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Notes, links, and inspiration about topics related to personal and leadership development.
 


Friday, January 08, 2010

Do You Really Want to Lead?

I'm spending the entire week next week with a group of aspiring leaders. They have answered the call of their organization to step up to a leadership role. In addition to more pay, they will also receive many opportunities to make a real difference for their organization.

And most of them are clueless to the challenge ahead.

The truth is that being a leader can be difficult work. It's easy to sit back and criticize someone in a leadership role. I try to remember that when I'm tempted to complain about national political leaders. It's completely different when you are in the chair, at the table, and the decisions rest with you. Leadership is, indeed, not a popularity contest.

Do you really want to be a leader? It's a good question to ask as we start a new year.

The Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article on the topic recently. It's worth reading if you have intentions on increasing the scope of your responsibility.

Serving in a leadership role is a tremendously rewarding experience. And it is hard work. I look forward to both inspiring (and sobering) my aspiring leaders next week!

What's your take? Do you remember what expectations you went into your role with? Has it been more challenging than you thought? Send me an e-mail with your thoughts!

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posted by Andy at 6:11 PM  


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Friday, September 25, 2009

"Ignorance keeps you perky"

Earlier this year Peggy Noonan wrote an article about President Obama's new term: "Every new president starts out fresh, in part because he doesn't know what he doesn't know. Ignorance keeps you perky."

The months since have shown that running a government is more challenging than running a campaign. Though you and I are not seeking to be the leader of the free world, Noonan's point can be translated to those who strive to deliver projects and lead teams. When we first take over a project or team, our optimism may be based on ignorance. What is it that we don't know?

This all comes to mind as I prepared for my podcast interview next week with Michael Roberto, author of Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen.

In the book, Professor Roberto essentially tells us that leaders must first hone their skills as problem-finders, not just problem-solvers. He offers very practical advice on how leaders can overcome the many barriers that make it a challenge to discover problems earlier instead of reacting to them later when the consequences can be much more severe.

The podcast episode is not scheduled to be published until late October but I invite you to get your copy of Michael's book now and enjoy the interview when it comes out.

In addition, here's an article that Michael just recently published that will give you a taste for what's in store.

Here's to us all becoming better problem-finders!

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posted by Andy at 11:00 AM  


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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Service to Shout About

This is not normal. I'm yelling at a customer service rep from GiftCards.com. I don't yell at people--at least very often.

How did this happen?

This is a quick tale of customer service from two companies, with lessons for us all.

About a year ago I was awarded a gift card by one of my top clients as part of their reward and recognition program for outstanding performance. The award from GiftCards.com is supposed to act like a normal VISA card so it should be accepted anywhere that VISA cards are allowed.

We had multiple problems with the card, including some fraud shortly after it had been activated. My outburst to the customer service rep was in reaction to how they dealt with the fraud: there was no recourse. We were out the money. But that wasn't the biggest deal. If I wanted a new card issued for the remaining balance, they would have to charge me.

The message: "We can't help you." It shouldn't have gotten me so upset. These days I should have even expected it.

Contrast this to the purchase of our first Mac last week. If you've bought from Apple before, you already know what I found out... It's a great experience. A guy named Ben walked me through the in's and out's and made a recommendation we are excited about.

Part of our payment for the Mac was with the gift card. Though GiftCards.com gave Apple an authorization, the fraud occurred before Apple transferred funds, meaning there was not enough remaining balance to cover the original amount charged.

How did Apple handle the issue? They contacted me to let me know what was up. I chased down GiftCards.com to see what had happened, then explained it to Apple. I suggested putting the remaining balance of my purchase on another card. But check this out: Apple's customer service rep said, "That's not necessary. I am authorized to discount the computer by the remaining amount."

What? I was floored. Apple basically said, "We'll make this problem go away."

No computer manufacturer has the margin that Apple discounted for me. Apple chose to serve a customer to win them for life. GiftCards.com chose to follow a policy and lose a customer for life.

