Posts filed under ‘listening’

Leaders Must Walk the Two-Way Street of Communication

Leadership involves more than giving instructions to subordinates and measuring how they handle their responsibilities. True leaders want to know how their teams are faring, and how they can improve personally to ultimately improve their teams’ circumstances.

They can only do this if they are communicating effectively and holding themselves accountable as leaders. Things go sour fast when they don’t. I’ll illustrate this with a little story…

The Tale of Gavin the Well-Intentioned Manager

Gavin, a newly promoted store manager, wanted more than anything to exceed the sales and profitability goals that he had just inherited after the recent departure of his predecessor. Although he was new at the job, Gavin understood that he would only be successful with the help and full engagement of his branch team.

So, the proud Scottish immigrant embarked on an aggressive effort to win their hearts in the way he thought best—through their stomachs. Gavin determined that he’d treat the team to his favorite Scottish breakfast every morning. Certainly they’d appreciate this new perk and it would help them get to work early or at least on time every day.

Over the weekend, Gavin labored to replicate the haggis and black pudding recipes his mother had taught him in his native Scotland, and he could hardly wait to share them on Monday morning!

As each employee arrived, Gavin thrust a plate of his proud creations at each of them with complete confidence that they’d love it. Sensing his enthusiasm, his employees feigned appreciation for the meal, but then secretly disposed of it at the first opportunity.

Day after day this scenario repeated itself—the employees growing more and more disgusted by the sheep innards and pork fat and blood-infused foods, but not wanting to offend or irritate the boss.

They pretended to enjoy it. To make matters worse, Gavin never asked or watched them eat to gauge their satisfaction; he just assumed they loved what he loved, and that everyone was perfectly content with the new arrangement.

In time, the employees would get nauseous just thinking about going to work. At first, they were often late and then they began missing days. It never occurred to Gavin that he was responsible for their attendance issues.

Instead he assumed that there was something wrong with his employees, and he began blaming them for their tardiness and absences, even telling his regional manager of their “bad attitudes.” Eventually, Gavin made plans to replace all of them!

A lack of communication is a symptom of a greater problem

So what went wrong? Yes, a lack of communication—specifically, a lack of feedback from both sides contributed. The employees didn’t want to offend or hurt their manager’s feelings, and Gavin didn’t want to have the difficult conversation about their attendance issues, instead taking the easier route of blaming his employees’ “attitudes.”

But the lack of communication was just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem was a total abandonment of personal responsibility and accountability—by all parties.

How to be truly accountable

You see, all success, all progress, all growth, all character development begins and ends with personal accountability. Accountability means being personally responsible and taking ownership of one’s circumstances… especially when it’s hard or unpleasant.

And it’s not just facing up to the obvious—true accountability is going a step further, by seeking out and welcoming (less obvious) feedback from any and all sources. It’s asking, “How have I contributed to the problem?” or “How can I get better?”

That is the ultimate display of true accountability. That is how we get better. That is how we build trust and create alignment with those we work with. That is leadership!

Lead on,

Cliff

July 24, 2017 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

Sailing to Engagement through Communication

Just as “a rising tide lifts all boats”, good communication lifts all “ships”…including effective leadership, courtship, and friendship. In the long run, each of these is buoyed up by frequent, and positive, communication. For the purposes of THIS discussion, we’ll focus on leadership, however the same principles certainly apply to effectively maintaining and sailing any kind of “ship”!

Great leaders know that the wind that fills their employees’ sails, and moves the [engagement] ”ship” forward is clear and thoughtful communication from the leader. Communication answering the questions “Where are we headed?” “Why are we making the journey?” “What’s my role and how does it fit in?” Without these, the ship flounders.

