RSS

Tag Archives: discipline

How can you afford your Whac-A-Mole lifestyle? (hint: you can’t)

You’ve seen them.

Running from place to place.  Conducting drive-bys at every cube, leaving unclear action items in their wake – and frustrating employees everywhere.

These are the Whac-A-Moles. And they are hurting your business.

In case you’ve never been to a midway, Whac-A-Mole is an entertaining game in which the player (you) get to use a giant soft mallet to smack (whac) moles that pop out of holes at random intervals.  It’s oddly satisfying.

That little moment of happiness you feel when you bonk that mole on the head in a game is the same feeling that the Whac-A-Mole Leader gets when they run around the office reacting to every little thing.  I mean…I assume that it’s the same because I can’t imagine why you would want to work that way.  It sounds exhausting.

Just as exhausting as it sounds to BE a Whac-A-Mole Leader, it can be even worse to be AROUND the Whac-A-Mole Leader.  Any attempts at prioritizing your day goes out the window.  You rejoice when the Whac-A-Mole is out of the office or in an all day meeting (though you dread the next day when they’re back with action items).  It can make for a very frustrating work environment.

Think about the costs of Whac-A-Mole Leadershipwhac-a-mole-new-version

  • Lost Efficiency: When managers rush in and demand immediate action, the employees who receive that demand have to stop what they’re doing and respond.  Once they’re done, they then have to figure out where they were, which costs time and brain power.
  • Lost Vision: A manager who reacts may think they have a vision, but really they are just reacting to things that happen.  By reacting to everything happening rather than having a plan, Whac-A-Mole Leaders abdicate their strategic vision to the will of others.
  • Lost Credibility: Think about it. If you’re a Whac-A-Mole Leader, your team has no time to do their normal work and are forced to rush through the “emergencies,” and you don’t have your own vision – how much credibility do you think you’d have? Your team will think you have no real leadership of your own, and your peers will take advantage of you because they know you will whac any mole they throw at you.

There is hope for you yet

It is possible to break the Whac-A-Mole cycle, but you have to commit to it.  

FIrst, admit you have a problem.  Seriously.  If you think you DON’T have a problem or have been told you do by a couple of people and don’t believe it, ask to have a 360 feedback survey conducted.  That should give you enough perspective to realize how pervasive the issue is.

Next, wean yourself from the need to react to everything. Stop reacting and start thinking – about your vision, about your team’s priorities, about the true needs of the business.

Because if you continue to react to everything, the last thing you’ll react to is the fact you got fired.

Are you a reformed Whac-A-Mole Leader?  Did you survive one?  Share your stories in the comments!!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Executive Presence, Managing Up, Skillz

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

You are how you act (a cautionary tale)

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

– Polonius to Laertes, Hamlet

I hate to be yet another post about Richard Sherman and all that, but try as I might, I just can’t shake some feelings of disappointment over the whole affair.  For those of you who have been without internet, here’s what everyone has been talking about.

Sherman’s reaction touched off a firestorm of reaction.  The debate seems to have settled into two camps – those who think Sherman is a thug, and those who think the media is being unfair.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed – he was asked a question about his team, and chose to use this moment to trumpet himself (not his team) and make a personal attack on Michael Crabtree, his opponent.   I don’t think he’s a thug or any of the other words used to describe him – I think he’s a guy with low impulse control who needs to have a little more professionalism.  The outburst (and subsequent follow up comments) lacked humility, a quality other greats in the game show in victory and defeat.whois

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

But apparently I’m mistaken.  This story was written – telling us that we are lazy and awful because we didn’t bother to get to know the real Richard Sherman, and aren’t we all just shallow.

Guess what? We are how we act. Each of us is responsible for our behavior. Richard Sherman has a pattern of disrespecting his opponents. I’m glad he’s a person who found a better life through his talent, but that doesn’t excuse him for acting like a jerk.  And now kids are making videos re-enacting the rant.  We are supposed to be okay with it because if kids can re-enact it, there obviously wasn’t anything inappropriate done or said.  Other than the lack of sportsmanship.

There are CEOs who are assholes in their day-to-day lives who are loved because they manage their public persona so well (or the serial killer about whom everyone says, “he seemed like such a nice guy”), just as there are people like Sherman who may do wonderful things away from the spotlight, but chooses to act like a jackass when the cameras are on.  And the one we see on TV is the one from whom we make our judgements.  Is it fair?  Maybe not.

And that in way of caution, I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly

But it happens to each of us every day – our value to a company might be based on a hallway interaction with an EVP, or one meeting with stakeholders, or a chance encounter on IM.  And we don’t always get a chance to hold follow up press conferences or send out tweets to argue our case.  And most of us don’t get to play the “that’s your problem” card.

