The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for perspective

We were having dinner at a friend’s house and admiring his family memorabilia neatly arrayed in the bookshelves. There were the kid’s sailing trophies, family photos, delicate antique demitasse cups and a bright blue tube. A bright blue tube? “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh….it’s a kaleidoscope,” my friend replied. “Here, try it.” As I turned the tube, colors swirled and twirled. Each small movement altered the view and each view was as lovely as the other.

Why can’t we bring a kaleidoscopic view of the world into our workplace and into our leadership? When it comes to new perspectives, your brain works against you. It’s easier on the brain to see the world, to see a person or to see a decision as you’ve always seen it. But, with a little effort, other views – just as relevant – become visible. It’s as though you slightly turn the kaleidoscope.

Here are three areas where a kaleidoscopic world view is particularly valuable to your leadership and life.

See personnel situations from several perspectives – A disgruntled employee complains to you about his co-worker who they “just can’t work with,” and the list of grievances starts. In that moment, their argument sounds reasonable and valid. But, when you ‘turn the kaleidoscope’, you can likely see opportunities for misunderstanding, miscommunication and differing opinions. There are at least two sides to every story. It’s best to, first, seek out other perspectives; second, help the employee see beyond their singular view, and perhaps facilitate a conversation that highlights varied views of the situation.

See options for big decisions –When faced with a big decision, the brain prefers familiar solutions because, for the brain, the familiar is a short cut that feels effortless. However, big decisions benefit from a kaleidoscopic view. Here’s a technique that I discovered in a Harvard Business Review. As you debate a big decision and your team comes up with the expected approach, ask, “Let’s pretend that this option is not available to us. If not this approach, then what could we do?” This is a simple and effective way to force a shifted perspective. It’s as though you turn the kaleidoscope. Plus, you can use the same question repeatedly until you have a range of options upon which to base the decision.

See that it’s not always personal – Whether it’s with family, friends or co-workers, situations inevitably arise where feelings get hurt or questions arise in your mind. An offhand comment makes you feel peeved and you think, “That was an insensitive remark.” Or, maybe you’re left out of a meeting and you wonder, “Did they leave me out on purpose? Is the boss trying to tell me something?” In those moments, turn the kaleidoscope to see another perspective. In my experience, these situations are almost always explained away when viewed from a different viewpoint. Before letting your mind run away with your first interpretation, shift your outlook to find a different interpretation – one that doesn’t have you at the center.

Kaleidoscopes remind us that there’s always another way to see the world. Even a small rotation shifts the image, shifts the interpretation, and shifts the options. As an insightful leader, you must see a variety of views. And maybe you’ll discover that, like the kaleidoscope, each view is beautiful in its own way.



It was the night of the lighted boat parade in our neighborhood of Eastport. The boat parade, sponsored by the Eastport Yacht Club, is a regular event that draws spectators who line the shoreline and bridge around the three sides of the harbor. The boats – dressed as angels, Santa’s sleigh, the Grinch, and more – parade in a circle around the harbor. This year, I was on a friend’s boat moored inside the circle serving hot food and drinks to the boats who work behind the scenes to ensure safety. Consequently,  we saw the opposite side of all the decorated boats.

We pointed and clapped at each lighted boat from our deck, bundled up with snow flakes falling. Sailboats make excellent Christmas trees and there was one coming into view. Puzzled, one of our crew mused, “Why does that boat say, ‘Oh oh oh?’” It didn’t. From the perspective of the spectators, it said, “Ho ho ho!” but from our side, it looked like “Oh oh oh.”

And that’s the way it is at work. An insightful leader knows that there are many perspectives available aside from the obvious one.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and fall for the same viewpoint each time but that doesn’t bring creativity or innovation.  An insightful leader seeks out alternative perspectives to inform their decision. Here are three tips to cultivating that alternative perspective.

  1. Put yourself in other’s shoes. We say this all the time but it’s surprisingly difficult to do. We’re not in someone else’s shoes; we’re in ours. It takes considerable cognitive energy to convince your brain to look at a situation or decision from another view point. To do so, make an effort to think about the person(s) on another side of the situation or decision. What is their background? What are their interests? What work experience do they have that color their perspective? What hot button issues are you aware of? It’s only when you force this level of thinking that you come close to putting yourself in other’s shoes and seeing a new perspective.
  2. If not this, then what? When your staff brings a recommendation to you, note if it is a standard recommendation – something that you would expect. This would not be surprising. The brain is designed to take the easiest (lowest energy) path which is to do what it’s done before. To force a new perspective, say, “Thank you for the recommendation. Now, let’s assume that this course of action is not available to us. What would we do then?” By taking the tried-and-true option off the table, you force new thinking.
  3. Ask others. The insightful leaders that I interviewed were skilled at asking others for input. It helped them see other perspectives. When you seek out the opinions of others, don’t ask what they would do. Instead ask: “How would you approach this problem?” “What factors would you consider in the decision?” “What are other ways you’ve seen this situation addressed?” These questions evoke a broader, more thoughtful response that is more likely to provide new options for your consideration.

