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Survivor: Meetings Edition

If you clicked on this link because you thought it would be a thoughtful look at how to structure a meeting to ensure success, then you have come to the wrong place.

I am at the point where I no longer think it can be done on a consistent basis. Yes, you will have the occasional meeting where decisions are ACTUALLY made and people leave feeling like they accomplished something. But let’s be honest…those are few and far between. And do we REALLY think one more article reminding everyone to have an agenda and desired outcomes is going to make a difference?survivor

I didn’t think so.

And so, for your edification and general sanity, I present the following tips for surviving meetings:

  • Bring your smartphone: Seems pretty basic, right? But how else are you going to stay occupied during the update you’ve heard in 4 other meetings? And besides, if someone calls you out, you can say you were just pulling up the email with the attachment the person was talking about. (Hint: have that pre-loaded. Just in case.)
  • Bring a notebook: This is essential. It’s low tech. It doesn’t rely on good signal. And no one can accuse you of not paying attention because it looks like you’re taking notes…even if you’re just doodling, jotting down a grocery list, or finally writing that novel you’ve always known you had inside you.
  • Choose your seat carefully: It’s good to sit next to someone you like so you can exchange meaningful glances when something goofy is said. If that’s not possible, then sit across from that person so you can silently laugh when appropriate. There’s always an opportunity to text that person from afar as needed. (See “bring your smartphone.”)
  • Pretend the person who drones on and on is monologuing: This is straight from The Incredibles. At some point, the villain ALWAYS monologues. This is your chance to dream up your amazing escape! I’m sure lasers will be involved somehow. There should be lasers. But not capes. For obvious reasons.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: This one is more about amusement than survival, but whatever. Some people believe the Outlook meeting is the required time to hold the meeting, so they’re not going to end early if they can help it. Why not spice up the festivities with a little, “Just playing devil’s advocate?” For example, the group is talking about ways to increase customer service. You can pipe in with a, “Just playing devil’s advocate here, but is the customer REALLY always right? I’d hate for us to go down a certain path on a false premise.”
  • Fake a sneezing fit: Coughing works, too. Anything that requires you to inarticulately point at your face and make a beeline for the door.

If you find yourself relying on one or more of these on a regular basis, your company has a problem with meetings. Now you have a choice – either perpetuate the issue or take a stand and stop going unless you know why the meeting is taking place. It only takes one strong voice to question the recurring meeting, and it only takes one smart question to find out why 10 people are sitting in a room.

Or you can fake sneeze. Because that makes you look like an adult.

What have YOU done to liven up your awful meetings? I want to hear from you!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in culture, Teamwork

 

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Leadership takes time (Lessons from the Super Bowl)

I know, I know…yet another post about football players and what we can learn from them in moments of great stress. But it’s such a rich topic, people. I mean, really.

I’ve actually already written some posts about how players respond after a big moment – some do well (Peyton Manning), some not so well (Richard Sherman). So when I saw the post-Super Bowl press conference with Cam Newton (or “presser,” as they say in the biz), I figured I’d leave it alone. There are plenty of people out there who will weigh in on his behavior. Besides, I have work to do.

But then I read some of the comments and tweets from his peers and from sports reporters. Reaction is kind of all over the place, with a majority of people landing in the, “We get you’re upset, but you need to be a leader” camp.

People will contrast Peyton Manning’s performance in post-loss interviews with Cam Newton. They’ll point out that Peyton is always gracious, that he always makes time for the press, that he waits to congratulate his opponents. And to some extent, that’s fair.

