Author Archive

It’s true. We are what we consume.

It’s true. We are what we consume. I recently watched the film, Miss Representation, which documents the effects of media’s representation of women, and how it is impacting the numbers of women who are seeking leadership in all aspects of our society. The world needs women leaders more desperately now than ever; we need the minds of great women and great men working together to solve the challenges we are facing around the planet.

Awareness is the first step. Action is the next. Be willing to unplug and really see yourself and the women in your life as more than appearance. I hope you find this as thought provoking as I did: http://ow.ly/cfPDo

For more information, check out: http://www.missrepresentation.org/

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Boring Meetings: Stop the Madness!

Are your meetings a drag? A friend of mine recently described his weekly staff meeting like this:

“I dread it. It’s the worst hour of my week. It’s my personal slow death.”

Over the years, I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed across the working planet. How is it that something so routine as a weekly meeting be so painful?

When I probe for more understanding, a few common themes pop up:

·      The meeting appears to have no purpose other than the fact that it was scheduled.

·      The agenda has too many items and no decisions are made.

·      One or several people dominate the discussions.

·      People are unprepared for their part of the agenda.

·      The facilitator doesn’t keep the meeting on track.

·      The meeting started late or went over the designated time.

·      Communication is one-way; discussion is neither encouraged or the group dynamics don’t allow it.

·      All business or no business: There is either no time for interpersonal connection between meeting participants, or there’s too much “chit chat” and not enough focus on the agenda items.

The most common complaint: “It was a waste of my time.”

Meetings don’t have to be boring or waste time. The purpose of a meeting, actually, is to save time by collaborating and sharing information while the key players are all in the same place. But it does require preparation and planning.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan meetings. You might remember them with “SIT”– Structure, Involvement & Time:

Structure:

Meetings should be well planned and the focus and outcomes articulated prior to the gathering. An agenda can be circulated for input if it’s appropriate. Agenda items might be best framed as questions to prompt decisions at the meeting. Instead of agenda item “Kitchen”, say, “What rules or agreements do we need to keep the kitchen clean?”

The facilitator needs to take charge of the agenda, the meeting flow, the group dynamics and the action steps for follow up. Wimpy facilitators allow the group to run amok and don’t accomplish the meeting’s objectives.

Involvement:

The purpose of a meeting is most often to have all the involved parties in one place to discuss ideas and make decisions. If the communication is one-way, it could just as easily be accomplished through email or memo. Allowing time for group members to weigh in on topics is important, not only for their experience in the meeting, but also for their follow-up commitments to the decisions made.

It’s important for the meeting facilitator to manage the dominant speakers as well. Setting groundrules up front often helps; inviting team members who are less vocal to share their ideas and opinions provides space for them to speak up…and may help to quiet down the big mouths. But don’t force anyone to talk or put them on the spot. You’ll get less of what you want from them after that. For some people, speaking up in a meeting is more intimidating than making a presentation to a group. In front of a group, they have time to prepare and think through their message. In a meeting, they may have to think on their feet, and not everyone is good at it.

Time:

Start on time and end on time. For late arrivals, don’t start the meeting over to catch them up—it’s their job to get whatever they missed. If agenda items appear to be taking longer than planned, schedule a follow-up discussion for a later time, or invite the group to weigh in on what agenda items are priority for the meeting and move the remaining topics to a future meeting or other communication format.

Flexibility is important to meeting management, but too much flexibility on the part of the facilitator makes it feel like there is no direction or purpose for the meeting, and thus, “a waste of my time”. Use phrases such as, “I’m aware of the time,” or “We’ll need to continue this next week”, or “While all these are important ideas, we need to move to a decision now.”

Meetings should be carefully planned and managed in the same way you might prepare for an important message. Think about this question:

“What do I want my team member to walk away knowing, feeling, and doing after this meeting?

Try it—“S.I.T.” for your next meeting.

Oh, I almost forgot–Humor. Remember, people will not long remember the details of what you said, but they will always remember how they felt, which comes from their perceived meeting takeaways. Sprinkle in a little humor whenever you can. When people laugh together, they often feel more connected and open, two of the most important factors in engaging and involving them. But don’t use humor at someone’s expense, or tell inappropriate jokes for effect. You’ll lose more than you gain.

SIT while you plan your next meeting. You can add the “H” for humor in wherever you like.