Whether it’s within your work, your community or your family, there’s value in making an effort to see other perspectives. And nationally, in this time where it seems that divisiveness flourishes and there is little effort to understand alternative viewpoints, perhaps we can all take a moment to find appreciation and respect for our differences and similarities.

After all, “oh oh oh” and “ho ho ho” are just two sides of the same boat.



croissantIt was a few weeks before my husband, Mike, died. He woke from his nap snickering.  “What is it, Sweetie?”  He smiled and said he’d had a funny dream, “I was in a fight with a priest over my croissant.”

At the time, Mike was barely eating. I could coax him to eat a few bits of an almond croissant from the local bakery.  It wasn’t surprising that he would dream about eating a croissant.

“The priest was trying to steal my croissant,” he laughed.  Immediately, I came up with a story about the dream. I think – “Wow, that’s complex. The priest could be a symbol of the next life and the croissant a symbol of sustenance or even his soul. It seemed obvious and powerful to me.”

“Sweetie, that’s remarkable. Who won the fight?”

“I did,” he grinned and his eyes twinkled.

“Well, that’s good. What do you think the croissant represents?”

He was quiet, thoughtful and then, shrugging his shoulders dismissively he said, “Nothing in particular. It’s just a croissant.”

Have you ever made more of something than the situation warranted like I did with the croissant? All too frequently, we take a simple event and create something big out of it.

Maybe you are left out of a key meeting. You think, “Wow, why didn’t they invite me to that meeting?  They must not think I’m relevant to the discussion. Don’t they know that I’ve done all the background work on this? This really bothers me!” And before long, we have created a story that’s bigger than the real situation.

Maybe your boss seems disinterested and you are convinced that she doesn’t like you; doesn’t think your work is good; will never consider you for that promotion and on and on.

Or maybe a co-worker makes a comment that hits you the wrong way.  All too quickly, you think: “That was rude, he doesn’t like me, he is inconsiderate” or any number of attributes that you ascribe to the comment.

As we make the “croissant” into something bigger than it is, we fail to consider that the comment may have meant nothing at all. Maybe that co-worker’s dog chewed up the new rug that morning, their kid brought home a disappointing report card, or they didn’t sleep well the night before. Anything could contribute to their comment but we quickly develop a story around it about us.

The process in our head goes like this:

  1. We take a situation and create a story.
  2. Then we imbue those in our story with characteristics that we’ve created to fit the story.
  3. And, we believe that we are right.

Before long we create a deep, complex, unflattering story when it was just a croissant. Instead,

  1. Consider all the possibilities for the situation. We all have many factors in our life that contribute to tone, word choice and attitude. Pause long enough before you create the story to take in the range of possibilities.
  2. Consider what you know about that person. How likely is it that they are truly being rude or inconsiderate? How likely is it that you’re really doing a bad job and your boss is dissatisfied? If there isn’t a pattern, then don’t create a story when it doesn’t fit.
  3. It’s not about you. We are each the centerpiece of the story in our heads but we are not likely to be the centerpiece of the story in other people’s heads, particularly in the workplace.

What are you making more of than needed? How can you look at the situation in a different light that gives people the benefit of the doubt? Remember, the croissant is probably just a croissant.

 

Photo Credit:  annete / 123RF Stock Photo



What is the “whole brain approach?”

What a year it’s been! With the new year approaching perhaps you are looking for, have applied for, or are considering a new job. That can be stressful and anxiety-producing, and you can find yourself over-thinking it. (Believe me, I know!) When working with coaching clients, I encourage a whole brain approach for stress reduction and sound decision-making. When considering job opportunities with the whole brain you’ll ask yourself:

  • What do I think?
  • How do I feel?
  • What’s the long view?

Here’s a practical way to put this approach into action.

How to use the whole brain approach when job-seeking

Gather information. First, you gather the facts and fundamentals about the job.

