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Monthly Archives: February 2013

This isn’t Road House (when leaders can’t see past “my way”)

The title of this post references, of course, that iconic moment in Road House when Dalton (played the late, great Patrick Swayze) tells an unruly sort, “It’s my way….(dramatic pause)….or the highway.”  It’s meant to be a macho moment and is absolutely appropriate coming from a bouncer at a seedy bar.   When spoken by a leader?  Not so great.

[Random aside: When verifying the name of Swayze’s character, I learned that the tagline for ‘Road House’ was “The dancing’s over.  Now it gets dirty.” Isn’t that awesome?]

signpostWhere was I?  Oh yes…most of us at one time or another has struggled with someone in authority telling us there is only ONE way to reach a desired outcome.  And we all probably had the same thought – that’s dumb.  Except in certain circumstances (SEC filing requirements come to mind), there are MULTIPLE ways to do something (think about tying your shoes – you can do the single loop, wrap around method; or opt for the double-loop and knot method; or even the  old school Topsiders nubby-ended lace option).  True, there might be a “best” way to do something, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try another way.   And people HATE it when they’re told they can’t be creative or put their personal spin on something.  It can severely affect engagement in the workplace, leading to lost productivity or even higher turnover (particularly among top talent).

So why do leaders get stuck in “My Way or the Highway” mode?  And what do you do about it? So glad you asked!

  • Can’t let it go: You know the type.  They say things like, “Well, when I did your job, I did it this way and it worked fine.” Leaders who do this don’t seem to realize that a) they aren’t doing your job anymore, and b) things change – technology, preferences, best practices – and it may be time to move one.
    How to handle it: Thank them for sharing their experiences with you and tell them that you will really appreciate their input throughout the process.  And then share the data/study/proof of concept that shows that another approach might be better. 
  • Threatened: Sometimes leaders feel threatened by a good employee and will consciously or subconsciously work to sabotage an employee’s success.  Yes.  That is a sad, petty and fairly silly way to operate, but some leaders fall into the trap.
    How to handle it: Recognize why your leader is doing this.  It’s from a place of fear, not malice.  And how do you combat fear?  With information.  Keep your leader in the loop at all times and do a lot of alignment checks.  Help them feel like they are an important part of the process, and give them an opportunity to realize that your success is their success.  And if your leader persists, document your conversations and work and ensure people know what you’ve been doing to keep the project moving forward.
  • Clueless: This is the leader who honestly has NO idea what it is you do.  (Think “Pointy-haired Boss” from Dilbert.)  While typically a benign figure, the clueless manager will insist on his/her approach because he/she saw it in a magazine while waiting in the doctor’s office.  Honestly, this leader just gets in the way of progress, but beware of ignoring this leader – they control your budget!
    How to handle it:  Ask them why they think it’s a good idea.  Then, steer the conversation in a way that will make this leader think YOUR idea is THEIR idea.  Now you ARE doing it their way!  It’s called a win-win.

Yes, some of this is a little tongue-in-cheek – because honestly, from the employee’s point of view, a leader who insists on only ONE way to do something is pretty ridiculous and thus reduces the leader to a caricature to be ignored and avoided.

It’s much more serious when YOU are the leader who insists there is only one way to do something.  Don’t be that leader – examine your motivations, admit that you do it (and we’ve all done it), and work hard to be open minded.  You’ll be rewarded with happier employees, better results, and a realization that there IS more than one path to a successful outcome.   So don’t be Dalton – be a leader who can embrace the infinite possibilities of the imagination, let go of your ego, and embrace the team’s success.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Skillz, Uncategorized

 

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Some cheese with your whine? (dealing with the victim mentality)

As you may have figured out, I have a “thing” about accountability – I happen to believe it’s one of the most important character traits a person can possess.  I even wrote a whole article about it (see?).  So I fully acknowledge that when I address the topic of victim mentality, I have a bit of an agenda.  Okay, disclaimer out of the way.  Let’s do this!

