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When the BEST Example is a BAD Example

good-badWhen the BEST Example is a BAD Example “From good examples we learn how to be. From bad examples we learn how not to be. An observant and willing student can learn from any circumstance.”  - Richelle E. Goodrich When you were a child, you might have found yourself thinking, “When I grow up I will never…” And of course you can fill in the blank as to what it is you would never do. Or perhaps you looked at something your parents did and thought to yourself, “When I grow up I will never make my children do the dishes.” Or “I will abolish chores and bedtime!” Oh come on now, if you did not have these exact thoughts you probably did something similar. And now here you are, a grown-up. At least chronologically, and you may still dislike chores and bedtime. Now your examples come from the behaviors of those around you. In the workplace you see behaviors you admire and behaviors you do not admire. There are leaders who set amazing examples. They seem to do and say everything right. You aspire to be like them. Then there are leaders who are the exact opposite. They bring you back to those thoughts you had when you were a child, “When I am in charge I will never…”  These are the leaders you do not wish to emulate. You look at them and you scratch you head in disbelief, wondering how they ever made it to where they are today. As disappointing as these bad examples are, they are also good for us. Let’s consider for a moment the leader who uses fear and negativity to push team members toward a goal. This is the person who uses threats as motivational speeches. “If you guys miss this deadline or if this thing does not work, you will be so sorry. I will make sure each and every one of you suffers at review time.” Lovely. When you all make the goal and things go smoothly this is the leader who delivers this backhanded compliment, “Well much to my surprise you did it, I did not think you had it in you.” Nice. Of course your preference would be to not have to work with a bad leader. But when you do, they can become a type of good example. Not because their behavior is good, no their behavior is bad. They are a good role model because they help you to isolate and understand leadership behaviors that are undesirable and do not work. They help to make you aware of your own behavior. When you think to yourself, “I will never us threats to motivate a team”; you are using this bad leader to help yourself become a better leader. Some might even say that the behaviors you find to be the least admirable in others are the behaviors you are concerned about in yourself. In other words if you vow to never be like that leader who uses threats, it could be because you are already concerned that you have that tendency yourself.  Whether this is true or not, it does not hurt to be aware of how you do not want to lead, in order to become the leader you truly wish to be. Lead on!
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Take a Moment

downloadTake a Moment

True confession. Recently I have been watching re-runs of ‘Ally McBeal’, a television show that aired from 1997 until 2002. One of the lead characters is an eccentric lawyer by name of John Cage. His character is infamous for his offbeat behaviors and expressions.

He is particularly known for adopting a rather pensive expression and then saying, “I need to take a moment.” He then sits for as long as he deems necessary, staring into space without saying a word. The fact that he does that quite freely and in the middle of many situations is disconcerting to his colleagues.  There is something about his timing that makes his choice appear, well odd.

There is nothing odd or wrong about needing to take a moment. Yet so often in today’s world with difficult schedules and tight budgets, you feel pressured to keep going, full speed ahead. Never create a delay; never be the one to cause a project delay. Pause a project, not you. You do not want to deal with the political fallout.

In the first large project I managed I found myself facing this exact dilemma. Keep moving or choose a course of action that would cause a project delay?  The project had started without a project manager (a first sign of danger). A scope document had been written and approved, but no estimating had been completed (a second sign of danger). There was a hard deadline and if we missed the deadline it would cause significant and expensive disruptions to the business (a third sign of danger).  Some project stakeholders were calling for a delay in the form of an offsite planning session. Their point was that we had no idea whether or not we would make the date. Other stakeholders including the sponsor, where vehemently opposed to any type of delay. Their perspective was just keep working, do not take time away to pause the work and discuss it, keep your heads down and work as hard as you need to in order to make the date.