  • What are the job responsibilities?
  • What skills are needed and how do they match up with mine? (Nothing job is a perfect fit. The job roles that are a good fit will come easily. Don’t underestimate the roles that aren’t a natural fit for your skills. They take more energy. Consider the amount of time you will be working against your natural skills.)
  • What authority does the position have?
  • What is the relationship within the organizational structure? What parts of the organization would you interface with and how?
  • To whom do you report? What do you know (or can find out) about that person? What’s their management approach? What’s their reputation in the office and in the industry?
  • What is the organizational culture?
  • Where is the organizational power (formal and informal)? How are decisions made and what role would you have in those decisions?
  • What support is provided for personal growth and development?
  • What is the pay and other benefits?

With this information, engage the neocortex (the thinking part of the brain). What do you think about the position? Is it a good fit for your skills and career path? Is the work intellectually engaging?

Check-in with your feelings. It can be easy to discount the feeling of a position. For engineers and other technically-oriented people, we are particularly prone to over-estimate the factual information and under-estimate the feel. Both, however, are essential to productive and fulfilling work. After gathering information, get quiet and consider how you feel about all you learned.

Consider the work environment that fills your energy and enables your best work. What are the characteristics of that environment? With that in mind, ask yourself:

  • How well does this position match your ideal environment?
  • How do you feel about the conversations you had with staff and others?
  • What sense did you get about the people in authority?
  • How did the culture feel?
  • What was the atmosphere like? Exciting, engaging, high energy, introspective, quiet, thoughtful, serious?
  • Is there a nagging feeling inside like a mini red flag? Don’t ignore this! Question yourself. What’s behind that feeling? Was it something said, unsaid, a tone? This is a good topic for a follow-up discussion.

Here you tap into the limbic brain (emotional center). It picks up on undercurrents that will be missed by the neocortex when it’s busy thinking. There is wisdom here that should not be ignored. Notice if you are excited and enthusiastic or a bit hesitant. No amount of factual information overcomes the feeling (or lack of feeling). The feeling you have for the position is AS IMPORTANT as the information you gathered.

Gain perspective. It’s not unusual at this point, that people get stuck. The brain over-thinks. What if it’s not what I expected? What if I don’t like it? What if they don’t follow through with the promises? There are a thousand “what ifs.” At this point, it’s time to take perspective. Remember, this is not a forever decision. Yes, your job choice impacts your career and your life. Each position you hold gives you experience and background that will always be a resource for you. However, it’s rare that you’re stuck. If the position doesn’t go as planned, make a change. If you outgrow the position, make a change.

Making the right employment decision

I don’t advocate jumping from job to job, but I do advocate for your personal power. Often in my coaching practice, a client agonizes over a job decision too long. All you can do (all any of us can do) is make the best decision you can in this moment based on the best information you have in this moment. Sometimes, you will misread the information or realize that relevant information was missing. That happens. In that moment, you make another decision that is the best one you can make in that moment.

With each position, you add to your repository of experience. Every day in your career and life feeds you. This is the foundation from which you build judgment, depth, and wisdom whether you lead thousands or yourself.

Do your research. Gather information, check-in with your feelings, remember that it’s not a forever decision and THEN make the best decision you can in this moment. That’s using the whole brain.

 

Remember back in early March, when every single decision and idea we had was met with fear and doubt, because none of us knew for certain what to expect, or how bad things were going to get? Now, after several months of settling in to so many “new normals,” perhaps it’s time to reflect on what we learned and give consideration to what strategies worked best for us in the face of adversity.

I’m fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time on the water.  While COVID-19 may have been my first time ever in a pandemic, it was not the first time I’ve been tossed around by a violent storm and lived to tell about it – I mean this figuratively and literally. The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions. Here are four important things I learned…

It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, or exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Have you been able to weather the storms that hit you both professionally and personally, this year? What about your finances or your relationships? The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions.

Next time you’re dealing with the raging winds and powerful waves of the storms surrounding your business or your personal life, keep these four anchors in mind!

According to a June Gallup poll, 54% of workers surveyed said they are currently not engaged, meaning they are “psychologically unattached to their work and company.”

Another 14% said they are actively disengaged, meaning they “have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues.”

The number of engaged workers dropped 7% from the month prior, which counted as the most significant dip in employee engagement over the last 20 years.

If you’re currently struggling to lead your team under strange new circumstances, you’re clearly not alone. Often times people think leadership training is learning how to manage or control what other people think and do – i.e. how to motivate them, how to get them to listen better, get along with each other and perform at a higher level.The truth is, a lot of the work I do is actually focused on getting individuals in management to better understand themselves.

Yes, leadership is being able to motivate a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. However, what most people often don’t realize is that we must get to know ourselves, first, so that we can understand how our own thoughts and behaviors are (or, aren’t) influencing the people within our organizations.

How do you behave at work? What work style and communication traits are associated with you?

