Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Communication Lessons for Managers from Patriots’ Star Quarterback Tom Brady

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The Great Communicator A surprising headline to find on page one of today’s Boston Globe Sports section.

The New England Patriots’ star quarterback, Tom Brady, is a coach on the field — “tutoring, correcting, cajoling, applauding.”   As Brady describes it, “You take the learning when it comes, but it’s a constant process.  It happens in the meetings, happens in the walk-throughs, and happens in the games.”

The article’s analysis of Brady’s role as a communicator and coach on his team offers the following ten tips for managers in the workplace.

  1. Managing is a continuous process.
  2. Managers should have a crystal clear sense of their role.
  3. Managers need to listen, be open to questions from their team members.
  4. Managers need to tune into all possible options and anticipate the “what if’s.”
  5. Managers need to demonstrate a proven ability to execute.
  6. Managers need to have a clear understanding of their company’s “game plan,” and be able to drive that game plan forward.
  7. With consistent success comes greater trust by senior management to make independent decisions and improvise when necessary.
  8. Managers need to master the details (as Brady needs to be a “master of the minutiae that decides football games”) while still maintaining sight of the big picture.
  9. Managers need to be in sync with company leadership.
  10. Managers need to share both accountability and glory.

A World Without Empathy?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

“Empathy is so yesterday” was the headline of an article in Sunday’s Boston Globe. A scary thought not only for personal relationships, but for workplace relationships, all communication and, frankly, all human interaction.

The article’s author, Keith O’Brien, shared new research findings that, despite the endless opportunities to connect and update people about every detail of their lives, today’s college students are “40% less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years.” (University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research study).

Apparently today’s college students know more and care less.

If the study is right, then is declining empathy the reason why we’re seeing more frequent incidents of bullying?  Is lack of empathy to blame for the increase in hate-mongering and rage-filled communication (or is political calculation more to blame for that)?

Beyond empathy’s role in creating a society in which we want to live, being empathetic is critical to success…in just about everything.   You can’t lead without relating to your followers.  You can’t manage without thinking about your team members, their strengths, needs and motivation.  You can’t introduce a new product without understanding who will want to buy it and why.  You can’t persuade an audience to adopt your point of view, without first understanding — and respecting — what that audience feels about your topic and you.

And beyond understanding our followers, team members and customers, we need to actually care about them; relate to their joys and pains.

Aaron L. Pincus, professor of psychology at Penn State says, empathy is “not just putting oneself in another’s shoes.  It’s truly grasping what they’re experiencing…Your emotional state will move in a direction more similar to the person you’re empathizing with.”

Here are just three eminders for those of us who’ve already graduated college (so not represented in the grim current statistics), but who may not always exude empathy:

  1. When preparing to engage in a difficult conversation, we need to push beyond our own frame of reference (and anxiety) to anticipate how what we have to say will be heard — and felt — by the other person.
  2. When looking to boost performance or productivity, make the goal personal and relatable to each member of the team.  It’s not good enough to focus on what would motivate us, rather what will motivate them in their situations, with their needs and wants.
  3. Genuinely care about the people you work with and not just their title, organizational role and responsibilities.

Personally, I care deeply and can’t imagine living in a world without empathy.

10 Tips to Lead Meetings That Get Something Done

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

I read a statistic that there are more than 11 million meetings in the United States each day. You would think we’d all be great at leading meetings with so much experience, but there’s definitely room for improvement.  Here are ten tips to help you lead meetings that get something done:

  1. Know why you’re meeting and recognize when you don’t need to meet.
  2. Think through your desired outcomes (insights, ideas, agreement, decisions, an action plan) because we move towards that which we think about.
  3. Build an agenda that drives toward your outcomes — and, here’s the catch, limit yourself to only three agenda items.  Most agendas resemble laundry lists of ten, twelve or twenty issues for discussion.  I guarantee you won’t get to all twenty items.  I’ll also guarantee that you can cluster all of those individual items into three “buckets.”  (Ask the participants in my recent workshop who doubted but were won over.)
  4. Distribute the agenda — including desired outcomes — in advance. Let people know how they can prepare to contribute fully in the discussion.
  5. Lead your meeting as a conductor leads his orchestra.   Bring together the individual sounds in beautiful and unexpected ways that excite the participants.  Pace the discussion, weaving between fast-paced crescendos and softer, slower and calmer moments.  Start together (on time) and wrap up with a clear, satsifying conclusion.     I could keep going…
  6. Actively engage your participants.  Select a perfect warm-up to jumpstart the discussion, ask fruitful questions, frame or reframe the discussion, connect the dots, pose “what if” questions, and challenge assumptions.    Beyond driving the discussion forward, meeting leaders need to remember to stop talking, listen and leave “air time” for others!
  7. Encourage constructive participation.  Make it safe for everyone to share their ideas.   Control those overexuberant individuals who tend to dominate because they have so much to say.  Watch for “bullies” who poison meetings with their negativity and judgment.
  8. Move beyond stuck.  Too often meetings get derailed or hit a brick wall.  Get your meeting back on track by revisiting mutual goals and shared perspectives, envision success, help participants understand different perspectives and “park” topics that need to be continued at a different time.  (Be sure to revisit the parking lot at the end of the meeting and talk through next steps.)
  9. With 75% of our meetings taking place by phone, it’s good to recognize the ways in which you need to facilitate phone meetings differently. Keep phone meetings smaller and shorter.  Direct questions to specific participants or offices.  Listen more intently for cues and signals to make sure people are staying engaged.  Distribute parts of the agenda among the offices.
  10. Clarify take-aways, agreements, decisions-made,  and next steps.  Follow-up with a meeting report distributed within 24 hours.

A future blog will troubleshoot challenging meeting scenarios (e.g. when the senior decision-maker gets called away minutes before your big presentation, or when you’re only on slide #7 (or 25) but you can tell the group has lost interest, or how to handle a meeting when no one is prepared for an important discussion…).

Start with what’s working well to fix what’s wrong

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

They’re on to something — actually they’re on to the same thing.

I read in the current issue of Fast Company an excerpt from a new book, Switch, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Fast Company columnists and authors of Made to Stick).  I was struck by the similarities between their ideas and those espoused in the 2008 book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.

At the risk of oversimplifying, changing something massive and pervasive (like malnutrition or disease in a third world nation or pervasive bad business habits), is possible when you look for what’s already working well.

For the Heaths in Switch, the insight is to “find a bright spot and clone it.” The authors of Influencer look for “high leverage behaviors.”

Synthesizing both books, it boils down to:

  1. Move beyond the obsession with “TBU — true but useless” information that points to solutions that are impossible to implement.   Instead, find the “bright spot” (Heath brothers) or “high-leverage behaviors” (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler).   Find examples of well-nourished and healthy people — or clusters of people with good business habits — and identify what they’re doing right.
  2. Identify the influencers, those already trusted and, with their cooperation, share and reinforce the solution.
  3. Make it easy for others to replicate the bright spot or high-leverage behaviors.  Create opportunities to practice the new behaviors and introduce them to enough people so that soon the greatest numbers of people are nourished, healthy and, in business, profitable.

A business application of these like-minded theories might be helping a professional service firm solve the problem of over-servicing clients.   The typical response is to cull data, slice and dice the data, and then hold internal meetings to tackle the problem.  But the account teams that are already getting paid fairly for their level of service, already know that the secret to their success lies in building a trusted relationship in which tough conversations about compensation can take place without jeopardizing the entire relationship.  Explore their client service strategies (reporting, invoicing and relationship-building) and identify what they’re doing that could be “cloned.”

Another business example might be an organization with a stifling culture of deadly dull meetings dominated by pointless PowerPoint slides.   Find the bright spot — the manager who leads meetings that are engaging, action-oriented,  and with clear take-aways that his employees are inspired to execute.   Then make that the norm — not a culture of dueling PowerPoint data decks.  Create opportunities for the exception to influence the “rule” that needs to be changed.