Written by Merrilee Buchanan, LCSW

Merrilee is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. You can connect with Merrillee on Twitter and LinkedIn, or leave a comment below.
This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

The Difference Between Your Work and Your Job

This conversation seems to pop up a lot lately, especially when people start talking about “the current economy”. “How can I leave my job to follow my passion?” “I feel lucky just to have a job!” Or, “It’s just a job.”

Yes. And.

It’s important to understand both the difference and the relationship between your work and your job. It’s fairly simple, really: Your “work” is what you do. It’s what you were designed to do. It’s what you are excited about, and what you have talent for. It’s connected to your very reason for being; it’s the contribution you are making to the world and to humanity. It doesn’t have to be just one thing, but whatever the one thing—or many things—that you are doing does have to be deeply part of you. It’s your purpose and passion.

Your job, on the other hand, is simply the place where you have the opportunity to do your work. If you are doing your work for a company that pays you to do it, then you have a pretty good gig going on. Maybe you work for someone else, or maybe you work for yourself, but it’s important to have a job in which you have the chance, every day, to do your work.

Get it?

You may have a job that is “just a job”; you need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, right? True, those things need to be done. But can you find some part of your work in your job, even if it’s not your dream job?

Consider this: My son, Ryan, is a writer. And as a budding young author, he still needed to pay the rent and make his car payment. So he got a job delivering mail for the US Postal Service. And as he walked along his delivery route every day, he looked for ideas and stories to write about. In the mornings before work, he got up early and wrote his stories, then went out looking for more every day while he did his “job”.

Some people actually discover their “work” while they are doing a job. Zack, our partner at Five Degrees Consulting, was launching a marketing business when we recruited him to do some consulting work for us. We discovered he had a diverse set of talents and experience in retail management, and we asked him to start helping us out with leadership development and executive coaching. Zack discovered his passion for working with leaders and organizations with his very first foray into the consulting world, and now he’s hooked! (And we’re very happy.)

The saying, “Do what you love, and love what you do” is most true when you find the right fit between your work and your job.

Authored by Merrilee Buchanan

Merrilee is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. You can follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.
This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Getting your employees engaged when you’re not

What happens when it’s your job to keep your employees motivated, engaged, productive and happy, but you’re not exactly feeling the love for your own job anymore? It’s certainly a tough spot for a leader, but it happens. And if your disengagement shows, you may have a lot more to worry about than your own job satisfaction.

Leaders set the tone, the pace, and the energy levels for their employees. Like it or not, energy is infectious, whether it’s positive or negative, so a leader needs to be very self-aware of how his/her energy is affecting the team. If your enthusiasm is off, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Act “as if”–meaning as if you are engaged and happy in your job, at least for awhile. Sometimes you just have to reach down into the bottom of your boots to drum up some energy to pass along to others. Get busy and move yourself into action. Say positive things to others, and be generous with recognition for your employees who deserve it. By creating some momentum, you might actually reconnect to your own purpose and be in a better position to evaluate your position.
  2. Work on yourself. If you are truly owning your career, realizing that you might need a change does not mean you need to disengage from your current job to justify a move. The best leaders are always looking forward, whether it is for their current company or in their own career path. Leaving a job while you’re still on top of your game is always your best bet for future success…and for good relationships with your colleagues left behind.
  3. Look for inspiration from others. Talk with your peers and your employees about what motivates them, keeps them engaged, and sparks their creativity. Look for opportunities to “get fresh” in your role: Do you need some new challenges? Some more education or training? A new opportunity to drive strategy and innovation? Stagnation is often about sameness; look for ways to approach your job and your responsibilities differently, and challenge your team to do the same. Shake things up, challenge “the way we do things”, and find some creative ways to pump fresh energy into your team…and into yourself.

Choose your own adventure. The bottom line is this: Every day, you get to choose how you approach your job, and your life. When you find yourself disengaged and stagnating, it’s up to you to do something about it. Find a mentor who can help you sort through your options. Figure it out, and fix it or change it. Because being miserable in your job is not just bad for you, it’s bad for your team, too. Good leadership starts with leading your own life effectively.

 

Authored by: Merrilee Buchanan, LCSW

Merrilee is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting.  This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentionalcorporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Would You Die for Your Leader?

I was recently conducting 360-degree feedback interviews for a manager who was hoping to get promoted in his company. When interviewing one of his direct reports, a young engineer who had served as an officer in the army of his native land, he described an experience he’d had with his own 360 process. He said when he was serving in the army and first assigned to his squadron, they conducted a 360-degree feedback for him which included the question: “Would you die for this leader?”