The decision was in my hands. The implications were clear. Nobody wanted to take responsibility (yet another sign of danger).  If I held the planning session and it caused us to miss our date that would be my fault. If I did not hold the planning session and we missed our date that would be my fault. Stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, I risked the anger of my sponsor and called for the planning session. I opted to delay the project. A one-day pause for the entire team where we would work to create a work breakdown structure, create project estimates and a clear schedule.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. We learned the value of a strong work breakdown structure, good estimates and a well-defined schedule. We also learned that we would be able to make our date. At the end of our day-long planning session, my sponsor stood up and told the entire room that he had not been in favor of us taking this day away from the project. He then stated that he now saw the value in that project delay and that he was happy that had taken this brief pause.

Sometimes what your project needs is a pause, a delay.Sometimes you gain more ground when you take a moment to stand still.

So go ahead, take a moment.

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First You Form an Opinion

“First you form an opinion, then you gather proof.”D-Custom-Opinion-Marketing-Strategy This might be a good way to research and write a paper or an article. Although it is a good idea to be flexible with your opinion if you do not find the proof to back it up.   It is NOT a necessarily a good way to make life decisions. After a few minutes of discussion, my colleague told me what he really wanted. He told me that what he really wanted was to work in a specific field. “Then why don’t you?” I asked. “I can’t do it because I do not know anyone else in that field, I will never get in.” He replied. There it was he had already formed his opinion. To work in that field you must have a strong network. That is not surprising. It is usually helpful to know someone within the industry you wish to work or at an organization where you would like to be employed. Together we reviewed his contacts. We discussed people he knew from work, people from his neighborhood, friends, members at his gym, everyone we could think of. He was certain that none of them worked in or knew anyone who worked in his field of choice. “That’s pretty hard to believe,” I said.  “Well it is true and I will never get in,” he responded. Just to be contrary I asked him about all of the people he knew when he was brand new in our field. Without even batting an eye he said, “Oh I did not really know anybody, I hired in out of college when a recruiter came to campus.” At first he did not even sense the contradiction. Luckily for him, before I jumped in to point it out to him, he looked at me and said, “I KNOW, I KNOW! I heard it. I get it. I am not making sense.” He started out brand new, not knowing anyone and eventually he built relationships and contacts. He had formed an opinion and gathered proof. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my colleague were the ONLY person who has ever done this? And now that he has realized what he was doing to himself, he will stop and nobody else will ever do it again. Certainly not YOU, right? Examine some of the beliefs you have about your work, your plans, and your life. How many of them come from an opinion that may not reflect reality, but became your reality through the gathering of evidence? “Well if I can gather evidence, then it must be true,” you say. Not necessarily. We find what we seek. If your opinion is strong enough you will suffer from filter bias. You will only see the information that supports what you already believe. Consider my colleague. He was convinced that he could not break into a specific field without a contact in that field. He was convinced he did not have any contacts. With a filter bias which told him he did not know anyone in his desired field, he reviewed his network. He did not find anyone who met his criteria. That is not surprising. Once he became aware of his filter bias, he became open to making his own contacts. He sought out professional meetings in his industry of choice. At one of those meetings he encountered one of his cousins. Turns out he did have a contact in the field after all.
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How Do You Like Your Stress? Extra Spicy?

