Posts in Management
How to Reduce the Number of Times You Apologize

Some people apologize when they've done something wrong- this is good.  

Others apologize all of the time.  You can spot them when they say things like,

  • Sorry to bother you...
  • Sorry to interrupt...
  • I'm sorry did I get you at a bad time...
  • Sorry to call you...

This latter group, those who practice "the apology reflex", have a problem on their hands.  They are either not convinced of their own value or feel guilty for achieving success.  I've worked with folks like this and not surprisingly, they rarely get promoted.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who never apologize- they don't get promoted either.

So what should you do to minimize the number of times that you apologize?  One simple tactic can help you with this: inventory your language.  Do you find yourself apologizing often for simple, innocent things?  When you recognize this trait, take a breath and hold it in. Chin up, just do what you were going to do but this time, without an apology.

You've got this!

Part 3 of 5: Run Effective Meetings

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This is Part 3 of 5 in the series, "The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice".

In the introduction to this series, we made the case that grad school programs and most organizations don't teaching rising leaders the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

In Part 2, we discussed the importance of managing your email daily.

In this post, I'd like to discuss the second ninja skill of workplace leadership and it deals with meetings.

The average executive spends a lot of time in meetings. These can be any of the following:

1. Informational meetings

2. Status reports

3. Brainstorm meetings

4. One-on-Ones with your boss or those who report to you

5. Standing meetings with those two steps above or below you

6. Strategy meetings

7. Board meetings

8. And on it goes!

The volume of meetings isn't necessarily the problem, although attending too many can definitely constipated your calendar.

No, the real problem is that meetings as we know it suffer from a number of serious ailments. These include:

1. Not having a clear purpose: "what's the reason for this meeting?"

2. Not having a good moderator: "who's running the show here?"

3. Not having an agenda: "what do we want to get done in this meeting?"

4. Not having a set end-time: "what time do we finish?"

To make it worse, too many organizations foster a culture that warps the mindset of its workers. This results in either a) people dread meetings or b) people feel that meetings are the only way to make decisions.

To respond to a), how can you blame them? When the last few meetings either started late or had no clear purpose, who wouldn't want to avoid the next meeting?

Regarding b), this is more insidious. If "having a meeting" is the only way to make decisions, it will ultimately produce sub-par results. Why? Simply put, when you craft a lousy meeting, lousy stuff is bound to come out. This then brings the entire organzation into a slower mode of productivity and it saps the creative energies out of its employees.

So what's a rising leader to do?

First, a personal story. I recently was invited to attend a meeting. Some of my best directs were to be in attendance. The topic, though, really didn't apply to me so I simply didn't attend. After the meeting, my #2 just gave me the cliff-notes version of what went on and the rest is history.

The bottom line leads me to Strategy One: only attend the meetings that you absolutely have to. I realize that if you're not a supervisor or "the boss", you may have less flexibility than others but the principle is the same. You've got to guard your calendar at all costs against lousy meetings.

Strategy Two is directly related to you when you are asked to facilitate a meeting. If you have to run a meeting, do it well.  My suggestion is to address the items that we mentioned above, one at a time:

1. Have a clear purpose: "the reason why we're here is ______________________"

2. Practice good moderation: keep it moving, start on time, involve everyone, clarify follow up tasks, take notes, publish follow up minutes, get out on time.

3. Have an agenda: you may or may not need to publish this in advance. If it's a small group, you could simply start with, "First we want to discuss X and then move to Y and finish with Z. Then we'll know that we're done and can get back to work."

4. Have a set end-time: you'll need to remind folks of the guardrails of the meeting, giving them permission to end on time (or better yet, end early!). Attendees need to know that the meeting will probably only "need" 15 minutes or 30 minutes, etc. 99% of meetings should last 30-45 minutes.

By practicing these two simply strategies, you'll become a meeting ninja and be seen by those above you as efficient and productive.

Here's a bonus tip: when the meeting is over and you are the facilitator, simply stand up and thank everyone for coming. This signals to the group that "we're done" and can get back to whatever is on the calendar. This will feel rude at first but after a while, folks will learn that meetings don't have to be long. Try it out and see for yourself.

Part 1 of 5: The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

A young man told me he was about to enter the seminary.  A friend shared that he wanted to re-imagine his career as a teacher instead of as a software engineer.  Both people wanted something different for their futures.  Both had vision.