There’s an African proverb, “The camel never sees its own humps, but that of its brother is always before its eyes.” Others see your style. Do you?

Over the years, I’ve found that technically skilled people (like me – an engineer) do not often have an innate ability to be self-observant. We’re like the camel. We see the humps of those around us but not our own. As a manager, you need to know your work and communication style. Thankfully, you can find personality assessment tools from the likes of Tilt 365 that can provide insights into your behavior. If you don’t naturally observe your behavior, these tools can be particularly helpful for your team and yourself. Even if you are self-observant, these tools still offer aha-moments about yourself.

Today, let’s examine your strength and communication style.

Strengths.

What’s your go-to strength? Your strengths come naturally to you. So naturally, in fact, that you may not even notice them. When I work with coaching clients, we do exercises to identify strengths and I frequently hear, “Wow. I didn’t know that was a strength! I thought everybody could do that.” Your strength is hiding in plain sight, but it’s hiding. Let’s find it.

Pretend that you are faced with a difficult work problem. It’s a dilemma. How do you approach it? When you get stuck, on which behavior do you consistently fall back? For example, when I’m perplexed by a problem I think, “Okay. Let’s take a step back and see the big picture. What’s the goal and the steps to reach the goal?” My ability to see the big picture and dissect the problem into core elements for action is a key strength for me. I thought everyone could do this but I was wrong. It’s my superpower. What’s yours?

What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you:

  • Dive into the research
  • Gather all the details
  • Collaborate so that all are engaged
  • Start with the big picture
  • Create a step-by step process
  • Seek to know the people involved
  • Network
  • Consider the personalities
  • Assess the office politics
  • Look for trends

Your natural approach to a tough situation likely reveals clues to a key strength. What is it for you?

Advanced consideration: Overused strengths.

For those of you who want more advanced consideration, take your strength to the next level. You should feel good knowing your strength as it is always available to you. That’s good news. However, you probably heard the saying, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s the case with your strength. You will try to use it ALL THE TIME whether it fits or not. As I mentioned, my strength is being goal driven…every day. That’s been a formula for success most of the time but not all the time. I learned a hard lesson when a staff person came to me in tears thinking that I didn’t like her because I never spoke to her. I never spoke because I was wrapped up in prioritizing goals in my head each morning as I walked past her desk. I over-used my strength.

What about you? Are you a great collaborator but collaborate so much that you miss opportunities? Are you exceptional at managing office politics to the point that you can’t be candid? Are you skilled at gathering and analyzing data to the point of analysis paralysis? Where have you over-used your strength?

Communication styles.

Your communication style is another “hump” or trait that is on display every day. What technology or solutions are you using to communicate with employees? Do you need to go to a SIP provider (Visit Website of one here) in order to improve it? What is your natural communication style? Here again, assessment tools (DNA Behavior and DISC, for example) give clues to your communication styles. Without self-awareness, you are likely to use this style whether it suits the situation or not because your natural style is the easiest for your brain to enact. In order to manage your approach, you first must be aware of it. Consider a time when you were under pressure. How did you communicate to others or what type of communication worked best for you?

Are you:

  • Quick or cautious
  • Direct and candid or tactful and polite
  • Drawing visuals or writing words
  • Collaborative or in control
  • Quick to get to the point or prefer to chat first
  • Conceptual or data driven
  • Considered or hasty
  • Speaking your mind or holding your tongue
  • Intense or restrained

Advanced consideration: Your communication style from other perspectives

You’ve considered your communication style but how does that style come across to peers and staff? They experience your communication style every day. It may not be what you think.

You think you’re being succinct, and they see it as brusque. You think you’re being flexible, and they see it as wishy-washy. This is where 360 tools can bring compelling insight. Consider your last interaction. How would you describe your communication style? Now consider it from other’s perspective. How might they have perceived it differently? Is there someone you trust with whom you can ask – “How did that conversation come across?”

By examining your strengths and communication styles you move past the proverbial camel. You have a sense of your “humps” and that makes all the difference.

If you see the power in knowing yourself, you may be interested in my mini-coaching program. It uses a simplified self-assessment tool followed by an individual session with me. Clients walk away with a surprising amount of information about their strengths and communication style. As one client said, “The results…opened up new ways to see myself and position myself for future positions. The bottom-line impact is greater confidence and that’s critical.”

Click here to contact Shelley for more information

Reference

Harter, Jim. (July 2, 2020). Historic drop in employee engagement follows record rise. Gallup. Retrieved from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313313/historic-drop-employee-engagement-follows-record-rise.aspx

It seems like a good idea to use your existing senior staff to develop and conduct leadership training for mid and up-and-coming engineer managers. After all, you’re already paying them and they have proven leadership skills. Why not use them to train others?

