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

Latest "communication" Posts

photo credit: rawpixel

 

The world has shifted and here we are – at home – working. Having worked out of my home office for years now, I can say with assurance that there is a difference between working at home for a couple days a week and working at home for an extended period.  Extended periods at home offer two challenges: productivity and connection with colleagues. Particularly for technical professionals like me, working from home is a chance to dive into those project details that require uninterrupted time. But don’t underestimate the need for connection (and people who feel connected are more likely to be productive). While our current situation is driven by the response to COVID-19, we are likely to see long-term shifts in our work patterns. Start now to develop the habits you will need to work productively from home and keep connections alive and well.

 

Here are four areas to master to remain productive and connected when working from home.

Manage Distractions at Home

Drop in a load of laundry, pick up the Amazon package, make a grocery list, put the laundry in the dryer, order an item from Amazon, pay a bill online, do a quick check on social media (okay…so that wasn’t so quick), plan dinner, and, in your spare time, entertain your kids. Before you know it, the day is chopped into bits and productivity disintegrates. Instead, bundle the day into productivity pockets that give you focused spurts for designated tasks. It takes will power but you will be rewarded with that good feeling of a day well spent. Use these bundling tactics to your own productivity pockets.

  • Identify the key tasks that need to be accomplished today. What is the task and what is the outcome for each? Approximately how much time will each take?
  • Align the tasks with your energy. If as task requires significant focus, slot it into your high energy period. For choppy tasks, like emails or phone calls or checking in on staff (see below), slot these into lower energy parts of the day.
  • Balance work tasks with home tasks. Inevitably there are a few tasks around the house that I want to weave into the day. Identify them, too. Slot them into the space between your productivity pockets. For me, that momentary break is a reward for achieving the task goal. Yes, unloading the dishwasher is a reward. Not because I love unloading the dishwasher but because it’s a brief brain break that allows my mind to rest. Use these personal chores strategically in the day. Otherwise, you break concentration, lose your train of thought and spend more time getting back into the groove.

Set yourself up for success by clarifying expectations for response times.

  • Clarify expected response times with your boss. We tend to believe that responses are needed faster than they really are. Discuss this with your boss to negotiate reasonable response times that balance promptness with productivity.
  • Clarify your expectations on response times with your team or staff. They probably think you expect immediately response when that may not be necessary. You should think through the same balance between promptness and productivity. Every time you ask them to break away to email, Zoom or call you, they are distracted from other work. What’s most important?
  • Be transparent about your productivity pockets. Tell your boss and staff that you expect to be focused on THE big project from 10am until noon. You will be off your phone and off email. You’ll check messages at the end of the window. If need be, coordinate with another person to cover for you during that time so that you alternate productivity pockets.

Once you define your productivity pockets, protect that time from the time vampires that suck away the day moment by moment.

  • Turn off the sound on your computer and phone. Turn off the sound. (Caveat: you may have a family situation like a sick child or elderly parent with whom you need to always be available.)
  • Turn off popups. Every time that tiny envelop popups up that indicates a new email in your inbox, your brain is momentarily distracted. It breaks your focus and time drains away as you regain your focus. Simply turn off the popups.
  • Move the phone outside of view. I confess. To truly focus during my productivity pocket, I do best if I move the phone physically out of the room. It’s simply too easy to pick up the phone to check the time, the weather, text messages, Messenger and more. My level of productivity soars when the phone is out of sight.
  • Execute the plan. Sure, something unexpected may happen (actually, something unexpected will happen). When it does, deal with it and get back on your plan and protect your productivity pockets.

Stay connected to employees

It’s tempting to take a deep dive into focused project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Even if you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone, they are human and they need connection. If you have high social people on your staff, they definitely need connection. How will you help them feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from watercooler chitchat?

Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members. If need be, put these calls on your to-do list. Plan them into your day as a productivity pocket. I know…this doesn’t feel productive to those of us who go-go-go. But, bodies of research show that you increase productivity when people feel engaged and cared for. When you place these calls, you are actively contributing to productivity.  Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids, older parents, and cancelled vacation plans. Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.

Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive.  What would make the experience better for them? What do they struggle with? What is it like for them to work from home? How can you help? Ask how you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization. Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.

Weekly summaries or meetings. Consider sharing a brief weekly summary of the status of work across units. It shouldn’t be long. Bulleted points are enough. The goal is to keep everyone in sync with the big picture and each other. You can also request that a short summary of status be sent to you weekly. This keeps you up to date on the work of your dispersed office and conveys your interest in their work.

Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection. Adding the visual component immediately makes discussions feel more alive and real.  Leverage the visual element by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Have you noticed that it helps you feel connected when you have a visual image of someone in their home or office? Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office. Plan to connect visually on a regular basis to fight the sense of isolation.

Conduct effective virtual meetings

You’ve probably had more virtual meetings in the last couple weeks than in the last month. Virtual meeting platforms (I use Zoom) are remarkably good at simulating an in-person meeting environment. But, they are not the same. To get the most from your virtual meetings you need a different approach. 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. Virtual meetings like a “real” meeting benefit from the same principles. Have an agenda with defined times. Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”). Review action items, the responsible party and due dates. As in an in-person meeting, you want to be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Virtual meetings, more so than an in-person meeting, benefit from pre-defined roles. Set expectations for their engagement up front (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y). Giving everyone a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

Test the technology. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Test the link, the webcam, the sound quality and the connection well in advance. If needed, have participants download the software before the meeting. Make sure that you, as the host, know how to mute/unmute, raise electronic hands, manage a chat function, use the white board, record if needed and share your screen. It’s not hard. Learn these skills in advance not in front of busy staff.

Set virtual meeting guidelines. You need clear, explicit guidelines to get the most from your virtual meeting. 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, you need more structured interaction. Use this checklist to develop your own guidelines.

  • Everyone uses their camera. This increases the feeling of connection and it discourages multi-tasking during the meeting since everyone can see each other.
  • Mute everyone on entry into the meeting and keep them muted except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, or the lawn mower starts up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or on 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.
  • Mute cells phones and no multi-tasking. Be clear that phones are not to be used during the meeting. Attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. Participants are not to walk out of the room during the meeting.
  • 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.
  • Have a good connection. Ask that everyone be in the best location they can for Wi-Fi or cellular reception or hardwire into Wi-Fi.

Write clear emails

Clear communication is a challenge particularly when working virtually. Email is a heavily used (too heavily?) communication medium on a “regular” day in the office. With staff isolated in their homes, email becomes an even more important communication tool. And, email is routinely handled badly. Now’s the time to enhance email writing skills. And, let’s face it, we need this skill no matter our work location.

Clear language. We zip off a quick email without much thought. We type a response in the last minutes of the day or while rushing to the car. We dash off instructions without rereading them. And, then, we are perplexed by miscommunication. An important email is not fast. It is crafted and careful.

  • Reread the email for clarity. Will someone less familiar with the situation understand the nuances? Since the reader can’t read your mind, how could the email be interpreted differently? Make adjustments to ensure clarity.
  • Remove ambiguous words. Words like “it,” “that,” “this,” “those,” and “them” leave room for ambiguity. Search for those words and replace them with the noun to which it/that/this/those/them refers.
  • Assess acronyms. Will all readers understand the acronyms?

Structured for easy reading. Have you ever received a long email with big, rambling paragraphs? You feel exhausted before you ever start reading. Instead of rambling, structure the body of the email so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed. Plus, structure allows you cater to the communication styles of different people. Some want the summary; others need background. Provide both for important emails.

  • Prioritize the messages in the email. Start with the most important and work you way to the least important.
  • Put the action first. What action do you want from the reader? When do you want their action? Make the action the first part of the email.
  • Use bold, italics and highlight to focus the readers’ attention. Visually identify the key points or sections in the email using bold, italics and highlighting. These visual tools allow the reader to quickly skim the email and find the most important bits of information. I know…you don’t want them to “skim” the email. But, they will. Make sure they pick up the points you intend by making those points obvious to their eye.
  • Provide a bulleted summary of key information. Bulleted points are also useful to visually identify key points and provide white space in the email. White space gives the brain a break and allows it to more easily process information. The summary allows the person short on time to glean the information she requires immediately.
  • Provide details below. Following the summary points, add detail for those who crave detail. Detail may be background of the issue at hand. Detail may be research that supports the points. Detail may be factors that contribute to the decision. Providing details serve those who crave research and data and it documents the rationale behind your thinking.

Tone. Unless you are writing to someone you know well – very well – strike a professional tone. No sarcasm, no dry humor, no witty comeback as this writing style is heavily dependent on the readers’ interpretation. Plus, email is an official document. Always consider that someone else may read it. Be professional.

  • Reread the email for tone.
  • No emojis in a professional email (FYI. There is no consensus on the plural. It can be either emoji or emojis. I checked.)

Details. Details matter with email. Have you ever hit Reply All when you meant to hit Reply? I’ve seen terrible situations result from a Reply/Reply All mistakes. Take a few moments to reread and recheck everything before hitting Send. Email is not a fast medium. To use it well requires thought.

