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Inspire Greatness, jas leadershipIn the hustle and bustle of our jobs, it’s easy to overlook the importance of developing your team members, but it’s one of the most important facets of leadership. If you don’t make the time to inspire greatness, you’re missing out on one of the privileges of management.

In my experience, everyone is great at something. As a leader, it’s up to you to find out what that something is and make use of it. Begin by paying attention to what aspect of the task at hand your team members volunteer to do or what part of the task they tackle of their own volition. People enjoy doing what they’re good at, and using that talent to further your project is the logical thing to do.

I’ve been in environments where work assignments are either randomly tossed out or milestones are given to team members who aren’t the right people for the job. To me, that says that management is either unaware of the talent pool in the team or simply can’t be bothered to take the time to find out the talent that’s at their disposal.

Getting to know your coworkers and your staff — really understanding what makes them tick — takes an investment in time. In my experience, that investment always pays high dividends.

Ask your team members which tasks they’d like to take ownership of. Trust goes a long way in any relationship. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out which responsibilities they pick of their own accord. Given the power of choice, I have found that people will choose what they excel at, what they’re excited about or what they feel will challenge them. It may feel counterintuitive or daunting if you’re a structured, top-down manager to allow your employees to work in a collaborative manner on a new and important project.

It is key to ensure you create an inclusive team. Diversity is imperative for a superior outcome. If everyone comes from a similar background and a similar talent pool, what you’ll end up with is mediocrity.

Drop your insecurity — whatever it may be. If you feel the need to take credit for your team’s accomplishment, don’t. Brag on them to your boss and you’ll never regret it. If you worry about your manager speaking directly with a team member instead of going through you, step out of the way. Your confidence in their abilities reflects the effort you’ve put in to creating greatness one employee at a time.

I’ve encountered managers who were afraid to build the skillset and knowledge base of their team members based on the selfish idea that someone who is well trained will jump ship. If an employee works hard enough to surpass expectations, they should be rewarded and allowed to grow. If that takes the form of moving up the ladder or transferring to another team, it’s only further proof that you’re putting in the effort to lead them to greatness — and that’s your job.

How many times in your career have you been delegated a task, but no authority? How did that work out for you? Stay in touch with the feelings of frustration and resentment that situation causes. Trust your colleagues enough to empower them. There shouldn’t be enough time in your week to make day-to-day decisions for each team member. If you assume the best of others, you’ll usually be right. People have a tendency to step up to the plate when it is expected of them.

Communicate openly. Share your vision for the team, the project, the individual. Listen to what they need from you, and make it happen. If you make a mistake, admit it, and if you were wrong about something, apologize. Honesty is necessary for trust and growth.

Empathize with your team. Human beings have problems, and not all of them are work-related — but they affect the work product. Empathy is essential for inspiring greatness in times of uncertainty.

In his article “3 Things You Must Do to Inspire Someone to Greatness,” Steve Farber notes, “There is no law of physics, no universal rule that I know of, that says your success requires my failure, that your fulfillment requires my emptiness, that your happiness requires my grief. The human experience allows for everyone — literally everyone — to be fulfilled, enriched, enlightened, self-actualized or whatever you care to call it.” He explains his view on leadership as simply this: “The greatest leaders become so by making others greater than themselves.” This is a succinct expression of my own philosophy and one that should be more prevalent than it is.

I had the pleasure of speaking with an old colleague of mine recently. We’ve communicated sporadically via email over the years but haven’t worked together for over 17 years. At the time I was his manager, he was young, and I gave him one of his first corporate “breaks” — a job that was quite a reach for him. He was unsure of his ability to perform in the role, but I had a great deal of confidence that he could, with the right mentoring, excel. He did excel, and it was a tremendous feeling for me to have helped him achieve that goal.

In our conversation, he bemoaned the fact that no one had shown such belief in him since. I offered him my advice, encouragement and a few ideas that might help with further progress in his career, and I hope the effort bears fruit for him.

There are multiple people I’ve worked with over the years in a mentoring role, and I don’t regret one minute of time that I spent investing in their futures. I would be willing to expend time and effort to advise any of them if the opportunity arose. Inspiring people to strive for greatness is my personal “superhero power,” and I use it as often as I can.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

Getting organized is tough. We all mean to do it. We all try to do it. Making lists, using planning software and keeping a business calendar in 15-minute increments all begin with the best of intentions. But much like New Year’s resolutions, the dreams of the perfect solution are rarely sustainable.

I’ve found that the problem with organization isn’t so much a lack of willpower as it is the unplanned chaos of the modern workplace. Even if you’re laser-focused, when Dan from accounting drops by your office to ask about your expense report from back in December, your plans go off the rails. Short of locking your door, unplugging your phone and boarding up your windows, what can you do?

One place to start is with an effective to-do list. It’s important to get rid of that long and rambling list that has every to-do task in your life on it. When you’re working on the Smith company sales pitch, you don’t need to be reminded to take Suzie to the soccer game and write that novel you’ve always thought about. No wonder you’re distracted.