They may be proven leaders but are they proven educators? Are they trained in designing content to achieve specific behavioral goals? Are they skilled in creating a program that is engaging, memorable and “sticky”? Do they have time to provide follow-up?

Interviews with dozens of senior leaders shows that most companies – if they provide leadership training at all – provide training developed and delivered by their own staff. While it sounds good on the surface, it’s a bad business decision.

  1. Consider the cost of time invested in the participants. The time spent at the training program by attendees is pure overhead. There are no billable hours for the participants or in-house instructors. The attendees are not billable neither are they doing business development or client relationship development. What is the cost of their time alone? Go ahead. Add it up. It’s big. Now, add in the lost opportunity costs. You need the time spent in this program to be high impact with high retention and real-world application.

  2. Consider the opportunity cost of the instructors. You likely have senior staff with deep experience in the company conducting the training. These are some of your highest paid people. Instead of focusing on business development, client relationship management and billing out their time, they are pulling together a training program that isn’t part of their core job, creating materials and taking time from their day to conduct the training. Better for these talented, experienced people to inform the leadership program development using their years of experience and familiarity with the organization. With a smaller outlay of their time in training development, you keep them focused on the work that pays the bills.

  3. Consider the quality of the material. Your senior people are skilled leaders but are they skilled trainers? And do they have the time available to create a thoughtful, impactful, and memorable development experience? More likely they are pulling together word-filled slides in their spare moments or dusting off their session from last year. It takes a lot of dedicated, uninterrupted time to craft a program designed for lasting behavior change. A quality program worthy of the investment in your staff deserves a pro who knows how to create and deliver training that matters. Afterall, you wouldn’t use a geotech engineer to do hydraulic design. Use the right professional for the right job.

  • Separate business process training from leadership development. Use your in-house staff to provide business process training including everything from filling out the time sheets to writing a proposal in your style. Your managers know these issues better than anyone. It’s important information that suits them perfectly.

  • Use a leadership development expert for leadership development. A skilled outside person will talk to your senior staff to gain perspective on your unique needs. They then bring objectivity, experience and skill to the leadership development program.

  • Ask specific questions to get the right person. It pays to be picky. There are lots of people who provide leadership development. You don’t want just anyone. Ask questions and look for these attributes:
    • Experienced. You want demonstrated background in leadership training and with real-world experience leading an organization. Plus, look for someone with experience in your field. Their examples and information will be more relevant.
    • Customized. Your staff isn’t cookie cutter. Your professional development program shouldn’t be either. Ask if they will customize the program to meet your goals.
    • Engaging design. Ask about the level of engagement. You want a learning experience not a set of slides and a lecture.
    • Captivating speaker. What is their speaking background? Have they studied speaking and training? Tip: Ask if they are members of the National Speakers Association. That will tell you if they have expertise in their field.
    • Follow-up. How is follow-up built into the program? One-and-done won’t cut it. The brain doesn’t learn that way. Behavior change takes repetition. How is repetition and practice built into the program?

At the end of the day, for the money and opportunity costs you incur in your professional development time, you can’t afford not to make that time count. Separate business development from leadership development. Let the professional support you, your staff and your clients deserve for future leaders.

Think a leadership development expert with these qualifications doesn’t exist?
When you choose to work with Shelley Row, PE, CSP you get:

  • Experience. Ms Row is a former senior executive for the US Department of Transportation and former association executive. Today she is the CEO of Shelley Row Associates.

  • Custom. Shelley Row works with you and your staff to define your goals and create an interactive learning experience that your staff will remember and apply.

  • Science-based. Shelley’s programs are grounded in neuroscience and informed by dozens of interviews with respected leaders in the transportation field.;

  • Certified Speaking Professional™ (CSP). As a CSP, Ms Row captures and holds the attention of your staff so that they are attentive and engaged.

  • Follow-up. Shelley’s programs include follow-up so that the learning is applied, practiced and remembered.

Want to know more? Contact Shelley Row now.

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I bet you have been on more virtual meetings in the last couple of weeks than ever before. Locked in the house avoiding COVID-19, we’re all working on virtual meeting platforms. Take Zoom, for example, the company added more users in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. More than 10 million people join a Zoom meeting every day. Whether you primarily use Zoom, or if you have chosen alternative online video meetings, these platforms are the best option we have to simulate an in-person meeting environment. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to hone your virtual meeting skills and train your team in the protocols that make a virtual meeting most productive.

