Friday, November 21, 2014

Performance Reviews for Managers

Instead of approaching this task as a chore or an obligation, let's begin by changing your mindset! This is an OPPORTUNITY to thank your team for making you look good all year! It's a chance to make them feel appreciated and cared for, which ultimately serves to motivate them and make them more loyal, productive members of your team. If you succeed at motivating your employees, a little time spent can propel your team to the next level… thus making you look even better! Using Helen Keller quote below, is a great way to begin thinking about this process.

Performance reviews are the time to motivate your high performers and encourage your average people to do better. Low level performers should be dealt with throughout the year. Performance issues need to be dealt with as they happen.

Do your homework. This member of your team has been waiting all year, do not take this process lightly. Ideally, you have been journaling about your team's highs and lows throughout the year. I do this using the notes feature in MS Outlook. It's a quick and easy way to keep track. Each member of my team has a bunch of notes that I convert at year end to a document. I use this document to include real examples of their performance. This practice has meant more meaningful exchanges between us.

Real examples give your conversation credibility.
Don't forget to review your remarks from last year. Did they meet their goals? If not, what prevented them from achieving them? Was it something you put on their plate that stopped them from getting there? This is an important factor in this conversation.

Part of your homework is to speak with others who interact with this person. Other managers, peers and in some instances, customers… if you can get 360 degree feedback, this will also add credibility to your conversation. Whether the news is good or mediocre, real information is far better than the old, "good job this year". If there is a difference in how different people see this employee, that can be a point of exploration during your performance discussion.

Be aware of your own biases. Have you had issues with this employee before? Do not carry negative feelings forward. Do you believe certain employees are more important than others? Of course, some may have more inherent value than others, but be sure you are fairly assessing each, based on the requirements of their job. Be sure you are being objective.

Think about THIS employee; What are their career goals? How can you, keeping in mind your company and departmental goals, help him/her achieve these goals? Has this employee has been overworked. Have they been given the opportunity to work to their potential? Have they been proactive and taken on any additional assignments? OR; have they just gotten by, meeting only the most basic requirements of their job? If it's the latter, hopefully you have spoken to them during the course of the year. Remember, it's never good to for someone to hear negatives for the first time when they are anchored to their raise and bonus. Performance should be an ongoing conversation throughout the year. Surprises are a bad thing at year end!

Here are easy steps to get performance reviews right.

1. Begin with updating the employee's job description. I email each person a copy of their job description prior to our meeting and ask them to make any necessary edits. This serves you in two ways; you always have it on hand for reference and it makes sure you are aware of any additional tasks/responsibilities the employee has taken on. Reaching out and getting information from your employee prior to sitting down helps you get a broader focus… you will see things from their perspective BEFORE you sit down. I like to give the employee at least one week to complete their prep for our meeting. Your meeting should be scheduled at this time and ideally the conversation should last at least one-half hour to one full-hour of uninterrupted time.

2. Ask the employee which 3 things the employee likes best about their job and which 3 areas related their job, the department or the company could use improvement. On the items they list for improvement, listen to their ideas on how to improve… if you are unable to use their ideas, discuss why with them. This allows for a good dialogue between you and your employee. It's important to understand both the motivators and de-motivators for each employee (and it can be different for each person). When you care enough about the employee to ask the right questions, you eventually develop a trusting relationship; a key attribute of good working rapport.

3. I always ask the employee if they are getting enough support. Is there anything I can be doing that would help them succeed? Do they have enough resources? If the answer is NO, make sure you get specific ideas on how this can change. When you ask questions during this conversation, they should be open ended to encourage further conversation.

4. I also ask for some goals. Goals should be related to the mission of the company, be appropriate for this employee and they also should be very specific. This is a collaborative process where you should include the input of the employee with your recommendations. S.M.A.R.T. goals are a good way to go. That is SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, RESULTS-FOCUSED and TIME BOUND goals. When your goals are S.M.A.R.T. it is easy to discuss the progress toward and achievement of these goals. I use a goal setting sheet that discusses why the goal is in play, how life improves when the goal is achieved (it may be a benefit to the employee or to the company) and what obstacles we think may arise. Generally, in my group, each person gets 2-4 goals for the coming year. This process ensures that both of your expectations are addressed. This is also the time to discuss any formal training initiatives you may have planned.