I recommend giving each category of your life its own separate list. Use categories that make the most sense for you. Make a list for personal tasks, a list for your children’s needs and yet another for the tasks you need to accomplish at work. You’ll be amazed at the effectiveness of such a simple change.

Another useful tactic is to study the due dates for your projects. If the presentation for the international conference is three months away, don’t put it on your current to-do list. It will only distract you from what you need to work on now.

Limit your list to three to five major tasks per day. If you cram in more than that, you’re setting yourself up for failure and the discouragement that follows. When you have a long-term project, break it down into smaller steps that are achievable.

In his book To Do List Mastery: A Stress-Free Guide To Quickly Increase Your Productivity And Get More Done In Less Time, Allen Donaldson explains, “When setting the goals, take into account the time each step in a to-do list may require. If the to-do list is working toward a goal that is a year in the future, some steps may take a day or a week, while others may take months. Put these in a reasonable order and give them appropriate time lines.”

A common problem I see is taking on work you shouldn’t because you want to be seen as a team player, or because you find it enjoyable or you’re afraid to say no. Pull out your last performance evaluation, or schedule a short meeting with your boss. Determine what you’re actually being paid to do. Understand and internalize those goals, and refuse to allow your to-do list to become cluttered with low-level tasks you should be delegating. If there is a particular task that isn’t in your wheelhouse, outsource it. 

If you constantly find yourself getting off track because of interruptions, phone calls and unscheduled meetings, it’s important for you to take control. Make a schedule and stick to it. Let your team know that you are available at a specific time each day to help them or answer their questions. Put another specific time on your agenda to look at your emails and check phone messages.

Turn off email or instant messaging notifications and let your phone calls to voicemail. Otherwise, you may find yourself acting like Pavlov’s dogs each time you hear a noise and doom your productivity. 

If you have an overflowing email box, you’ll likely waste time combing through it. Consider having different email boxes to keep things simple. For example, send your blog subscriptions to a box you know you only have to check when you have some free time. Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Learn to prioritize. Determine which task for the day is the most important, and do that one first, even if it’s difficult or time-consuming.

Set time limits for each task. Allowing yourself too much time to complete a task can lead to procrastination. If you arbitrarily decide that a report can be finished tomorrow, you’ll be tempted to waste time doing something you prefer but isn’t on your list. Self-discipline is important for success.

Batch similar tasks together. If you are reopening the same program multiple times each day, you are wasting so much time. If you have two tasks that require using the same program, do them both consecutively. 

If a new task comes your way, schedule it. Don’t spend time dwelling on it and don’t stress over it. Schedule it on an appropriate day and time, and then go back to the current task on your schedule.

Set aside a block of time toward the end of the day to evaluate your progress and plan for the next day. Create a to-do list for tomorrow so you can begin your day with a predetermined plan to keep you focused on your priorities.

At the end of the day, spend a few minutes congratulating yourself for your successes, and don’t forget to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. It will give you satisfaction and motivate you to start tomorrow on the right foot.

Damon Zahariades, author of To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists That Work! sums up the importance of taming your to-do list: “A properly-developed and consistently-executed to-do list system will improve your productivity as well as your quality of life. You’ll experience less stress and enjoy more free time to connect with those whom you love. You’ll also enjoy more freedom to pursue personal interests.”

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

 

There are many ingredients necessary to be a successful leader. Although the qualities of intelligence, drive, and the ability to communicate a vision and excel in business are necessary, one value often overlooked or underrated is building trust. It is simple but complicated and, unfortunately, very easy to botch.

Simply put, if your team doesn’t trust you and your peers don’t trust you, you’re destined for mediocrity in ascending the career ladder. If you are unable to generate genuine confidence in what you perceive as your conviction, it may be because your colleagues have trust issues with you.

Perhaps you’ve made promises you couldn’t keep. You may have overestimated the ability of your division to meet its schedule for deliverables. Maybe you talk the talk but never walk the walk. You may think that your charisma and charm can overcome your inability to be authentic and honest, but you would be wrong.

In The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations, author Robert F. Hurley concludes, “Without trust, people are more anxious and less happy; leaders without trust have slower and more cautious followers; organizations without trust struggle to be productive; governments without trust lose essential civic cooperation; and societies without trust deteriorate.”

Employees want a leader they can trust — not only in good times, but also in bad. If you work hard to earn their trust, you’ll be amazed at what you get back in return.

In their book The 10 Laws of Trust, authors Joel Peterson and David Kaplan explain, “So why trust? Because it works, most of the time. Not only do people accomplish more in a collaborative spirit when seeking win-win outcomes than when setting up the paraphernalia of paranoia, but they’re simply much happier when dealing in a world of harmony and cooperation.”

