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Tag Archives: interpersonal skills

More than a conference – WorkHuman 2017

I know what you’re thinking: Ugh. ANOTHER ‘come to this conference because it’s so freaking great’ post. 

Well…yeah, it kind of is.

But it’s more than that! It’s a confession of sorts.

See, I usually end up going to conferences because either I’m speaking and they asked me to be there by paying my way, or because I know a bunch of cool people who are going to the conference and I really, really want to see them. I seldom go to a conference simply because it looks “interesting.”

WorkHuman was a little different.

I’ve been going to this conference since the very first one (you know…3 years ago). I had seen teasers about it and knew it was going to have some great speakers, including Shawn Achor, Nilofer Merchant, Ariana Huffington, and Adam Grant. I had seen Adam Grant speak in Denver and I just loved his book, so I thought, “Gee, what a cool looking conference. Oh well, no chance to go, I’ll just watch from afar.”

As fate would have it, I had a chance to attend because I knew people. (See? NETWORKING PAYS OFF. Go do it.) I got to see some friends I knew, but more importantly, I got to experience a conference that was unlike any other. The format was unique. The setting was far more intimate than most conferences. And more swanky. (Note to conference planners: you’ll never go wrong with choosing swanky.) And it felt more like a good conversation among friends because it wasn’t frenetic. Rather than piling on the concurrent sessions, WorkHuman had a keynote, then a few breakouts, and then another keynote, and a few more breakouts, etc. What resulted was a shared experience that allowed attendees to discuss the speakers, pay attention to the content, and not worry that they were missing something else in a session down the hall. I loved it.
workhuman

I got a chance to go back to the second one and write about it while I was there. This time, the conference was bigger with more sessions (but still swanky. Seriously…go for swank.). The venue was slightly less intimate, but the speakers were again top notch, and while there were more sessions, the conference let you sample several ideas with 15 minute power sessions, collaborative conversation spaces, and fascinating topics. And did I mention Michael J. Fox spoke? No? Well, he did. And it was fantastic.  (I also got called out to meet Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley because of something I tweeted during his session. Smart guy. Super nice. Good chat.)

And I get to go back this year – once again to write about the conference, but even better…I get to speak. YES. I am one of the 15 minute power sessions you can choose to avoid so you can see the other people talk about cool things! I’m incredibly honored and excited to be part of this conference. I love the concept. I love the theme. I love the swanky locales. (Clearly.)

But most importantly, I love the people. And I’m an introvert. So for me to say that after spending 3 days at a conference with so many people, that’s really saying something.

I got to meet some fabulous human beings at WorkHuman. I met John Baldino (who will be a fellow speaker this year) at the pool the day before the conference started. Of course, I had no idea that’s who he was (but the lack of hair probably should have been a clue), so I just talked to him like he was some random friendly guy at the pool. Thankfully, I didn’t say anything too embarrassing (I think), but he has seen me in a swimsuit, so I feel like that makes us family. I saw a bunch of people I don’t get to see nearly enough in real life (Tim Sackett, Kris Dunn, Kristen Harcourt, Robin Schooling, and so many more). I met the mind behind WorkHuman Robot. And because of the conference, I started following many of the speakers on Twitter…and they actually interact with you. Like people! (Amy Cuddy and Adam Grant are especially nice on Twitter. You guys are the best!) So I guess what I’m saying is…even though I went to that first WorkHuman thinking it was just another conference, I walked away with a new appreciation for how a conference that focuses on old topics a new way can really change the way you look at things.

So join us there and say a quick “hi.” Need help convincing your leadership it’s a good idea? Here’s a resource. In fact, since money runs the world, if you register and use the promo code WH17INF-MFA and you’ll save $200 on the registration fee!

WorkHuman helps you CONNECT – to your purpose, to your work, to other people, to new ideas. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s a good time.

Hope to see you there!

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We love you, WorkHuman Robot.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in culture, Personal Development

 

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Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

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This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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Expanding horizons

This is my plea that everyone – employees and leaders alike – learns how to think outside of themselves.