5. At the end of the meeting, get buy-in. Many managers preach AT the employee rather than speak WITH the employee. That is a bad dynamic and it is not likely that the employee will feel motivated in the end. Your goal should be to come out with a job description and goals for the coming period that you both agree on. Does this work for you? With the changes we've made, is this description reasonable?

Buy-in is important! If you take the preach approach, the employee is not engaged and they have not agreed to the reasonableness of your assessment. Both parties need to agree if you want this process to be a success.

6. Finally, Thank them for their work. Appreciation is important! Employees leave their managers, not their companies. It is frequently the bad manager, the lack of opportunity for growth and development that pushes employees out the door. Remember, you couldn't do what you do without them and THEY NEED TO HEAR IT (they don't just know).

Managers, respect does not automatically come because you have a title. You need to show your people that you care about them and their aspirations. When you don't provide meaningful feedback, you wind up having employees that do not respect you, because in their minds, you don't respect them to engage. You are not aware of their accomplishments or their talents and when that happens, often, employees will take their talents elsewhere.

Use real examples of behaviors to ensure a clear understanding of your observations and have the guts to be honest. If you have been doing your job all year, this conversation will be a good one. Retain your top talent and move your team forward by taking performance reviews seriously, preparing in advance and giving your people the appreciation they deserve.

Monday, November 3, 2014

One Leadership Skill You Will Not Learn In School or Work

"Empathy with people is a key leadership quality — and it’s one many leaders don't have"

What is empathy?

Many people confuse empathy with sympathy, but the two are different in an important way. Sympathy means agreeing with or relating to the feelings someone else has about a particular situation. But empathy goes deeper. It means that, whether or not you agree with someone, you can understand what they are feeling and how that affects their perception and needs.

Empathy means you have the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and put their needs ahead of yours when necessary.

There’s a business stereotype that doesn’t seem to want to die of the ruthless go-getter whose dogged pursuit of his goals leaves no room for him to worry about anyone but himself. But the truth is, sooner or later in business (and in life) everyone must rely on the relationships and connections they have established. The most successful leaders don’t operate in a vacuum; they rely on a support system to achieve their success.

Think of the captain who is the last to leave a sinking ship, or the unwritten rule that lowest ranking Marines are first in line at the mess tent, while their commanders eat last. That kind of leadership is about an innate understanding of putting the needs of others above your own.

Can empathy be taught?

There’s another longstanding myth that human beings are biologically wired to think only of ourselves, but science shows that’s simply untrue. We do have a reptile brain that promotes that “me first” thinking, but we also have something that sets us apart. Humans are social creatures, and our brains produce pleasure hormones, serotonin and oxytocin, to actually reward us for helping others.
Our brains actually reward us for practising empathy, and so it is definitely a skill that can be cultivated, not just an innate personality trait.

How to cultivate empathy:
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Shift the focus from the story in your mind to the actual message being presented.
  • Take a personal interest in others.
  • Practice putting the needs of others above your own in the workplace.
  • Become the other person.
What’s fascinating is that these practises work well in almost all areas of business: in negotiations, influence, communications, sales, teaching, and so on. Empathy is the one overriding skill that can influence whether you become truly successful — or the next “greedy CEO” of some tabloid headline.

Qualities That Make An Exceptional Leader

Inspiring Others

Building a winning business is based on forecasting and research. No business is going to blindly go with an idea and just throw money at it. In addition to this you're going to need to be able to inspire your team and stakeholders to see the value and vision of what you are looking to achieve. The first step in achieving this is getting each person involved so they feel they are vital to the outcome. People you lead need responsibility to themselves and to each other. Tell that without their skills and experience you simply can't make the dream a reality.

Being that leader who inspires a team is great for helping your business or your employers focus on a positive future and also things that are happening in the here and now. Sadly, worklife isn't always sunshine and buttercups, sometimes it's a drag, it's tiring so morale can drop and productivity can slow up. As a leader you need to know when people need a lift. Don't be afraid to praise the work that everyone has done for you, each other and the business. In your role as a leader it's your job to do this and do it publicly with a show of gratitude towards your teams and individuals.