Some lessons:

  • Regardless of the business you're in, be known for making problems go away. We've all heard that we need to bring solutions, not problems. Make sure that's your reputation.
  • The longer term view can help you realize that a concession today can help you gain far more over the long term. "Penny-wise and pound-foolish" is unfortunately the motto of too many organizations during these difficult times.
  • I actually called the rep back at GiftCards.com and apologized for yelling at him. Though I will never use their products again, he didn't deserve the treatment I gave him. The lesson: let's treat people respectfully. Life's too short to do otherwise.
  • Final lesson: talk to Ben when you want to buy a Mac. :)

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posted by Andy at 6:39 AM  


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Really Bad Way to Approach Conflict (Plus a Free Offer!)

Learn how to manage conflict with Andy Kaufman and Beyond the Rock and the Hard PlaceThere are many ways to approach a conflict situation. The one I describe in today's newsletter is definitely not recommended! Make sure to check it out.

While you're there, check out the special offer. The first 10 people to respond get a free license to our e-learning offering entitled Beyond the Rock and the Hard Place: How to Deal With Conflict More Effectively.

Get helpful learning. For free. Contact me today.

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posted by Andy at 4:38 PM  


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to Say "No" (Without Saying "No")

How to Say NoSo, how do you say "No" when doing so feels like it could be, say, a career limiting move? Advice abounds, often over-simplifying the stakes by not taking into account the complexities of saying "No" to someone like a boss or by not giving specific enough strategies.

In a recent newsletter article I give some practical ways to say "No" without saying the letters N-O.

Here's your chance to join the conversation: How do you handle situations when everything inside of you wants to say "No", but there are other pressures to say Yes?

Add a comment to this blog entry to share your insights.

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posted by Andy at 12:03 PM  


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Friday, April 04, 2008

What Shamu Can Teach You About Your Boss

One of the dirty little secrets of managing is that, over time, you'll do more managing up and out than down. But that's easier said than done. What are some important lessons learned about managing up?

I recommend Dan and Chip Heath's article in FastCompany entitled, "Your Boss is a Monkey". They take lessons from Amy Sutherland's book What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage and apply them to managing "another irritable mammal: your boss."

A couple observations that aligns with how we coach leaders:

  • Every interaction is training. We are constantly sending out signals to those we work with. I'm not talking about some mystical energy here. Rather, we are constantly reinforcing lessons to those around us. If we let Bob slip in 2 hours late each morning without any discussion, you've taught Bob and everyone else around him a lesson: getting to work on time isn't really that important. If we keep delivering miracles to make up for lack of process in the organization, we reinforce the belief that all that process stuff is a waste of time. What messages have you inadvertently been sending lately?

  • Reinforce good behavior! This seems so obvious but we often miss opportunities to catch people doing things right! We can be black belt whiners, for sure. Reinforcing your positive expectations of people can lead to them living and performing up to your expectations. Call out the good when you see it.

I'd like to think that we humans are less susceptible to the type of manipulation that the authors are suggesting. Yet in practice I've seen it work over and over. I'm working with a coaching client right now that is learning to flip her boss a mango when he delegates instead of micro-manages. Over time, I'm optimistic there will be progress.

Keep in mind that the "monkey" article's advice to "ignore the bad behavior" has limitations. There's wisdom in not over-reacting. Counting to 10 (or 100) has saved many careers!

Yet "apparent indifference" does not always "smother the fire." In fact, for some bosses, it will pour fuel on the fire as it sends the signal that you don't care. Though the Heaths discount aligning styles and expectations as techniques, there is enormous leverage in understanding the art and science of such approaches. They are too critical to chalk up as "goody-two-shoe" training grovel.

Want to learn practical skills on how to manage up more effectively? Join our Leadership Fast Track Program starting in June! Click here for details!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

How the Conflict in the Taxi Ended

Manage conflict more confidentlyIn a recent newsletter I related a true story of conflict that happened in a taxi on a cold night in Boston. If you haven’t read the story, click here to read it before continuing (it takes 2 minutes or less).

So, how did I respond when the driver spewed, “No! You said Hampton Inn at the airport!”

I first took a deep breath to keep from lashing out. After all, my family was in the backseat and it was important that I not do anything that puts them in danger. I knew that more than my (now nervous) wife was in the back seat. Three little ones were watching what Dad was going to model.

I looked into the driver's eyes, replied firmly but respectfully, “No, I said Monsignor O’Brien Highway. Take us to the Hampton Inn on Monsignor O’Brien Highway, now.”

He wasn’t happy but he did take the next right turn. We were suddenly in a dark, rough looking neighborhood that I’m sure didn’t do much to settle my wife’s nerves!

I pulled out my cell phone and called our hotel. In a voice loud enough to make sure the driver heard, I asked the front desk approximately how expensive a taxi fare from our origination to the hotel should cost. I repeated the answer out loud, “Did you say $15? Thank you.”

The taxi fare was already over $20, with at least 10 minutes to go.

As if I thought he hadn’t heard me (you never know with this driver!), I calmly but firmly told him, “I will be paying you $15 for this trip.” I didn’t have to speak his language to understand the essence of what was said under his breath.

I didn’t respond.

We were never so happy to see a Hampton Inn. The family poured out of the backseat with a collective sigh.

The driver knew he wouldn’t get his $35 taxi. Much to his surprise, I pulled out a $20 bill and told him to keep the change. A bit stunned, he responded, “I’m sorry for the mistake.”

Not all conflict ends quite this amicably. Enjoy it when it does. Though I don’t naturally use a Competing conflict style often, a controlled version of it worked in this case, followed by a Compromising pay out at the end.

We can help you learn to manage conflict with more confidence. Our Beyond the Rock and the Hard Place can be delivered in a keynote, workshop, or e-learning formats. Click here for more information.

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posted by Andy at 11:57 AM  


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Confidence in Conflict

How do you feel when you’re about to walk into a conflict discussion? How prepared are you to deal with conflict?

In a recent newsletter we talked about conflict (if you didn't get a copy via e-mail, I strongly encourage you to read the online version using this link).

I'm interested in your perspective. I invite you to post a comment with:
  • Some of your biggest sources of conflict, and
  • Some of the most important lessons you've learned about handling conflict

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Improving Your Influence

How effective are you at influencing others? How can you convince someone to agree to your proposed approach, particularly when you don't have authority over them? Or when it's not as simple as getting a bunch of facts together? Or when there may be some natural tension between what you both want?

How would it impact your job (and life) if you could be more influential?

leadership development, improving influence, Andy KaufmanJohn Maxwell summarizes leadership in one word: Influence. One of my favorite books on the topic is from Robert B. Cialdini. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini offers up what he calls the "weapons of influence" to help us all better understand how influence works.

This book is packed with insights that can help every aspiring leader be more influential. You will find the ideas in the book easily accessible even if you don't have a background in psychology.

Cialdini serves up an enjoyable, practical, yet scientifically documented work that centers around what he calls the weapons of influence. Packed with entertaining and insightful stories, Cialdini helps us understand how each of the weapons work. Perhaps as enlightening is his advice on how to defend against the weapons when others wield them on you.

Here's an example: one of the weapons is referred to as reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. In fact, Cialdini's research finds we often feel obligated to future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations and the like.

However, he also finds the rule of reciprocation can trigger unequal exchanges. I have a friend who raises funds for a non-profit. Like me, he uses Send Out Cards (SOC) to stay in touch with people using real cards instead of e-mail or e-cards. One of the many nice features of SOC is you can include a gift along with the actual card. He included a $10 Starbucks gift card inside a "we missed you" card to 10 people who were unable to attend an event. Within a week, two of those people sent him checks for more than $1,000.

improving your influence, leadership development, Andy KaufmanIt's reciprocity in action.

Ever get free return mailing labels from an organization asking for donations? How about free samples where you shop? As it turns out, Cialdini finds they all may not be as free as we think! In fact, researchers have found that simply giving customers a candy or mint along with their bill significantly increases tips!

I'm not suggesting you use sleazy, deceptive means to get what you want, on the job or outside work. There can be a fine line between influencing and manipulating.

But Cialdini's book is packed with ideas that, with some consideration and proper intentions, can help you persuade a project stakeholder that a certain decision is best. Or that another group needs to deliver on time when they normally don't share your sense of urgency. Or when you need a team to work longer hours but don't want to force it on them.

Actions for Leaders

  • I wholeheartedly recommend you add Cialdini's book to your reading list. I'd love to hear your insights after you read it.
  • Contact us about our keynotes and workshops that can help you and your organization significantly improve your ability to influence others. We help develop leaders around the world on this vital topic, and it would be a privilege to explore the potential of helping your organization as well.
  • Send Out Cards is a simple and practical way to improve your influence and show people how much you care about them. To learn more (and send a couple free ones on me) click here. Then click on the banner with the moving arrow.

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posted by Andy at 11:11 AM  


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Friday, April 06, 2007

Are You Leading or Are They Leading You?

Earlier this week I had a discussion late into the evening with Allan Holender, author of Zentrepreneurism. Though I have some rather significant worldview differences with Allan's proposed ideas, I greatly enjoyed our discussion and look forward to future conversations with him.

A comment from Allan that caught my attention was a quote from Jim Rohn: “You become the average of the five people you hang out with the most, so choose them carefully.” This is similar to the wisdom of Solomon: "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20).

I've heard this referred to as the Law of Association and find it intriguing, both personally and professionally.

Perhaps you've learned what took me longer to grasp in my early management experience than it should have: the importance of surrounding yourself wisely. Surround yourself with Yes men and you'll find a group of people who willingly go over the cliff with you professionally. Surround yourself with people who can respectfully but firmly dissent or provide constructive criticism and you have gained a priceless gift (while avoiding more pain than you might realize).

leadership development trainingIn our leadership and project management workshops we talk about personality styles and the power of having diverse styles on teams. The varying approaches to detecting issues, solving problems, and looking at the world can keep us sharp and stretch us beyond the comfy chair of status quo.

Yet you become the average of the five people you hang with the most. In my willingness to appreciate and interact with people who can think quite differently from me, I must also stay aware of who is doing the leading and following.

Pre-adult years are so critical: hang with the wrong people and they take you down a bad path (as in "Bad character corrupts good company" in 1 Corinthians 15:33). Yet whether a teenager or a well seasoned professional, if you only hang out with like-minded people, your thinking can be complacent and too black-and-white.

How can this dilemma be resolved?

leadership development trainingThe path I'm pursuing is to surround myself with an inner core of people who are good examples, willing to speak truth to me, stretch me in a positive way, and keep me accountable. I seek extended time with these people. In this case, I'm being led, in the most positive sense. Hopefully I am able to spur them on in a positive direction as well but in this inner core (or Rohn's "five"), it's my desire to make sure it's a positive influence.

Yet I don't want to fall prey to the tainted wisdom you would find in, for example, the book The Secret. Author Rhonda Byrne recommends that if you want to avoid, say, being fat, avoid fat people. I understand a friend's weight standards can influence another's, and if someone spends extended time with a negative influence, I have no problem with reducing their exposure to that person. But Byrne's recommendations are at best incomplete and at worst repulsive.

NOTE: For a critical review of The Secret, see my new book: Shining the Light on The Secret).

Rather than avoid those who are different, I want to engage with them. However, as the title of this blog states, it's important to keep track of who is influencing who. To what degree are you influencing them? In what ways are they influencing you?

I enjoyed my discussion with this Buddhist business author, but there is nothing in the discussion that changed my worldview (not out of closed-mindedness but because the alternative worldview seems sorely lacking).

Aspiring leader, here are my challenges to you:
  • Who are some of the best influences in your life? Are you spending enough time with them to spur you on in a positive direction?
  • Who are some of the worst influences? Are you spending too much time with them?
  • How often are you interacting with people who think differently from you? Hopefully they can expand your thinking but may I also suggest you keep an eye on whether their influence is for the better or the worse?

Surround yourself wisely, with those who influence you personally and professionally in a positive direction, and with those toward whom you can influence in a positive way.

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posted by Andy at 8:59 PM  


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leadership Lessons from Howard Tullman

Crain's Chicago Business recently posted a short video from Howard Tullman that I recommend you take the time to watch. I appreciate the clarity in which he communicates the essence of what it means to lead. Though his lessons are tuned for entrepreneurs, they can easily apply to anyone who leads, whether a team, a department, or an entire company.

Key lessons to highlight include:

  • Mistakes are inevitable. Admit, fix, and forget them. One of the great frustrations as an executive coach is to work with someone that tries to be so perfect that they won't make a mistake. Clearly that's impossible. We regularly work with our kids on this: when you make a mistake, admit it. Fix it. Then get past it. Learn from them, for sure, but you can't obsess over them or you will not lead.
  • Click here to learn more about this eLearning workshop on conflict managementIt's about winning, not being right. In our e-learning workshop "Beyond the Rock and the Hard Place: How to Deal with Conflict More Effectively", we talk about the difference between positions and interests. Too often people get wrapped up into their positions, having to be "right." I like how Tullman states "It's about winning, not being right."
  • Tell a simple story: who are we, where are we going, and why. I find many aspiring leaders who are "how" people: they want to cut to the To-Do's and tasks right away, without first figuring out the "what". In our customized leadership workshops we coach leaders to first answer "Where?", "Why?" and "What?". Once leaders answer those questions, then you can get to the "How?", "Who?" and "When?". Click here for more information about how our customized leadership workshops can help your organization develop leaders.
  • Keep raising the bar. Keep getting better. Celebrate successes but don't get complacent.
  • Don't wait until it's perfect. Start with what you have.
  • Look for people who want to build a career, not just a job. Presenteeism (employees who are at the worksite regularly, but for a variety of reasons, are not producing as they should) reportedly accounts for 80% of lost productivity. One of my biggest staffing fears is not those who leave, but those who have left but are still with us.
  • Surround yourself with people who are different from you. It took me too many years to figure this one out. Now I cherish the principle, which helps me from driving over a cliff in business.
  • Having to fire people comes with the job. It can be done respectfully, but if your desire is to be popular, it will get in your way.
  • Part of a leader's job is to be an absorber of uncertainty and anxiety. Things can be ambiguous, but as a leader, we must continue telling the story, keeping people focused on the vision and direction. If we are freaking out when things get tough, it will simply spread the anxiety and be a distraction. In my book Navigating the Winds of Change: Staying on Course in Business & in Life I talk about the concept of keeping your eyes on the horizon when the wind and waves are raging. It's not only good advice for sailors: it works for leaders as well.

I commend Mr. Tullman's video for your viewing pleasure and personal development.

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posted by Andy at 2:34 PM  


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Monday, July 31, 2006

Peace at any price?

"The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any- price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life." Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), from a letter dated Jan. 10, 1917.

I first came across this quote in a children's magazine that focused on the remarkable life of Teddy Roosevelt. The quote has some interesting implications at many levels (not the least of which is the international level, considering conflicts in the Middle East and threats of terror around the world. Would Teddy be calling for "Cease fire!" or "Bring the troops home!" to stop fighting for the sake of stopping the fight?).

Yet take it out of the national/international arena and we can find ways to apply it to our day-to-day leadership responsibilities.... I had an executive coaching session today with a leader who is wrestling with how to confront an employee on a particular issue. He isn't looking forward to the discussion but agrees this is an important part of his responsibility. Peace at any price? Prefer to avoid conflict? It will eventually eat away at the effectiveness of your team.

