you need three people in similar roles because of workload then staff appropriately.
  3. Don’t forget the soft skills.  We get hung up on the technical stuff. However, things like “being a team player”, “easy to talk to”, and “a caring person” are just as (if not more) important.  These traits will define the character of your team.
  4. Don’t take on too much yourself.  It is typical to see a leader that will take on so much of the work that they don’t have the time to lead.  Don’t forget what your job is and make sure you give yourself the time and resources to do it.
  5. Don’t think in terms of dollars but in terms of production.  Let the dollars come in to play only after you have created a team that can get the output you need.  Budget is important, but so is not selling yourself short before you even get started.
  6. Place in people you can trust.  Trust is a two way street.  People need to trust you as a leader, but you need to trust people so that you can let them do what they are good at.  Remember, technical skills can usually be taught so plan on doing that at first with really good people to work with.

The above is not intended to be an all-inclusive list, but more of a rough map and thinking points.  I would be interested in your thoughts, so leave a reply if you get the chance.

Flavor of the Month…Again


It works great for ice cream shops, but not for business.  Flavors of the month create cynicism and lower morale.  Change is necessary for the success of any organization, but too much change or (even more detrimental) change for the sake of change can have the opposite effect.

Signs you are touting the next FOTM.

  1. You just read an inspiring article or went to a seminar and are eager to implement what you learned.
  2. You still haven’t seen the results of your current program.
  3. Your current program is younger than 3 years old.
  4. People still don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish.
  5. You are describing your current program but just using a different vocabulary.

Methods on not getting caught up in the hype.

  1. Give the existing program time.  Just because you aren’t seeing the results now doesn’t mean that you won’t.  Do a reality check and make sure you are staying true to what you have in place and that the system is being used to its full potential.  It is likely that you have drifted off course and simply need a tune-up, not an overhaul.
  2. Let your ideas mature.  Don’t get caught up in the newest fad.  Most programs are based in similar ideas and are just a different way of looking at it.  A shirt is still a shirt even if you call it a blouse, top, chemise, or tee.  The function is the same.  Focus on function, not frill.
  3. Look at your progress.  If you are seeing gains, stay the course.  The program is working.  That’s not to say it couldn’t be doing better, but you can work to enhance the program without gutting it.
  4. Talk to people.  Do they get what you are trying to accomplish?  If the organization understands the reasons for the program then you are winning.  Let them pull the program in the right direction rather than you pushing it.  Create that shift of power and your program will rapidly accelerate.

Keep your goals simple and make sure the organization is all in step with the nature of the program.  So what if people aren’t saying the right phrases, that will come with time.  Do they understand what they are trying to accomplish and how to do so?   Make sure that your people are the cornerstone of your program and they will make sure it succeeds for you.

The Fear of Failure

failure11Check out this post on failure…

I am constantly afraid of failing.  I don’t mean that I am afraid to the point of petrification.  Fear is a motivator, an adrenaline jump start.  Fear keeps us looking for the solution.

This is an obvious post, but why do we constantly have to talk about hesitation due to fear?  Fear is natural and we innately want to avoid it.  I find myself guilty of it and I’m sure you all have fallen victim to fear’s clutches as well.  But how do you turn fear into a motivator if that is not something you are used to doing?

1. Get a support group.  Have a close group of people that you can confide in when you are fearful and make sure that they are motivators.  Sometimes all you need is that person to say, “You can do this.”

2. Make a habit of winning.  We are creatures of habit, there is no doubt about it.  Once you make a habit of something it is hard to break.  So do the same with overcoming your fear.  Make simple choices and break up the task into little obstacles that can easily become wins.  Once you start winning, you will continue to push yourself to do so.

3. Stop and think.  Most times we look at something that frightens us, like the unknown, and we make it bigger than what it really is.  Think back to when you were afraid of the shadows when you were a kid.  When you stopped to convince yourself that it was just a jacket on the back of the chair, you were confident enough to get out from under the covers.  Analyze your fear and you will find that you can create a plan to overcome it.

4. What is the worst-case scenario if you do fail?  Usually, it is not as bad as you originally thought.  Typically it can be offset with a few precautions.  Understanding the risk makes it seem less risky.

5. Get some perspective.  How much does it really matter if you don’t succeed?  Nine times out of ten it will not matter much at all (except to you) and when it does matter, the effects are not as far reaching as you first thought.  Not everyone is looking at you and waiting for you to fail, you just think they are.

