Posts in Professionalism
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


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 2 of 5: Manage Your Email Daily

This is part of the series entitled, The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

In Part 1, I outlined the why behind this series- we have tons of executives who lack the necessary skills needed to lead.  Grad school doesn't prepare them.  Mentors are usually hands off and infrequent.  

What's a rising executive to do?

Part 2 deals with the first skill and it has to do with email.  

The truth is that email is part of the noise that we all face in everyday life.  We face more noise today than ever before:

  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • Snailmail (remember that?)
  • TV watching
  • Web surfing
  • Social media
  • And much more...

Email above all is critical for executives.  The bad news is that it is also a problem.  Here's why:

a) Email is still the primary means for communicating to groups and individuals.

b) Most people have poor email routines, making email less effective than it should be.

c) Email is cheap and easy, thus flooding our inboxes with a deluge of both important and non-important bits of information.

There is a ton of great advice when it comes to email, some of which I'll provide at the end of this article.  Some productivity gurus will promote getting to "inbox zero" daily.  The problem with this is that it's probably unrealistic and might be unnecessary.  

The real problem is that most young executives deal with email in one of two ways:

  1. They deal with it all of the time, smattering their day with a habit of "checking".  This not only makes the day totally choppy but it creates an addiction to new mail.  
  2. They deal with it so infrequently that they miss critical pieces of information.

You might be thinking- "what's the big deal"?  "So I don't do email all that well... what's the problem with that?"

The thing is this: email represents us to those around us.  A real example- a colleague of mine missed an important email once, resulting in a missed meeting which was an important opportunity for the colleague.  

The other reason why email is so important is that people judge us based on our email habits.  Now, I'm not saying that you'll get a promotion based on how you handle email.  But, you might not get that promotion is you build a reputation for being disorganized and unresponsive.  Fair or unfair, folks judge us based on how we handle (or don't handle) email.

The following strategies are recommended in order to take a reasonable approach to email:

  1. Decide to tackle email only twice a day.  Once in the morning and another time later in the afternoon.  
  2. Get to zero once a week.  This may be part of your weekly review but be sure to get your inbox cleared out once a week.  Zero, none, nada.  I'm serious.
  3. Learn how to use email to your advantage.  Only send emails about one topic.  Be brief and to the point.  Avoid emailing groups unless you absolutely have to.
  4. Know when a phone call is better than an email.  If you need to say a lot, pick up the phone.  If you don't want something in writing, pick up the phone.  

Now that you have the four key strategies, here are some supplemental materials that might be helpful as you tackle email and get it under control:


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.  

How Do You Bring Energy to the Workplace?

Pastor Bill Hybels once said, “The most important thing a leader brings is his energy.”  This may be physical energy, a general attitude or the things you say at work.

If you were to give youself an energy grade for when you are at work, what would you give yourself?

A = upbeat, swift pace, positive in what you say

B = typically upbeat but not always so

C = a bit of a downer on most days

So how do you go from a C to an A?  I’m not sure, if I’m honest, that that’s possible.  But from a B to an A… that’s doable.

You can do this through any of the following:
1. Walk swiftly throughout your day, with purpose and meaning.
2. Know what you say and be clear about that, i.e. “say what you mean and mean what you say”.
3. Smile.
4. Look people in the eyes more often.  Savor the connection you have with them.
5. Keep your to-do list tidy.
6. Keep yourself in great physical shape.

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These six tips work!  I should mention that there is one downside and this is a word of caution- sometimes you move so quickly from task to task that you stop to smell the roses.  What I mean is that if you're moving through your day with some speed, you can a) not be fully present to those around you or b) be perceived as aloof.  Neither of these is good so you'll want to guard against them.  Speed in the day is a good thing but not at the expense of other people.  After all, God put them in your workday for you to serve and learn from.

One last point- to advance in your career you’ll want to harness and increase your energy levels.  People like energetic folks and you can be one with some intentionality and work.

Two Thoughts on Facial Hair and Professionalism

Facial hair on men is very popular today but maybe not as much as pop culture would have you believe.  Sure, science seems to be taking a stab at the hipster association with beards.  Still, a quick read of HBR's recent list of top CEOs only features a handful of men with facial hair.  

So what's the deal?

I have two thoughts on facial hair when it comes to professionalism:

  1. Figure out your unique look (but not too unique).  If a beard works for you, go with it but keep it groomed.  If a goatee is your thing, again, go with it but keep it groomed.  You want to avoid any facial hair that requires combing as it is perceived as too wild to most others.
  2. Remember that grooming is the key.  I like this post on the importance of clean lines and a clean neck line, even with facial hair.  Facial hair is perfectly cool but put grooming as equally important as the stuff that you can grow on your chin.