On the Importance of Trust and Relationships

Trust and relationhipsHere’s an article I wrote for RESULTS.com on discovering the importance of trust and relationships in business (and life). Enjoy!

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A Quick Way to Improve Your Communication Skills

Face-to-face.

Instead of writing that email get off your keister and walk down the hall and talk to her. Or use the video camera on your computer (or get one) and have a Skype video conference. Or pick up the phone if that’s your only option

Let them see your face, hear your voice, see your body language. Look at theirs. Build the freaking relationship. Then you’ll be a fantastic communicator.

p.s. When using a video-conference tool, look at the camera when they’re talking. It’ll make it look like you’re paying attention. Oh, and pay attention. That helps too.

Who Do You Network With?

There’s something you need to do. Get a thumb drive. Take it to work. Download your contact list from your work computer, or print it out, and take it home. I’ll wait.

You can’t network with the people on the contact list on your work computer, probably your most valuable “gotta find my next job” resource, when you’ve been escorted out the front door. It happens. It can happen to anybody. *holds up own hand*

Got it? Good. Do this every three months and keep your list up-to-date. This is the bare minimum you need to network. I’m not asking your to break of your company rules or the law, but you see the point.

Networking Is

Networking is the simple act of keeping in contact with people you can help, and that might be able to help you. When you do need to ask for something it won’t be awkward if you’ve stayed in contact. For many “technical” types this is a challenge. You may not feel comfortable reaching out to others for “no reason”, and it might be holding you back.

Here are some other places that you might consider, in your plan to build relationships in your industry:

Schools, Industry, Companies

If you’re still in school, or recently graduated, have you kept in contact with your class mates? The “good” schools like Carleton or Yale don’t necessarily have smarter professors or students than any other school. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But when their students graduate they have a built-in network and credibility. Your fellow students are good candidates for keeping in touch with over the years. Same industry, same interests, and likely a similar career path.

Go to dinner at your chosen profession’s association. This is a no-brainer. You’re not there for the rubber chicken or the dinner speaker. You’re there to meet others in your industry. For bonus points and to turbo-charge your connections: volunteer. It doesn’t matter if your volunteering effort is to hand out name-tags at the dinner reception desk, or to run the local annual association conference. Your name and your credibility goes up the more you give. Which makes it easier to find your next job (or next employee if you’re in recruiting mode).

Join a local Toastmasters. Even better if the club is industry, geographic, or interest specific. Again, bonus points for volunteering. This is also a good way to find connections if you’re planning to change careers or industries.

Check out your local Chamber of Commerce. If you’re looking for companies to work for, google “chamber of commerce” “your town”, and “your industry”. Then go to the open Chamber events and find the attendees that work for those companies. It’s a good way to target your next employer.

Question for the Comments:

How did you find your last job?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:

The Joy of Networking
One Discovery, Two Decisions
Get the Job You Want By Talking to the Right People

Bernie works as a leadership and strategic business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well. He believes that not doing anything about bad leadership, once you know about it, is abuse. And poor business practice.

He believes organizations are founded on their values. He believes that the workplace is a place for both people and businesses to thrive. Not just survive.

Check out his other articles at practicalmanagers.com

The Joy of Networking

I was at breakfast with three friends Thursday morning. It was early at one of those funky little breakfast & lunch joints south of downtown Calgary. I knew everybody, but everybody hadn’t met each other yet, which is why I’d invited them all. Within two minutes of everybody arriving we’d got each other laughing and talking and chatting and catching up. We traded intelligence on work in our respective fields, checked on potential client reputations, and bounced business ideas and opportunities.

I came away from breakfast feeling energized, motivated, and happy. Happy that I was privileged to the part of a small circle of smart, funny, and inspiring people.

Then I said to myself – “Self: You shouldn’t be you’ve just been networking. Networking is supposed to be an onerous chore! Get your head on straight!” Then I told myself to take a flying leap and proceeded to have a great day instead.

Here’s the question that “networking” is trying to answer: If I lost my job (major contract / largest income stream) tomorrow, to whom could I reach out to find my next gig? Who else would I want to work with again? Who knows everybody in the business and could point me in the right direction?

This is networking: keeping in touch with people who can help you, or more importantly, whom you can help. Why not be the one that people reach out to when needed? Wouldn’t that make it easier if and when you need something?

You don’t want the only reason you’re talking to Fred or Flora for the first time in two years is because you just got laid off. That’s awkward. And much less likely to be successful.