Most of us have been “blessed” with the experience of watching someone play the victim – “It’s not my fault.” “He’s just out to get me.” “That’s not fair.” “I wanted to give you a raise, but they wouldn’t let me.”   The fascinating part about it is that the victim mentality knows no boundaries.  From the fresh-out-of-school entry-level clerk to the tenured CEO, anyone can take refuge in the sanctuary of the victim mentality.  Um…yay?

The tragedy of the victim mentality is that it quickly becomes a way of life for people.  Why?  Because it works.  It allows managers to avoid tough conversations because now it’s someone else’s fault and the employee can’t be mad at them.  It allows employees to avoid taking responsibility because now everything was out of their control and it’s not fair to blame them.   And the rest of us let them get away with it because it’s easier to just say “fine” and secretly resent them than it is to call them on it, all the while moping that you’re the only one who seems to do anything around here…thereby perpetuating the victim mentality.

no_whiningSo in the spirit of personal accountability, here is some guidance on how to overcome victim mentality for the following scenarios in your workplace:

  • If you’re listening to your employee or a peer play the victim: First, try not to roll your eyes.  Were you successful?  Good!  Now you can empathize (but don’t sympathize!).  Acknowledge that from their perspective, you could see it might feel like they were a victim (don’t say it that way – tailor your phrasing to the words they’re using).  Then you might start asking some probing questions, such as, “Did they explain to you why it was important to meet the deadline?” Or perhaps, “So when you read through all the fine print, did it not outline the penalties for early cancellation?”  Basically, you’re helping the other person see that they had some ownership, too.  Don’t be a smartass, though – that doesn’t work out well.
  • If you’re listening to your manager play the victim: Oy…what to do?  This one is tough, no question.  If you have a good relationship with your boss, you might be able to use humor to point out how silly they’re being.  (No, really, this works…as long as you trust each other).  Many times, all you can do is nod politely and say, “wow”.  Once your boss is done complaining, ask an action-oriented question, such as, “So what I can I do to help you move this forward/solve the problem/support you?”  Sometimes that’s enough to snap them out of it and get them in the right mindset attain.  Again – don’t be a smartass.  Just sayin’.
  • If it’s you playing the victim (non-manager role): Stop it.  (Need more?  Sheesh.)  Self-awareness goes a long way towards changing any behavior, so become a little more introspective about your complaining.  What’s your inner monologue say?  Is there a lot of finger-pointing, “they”, or “fairness” creeping in? Ask yourself, “What did I do that contributed to this outcome?” and acknowledge your role in the situation.  If you can’t seem to do that, ask a friend to play devil’s advocate to help you learn from the experience and break your victim habits.  Hopefully, they won’t be a smartass.
  • If you’re playing the victim (manager role): The most common issue I see in this case is from a manager who won’t own the message.  It might be that a policy has rolled out that they don’t entirely agree with, or they didn’t address an employee’s performance until someone else noticed the issue and said to deal with it – whatever it might be, some managers try to soften the blow by siding with the employees against a common enemy (usually “leadership” or the ever-popular “HR”).  Here’s the thing – the moment you use the word “they”, you have completely abdicated your authority and credibility to someone else.  Why should your employees see you as a leader if you let someone else push you around?  My advice is that you learn when to fight (not in front of your employees) and when to support (in front of your employees).  You don’t have to agree with everything you’re asked to roll out; but you need to ensure you are aligned with the company and can send a consistent message.  Learn why a decision was made, and figure out a way to communicate that decision without tipping your hand to either support or discontentment.  Not sure how?  Start listening to upper management roll out new policies.  No, not every policy change is a winner, but your employees are looking to you for cues on how to act.  If you’re a victim, they will be, too.

Will there be times in your life when you actually are a victim?  Yes.  So why not save all that energy for use when the situation calls for it, and not when you forgot to mail in your payment?   The reality is, your inner monologue contributes to your reality – if you think you’re a victim, you ARE a victim.  Wouldn’t you rather be the one running your life?  I know I would.