But Peyton has been around the league for a long time, not just as a player, but as the son of a quarterback who played for a pretty terrible franchise. He learned over time the importance of humility, of dealing with the press, of using reporters’ first names, and of managing his image. In short, Peyton has learned the lessons of leadership. He did not spring from the forehead of Zeus with perfect leadership behaviors (despite what some would have you believe). He has made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. cam

Having seen the footage, I do think Cam Newton was pretty unprofessional. He was an outspoken player throughout the year, gregarious and emotive, unashamed of how he celebrates. And he suffered a crushing disappointment – so he shouldn’t have been surprised by the onslaught of questions. If you’re chatty when you’re winning, the press expects you to be chatty when you lose. It shouldn’t be a surprise to him. He’s been called out for his “pouting” (for lack of a better word) in previous years when the team lost. This year, he was much better…because his team hadn’t really lost. As soon as he was faced with adversity, the smile was gone and he his frustration was apparent.

Despite this, I think Cam will be okay.

Cam is young. He did not grow up in a football family. He is an emotional player who hasn’t learned the art of equanimity with the press. That is not, however, everything that he is. He gives footballs to kids. He volunteers at elementary schools. He came back from a horrific car accident that could have killed him to be the NFL MVP.

I guess I just hope that this one moment does not end up defining him as a LEADER. Leadership takes time. Leadership takes repetition. Leadership takes mentoring.

Think about your own leadership growth. Can you really say you’ve never messed up? Multiple times? The only difference between your leadership growth and Can Newton’s is that he’s getting paid a LOT of money…and has the added pressure of learning in public in a 24/7 news cycle.

I think the seeds for Cam Newton are there. And he has support.

When asked about the presser, Peyton Manning had this to say:

“I’ll tell ya’, Cam couldn’t have been nicer to me.He was extremely humble, congratulated me, wished me the best. I told him just congratulations on his outstanding season, and just what a great future he has ahead of him. He’ll be back in that game, I can promise you.

Only time will tell if Peyton is right. But we should give Cam Newton that benefit of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is leadership.

 

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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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Ode to #teamfaulkner (or, the one with the Hoosiers reference)

Not too long ago, I wrote about the importance of having a support network to keep you on track.

I have my own group – #teamfaulkner.

The concept was born out of the idea of having a personal board of directors.  (I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but this HBR article is a good overview.)  I had hit a point in my life and my career where I wanted to start thinking about the long-term, “what do I want to be doing for the rest of my career” questions, and I knew I wasn’t equipped to figure that all out on my own.  I figured I’d put together an advisory committee of people who knew me from various aspects of my life, and I would use them to explore what I might be when I grow up.  There wasn’t a timeline attached – it was basically an exploratory committee.  I figured I had lots of time.

Reality had other ideas, and my job went away as part of a restructure.

It happens.  It sucks when it happens, but it happens.  The good news is that I already had a ready-made support team as I contemplated my next move.

hoosiers#teamfaulkner helped keep me grounded after the surprise of the reorg.  They offered support and acted as a sounding board for different options.  They connected me to some amazing people who shared their thoughts on the state of HR and helped me explore various career paths.  They made me laugh (a lot).  They listened to me in my whiney moments.  They took time to reach out individually as needed.  They let me bounce ideas off them, sharing opinions on various interviews and job options.  They told me what they thought while still leaving room for me to think it through.  And they supported me when I decided on where to land.

They were great.  They’re still great.