When any person is considering granting anyone their trust, they need to see evidence of the competence, authority and track record of the individual involved. When we contemplate giving our trust to another, we have to believe we’ve accurately assessed the character of the person. Trust is rarely given blindly.

When your employees are sizing you up, trying to decide whether to trust you with their ideas, loyalty and best efforts, they will be judging your behavior, actions and authenticity. The easiest way to win them over is to actually be the person they want to lead them forward to success.

Your team needs to see you in action with legitimate and consistent efforts to improve yourself, your division, your team and the organization as a whole. You need to be dependable, capable, competent and logical. You also need to be empathetic with your associates, as well as show understanding and honestly display your own humility.

The truth of the matter is if your group doesn’t trust you, there is no way you’re going to get their greatest effort. If your idea of leadership involves reigning by intimidation, threats and retribution, you are going to get nowhere fast. Even if your team initially submits to this style of management, it can’t be sustained. Employees will desert you left and right at the first opportunity.

In his book The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line, David Horsager describes the difference: “The lower the trust, the more time everything takes, the more everything costs, and the lower the loyalty of everyone involved. By contrast, greater trust brings superior innovation, creativity, freedom, morale, and productivity.”

If you’re committed to increasing the trust your team feels for you, you have to know that trust is earned. You need to commit to being consistent in your thoughts, actions, behaviors and decisions. You must practice effective communication. Pay attention to what other people say and do. When you’re speaking with a colleague and endeavoring to create a trustful bond, make eye contact and practice active listening. Don’t let yourself be distracted by your phone, your computer or anything else. Be present. It’s difficult to trust someone who won’t look you in the eye or can’t even remember the name of your newly arrived baby.

Learn to show empathy. If your employees get the feeling you don’t care about their issues, setbacks, successes or challenges, why would they even consider trusting you? However, if you show genuine concern, provide solutions and celebrate their achievements, you create an honest, strong connection with them.

It is important that you dependably lead by example. When your colleagues actually experience you refusing to play the blame game, taking responsibility for your actions, and being trustworthy and transparent in your dealings, you will reap the benefits of a morally energized group. Jump-start the process by taking steps to trust your team first. It’s so much easier to gain respect and trust when you give it first.

In a piece for Research Management Review (“The Importance of Trust in Leadership”), David L. Mineo states, “In conclusion, the trust that leaders place in those they lead allows both the leader and her/his followers to excel. It is not a momentary event but a series of investments over time that truly allows success.”

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

If you find yourself stressed because you’re consistently spending your nights and weekends at the office instead of spending time with family and friends, you’re not alone. Even when you’re working from home, you can get caught up in the never-ending work cycle. Being overworked in today’s business environment is so common, it’s almost par for the course. It shouldn’t be, and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

Learning how to reasonably and confidently say “no” can make all the difference in the world. Many of us, especially women, have a very difficult time with boundaries in the workplace. The dilemma for women is described by Linda Celestino in an article for Fortune: “Women in leadership roles who say no tend to be perceived as cold or ruthless, while men are referred to as strong and capable.”

The fear of not being seen as a team player, or even fear of reprisal, keeps employees chained to their desks, and that creates a very unhealthy situation with no work/life balance. With no time for self-care, rest or relaxation, there is no time for recuperation, and that is a straight line to burn yourself out.

Add to that the stress of the fear of losing your job during a global crisis, and you create a depressing scenario. According to a recent Gallup poll, “a record-high 25% of employed U.S. adults think they are likely to be laid off in the next year.”

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. There are several ways to say no to extra work in a positive manner that will help recover your sense of well-being.

If you have difficulty discerning the types of things that are reasonable to say no to, here are some examples of scenarios to take a pass on:

• When the project is something someone else could accomplish better and in a shorter time frame and has no growth potential for your career path

• Assignments that will not contribute anything to the responsibilities and goals laid out by your manager

• Low-priority projects with impractical deadlines when you’re already working on a high-priority job

• Everyone’s most dreaded time sucker — the unnecessary meeting — is definitely a no.

When it’s time to say no, avoid details. In the book How to Say No without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, More Joy, and What Matters Most to You by Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch, they explain, “The more specific information you supply, the more likely the other person will be to: a) try to figure out a way to ‘solve the problem’ so that you can actually do the thing he wants you to do (which of course you don’t want to do), b) decide that your reason for saying no isn’t good enough and be miffed about it, or c) catch you in a lie (if you’re lying).”

Another helpful tactic is to buy yourself some time when you get ambushed with a request. Explain that you need time to consider the invitation and give a set time when you’ll get back to the requestor. Take a look at what’s already on your plate and what your calendar looks like and weigh the cost versus the benefits of taking on the job. When you’ve analyzed the impact it will have on your current workload, make a decision and communicate it to your colleague.

