Turn The Ship Around! (Book Review)

I was very excited to read my copy of�Turn the Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level by L. David Marquet (here on Amazon). I actually found out about the book through a random link that I followed on Twitter. The link led me to a video interview of the author, and it excited me enough to hunt down the publisher and request a copy of the book.

At its core, this book is about changing the leader-follower model to a leader-leader model. It’s written by a man who spent years in the military (which is probably the most pervasive user of the leader-follower model of any organization you’ll find), so it instantly sticks out as an innovative idea.

A sampling of ideas from Turn the Ship Around Continue reading

Thinking On Your Feet-The Hidden Leadership Skill

As I’ve been pulled into more meetings and face-to-face interactions with our leadership team, I’ve noticed two things.

  1. Some of our leaders are very, very good at thinking on their feet.
  2. Me? Not so much.

Okay, I get that perspective is a big part of this discussion, but it’s really been interesting to observe some people taking on tough questions without flinching. Is it competency? Seniority? Age? Job function? What’s the secret?

If I had to say, it’s probably a good mix of all those, plus a dozen other intricate details (personality, familiarity with the group, etc.). So what’s a person to do if they are not very good at it to start with?

Lessons from improv

I did a little research to get some ideas on how to respond more naturally to those types of questions, and the “Yes, and…” tool is one that I’ve started implementing already. Continue reading

HR-Stop With the Problems Already

“I don’t like going to HR meetings. They are always about problems, not solutions.”

I heard that comment at the SHRM conference earlier this summer, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There is nothing quite like having to sit in front of your CEO and tell them about some problem that is coming at you like a freight train. There are two parts to doing this the right way that will help diminish the perception above.

#1-Offer solutions, too

It may sound simple, but when you come to the meeting with a problem, bring two or more solutions with you as well. Don’t feel helpless or powerless. You are the person with the most in-depth information about the issue so far, and it’s your responsibility to take that information and turn it into a potential resolution.

My boss (the CEO) has a saying that I always repeat whenever I’m faced with a tough decision:

Tell me how we can, not why we can’t.

#2-Be proactive

So you’re sitting there thinking, “Huh, he must be talking to someone else. I don’t have any big problems that I have to share with our leadership at this point.”

No, I’m talking to you, too! You just have a different action. It’s time to be proactive. Start looking for ways you can cut costs, streamline your functions, save time for managers, etc. Look for some solutions to age-old problems, not just new ones. Not sure where to start? Ask some of your managers what their biggest pain points are with regard to the HR or recruiting processes. Ask your senior leaders what their biggest concerns are at a corporate level. Then take that information and use it.

Want to know the fastest, easiest way to prove the value of the HR department? Solve a problem that plagues the management team. Yes, it seems simple, but it is often overlooked because HR tends to exist in its own little “bubble” and never takes the time to actually find out what the business needs are from the HR function.

Then take the time to communicate what you’ve found in the way of solutions to current problems.

Pretty soon your managers will be saying, “I am looking forward to the next HR meeting to see what they have come up with this time.” Then ask for a raise. You deserve it. :-)

Leadership in Tough Times Can Save More Than Just Morale

When times are tough, job stress typically increases, from the top echelon of management to the workers on the front lines. Communication can suffer, too, as leaders hold back less-than-positive information to avoid adding to workers\’ worries. As a result, a culture of fear and lack of trust can pervade any business, with employees looking to the future with uncertainty and looking to leadership for answers they may not get.

Fear and lack of trust are the building blocks of conflict. While it\’s a normal aspect of business, human resources and management don\’t always handle conflict as well as they could. For example, in many firms, the first response is to bring in outside experts, to conduct mediation sessions or workshops, in an attempt to diffuse tension and improve morale. These costly consultants are usually unknown – and therefore not always trusted by the parties involved. And they often leave the company in the same situation in which they found it.

A better way to deal with conflict is to prevent it in the first place. When leaders build a culture of trust and work to improve their own conflict resolution styles, workplace wars can be a thing of the past. In this way, effective leadership can save company morale – and save money, too.

Can a Culture of Trust Lead to a Conflict-Free Workplace?