Question for the Comments
Who’s the first person you would reach out to if you needed to start looking for work tomorrow? When was the last time you talked to or emailed them?

Other Article You May Be Interested In:
Getting the Job You Want By Talking To the Right People
Your Personal Board of Directors
The Elevator Speech

Bernie works as a leadership and strategic business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well. He believes that not doing anything about bad leadership, once you know about it, is abuse and poor business practice. He believes the foundation of any organization is its values. He believes that that the workplace can be a place for both people and businesses to thrive. Not just survive.

Check out his other articles at practicalmanagers.com

The First Question to Ask Before You Delegate

There are two important questions you should consider when you’re delegating a task. Especially if it’s beyond the level of “Take action, don’t report” type. Two questions that will improve the probability of success. But asking the questions isn’t enough. How we react to the answers, and how well we follow through have the greatest impact.

The first question is:

When Can You Get This Done By?

It’s a pretty straight-forward question, and you might think I’m kidding. There are times when it’s appropriate to arbitrarily set deadlines. In reality most work isn’t life or death. And one of the biggest motivators for even rudimentary cognitive work is autonomy. The ability to govern oneself.

Many times the most productive action bosses can take is to get out of the way. Let the people working for us do what they do well. Let them figure out how to do the work instead of being treated like a cog in the machine. Maybe they don’t do it exactly the way you could, and that’s OK. It will still get done.

So when you ask this question or any question please, actually ask a question, and then have enough intestinal fortitude to respect the answer.

Actually Ask A Question

“I need you to do this.” is not a question. It doesn’t even have a question mark at the end. Yet that’s often how tasks are assigned. How much autonomy are we granting the person assigned the task when we do this? None.

If you really ask a question, use a sentence with a question mark at the end. Can you do this? and When can you do this by? are both examples of actual questions. If you need the work done by a specific date, then ask “Can you do this by Tuesday?” (or whatever the date is).

Asking puts the responsibility for completion with the delegate, increases their commitment to the task, builds a relationship, and allows them to develop their priority management skills independently. All things good managers who are committed to developing their staff will want.

And don’t worry that it will diminish your status. It won’t. Treating people like cogs in the machine will.

Respect the Answer

A wise sergeant once told me to never give an order I knew wouldn’t be obeyed. I say never ask a question that you don’t want to hear the answer to. You may have to negotiate, re-balance workload, or ask questions about priorities. And you may not like some of the answers.

Yet your job as a manager is to deal with reality, not react to the pressures put on you and pass them down. If you’re not going to manage the priorities put on you and your staff, then you’re not really needed, are you?

One of my clients called this being “a window”, just trickling down the directives and orders from on high. He’s the regional manager for a recruiting and placement firm. Last week they had no new starts in all of Western Canada, which was a huge under-performance for him and for the region. His CEO asked him “How can a region your size have no new starts in a month?”, a question for which there is no good answer.

Yet he didn’t start banging the table and  demand that people start producing. I’ve seen leaders who know better, cave under the pressure and threaten their staff with the boogey-man of “heads are going to roll” and their boss being “not happy”. And really what does anybody at the front line of an organization care if the CEO is happy or not, even if she knew what to do about it?

He has a plan for measuring, coaching, and increasing performance across the entire region, and he’s sticking to it. He’s putting the right people in place, he’s showing confidence in his staff, and they’re working their tails off for them.  He’s leading, not letting himself be buffaloed into a knee-jerk reaction.

Question for the Comments

How have you handled push-back to your delegations in the past? What do you do when somebody tells you they can’t and won’t do the work you’d like them to do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

Four Different Ways to Delegate
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them
You Need to Get Good At This to be a Leader

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

Four Different Ways to Delegate

El Campesino leading the troops into the battle in BruneteDelegation is important, delegation is underutilized, and delegation doesn’t need to be complicated. If you can learn to successfully delegate, you’ll have added an important tool to your leadership toolkit.

Not everything has to be delegated in the same way. Nor does it need to be complicated, but you probably should take some time, even just 30 seconds, to decide how to delegate.

Consider these four “levels” of delegation, and which is appropriate to the task and the ability of the delegate.

Level 1: Take Action, Don’t Report

Some tasks don’t need a lot of detail, explanation, or even tracking. You trust the person assigned the task, or they’ve done the task successfully in the past. She can to act independently. If that’s the case, just go ahead and delegate.

My daughters raises rabbits in our back yard. Reminding her to feed her bunnies is an example of “fire and forget” delegation.

Level 2: Take Action, Report When Done

Either you want to ensure the task is done, or the task requires coordination with others. Be prepared to follow-up if and when the deadline passes. If they’re not responsible, and can’t or won’t do what they said they were going to do, that’s on them. If you don’t hold them accountable for it, that’s on you.

Cleaning out the bunny cage on a regular basis – a dirty, unloved chore – requires follow-up and even inspection to ensure compliance.

Level 3: Recommend Action, Get Approval

We want the delegate to do the research, make a decision, and recommend an action. They may either then be tasked with that action or not.

At this level we really start to see some of the “development” benefits of delegating. As a rule of thumb, if you believe the person you have in mind for this task can do 70% of the work, then go ahead and use them. They’ll need mentoring, coaching, and support, but that will be part of your delegation plan (more on that later).

We had a late season litter of five kits show up a couple of weeks ago. Surprise! The next local bunny and chicken auction (where all this started all those years ago, and where we could sell them at a good margin) isn’t until spring. We had to come up with other options. Listing them on Kijiji, selling them to local pet stores, or getting a second hutch and holding out for a bigger profit at the spring auction were some of the choices she considered.

Level 4: Analyse Different Options

This is appropriate for an especially complicated, challenging, or risky task. It’s also a huge opportunity to get insight into and shape the thinking of the person delegated to. At this level you are explicitly reserving the right to decide which option, if any, to choose. You may also decide to focus on researching and analyzing more thoroughly the most promising options after the initial report.

Since Nichole (the daughter) might be moving out to go to college next fall, we have to start planning for what we’re going to do with the rabbits. You can imagine I have a vested interested in managing this transition, otherwise I’ll be stuck with shovelling bunny poop while she’s away.

Anybody interested in taking over a viable bunny raising business? Hutch included.

Question for the Comments: What is the next steps in your team or organization when somebody fails to deliver what they promised? How does your company hold people accountable?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Learning By Doing
You Need to Get Good At This to be a Leader
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

Techniques for Generous Listening

“Communication is what the listener does” – Mark Horstman

Last week I encouraged you to be more than an active listener. I encouraged you to be a generous, respectful, and calm listener instead. While the “active” listening techniques of eye contact and body language are useful, they don’t go deep enough.

What does generous listening look like in practice? Here are three actionable, specific techniques for being a generous listener:

Listen With Your Mind

Personally I have a hard time even hearing what’s being said, or staying focused. My mind will drift off, especially if somebody’s rabbiting on about a topic that doesn’t interest me. Or I’ve already decided in irrelevant to where I want the conversation to go. Or I’m thinking furiously about what my response is going to be to an earlier statement, and I miss their real point.

Repeat the words they are saying to yourself in your head.

This will get you back on track. It will bring your mind back to what they’re saying. Don’t worry about having an immediate response ready the moment they take a breath. Having an immediate response ready the moment they stop talking is just another form of interrupting. Take a breath before you reply.

Stop Interrupting

If you’re interrupting you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, they’ll know it and are less likely to be listening to you. Then how are you going to influence them? Just don’t.

This includes waiting for them to pause so you can elbow your way into the conversation with your witty retort. Bite your tongue. Take notes. Clench your teeth and grunt “Uh-Huh” or “Mmm-hmm” until your throat hurts if you have to.

Then count to five in your head after you think they’re done.

The “Uh-Huh” sound is a great way to move the conversation along, signal that you’re listening, and still not agreeing or making a commitment you don’t want to make.

Accept Feedback

I admit that most feedback is poorly delivered, feels like a personal attack, and isn’t actionable. Doesn’t matter.

Say “thank-you” and take it. Questions for clarification only.

No retorts, no rationalizations, no justification. At the very least you’ll be helping them practice, and they might even give better feedback the next time. Or send them to my website, which has many articles on giving feedback.

Stay Calm and Carry On

Photo by Shayne Kaye. Used under the Creative Common Attribution license.

Sometimes things happen you can’t plan for. Like riding your bike up the back of a bear. My trainer says she didn’t see the bear until she was on top of it. Literally, with her mountain bike.

She came around the corner, peddling furiously, looking over her shoulder and trying to stay ahead of the Scout troop following her. Scouting in Calgary has many advantages. Access to the mountains and wildlife are some of them.

The bear was sitting in the middle of the single track, facing uphill. The way she told us the story at the training workshop, she didn’t understand what had happened until the bear turned to look over its shoulder at her. It’s one of those “no sh*t, there I was” stories that’s funny only later when you’re telling it around the campfire.