Neither knew the "skills" that would be needed in order to thrive- one as a future priest and the other as a future teacher.  

Grad school tells us a lot about theory and history and "best practices" but little about skills.  I'm not tooting my horn, but I have a lot of graduate degrees and each has been a blessing in a different way.  What each has lacked, unfortunately, has been a healthy dose of the practical skills needed for the profession I'm in.

How about you?  Have you become excellent because of OJT ("on the job training") or because someone taught you the skills needed to be great?

This post begins a four-part series called The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice.  You'll find only practical tips for being great at work.  The skills are as follows:

  • Manage your email daily.
  • Run effective meetings.
  • Synthesize large volumes of information.
  • Control your calendar.

You may be looking at these skills and say to yourself, "Why do I need a four part series on these?"  Quite simply, the answer is this- we need to learn these skills because no one person, no grad school program or self help initiative, is wrapping them up in one package.  

Worse yet, countless potential executives aren't learning these things on their climb up the corporate ladder. The result is the next generation of leaders who will be sorely lacking in the "blocking and tackling" of servant leadership.

That's where this blog comes in handy.

I hope that you enjoy the series and upcoming podcast with the same title.  

Here's a Method That Will Move Your Team Towards Collaboration

I’m a school guy so my “year” began this past Monday, Sept. 1, the first day of school.  While we worked all summer to get things ready, only when kids arrive do we feel as if the year begins.

Your “year” may be the same or may begin in January or some other time.  Whatever the case, beginnings are the right time to sit with your team and look forward.

The only catch is that many leaders don't take the time to do this.  After all, it takes guts to delve into the "soft skills" that truly great leaders demonstrate.  We're talking about emotions, group sentiment and motivation.

An easy technique that I use is as simple as the following:

1. Let’s review the reasons why we meet.  I.e. to make decisions, to approve things, to seek advice, to share our wins, to track sales, etc.

2. Let’s articulate responses to “I appreciate when…”  This is the most important step because it invites participants to state what they like in the behaviors of their teammates.  You may hear things like...

I appreciate when you guys show up on time

I appreciate when we make real decisions

I appreciate when we don’t go over an hour

I appreciate when my opinion is heard by everyone

3. Let’s affirm what we are about.  At this point, we list the individual values that we are passionate about.  One typically hears things like “honesty”, “follow up”, “results oriented”, “speak up”, etc.

The hardest part of all of this is having the guts to try it.  Once the team gets rolling, the anwers flow and the rest is history.  

What strategies do you use as you prepare your team for a new year?

A Gen X Guide to Managing Millennials

They’re everywhere. Millennials- those Americans born between 1980 and 2000, are also known as Generation Y or even Generation Me. Millennials are sometimes described as an “entitlement generation”, a consequence of their perceived softness and desire to self-advocate.

Dr. Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before” says this about millennials:

"Today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Their expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there's a huge clash between their expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood."

Millenials expect a lot. I’ve been interviewing them and working with them for several years and there are a few techniques that have been helpful to me and just might be useful for you as well:

  1. Millennials see negotiation as a right of passage.
  2. Millennials want to lead, whether they are ready or not.
  3. Millennials have a fluid understanding of corporate loyalty.
  4. Millennials are vocal and aren’t bashful about advocating for their careers.
  5. Millennials respect strong leaders.

None of these things are bad. Gen Xers (like me) have their own issues as well and probably drove Baby Boomers nuts. Still, Millennials are unique and to lead and manage them well, you’ll have to roll with the punches and learn to speak their language.

Remember that good leaders work with what they are given.  Great leaders go even further, navigating generational differences such that common goals are accomplished.

What's been your experience with Millennials at work?

How to Spot an Indecisive Leader

This post is simple.  We see them all of the time.  We complain about them when they're not around.  Indecisive leaders...

  1. In meetings, they don't commit.
  2. In decisions, they second guess.
  3. In presentations, they offer many options without promoting one.
  4. In conversations, they don't support.
  5. In correspondence, they aren't direct.
  6. In policy making, they are vague.

What would you add to the list?  I suppose the better investment of time is to help those that we know who are indecisive.  Either by "managing up" or by "coaching down", we can help them achieve clarity (and thus decisiveness) by showing our support of them as people, by providing options as solutions and by appreciating the good that they do accomplish.  

And when you go back to your role, in whatever you do, choose to be decisive in your small patch of land.