The decision doesn’t have to be a firm yes or no. If it’s a project you don’t have time for but you’d really like to sink your teeth into, negotiate to see if there is something you’re working on that can be reassigned, leaving you time for a new opportunity. If the assignment isn’t a good fit for whatever reason, offer reasonable alternatives. Perhaps you’d be happy to work on one aspect, such as presentation graphics, but don’t have time to do the research. Ask if that part can be assigned to an associate. Good negotiation skills will help you build a reputation as a team player.

If the request comes from your boss herself, instead of getting annoyed over the extra workload (after all, shouldn’t she already be aware of your overflowing to-do list?), take a deep breath and ask for a time the two of you can briefly meet. Take a list of all your current assignments and your calendar showing the deadlines you’re already committed to. Ask her to help you prioritize. Explain the consequences for the division and the company if you fail to meet any of your current commitments.

Be mindful of the language you use and don’t vent your frustration. By staying calm and confident, you should be able to negotiate your way to offload some of your workload, or, alternately, avoid taking on the new assignment. It’s worth the effort to keep your sanity.

To sum it up, in The Art of Saying No: How to Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time and Energy, and Refuse to Be Taken for Granted (without Feeling Guilty!), Damon Zahariades notes, “Once you possess the ability to say no with confidence and grace, and do so with regularity, you’ll notice changes in how others perceive you. They’ll have more respect for you; they’ll place a greater value on your time; and they’ll come to see you as a leader rather than a follower.”

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

It’s easy to cover the corporate break room and hallways with bold statements and inspiring pictures and then claim your corporate culture is not only alive and well, but thriving. That may go over well in an executive planning meeting when discussing inexpensive ways to rally the troops. But does it actually provide any motivation to the groups on the front lines of everyday business?

The short answer is no. If your company thinks something that simple equals “mission accomplished,” I encourage someone from executive management to walk the halls. Simply observe the rolling eyes and shaking heads of the general population while they try to eat their lunches, and the ineffectiveness will be readily apparent.

In the book Culture by Design, David Friedman explains, “It’s not simply posting the vision and mission. It’s about what you and your leadership team are teaching your people day after day after day. And if you don’t know what you’re teaching because you’ve never defined it clearly enough, you’re not likely to be able to do it very effectively, and certainly not very consistently.”

Learning to embody your company’s corporate culture — to live and breathe it with sincerity — takes a genuine commitment. If you don’t practice it every day in what you say and what you do, your employees notice.

Corporate culture must be supported by a strong foundation of staying true to your stated principles and the way you do business — not when it’s convenient, but most especially when it’s not convenient. It must guide your business decisions and show that from the C-suite down, your corporate culture is the guiding force behind your organizational ethics.

Authors Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein in their book The Corporate Culture Survival Guide describe it this way: “Culture is not a function, a result, a lever, an outcome, a tool. Culture is the multifaceted learned structure and practice of the people who lead and people who follow, people who work together and build a history that shapes the future.”

Your consistently reinforced core values should ultimately define your business. They should impact every aspect of hiring, the employee review process, the reward structure and even the disciplinary process.

If the application of your core values and corporate culture are confusing, dysfunctional and haphazard at best, you will find that the gaps between what you desire (the stated culture) and the actual behavior (the cultural reality) are deep and wide. Inconsistency is the enemy of efficiency.

However, when the corporate culture is organic and rooted in the goals of the organization, its approaches to customers, employees, investors and the community at large will be systemic. The shared beliefs, approaches and values create a sustainable model, especially when the desired qualities are consistently exhibited by upper management.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, “Only when employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their job right, are a good fit for their role and feel their manager has their back will they feel invested enough to connect with proclamations of mission or values — no matter how inspiring these might sound in the head office.”

One of my colleagues, Val Williams, MCC, offers this advice to aid in maintaining corporate culture during times and situations that require employees to work from separate locations. “Identify the top three descriptors of your culture and ask your people to brainstorm with you on how to demonstrate those aspects of your culture to each other virtually.” Let them know it’s important to preserve this valuable driving force even during intervals of change.

It’s important to keep the core values you expect your employees to live — day in and day out — in sight. They need to have constant reminders of the principles the organization stands for to bolster their alignment with these ideals. Corporate newsletters and visual reminders, such as company swag awarded for living the values and demonstrating them at every opportunity, are as important as engaging, uplifting communications from the C-suite.

All the uplifting corporate culture bullet points and core values mean absolutely nothing if your employees aren’t empowered to embody them equally. If the management team is trusted to make executive decisions when the situation demands it, but the customer service agents and mailroom employees aren’t, then those platitudes aren’t anything but pieces of paper on the wall. Display the courage it takes to ensure you align what your organization cares about with the way your organization is run.

Jodi McLean, in her post “Corporate Culture Case Study: Do Your Employees Embody Your Corporate Ethos?,” speaks on empowering her employees to make emergency decisions that align with the company’s core values by providing them with the tools they need in advance. “It may not always be the right decision in hindsight, but our corporate culture embraces decisive actions made with aggression, and we are never penalized for the wrong decision made for the right reasons.”