As an eternal optimist who believes we can change the world, these authors are on to something huge!

Switch goes on sale February 16th and if the book is as good as the excerpt it will be another must-read from Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

Morning After Musings About Leadership, Messaging…

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Looking beyond politics and what the special election in Massachusetts means for healthcare reform, economic recovery, war and peace, Constitutional rights…the state of the state, both in Massachusetts and the nation, raises questions about vision, leadership, influence, consensus building and compromise, communication and messaging.

  • Let’s start with how many Americans really understand the President’s vision — beyond rhetoric?   What does America stand for today?  How many (and who) can articulate that vision with clarity and passion?  Who’s listening and are we  unable to hear that vision through the impenetrable filters of joblessness and a not-yet-recovered economy?  Ironically, in periods of both extreme comfort and discomfort, do we retrench into a “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) mindset that obscures our ability to hear and follow  a vision for everyone?
  • Similarly, was it conflicting visions that drove the vote in yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts or something else?
  • Just one year ago today President Obama was inaugurated after having been elected as our nation’s leader on a platform of change.  But in our understandable desperation for immediate change and frustration with the pace of the change we’re seeking, many Americans have abandoned his direction looking for what they believe might be a “quick fix” elsewhere. Is the President moving in the overall direction he mapped out during his campaign or has he radically changed course?    And, in our fast-changing world, should our leaders hold firm to a course set more than a year ago, or do we need to trust our leaders to adapt based on today’s context, circumstances, needs and opportunities?
  • When we step back and reflect, what really influenced Massachusetts’ voters?  Was it policy statements and values?  Or supporters and endorsers?  Logic or emotion?  Substance and/or style?  Which media had the greatest impact?  What role did websites and social networks play?   Powerful questions to be pondered by both politicians and business leaders.
  • Massachusetts has long been known as the “bluest of the blue” states.  A staunchly democratic state.  Yet the largest block of voters in Massachusetts are registered as independents.   (Democratic party take note.)   Despite partisan, Republican political viewpoints and supporters, Scott Brown painted himself as an independent and to his credit, he fired up the dissatisfied, disenfranchised independent voters (and many similarly unhappy Democrats) in this previously-believed-to-be-liberal state to follow him.   A lesson for future candidates that challenges the old adage that “perception is reality.”
  • What can we expect now from our legislators?  Paralysis?  Fear?  Obstruction?  Or compromise and consensus-building that will move us beyond stuck?  The “now what?” is the most important question to ask the morning after.
  • Finally, there is no question that some messages “stick” and inspire and others make the audience’s eyes glaze over.   As we’ve seen, when crafted brilliantly — and delivered passionately — even what many might consider unbelievable messages become believable. The message and messenger matter.

Four Weeks to Go

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Four weeks from tonight we’ll joyously celebrate the end of 2009 and welcome the new year — a new beginning with renewed hope for economic recovery, health and the still-elusive world peace.  Now is the time for CEO’s and their management teams to anticipate how they’ll jump-start the new year.

2009 will be remembered as a year that challenged everyone globally, businesses in just about every industry; homeowners with tighter budgets and families facing the unimaginable prospect of foreclosure; the employed working harder with fewer resources and the unemployed desperately seeking work in a dismal economy; continued terrorism, war and conflict in the Middle East; and a worldwide epidemic.  In fact, the only companies frenzied by too much demand were those struggling to manufacture enough vaccine to fight the H1N1 flu.   2009 was the year of “mission critical” investments, and a paralyzing wave of doom and gloom that prompted too many people and companies to hunker down…and just wait.

2009 kicked off with the historic inauguration of the United States’ first African American president — a candidate who ran on a platform of much-welcomed change.  Unfortunately the euphoria so many felt inadvertently set us up for unrealistic expectations that change would happen immediately.   We’d been waiting so long…Instead the year was marked by the harsh reality that recovery and real change take time.