Moreover, timely, specific and sincere feedback regarding employee performance, progress, and accomplishment puts your inspired leader-“ship” in full sail! Add to these, the many additional opportunities available to all, but utilized only by the most effective, leaders in engaging their teams, including:

  1. Simple greetings! “Good morning”, “How was your weekend?”, “Have a good evening”. Daily interactions provide simple, but effective opportunities to connect and acknowledge others. Sometimes just not doing this can leave employees thinking “what did I do?” or “why’s he upset?” A pleasant greeting truly lifts morale and increases trust.
  2. When giving instructions or making an assignment, ensure full communication by asking questions. Until you hear your intended thoughts coming out of their mouths, you have not effectively communicated…and they know that!
  3. Listen! Remember, Habit 5 – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. You can only understand what you truly hear, and EVERYONE wants and needs to be understood.
  4. Thanks!” Never, ever, ever let an opportunity to express sincere thanks for any and all (even the simplest) act of kindness, assistance, or help of any kind. You may think it doesn’t matter and maybe it doesn’t, but to many a simple “thank you” is gold!
  5. Look beyond your team! Kindness, respectful recognition, and friendliness expressed to everyone in your path raises the overall engagement level of everyone within the organization.
  6. Compliments, when issued spontaneously and sincerely lift spirits, show recognition and awareness, and demonstrably increase trust and communication, while reducing barriers of skepticism, fear, or introversion.

Put the wind back in your team’s sails by increasing the quality, frequency, and sincerity of communication to and with them! It is the surest way to increase employee engagement…and have FUN doing it!

Lead on!

Cliff

 

April 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Carpe Diem

Life’s greatest lessons come not from text books or the halls of academia. They come to the unsuspecting, from the unexpected experiences of life. They come to us individually as we solo our personal climbs through life, and they come to families and teams as they together face the challenges and opportunities that are simply…part of life.

Many of my work friends and I suffered the sudden and very sad loss of a co-worker and friend this week.  We all experience similar losses.  So what can we learn from heart-breaking events such as these?  So many things… but three in particular rise quickly to the surface:

First, the incalculable value of time. Unlike other precious resources, time is finite. There is only so much – sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, three hundred sixty-five days in a year. We can’t save time, make time, or even find time. It just ticks by, and so, due to its finite nature it is more precious than any other thing. What’s more, none of us know how much of it we will have, so every minute counts! As the French essayist Montaine wrote, “The value in life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them.”

We learn to “seize the day” and to treat every day as if it’s our last.

Second, the importance and value of heartfelt expressions. How many of us, after the loss of or separation from a dear one, yearn for one more chance to hug, smile, thank, encourage, lift, or love. How many have thought “if only I’d have known…”? What would we have said or done to let them know how we feel, how much we appreciate them, or how great we think they are? It’s often the things not said that leave the greatest pain. So, don’t hold back.

We learn to say what’s in our hearts whenever it might lift, encourage, or cheer another.

Third, some things ARE more important than others. And as it turns out, people are most important. In the busy-ness of life we often lose this perspective; too often we allow an event, a task, or some other undertaking to overshadow what really matters. When asked what are the most important things in life, everyone freely admits: family, friends, or loved ones. However, when viewed through the lens of the choices we make and the way we spend our time, our resources, and our energy, do we walk the talk? Too often we allow the urgencies of life to crowd out our real priorities, or the emotions of the moment to endanger a relationship. People really do matter.

We learn that people and relationships are what makes life worth living.

Thank you Kristie, for the lessons learned this week.

April 27, 2015 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

Data and Caring do Mix

I’ve been a customer of Roadrunner Sports for over twenty years.  They’ve always provided me with excellent service – during the early years with a catalog and over the phone, later via the web as it evolved, and still later in person in their stores.  I think what’s always impressed me is that in every transaction they’ve made a sincere effort not just to service my needs, but first to understand my needs…by getting to know ME – how often I run, how far, and where.  Am I prone to injury?  Do I race?  What brand of shoes do I favor?  Finally, when I’m in their store, they do an in-depth analysis, using a treadmill, hi-tech video, and pressure plates, to be able to make shoe recommendations customized for me and my needs.  Now THAT’s selling!  Notice all the asking, listening, and observation!  Great lessons!