Eliminating workplace conflict may seem like an impossible task – and in some firms, it will likely never go away completely. But decreasing conflict, and diminishing its impact, is doable. A company culture built on trust can significantly improve employee morale, increase productivity and add to the bottom line. Here are three ways to move toward a conflict-free workplace through trust:

  • Encourage tolerance and respect for everyone. No matter what their age, gender, physical characteristics, or socio-economic or cultural background, all employees deserve to be respected as unique individuals, not mistreated because of their differences. Comments, jokes, gossip or any non-productive talk about co-workers cannot be tolerated in any forward-thinking company. Conduct cultural awareness training to foster inclusion and create a foundation of respect and trust for all.
  • Keep communication flowing. Over-communicating can be a plus in a fast-moving work environment. Set goals, outline expectations, clarify roles and explain procedures – and repeat often. Encourage feedback and questions – no matter how trivial – to help build clarity. And avoid hiding information or keeping bad news from staff to build trust and reduce stress.
  • Teach people how to listen and empathize. Anyone can learn how to be an active listener – especially when their leaders model the behavior. Here\’s how: in conversation, make every effort to be fully present; don\’t interrupt; and repeat back what you think the person said. Nothing does more to make a person feel valued than to know they\’ve been heard.
  • Promote passion. Let your staff know it\’s okay to take a stand on something they feel passionate about. It\’s also fine to disagree with someone\’s position. A positive way to handle disagreement is simply to acknowledge feelings and empathize with the person. Working through small difficulties can lead to increased confidence, respect and trust all around.

It\’s true that even a strong culture of trust won\’t prevent every workplace conflict. But that doesn\’t mean it\’s time to call in the mediation experts. When handled properly by skilled leaders, conflict can be harmless, and even lead to positive change.

Revamp Your Conflict Resolution Style

When people of various cultural and social backgrounds, or with different needs and goals, are put together in a confined space, anything can happen. But conflict is not always a bad thing. Becoming a great leader requires learning how to effectively resolve workplace conflicts to affect a positive outcome.

Here are some ways to boost your conflict resolution skills:

  • Let the facts be your guide. Eliminating speculation, assumptions and conjecture can go a long way toward avoiding conflict. Show employees how to take an analytical approach to their interactions. Ask clarifying questions and get to the bottom of a situation, to learn what people really think and understand about it. Focus on the problem at hand, not the people involved. And stay objective!
  • Always be courteous. Leaders must conduct themselves with high standards of behavior. When managing a conflict or stressful situation, treat everyone involved with courtesy – even if you disagree with him or her. Not only does it foster feelings of value, but courtesy also develops respect. And you cannot lead if your staff has no respect for you.
  • Crowdsource a solution. Ask for input from the parties involved, and be open to their ideas for solutions.
  • Learn to negotiate. When a conflict has reached an impasse, it\’s time for a strong leader to negotiate a solution. If your negotiation skills are rusty, find the training you need to develop them. Negotiation goes hand-in-hand with leadership success.

Solid Leadership is All You Need to Control Workplace Conflict

In today\’s economically challenged business environment, a company can deal with conflict by bringing in outsiders, or by making internal improvements that foster proactive conflict resolution. When workers learn to deal with conflict by observing their leaders and practicing their own conflict resolution skills, trust and mutual respect only increase. And as a result, morale and productivity rise along with them.

This guest post was provided by Jason Monaghan with University of Notre Dame Executive Online Education. Jason works with the faculty and staff at Notre Dame Online to develop skill sets for the leaders of tomorrow in Negotiations, Leadership and Management and Business Administration.

Feeling small

In the past few years, I have been a wrestling referee for high school and junior varsity matches. This past week I made the decision to go back and officiate this season, so I went to the introductory meeting. While I was sitting there, I felt like I was from two different worlds, and I learned some valuable lessons from the experience. These are random, stream of consciousness type ideas, but they are useful!