While we no longer expect life to return to “business as usual” because we know it won’t — as it didn’t after the earlier bust — we remain hopeful.  We’re encouraged by the language we’re now hearing, “recovery” (albeit slow and not yet in every sector), “growth,” and even industrial “ramp up” to meet renewed demand.   The improved morale and optimism are a powerful reminder of the impact language has on our well-being.

This year’s holiday season that kicked off with Thanksgiving, continues with the eight days of Chanukah, and moves toward Christmas week, is an opportunity to find reasons to celebrate.  New Year’s Eve this year will help all of us look ahead again to new possibilities, renewed positive spirit and a belief that, as Patti LaBelle belts out in one of my favorite songs, we will survive!

Company leaders and management teams should kick-start 2010 with events that inspire and messages that clarify the ways in which each person can contribute to success.   Look ahead now (beyond year-end wrap-up) to plan for dynamic ways to jump-start new attitudes, new ways of working together and new opportunities in 2010.  The potential that next year holds is just four weeks away.

Honoring the Liberal Lion

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Since learning of Ted Kennedy’s death, the media has respectfully and appropriately honored his life and the impressively long list of his important accomplishments.   Despite his human flaws (some of which seemed at odds with his values), I remain inspired by this larger-than-life man who proudly earned the title, “the Liberal Lion of the Senate.”   In an era when the word, “liberal” has been tainted, bashed and abused, Ted Kennedy held to the values inherent in liberal thinking.    I am so grateful for him for that, and hope that others will courageously and proudly follow his impressive lead.

Many democratic and left-leaning politicians have moved toward the center, fearful that being called a liberal would harm their chances of being elected or re-elected.  Many politicians with liberal positions often tap dance around those very positions in order to placate their opponents.  Ted Kennedy never wavered in his liberal stand — and, in fact, was successful in achieving all that he did because there was no doubt what he stood for.  He listened to all perspectives, was revered by his opponents and was a long-standing influential leader of the democratic party, Senate and nation because of his beliefs not despite them.

I respectfully offer just three (of the many, many possible) powerful lessons from his life about leadership:

  1. Proudly and consistently stand for something beyond your own interests and glory, and then tirelessly work for what you believe.
  2. Communicate about those beliefs with passion and clarity.
  3. Master the art of influence — including genuinely caring about others and sincerely listening with respect.

Here’s to you, Ted Kennedy!  Thank you!

Get Out of Your Own Way

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The most important strategy when navigating through a tough negotiation is to get out of your own way.

Whether you are designing a plan and budget for next year, buying a new car or hiring a contractor, the dynamic is the same.   Two parties, two perspectives, two sets of needs and wants are on the table.

This is especially true in today’s economy when the person buying wants more for less and the person selling is eager to make the sale but has to, in some way, profit or gain something from the exchange.   These are the times to break precedent, maintain an open mind and listen really hard to what’s said and unsaid (and anticipate the “why” behind every position).

Here are tips to help you succeed despite what may start off seeming like adversarial interests:

  1. When defining the problem you are trying to resolve, pose it as a question that reflects the two parties involved in the negotiation. “What program will successfully meet our collective goals?” or “How can we move forward in a way that respects each of our needs and wants?”
  2. Maintain a collaborative mindset — which means that you need to anticipate not only your own but also the other person’s interests and options.   The best outcome will be one in which both parties feel heard, respected and satisfied.
  3. Resist the knee-jerk reaction to jump immediately from recognizing there’s a problem to rattling off a possible solution.  Stop.  Explore the situation fully.   And…once you come up with an idea, push for three more.  Never stop at your first solution.

We enter into these tough moments with intense emotions, baggage from previous exchanges and an overwhelming sense of “I.”   However, the trick to being successful in these tough moments is remain calm despite the intensity, stay in this moment (not fight previous battles), and focus on the other guy in the room.

As I said…get out of your own way.

Leadership According to Jim Kouzes

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The best about participating in a teleseminar with Jim Kouzes (co-author of the best-selling Leadership Challenge) is hearing the stories and quotes he’s collected over the past twenty-five years dedicated to studying leadership.  But they’re his stories and his quotes, so I’ll share with you the third best part…the lessons about leadership that Kouzes believes have endured for twenty-five years — through previous economic downturns and holding true in our current recession.  