Now, after 20 years they have a LOT of history (data) on me!  You’d think that they’d know me like their own family, but there ARE hundreds of thousands of me and thousands of them, so realistically I’m just a number…but a number with lots of data attached!  I DO get postcards and emails throughout the year, most of which contain general messages to all customers, but some are targeted to ME, based on my most recent shoe purchases.  My shoe is on sale, or is in danger of going out of production (the “endangered shoe” list), or a similar or complimentary product is on sale.  Good, targeted use of data, yes, but nowhere even close to where they could be.

I imagine a day where when I call or walk through the door their systems will identify me and present staff with everything  (data wise) they need to help fill my needs…and sell me what I need to meet those needs.  Or, through intelligent data use, they could send me a reminder four months after my last shoe purchase to remind me that it’s time to save my legs and feet with another pair.  I’d like that!  The data’s there, the system just hasn’t caught up….but I am certain it will.

I believe most companies worth their salt will get there as well!  We all have mountains of data, and we’re learning to “mine” it better and better all the time.  I believe we will learn to mine it, present it, and use it to help us better understand, better serve, and better sell customers the products that will help them be successful.  But I wouldn’t wait for that to happen.  Instead, adopt an attitude of genuine interest in your customers.  What kind of work do they do, what do they use, what do they like…or dislike?  Create a mental profile (data) of each customer and then present, rather than just react when they visit your business.  Most B2B businesses’ advantage over Roadrunner is that we see the same faces with regular frequency, so creating a mental database is relatively easy.  You’ve probably experienced this with the better places you shop or eat, where the waiter or clerk knows you well enough to anticipate and better, accurately direct you to things similar, but better than “the usual”.  Makes you feel good…even important!

Yes, the day will come when much of this will be automated!  This is good and a bit sad; Sad, if we let “systems’ do not only the thinking, but also the caring for us.  Data and caring do mix, and when used together can produce magical moments for customers.  So, take every opportunity to ask, listen, observe, building a mental database, and then present your customers with solutions that will make them feel good…and important!

Lead [and sell] on!

Cliff

February 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

Eat Your Peas!

“Eat your peas!” 

“But I don’t like peas!” 

“Yes you do……at least you should!”

“Why?”

“Well…because they’re good for you……and they taste good!”

“They don’t taste good to me!”

“We’ll…..they should!  Eat your peas!”

Does this sound familiar?  If you’ve been a parent…or a child (who hasn’t) it probably does.  Removed from the situation, it also probably sounds a little ridiculous.  Sometimes we sound just as ridiculous to our employees, our coworkers, and unfortunately our customers when we tell them what they should do, try, or like.  Remember the old Alka Seltzer commercial… “Try it, you’ll like it!”?  Pretty presumptuous isn’t it?

Habit 5 of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is… “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  Before you can even hope to sell, convince, or recruit others to your proposal you have to understand their perspective – their way of seeing things.  My mom used to say “Never judge an Indian until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”.  To presume what others should think, do, or like is in reality, projecting our views on others as if they were mindless drones waiting for someone to connect the remote control.

So how can you know…what others want or how they see things?  Simple – ASK!  Then…LISTEN…really listen…empathically…to understand.   Then, and only if it still makes sense, you can sell, convince, or recruit…to their needs…and not to YOUR presumptions!

Try it, you’ll like the results!  🙂

Lead on!

Cliff

November 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

Always Begin With the “WHY”!

It’s 3:00 Friday afternoon, and your best customer calls.  He’s in a real jam and needs a simple and inexpensive part to complete a job and quickly fills you in on all the details.  Oddly enough, you are completely out of the item, but fortunately any of your surrounding stores has plenty on hand.  You ask Bill, the only one in your branch not doing anything terribly important at the time, to run and pick up the part and deliver it to the job site as quickly as he can.  Then you return to your work.