  • Reread the email for the details.
  • Check the people and conversation on the entire email thread before you forwarded it.
  • Imagine that the email was forwarded to someone else without your knowledge. Would it be received in a professional way?
  • Review all the names in the To and CC lines before hitting Reply All or Forward Are your comments and the comments throughout the chain appropriate for everyone on the email?
  • Think about the relevance of your message to everyone on the email. Do they all need to see your response? They do if your comment adds substantive information to the conversation, if you want others to see your participation, if you want to register your agreement or disagreement with the group, They don’t if there is no added value such as ccing everyone only to say “Thank you.”

We are in unusual times and everyone is adapting to the temporary situation. Even after the COVID-19 threat recedes, I believe we will see an uptick in virtual work and the use of virtual meeting platforms. Be the manager who is on top of this shift and create the skills for you and your team to be both productive and connected.

 

What’s your leadership philosophy?

What’s your leadership philosophy?

What’s your leadership philosophy? I’ve asked that question to interview candidates and it has been asked of me. Frequently, the candidate is stumped as was I the first time. Don’t let that question stump you.

Perhaps you’ve worked with people who were especially good or bad leaders. Perhaps you are a reader of leadership books that fill-in-the-blanks around your belief system. Whatever the sources from which you draw, your leadership philosophy is essential to guiding your work every day. It is your North star, your guiding light, the keel that keeps you upright, the rudder with which you steer, your boundary within which you work … and live. What do you believe about leadership? What are the leadership principles that guide your behavior?

This article encapsulates key considerations that formed my own leadership philosophy even though I haven’t successfully embodied all of them all the time. Without them, my work was fraught with indecision, suffered from wishy-washy direction and drifted due to lackluster communication. I offer these ideas as you develop your own leadership philosophy.

  1. Align behavior and strategy with vision (see my last blog). Once she has her vision, a strong leader constantly verbalizes that vision and ensures that her behavior is fully aligned. Nothing torpedoes a compelling vision than a leader who doesn’t walk her talk. Similarly, nothing cements an organizational vision like a leader who aligns her behavior and language while rewarding the behavior of others.
    • Strategy aligns with vision. I’m a believer in vision but vision is nothing without strategies that become actions. I like to identify the three to five critical success factors needed to achieve the vision. Strategy flows from them. For example, when I ran a research program for the US Department of Transportation, our critical success factors were: Money (funding from Congress); Staff; Engaged community (organizations and people with whom we engaged); Impactful projects with a clear federal role. Our strategies flowed directly from these critical success factors. In my current business, there are three critical success factors: 1) Compelling, useful content, 2) Interested, engaged audience 3) Methods to connect the content with the audience (newsletters, books, webinars, keynotes, consulting, coaching). It’s that simple. What are your critical success factors? Do your strategy and activities flow directly from the vision?
    • Budget aligns with strategy. Your strategy should be visible within the budget. Can you see your strategies in the funding within your budget? If not, you don’t have an achievable, sustainable strategy.
    • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The leader is the chief representative of vision and strategy. He must be an artful and constant communicator outside the organization, across the organization and to staff. A mentor taught me that your message is only beginning to get through when you are exhausted communicating it.
    • Staff should “feel” their role in the vision. Leaders frequently assume that staff “get” the big picture. Experience tells me that is rarely true. Staff need support to explicitly understand where their work fits within the organization and vision. With that knowledge, their work is grounded in relevance and they feel more fully a part of the organization.
  2. Work is about people and people have feelings. As an engineer who became a leader, I naturally gravitated to data and strategy. Consequently, my biggest realization was appreciating that all work is inherently human and humans function on feelings, not data. Don’t underestimate the importance of feelings at work.
    • Create a feel for the organization. What’s the feel of your organization and culture? Do people feel good about their contribution? Is there fun at work? Is there humanness and caring at work?
    • Treat others well. How do people feel when interacting with you? One of my barometers of a leader is to observe their treatment of the lowest service staff: janitorial staff, cashiers in the cafeteria, wait staff. Do they make them feel seen and valued?
  3. Tone at the top. What you say and how you say it matters. You, as a leader, are contagious. I’ve worked for a leader steeped in integrity and another leader who bullied and fostered fear. In both examples, overall behavior in the office shifted to mirror the tone at the top. What tone do you set?
    • Transparency. Staff don’t have to agree with your decisions, but it helps if they understand your thought process and considerations. Inevitably, leaders have more information and factors to consider than staff realize. Transparency into your decision-making process broadens understanding and creates trust. Of course, not all the reasons can be disclosed, but the more transparent you are about small decisions, the more likely they will trust you with the big ones that, by necessity, must be less transparent.
    • Provide immediate, constructive feedback. I’m astonished by the number of staff who have no feedback about their performance. One person said, “I have no idea how I’m doing.” There’s no reason for that. Research shows that the best performance motivator is immediate, informal feedback on performance or behavior. Give specific, useful feedback in as close to real-time as is feasible. Specific is key.
    • Be appropriately fair. The brain likes fairness, but a workplace isn’t always fair. My goal instead was to be appropriately Being appropriately fair allowed me flexibility to consider the individual, his circumstances, his past performance, and the context of a specific situation. Frankly, I think this is more fair than the blind application of a generic policy.
  4. Have high expectations. Expect top quality performance of yourself and staff (this doesn’t equate to long hours). Don’t tolerate consistently poor performance. If termination is needed, terminate. Even as a government leader, I terminated employment for several staff (it can be done in government but it’s not easy). When discussing the termination of staff on a panel of leaders, I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid people won’t want to work for you?” My response, “You’re right. The poor performers don’t want to work here, but top performers do.”
    • Support staff in development. “How can I support you?” That’s the question my boss asked me. It was the first time a boss specifically asked how they could be of service to me. Have you asked your staff? What can you do to support their professional development and what can you do to support their current work?
    • Reward the behavior you seek to create. Be crystal clear on the behavior that supports your culture, its tone and the vision for your organization. Then, watch for it, recognize it and reward it – visibly and vocally. The hardest part is having clarity on the behavior you seek to create. Oh…and say “thank you.”
  5. Be thoughtful. I wrote last time about the importance of connecting the dots (read here).  To do that you need time. Not just any time but quiet time for thinking, observing and connecting the dots. Some of the most visionary, compelling leaders I worked with made time to think and reflect. I call it taking a brain break. How do you take a brain break and ensure that you have that thoughtful time? Being busy is not the same as being important.
  6. Be focused. It’s easy to be pulled in a thousand directions at once. As a leader, focus is key. You need clarity on the important work when the urgent work strives to derail your attention. Guard the time to work on the important activities for you and your staff. Prioritize ruthlessly. Stick with the priorities.
  7. Share control. The brain feels comfortable when it has control. Consequently, you will be uncomfortable as you enable your staff to be comfortable that they have control over their work. The biggest problems I’ve had with giving control to staff stemmed from my lack of clarity about expectations and priorities.
  8. What are key attributes of your leadership philosophy? Share them with Shelley here so we can compile a more complete list to share with others. Whatever your leadership philosophy, have one and live it.