That they look beyond their personal role to see how they impact the world around them.

That they try to improve the processes they work within.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer support when needed.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer a kick in the butt when needed.

That they step back and think about how the offhanded comment they made in a crowded room might have been interpreted.

Earth_GlobeThat they realize that they made a positive difference in the lives of the people they interact with.

That they see their value in the world and know it spreads beyond those who see them every day.

That they recognize their power to influence…and use their power for good.

That they learn how to say “no” so that others say, “I understand.”

That they win with humility.

That they lose with grace.

That they never lose their love of learning – or that they discover it in the first place.

That they remember that every single person they interact with is going through something in their lives that others don’t know.

That they see the potential of the team, organization, and community that they are a part of – and want to help everyone reach that potential.

That they want to build, not destroy.

That they learn that success comes in many forms.

It is my hope that everyone – employees and leaders alike – realize it’s not all about them.

It’s about us.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in Authenticity, Clarity, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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Self-fulfilling prophecies and the danger of labels

Read through the following scenario and pay attention to how you interpret it:

An employee, Shaun, shows up very late on a Friday morning. Shaun typically isn’t a morning person and has been a couple of minutes late once or twice in the past – but never like this. He is bleary-eyed, disheveled, and appears to be having trouble concentrating. He is in his early 20s, the same as a group in the office that likes to go out and party on Thursday nights. When you ask Shaun what’s going on, he is evasive, fumbling for answers that would make you happy. 

A week ago, you had a similar incident occur in which the employee actually had a hangover and had accidentally deleted an important spreadsheet and was trying to cover it up. And there have been a lot of system issues lately that you believe are caused by your employees not knowing what they’re doing and creating extra records that don’t need to be there.

Know how you’d react? It wouldn’t be surprising if you assumed Shaun is just like the other employees of his generation. After all, you’ve read all about their work-life balance YOLO lifestyle. You’re in the know. Time to act – right?

But there’s more to the story:

When pressed, Shaun tells you that he knew that the system slowdown was affecting everyone’s productivity, and he decided to stay late on Thursday to remove the extraneous records that were slowing down the system. It took longer than he thought it would, and he didn’t want to get in trouble for not telling you.

Dang it – your label failed you.

The Power of Labels

In 1968, third grade Iowa schoolteacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her students about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and the dangers of racism – the worst kind of labeling. How do you get children to understand such a high level concept? By letting them experience LABELS. She started the day by explaining that blue-eyed children are smarter, prettier, and all around better than brown eyed children. After lunch, she changed it and and explained it turns out that brown-eyed children are smarter and better.

The speed with which these children accepted the roles into which they were assigned – aggressor and victim – is terrifying. It is even more terrifying when you consider that Jane Elliott was completely transparent about what she was doing with the children. She explained it’s an exercise. She explains what she wanted them to learn. And yet, the labels were SO strong, the children’s performance in learning exercises went DOWN when they were the “dumb” group. [Watch A Class Divided for the entire documentary. It’s amazing and well worth your time.]

label-maker1

So why do I bring this up?

Because labels are powerful – and we use them ALL THE TIME.

We talk about generations (Do you know how to recruit Millennials? Are you ready for the ennui of Gen X? Do you care what Generation Z will do???). We talk about high potentials. We talk about “difficult people.” We talk about A Players, B Players, engineers, IT, HR, “leaders”, “followers” – all of them labels. And each of these labels comes with preconceived notions about the person who has that label can and cannot do.

Listen, I get that labels can help. We have to categorize things in order to process the amount of information we encounter every day. But we also have to be aware of the impact our labels have.

Words Matter

As a leader, the labels you place on your employees are especially powerful, and are most often given within the first day of meeting a person. A “promising employee” or “hard worker” tends to get more benefit of the doubt than a “slow worker” or “troublemaker.” It’s even worse when an executive labels an employee they’ve met once. I’ve known an employee who carried the label of not being terribly smart because on her very first day, an executive asked her a question about a process she didn’t know the answer to. ON HER FIRST DAY. This employee was very smart, and very capable – and every talent discussion we had to combat the baggage of a label given after a 5 minute interaction.