One of the #teamfaulkner members asked what I thought about the whole process.  I asked for a little time to think about it, and this person said I should answer on my blog.  So I am. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • I reached out to the right people: When I thought about putting this “board of directors” together, I wanted to pick people who knew me from a variety of viewpoints – people I’ve worked with, people who at one time worked for me, people I know primarily through the online community, consultants, practitioners, professors, all that stuff.  This variety of perspectives has been invaluable to me; almost like a short-hand for debating all sides of an argument.  Depending on the topic, they share a spectrum of opinions from conservative to “why the hell not?”
  • It’s okay to disagree with the #team: I wanted feedback, not an owner’s manual.  So when someone on #teamfaulkner suggests something I don’t really agree with, it’s awesome because even though I’m not going to take that particular piece of advice, I had to think about why and articulate that “why” to someone else, thereby thinking through the decision-making process much more thoroughly.
  • It’s better to be specific in my requests: I have found it most helpful when I ask specific questions or am more precise in describing what my issue is.  Shockingly, just saying, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!” doesn’t elicit the most useful feedback.  I am also planning to ask #teamfaulkner to challenge me a little more.  Part of it could have been the circumstances (no one wants to kick a person when they are down), and part of it could have been the way I framed the questions.
  • It’s not just about me: Ostensibly, #teamfaulkner is all about me (after all, it’s named after me).  But what various folks have shared is that the group was helpful for them as well – whether it was practice coaching, learning from the advice of others, or being exposed to a new way of thinking through things.
  • I was unprepared for how much people would be willing to reach out and help: I’m a pretty independently-minded human being, which means I typically figure things out on my own.  (Some people would say I’m ‘stubborn’…but I don’t talk to those people any more. Haha.  Sort of.)  When I reached out to a cross-section of friends from different walks of life, I figured I’d get a post now and then…maybe a “like” on my Facebook group.  What I got was an amazing amount of support – thoughtful comments, emails, phone calls, texts, all that cool stuff.  I am still in awe of, and incredibly touched by, the level of personal outreach I’ve received from #teamfaulkner. (This is for you.)

Now that I’ve started my next adventure, a couple of folks asked whether that was the end of #teamfaulkner.  The answer – HELL NO.  I will continue to rely on this group to guide me in my career and personal development.   I want to keep making them visit the Facebook group and read silly posts.  I want to keep learning from this amazing group of people.   I want the group to continue to learn from each other.  I want to tell them when I think they’re full of crap, and I want them to tell me when I’m full of crap (which they totally will).

In short, I want to keep in touch.

#teamfaulkner started as an experiment in leveraging my network, and it has grown into more.  And I will continue to reach out to my team for as long as they will have me.  It’s been an interesting process for me, and one I recommend for others who are looking to gain insight into their development.  Who knows?  There may be a book in it one day.  (If the team is okay with it.)

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.
~Napoleon Hill

 

 

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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.

 
 

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I get by with a little help from my friends

Do you have a safety net?   Do you have a network of friends who can help you through tough times?  Do you have a group of folks who can talk straight to you and tell you when you’re being an idiot?

If you don’t, you need one.

Leaders have a tendency to try and do everything on their own.  As a result, they often suck at delegating, struggle to communicate their vision compellingly…and aren’t too good about reaching out for help when they need it. And of all people, leaders (especially CEOs) need to avoid isolation – it can negatively impact the business.

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Regardless of your level of leadership, you can benefit from having your own personal support team.  I know this from personal experience:

  • Venting: Life is not always cupcakes and unicorns, which means you’re going to need to be able to complain and rage from time to time.  Your support group will listen and not judge…well, not much.
  • Accountability: A good support group calls you on your crap. They can also help you clarify and achieve your goals.  It’s good to have people around who can keep you on track.  They can also suggest actions to take to help get you to the finish line.
  • Sanity Check: This is similar to “accountability” but it’s a little more focused than that.  Your support team is there to throw out the red flag when they see you about to do something incredibly stupid.  It’s great to have that voice of reason when things go crazy.
  • Wisdom: As much as you think you know everything, you don’t.  Your support team can use their collective knowledge to help you break through your issues and move forward. So find some smart people for your posse!
  • Laughter: When you pick your support team, make sure you pick ones who have the same sense of humor as you.  And aren’t afraid to say inappropriate things.  And who know REALLY good jokes.

Just remember: you don’t have to go through this alone. Find your team and conquer the world!

PS – Shout out to #TeamFaulkner!  You know who you are.  And you are awesome.

Do you have a support network? What do you use it for?  Share in the comments!

 
 

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NASA is freakin’ awesome (why science geeks are leading the way for engagement)

The other night, after being woken up by a particularly loud dog turning over in her crate, the TV was turned on and I ended up watching an hour long program on NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars.  It was awesome, and if you are not in awe of the things that human beings can do when focused on a common cause, shame on you.  I’ve been a space nerd from a very early age.  The Right Stuff is still one of my favorite movies. I really wanted to be an astrophysicist (then I hit ‘Intro to Complex Variables’.  Oof.) and I watch documentaries all the time (hence the Science Channel on at 3:00am).  I love that stuff.