Can your organization make the same claim? Take a leap of faith. If you’ve done everything possible to exemplify every aspect of your corporate culture with honest effort, believe that your employees are willing to step up and demonstrate those principles as well.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

It isn’t easy to give up entrenched behaviors. It requires the willingness to develop new skills, new attitudes and new understandings instead of your old way of thinking. Start with some self-reflection on your current perspectives of your job, organization and life. Honestly evaluate which ideas and actions have served you well and which haven’t.

In A Year of Resilience, Dr. Maureen Orey relates, “Resilience requires a sense of balance. Take the time to focus on your strengths while acknowledging any areas of potential development. By knowing your comfort zone and the aspects of your life and work that provide you with feelings of security and fulfillment, you’ll be better equipped to stay grounded to leverage your inner strength when times get tough.”

If you discover you’ve been stuck in a rut that’s getting you nowhere, it’s time to harness your confidence. Resilient people don’t dwell on the qualities they lack; they concentrate on their assets and how to best deploy them in times of difficulty or transformation.

Resilient leaders are decisive, willing to take appropriate risks and try new ideas. They have a strong sense of purpose and fully believe in self-empowerment. They’re self-assured and understand that if they make a decision that doesn’t fulfill the desired result, they can change course and try another tack.

Authors Sandy Asch and Tim Mulligan explain in Roar: How to Build a Resilient Organization the World-Famous San Diego Zoo Way, “Resilience is more than survival. It is the ability of the individual and the organization to endure while remaining true to closely held values. Resilient people and companies not only rebound from challenging circumstances, they seek out meaningful ways to learn from those experiences and build capacity for the future.”

I had the opportunity to lead a workshop for executives who’d paid consultants a significant amount of money to research what was impeding the productivity of their employees and what could be done to improve the situation. After carefully considering the detailed report, which explained the problem was due to an antiquated software program and suggested implementing a new, streamlined system at a truly reasonable cost, the executive team decided not to proceed.

It took a substantial bit of leadership counseling until I helped them understand that their fear and inflexibility would result in even worse productivity statistics in the future. The outdated program required more fixes with every month and would become obsolete within two years. Fortunately, the COO had been through a similar situation with a previous company and was able to convey the positive outcome of their commitment to becoming resilient from that point forward.

The changes you make to become more resilient aren’t made in a vacuum. The way you think about challenges needs to be effectively communicated with others who will join you on the journey. Cultivate positive relationships and build strong teams. Share what you’ve learned, and teach others to support transformation. Be compassionate throughout this process — some individuals and some organizations view change as the enemy.

Encourage them with productive feedback on a consistent basis. Help them to learn from their mistakes and develop a mindset that acknowledges failures are only temporary. Foster a desire in them to become effective by bolstering skills that need improvement and, more importantly, flex the abilities in which they excel.

It’s normal to fear the unknown, but by communicating effectively and frequently with those who will be impacted by the coming change, anxiety will be lessened and enthusiasm for the new direction will be increased. Helping them understand your expectations and intentions during the process will build trust.

At the end of the day, it’s important to take time for reflection. What strategies are working, and which ones are not? Should adjustments be made at this time, or do you need time to gather more data? Are you being mindful in your planning? If you don’t review the game tapes occasionally, how will you know what plays should be altered?

At Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, the New York Public Library is guarded by a pair of lions sculpted from pink Tennessee marble. Former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude in the 1930s for the virtues he believed his city would need in order to endure the current economic depression. These symbols also stand true for two of the qualities we all need to embrace change, live in the present moment and cultivate our capacity for resilience.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

What makes a good leader great? Although there are about as many answers as there are leaders, one of the key elements has to be versatility. If you don’t have the ability to approach different problems in different ways, you’re at a distinct disadvantage in today’s business environment.

If all you have under your belt is a one-dimensional methodology to tackle any challenge, you lack the multifaceted tactics necessary to be the type of manager who can inspire colleagues in this era of multicultural, multigenerational businesses in multiple time zones. It’s increasingly important to learn how to most effectively approach a problem, an employee or a business strategy.

In his Harvard Business Review article “The Best Leaders Are Versatile Ones” (registration required), Robert B. Kaiser writes, “It is not an overstatement to say that versatility is the most important component of leading effectively today. Versatile leaders have more engaged employees and higher performing teams.”

Because we now work in a global community, it’s necessary to effectively interact with people of diverse backgrounds and skill levels. This requires a more well-rounded approach to problems and solutions. A good place to start is by conducting a personal inventory of your current abilities and talents.

No matter what methodology you use to accomplish this (there are multiple personal inventory systems and tests on the market), the important things to discover are:

• What is lacking in your management toolbox?

• What executive tools do you possess and wield with expertise?

You can make this process as simple as a list on paper. If you want a very clear and truthful picture, include the opinions of those people you know and respect. Ask them to give you an accurate description of behaviors and actions in various business scenarios. You should begin to see a pattern of where you need to develop to become a more versatile leader.