Adopting A Creative Mindset

Every now and again the decisions you have to make can't rely on research. You'll always have those difficult times where you need to make a decision on the spot without notice. Being a creative thinker can save your bacon in these times. When the going gets tough your team will look to you for guidance and they'll be relying on you to make a decion that they can all believe in and draw confidence from you as a leader. It might be that you have two or three bad choices to pick from. In these circumstances don't jump at the choice you think will simply please everyone, just pause for a second and think. You can even ask your team for their opinion. By looking quickly at your options you can usually reach the end you wanted.

Trust Your Intuition
Difficult times are always just around the corner and no amount of experience is going to give you all the solutions. When times get tough, the higher the pressure on you to guide your ship through stormy times will be. In these dark times you have to trust your intuition. Your people will be looking to you to solve things quickly or at least be strong enough to get them through it. Regardless of your support network it'll be down to you to make the tough calls and this is where you'll need your gut feelings. You need to trust yourself before anyone else will.

Keeping your people in the game and motivated towards success after success is vital to the well being of your company. You need to keep people happy but that doesn't mean saying 'yes' all the time or giving in to demands but it does mean doing the nice things like providing snacks, coffee, tea, career advice, or even just laughs in the office. Let's face it, if your team is happy to be in work I'll wager that they'll be happy to do more and be more for the common cause.

Self Confidence
I can assure you that sooner or later your reputation will be on a downward spiral, it happens to the best of us. But's it not permanent! All our careers have ups and downs. All you need to do is take a deep breath and NOT panic. As a leader you need to maintain an air of confidence, an unwavering belief in your abilities, your teams skills and your companies core values and good name. Maintaining these things shows your people that you believe in what you're doing and they will feel the same way. The moment you doubt yourself and your people they will see the chink in your armour. If you radiate confidence, your team will pick up on it and in turn will also feel confident.

Be Committed
If your not willing to dig in and show commitment then don't expect anyone else to. Being hands on and grinding out a days performance is what people want to see. Lead by example because it’s important to show your commitment to your work and people. Work hard, harder than anyone else and be fair to your people. They'll respect you for it and stand with you against any challenge without question.

Be True And Honest
You have your own values and when you lead a team of people, its important to raise the bar even higher than your own values and expectations. Your business and teams performance is a direct reflection of you and if you make honest decisions, so will your people.

You know what you want to achieve and you know how to go about it but trying to get that message across to your charges is something else. Being able to communicate what you want done is imperative. If you can't make others understand you'll all end up working towards different variations of the same target and fall short at the deadline. Make it important to talk to your staff daily. Leave your door open.

Trust gets things done and done well. Trusting your team with your idea is a sign of strength and unity that everyone picks up on, even those not in your department. As your workload grows it's important to delegate work to others in your team and make sure that you give them worthwhile work to perform because then your people will volunteer for the worst jobs, because you trusted them with the important stuff.

When delegating work you should understand the great many strengths of your team. Knowing your team means knowing what each person in it enjoys doing. Working and delegating like this will show your team that you trust them and believe in them. It’s not always easy to delegate but it will speed things up and bring you closer to success.

Bang! Something has gone wrong. You've lost a client! Or perhaps your budget has been slashed. A sense of humor is as important as any skill you can pick up. Laugh at mistakes or bad news, don't feel sorry for yourself. If you can find the bright spots in the bad times, your team will fight through and become stronger and they won't dread turning in for work. Have a laugh with your team and bump up morale.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Top 5 Interview Questions for Managers

1. How did you spend the first 90 days of your previous job?The best employees are those who bring real energy and initiative to the job. I like to know whether you’re the kind of person who can set priorities, take initiative, and drive results right from the beginning.

This is why I like to ask how you approached your last job. I’m looking for specific examples of how you got to understand the organization and integrate with the team. I want to hear about your early wins, accomplishments and successes. Learning about how you tackled the early days of your last job gives me a good indication of how you will hit the ground running if you were to join my team.

2. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you handle it?The actual challenge and solution aren’t so important. I’m more interested in how you worked through the problem. Candidates need to demonstrate strategic thinking and strong problem solving skills. And, just as importantly, they need to know when and how to ask for help.

Did you engage your teammates in implementing a solution? Did you work with your customer to make sure everyone was on board? Did you keep your leadership informed early so there were no surprises? These answers tell me how you deal with issues, address problems and manage stakeholders.

3. How would the people you’ve worked with describe you?What would your boss, colleagues, and customers say if I asked them what it’s like to work with you? Are you a team player or a lone operator? Are you a big picture person or do you focus on the details? Do you have high standards of integrity or do you bend the rules to get things done faster?

I’m looking for answers that demonstrate the leadership qualities and personal values that we seek in our top performers.
  • We look for leaders who can shape the future by establishing goals and laying out a plan to achieve them;
  • We also want our people to build effective relationships, whether they’re with colleagues, employees, or customers;
  • We want leaders who can energize the team, engaging and inspiring others to do their best work;
  • We need people that deliver results, understand our strategy and meet their commitments;
  • And most importantly, we want people who model personal excellence, integrity and accountability in all that they do.
These qualities are especially important at Lockheed Martin, though they should serve you well in almost any role. No matter what field you’re in, it always pays to have a full spectrum leader on the team.

4. What is one area you’d like to improve and what are you doing about it?Of course, no one is perfect – and I would never hire someone who thinks that they are. Yet a great employee goes beyond simply being aware of their shortcomings, they are actively working on them. Are you working with a coach or mentor? Have you taken a public speaking class? Do you engage in 360-degree feedback sessions? We all have things we’d like to work on, and I want to see that you have the drive to better yourself, grow professionally, and continue to learn.

5. Why should I hire you? I like to end an interview with this simple question. The best candidates make a strong case for themselves. They can clearly articulate why they are the best choice for the job – and they can tell me what unique qualities they bring that no one else can offer. I want to see confidence in one’s capabilities with awareness of one’s opportunities for growth. This is no time to be shy; it’s the time to be your own best advocate.

Top Questions to asked Hiring Manager during the interview as a candidate

What skills and experiences would make an ideal candidate? This is a great open-ended question that will have the interviewer put his or her cards on the table and state exactly what the employer is looking for. If the interviewer mentions something you didn’t cover yet, now is your chance.

What is the single largest problem facing your staff and would I be in a position to help you solve this problem? This question not only shows that you are immediately thinking about how you can help the team, it also encourages the interviewer to envision you working at the position.

What have you enjoyed most about working here? This question allows the interviewer to connect with you on a more personal level, sharing his or her feelings. The answer will also give you unique insight into how satisfied people are with their jobs there. If the interviewer is pained to come up with an answer to your question, it’s a big red flag.

What constitutes success at this position and this firm or nonprofit? This question shows your interest in being successful there, and the answer will show you both how to get ahead and whether it is a good fit for you.

Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications? I love this question because it’s gutsy. Also, you’ll show that you’re confident in your skills and abilities.

Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with? Notice how the question is phrased; it assumes you will get the job. This question also tells you about the people you will interact with on a daily basis, so listen to the answer closely.

While waiting to find out if I am successful or not, can you recommend any further reading material or resources I can take away with me to learn more about the role and the organization?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lessons For New Managers

Take your management position seriously:
Whether you're supervising a staff of four or four-hundred, you are personally responsible for setting each member of your staff up for success. When they are frustrated with their work environment, it makes a world of difference for them to feel heard. Take the time to listen and find ways to show the you're genuinely invested in their success.

Put your employees first:
Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort for the good of those in their care. Keep the best interests of your employees in mind at all times and you'll have a dedicated staff to support you in your time of need. Building this trust helps make those hard asks a little easier when the time comes.

Hire slowly, fire quickly:
Listen to your instincts, and take your time making hiring decisions. There is a lot of time, money and effort invested in the hiring process. The decision is an important one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

On the other hand, fire quickly. If an employee commits a fireable act, there’s a high likelihood it won’t be the last. If it’s a bad fit, there’s bad performance, or your staff or reputation are on the line, pull the bandage off quickly.

Hire people smarter than you:
Many managers were first lower-level staff that were subject matter experts in their area of focus. The longer you sit in a management role, the more you drift toward a generalist or "jack of all trades." To set yourself up for success, only hire people who are smarter than you in the area(s) for which they are hired. Bring them on, watch them shine, and allow them to teach you more about their area of expertise. They will not only make you look good to upper management, but will also teach you technical skills that make you a more valuable asset to the company.

Learn to evaluate tough choices:
When faced with a tough decision, weigh your options realistically, then diplomatically. Never hesitate to seek the advice and support of trusted mentors and peers. Don't be afraid to give bad news, but give it early and openly. Know that you will make a few bad decisions, but it's not the end of the world. Do your research, look at the problem from all angles, make a decision and act with conviction.

Don’t sweat the little things:
Life likes to throw curveballs. Just when you think you have things figured out, something will change that has you reeling. In this scenario, freaking out is never productive. If it seems like the sky is falling, take a step back, take inventory of the things you still have (family, friends, health, security) and realize that this challenge is just a speed bump.

Once you realize that the worst case scenario isn't so bad, you can look at the problem from a new perspective and begin your plan of attack. Size it up, make adjustments, and knock that thing out of the park.

Think outside the box:
I hate this cliché as much as the next person, but what I hate even more is hearing, "But we've always done it this way!" Without change, there can be no progress. Comfort leads to routine, routine leads to complacency, and complacency leads to mistakes. Schedule time (quarterly, bi-annually, annually) to review your processes and see if there are opportunities for innovation.

Remember, just because people do things a certain way now doesn’t mean it’s the best way. There is no guarantee that changing the process will have positive results, but if you never test it out, you'll never know. If you feel that you can do it better, don't be afraid to rewrite the rules!

Set clear goals:This applies to life in and out of the office. Clear, measurable goals help you stay motivated, focused and moving in your intended direction. You can have large goals (e.g.- I want to run a hospital.) but if you don't break them down into smaller goals (e.g.- Go to graduate school. Secure management position. Earn professional certification. Build professional network.) then it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Put your goals in writing and store them somewhere where you can review them often. Find ways to track your progress to stoke the motivational fire. Most importantly, when you achieve your goals, take time to celebrate!

The desire to shoulder the burden of your entire team is admirable, but ultimately futile. You may succeed for a while, but eventually you will destroy yourself or your team. If you've hired correctly (see above), then there are people on your team who are better than you at the task anyways.

Delegate responsibility to your SMEs and empower them to own the task themselves. If they need support, let them know that your door is always open. If you've done your job correctly, they will crush it and you will both get rave reviews from those up the management chain.

Encourage 360-degree feedback:In order to foster personal growth for yourself and professional growth for your staff, you should employ a system of 360-degree feedback. In this system, you should regularly provide your employees with feedback regarding their performance and they should have the ability to candidly discuss your ability to lead and mentor them.

The success of such a program relies on the ability of you and your staff to maintain open lines of communication and be open to constructive feedback that can sometimes be hard to swallow. It may be a hard slog at first, but if you stick with it you will be paid dividends down the road.

Make time for life:
If you're in that situation, it is a failure on your part and that of your supervisor. Expectations need to be realistic and if they're not, they need to be revisited in a one-on-one conversation. Maybe your supervisor isn't aware that you're overburdened and having this discussion can help him redistribute workloads. Maybe he's unwilling to budge, in which case you should probably start looking for another job.

Listen, all-nighters and 80-hour weeks are okay (and even necessary) in short sprints, but if you're living that lifestyle month after month and you're unhappy, do something about it. Life is too short to spend slaving away to make someone else's dream come true.

Always make a concerted effort to balance your work obligations with your loved ones, hobbies, goals and aspirations. Don't worry, the work will still be there when you get back.

Don’t bring work stress into your personal relationship:
This ties into the point above. There are times when stress in the workplace is unavoidable. Before you leave the office, take a deep breath and exhale. Life will go on. Leave your baggage at the door and head home.

Having strong personal relationships with friends, family and significant others can help relieve stress, settle nerves, and recharge your proverbial battery. This is achieved through open conversations, not by projecting your frustrations onto those you love. Do your best not to drop your work stress on the people closest to you and make sure to apologize on the rare occasions that you do.

Stay healthy:
Stress is inevitable. It also has dramatic effect on well-being, some that manifest as physical changes and others that are imperceptible. It is extremely important that you take good care of yourself in order to shoulder the demands of being a manager.

If this means taking a day or two off as "mental health days", take them. Eat well, drink water, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Each of these points has been discussed extensively elsewhere, but their importance cannot be overstated. You are the leader of this team and it is important that you do everything in your power to always be at the top of your game.

Be grateful:
This is a thread that is common to many of the points above. Life is hard. Managing people is hard. There are a lot of demands placed on you and a lot of people who will make it seem like your decisions make the difference between success and failure, between living and dying. The truth is, in many cases, they don't. The business will not fail, you will not lose your job, life will go on.

Life is ever-changing. Be grateful for having a job. Be grateful for having people who will love and support you no matter what. Be grateful for the opportunity to share this world we live in with beautiful landscapes, structures and creatures that will live on long after you've become nothing more than bone dust.

If you're absolutely killing it, enjoy it and work hard. If you're unhappy, know that it will get better and keep plugging away. Throughout the entire process, know that your value comes from within yourself and that, at the end of the day, you are truly blessed.

Acceptance in Accountability

Accountability is often thought of as being responsible for something, but that’s what responsibility means! The truth is that you can be responsible for something and not be accountable for it.

Accountability is Acceptance, but what does Acceptance have to do with Accountability?

You may have heard the saying ‘what you resist, persists’?

What this means is that when you are unaware of (or in denial about!) how things really are, then they simply remain the same, because you have no reason to change them.

So acceptance is about getting real about how things really are, and I mean REALLY.

It’s about Accepting the Reality and this can be challenging.

Most of us are fully aware of the power of positive thinking. We know that to focus on the negative is not conducive to achieving positive outcomes and so we are all constantly striving to be positive, to look on the bright side and to seek the best in every situation.

Now, I'm not suggesting that this isn’t a good idea and I certainly wouldn’t advocate the opposite!

Clearly aspiring to be positive is a far more preferable default state than thinking negatively and focusing on problems. However, the problem with never looking at the problems is that you spend your time in denial and when you are in denial, you can’t improve things. And this is where Acceptance comes into it’s own.

The first step is Awareness. This means noticing patterns of behaviour that are unhelpful, weaknesses in terms of beliefs, skills and experience and being aware of what’s not working in your business.

The second step is Acknowledgement. This means actually recognising those things. And this is different to simply having awareness of them. You can have awareness and still choose to be in denial.

Only when you have both awareness AND acknowledgement can you get to the third step – Acceptance and this is where the internal accountability is because once you get to acceptance, there is no other decision to make, other than to change things! You now have a reason to do it!

Get Real!

So, be honest with yourself about what’s really going on. If it’s not going great, acknowledge that it isn’t going great and then accept it for what it is. Only when you do this can you really begin to address it.

Ask yourself: “What is really going on?”
  • Is my marketing really working?
  • Is my idea really working?
  • Are my clients really happy?
  • Am I really on top of everything?
  • Do I really follow through?
  • Am I really making progress month on month?
And be honest with yourself with your answers. Getting to acceptance is essential if you are going to create the business you really want.

5 Questions Managers Should Never Asked

Questions can be great for engaging and motivating people , but they can just as easily be used to confront or blame, and can shift the mood from positive to negative. “We live in the world our questions create,” says David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and a pioneer of “Appreciative Inquiry,” which holds that questions focusing on strengths and using positive language are far more useful to organizations than questions with a negative focus.

What are some specific questions to avoid?

“What’s the problem?” Company leaders may often find themselves asking this question or some variation of it. “What’s the problem, what’s going wrong, what is broken, what is our biggest threat — that is, unfortunately, the starting point of 80 percent of meetings in management,” Cooperrider says. But he maintains that if a company leader asks questions that are focused on problems and weaknesses, then the organization overall will tend to be fixated on that — rather than focusing on strengths and opportunities. Instead of inquiring about what’s gone wrong or focusing on “the problem,” it’s better to use positive questions geared to leveraging strengths and achieving goals:What are we doing well and how might we build upon that? What is the ideal outcome and how do we get closer to that?