Sl_StressBrainA little bit of stress is good for you. In fact stress can improve your performance and your productivity. Think about studying for an exam or training for a 5K race. This is good stress; you push yourself towards a difficult yet obtainable goal. Think about presentations you make to your project steering committee or to your executive management. You may feel a bit nervous or stressed about presenting to such an important group of people. Hopefully this stress leads you to prepare your best presentation. Eustress is the word for productive stress. Eustress actually means good stress. “Stress is like spice – in the right proportion it enhances the flavor of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.” ~Donald Tubesing In the above quote, eustress is that right amount of spice. The right amount is an enhancer, too much leads to distress. Distress is negative stress. Distress is not productive stress. Distress is destructive and demotivating. It leads to suffering. If you only had five minutes to prepare for your project steering committee presentation, this could lead to distress. If you had five days to prepare, you might not start until a day or two before the actual presentation. This might be the right level of stress for you. Or perhaps you might not start until the night before the presentation. Although this certainly turns up the stress level, this could be the right level of stress for you. To continue with the analogy of stress is like spice, maybe you order your food with extra chili peppers. Sitting right next to you could be a team member who says, “Hold the chili peppers, don’t put them on the side, I do not want to see them on the plate.”  This makes it difficult for the two of you to order shared dishes. If stress is like a spice, necessary in the right proportions to keep a dish flavorful, it is also true to say that not everyone can handle stress in the same amounts. Some people are veritable stress junkies they thrive on it. They will tell you that they work so much better under pressure. Others will tell you that just the mention of a deadline two months from now is making them lose sleep. Your distress could be someone’s eustress and vice-versa. Just as with spice, we all have different tolerance levels. The challenge you face as a leader is to understand how to use stress effectively. First you need to understand your tolerance for stress then you need to understand the tolerance levels of your team members.  Then you need to find ways to provide the right levels of stress. You will need to rein your stress junkies and you will need to teach your stress averse to increase their stress tolerance. You can accomplish this by recognizing and rewarding the right stress related behavior. Encourage your stress junkies to meet earlier deadlines and discourage last minute fire-fighting. In fact when a stress junkie brags that he or she was up all night to meet a pre-planned deadline, remind them that not only was this unnecessary and not required and completely their own doing, it also introduced an unnecessary amount of risk to the project. When your stress averse balks at a tight deadline. Stand firm and encourage them to get to work to meet the deadline. Show them your support and let them know that you see them as fully capable. This will take multiple iterations and fine-tuning. Yet one day you will look up and notice that you are all sharing a dish with about the same amount of spice in it! Wishing you productive stress.
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Plan the Party and Wave Goodbye!

Goodbye “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle One of your team members just gave notice. What is your reaction? There are some team members whose departure is a relief. Let’s imagine that is not the case. This is someone you hate to see leave. What do you say, what do you do? Do you become angry when a team member gives notice? Do you feel disappointed and betrayed? Perhaps you see the departing team member as a traitor. Immediately you treat him or her with hostility. Perhaps you give him or her the cold shoulder. You might remove this person from the project or send him or her home, not to return. In a situation where a team member is leaving to work for a competitor, it makes sense to have him or her leave immediately. (Although you do know that if he or she were going to take sensitive information they would do that before giving notice, right?) Maybe you work to persuade the departing team member to stay. You seek to find out why your valued team member is leaving. It is good to know why a valued team member chooses to work someplace else. It’s disappointing to lose good people. And sometimes you might be able to convince this person to stay. Be very careful what you promise, because if you cannot keep your promises he or she is going to become disgruntled and then he or she is most definitely going to leave. And now he or she is leaving under less positive circumstances. Here is an approach you might take. Express your disappointment that he or she is leaving, and express how much you have appreciated their work. Make sure that he or she has a positive send off, perhaps a lunch, a cake and a card and good wishes from the team. Then wish him or her well and let them go. Why would you let a good team member go without a fight? Because once someone comes to you and gives notice, they have already gone down a path. They are already gone. All that is left to do is the actual leaving. Their joy in the job is clearly not there or it was not enough to keep them with you. It is rare for happy team members who feel secure in their work to seek out other positions. You want team members who are happy to be there, who take pleasure in their work. Think about it, he or she spent time looking for other opportunities. He or she spent time networking and going on interviews and negotiating salary and benefits. They are gone. Mentally, they already work someplace else. Let this team member go and experience another environment. Wish him or her good things. Hope that this next position makes him or her happy. If securing a new job offer was a game in order to negotiate a raise or promotion from you, be very careful about your next steps. As much as you want good team members to stay, you do not want to be held hostage. Remember the rest of the team is watching. A valued team member gives notice. Plan their party and wave good bye.
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