  • Give good directions. I wasn’t given directions and had a few minutes of panicked phone calls before I found the location. Imagine a job candidate feeling that way.
  • Make people feel comfortable. I stood there next to a handful of guys I am barely acquainted with, but half the crowd was made up of strangers. I’d have liked to have the chance to introduce myself and meet the others officially.
  • Have a very basic description of what to expect in the job. If I hadn’t already done the job for a few years, I’d have felt very unsure about what to expect for the coming weeks and months.
  • Going from the HR/manager view at my day job down to the hands-on, line staff level as a referee is an interesting leap. We have random, pointless rules to abide by, and there’s absolutely no visibility of senior leadership as a guiding force. Sound like your company, perhaps?
  • If you’re going to referee, then you have to go through the screwy annual performance review process like I describe in this video. That in itself is just nuts.
  • We went over new rules. One of them? You have to buy a special jacket if you plan to wear one. Um, guys, the season runs December to January. We are going to wear jackets. And we shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to get a specific jacket you are forcing us to wear.
  • (Minor rant:) One year I got some black shoes, because you are supposed to wear them as part of your uniform. The problem was the only size and brand I could find in black was a size too small. Needless to say it didn’t work. After seven hours of running and jumping in tiny shoes, I put on my old ones which were not the regulation color. I received several comments about them, but nobody seemed to care when I explained why I couldn’t wear the black shoes. Sigh. Be aware that when people break the rules at work, they might sometimes have a really, really good reason for it. Don’t assume the worst!

Anyway, it took a lot of words but in the end I just felt small. I felt like I didn’t matter.

After being in a leadership position within my organization on a daily basis, I sometimes forget what it is like to not have the insider info, to depend on others to communicate changes and direction, and to be treated like just one more widget on an assembly line. Take a minute today to refocus your view on your people, and try to look at things from their perspective as often as possible. Remind them that you have their best interests at heart.

And please, please, PLEASE make them feel like a valuable asset to the organization (building an effective recognition program will help). They will appreciate it.

Who holds the best meetings? (and other questions you should ask)

Which of your supervisors holds the best meetings?

I was in a session at HR Florida and the speaker tossed out that question. Most of the audience likely ignored it, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I honestly didn’t know the answer within my own company, and I’m willing to bet many of you probably feel the same way.

When you’re looking for ways to coach managers and help them be better leaders, you should be asking questions like that. Why? Well, for starters, it helps you to see who your real leaders are. Just because someone is in a position of authority doesn’t necessarily mean they are a leader in the organization. These types of questions help to uncover the hidden aspects of what occurs in a department and how that impacts the organization as a whole.

On another level, it’s your job to provide support to these leaders. How can you do that when you don’t know what’s going on and how they are doing it? 

Yes, it’s a tough question to ask yourself, but it’s worth it to understand where the gaps are for your people and to start thinking ahead about ways you can help to close those gaps.

Other questions to consider asking

As you consider asking these questions, keep these thoughts in the back of your mind: do the managers know the answer, and (no matter if they do or not) do they understand the importance of knowing and utilizing this information as a leader? Then put the shoe on the other foot. Do you know these answers for your own people? 

  • How do your people like to be recognized for their efforts?
  • What kinds of activities do you do on an interdepartmental level that add value to an employee’s day?
  • What do your employees enjoy about working here?
  • Who holds the best meetings? What about them is enjoyable or appealing?
  • Do you let your people have a say in hiring decisions? Why or why not?
  • What sort of feedback do employees prefer to receive?
  • Do employees have a way to offer praise in a public or private setting for their peers? Is it encouraged?
  • Are employees aware of upward feedback methods? Do they utilize them?

And that’s just off the top of my head. There are others, and I’m sure you have some to share. What questions can you ask to help ensure that supervisors know the necessary information about their staff to make informed decisions about leadership?

Stay tuned for more posts coming to you live from HR Florida 2011!

The case for developing leaders at all levels

Today I’m going to make the case for leadership development at all levels, not just at the top of the organization. Think about it, do you want those employees positioned closest to your customers to have that training? I would. Yes, it’s a question of cost for many companies, but if your customer-facing people aren’t doing the right thing, then cost won’t matter when you lose the customers!

That was just a taste of what you’ll find in the video below. Subscribers may need to click through to view.

(Fair warning, the video sometimes is skippy and doesn’t seem to align with the audio track, but the info’s still thought-provoking!)