“Whose fault is it?” This question focuses attention on finding a scapegoat when in reality, there is usually plenty of blame to go around for any failure or problem. Keith Yamashita of the SY Partners consultancy says that when leaders ask about fault, they’re often trying to shift blame away from themselves. A better approach would be to ask, How can we work together to shore up any weaknesses? That identifies weak links and areas in need of improvement without focusing too much on blame.

“Why don’t you do it this way?” This question may seem like a mere suggestion, but when asked by a leader, it’s truly a leading question — a way of imposing your ways on others. (Even worse: When this question is asked after the fact, as in Why didn’t you do it this way? Now it’s also second-guessing.) The leadership expert Mary Jo Asmus with Aspire Collaborative Services says, “Asking leading questions such as How about if you do it this way? is just a stealth form of control.” She maintains that if a leader has hired well, he/she “shouldn’t have to control how the work gets done.” Better to allow people to figure out their own ideas and approaches, though you can sometimes help them along by asking, How were you thinking of doing it? What do you have in mind?

“Haven’t we tried this already?” Another, equally bad way of asking this is, Why do you think this would work when it hasn’t worked before? It’s not that a leader shouldn’t raise questions about proposed strategies — especially if something similar has been tried previously — but the tone is important. Phil Kessler of Vistage International, a leadership group for chief executives, points out that this version of the question comes off as condescending and even defeatist. It seems to suggest that everything has been thought of already, and that because something was tried once and didn’t work, it should never be considered again. This fails to recognize that some ideas may have come up short in the past because of bad timing or poor execution, not because the idea itself was wrong. Better to ask, If we tried this now, what would be different this time — and how might that change the results?

“What’s our iPad?” The consultant Dev Patnaik of Jump Associates notes that some version of this question tends to be asked when a panicked boss reacts to a competitor introducing a hot new product. The leader turns to his or her staff and asks, in effect, Why haven’t you come up with something like that? Get cracking! The problem is, this question is leading people to be followers—to think that their job is to imitate what the other guy is doing, as quickly as possible. Rather than put it in those imitative terms, it’s better to ask questions like: Why is our competitor having success with this product? What need is it satisfying? How might we use our particular strengths to do an even better job of meeting customers’ needs?

Looking beyond this list of specific questions, there are other tests you can use to assess whether the question on the tip of your tongue is a good one. In general, a leader should avoid questions “asked in a spirit of advocacy instead of inquiry,” says Tim Ogilvie of the management consultancy Peer Insight. Steer clear of questions “that come across like a parent talking to a child,” says Vistage’s Kessler. And lastly, Dan Rockwell of the blog Leadership Freak adds, “Never ask a question if you don’t want an answer.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

1st Time Managers - Challenges

The transition from an individual contributor to a manager for the first time can be difficult as new managers are presented with an array of demanding challenges. Managing the relationship with former colleagues and friends, learning to delegate effectively, managing the relationship with higher levels of management and providing constructive feedback and criticism are all challenges that a first time manager must overcome to be successful.


A major challenge that new managers face is managing their former colleagues, especially those colleagues who are friends. Many former colleagues may resent the new manager for being promoted instead of them and may feel that the new manager lacks the skills and expertise to successfully manage the team. Without action this can lead to former colleagues becoming de-motivated and frustrated, which will have a negative impact on their performance. The new manager must seek to build upon and adapt the relationships they had built before becoming a manager, to prevent colleague resentment.

In addition to this, managing the relationship with those former colleagues that were friends, adds to the challenge faced by first-time managers. A common mistake made by first-time managers is to give or be perceived as giving preferential treatment to their friends with the team. This not only puts friends in an awkward position but also damages the relationship between the new manager and other colleagues, which again could result in declining performances.  Communication issue also arise with this challenge, the first-time manager may stand chatting, gossiping or even sharing snippets of sensitive information, with their friends lower down the organization. This set a bad example to other employees, as the manager should be the role setting a good examples for others to follow. In overcoming this challenge, the first-time manager should look to change the relationship between themselves, former colleagues and friends they now manage, they can do this by setting clear boundaries as soon as possible and ensuring they are a role model for both their team and within the organization.