She backed down slowly, keeping herself between the mother bear and cubs and the Scouts. By hand signals and whispering they got back to the last branch in the trail and took a different route.

That’s the kind of leadership I prefer. Calm, competent, cool. There are many things that could have gone wrong with this scenario, and any drama on the leader’s part wouldn’t have helped.

What do I mean by drama? In an already emotionally laden and potentially dangerous scenario adding more emotion is drama. If she’d screamed, or panicked, or froze, or attacked, things could have gone very horribly wrong.

Worst places to work? One sign is when your day depends on the boss’s mood. “Better keep your head down. Ian is in a foul mood because the budget is due.” Managers and executives need to control and manage their emotions instead of letting their emotions manage them.

Be enthusiastic, be positive, have fun. All good. But if you’re angry, or yelling, or throwing things, or even quietly calling people names now you’re either out of control or you’re a bully. Now you’re a “boss-hole”. Not inspirational nor effective in the long run.

It’s a simple thing outstanding managers do well – keep calm, be consistent.

It’s About People, Really

I got a huge compliment from one of the company partners this week. He said “You’ve done a great job learning to connect with people the last year.” Now, this might sound like a left-handed complement, but for me it’s something that I’ve consciously focused on the last little while. I’ll never be a Bill Clinton, but it’s something that was important to get better at.

Changing behaviour like that is hard and requires continuous focus. I came from a software and project management background, and in my earlier life I was little better than most at persuading people to work together. Which is to say that I was a little better than a company full of engineers, programmers, and project managers. When I started working at RESULTS.com I realized that not only was I going to have to raise my game to the next level, but that there are levels above me that I wasn’t even aware of.

In my current role as a business execution specialist connecting with people and building trust and a relationship is the biggest part of the job. They are trusting me with their companies, their livelihoods, and livelihoods of everybody in their company. If you’re a CEO you’re even more so in the hot seat. The buck stops with you.

Which is why I was surprised when I got briefed in on a new client recently. Part of what I was told is that they don’t want any of that fuzzy-wuzzy psychology mumbo-jumbo. Just come in and fix what’s wrong. This gave me the first sign of what my approach was going to have to be. Except I would have to be patient. Spend time face-to-face with the players. Build trust. Establish a relationship. You know, all that fuzzy-wuzzy psychology mumbo-jumbo stuff. Because at the c-suite level it’s all about the people. And trust. And relationships.

If you’re a lumberjack you’d better know how to use a chain-saw. If you’re a manager, leader, or CEO, you better know what makes your people tick and how to get them working together. Either that or you can pay somebody like me a lot of money to “fix what’s wrong”.

Having Couragous Conversations

Confronting somebody at work about a missed deadline, unacceptable behaviour, a poor quality deliverable can sometimes feel like looking over the edge of a tall cliff. When was the last time you had a courageous conversation at work? Said something to somebody that needed to be said, but had held back for whatever reason?

If you done have regular “courageous conversations” in your role as a leader, then you’re not doing your job. Either that, or you work in the perfect office. More likely the former.

If you’re just starting as a manager / leader, or you’re looking for tips on having the courageous conversation, keep these points in mind:

  • Stay calm
    Nothing spreads faster than fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD Factor”). You can speak the truth. You don’t have to shout it. Be a demanding boss without being aggressive or insensitive.
    Also, nothing controls you like your emotions. Allowing others to push your buttons is like handing them the remote control to your brain. If you’re the boss, stay in control. You can’t control others if you can’t control yourself.
  • Focus on Behaviour
    Focus on the things you can see, hear, and touch. Not your feelings. Focus on body language, tone of voice, facial expression, work product, words used, observable facts. Not on attitude, drama, or assumptions.
  • It’s Their Problem
    Bosses are often problem solvers. That’s how you got promoted. Fair enough, but – you can’t solve everybody else’s problems. Let them figure out how to fix what they broke, how to change their behaviour, or how to deliver on time what you need.
    Besides, how are you going to get promoted if there’s nobody to take your place?
  • Follow Through
    This one goes to credibility. Do what you say you’re going to do. Or don’t say it. If you don’t understand why then do something else besides management and leadership.
  • Listen, and Practice
    The first time you give feedback to a subordinate you’re going to suck at it. Don’t worry, it gets better with practice. The greater sin is not coaching, mentoring, and developing your people. Never stop looking for and training your replacement. It’s one of those simple things that outstanding manager do well.

And remember that true leaders run towards a problem, not away from it.