Sadly, the leader’s reaction to an employee based on a label is nowhere near as dangerous as the employee’s reaction to the label the leader applied. Just like the children in A Class Divided, employees who have been labeled high potential often perform better (or fade under the pressure of expectation), while “difficult” employees make more errors, because others interpret their actions differently – or because the employees themselves believe they are the label you’ve given them*.

The same goes for employees labeling leaders. “She’s mean” or “He’s a pushover” colors the behavior of leaders because it shades the way others perceive the leader. With the prevalence of 360s in today’s business world, these labels gain more and more power, impacting the leader’s self-confidence – or potentially reinforcing BAD behavior – as each cycle of feedback simply reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Labels are going to be with us for a long time. They helped us survive as we evolved (this berry = good, sharp pointy teeth = bad). They allow us to thin-slice data. Unfortunately, they also allow employees and leaders alike to be lazy – to apply labels rather than get to know the people they interact with.

Leaders, when you go back to your teams take an honest look the expectations that you hold for each of your employees. Employees, take a hard look at the way you talk about your leader.  And ask yourself, am I responding to a person?

Or to a label?

[*For more on the power of suggestion and stereotypes, read Dan Ariely’s work.]

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Self-Awareness

 

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Be careful what you wish for…your voice WILL be heard

As employees, we have a list of grievances – or demands, if you prefer – that we carry in our heart and in our head at all times.

  • No one ever asks me what I think.
  • I never get to work on the big projects.
  • The executives don’t even know who I am!
  • My boss is constantly checking on me. Just leave me alone and let me do my job.

Sound familiar?

Complaining is the lifeblood of the American worker.  If we didn’t have work to complain about, we’d be forced to deal with something else. Like our unhealthy addiction to Laffy Taffy (don’t judge me).

So let’s say you had the opportunity to speak up. And I’m talking about a leadership team who really wants to hear your feedback and input (not some snarky attempt to check off the “listen to your people” box).green_soapbox

Someone finally asks you what you think.  Someone looks to you for some big ideas. Someone gives you free reign to propose a solution to all the problems you’ve been pointing out for so long.

Are you ready to respond? Because you may only get one shot at this.

It can hurt your credibility when you’re not able to rise to the occasion. Responding from a place of emotion rather than giving specific examples of what has happened that negatively impacts the organization, the focus is no longer on the issues – it’s squarely on you. And if you don’t respond AT ALL, you risk never being asked for your opinion again.

No one is looking for a perfectly formed 12 point plan to address the issues.  Your leaders are just asking you to articulate your concerns in a way that shows you have thought about the problem…you know, beyond how much it impacts you personally. Leaders KNOW it impact you. That’s why you keep bringing it up. So what are you gonna do about it?

If you want a voice and have a say in formulating a solution to the issues your team faces, try the following:

  • Self-monitor: Take note of how often you complain and how you might be perceived by others. What others might agree with in the beginning might become background noise in the long run.
  • Listen to others: Issues may not impact others the same way they impact you. And others may lend perspective that you don’t have.  So hush up and see what they have to say.
  • Stick to the facts: Emotions can run high, particularly if a group feels like no one has been listening to them up to this point.  Leaders tend to shut down the instant employees argue emotion rather than factual impact.
  • Be honest without being mean: Leaders want candor. They don’t want anger. Don’t let the message be lost in the way you deliver it. Attack the issue, not the person. You CAN be respectful and be frank.
  • Be solution-focused: We all vent. A lot. It’s pretty easy to point out all the things that are wrong. Leaders ask for your opinion because they want to hear from the people on the front-lines. Use your day-to-day knowledge to suggest solutions no one in leadership would think of.

So the next time you complain that no one ever listens to you, don’t be surprised if leadership starts asking for your opinion.

Will you be ready?