You may have had success in the past by being authoritative and have gotten into the habit of using this style to the exclusion of others that may be better suited to the situation or employee. Relying on a single tactic won’t serve you well in the long run. Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser explain this tendency in their book The Versatile Leader: “A chief reason why leaders overuse their strengths is that they underestimate them. Often their gauge is off: they think they’re only going 55 miles per hour when in fact they’re breaking the speed limit.”

To become more adaptable to challenges that arise, you’ll have to put in some effort and self-reflection. If you’ve had the opportunity to work in multiple companies, various departments and at different levels in the corporate structure, you most likely have a leg up on your peers. Working in diverse backgrounds teaches you to use the approach that fits each specific need.

For example, acting overly assertive in a situation with an employee who values cooperation and consensus will rarely result in a positive interaction with that person. Conversely, going out of your way to be conciliatory in a serious project deadline default with a confrontational associate won’t accomplish anything. In her book Becoming a More Versatile Learner, Maxine A. Dalton explains, “You learn the most if, when facing challenges, you employ a variety of behaviors, or learning tactics. Some managers, although perfectly willing to take on challenging experiences, use only comfortable, tried-and-true tactics, thus severely limiting their ability to learn from these experiences.”

If your ultimate goal is to reduce interpersonal tensions and lessen strained communications, you need to stop relying on your default style. Being flexible can be a real problem for managers unwilling or unable to move out of their comfort zones.

I worked with a group of middle managers in a production facility. They all seemed fairly confident of their abilities to use different management styles under different circumstances, but once we began performing exercises in how each of them behaved in a specific situation, many of them realized (with surprise) that they were simply using the same hammer, even in circumstances that required a screwdriver!

To get out of your linear rut as a manager requires effort on your part. I think the first thing you need to realize is that the skills, perceptions and perspectives of others almost always differ from your own. You have to understand different ways of learning and thinking. Being open and aware during this process will not only make it less painful but will also shorten the learning curve.

Make a commitment to your continuing education. It doesn’t have to involve reading a stack of dry business improvement manuals. Take some educational courses, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, try a new hobby and meet new people with new perspectives.

Pledge to make your personal development and the flexibility to stretch yourself not only professionally but personally a priority. The benefits of becoming more versatile will make you aware of how much more there is for you to learn. In business as well as life, progress is everything. Learn to evolve.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

There is good stress and there is bad stress. The good kind is necessary for survival and involves the fight-or-flight response. When you see a lion stalking you through a cubicle jungle and you run into the VP’s office, shut the door and hide, that’s good stress keeping you alive. It makes you hyperaware, sends extra blood to your muscles and increases glucose levels to speed up your heart rate. When the threat is over, your body returns to its normal hormonal levels.

Unfortunately, chronic bad stress induces the same responses, but the body never gets the chance to reset itself. Living in a nearly constant state of stress causes all sorts of maladies. It causes elevated blood pressure and stress on the whole cardiovascular system. It also typically causes poor-quality sleep, digestive problems and a weak immune system.

If you think stress isn’t prevalent, you would be wrong. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 Stress in America survey, “More than three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired or changes in sleeping habits” and “Nearly half of adults say they have laid awake at night because of stress in the prior month.”

Quantifiable information on the effects of stress can be found in multiple studies. For example, researchers at Arizona State University performed an experiment with rats. They put each one into a maze with one of three corridors blocked off. They then put healthy (unstressed) rats back through the maze at a later time with the previously blocked corridor unblocked. These rats explored the new corridor, according to their natural curiosity.

When they performed the same experiment with rats that had been stressed, the rats did not show an interest in the newly unblocked corridor. This led researchers to the conclusion that the induced stress disrupted the ability of the rats to navigate by memory. On a positive note, once the stress was removed, the previously stressed rats performed normally in the maze.

Researchers hope this research information will eventually lead to a way in which to control how stress affects human brains.

When I work with companies that determine workplace stress is affecting the quantity and quality of work performed by their employees, we begin by finding out the main source(s) of the tension. Some of them come prepared with an anonymous employee survey, which speeds up the process. Other companies, some of whose executives are in denial, insist the work environment is perfect as it is and try to reject the possibility that their workplace is causing burnout, lack of intellectual acuity and an uptick in sick days used.

 A common stressor is differing expectations of productivity between upper management and the employees who actually perform the tasks. If management determines that each employee in the widget department should be able to produce 10 widgets per hour with no defects, and the actual number employees are able to produce without defects per hour is five, that is quite a disconnect and will understandably affect morale and cause negative stress in the workforce.

Another stressor I find on a frequent basis is management’s inflexibility toward the time an employee must be present at the office. If an employee is required to be at their desk from nine to five no matter what, that person is going to experience a high-stress level each time a situation occurs that causes a conflict.