 If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.
– Richard Bach

Got a good technique for overcoming a victim mentality?  Or just have a funny victim story to share?  Post it in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Skillz

 

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Defining Success (or how to gamble the right way)

I was watching Storage Wars the other night (don’t judge me) and one of the featured buyers/characters made the comment that the day was a bust because he didn’t get any of the lockers.  And it struck me that this person (“the gambler”) was looking at it from completely the wrong perspective.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Storage Wars, a brief tutorial – when people don’t pay their fees on a storage locker for a certain amount of time, these lockers are considered abandoned and are offered up for auction.  The bidders are not allowed to enter the locker or touch any contents – they get about 2 minutes to look inside and make a snap decision about bidding.

As you might have guessed, not all of these storage units are “winners”.  Units that look like they are full of high quality boxes have been known to be filled with old newspapers.  Occasionally there is a gem found among the lockers (old baseball cards, jewelry, rare books), but more often than not the bidders may only make $100 or even lose money on the deal.

gamblingwiththedevilSo, back to “the gambler’s” comment that bothered me so much.   Like most businesses, the storage racket would appear to live by the “buy low – sell high” philosophy, only in this situation, the buying is a very chancy proposition, indeed.  In that particular episode, a number of the lockers went for $2,000+ – pretty tight margins for someone who relies on buying other people’s abandoned stuff.  So wouldn’t you think that you might define success as making smart buying decisions and knowing when to NOT buy something?

A lot of leaders think like “the gambler” (and yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to be singing the song to yourself at this point).  They define success as having a finished product, whether it’s a PowerPoint deck, software roll out, or a company-wide reorg – even if one of these is a bad idea.  Or they define success as “winning” a conversation, shouting down the whole room and having the last word – even if it means abandoning the game plan.  Sometimes success means NOT taking action – but you wouldn’t know that if you haven’t taken the time to think about it.

Leadership is a bit of a gamble at times.  You don’t always know how your decisions will turn out.   Good analysis may suggest a course of action, but then you find out the data was inaccurate.  Depending on your hiring process, those candidates may look like a promising storage unit that you bid on, only to find out the fancy storage trunk hid a bunch of mold.  We stay in it, though, for that occasional hidden treasure that experience and research tells us should be a good bet.  The key is defining success the right way and sticking to it.  A few thoughts:

  • If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right: Have you REALLY defined what success looks like, or are you relying on a flash of insight, a vague pie chart, or a dream you had last night?  Do your homework, conduct some analysis, and define what success means…and stick to it!
  • You gotta know when to hold ‘em: Sometimes things start as clunkers (employees, projects, lunch plans).  But if your plan is sound and you keep the long-term goal in mind (success!), it’s worth waiting it out a little bit.  Don’t give up because you hit one road block.
  • Know when to fold ‘em: Conversely, don’t keep throwing good money after bad.  This really is gambling and typically doesn’t end well for anyone. (Click here for a recent post about knowing when to pull the plug).
  • Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table: Okay, I really just wanted to use all the lyrics, but hear me out.  Don’t assume you’re a success just because you had a good week, just as you shouldn’t assume you failed because you had a bad day.  Stick to the plan and remember your definition of success.  Wait until all the cards on the table before declaring something was a waste of time.

Listen, if everything was a sure bet, it wouldn’t be any fun.  Just be careful that you don’t substitute smart thinking with chasing the “gambler’s high”, remembering that ONE time that your gut was right.  Whether you’re a CEO, an entry-level analyst, or a dude who makes money buying abandoned storage units, your long term prosperity and general well-being relies on your ability to define success in a way that’s right for the business…and remembering it in times of frustration.

And THAT’S an ace that you can keep*.

*With apologies to Kenny Rogers

Ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Clarity, Decision Making

 

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