Just remember that failure can become a motivator, just as much as success.  Look back at your worst failures and you just might realize they weren’t that bad to begin with.  Besides, most of the biggest success stories have a lot of failure in front of them that you just don’t read about.

How else can you get over your fear of failing?

Government Shut Downs & Negotiation Failures



Let’s try to learn something from our politicians.  I don’t want to make this a political commentary, so I am going to stay away from Left or Right stances and just talk about how the U.S. federal government really needs to learn how to negotiate.

We all negotiate.  Whether it be at work or at home (negotiating with my wife is usually depressing for me).  Negotiating is defined as “to deal or bargain with another or others, as in the preparation of a treaty or contract or in preliminaries to a business deal.”  Negotiation usually requires discussion, something that as a culture, we have gotten to be very bad at.  We talk at people, not to people.  We have become narcissistic (do you really think people on Facebook really care what cereal you ate this morning?).

I think dialog is becoming a lost art.  Discussion, conversation, and listening are tools that we use to empathize with another’s beliefs and decisions.  Empathy is not a bad thing.  It helps us to understand the other’s perspective.  We all have different experiences that drive us to make choices in life.  We should respect the beliefs of others, even if we don’t agree.

So how can we use these tools to better negotiate?

1. Sit down and talk.
2. Build a relationship.
3. Gain some perspective.
4. Know the difference between the “must-haves” and the “nice-to-haves”.
5. Give up where it makes sense.
6. Find ways to let the other side win.
7. It’s not wrong to change your mind.
8. Think about the team, not your pride.

When the deal is done you should feel like both sides win.  If you don’t, it wasn’t a good negotiation, even if you got everything you wanted.  The reason – animosity.  Your next negotiation with that person/firm/client won’t be as easy.  Think past this agreement and into the next several agreements.  If you both come out winners you are likely to strike some deals in the future as well.

When Teams Become Dangerous

4f23280f1861330f65003257Image Source

Teamwork.  Often we have the need and desire to improve team relationships.  We have been told that we need to work well with teams.  We, as managers, must promote a team environment.  Leadership training focuses on working as a team.  If teams are so great, and we have teams everywhere (how many “teams” are you a member of?) then why do we still have issues creeping up on us?  Why do we still have to play politics?

Remember the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”  That concept is flawed because it comes from an idealistic premise that human beings can let go of their individuality.  Well, that is a difficult thing to accomplish.  In today’s culture we are celebrating individuality and simultaneously asking our teams to let it go.  

We have created turf wars in modern business.  We have pushed ownership to the point of possessiveness.  We sit in meetings and argue over jobs.  We are back on the playground, staking claim on the jungle gym.  We fight for resources, squabble over spending, and plot plans for retribution.  Welcome to teamwork.

Some might argue that this is not teamwork, but I say it is.  It is teamwork as we have defined it over the years.  It is the team member as conditioned by his circumstances.  Most people like to be part of a team, to belong to something.  The question is what are the teams to which they belong?

It is difficult to change the way we think.  It takes time, patience and coaching.  It is part of the evolution of each of us as we mature and grow.  But what I am proposing is not a change in thinking, but a change in definition of the boundaries.  What should make a team and how do we create incentives that are not contrary to that definition?

The team should be defined as “the smallest group possible whose goals do not conflict with the goals of any other group.”  The key to this definition is the set of goals.  This is all about creating the right KPIs.  Coupling personal objectives with team objectives is the only way to create a win-win mentality.

Start from the top down when setting metrics and goals.  Personal goals should correspond to team goals.  The only personal goals that are outside of those team goals would be development goals for the individual (i.e. complete supervisor conflict management training before October 2nd).  If you can’t create a KPI for a group that doesn’t conflict with the KPI of a peer group, you need to think more critically or simply hold to the higher-level KPI.  Share successes of the team with the whole organization whenever possible.  This will help to build camaraderie and will motivate teams to help one another on achieving their collective goals.

Remember, a few good metrics is better than a huge list.  I have seen companies with an entire matrix of Red/Yellow/Green scorecards that people simply can’t keep up with.  Keep your team focused and good things will happen.  Manage the extremes by exception and create solid game plans with your teams to see step change improvements.

Crybabies can Take a Walk


Can you identify the crybabies at your place of work? Is it you?