For example, if their car is in the shop and they have to take alternate transportation, there may be limited options as to when they arrive at or depart from the office. What if Dad has to pick up little Jimmy from school because of a sudden illness? If work time flexibility isn’t built into the corporate structure, you may find employee retention to be a problem.

In the meantime, how can you manage negative stress in your daily life and the lives of your employees when it originates from your work environment?

I often suggest upper management should allow people to develop new skills. New skills can give them new tools to solve problems on the job, which reduces stress. A course on time management skills may help employees to prioritize their work and learn to control what they can and avoid dwelling on things they can’t control.

It is also important to give employees time to reflect on past successes. Having an employee of the month award, or some similar form of recognition, would be one way to accomplish this.

The American Psychological Association, who surveyed 3,617 adults in 2019, found that “44% of adults say they exercise or walk to manage stress and 47% say they listen to music.” Alternatively, “More than one third (37%) spend time with friends or family.” Why not create a walking club at work? Employees can be encouraged to take one of their daily breaks outdoors performing light exercise. Again, rewards presented for the walker logging the most steps per month can encourage participation.

There are various ways to combat stress in a person-by-person format. The Mayo Clinic suggests that each person make a stress inventory, writing down for one to two weeks every time they feel stressed, including a short explanation of each situation. When they finish the prescribed time period, they should assess the data that was collected. Each employee may find several commonalities as to what causes them to feel stress and how they typically react to that stress. Once they understand what drives them in those situations, they can begin to find ways to alter either the reoccurring situation or their reoccurring response to the situation.

Negative stress is not a situation that will get better when left alone. It is prevalent, and it is detrimental to the quality of life. There is no reason not to tackle it head on to improve the quality of life for yourself and your employees.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

According to Joseph Astrachan, as cited by Family Business Alliance, only 30% of all family-owned businesses make the transition into the second generation, only 12% make it into the third generation and only 3% survive at or beyond the fourth generation.

If you are involved in the operation of a family business, those numbers are sobering. Since the majority of businesses are family businesses (some estimate that as many as 90% of American businesses are family-owned or -controlled), what are the reasons for this sharp drop off after the first founding generation?

Unfortunately, there is no one, easy answer — most often, it is an amalgamation of reasons that combine to create a crippling downward spiral. If, as a family business owner, founder or successive generation operator you take the time to study the commonalities involved in either business failure or business success, you are much more likely to engineer a successful environment that is conducive to leading your company through the pitfalls that line the path of the startup or maintenance of your family business.

One of the most important factors for success is communication. It is imperative to establish clear and regular methods of communication in your company. Communication must be open, frequent and honest. Also, there should be policies in place that ensure that each member of the group can submit ideas and feel that their suggestions are valued and duly considered.

There must be a shared sense of purpose to rally the troops. If Aunt Dorothy believes the company should be providing service to one specific sector of the population and Cousin Fred thinks that they should be providing service to a different sector, their infighting will only serve to disrupt the actual mission, which may be to provide service to all sectors. If the company vision is not made clear, management can become locked in a tug-of-war with no winners.

I clearly remember a previously successful family business I consulted with that by the second generation was beginning to unravel. The founders had neglected to prepare their children for taking the helm of the company. They had not involved the children in family discussions about the business, they had not required the next generation to participate in any planning or decision-making and their children, as a result, had very little understanding of what the business was truly about. They had only been waiting for the old folks to retire so they could claim the positions (and salaries) of their predecessors.

Another important factor to keep in mind as a family business leader is although you must treat your company like a family-owned and -operated business, there comes a point in the growth cycle that begs some outside input. Feedback and contribution from business experts become more and more necessary as the business develops into a larger, perhaps global, entity.

In his book Innovation in the Family Business: Succeeding Through Generations, Joe Schmieder explains, “In most cases, family members are owners and operating leaders of the business until it grows to a size and complexity best served by a blend of family ownership and professional executive leadership. Thus the business’s success correlates directly to the family’s well-being, and the family’s economic well-being correlates directly to the business’s success.”

I always advise that a family business must be sensitive to interrelationships between not only family members but also outside advisors. Business relationships should be clarified in writing. Roles and responsibilities should be divided and defined so owners and other employees don’t find themselves in a position of confusion, which can cause crossing of management lines. For example, just because you are a management executive from the founding family doesn’t mean you can randomly discipline employees who aren’t your direct reports. That only leads to resentment by both the employee and the actual manager of the employee.

A successful strategy for many family businesses is to require that children and grandchildren who wish to join the business get outside business experience first. This gives the potential family employee the benefit of knowledge in another environment, which shows them alternative ways of working, managing and producing products and services. Without that world know-how, they may fall into the trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done at their family company.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, many family companies ultimately fail. The reasons they fail tend to fall into two main categories: family reasons and business reasons. These both weaken successful first-generation leaders and the continued succession by future generations of the founders.

According to George A. Isaac in his book, Your Business, Your Family, Your Legacy: Building a Multigenerational Family Business That Lasts, “Business reasons included excessive risk acceptance, outdated business strategies, and poor management of the business. Family reasons included problematic family dynamics, inadequate succession planning, and unaligned shareholder objectives.”