Jim Kouzes was the guest speaker of a Leading News teleseminar, hosted by Patricia Wheeler.  (These programs are often terrific and always free which makes them an unbelievable bargain as we all look to continually nurture our thought-leadership.  Go to   His session, “Enduring Truths About Leadership in Tough Times” kicked off with the premise that leadership is personal.  When asked to name the leader they most considered a role model, most people did not cite a prominent business person, politician or celebrity.  Instead, most people over thirty named a family member, community leader or someone in their office.   Kouzes reminded us that an employee’s direct manager is the most influential person, still viewed today as in years past, as the leader mostly likely to motivate and instill loyalty.

And if leadership is personal, the people you lead want to know two things about you: 1) Who are you?  What do you stand for, where do you come from and what do you care about?   2) Where are you going?  Where are you leading us to?   Being forward-thinking differentiates leaders form everyone else.  

Employees need to feel a connection with their leader’s values.   This is even more important in tough times because when values are clarified, there’s more resilience; people will be motivated and inspired to bounce back.   In fact, people often cite periods of extreme challenge as when they did their personal best.  Kouzes advised us to “stare down reality,” but not give in to it and give up.  “Do not deny the diagnosis, defy the verdict.”   Brilliant!

Kouzes identified four attributes of leadership that were important 25 years ago and remain critical today.  These are the four attributes that have remained at the top of the list for 25 years and are consistent world-wide: 

1) honest (considered more important in the U.S. than competence by more than a 20% gap)

2) forward-looking

3) inspiring

4) competent

#1 on the list is honest.  Credible.  Trustworthy.  Do as you say!  “Credibility is the foundation of leadership…People need to believe the messenger to believe the message.”  The single worst mistake a leader can make is not telling the truth.  In fact, hubris — an inflated sense of self-importance is the beginning of a leader’s — or company’s — decline!  

Kouzes referred to Stephen Covey’s “Emotional Bank Account” and reminded leaders to make sure that they lave “credit in the bank.” Continue to invest, continue to replenish your credibility.  Kouzes suggested getting into the habit of developing a “monthly statement” — asking for candid feedback on a regular basis (and cautioned leaders to watch for those individuals who will just tell you the good, complimentary stuff).    He described a cartoon of a conference room table, around which are seated a group of businessmen in suits.   A quote bubble above one of the gentleman’s heads reads, “Let’s change ‘brink of chaos’ to ‘everything is wonderful.'”

Finally, we need to consciously assuage the high levels of anxiety that can overcome us in tough times.  Anxiety becomes a distraction and an obstacle.  Kouzes reminded everyone to breathe, to pause and take a step back from the chaos or crisis surrounding us in turbulent times.

Message vs. Messenger?

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Which is more important: the message or the messenger?  Boston University graduates learned one more lesson yesterday as they cheered their commencement speaker’s remarks.  While initially disappointed not to have a more prominent, celebrity-type messenger, U.S. Representative and former Somerville (MA) mayor Michael Capuano won over the crowd with his message.  “You do not have to be extraordinary, you do not have to be rich or famous to change this world.  Anyone and everyone can make a difference.”  

While I could write an entire blog on the clear motivational message in Representative Capuano’s remarks, there’s another lesson here about the importance of having a message that resonates with your audience whenever you’re speaking — whether to a large graduating class, board room or staff meeting.   

A common concern for all commencement speakers this year was how to address an ever-expanding group of graduates in a still-shrinking economy?   Representative Capuano tackled the other thought dominating his audience’s minds…”Why should they care about what a little-known politician had to say?  What could he possibly say to them that they would find interesting?”  He nailed it — 1) knowing his audience; 2) anticipating what was on their minds; and 3) courageously tackling their concern by making that his message!  

Brilliant and clearly a hit!  One last lesson the graduating class of 2009 can take away from their Boston University education.