Symptoms of a Crybaby

  1. Fingerpointing: “Sharon did it!”
  2. Making Excuses: “I’ve had so much on my plate I haven’t been able to get it done.”
  3. Changing the Topic: “I know, but… How are things going in Shipping lately?”
  4. Placing Blame: “Well I may not have finished the report, but Tim didn’t get the presentation done.”
  5. Sweating the Small Stuff: “It’s so hot in here.” “I need a new chair, this one is uncomfortable.”
  6. Naysaying: “Why do we do it this way?” “This is stupid.” “Things are so messed up.”
  7. Speaking in Absolutes: “I ¬always have to do this.” “She never has enough work anyway.” “I have to do everything.”

Ways to not be a Crybaby

  1. Help others out: “Hey Sharon, do you need some help?”
  2. Take Responsibility: “I know I missed the deadline. That is why I am working to finish it right now.”
  3. Address the Issue: “Thanks for bringing that up. I will take care of it immediately.”
  4. Own up to it: “I apologize. I struggled with the first part of the report. Do you have any tips so I can get it done more quickly?”
  5. Fix it OR Forget it: “I dress in layers to stay comfortable.”
  6. Bring Solutions: “Can we try it this way to see what happens?” “I have a suggestion on how to improve the situation.”
  7. Understand the Difference Between Perception and Reality: “It seems I do a lot of these reports. Could you help with knocking a few of these out for me?”

How to deal with Crybabies

  1. Let them know they are doing it and refer them to the above suggestions.
  2. If (1) fails, let them take a walk right out of the front door.

Crybabies bring down morale and create a negative work environment for the rest of the team. If you can’t coach them out of it, start working them out of the team.

Change Management: Putting People First

Metamorphosis_(7196082472)By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Metamorphosis Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I have recently been working with a client that has been trying to get results after installing a new ERP.  The technical installation went successfully and there were few issues to work out.  However, nine months later they are still suffering from inaccurate data and technology reversion.  So if the ERP works correctly and the system was properly specified for the application, why the financial discrepancies?

It boils down to people.  I had a conversation with the President of the company and he said that some people just didn’t embrace the change and that forcing people onto a new system wasn’t going well.  Ahah! Forcing.  That was the clue that led me to ask more questions.  The basic response was that the users were never really brought into the process and now the company was paying for it.  Literally.

The project was budgeted to cost around $1.5 million.  Really not much when you consider what some organizations pay for an ERP.  However, financial losses within the first nine months were projected around that same amount and the capital investment is up to $3.2 million.  There is still yet another phase of implementation that needs to be completed before the implementation is even considered complete.

So with a total cost approaching $7 million, don’t you think it would have been worth another few hundred thousand to add some training and headcount for allowing the users to become more familiar with the software?  They should have been asked their opinions up front on the best ways to implement for their locations and how to structure their processes to better fit the new system.  These things weren’t considered to be part of the ERP implementation.

So what are the lessons learned? 

  1. Invest a little more money to reduce the cost and aggravation that comes with change. 
  2. Let people be part of the process rather than victims of it.
  3. Give yourself twice as much time as you think you will need because people are slow to change.
  4. Understand that change is hard and takes time and persuasion.
  5. Create local champions to help cheer on the progress of the changes.
  6. Lead the change by supporting it, not forcing it.

Technical Creativity


Don’t discount creative thinkers in technical roles.  Also, don’t discount technical thinkers in creative roles.  We use both our left and right brains every day.  Granted, some people are prone to use one side over the other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t reach into and borrow from the recessive hemisphere.

When you look at history, many of the great scientists were also artists, and vice-versa.  The best example I can think of is Leonardo da Vinci.  The man could do just about everything and is known for his contributions in both art and science.

When you consider the imagination it takes to build bridges, skyscrapers, chemical processes, medical devices and more, it is easy to see how creativity must lead design.  A prime example is how science fiction becomes science fact.  Imagination is ingenuity.

Some ways to foster imagination and technical accuracy…

1)      Get out of your comfort zone.

2)      Change your perspective.

3)      Play games at work and at home.

4)      Become a student of many disciplines.

5)      Take on new hobbies that work your recessive side.

6)      Encourage others to join you.

Being one way is not better than the other.  We often discount the arts in business.  But the arts are what keep us building new things.  Cultivate both minds, and you will see exponential results.