Honest conversations

As a leader-manager, you no doubt want to be open and honest with your team members. Here are some conversation starters.

Especially with new team members, contractors or temporary workers, and with team members whose performance is merely average, explain how you measure the success of their performance. What do they need to achieve? Which tasks are so important, and why, that they need to double check they’ve done them well? What specifically differentiates a star performer from a good performer in your eyes?

Make sure your criteria are measurable, time-gramed, achievable yet challenging and related to the department’s or organisation’s success measures. And make sure the job holder can easily track their success themselves — it’s silly to make people rely on you to tell them whether they’re doing a good job.

Have a frank discussion about the challenges the employee faces in their role. Maybe it’s interdepartmental politics or very tight budget constraints. Discuss how the employee can best deal with them and how you can help the employee work with them. Maybe it’s poorly organised work procedures. How can you streamline them or reduce backtracking and extra work? Maybe it’s lots of interruptions. What causes them? Can you remove or reduce them? It’s these sorts of issues that annoy and demotivate people, devalue their job and diminish their performance. Don’t let that happen.

Find out what the employee needs to be really happy in their work and from you, their leader-manager. Do they appreciate lots of feedback? Consultation? Cordial relationships with their teammates? Flexibility? A stable working environment Do what you can to provide it.

Explain what you most value about the employee and their performance. I once had a boss that found me positive, enthusiastic and smart. But I didn’t find that out until many years later. Shame; perhaps if he’d told me, I’d have stuck around longer!

Discuss how you see the employee’s future and how their job might change. Find out how they see their future and how they would like their job to change. Help them work out what they can do to prepare for the future so they can look forward to it and welcome it. (Remember, we’re talking about honest conversations, so no false hopes and no false timelines.)

People appreciate knowing where they stand. Do your team members know where they stand with you?

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Leading and managing people older than yourself

Are any of your direct reports older than yourself? Chances are high, and getting higher, that this is the case.
 
A study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior examined the emotions experienced by 8000 employees in 61 German companies in a range of industries. About 25% of those surveyed worked for a manager younger than themselves.
 
Here’s the bad news: Employees managed by a younger person experienced more resentment-based negative emotions than employees whose managers were older than themselves. And those negative emotions, according to the study, resulted in lowered performance across the entire organisation. The researchers hypothesise that those negative emotions drain the enthusiasm from their colleagues, too.
 
The reason isn’t surprising, I suppose. Many people calibrate their ‘career success’ against their peers and can feel diminished when those their age bounce past them on the ‘career ladder’. Those younger than you overtaking would be a double whammy.
 
Going back to the bad old days of promoting on seniority rather than merit isn’t the answer, of course. Guarding against resentment and lowered performance in your work team when some of them are younger than you is. A dose of empathy and allowing older employees to share their insights and experience are two good places to begin.

Why don’t they LISTEN?!

Towards the end of last year, a leader-manager, let’s call him Stanley, complained that however many times he gave an instruction and whatever format he put it in, no one paid any attention.

He was doing two things right: repetition and using multiple channels. Both help a message sink and and stay there. So what was he doing wrong?

We chatted for a while and four important elements of communication seemed to be missing from many of his messages.

  1. He didn’t give people a reason to listen – the tried and true WIFM, What’s In it For Me?
  2. He worded his messages in a way that meant something to him, but sadly, didn’t resonate with most of his team members.

     

  3. He focused more on problems and what was wrong than on solutions.
  4. His messages came across as orders rather than suggestions or helpful information.

The fact that Stanley is ‘old school’ and most of his team members were born in the 1980s and later didn’t help.

Stanley decided to make a belated New Year’s Resolution. He drew up the following checklist and committed to reviewing his important messages against it before speaking or putting them in writing.

___ Have I provided a reason to listen?

___ Have I used language and examples that my team can relate to?

___ Is my message positive?

___ Is my message helpful?

Quick, easy and powerful. Does it work? I caught up with Stanley the other day, and he says it does!

How to spot a lie

The other day, a leader-manager mentioned that she thought one of her direct reports was either mendacious or a dissembler. That’s a polite way of saying she thought her report often evaded the truth. Lied, in fact, if you want to call a digging implement a spade. So we had a chat about how to tell whether someone is being truthful. Or not.

One of the best clues, and one that crosses many cultures, is raising your hand to your nose or scratching your nose. Nose tissues engorge, or swell up, when you tell a lie. When this happens, your nose releases histamine, which in turn causes it to itch. This is such a common indicator of lying that it has a name: the ‘Pinocchio Sign’.

Licking your lips, swallowing a lot, not blinking very much, and turning your head or body away when uttering an untruth are other physical cues signalling mendacity. Covering or blocking your mouth and covering or rubbing your eyes can also signal a falsehood. An insincere smile, the kind when your eyes don’t crinkle up, or that you hold for too long or don’t hold long enough are give-aways, too, as is a lopsided smile.

But beware: there are behaviours we often associate with lying that we shouldn’t, particularly crossing your arms, sweating and sweaty palms, increased heart rate or blood pressure, umming and ahhing, rapid blinking and laughing. That’s because these can just as easily result from habit or from feeling intimidated or under pressure as from not telling the truth.

Looking away or looking down are other poor indicators of lying, because while some people might do this because they feel guilty about the lie, other liars make a point of looking you in the eye as they lie in order to look more honest. Fidgeting isn’t a reliable indicator, either. Poor liars often fidget, rub their hands together and so on, or they may control their movements to the point of stiffness. Practiced liars, on the other hand, can control their eye movements and gestures so they don’t give them away.

Lower body movements, now they’re a different story. They’re under the radar of most people, so watch these when you suspect a porky. Look for jiggling legs or shifting feet.

That’s the body language of mendaciousness. The verbal cues are often even more telling. For instance, using a lot of verbal qualifiers or modifiers, beating around the bush, not providing much detail – just the broad brush and digressing a lot are all markers of porkies. So are giving an unnecessarily long explanation and its opposite, giving a short answer to a direct question.

Another give-away is expanding your contractions, as in ‘I did not’ rather than ‘I didn’t’. Stuttering when you don’t normally trip over your words and clearing your throat are also linked with lying. Pausing before a lie and speaking it more slowly are often give-aways, too, because lying takes more thought than telling the truth, and slows you down.

Calling on God can indicate deceit, too: ‘I swear on my mother’s grave …’; ‘May God strike me dead …’; ‘As God is my witness …’; ‘God, no! I never!’ Similarly, calling on the truth often indicates a lie: ‘To be perfectly honest, …’; ‘Truly, .l..’; ‘Trust me, …’; Frankly’, …’, especially when repeated unnecessarily.

Along the same lines is claiming the negative, not the positive: ‘I am not a crook’ rather than ‘I’m honest’. Disclaimers can indicate dishonesty, too: ‘You won’t believe this, but …’; ‘This is going to sound odd but …’.

Accomplished liars are good at masking any nervousness about being sprung or any guilt about telling a whopper. Turning your head away to hide those emotions is a bit obvious, but pasting on a straight face, a positive emotion or a smile can hide nerves or guilt. A straight face is the easiest – just relax your face. A smile is potentially the most effective because, done right, it makes you look happy and relaxed, not nervous. But it’s got to be a good smile, not an obviously-faked smile, discussed above.

 

 

 

 

The six worst things a boss can do

I think most leader-managers know what they’re supposed to do, at least in theory, but sometimes reality gets in the way. It’s easy to succumb and take the occasional shortcut and before you know it, the ‘easy option’ has become the default. Soon, you don’t even realise that what you’re doing is actually harming your team’s morale or it’s productivity.

So here is my list of the six worst things you can do when you’re a boss — usually unintentionally.

  1. Break your promises. What quicker way is there to lose peoples’ trust and confidence? When you agree to do something or say something will happen (‘Thanks for spending the weekend doing that; I’ll see you get some time off in lieu’) honour your commitment. Write it down if you have to so you don’t forget.
  2. Settle for second best. Close enough can be good enough when a task is of minor importance or adds minuscule value, but most of the time, ‘She’ll be right’ just means ‘I can’t be bothered to do it properly’. Don accept mediocre when you know you or someone who works for you is capable of better.
  3. Treat all your team members like the same cardboard cutout, regardless of their age, background, culture, home responsibilities, interests and working styles. That can never bring out peoples’ best work. Everyone has their own set of expectations and needs from work and different ways of saying ‘Thank you’ delight different people. Tailor your assignments, coaching, perks and thank you’s to individuals to ‘light that fire within’. That means not treating people as you want to be treated but treating people as they want to be treated. Easy to forget but best remembered.
  4. Just give someone a job to do and let them get on with it without explaining why it’s important and how it fits into the ‘bigger picture’ of the team’s work or organisation’s goals. Nope. Most people want to be part of something bigger and make a worthwhile contribution to it. Explain the bigger picture to light the fire within.
  5. Hide your mistakes; when that doesn’t work, blame someone else; when that doesn’t work, blame events beyond your control. Step up. Fix it up.
  6. Sit back, relax, breathe a sigh of relief and put your feet up, especially when things seem to be going well. Big mistake. Chill out, yes, but when you’ve finished that cuppa, get back to work! Now is the time to get on with important but not urgent duties, like planning and looking for ways to improve ways of working, removing bottlenecks, improving your storage space — whatever. What in your job, your team members’s jobs, your team’s processes, your learning and development and that of your team, for instance, can you improve, however incrementally? What can you do easier, better, faster, more economically, more reliably, more safely or more sustainably? When your team has hit a milestone or met their goals, spend some time recognising their hard work and take a bit of time to celebrate with them.

So there you have it. Easy-to-make leadership blunders but fortunately, also fairly easy to avoid.

What! You don’t agree with me?

When you see a discussion as an argument, that’s likely what you’ll have. Seeing it as a competition doesn’t get you very far, either – you’ll hold fast to your opinion and end up ignoring what the other person believes or wants.

The next time you sense a conflict or disagreement approaching, shift your thinking from ‘argument’ to ‘agreement’. How can we best reach agreement on this? How can we come to a shared understanding? What can I learn from this different perspective? What can I do so that we can work this out? That mindset opens the way to a productive conversation.

Once you’ve adjusted your mindset, set your sights on something you both want. That way, you’re not arguing but figuring out how to reach a shared goal. You’re not focusing on what’s coming between you — you’re on the same side. Sit next to, not opposite, the other person so you’re literally on the same side, too. And use the word ‘we’ a lot to show you’re in this together.

Effective communication begins inside, with your mindsets.

Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.