NOTE: Our Beyond the Rock and the Hard Place:

How to Deal with Conflict More Effectively

workshop and keynote can be a great way to help you

and your team learn how to manage conflict in a more

productive way. Contact us to learn more.

How about prosperity-at-any-price? We could think about Enron, but are there decisions you are making that are choosing short-term comfort over long-term benefit? Similarly, it's easy to fall into get-rich-quickly approaches, rationalizing we're taking some early wins from low hanging fruit.

Andy Kaufman keynote speaker managing conflictAs perhaps only Teddy can do, this quote reminds the aspiring leader that the journey to success is not smooth sailing on calm waters, with favorable winds, clear visibility, and easy tacks for shortcuts. We'll have such days, thankfully. But perhaps more than we desire, the most effective leaders will have plenty of days when the fog obscures the way ahead, the waves of conflict tempt you to steer away, and the safety of the port seems much more enticing. Remember Teddy's quote.

There's a reason why we call it work, leader. I wish you all the best as you navigate today's challenges.

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posted by Andy at 10:22 AM  


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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Leadership Musings on the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Our family had some quality time in front of the tube this weekend, watching the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. I always enjoy the creativity of the opening ceremonies, often being somewhere between fascinated and bewildered, depending on the year and the wackiness of the production.

I have to think Italy could have done better than "Freak Out", "Funkytown", and "I Will Survive" during the Parade of Nations. I was expecting more Pavarotti than Bee Gees.

But I digress. Here's a leadership thought to start your week off with….

Think Peaceful Thoughts
Though many may have found the singing of John Lennon's "Imagine" a perfect fit for the Olympics, I had to scratch my head at the ironies. Don't you wonder what Lennon would have thought about having his song highlighted in a commercialized, multi-million dollar, corporate funded event such as the Olympics?

There's more. Consider the irony in the lyrics:

"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do"

It wasn't just Peter Gabriel's singing that made it hard for me to do. This is an event that is all about countries and celebrating national pride for our champions. Clearly the Olympics are about coming together in peace, if only for a couple weeks. Yet an objective reading of Imagine's lyrics shows it has more to do with a Marxist worldview than what most people would accept as a path to peace.

I've come up empty trying to find the lyrics to the "Peace Poem" read by Yoko Ono. Here's what it sounded like to me: "Think peaceful thoughts… Do you want peace? Think peaceful thoughts. Spread the word. Think peaceful thoughts."

I'm not reliving bitterness here about Yoko breaking up the Beatles. This is a leadership blog after all. So, where's the leadership lesson?

I run into too many managers that think they can resolve conflict using the Peace Poem Technique: "Think peaceful thoughts!"

Can't you hear the lyrics?

Imagine there's no Marketing,
It isn't hard to do.
No HR to warn us.
No bean counters too…

If you have to work with one or more humans, opportunities for conflict abound. And if you think holding hands and singing Kumbaya (or Imagine) is going to make everything better, you are a dreamer. And unfortunately, you're not the only one.

Hope is Rarely A Good Strategy
Dealing with conflict is a messy business that requires skills and intentionality. Being optimistic about favorable outcomes can be helpful and sincerely desiring harmony is fine. Yet hope is rarely a good strategy, and I see way too much hope applied as a wishful salve when it comes to the bloody wounds of conflict.

I respect the rights of those who demand the U.S. leave Iraq right now. I understand and share their desire for the bloodshed to end--I have loved ones over there. Yet I rarely hear responsible alternatives beyond "Give Peace a Chance".

I respect managers who want their teams to get along with other teams. I get that you may not agree with how another group is handling an issue that's causing stress. But wishful thinking doesn't cut it.

I fundamentally believe that learning to deal with conflict in a responsible way is one of the key skills sorely lacking in managers today. We can help you and your organization develop these skills. Give us a call to learn about our workshop "Beyond the Rock and the Hard Place: How to Deal with Conflict More Effectively" and our use of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.

Oops, got to go. Kids are excited about watching Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White on the halfpipe. "Imagine there's no gravity, it isn't hard to do…"

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