Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teamwork Tips - "So, what's your take?"

A good leader will draw from their team's collective knowledge. 

So, you have an issue or problem to solve and at a loss for a viable solution? Are you not quite sure if the solution(s) you've come up with are sound? Well... a great sounding board to get you through these situations is your team.

Here's what you can do: pose the problem to your team (or team member if you're a two person team) and then ask, "so, what's your take?" I'm willing to bet that 99% of the time you'll find that someone on your team offers a viable solution, if not valuable insight leading to a viable solution. Or, you might find that collectively your team tosses their ideas among themselves hashing out a solution right there on the spot.

I know to most of us this is a no-brainer. However, I've found in my current workplace managers and leaders don't call on their team for anything but to serve them and their immediate office logistical needs. This post is aimed toward these types of leaders... to the ones running their office more like a fiefdom than a team.

So, what's your take?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Leadership as a Quality

Alright...  After reading Steve Keating's "Managing or Leading" post (http://stevekeating.me/2012/06/22/managing-or-leading/) I'm going to get philosophical for a moment about leadership.

Keating's premise is "If you're doing it for business, it's managing. If you're doing it for your people, it's leading." While there's some truth in this statement, it's not completely true. Distilled definitions like these only serve to extend the myth that leadership and management are mutually exclusive. It also serves to extend why people are over-focused on the process and not results. Results require people who are well managed through leadership. 

  • A manager who only focuses on processes will not have results because no one is leading the people who create results. 
...and from this we can say that:
  • A manager whose head is buried in process minutia will have no team because a team needs a leader in order to remain a team.

Let's think of it this way:

  • Leadership is a quality. (It exists in all roles: front-line to CEO)
  • Leadership cannot exist on its own and must be associated with a role. (a brain cannot exist without a body)
  • Those who are considered "leaders" are in a management role. (supervisors, team leaders, CEO's... these roles all "manage" per se.)

And finally, let's stop separating leading from managing and managing from leading, and look at it this way: Businesses are people. We can only (as Keating puts it) do "it for business," only if (as I put it) "we do it for people first."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Potential Hires: Are They Team Players?

Okay, show of hands: How many of us have hired employees who didn't turn out to be team players? I bet most of us raised our hand. And most of us experienced this at least once or maybe even twice before. But if the count's higher then you might find this posting helpful.

Here's what I do to avoid expending valuable time and resources only to discover late in the game a new hire isn't a team player: I get a good read from potential hires during their initial interview. I do this by passing the ball to them in the first few minutes, and then I get them to pass it back. I avoid asking them directly if they're a team player because the aim is to get them to demonstrate team player characteristics. To do this, I:

1. Summarize the position and give them the option to end the interview if they feel they're not a good match. I ask them directly: "If this is something you don't see yourself doing you can end our conversation right now." Offering this option demonstrates you trust their judgement.  I find this a helpful gauge putting them in an immediate judgement situation. Some seemed surprised by it while others are thankful for giving them the option to bail.

2. Engage them in their potential role: I show them exactly what they'll be working on in a manner that obliges them to ask questions. For example, I'll give them a brief hands-on training with the system they'll be using. As I'm doing this I engage them in questions and scenarios related to their role. It's a good way to see how they tick when they ask you follow-up questions. (If they don't actively participate I probably won't hire them.)

3. Make them comfortable: I try to see how they communicate as they might in casual conversation. I chat about interests on their resume or topics outside of the work-world they're passionate about. As I mentioned in my last posting I've hired a great team member after chatting about our common cooking interests. Also, getting them to talk candidly about a past job (beyond the job description and duties) is a good ice-breaker... especially if it's a job they weren't particularly fond of. I'll even share my past work related horror stories to get them to laugh! I find if they're comfortable, they'll ask questions. This is key to observing how they engage with others.

I realize we all have our own interviewing styles and these suggestions might not be the best fit for your work environment. What might work in a start-up or non-profit might not translate to finance or an assembly line. But no matter the tact, providing an opportunity for potential hires to demonstrate team player characteristics in the initial interview is a great place to start.

Friday, June 15, 2012

New Managers: Know Your Existing Employees' Skill Sets

After reading Eric V. Holtzclaw's post  Keep Your Best Employees: 5 Steps  I got to thinking about manager/staff dynamics in university settings... and this question came to me:

Would you hire someone without looking at their resume or interviewing them?

Not likely... but a similar situation can happen in the university setting: it's typical for a department to have an administrator, say a VP or Director (manager) and a few admins (staff). After a few years or so the manager moves on to another position while the staff stay in place supporting their new manager; typically necessary for maintaining procedural continuity and institutional history. The new manger might ask about how the office operates in relation to the greater university but may instead  focus on office logistics  (e.g. "you will place all calls for me", "you will set memos on my desk a certain way...") and perhaps map out a few workflow choreography protocols. This transition happens without getting to know existing office staff skill sets.