In the mean time, Bill who’d had to skip lunch earlier during a rush of customers, stops on his way to grab a sandwich and soda.  He’s not really dragging, but he’s also in no big hurry.  He chats it up a bit with the guys at your sister store, and then heads to the job site.  He arrives just in time to see your biggest customer getting locked out of the property for the weekend, due to a conflict with a major event being held there.  He looks completely depressed…because he is!

You see, just as he’d told you on the phone, this job needed to be completed by close of business TODAY, or he’d be facing $25,000 in late penalties!  The 6 month project was all but done, except for the  $6 part.  When you took the call you didn’t think twice about not getting your customer what he needed, as it seemed like a slam dunk…IF…everyone involved knew what was at stake!  Remember, you only told Bill that your customer needed a simple part.  To Bill there was NO urgency…and being relatively new he really didn’t even know how important the customer was to your branch…and the company!

Communication is the lifeblood of an organization, a project, a relationship!  Without it any of these will suffer at least, and possibly die.  In communication, the “what”, the “when”, the “where”, the “how”, and the “who” are all important elements, but the “WHY” is king!  The “what” informs, but the “WHY” inspires!  The “how” instructs, but the “WHY” transforms!

When you communicate with others…especially with employees, and most certainly when giving instructions, go back, way back, to the very beginning and explain the “WHY” behind everything!  Don’t sell your employees, your children, or anyone else short.  Not only CAN they handle the details – the big picture…they NEED them if they are to become engaged!  And we all know the difference between the engaged and disengaged performer!

To get the very most out of people you have to reach their hearts because the heart is where the “WHY” lives!  Always begin with the “WHY”!

Lead on…

Cliff

October 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Loyalty

I once read an article about [retired] General Colin Powell. In it, he described his definition of “loyalty”. He said…”When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own”.

Great leaders listen.  When it’s tme for action, they know how to lead the charge, but they also know that if they are to lead effectively they need the loyalty of those they lead.  Loyalty comes from inviting and respecting the perspective of others whether it’s applied or not.  I am reminded of an old story I heard as a child, which left an indelible impression on me and on my attitude toward others.  It goes something like this:  A mighty king of untold wealth had two great loves; one was hunting, the other was his prized falcon – his hunting mate and constant companion. One day hiking and hunting with his falcon in the hills near his kingdom, the king became quite thirsty, and approached a near-by stream. There he took his sterling cup and dipped it in the clear cool water and drew it to his lips. But before he could drink, the falcon dove from its soaring and knocked the cup away. Irritated and a bit surprised, the king retrieved his cup, filled it, and attempted to drink a second time.  But again, the falcon swooped down and knocked his cup away. Angry now and quite thirsty, the king cursed at the bird, and warned him never to repeat this uncanny behavior. But alas, a third time the king tried to drink, and again was thwarted by his now inscrutable companion. Furious, the king drew an arrow from his quiver, set it on his bow and let it fly toward the falcon who was slowly circling just upstream; The arrow hit its mark! The king hiked up to where the slain falcon now lay- next to the stream. Suddenly he spotted a horrible sight! There, laying near the bird, half in the stream, was the carcass of a deadly poisonous snake. Instantly, the king realized, with great anguish, that all the while he was fighting against his faithful companion, the loyal bird was simply doing everything he could, even to the point of giving his life, to help save his master.

This story gives pause to those of us with leadership responsibility.  Do we encourage honest disagreement?  Do we show appreciation for diverse opinions? Do we carry an open and willing attitude of learning? Then, when its time to make the [hard] decision, have we created an environment where even those with divergent views, fall in step with us because they want to, or because they have to?  To build loyalty, we must first recognize it in all its forms. Great leaders learn how to recognize it.  Great leaders learn how to build it.  Great leaders learn how to reward it.  Be great…and lead on……….. Cliff

September 12, 2011 at 8:54 am Leave a comment


Tips & thoughts for today's manager

Categories

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 229 other followers