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.

We’re learning about the ten skills that technical professionals need when they become a manager. Today let’s discuss the importance of getting to know that special person who simply knows how to get things done in the office. And it’s not simple!

Know the Person Who Gets Things Done in the Office!

Who is the super-connected person in your office? This person has power (informally) and knows where the bodies are buried. Everyone probably owes him a favor. Because of these connections, he will have an uncanny way of getting things done. You need to know him.

I learned the value of this special person by accident. One of my staff members, while skilled in some areas was struggling in her current role. It was a rare moment of clarity that I realized that her real skill was in getting things done through organizational connections. She knew everyone’s deepest secrets. She knew who cared and about what; she knew who pulled which strings to get things done; she knew the struggles and successes of everyone on the staff. She became my Chief of Staff.  We didn’t have a Chief of Staff position, but we created one to house her skills. She was excellent. And, I learned the value of this skill set.

Who is it in your office? Here are the key attributes to help you identify this critical person. Once you find them, get to know them and make friends.

Knows the staff. Who is the staff confidant? Who knows the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, family illnesses, staff worries, hopes and fears? You can count on them to fill you in on everyone’s personal and professional issues and dramas. Pay attention to their intel. This person is your personal staff cheat sheet to keep you in tune with the happenings in the office. You need to know to stay connected.

Knows how to get things done. She not only knows the staff; she also knows the processes needed to get things done inside the organization and the people essential to each step. This knowledge matters because every so often you’ll need to expedite something-or-the-other. You’ll need greased skids and this person has the grease. She already has the relationships and she knows what to say to get your items moved to the top of the list. Jump the line, float to the top and move to the head of the class – that’s what this person can do for you. When you need this, it is invaluable.

Knows the insider political information. Who is in? Who is out? Who is moving up? Who is moving out? These are the political machinations that are at work behind the scenes in an organization. This well-connected person has his ear to the ground and knows the unspoken power players. He knows who has fallen out of favor and whose influence is rising. This information allows you to better position your work within the organization so it is well-received by the right people.

Who is the super-connected person in your office? It’s time to figure that out, take them to lunch, learn their interests and make them a key part of your team!

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.

blog 092519.jpg

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.

blog 082819.jpg

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.