Follow good meeting protocol. The basics of a well-run meeting are the same whether the meeting is virtual or in-person. Defined goals and agendas benefit any form of meeting. Here’s a short checklist to ensure that you covered the basics.

  • Have an agenda with defined times.
  • Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”).
  • Review action items at the end including the responsible parties and due dates.
  • Be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Involving everyone in the discussion can be a challenge on a good day where everyone is in the office. Virtual meetings can allow a person to sit quietly and not engage or multitask. It can be tricky to assess the dialog and jump in appropriately until you create virtual meeting norms pertaining to engagement. Instead, take a proactive approach that more consciously engages everyone in the virtual meeting. Giving each person a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

  • Define a role for participants and set expectations for their engagement upfront (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y progress).
  • Give everyone a heads-up about their participation (After Keisha tells us about her project, Dave, I’ll be particularly interested in your marketing perspective).
  • Use casual conversation to kick start engagement. You can go around the virtual “room” and ask about their work-at-home experience (What do you like best about working from home? What do you miss that surprises you?)

Test the technology. Because you don’t want to be in a situation where you log into the virtual meeting only to discover that the sound doesn’t work properly, there’s screeching feedback, the meeting host struggles to share their screen, and a key participant can’t find the video button. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Check everything in advance and be prepared for the unexpected. If you are using virtual meetings for work collaboration, make sure your video call platform has all the required interactive tools. If not, consider using video call APIs (check it out here) to benefit from screen sharing, whiteboards, and more. In short, check everything in advance and be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Test the link in advance. Encourage everyone to download software in advance. Some platforms are sensitive to the browser. Test it before the start of the meeting.
  • If screen recording software from companies like https://www.loom.com/screen-recorder is being used during this time, then a run-through is needed on an experimental call as you do not want to finish the actual meeting and find out it didn’t work.
  • Test the connection in advance. When the virtual meeting link is critical, hardwire your computer to the Internet. If that option is not available to you find a way to make it available to you. If the meeting is critical, so is the connection. If the meeting is not as critical a wireless connection may do. If problems develop turn off the camera.
  • Test the webcam. One of my laptops has the camera at the bottom of the screen near the hinge – yes, the hinge. It provides an excellent visual image of my nose! Know that in advance. I’ve been on calls where the speaker’s head is cut off or only the top of their head is visible. In another call, the camera dropped so that we saw the participant’s lap. Check the webcam and the video image beforehand. We don’t need to see what we don’t need to see.
  • Check the sound. Sound is the most common problem I encounter in a virtual meeting. I’ve seen issues with computers defaulting to a headset so that sound won’t come through the computer. If you are the main speaker, test a headset. It may provide greatly enhanced quality. Sound quality is a key determinant of a successful meeting.
  • Know how to use the basics. Make sure that you, as the host, know how to mute/unmute, raise electronic hands, manage a chat function, use the whiteboard, record if needed and share your screen. It’s not hard. Learn these skills in advance, not in front of busy staff.
  • Zoombombing. Yes…Zoombombing. Like photobombing, an uninvited person arrives in your Zoom meeting and may share unwanted, unwelcome and potentially obscene images. You don’t need that! Here’s a link to an article that provides the settings to use that will impede Zoombombing. https://www.adl.org/blog/how-to-prevent-zoombombing

Set virtual meeting guidelines. To get the most from your virtual meeting provide clear, explicit guidelines. Develop and enforce virtual meeting norms such as the use of cameras, muting, and multitasking. The guidelines may vary based on the size of the meeting. Small meetings of 4 to 6 people have more flexibility. As the number grows, use more structured interaction. Here’s a checklist to develop your own guidelines.

  • Everyone uses their camera. This increases the feeling of connection and it discourages multitasking during the meeting since everyone can see each other. Note the point above about having a strong Internet connection. You’ll need that.
  • Manage the mute function. I prefer to mute everyone on entry into the meeting. For large meetings, you might consider leaving them on mute except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, the Amazon delivery person literally drops off a package, or a lawnmower revs up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or through the platform) when someone wants to speak. This allows you to moderate the discussion and ensure that everyone has a chance to speak. Unlike a real meeting, this method ensures that people don’t interrupt or talk over each other. It also means that the meeting may take longer.
  • No multi-tasking during the meeting. Be clear that cell phones are not to be used during the meeting. The participant’s attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. You wouldn’t walk out of the meeting to grab a cup of coffee or answer the door if you were there in-person. Don’t do it during the virtual meeting either.
  • Introduce everyone. Request that everyone login under their own name so that it appears on the screen. If there’s no video and people are on the phone, request that they state their name before talking.

During this COVID-19 period, virtual meetings are the norm. As you gain proficiency with the virtual meeting platforms and master these tips for conducting effective meetings, you may find this tool to be a valuable option even when we all can go back to the office for real.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

Hard-to-work-with, passive-aggressive, disagreeable, arrogant, unresponsive, unmotivated, angry. Know anyone like that?

Rational, levelheaded, thoughtful, curious, respectful, friendly, easy-to-get-along-with, agreeable. You probably know people like this, too.

Whether negative or positive, we throw labels onto people until they stick. Those labels are a product of our judgement and are heavily influenced by our biases and filters. Without awareness of the potential for bias, you can under or over-estimate a person’s skills, discount their input, fail to take advantage of their knowledge or only hear ideas from those with whom you agree. All of this artificially narrows your viewpoint, restricts options and skews your decisions. On the other hand, an insightful leader knows to recognize his own biases and intentionally see beyond them. She knows to challenge her own limited viewpoints to intentionally gather the information that differs from her own opinion…and then listen to it.

For example, when I ran a research program for the federal government, we created active research programs of which I was proud. And then, we got a new boss. Within a few short discussions with him, I labeled him, “arrogant, difficult, and a jerk.” I’m sure he labeled me something like, “bureaucratic, wimpy, and weak.” Because I labeled him as “difficult,” I avoided talking to him, asking his opinion or working with him, as much as possible. He didn’t relish working with me either. In our meetings, he became frustrated and yelled his orders. My bias was so strong that projects he started, I discontinued when he left. Similarly, he disliked our programs and tried to stop the ongoing work. Sadly, neither he nor I could see beyond our biases to the value we each offered. The result – bad decision-making. He couldn’t the value in our projects and I couldn’t accept his good ideas (and he had good ideas). The big loser was the program of research that would have been stronger if we saw past our biases. To keep this from happening to you, you must first realize that, from a neuroscience perspective, the deck is stacked against you. You are designed to gravitate and believe those people you like.

You see, your brain takes shortcuts to make things easy for it. Those shortcuts create natural biases. It’s easier for your brain to talk to people for whom you feel a connection. Maybe they think like you, have a similar background, or you have something in common. Similarly, it’s easier for your brain to avoid those for whom you do not have an affinity. Perhaps they have different ideas, work processes, values or backgrounds.  Another brain shortcut is to unconsciously hear and give more credence to information that supports your existing viewpoint. When presented with a wide range of information, your brain will naturally gravitate to the information that is most like your existing perspective. Basically, it’s easy to see a situation as you always have but you must work harder to force your brain to be flexible to new ideas coming from different people.

You simply can’t afford to let your biases be in control of your decision-making and skew your perceptions. Here are five steps to challenge your existing impressions so that you create insightful decisions.

  1. Recognize the labels you’ve created. Recognize the labels that you have imposed onto others and that may hold back your receptivity to some people and overly rely on other people.
    • What impressions have you formed about the people you work with?
    • Who are your “good guys” and who are the “bad guys?”
  2. Challenge those impressions. Notice your natural preference for some and not others. Now, do the hard work of challenging your own impressions so that you create more balanced input.
    • Are you talking only to people with whom you’re comfortable?
    • Are you asking for input from those most likely to agree with you?
    • Are you avoiding those who rub you the wrong way?
    • Are you discounting (or not asking) opinions from those for whom you find tedious, annoying or difficult?
  3. Question your experience. Your brain easily gravitates to answers based on your experience. But, in a changing world, the past may not be prologue. Past experience may be of limited value.
    • Does the future resemble the past?
    • Do the old answers pertain to new questions?
    • Your experience may provide valuable input but are you sure?
    • Are you over-relying on experience from the past when the past may not be a reliable predictor of the future?
  4. Broaden your input. To change the impact of bias in your decision-making, intentionally identify a broad range of people from whom to seek input. Balance input from those likely to share your views with those likely to have a contrarian perspective. Talk to a range of people who are different from you. I once interviewed the head of the engineering department for a major university who was also a former astronaut. He explained that when faced with a difficult decision, he intentionally sought the opinions of women peers. Because, he noted, they approach problem-solving differently. He felt that he benefited from their shift in perspective. You can do the same if you intentionally challenge your biases.
    • Are you talking to a wide range of people including those with whom you easily relate and those you don’t?
    • Is the input you receive balanced between expected and surprising?
  5. Truly listen. Even when you make an effort to talk to a wide range of people, the natural inclination of your brain is to hear, remember and give more validity to opinions, facts and data that support your existing It takes more effort for your brain to internalize different perspectives.
    • Are you only hearing the input that supports your viewpoint?
    • Are you discounting the information that is contrary to your current beliefs?
    • Are you spending the extra time and energy to really listen and absorb other ideas?

How can you be more insightful about the impacts of your biases? What steps will you take to accommodate for your biases so that you make more robust decisions? Try these five steps to overcome your natural biases. You’ll take full advantage of many perspectives so that your viewpoint broads and you make more insightful decisions.

Share your stories about how you challenge your impressions and overcome biases with Shelley here.



We’re learning about the ten skills that technical professionals need when they become a manager. Let’s discuss the importance of having a broad range of information sources.

Big Decisions: Are you considering a broad range of information sources?

When you need to gather information for a big decision, who do you go to? Your most trusted buddies. Your go-to people who always have wise input. Respected leaders outside your organization. These are what I call your “usual suspects.” You talk with them often and you trust their judgment. But what about the others – that argumentative person, the contrarian who always sees a situation differently from you and isn’t afraid to point that out, the inquisitor who asks question after pointed question? Be honest. Do you find that you avoid their input? It’s time to change that.

Why? Because you cannot make a wise decision by talking only to those with whom you prefer and who are more likely to agree with you and more likely to see the world from a similar perspective. That leads to insular thinking and can cause you to miss key inputs that could sway your decision.

To lead with insight and make the best decisions, you must push yourself to also engage with and listen to those who are not likely to agree and who are likely to have a different perspective.

There’s a reason you are inclined to talk with whom you agree. It is easier and less energy-intensive for your brain and theirs to seek out those who agree. Notice the increased energy needed to engage with those with whom you don’t agree. You need more energy to listen and self-manage your reaction in order to remain open to their different ideas. It can be exhausting….and it’s critically important to robust decision-making.  Without considering a wide range of perspectives, you will miss opportunities or miscalculate pitfalls.

To make good decisions, you must engage with four types of people.

  1. Your closest colleagues.
  2. Your biggest critics.
  3. Those with fringe opinions.
  4. Those outside everyone’s circle.

Identify people who fit into each bucket. For big decisions, make a plan to gather information from people in each bucket so that you have complete and realistic input.

1. Your closest colleagues. This is the easiest group. You know these people. They are your buddies, friends and respected colleagues. You probably share a similar world view and leadership approach. Talk with them and push them to consider other perspectives. When you identify a desirable approach, ask, “If this approach isn’t available, what is another approach to consider?” This question forces a conversation that expands perspectives.

  1. Who do you trust?
  2. Who are your go-to people?
  3. Who are your most trusted colleagues?
  4. Who are you comfortable talking to?

2. Your biggest critics. Who are the people who always disagree with you? They will argue the point, flag all the problems, and ask annoyingly tough questions. Identify them and seek out their opinions. This can be challenging and it will take a lot of energy so be sure to talk with them when your energy level is high and you can use your mental capacity to truly hear their thoughts and ideas. There is wisdom here if you can hear it.

  1. Who are the people who ask pointed questions?
  2. Who are the contrarians who always have an opposing viewpoint?
  3. Who are the people with whom you regularly disagree?
  4. Who are the people who you don’t really trust?
  5. Who are the people with whom you dread talking?

3. Those with fringe opinions. Consider a bell curve. It’s likely that the people in buckets 1 and 2 are on either side of the mean in the center of the curve. Who are the people on the tail ends of the curve? These are the people with fringe opinions. They probably don’t have a big following behind their opinions, but you need to hear from them. Innovation doesn’t come from the center of the bell curve, it comes from the far edges. While you may not adopt their perspective fully, you may discover a nugget of truth that should be considered, particularly for long-term decisions.

  1. Who are the people on the fringe of each issue?
  2. Who are the people who speak up but are ignored?
  3. Who are the people talking about topics that make others uncomfortable?
  4. Who are the people that others make fun of?

4. Those outside everyone’s circle. What are industries adjacent to yours? What industries have gone through an evolution similar to yours? Are you able to identify a few people to talk within those industries? If not, can you research that industry and the issues with which it grappled? There may be powerful learning opportunities from other industries that can inform your thinking or open new ways of perceiving your decision.

  1. What other industries are going through changes like yours? What can you research about the evolution of that industry?
  2. Who do you know in other industries who may have a useful perspective?
  3. Who from another industry has a thought process you respect?

 If you want to make a well-informed decision, take the time to identify people in each of these four buckets and consult with them. Hear their ideas without judgment, let their input sink in and weave it into your decision-making process. The result is enhanced decisions from deeper insight. That’s a key to sound leadership. How well are you considering input from a wide range of sources?

Share your stories about gathering input from others with Shelley here.