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

Your Search for perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The process in our head goes like this:

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

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

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

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

 

Photo Credit:  annete / 123RF Stock Photo



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to know more? Contact Shelley Row now.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Test the technology. You’ve been there. You log into the virtual meeting only to discover that the sound doesn’t work properly, there’s screeching feedback, the meeting host struggles to share their screen, and a key participant can’t find the video button. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Check everything in advance and be prepared for the unexpected.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. For example, within the growing cannabis industry, understanding how the best trade associations may affect your sales output is vital, as their strategies in marketing can directly affect your reach. 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?

For example, if your organization carries out drug tests as part of its pre-employment screening process, it is in your best interest to advertise this fact. A large number of employers in diverse sectors such as healthcare, transport, and government now require employees to complete a 7 panel drug test as part of the recruitment process. This is often due to federal regulations and safety concerns. It is therefore important to keep changing attitudes towards drug use in mind when recruiting.

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!