To illustrate, here's an experience I had: a new manager was placed in our office who briefly met with me but didn't ask for my resume, past work experience, or ask about skills or working styles. It was a, "Hi, nice to meet you. Oh, I hear you like music..." Fast forward a few years and I'm placed on an institutional-wide project implementation team and tasked with hiring the data entry team. My manager assumed I had no experience and proceeded to micromanage the hiring process. Early on I explained that I had many years experience interviewing, hiring and managing people in the private sector; this of course was on my resume she didn't ask for. But my explanation didn't sink in immediately and I had to keep reminding her for weeks and weeks... and still I couldn't shift her thinking away from her preconception of me.

Bottom line is this: Managers run the risk of compromising their role and the office's mission by failing to get to know their existing staffs' skill sets.

Here's what I challenge new managers do with their existing staff:

1. Review and discuss their staffs' resumes and past job experiences, including past experiences in the current office.

This seems like a no-brainer but new managers can fail to do this. This step is the starting point for the two points below.

2. Sit candidly with staff one-on-one and make an effort to get to know them, both skill-wise and personality-wise.

Making the effort to reach out to staff is key to garnering their trust. Ask them to explain situations where they applied their skills to positive results.

3. Ask staff questions about themselves; this is a great way to see how they communicate.

When I  conduct interviews I begin by chatting about current events or an interest listed on their resume... This way you can see how they truly communicate using a comfortable topic.  I've hired a great team member beginning their interview with a chat about cooking!

To be fair, all this presupposes a manager is willing to see their staff as a team and, unfortunately, managers can have an uninformed preconception that their staff's purpose is only to serve them.  Who knows? These managers might be pleasantly surprised by increased office performance results if they invest a little time strategizing how best to utilize their staff...  a simple challenge at best.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Soft Landing for the Terminated

My workplace is experiencing challenging times with severe budget cuts resulting in staff terminations. Staff (some of whom have served over 25 years) are being escorted by HR from the termination meeting, to the desk for their belongings and out the door. There are now complaints about how these terminations were executed as many of these kind-hearted folks were treated as if they were fired for criminal activity. Having terminated an employee before I can personally understand the challenge of sitting them down and telling them they're being let go. Well... for me it was a challenge because of the human/emotional element.

As manager of a customer support team I realized that a team member wasn't carrying his weight anymore and it was affecting team dynamics. I reported this to the CEO who simply said: "well... let him go." Being this was a small company there was no HR department... so I had to wear the HR hat. I hadn't fired anyone before and wasn't prepared, so I searched online for tips on how to let someone go but wasn't much help. It was the late 1990's and not much yet was posted on the subject... (much like when you search for tips on how to conduct an interview: you find tons of results on how to be interviewed but almost nothing on how to conduct one!)

I couldn't sleep the previous night from playing out possible scenarios in my head and wondered if his reaction would be angry. But, the deed was rather quick as a co-worker and I casually sat down with the employee and I gently spoke the typical "I don't think this company is the best fit for you.... Thanks for your time." Then, the challenge for me was to sit there and witness the tears welling up, the shaking hands, and the sighing as the gist of the meeting sunk in while he zipped up his backpack.

I felt horrible... I felt horrible because I was so caught up in my own stress that I completely ignored the needs of the person I just terminated. (I thought he'd be angry and it didn't occur to me that he'd be hurt.) To be honest, I can see why my current workplace is taking the clinical approach: if you rely on the process then the human element has less an impact on the one doing the deed. But, the focus ought to be on the person we're letting go. Suzanne Rumsey points out that "Leaders over-focused on process and process metrics may signal a lack of humanity, but what I really think it signals is a lack of organizational and personal courage:  courage to slow down and engage a person at the most basic human level – the emotional one." http://fistfuloftalent.com/2012/06/hey-hr-its-about-humans.html

Rumsey's point hits the nail on the head. If we know lives are being impacted by terminations we can make the tossing-out experience less frightening for them.  And we can offer them a softer landing when we practice this personal courage... this “courage to slow down and engage a person at the most basic human level – the emotional one.”

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Hey there...

Welcome to Observe, Discover, Share: Leading from Everywhere, a blog serving as a resource for all of us in leadership roles... and even for those who wouldn't consider themselves in leadership roles. You'll also find this blog focusing on the human element of leadership, as leadership is a two-way-street, i.e the necessary synergy between the leader and the led. I believe sharing our experiences profoundly affects all of us no matter who we are, how we appear to be in others' eyes, or what role we play.  I believe the leadership experience can only be realized through teamwork. And, after all, teams are dynamic groups of human relationships and interactions.To this end, this blog serves as a resource to:

1)  Enable the fostering of relationships, qua team dynamics, for those who, a) manage people, and b) are the people being managed (but who have innate leadership qualities)

2) Illustrate leadership methods by sharing personal observations and experiences as both the manager and the managed in both upper-academic administration at a major research university and the private sector.

No only will we learn about one side or the other side, but all sides of our leadership experience.So let's begin to observe, discover and share our leadership experience!

Stay tuned...