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Managing Up, Teamwork

 

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Finding your voice (or…writer’s block sucks)

Full disclosure: I’ve started and stopped about 5 different posts today.

I come up with a title, write a sentence or two, and then stare at the computer.  Or my phone. Or the TV (Chopped is on, people!). It sucks. It’s frustrating. I hate it.

Rather than fight through and try to write a post that refuses to be written, I hit “save draft,” open a new window, and start writing a new post.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I take this approach because forcing words down on the page results in a crappy product.  Stephen King once said that you should first write for yourself, then worry about the audience. He also says that you need stick to your own style because that’s the only way you’ll have truthiness – and I think he’s right.  I have to write in a way that feels true to my voice and my weird perspective on things or else the story and meaning falls flat.Stephen King

And so I keep changing my approach, trying on different topics to see if one “fits” better today so I can write the whole darn thing.

Writer’s block in leadership is sort of like this, but instead of trying to write a post that just won’t be written, you end up unable to lead –  saying the same things over and over again to your employees the exact same way and then end up surprised that they STILL aren’t changing their behavior.

You can break your “leader’s block” by following Stephen King’s advice. Rather than trying to go “by the book” and follow someone else’s leadership model or process to the letter, you need to first lead for yourself…then worry about your employees. Find your own voice and perspective – and the employees will respond.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I a leader? Do I like being a leader?
  • Assuming I DO like being a leader, what do I like about it?
  • What do I think a leader’s job IS? Am I doing that job?
  • What are some aspects of other leaders I admire? How can I incorporate it into my personal style?

None of these questions is a cure for leader’s block on its own. It’s the equivalent of practicing your writing until your own perspective shines through. Leaders grow through experience, through trial and error. You owe it to yourself – and your employees – to break through your block and find your voice. Keep trying; keep leading; keep exploring.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself. – Stephen King

 

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The best part about being a manager

There are hundreds – nay, thousands – of blog posts about how hard it is to be a manager, the struggles one faces, the challenges we deal with.  I’ve contributed to that number.  Heck, this whole blog was created on the premise that it’s difficult to be a leader, as well as to be led.

None of that has changed. It’s hard out there for a pimp, yo.

But we focus so much on negativity that I thought it would be good to take a moment to talk about the best part about being a manager – employees.

Yes, employees are the best part about being manager. (Some of them are the worst part, but that’s another story.) Unless you are ready to work with your employees to help them be successful, you shouldn’t even consider being a manager – I don’t care what the compensation rate is.  You need to WANT to develop people. Because it’s hard work and can lead to heartache.

It can also lead to moments of incredible joy and pride.you da best

I’ve had the opportunity to manage a lot of different people in a lot of different situations in my career – some good, some bad.  While every single one is one of God’s special creatures in their own way, there have been a few that stood out because of what they accomplished.  And let’s be clear…they are the reason they are successful.  I was just lucky to be there.

I don’t want to publicly embarrass any of them, so I won’t go into great detail about their circumstances (Sam, Steven, Jim, others…you know who you are).  I worked with all of them when they were individual contributors – some in mid-career, some at the very beginning. All of them loved challenge, hated me from time to time, and have moved on to build training organizations of their own, to manage people, or to find the job that brings them happiness. And they did it because they are awesome.

There was no secret ingredient to helping them.  Really, it was about having high expectations, having their back, letting them fail from time to time, challenging them when I thought they were selling themselves short, and then getting the hell out of their way.

Whenever I have a chance to interact with these former employees, I’m always in awe of what they have been able to accomplish in spite of me.  It’s always a shame when a great employee moves on, but that’s tempered by the knowledge that they have done so much more than what they could have done if they had stayed my employee. And I learned far more from them than they did from me.

So, yeah…there are times when I hate being a manager; when I wish all I had to do was sit down, do work, and not be responsible for anyone else. But all that (well, most of that) goes away when I see an employee succeed.

Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.
 – Jim Goodnight, CEO SAS

 

Do you have a great employee success story? ARE you a great employee success story? Share in the comments!!!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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