Category Archives: Communication

No Surprises…the Secret to Managing Up

“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.”  –Says nearly everyone in business

Surprises can be great.

We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.

Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:

  • Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
  • Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
  • Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
  • Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
  • Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
  • Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
  • Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.

Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.

In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product.  Great news!  But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.

How does all of this connect with managing up?

The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.

Does this mean you should keep information away from them?  Of course not!

It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.

It means anticipating surprises before they happen.  Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it.  I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.

Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.

Your boss needs you to be honest.  Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.

If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it.  Now.  More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.

If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you.  Now.

The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else.  This does two things:

  1. Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
  2. Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.

When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house.  We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut.  Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going.  I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.

Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it.  It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.

Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.

Lesson One:  expect the unexpected.

Lesson Two:  make sure your boss knows what’s coming.

Lesson Three:  don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

Lessons from SpaceTeam!

I’ve never been much of a gamer.  The idea of more computer time at night, after spending an entire work day on a computer has little appeal for me.

Until I saw, or more accurately, heard, SpaceTeam.  My little cousins were gathered in a circle, yelling out commands to each other, swiping their devices, and pushing toward the elusive goal of HYPERSPACE.

Set the Duotronic Capacitor to 2!

They’re all on a malfunctioning spaceship, attempting to escape from a black hole.  The only way they will survive is to work together.

It’s called a collaborative shouting game for phones and tablets.

Commands whiz across each players’ device, but here’s the tricky part:  their fellow players are the only ones who can carry out those commands.  And, there’s a time crunch since the black hole is pulling at the ship the entire time!

Calibrate the Hypersonic Thrusters to 3!

Each player has to see their own commands, yell out those commands for their fellow players to execute, and also be listening to the other players’ commands that they can execute on their device.

Disengage the Warp Transponders!

As I watched them play, I thought the game looked like a fun way to practice reading, and learn about team work…and have some fun.

Then, they asked me to play.

My first thought was, “I’m not much of a gamer.  I probably have something else I should be doing.”  But, when do I get an opportunity to play a game with my cousins (who range in age from 5 to 11 years old)…especially where they’re teaching me how to play.

Remember to remove the slime!

Did I mention the slime?  As the game progresses, minor problems start to impact your device.  The game controls come unhinged and swing on the screen.  Slime oozes across the controls.  The slime can be cleared by swiping it away, but that distracts from reading your commands.  It also distracts from hearing your teammates’ commands and executing them as quickly as possible.

This game is a lot harder than it looks!  Like most things in life, spectating is much easier than playing.

Set the Flux Beam to 2!

Luckily, my team is strong and capable.  While I’m distracted with slime and repairing my control screen, they’re executing commands flawlessly.  I can hear the patience in their voices as they repeat their commands.  A sense of calm hovers over us amidst the yelling of commands.  We just might make it to HYPERSPACE!

Disengage the Tripolimer Conduits!

Do the commands have any rhyme or reason?  Does it really matter?  This is a crisis!  We don’t have time!  Our survival is at stake!

Sci-fi fans will recognize many of the words, but that won’t help you.  Your ability to quiet your mind, focus on your screen, and listen to your teammates will determine your success.  That and your teammates’ ability to do the same thing.

You win as a team and lose as a team.  Sound familiar?

If one player is weaker than the others, it’s up to the team to deal with it by executing what they can as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Deploy the Solar Sail!

Do you work with and trust others to achieve your goals?

Do you find a sense of calm and confidence when relying on your teammates to perform?

Are you dealing with “slime” in your life as you work to achieve your goals?

Are you called upon to deliver results without enough time, even when things are a little chaotic and difficult?

Do you allow yourself to be lifted-up by your team when you fall short of their expectations?

SpaceTeam will give you practice on all of these questions…and it’s lots of fun!

HYPERSPACE!

How’d we do?  I’m pretty sure I was the weak link.  We made it to HYPERSPACE anyway.  It pays to be on a strong team!  We didn’t get to play a second round because the evil Schedule Monster emerged from the shadows to remind us about the event we were attending.

I look forward to playing again!

 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

 

 

The Joy of Not Being Right

We choose what we say, when we say it, and how we say it.  Each choice has a huge impact on the type of person we become.

Here are some examples and extremes to illustrate (maybe some will sound familiar):

  • “I always say what I’m thinking. I don’t need a filter.  I know I’m right.  I know what’s important.  I know what we should be doing.  If people can’t handle my views, too bad.  They need to toughen up and deal with my honesty.”
  • “I’m worried that my views might offend someone. I don’t do well with conflict.  I like to listen to all sides.  I appreciate everyone’s views and hope they agree with mine.  I’m sure they know more about this than I do.  I wish they’d do this the right way.”
  • “I don’t like it when people come out and ask me, point blank, what I’m thinking about a subject. That puts me on the spot.  It’s not productive to be in such a challenging environment.  I’m not in a position to influence the outcome anyway.”
  • “I need to be less critical of myself. If people could hear what I’m saying to myself about this, they’d be shocked.  I have to filter-out almost everything I’m thinking when I talk, especially at work.  I’d get fired if they knew what I really thought.  I know they won’t listen to my ideas anyway, so why should I speak up?”
  • “Here’s what I’m thinking, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. You’re the only one I trust and those others aren’t to be trusted.  I’ve never liked them.  I usually disagree with them.  They don’t know it, and that’s the way I like it.”
  • “Dude, you have no idea! Jerry is such a mess, he’s got us chasing shiny objects all over the place!  The guy has no clue about what he’s doing.  Why should I help him?  He got himself into this situation, he has to get himself out.  Besides, I knew he’d fail, and this will finally prove it.”
  • “I’ve been thinking this might happen, and now it has. I knew it would.  I hate being right.”

I’ve known each of these people, and truth be told, I’ve probably been some of them at one point or another in my life.

Each “person” assumes that “I’m right on this, and my approach is the right one.”  Not only that, they need to be right and want others to know they’re right (even if they don’t say it).

Why this need to be right?  For some, it’s simply a matter of winning (the argument, the situation, the test of wills, the day, etc.).  For others, it’s a way to calm that internal voice that describes their flaws so accurately.

The theory goes: “If I can be right and have others acknowledge it, maybe that’ll convince my internal voice that I’m not so bad.”  Don’t count on it.

Here’s a challenge:

  • Consciously think about the things you give voice to each day, each week, each year. Think about the amount of time and effort you devote to “being right.”
  • Imagine spending that time focused on doing things that bring true joy instead (like diving into some water).
  • Now that you’ve imagined it, put it into action. Focus on doing those things that bring joy to you and to others.

Being right will find itself whether you worry about it or not.  Enjoy!

 

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

 

Wishing Well

fyh2fbjcnpq-brandi-redd

What’s the first thing you think of when you see a stranger?

How about your competition?

Or, the jerk that just cut you off in his Porsche?

What’s your default setting when it comes to others?

How critical are you?

How many stories have you made up about that stranger—stories that only you hear—based on nothing more than appearance?

It’s easy to be critical.  It’s easy to look for the worst, and even easier to find it.  Defaulting to fear and distrust is the safest play.

What if you defaulted to wishing others well?  Even strangers?

What if the stories you tell in your head give that stranger the benefit of the doubt?

What if you looked for the best, instead of the worst?

What if you had no opinion about that guy who just cut you off?

What would happen if you helped your competitor improve?

Starting with a mindset of wishing well, looking to give instead of take, understanding rather than responding, reveals our best self.

Our best self hides behind walls of criticism, doubt, distrust, fear, and ill will.

Take away its hiding places and get to know your best self…default to wishing well.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Brandi Redd

Spare Me Your Bad PowerPoints

I thought the days of bad PowerPoint presentations were over.  I thought the 100’s (1,000’s?) of articles and posts about avoiding Death by PowerPoint were enough to stop the madness.  I was wrong.

Recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of a steady flow of bad PowerPoints:

  • The 37-slide(!) monstrosity that doesn’t know what it’s trying to say, so it just drones on with countless photos, graphics, and three-letter-acronyms (TLA’s) in a futile attempt to baffle the audience
  • The same 37-slide deck that starts off with three or four slides telling me how I’m an awful human being because I’m a businessman, and then expects me to continue watching the remaining 30-plus slides
  • The 15-slide deck that starts with a quirky animation of the title page, and brings in sound effects on slide four, that have nothing to do with anything…other than showing-off the presenter’s awesome skills with PowerPoint
  • The 10-slide deck that had a series of graphs and charts that might be making a point, but that point is obscured by the blizzard of graphics
  • Slides that have seven bullet points with multiple sentences per bullet point.

I could go on, but I’ve probably lost you already…

Here’s some key points to remember for your PowerPoint presentation, especially if you’re selling me something like an idea, a product, or a service…in other words, anything (in no particular order):

  • Less is more. My attention span is pretty short.  You’ll start losing me by about slide five.  I’m totally checked out by slide seven, and I’m thinking about all the other things I could be doing by slide ten.
  • Slides should have no more than 4-5 bullets, and no more than 4-5 words per bullet. Want more words or bullets?  Put them in the appendix, or give me a one-two-page note that has all the words.  That way I’ll have something I can file with all the other stuff I’m not reading.
  • Statistics, photos and graphics?   I should be able to fully understand their meaning in 10 seconds.  If you get this right, you can make a huge impact.  Get it wrong, and you lost me…maybe for good.
  • Got any slides where you’ll have to show me around for a while to help me understand you and your message? Dump them.  I don’t have the patience for you to show me around your slide.  I should fully understand your slide in 10 seconds.
  • Please know why you’re showing me your presentation. What’s your point?  What do I need to know?  What action should I be taking?  Why?  Get to it quickly.  Think elevator pitch.
  • If we get a conversation going, don’t worry if we don’t get through all the slides you brought. The conversation is the thing, not your presentation.

Pique my interest, and get me asking questions.  Create a conversation, and maybe your presentation will lead us to something great.

Otherwise, I’ve already forgotten what you were presenting and why it mattered.

Discuss or Defend?

Discussing involves active listening.  Curiosity.  Openness.  It requires genuine interest in ideas, even if they contradict your own.

Defending involves taking and holding a position.  Looking for openings to argue against another idea.  Preparing your response, while you should be listening.

Discussing takes time.  Discussing requires courtesy, respect, and patience.  Defending, not so much.

Most discussions we see on TV, or hear on the radio, aren’t discussions at all.  They’re exercises in defending.  Questions and answers are metered out in an attempt to defend one position or another.

It’s often the same in a business setting.

The search for alignment, a conclusion, a decision, or an all-out victory often trumps everything else, including a meaningful exchange of ideas.

How often do you defend, instead of discuss?  Be honest.  We’re just discussing here…no need to get all defensive.

What if you went through an entire day without defending?  Think you could do it?

 

Your Employees Don’t Work for You

The following is an excerpt from my book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

Chapter 3.  Employees Don’t Work for You

Ask employees to list the things they “work for.” I guarantee managers will not be at the top of that list, if they make the list at all. The following is generally what employees are working for:

  • To earn a paycheck
  • To make a living for myself and/or my family
  • To experience the challenge
  • To grow
  • To have fun with my coworkers
  • To create something bigger than myself
  • To be a part of an organization that shares my values

Ironically, if you ask a lot of managers to describe their organizations, they will often tell you how many people they have working for them. Really? How is it that employees are working for a whole list of things other than managers, yet managers list how many people are working for them? How can this basic premise of the relationship between management and employees be so disconnected?

Is it just semantics to say that employees don’t work for their managers; they report to their managers? Quite the contrary. It’s critical for managers to realize that their employees merely report to them. Employees take direction, seek motivation, look for clarity, look for support, and often look for permission or forgiveness from their managers. But they don’t work for their managers.

Great managers actually work for their employees. The managers’ focus should be creating environments where their employees, and by extension, their businesses can be successful. This means that managers are, first and foremost, service providers to their employees. Managers are responsible for ensuring that any obstacles to great performance are removed from their employees’ paths. These obstacles may come from outside the organization, or, as is often the case, the biggest obstacles will come from within.

What are some obstacles to great performance? It can be as simple as the climate control in the office. It may be too cold or too hot for employees to concentrate on their work. Employees may be struggling to get their jobs done with faulty or worn-out tools. How about the work environment that has an employee who disrupts the rest of the team or isn’t pulling his or her weight? All of these are examples of issues managers need to be aware of. Not only that, managers need to take swift action to eliminate these barriers to performance, in service to their employees.

And that’s just it, if managers are paying attention to the needs of their employees, they will be able to move quickly to help their employees succeed. After all, an employee’s success is the key to the organization’s success, and, in turn, the manager’s success.

 

Book_Order_Snap

 

© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Who’s With Me?

Bluto--whos with me

 

Leadership lessons from Bluto (John Belushi), circa 1978…

 

Bluto: Hey! What’s all this laying around s***? 

Stork: What the hell are we supposed to do, ya moron? We’re all expelled. There’s nothing to fight for anymore.

D-Day: [to Bluto] Let it go. War’s over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.

Bluto: What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

Otter: [to Boon] Germans?

Boon: Forget it, he’s rolling.

Bluto: And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough…

[thinks hard of something to say]

Bluto: The tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!

[Bluto runs out, alone…]

Other than not being in the script, why didn’t anyone follow Bluto at this point?

Simple. He didn’t outline the mission, or why it was important. He didn’t engage the early adopters, the risk takers.

He didn’t capture the imagination of any thought leaders in the group. Sure, he conveyed some intense emotion.  He may have even motivated a few of his team members to think a bit, and ignore Stork and D-Day’s surrender. But, take action? Not a chance.

[Bluto returns, looking frustrated…]

Bluto: What the f*** happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Wormer, he’s a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer…

Otter: Dead! Bluto’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!

Bluto: We’re just the guys to do it.

[Boon and D-Day stand up] 

Boon: Let’s do it.

Bluto: [shouting] “Let’s do it”!

[all of the Deltas stand up and run out with Bluto]

How did Bluto turn the tide? He challenged the team to face their fears. He outlined the (crazy) mission, and why it mattered.

Most important…he ignited a thought leader in the group.  Otter took emotional ownership of the crazy mission and vision that Bluto (sort of) outlined.  Otter gave it clarity, and made it safe for everyone to support.

Once Otter (and D-Day and Boon) stand in support of Bluto’s crazy idea, the rest of the team unites. The exact plan isn’t clear, but the thought leaders create the wave of support it needs to launch.   The rest is detail.

All Bluto has to do is add:  “We’re just the guys to do it.”

He doesn’t ask, “Who’s with me?” when he leads the team out the second time.  He already knows, and so does his team.

Who are the thought leaders in your organization?

How do you influence them? How do they influence you?

What are you doing to harness their power?

Who’s with you?  That’s up to you and your thought leaders.

http://youtu.be/q7vtWB4owdE

The Joy of Quiet Listening

The world can be a noisy place. It can also be a quiet place.

Consider a street corner in a busy city. The sounds can be overwhelming. Honking horns, revving engines, the crazy person yelling at the sky, pieces of ten conversations you overhear as people pass by, music from that guy’s headphones that are turned up way too high, the beeping of a delivery truck as it backs into a parking space. And yet, there can be quiet, if your mind allows it.

Family gatherings are loud. I’m blessed to be part of a huge family. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings have forty-plus attendees. At any time, there are two or three kids barreling through, laughing and screaming, a bunch of discussion about how best to prepare and serve the family meal, and a ton of conversations peppered throughout the house. I do my best to add to the noise, but I purposely take time at these gatherings to quiet myself and appreciate the moment. I listen, and enjoy.

It can be the same on a trail run. The sounds of birds chirping, the crunch of the ground, the rustle in the leaves as a critter runs away, the wind whistling through the trees, the buzz of a rattlesnake I just startled (it’s as if a big rattlesnake alarm clock went off this week, alerting all rattlers to wake from hibernation), the music in my Pandora feed (Beach Boys, lately). I stopped running with ear buds long ago, simply so I can hear more of the trail. I still have some music playing, but, it’s in the background. The sounds of the trail, and my own rambling thoughts are what I hear the most on a run.

Consider the last meeting you attended. How many people were in the meeting? Were there side conversations? Was anyone checking their phone or laptop during the meeting? Were real, meaningful, and actionable ideas discussed? Were you the one checking your phone? Were you listening, or merely thinking about your next response? Was anyone listening? Who was the quietest person in the meeting? What did they think? Did you take the time to find out?

Meaningless noise can creep into just about any environment, whether it’s measurable on a decibel meter or not. Meaningful quiet can enter any environment, no matter how much noise there is.

You control the quiet.  You control your listening.

Embrace your silence, and enjoy the power of quiet listening…maybe for the first time.

Blindness and Elephants

elephant

The story of the blind men and the elephant originated in India.  It then spread across the world and through history in various versions.  Here’s the main story line:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”  They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.”

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man, who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! It’s like a rope,” said the second man, who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! It’s like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man, who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It’s like a big hand fan” said the fourth man, who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It’s like a huge wall,” said the fifth man, who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It’s like a solid pipe,” said the sixth man, who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and each of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated.  A wise man was passing by and saw this.  He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?”

They said, “We cannot agree what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.

The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is that each of you touched a different part of the elephant.”

What part of the elephant are you holding onto?

Are you willing to listen to the way others describe the elephant?

Are you aware of your blindness?