We all have choices on how we act.  No, we cannot control how people will react to us.  Nor can we control the judgements made about us based on the baggage people carry around with them.  But we can acknowledge that sometimes our actions might be misinterpreted because of the timing or tone, and we can apologize when we act inappropriately.  We can be accountable for how we act, for that is how others see who we are.

Sherman has had a good past couple of years (as well a dodged suspension due to irregularities in the collection process), and he has always had a big mouth.  If he wants to be remembered for his talent and not for his attitude, he would do well to rethink his public persona.  If he wants to be remembered for his intelligence and escape from a difficult childhood, he should act as the person he is.

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Unless he is the person he acts like.  And that’s all on him.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Skillz

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Knowing when to pull the plug (or why you make the big bucks)

Knowing when to pull the plug (or why you make the big bucks)

It’s a moment that most leaders have faced.  That enterprise-wide solution that you’ve been working on for 2 months and is three weeks away from implementation – the one that you championed for months, shouting down anyone who dared to disagree…and did you seriously just hear yourself say ‘I’d stake my reputation on it’ – is NOT the right solution.  Not even close.  In fact, it’s probably going to break the internet.  And the worst part?  You knew it 2 weeks into the project.

So what do you do?

Well, if you’re like most people, there’s a good chance that you just put your head down, rally the troops, and limp it over the finish line.  Heck, it might work.  Glass half full.  Power of positive thinking!  The Secret wouldn’t have been a top seller unless it really worked – right?  Besides, if you pull out now, it would be like a slap in the face to all those team members who worked their hearts out to meet the deadlines and somehow kludge the “solution” into the existing infrastructure, and that’s just unfair….

Okay.  Hold it right there.  If this has ever been your thinking, you just fell into the “sunk cost” trap (awesomely laid out by the Freakonomics folks in this 2011 post on the upside of quitting).  Maybe you could afford to base your decisions on sunk cost when you were a bright-eyed entry-level analyst, but as a leader you just can’t think that way.  It’s why you make the big bucks – you have to make the decisions that may feel icky in the short term, but are the CORRECT ones for the company.

Falling in love with your plan is a real risk for a leader and incredibly easy to do.  Chances are you were made a leader because you have great ideas and have a track record for bringing solutions to the table.  Hey, I get it.  Pulling the plug on an idea that you’ve incubated can feel like a failure – you seriously question the reason why you had the idea in the first place.  Or worse – you feel like you’re personally attacking one of your employees who was brave enough to suggest the idea in the first place.  But I would argue that your ability to pull the plug on a project or idea that isn’t right and/or won’t be successful long-term is one of the greatest skills a leader can have.  It saves time, money, good faith, reputation, sanity – you name it.

images

So how do you get your mind around the fact that as a leader it’s OKAY to pull the plug on a doomed project?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Runaway bride: Think of the project as a marriage.  Are you falling in love with the wedding without thinking about the fact that the two of you don’t really have anything in common?  If your answer is “maybe”, think about what the divorce might be like.  How hard is is to undo the project once it’s launched?  Chances are, pulling the plug now will be a lot less painful than trying to un-implement PeopleSoft  (not that there’s anything wrong with PeopleSoft – please don’t sue).
  • Outsider’s view: Take a step back and look at your project as an outsider would see it.  Or even better – look at it as though the project was being sponsored by your arch nemesis and start poking holes in it.  If you’re able to rattle off 5 reasons it won’t work within 10 seconds, guess what – it won’t work.  Now you can feel better about ending the project immediately.  Yay, you!
  • Trust the team: I have been lucky enough to manage some really amazing people in my career.  They were smart, creative, hard working…and nice enough to speak up when they thought I was doing something really, really stupid.  It took a little while for me to learn to listen to them, but I did.  And as a result, I felt okay abandoning my ideas when they weren’t the right ones.  Even better, the team built a culture where anyone could recommend pulling the plug and starting over so feelings weren’t hurt and precious time and resources were redirected to the right things.
  • Think of it as becoming more disciplined: It’s like eating vegetables – it’s good for you. Jim Collins wrote this article about the importance of a stop doing list.  If one of the most successful business authors can learn the importance of pulling the plug, surely you can do it, too.
  • Make it quick: Okay, so you admit it won’t work.  Cut it off NOW.  No prolonged battles, no questioning what the project’s real wishes were, no waiting around to see if maybe it’ll work next quarter.  Say your good-byes and pull the plug and let everyone move on to the next idea.
  • Get over it: So your idea didn’t work.  Boo hoo.  You’ll have another one.  Oh, is that a little harsh?  Sorry.  But seriously.  Get over it.

As a leader, your ability to think critically, logically, and systemically can make or break your company’s success.  That responsibility far outweighs any one project.

With great power comes great responsibility.
– Uncle Ben

Have some tips on how you pull the plug with dignity?  Share in the Comments.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Skillz

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: