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

Latest "Business Skills" Posts

We’re learning about the ten skills that technical professionals need when they become a manager.  Today we’ll talk about the importance of knowing the influences outside your organization that can shift its direction and how you can stay on top of them.

Look Up and Out to See the External Factors Influencing Your Organization

Be super-duper cautious. Don’t rock the boat. Keep it under the radar. Send up no red flags. Milk toast all the way. That’s the environment my boss wanted and needed.  It was, you see, an election year. His strategy: No news about his department was good news. Those factors impacted the projects selected, the reports released, events attended and briefing points (which was the art of saying something without saying anything).

The political environment is only one outside influence beyond the data that impacts your organization’s trajectory. While these influences may seem tangential, they are serious business to others and impact your organization in a very real way. What are they for your organization? And how are you tracking them?

In order for your organization to stay relevant, here are five factors to consider, along with methods to keep you on top of the game.

Political factors. If you work in a public agency, you already know that your world shifts during an election year. Even so, I saw staff taken by surprise when their project was swept up or swept out during the election season. There’s no reason to be surprised if you’re paying attention. Those outside of the public sector aren’t immune. Is your company affiliated with a headline-grabbing project or policy? Does that visibility work to your benefit or do you need damage control? Do you need to shout your involvement from the mountaintop or hide under a bushel? You can only answer those questions astutely if you’re paying attention, looking up and out and adapting accordingly.

Questions to ask yourself about political factors include:

  • What are the local hot topics?
  • Is there a high-visibility project that’s been in the news?
  • Is a large-scale development pushing through the process?
  • Is there a controversial policy up for a vote?
  • How do you need to position your organization to account for these issues?

Methods to track political factors include:

  • Read the newspaper (for local and national news)
  • Listen to a variety of news sources with different perspectives
  • Subscribe to trade-specific newsletters (Politico e-newsletters are one example)
  • Read trade magazines
  • Participate in local clubs (such as Rotary)
  • Be part of the local Chamber of Commerce

Outside relationships. What outside relationships is your organization courting? Maybe your organization has a strategic partner or a key client. If so, that relationship likely influences decisions, projects, and resource allocation. It may require extra effort to make them feel special. That relationship may move them to the head of the line for product delivery or service needs. Your responsiveness and tone may need to be extra accommodating when working with them. Or perhaps your industry is going through consolidation so that mergers and acquisitions are common. In my exposure to this type of external influence, the organization may choose to closely manage cash flow that could impact funds flowing to travel, training and other supportive features. How might this external influence impact you? You may want to keep your ear to the ground so that you can adapt your approach to external relationships.

Check out this article from The Globe and Mail about making the most of organizational politics.

Ways to stay informed on your organization’s relationships.

  • Read the company newsletter (if there is one)
  • Talk to people throughout the organization
  • Notice where your organization spends its resources
  • Create and use an internal network
  • Attend trade association meetings and talk with other organizations you work closely with

Societal trends. If your organization is composed of people and serves people, then you are impacted by societal trends. Take a step back and consider the trends you observe. What has shifted? How has the way you live your life changed?  What do these changes mean to your organization, the people in it, the people it serves? Will the societal shifts impact hiring practices, will your marketing messages change or the services you offer to staff transform? Societal trends may be anything from shortening attention spans, the rise of visual communication, shared-ride services or even the shift in legality of cannabis. All of this and more have potential implications for your organization. What are they? And, are you anticipating the implications?

Review this Forbes article for a shortlist of societal trends.

You can stay on top of societal trends by:

  • Paying attention in general
  • Noticing trending topics
  • Reading/watching/listening to articles on current trends

Technology trends. There is no doubt that in today’s world, technology impacts every aspect of life and business. What technology trends will influence your organization? In my world, connected and autonomous vehicles are changing everything. What’s the equivalent for your industry? Consider the impact of voice control like Alexa and Siri.  How are you staying on top of these new technologies and their implication?  I confess, I’m not an “early adopter.” Now, however, I’m intentionally investing in new technology to force myself to stay reasonably up to date. Without it, I will lose relevance.  How are you staying relevant? How are you adapting your organization for these and other coming trends? You can’t afford to be lax where technology is concerned.

This article from SimpliLearn has a summary of some of the most relevant technology trends.

Here’s a short list of technology innovations to watch:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Blockchain
  • Cyber Security
  • Internet of things
  • Connected and automated vehicles
  • Robotic process automation

Stay up on technology trends by:

  • Reading/watching/listening to popular press
  • Read about the latest technology at the Consumer Electronics Show
  • What technology is new on the market?
  • Buy new technology when you can to gain personal experience.

World trends. Now take a step way back. As you scan the horizon what global trends will influence the trajectory of your organization and how? Admittedly, these may be high-level trends, but they arise from the consolidation of local trends. These may be long-horizon issues that require consideration of long-term positioning for your organization and industry. You don’t want to be last but you will be if you’re not paying attention.

Here’s an excellent McKinsey article on world disruptive trends.

World trends are easy for some, less so for others as it requires an ability to assimilate information from more sources. If this is not your skill set, identify and follow people who do this well. Consider:

  • Futurists (like Jude Foulston)
  • Columnists or authors (such as Thomas Freidman) who are particularly skilled in assimilating trends.

All of these factors influence your organization now and into the future. The question for you is: Are you paying attention? Are you making time to stay in-the-know? If not, you may need to adjust your information sources.

An executive once told me to see through a microscope and through a telescope. Are you doing both?

Share your stories about external influences and how you’re preparing with Shelley here.



Our new boss arrived with an agenda and he wasn’t timid about it. It seemed that he gathered input from everyone but us. Because he was influenced by an array of people unfamiliar to us, the work environment became challenging, to say the least. Through this experience, I gained a new appreciation for the power of influencers inside and outside the organization. To be effective, you need to know the influencers in your organization, understand their perspectives and cultivate those relationships.

 

Here are six types of influencers about whom you would be wise to know more. You are likely to feel the influence of all or most of them. Develop skills now to recognize these influencers and learn more about them so that you adapt to accommodate their influence. For each category of influencer, challenge yourself to get “under-the-hood” to learn as much as you can using this framework.

  • Know who they are – What are their names and backgrounds?
  • Know their perspectives – What are their opinions about your industry or organization?
  • Know their agenda – Why do they care (or not) about your industry or organization?
  1. Those who enable your organization to exist. Depending on the type of organization you’re in, this category of influencers may encompass big clients or, in my case, legislators and legislative aides who directly influence funding.

For those people in public sector leadership positions or in businesses who rely on legislated funding, you should know the names and positions of those who control the legislative agenda. You may think that it’s your Congressperson but it’s more likely to be the legislative aides who write the text.

    • Who they are?
    • What are their impressions of your program?
    • Have you met with them to hear and understand their perceptions and questions? Our meetings sounded like this, “We prepared an overview briefing that we are can talk through; however, we’re mainly here to answer your questions. What is the best approach for you?”

If you are in the private sector, you know that all clients are important; however, some clients are REALLY important.

    • Who are those clients who wield extra-large influence?
    • Do you know who they are?
    • Are you networking with them?
    • Are you keeping up with their issues?
    • Do you follow them on social media?
    • Do you touch base periodically to listen to their concerns?
    • Do they feel you are vested in their success? Your goal is to have a genuine feel for their mindset and interests.
  1. Influential organizations/associations in your industry. Whatever your industry, there is an association (or more than one) and other industry-wide organizations.
    • What are those associations/organizations for your industry?
    • Who are the association leaders and who are their board members? For large industry associations, the executive director and senior staff frequently carry great influence. The board chair and board members are also leaders to whom others pay attention.
    • What positions do they take about key issues in your industry?
    • What do those agendas imply for your organization?
  1. Influential people in your industry. Who are the movers and shakers in your industry? These are the people with influence – the thought leaders. Look for them on the boards of associations. Check out the speakers on industry panel sessions.
    • Who are the sought-after speakers who pack the rooms at the conference?
    • Who is interviewed for trade journals?
    • What are they saying about the industry, issues and trends?
    • What do they see for the future?
    • If you don’t already know them, can you get to know them?
    • How do their thoughts and ideas influence your organization or the direction of the industry?

The next three categories of influencers are related to your boss.  Your direct boss has a considerable impact on your daily work life. In the last article, you were challenged to get to know her/him better. This time let’s take a look at the influences to which he is subject and the people to whom he’s listening.

  1. Your boss’s influencers from outside the organization. Perhaps you work for a boss who came into this position from outside the company.
    • Who has his ear?
    • What are they telling him? Knowing who has access tells you a lot about the likely perspective your boss will take. You see this play out in the political arena daily. High-level officials bring their past impressions and opinions with them into their new role.
    • Who are the people your boss maintains connections with outside your organization?
    • Where are they placed within your industry?
    • What perspectives are they sharing with your boss that influence his viewpoints?
  1. Your boss’s inner circle of trusted advisors. Whether your boss is new to the organization or has risen through the ranks, she is likely to have a circle of trusted advisors within the organization. These are the people she calls for input, whose opinions she trusts, whose counsel she seeks.
    • Who are they for your boss?
    • What perspectives do they bring to the table?
    • What kinds of persons are they?
    • If you aren’t a trusted advisor, how can you make friends with those who are?
  1. Those your boss seeks to impress. Your boss needs to look good in front of someone.
    • Who is it? Is it the board, a higher-level boss, the city council, or the public?
    • Why are those people important to your boss? In the public sector where some leaders are appointed, they need to stay in the good graces of those who appointed them. Your boss will need to match her style to the interests of her influencers.
    • Do you know the interests of those your boss seeks to impress? Elected officials need to look “good” to their constituents and that frequently means the media. If your boss is aspiring, he may seek approval from the company’s board members. Figure out who your boss wants to impress.
    • How can you make your boss look good in front of them?

Managing these six influencers feels like a lot; however, in my experience, a little knowledge goes a long way. Try this: First, take inventory of the influencers in each category to identify the key players. Second, assess which influencers make the biggest difference. Next, take a deep dive into those few to learn more about their perspectives and agendas. Lastly, examine what those perspectives mean to you and your part of the organization. You’ll have the context you need to adapt your communication approach, position your work and develop relationships with the influencers. It’s worth the effort.



 

 

Teresa wanted to see the big picture strategy before discussing specifics. Tom wanted general ideas with time to think before deciding. Paul wanted to give orders that were followed to the “T”.

To be successful, each of these bosses blog 100919required a unique approach. The approach that worked for one wouldn’t stand a chance with another. You can save time and frustration by giving serious consideration to the approach, topics and personal agendas of your boss. Here are five areas to study about your boss so that you can be more effective in your job. Let’s face it, a happy boss makes for happier days at work!

Communication style. Save yourself time and headaches by studying your boss’s communication style in advance and adapting your approach.

Their communication styles couldn’t have been more different. Teresa expected me to lay out the big picture, have a clear strategy and logical recommendations for next steps. I learned to be thoughtful, prepared and develop my recommended action plan. And it worked…with her. When I changed jobs, I used this same approach with Tom. It was a miserable failure. After a few flops, I learned the hard way, that he was a tactician who looked no farther than the next move and he needed time to think about each step. He needed to come up with the answer – not me. I learned to present general ideas, brainstorm briefly and walk out the door. In a day or two, he’d come back with his own thoughts about the situation and we’d move forward.

What’s your boss’s communication style:

StrategicTactical
Big picture thinkerWants all the details
Visual learnerAuditory learner
Wants the storyWants the data
Gets down to businessChats first
Quick decision-makerNeeds to ponder
Goal-focusedRelationship-focused

Power position. Your boss’s power position will be a motivator in his behavior and decision-making.

Mariana was a hard-charging Gen Xer intent on making a name for herself. She took uncommon risks on projects that, if successful, would garner attention within the organization and industry. John saw a succession of managers get fired from the position he now held. Not wishing to follow their lead, he was super-duper conservative in his decision-making. He kept a low profile, backed no risky projects, and shied away from controversy. He opted to stay in the middle of the road and to not rock the boat (to mix land and sea metaphors).

What’s your boss’s power position?

RetiringAspiring
On the way upOn the way out
Well-connected internallyIsolated internally
Risk tolerantRisk averse
Promoting him/herselfPromoting the organization
Political aspirationsNo political aspirations
Well-connected externallyIsolated externally

Personal interests. Every boss has personal interests or pet projects. These are areas that hold special passion and where they want to make an impact. It’s helpful to know their area of interest and why it’s an area of interest. Their “why” can range from an intellectual interest to a personal passion based on a traumatic event in their life (such as the death of a friend due to drunk driving).

Patti cared about motorcycles in transportation policy and safety. Jose cared about cyclists. In both cases, we always had a project of some sort that included motorcycles and/or cyclists. Felicia wanted to leave a legacy of safety advancements.

What are your boss’s personal interest areas and why?

Intellectual interestPersonal interest
Mild interestAvid interest
Focused on leaving a legacy in this areaNice to make an impact if feasible
Interest area is central to your missionInterest area is tangential to the mission
Easy to accommodate their interestIt’s a stretch to accommodate their interest

Personalities and background. Your boss’s background can provide clues to working effectively with her.

Mike was a southerner who came from a military background. Consequently, he was the epitome of a southern gentleman who valued respect, protocol and manners. Always soft-spoken and polite, he expected a calm, courteous exchange with gracious acceptance of his final decision. Yvonne was young and proud of her accomplishments. She was successful because she was well-connected. She knew everyone who mattered. In briefings, she wanted to know who would “win” and who would “lose” because of her decision. She needed to understand the political connections within and outside the organization.

What do you know about your boss’s personal history and career background? What experiences will have colored her perspective and how?

Rural upbringingUrban upbringing
Raised in the United StatesRaised outside the United States
Large familyOnly child
Prestigious educational backgroundOther educational background
Work experience in the private sectorWork experience in the public sector
Work experience in associationsWork experience in academia
Extensive leadership experienceLimited leadership experience

Their Headaches and frustrations. What keeps your boss up at night? What are her daily headaches? What phone call does he dread and who is it from?

Bill was the executive director of a professional association. Effective and efficient, his day went downhill when his Board Chair called to discuss “an issue.” To support him, we had to consider the Board’s reception to each topic in advance so that Bill didn’t get “the call.”

Joanne just wanted to stay under the radar – nothing controversial, nothing high profile – just let her do her work quietly without fanfare. She dreaded a call from anyone “up the chain.” She cringed when she was asked a tough question in a senior staff meeting. The trick to working with Joanne was to ensure that all potentially sticky issues were resolved before she engaged. We went forward only with projects where the wrinkles had been ironed out in advance.

John wanted it his way and he didn’t like anyone who got in his way. He didn’t want someone telling him that he couldn’t move forward as planned. He didn’t want to hear about roadblocks or setbacks. Our job was to demolish the roadblocks and find ways to achieve his goals no matter what.

How dialed in are you to your boss’s worries and concerns?

Issues with problematic staffIssues with a tough boss
Problems with internal stakeholdersProblems with external stakeholders
Financial concernsProcess concerns
Lacks trust from othersFeels like an outsider
Struggling to change the cultureStruggling to fit into the culture
Customer complaintsStaff complaints
Dropping salesStaff attrition
Technology disruptionManaging change

Assess your boss using these five areas. See if you can walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes her tick. Now, use that information to adapt your briefing style, the way you approach them for decisions, and the type of interaction you have with them. The more you can work from their perspective, the more effective you are likely to be and with the least amount of stress and frustration. Try it and let me know how it goes!



Imagine a Ferrari. It looks sleek and fast. Now imagine a Ferrari with a Ford Focus engine. It still looks sleek but its performance is impacted by the mechanics under the hood. It’s not so different for you. The influences “under your hood” dramatically impact your performance, your work style and communication style. Assessment tools give insight into your workplace behavior; however, they are less helpful for identifying other factors that exist under the hood particularly your stories and filters. Values also have a key influence on your behaviors and are linked to stories and filters. We aren’t going to work on values today, but you can refer back to my previous article to refresh your memory.

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Today we dive under the hood to identify and learn about the impact of your filters and stories.

Filters. Filters are the screen through which you see the world. They come from your background and provide your context.  Filters color your perception and impact your decisions, judgements and connections. For example, I’m from a small farming town in Texas, the oldest daughter of a disciplinarian father and polite mother. We attended the Baptist Church every Sunday and always did our homework. Some of these filters showed up early in my engineering career when I worked for the Texas Department of Transportation. An engineer from New York State came to Texas to learn about our projects. As we drove from project to project together, I politely answered his questions, “Yes, sir…” “No, sir….” After a few exchanges, he grew agitated and said, “Why do you keep saying, ‘sir’?  Are you patronizing me?”  I was stunned. When viewed through my filters, I was being respectful by saying “sir” but viewed through his filters, I was patronizing.

What are your filters? Consider your background, family norms, your geographic area and more. All those factors color your perceptions and judgements. Without your awareness, they work from under the hood to sway your view of the work world.  Here are questions to aid you in identifying a few of your filters.

  • Are you from the big city, small town or countryside?
  • Are you the oldest, youngest, middle or only child?
  • What religious tradition were you raised in (if any)?
  • What educational background does your family have?
  • What cultural background were you surrounded by?
  • What hobbies were your family involved in – sailing, camping, music?
  • What hobbies are you passionate about?
  • What did your parents or family do for work?
  • What type of work did you do early in your life?
  • What was your family community involvement like?
  • What political philosophy you were surrounded by?
  • What other environmental factors color the context of your life?

How do these filters impact your world view, your perceptions of others and, possibly, even your decisions? Pay attention to notice their subtle – or sometimes not so subtle – influence.

Stories. Stories are our perceptions of “truths” we internalize from parents, family, teachers, friends or other influential people in our life. The stories stick in the brain and, sometimes when we aren’t even conscious of them, they sway your behavior. Here are a few of my stories:

  • Be nice
  • Work hard
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Play fair
  • Don’t impose
  • Do as you’re told

Stories are powerful influencers from under the hood. For example, I struggled to terminate an under-performing employee because “be nice” echoed in my head. Jumping into a high-energy conversation to express my idea was hindered by the “don’t interrupt” soundtrack. I couldn’t ask for help from a colleague for fear of “imposing. Stories like these get in my way until they are identified and  you develop the skill to consciously choose if, when or how they apply.

One of my coaching clients struggled to overcome his story when applying reflective listening skills. Reflective listening is when you reflect the content from another person to ensure that you understand correctly. You use a phrase such as, “What I hear you saying is….” This client had a strict upbringing by a mother who tolerated no backtalk at all. When he reflected a statement back to a colleague, it sounded like backtalk to his brain. His “no backtalk” story created a block to his communication skills until he diagnosed the story and neutralized its power.

Many stories sit just under the surface so don’t be surprised if they don’t quickly pop to mind. Here are some techniques to aid you in uncovering your stories. Let the questions sit with you and then observe your behaviors and thought processes. What stories or rules are at work under the hood?

  • What “truths” that you were taught by parents, teachers, family or other authority figures stuck with you?
  • What personal “rules” do you adhere to in everyday life?
  • What beliefs do you hold that put boundaries on your behavior?
  • What situations trip you up needlessly? Why? (An example: I couldn’t ask my neighbor to feed our cat while we were on vacation because I didn’t want to impose.)
  • In what situations do you hesitate for seemingly no good reason? Why?

What stories live inside your head? Some may immediately come to mind as mine did. Others take quiet observation and insightful questioning.

What are your filters and stories?  Take time to identify them. They work under your hood and impact your management decisions in unintended ways unless you are aware and actively managing them.

Share your filters and stories with Shelley here.



Can You See Your Humps? Your Strengths and Communication Styles? Keep Reading To Learn Here.

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, there are tools like DNA Behavior, DISC, Strengthfinders, Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that provide insights into your behavior. If you don’t naturally observe your behavior, these tools can be particularly helpful. 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 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

 



When you download a new app, buy a new phone or acquire the latest cool technology like Alexa, you learn to use it. You explore its capabilities, you learn how it works, and over time you learn how it can assist you.

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Do you make that effort with your staff? Do you learn their capabilities? Do you know how they work best? (We explored that in the last newsletter.) Do you know what they enjoy? Do you know what gives them joy? Do you know what makes them tick?

Your staff work better in an environment that values their humanness. That means working with people who know more about them than the due date for their next deliverable. Like learning a new app, it takes time, but it doesn’t take THAT much time if you have a few astute questions at your disposal.

Here are five questions you can use today to give you more insight into what makes them tick.

  1. What’s new with your kids (grandkids)? Most people love to talk about their kids or grandkids. Use this as an intro to learn about them. If the child excels in math, ask, “Did she learned math from you?” If the grandkid plays baseball, ask, “Did you enjoy baseball as a kid?” This opens a conversation that gives you more insight into your employee. For example, early in my career, as a young woman engineer, I needed to work with an older gentleman known to be brusque and grumpy. No matter the topic, it was like working with a stone wall. One day we met in his office and I noticed photos of children (see question 5). Without thinking I said, “Who are all the kids?” His demeanor transformed instantly. He relaxed, smiled and even glowed. “Those are all my grandkids!” Thirty minutes later we started our work conversation but, this time, it went smoothly and achieved results.  Our professional relationship was better from then on.
  2. What are you doing for a vacation? Why did you choose that? One staff person tells you they went on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas and another person says they went to Tibet and meditated with the monks (my last vacation).  That information alone gives insight into what makes them tick. Your next question is, “Why did you choose that?”  Or, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” This peeks into the attributes they value. The Bahamas cruiser they might say, “I loved traveling to a new place without worry.”  The Tibet traveler might say, “It recharged my soul to sit quietly and reflect.” You hear hints of the inner clock that makes them tick.
  3. How did you decide to work here? If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? The answer may tell you that this person stumbled into the job, or they had family connections, or they passionately pursued the position. In any case, there will be an interesting tidbit. Your follow-up for more information: “If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing.” And if you’re really curious ask, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” You may be surprised at the answers! (Broadway performer, for me…in case you’re wondering!)
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do outside work? One of my staff was an acclaimed lacrosse player in college. Who knew? I didn’t until I asked about her hobbies. She coaches girls lacrosse. What do your staff outside of work? One of my clients participates in a mud run every year. It’s a connection to his Marine Corp roots. This is a simple question that opens new lines of conversation and indicates a sincere interest in a world beyond work.
  5. Tell me about these photos (or anything you notice in their office). It looked like a black and grey lump on the corner of my bookcase. The occasional astute observer would notice it and ask, “What’s that?” It was a chunk of asphalt. “Why do you have a chunk of asphalt?” It was a going away ‘gift’ when I left my highway job in North Carolina. In that short exchange, the guest gained insight into my background and knowledge they never expected. What do you observe in the office of your staff? Ask them about it. Even the décor will spill the beans about what makes them tick. Maybe there’s a Ravens ball cap, a photo on a mountain top, a beautiful lamp positioned just so. All are conversation starters to give you more information about your staff.

People aren’t that different from a well-designed, intuitive app. Clues about what makes your staff tick are in plain sight if you ask. Ask, so that they know your interest in them goes beyond business.

Click here for a PDF checklist of questions to learn about your staff and others.



Whether your technical expertise is in engineering (like mine), law, finance, technology or science, we technical folks don’t have good reputations as managers.  When a technically accomplished person is promoted into management, suddenly the old skills that made us successful are not as relevant. It’s a whole new ball game and a whole new set of skills. As we always said: Technical skills are the easy part. People skills are the hard part.

 

Technically-talented managers can become perplexed by people issues, stymied by office politics and mystified by seemingly illogical decisions made by “management”. You don’t have to be perplexed, stymied or mystified if you have all the information you need.

Here are 10 things that every technical person should know when they become a manager and leader.

  1. Know your staff
  2. Know you
  3. Know your boss
  4. Know the influencers
  5. Know the factors other than the data that are influencing organizational trajectory
  6. Know the person who can get things done in the office
  7. Know a broad range of information sources
  8. Know how to challenge your initial impressions
  9. Know your vision for the organization
  10. Know your leadership philosophy

To further develop your knowledge in these ten areas, click here, to receive questions to prompt your learning.

Contact Shelley Row to assist you and your staff to grow your skills as an insightful leader.



Is your leadership falling victim to the villain? “What villain?” you say. It’s a dastardly villain that limits your leadership potential and short-circuits your effectiveness. Particularly in technical fields, we’ve been trained to go along with the villain. Here’s how the villain shows up.

Technically competent people move into management where they face new challenges – challenges with people.  They become perplexed by personality conflicts; stymied by office politics, mystified by seemingly illogical decisions, and confused why their logical points don’t carry the day. As a result, they become marginally effective and moderately inspiring as managers. Sound familiar?

 

But rather than learn how to work with the people issues and their feelings, they vilify feelings. I had a senior leader say, “Why can’t they leave their feelings at home and just do their job?” A CEO said, “There’s no place for feelings at work.” In both cases, they believe that “feeling” is the villain.  They’re wrong.

The real, dastardly villain is the belief that feeling should be barred from the office. It’s an outmoded perception that didn’t work before and it won’t ever work because it goes against our humanness. It attempts to make people into robots. And, it’s derailing your leadership potential.

You can, of course, to hold onto the old belief system. It will continue to leave you frustrated, stressed, mystified and of average effectiveness. Yes, people will work for you but only for a paycheck. Their creativity, commitment and passion will be left behind. They will feel as though they are “just a number.” They won’t think twice about leaving.

If, on the other hand, you want to have deeper understanding of the workplace, feel less stress and frustration, be more effective, feel confident in your skills with staff, get more done and stand out from the crowd, join the movement to be a new brand of leader – an insightful leader.

It’s your choice. The only thing at stake is your future success as a leader. This is not an easy journey because it requires courage –courage to:

  • Break old mindsets;
  • Develop new skills that harness the power of both thinking and feeling; and
  • Unapologetically bring your humanness to work.

You will believe that you are more than just the data, and so are they. You will be part of a bigger movement.

If you’re interested, here’s your next step. Start replacing the outdated, villainous mindset with skill. Rather than be perplexed by personality conflicts, understand the conflict using neuroscience. Instead of being stymied by office politics, learn more about the interests of those in charge. Don’t be mystified by illogical decisions; rather understand the forces beyond the data that sway decision-making.

For now, just stop pretending that feelings can magically be shut off at the office door. Shift your thinking and notice when people exhibit a feeling about a project, program or person. It may be positive motivation, excitement or enthusiasm, or it may be disgust, anger and annoyance.  Either way, notice that we respond with feeling ALL THE TIME. It’s the way our brains are built.

Let’s not be afraid of feelings at work; let’s leverage them for the wisdom they hold and the humanness they bring. Because your staff, clients, bosses and partners are…guess what…humans.

Want to be a part of the new brand of leadership? If so, click here  YES! I WANT TO BE AN INSIGHTFUL LEADER

If you want to start your journey toward insightful leadership, contact Shelley now. CONTACT SHELLEY



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?GettyImages-87990433-590a5aae5f9b58647047e624

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, of 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 hit by a storm? In life, in business, in a relationship?  What about in your finances, or in your relationships? 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!



Do you worry about leaving town for vacation? Maybe you are concerned that things may not go smoothly while you’re gone. Or maybe the volume of email to which you’ll return feels over-whelming. Or maybe you feel that the customer may not wait, and you’ll lose business. I understand all those concerns. They were mine, too. But, guess what. I did it.

I took a two-week vacation (to Tibet with the Ra Ma Institute and traveled with my step-daughter, Linnea Miron, who is the CEO of Real Wellness); never touched my computer; didn’t respond to emails and (drum roll) the sky didn’t fall. It is possible to be out-of-touch and the world won’t come crashing down. It takes preparation.

Here are the four steps I took to prepare so that I had the space to relax and benefit from the trip.

1. Touched base with clients in advance. For any client who had a pending action item or an action that may be needed while I was gone, I contacted them in advance. I explained that I would be in Tibet with iffy wifi and cell coverage. No one panicked, most were pleased that I let them know and all were happy for me.

2. Completed activities in advance. I made an effort to complete tasks in advance that would be due while I was gone. For those items I was not able to complete, we scheduled meetings after I returned to discuss progress, schedule and due dates. Everything was easily worked out.

3. Staff monitored and responded to emails. My staff monitored my emails for any unanticipated issues or for client questions (from current or prospective clients). When appropriate, they let the client know that I was out of the country. If they couldn’t help directly, they worked with the person to schedule a call when I returned. Everyone felt that we were responsive to their requests.

4. Cleaned out the junk emails. This one is tricky. I opted to periodically delete junk emails when I had accessible wifi. I chose this so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the shear number of emails. There is something heart-stopping to see hundreds of emails stacked up after a two-week trip. The trick, of course, is to not get sucked into work. It was effective for me because I scanned email subject lines and the sender. I didn’t open or read anything. It was obvious when emails were junk and were safely deleted. When I returned, there was a manageable number of emails that needed “real” consideration and response.

These four steps worked for me. The preparation was not to be taken lightly. The weeks leading up to my trip were busy, but the payoff was high. (More about that in the next newsletter.) There were many other professional men and women on the trip. All the ones I spoke to did some combination of these techniques so that they, too, had the mental and emotional space to absorb the wonders of the Tibet.

What can you do to prepare so that you reap the full benefits of creative down time?