He reported that 70% of his direct reports stated they would NOT die for him at that time. He said he was shocked by this feedback. His belief up to that time was that his position automatically earned him the respect and loyalty of his team members. He recognized instantly that he had some work to do to gain their trust.

Receiving feedback—especially negative feedback—is never easy. Just last week, one of my coaching clients told me: “I hate hate hate hate 360s.” When I asked why, he said, “I know how flawed I am; I just don’t like it that others know it, too.” Most people respond to feedback with one (or more) of four possible reactions: 1. Denial: “This can’t be right. Who would say I’m ‘incompetent?’” 2. Blame: “They’re just jealous, so they say things to make me look bad.” 3. Justification: “I can’t make everybody happy. It’s just the way I am.” 4. Wishful thinking: “They’ll forget about the 360 by next week. I don’t need to worry about this.”

So back to our army friend: When I asked what he did with this feedback, he said that he took it very seriously and set in motion a plan to change the experience of his team members with regard to his leadership. “First,” he said, “I got to know each man on my team personally. I learned about his family, his interests, his strengths and his weaknesses. I didn’t put myself above them; I worked with them, I joked with them, and we took risks together.”

He said he made extra efforts to acknowledge and appreciate all their hard work, and to recognize the personal sacrifices they were making to be a member of his team. “I also tried to make our planning meetings fun. We shared a lot of intellectual humor together. We were close—like a family.”

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. He reported that there were times when he had to step in to mediate conflicts, to order disciplinary actions, or to challenge and confront inappropriate decisions or actions. “That’s the hardest part of being a leader—feeling like you’re the bad guy when you just need to speak the truth or make the tough call.”

“It took me about a year…a long, hard year of work, twenty-four-seven with those guys…to change their view of me. When they did another 360, just 5% of my men said they would NOT die for me.” The change was so remarkable that this young officer was called into the battalion commander’s office to find out what he had done to earn such loyalty.

He said, “I believe that everyone matters, and that everyone deserves respect. When you start from that place, the rest is relatively easy. When you put yourself above others, either in your thinking or in the way you see your role, other people know it, and they put psychological and emotional distance between you. You can’t have trust with distance. It takes some risk.”

Would your team members put their lives on the line for you?

Through Another’s Lens

I was visiting my father recently and we were catching up on recent events in our family. He described my younger brother’s visit just the week before, watching him play football in the yard with his sons. “Scott is so athletic, even at 45,” he said. (I secretly wished he was still talking about me in this same way.) Our discussion turned to my mother’s little-known athletic abilities while she was in her youth. He went to the basement to retrieve her high school yearbook, but returned instead with her old reading glasses.

“Do you want these?” he asked.

I picked up the worn, red-and-black vinyl case and was instantly flooded with a memory of seeing them on her bedside table while I was growing up. The little metal piece that looks like the Boy Scout insignia was still on the flap, but the snap beneath it had pulled out. A few splatters of white paint dotted the cover.

As I unfolded the straight arms of the brown, horn-rimmed glasses and put them on, I was surprised that the prescription seemed very similar to my own. Though scratched and covered with a fine layer of plastic dust from the inside of the case, the lenses instantly cleared up the fine print of the newspaper lying in front of me on the kitchen counter.

My mother died from breast cancer in 1976 when I was just 17. Over the many years since, I have often wondered what the world—her world—looked like through those lenses. Now, peering through them and just two years older than she was when she died, I wonder how different my world might look to her.

In our work, we are often referred clients for coaching who are “impossible”, “difficult”, “negative” or “critical”. Their behavior is having a harmful impact on their relationships with colleagues or customers, but their technical expertise or skill sets are valuable to the organization. “You’ve got to fix her!” exclaimed one manager, “Because I can’t afford to lose her.”

“Fixing” a problem employee most often begins with understanding him or her completely, and understanding requires empathy, or the ability to see the world through another’s lens. We tend to see and experience our lives only from our point of view first; if we disagree with another’s perspective or opinion, we often judge them to be “wrong”, so we can remain “right.”

Empathy allows us to be curious: What is this person’s experience? Why would he/she act in this way? What are the beliefs or values that this person holds dear? What is he/she afraid of? When we understand, we are in a much more strategic position to be able to offer help or support.

My mother’s glasses reminded me that our lives, while seemingly very different, are probably much more alike than I had previously allowed myself to see. “Seeing” people—what is important to them, what motivates them, what challenges them—is critical to helping them find their way out of negative behavioral patterns and contribute in more meaningful ways.

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