As I lay there, not sleeping like I should have been, I was struck by how geeked (shout out to Steve Browne!) everyone was about the work they were doing.  And I couldn’t help think that any corporation would be lucky to have such an engaged workforce, and how any workforce would love to be that excited about going to work every day.  The NASA geeks obviously love that stuff, too.

I know NASA has come under fire in the past for their culture of cover up that resulted in deaths (Challenger, Columbia) and other leadership blunders.  I’ll address that side of the culture in the future. But for those people working on the Curiosity mission, the culture gave them exactly what they needed in order to love their jobs AND be successful.curiosity

What is it that got these NASA people so jazzed (other than the obvious fact that they are working on AWESOME SPACE STUFF)?  Here are a few things that I think contribute to the high level of NASA employee engagement that corporations can learn from:

  • People get to apply their skills and interests towards really cool work: Engagement surveys keep telling us that people want to be able to put their strengths to work on interesting projects.  You’ve probably said once or twice in your career, “I just want to make a difference.”  Well, these people are doing that – they get to use all their training and years of gazing up at the stars to help explore a distant planet.
  • Everyone is working toward the same massively difficult, but inspiring, goal: NASA is all about throwing down the gauntlet.  It started with Kennedy’s assertion that we would get to the moon by the end of the decade in the ’60s, to Apollo 13’s shifted mission to bring the astronauts home, to landing the most ambitious rover safely on Mars to conduct science experiments.  This singular focus drives all decisions and actions, keeping the teams focused on the common target.
  • Everyone’s role is well-defined: As you can imagine, a project like Curiosity has a LOT of different teams working on specific aspects of the mission.  There’s the experiment team, the landing team, the communications team, the power team, the SAM (sample analysis) team, etc.  Each person knows what their specific goals are, what the expectations are, the timeline required, and the potential impact of failure.
  • Everyone understands how their role contributes to the overall mission: I didn’t hear anyone say, “I don’t know why I do what I do – I just take orders.”  These are people who are driven to succeed because they know the rest of the mission is relying on their success.  They are given the big picture to provide context and truly believe they are a part of something greater than themselves.
  • They prepared…and prepared…and prepared…and were ready for anything: The level of testing and simulations the teams underwent before launch, during the journey to Mars, and right before landing meant the team felt they were able to handle any contingency.  Leadership understood the importance of gelling as a team, practicing skills until mastery, and throwing in trouble scenarios so the team could learn how to handle them in a low risk environment.  This level of practice lent skills and cohesion that resulted in a successful rover landing…even though the method used to land the rover had never been used before.
  • The work captures the hearts as well as the minds: One of the project’s scientists told the story of when he was a kid and the first Voyager photos from Mars were published in the ’70s.  He said, “That’s the day I became a planetary scientist.”  He basically is working on the project he dreamed about when he was little. The ability to emotionally connect with one’s  work is powerful. Simon Sinek’s excellent TED talk and book Start With Why discusses the need to understand who you are as a company and then let all things flowing from there.  The scientists working on Curiosity knew why they were there, and the long hours and stress were truly a labor of love.
  • They celebrate their wins: Just watch the reaction of the team once Curiosity safely touched down on the surface of Mars.

True, most of us will never get a chance to work on a project like landing a rover on another planet so far away that it takes 14 minutes for radio signals to reach it.  But when you think about it, none of the things that make those NASA geeks so excited are really out of reach for companies.  It’s about letting your people use their strengths to move the company forward on ambitious goals that everyone understands and connects to.  Each person knows what their role is and why it’s important.  They can be emotionally committed to the work.  And everyone can celebrate their wins and learn from their mistakes.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Engagement, Teamwork

 

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