When it comes to a successful family venture, it is important to set boundaries with both family and outside employees. Treating them all fairly is another imperative facet. Above all, don’t be tempted to provide “sympathy” job positions to relatives who are not qualified for the work the company requires. In the end, it doesn’t help anyone.

If you want to run a successful family business that you can pass down to the next generation (and hopefully the generation after that), develop a sound succession plan, listen to all the generations at the table and realize that family unity is as important as, or more important than, profit.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Whether you’re a new hand at developing your executive presence, a C-suite executive who’d like to think they mastered executive presence years ago or someone who is somewhere in between, there is always room for improvement. Taking the time to update, upgrade or simply polish your executive presence skills is always a profitable use of your time and resources.

There are many ways to define that certain something, that charisma that is one of the hallmarks of great leaders throughout time. Some people seem to have been born mastering the keys of this set of skills, and other people seem to find it all but elusive, but with enough effort, anyone can refine these characteristics and inspire others to do the same.

In the early 2000s, I was working with a large, successful insurance company with a rock-solid C-suite. They had executive presence to spare. The CEO could walk into any corporate office across the United States and have an intelligent, optimistic, uplifting business conversation with anyone from the office VP to the mailroom clerk. Add to that the fact that he could somehow remember the first names of thousands of employees in the company, and you can begin to appreciate the magnetism he possessed.

The CEO intuitively understood what the Center for Talent Innovation found out after a research study (registration required) on the key pillars of executive presence. The participants involved in the study determined these three qualities in this order of importance were imperative:

• Gravitas — The ability to exude confidence, act decisively, show integrity, demonstrate emotional intelligence, burnish reputation and project vision

• Communication — The ability to command a room, read an audience and having great speaking skills

• Appearance — Exhibiting good grooming and physical attractiveness

You may define these skills differently, but if you look carefully, you’ll notice that most of your word choices for executive presence talents will actually fit in one of these three broad categories.

For example, in his book Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO, author Harrison Monarth describes an important trait that could fit under gravitas or communication: first impressions. “The first tool for making a powerful first impression and forging an emotional connection is warmth. Warmth fosters trust and puts people in the receptive frame of mind known to psychologists as an approach state as opposed to an avoid state.”

The trait of enthusiasm could also easily fit under the same two categories: gravitas and communications. In her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy explains why this trait is imperative, especially in business situations: “There’s another reason we tend to put our faith in people who project passion, confidence, and enthusiasm: these traits can’t easily be faked.” She continues, “When we try to fake confidence or enthusiasm, other people can tell something is off, even if they can’t precisely articulate what that thing is.”

If you’re not talented at projecting warmth or enthusiasm, at the very least, you’re going to need the skill of “reading the air.” In Bryan Lufkin’s article “How ‘Reading the Air’ Keeps Japan Running,” he points out, “Knowing the unspoken rules governing social life requires comprehensive understanding of your environment, whatever the setting. It’s a skill that’s valuable anywhere in the world — but in Japan, where communication tends to be indirect, it is elevated to another level. Reading the air — kuuki o yomu in Japanese — is a constant exercise, and misreading the air can blow business deals or ruin relationships.” Unfortunately, some people lack most of the skills required of executive presence.

Back to our CEO of the successful national insurance company. I can honestly report he had all of these executive presence qualities (gravitas, communication, appearance) and more. He was warm, relatable and not at all stuffy or superior. This charming executive decided after dedicating decades to this company it was time to retire and spend some time with his many grandchildren in his later years. Everyone was thrilled for him, especially because he had stayed long after he had planned to retire due to having no suitable successors for his position.

After being persuaded by his family that it was no longer his duty to wait until the perfect replacement came along, he finally retired. Fortunately for him, he lived happily ever after. The company did not.

The replacement chosen for the CEO’s position was a senior executive who was excellent and most comfortable with numbers and spreadsheets. He was about as far from a people person as one could get.

On semiannual visits to the regional offices, he scheduled office-wide meetings (which shut down that building’s entire operations for two to three hours at a time and completely disrupted all time-sensitive and customer-sensitive procedures for nearly half a day). He spoke in a monotone, pointed at indecipherable charts and graphs and would not answer any questions from the audience. He would then promptly hop on a plane to inflict his “company update” on another office.

I’d hoped the situation would resolve itself, but it did not. I had to disengage myself from the contract after realizing this executive consistently refused to make any changes no matter the inevitable outcome. Another year and a half after that, the company shut down. The stock was nearly worthless.

The moral of the story is, if your desire is to polish your executive presence, it requires patience, practice and the willingness to change for the better. It sounds challenging because it is. If everyone could display these talents without any effort, we’d all be up to our necks in competent C-suite executives. Until that day comes, know that your sincere efforts at perfecting these skills will not go unrewarded.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes