Productive conflict

Missing the Boat on Leadership Skills

16 May
by Bridget DiCello

When you promote your best performer to a leadership position:

  1. Good things happen if they have been ready for the next challenge and maybe even a  little bored or burned out by the routine work they are so good at doing
  2. Bad things happen if they love the work they have been doing and you just added much work (the management) they do not like
  3. Negative repercussions occur when they have no desire to coordinate and lead the efforts of others and/or have no leadership experience, inherent skills or desire to work directly with employees
  4. The biggest challenges occur in the form of company stagnation and mediocrity when they do not possess the inner desire to develop other people and access their potential

Here are some skills that are very often missing as you promote or hire someone to management that you may need to purposefully work to develop:

  1. Communicate expectations effectively.  A manager must clearly formulate their expectations, and verbalize them in a way that makes sense to the employee.  The employee needs to be paying attention, and verbalize back what they have heard.  A head nod means the expectations may not even have made it to their ears, much less their brain to process, voice concerns and in the end – agree to do their best.
  2. Accountability – You can’t hold people accountable to what they didn’t agree to.  You must find a way to measure what you hope to hold people accountable for.  And then you must have the tough, but effective conversations when expectations are not met.
  3. Delegation – In order to effectively delegate, the manager must transfer ownership of the task.  This requires setting the expectation (see above), obtaining genuine agreement from the employee, setting a timetable and following up (see accountability).
  4. Engage in productive conflict –  ‘“Yes” employees’ appear agreeable, yet don’t produce.  Silent employees hope you will go away so they can continue doing things as they always have.  Strong, solid performers honestly believe they know better.  Quiet, undiscovered employees require conversations that push them, and probably the manager, outside their comfort zone.
  5. Setting goals – Managers are often good at accepting the goals set for them.  However, it is never as powerful to work towards something you feel you must do to keep your job than it is to engage the manager in conversation about their goals for their department or area, match those with the company goals, and include goals to help them professionally develop.  And, write them down.  What do your managers see as possibilities in their department?
  6. Project completion – Getting from where you are to where you want to be cannot be accomplished simply by working really hard and wanting to get there.  Ambitious goals require a plan that takes into account where we want to be in three months, and counting back to what we need to do each of the three months, this week and today; and do that daily.
  7. Coaching team members – probably the critical skill most often lacking – but assumed to exist in charismatic and inspirational leaders.  Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to connect with them, assist them to engage in their professional development, and to be able to discover their potential and accomplish more that they or you thought they could.

What professional development do your managers need from you?

When the Conversation is Not over…

16 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Hey!  Has anyone ever wrapped up a conversation you were not done having?  Have you felt like you were making progress in a discussion only to have the person to whom you were speaking decide the results were good enough and leave?

Results.  A good conversation has great results.  However, you cannot stay in a conversation forever, waiting for those great results to happen.  People wear out.  Some people will talk forever and never get to a solution.  Others will talk for a minute or two and be done discussing a situation.

Personalities.  Depending on which of those descriptions more accurately represents you, you might find yourself either ending a conversation when the person with whom you are speaking is not done, or needing a longer conversation than the other person is willing to tolerate.

If either person in a conversation is not done, that need must be identified and acted upon in order to bring about the long term results that you want.

What to do?

It’s okay to wrap up the conversation if time is up, either person needs to go, or one person is done.

It’s not okay to ignore someone’s need to continue the conversation at a later time.

It is a good idea to take a break if one person needs it, and acknowledge you are doing so in order to ensure productive use of everyone’s time.

It is not a good idea to leave without some type of summary.

It is a good idea to determine next steps for each meeting participant.

First, ensure you start the conversation with a clear goal in mind.  That goal can be referenced to keep the conversation on track, identify next steps, and if needed, determine the need, and the agenda, for a follow up meeting.

Then, when there is either 10% of the meeting left or when one person gets fidgety, start to summarize what has been accomplished, identify any unmet needs and schedule a follow up meeting if needed at a future date.  The steps each person will take before the next meeting, and the agenda for the follow up meeting should both be clearly identified, committed to and agreed upon.

Simply escaping a conversation does not mean it has finished, and could cost you a lot more time in the long run.

Turning “Yeah, buts…” into “A-ha’s!”

26 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

Does it drive you crazy when you have a good idea, an original approach or a unique solution and the first thing someone can say is, “Yeah, but…”?  It’s time to eliminate those words and turn them into “Yes, and…”

Before we jump ahead, those who routinely offer the, “Yeah, but…” are probably the individuals who ground those of us with wild, crazy and risky ideas.  So, it can be a good balance.  And their caution may be for good reason and may bring up a valid point of view.

First, open your mind to listen to the objection and ask a clarifying question or two.   They say, “Yeah, but what happens when the customer says no?”  You might respond, “Let’s look at that for a moment.  Which customers do you think would most likely respond that way?” and “What is it, do you think, that would make them feel that way?”

Then, address the elephant.  The elephant is the problem or roadblock that is preventing the conversation from continuing in a positive direction in order to explore possibilities.  “I hear your concern, and it’s good to hear why you feel that way.  Now, I’d like to continue exploring my idea a bit more.  Let’s start by looking at the benefits of what’s been suggested.”

Too often, a “Yeah, but…” ends productive discussion because the person who brought up the idea feels shot down, may not continue and may get defensive.  The “Yeah, but…” team member who brought up the objection gets defensive in return.  They get stuck defending themselves because they haven’t been given any credibility and have not been able to explore their concern at all.

When the clarifying questions are asked, the elephant addressed and the original idea explored, both people are more open to the discussion and good things happen.  With both team members engaged in productive conversation, you’re on your way to an “A-ha!”  such as, “A-ha!  I’ve never thought of it that way!  The idea may only apply to the top 20% of our customers, but those are the ones who we’d like to duplicate.  My concern was valid that we’d lose some customers, but if we lose some of the bottom 15%, that may be worth the trade off!  I’m glad we had this discussion.  Let’s do it!”

Getting People Engaged

23 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Engaged people are those who are interested enough to do something.  Engagement means movement.  Action.

What makes people act?  A desire to act usually comes from a desire to reach something greater than where they are either because of discomfort with the current situation or a vision of what’s possible beyond the current reality.

What does that mean for you in trying to get team members, peers, associates, and employees engaged?  Create an Invitation and find Common Ground.

Create an Invitation:  I’ve heard it often said that people will act because someone asked them to.  Will you help someone who asks?  Will you get involved because someone you trust invites you to?  Will you respond when someone explains what they need you to do?

Too often, people may not get engaged in a process, in planning, in executing and in implementing because it is easier not to.  Easier not to put themselves out on a limb, extend beyond their level of confidence, assume their help or involvement is not needed or assume what they are currently doing is enough.  If you see possibility beyond where your team is currently operating, invite others to see what you see, and ask them for their specific participation.

“You’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.  I appreciate all you’ve done.   I can’t help thinking that we could make it even better if we…  Will you help me by …?”

Find Common Ground:  People act because there is something in it for them.  I don’t mean people are self-centered and selfish.  I mean that each of us operates from our own point of view and when something is exciting, important and valuable to us, we tend to get involved.

Have you ever learned something new or gained more in depth knowledge about a cause, a problem or a challenge, and then decided to get (more) involved?

Finding Common Ground requires that we have a conversation with whomever we are trying to get more engaged.  It means we share some of our passion, and let them respond and determine for themselves what it is they are excited about.  There are often many facets of a project, problem or situation and the specific reason we get excited may not be the same as another person, and yet we both can become avid workers towards the end goal.

“I was thinking about the reason we started working on this project and how exciting it will be when we achieve the goal of…  What is it that you are most excited about?”

Who on your team needs to be more engaged?  Who do you wish would be of more help to you in what you are trying to accomplish?  Have you issued the Invitation and do they see the Common Ground?

You Can Talk, but Can You Communicate?

24 May
by Bridget DiCello

Eloquent.  Intelligent.  Clever.  Articulate.  It’s a pleasure to listen to a well-spoken person.

Communicating, as opposed to speaking, requires that a message is sent and that a message is received.  Do you ever feel like you are just not getting through to someone?  You may try to rephrase what you are saying, say it again or remove distractions.  All these tactics work on the speaking end, but fail to take into account that in order for the message to be received the person on the receiving end must be ready, willing and able to be communicated to.

The ability to hear and understand is often the easiest to ensure – is the person intelligent, educated on the topic and experienced in the area being discussed?  It is the “ready and willing” that can be missing.  Are they worried, upset, offended, personally distracted, colored by their experiences, their successes, their failures, and their interactions with you that have gone well or badly in the past?

You communicate with a variety of people on a variety of topics every day.  However, I would guess that there are a few key interactions that are most important.  Maybe you:

-          are trying to ease tension between two team members

-          are working with a particular employee in whom you see great potential

-          are developing leadership skills within your middle managers

-          are trying to decrease turnover in your sales team or front line employees

-          wish to access the creative potential of all your employees to improve your bottom line results through increased efficiency or new product development

-          desire to improve the customer service offered by your organization

These are the situations where you may wish to spend a bit more time evaluating your effectiveness in communicating:

  1. Is your message clear?  Are you sure what you wish to accomplish?  Have you outlined it to the extent that someone else can grasp your full message?
  2. Are you communicating to the right people?  Are they able to lend their expertise, assistance or suggestions in this area?  Are you leaving anyone critical out?
  3. Are they ready and willing to listen and respond?  Where are they coming from?  What is important to them?  How do they see the situation?  What is on their mind right now?

To get your message across the best thing you can do is get the other person talking about it.

  1. What questions can you ask to get them involved in conversation so you can listen to how they view the situation, the options and possible solutions?
  2. How is this communication making them feel?  Worried?  Inadequate?   Overconfident?  Overall, are the two of you communicating or are you talking to a wall?

You can do a lot of talking and very little communicating if you aren’t speaking, asking questions and listening purposefully.  Who is it that you find it most difficult to get through to?

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

27 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

“I can teach people skills. I can’t teach them how to play in the sandbox.”

–Caryl M. Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, as quoted by The New York Times

Yes you can! This mindset that is voiced by Ms. Stern is a common way of thinking for many managers and leaders.  However, I am living proof that you can learn these skills as a valedictorian in high school and college who thought the world revolved around book knowledge.  Needless to say you would not have described me as one who knew how to play in the sandbox when I entered the workforce.  Without the mentoring of several important figures in my life, I would have continued to reach a certain level of success because of my competence, but would have been limited in the area of bringing out the best in myself and in others.

The fact is that playing well in the sandbox requires a set of skills just like any other job task.  However, they tend to be a set of skills that many managers and leaders do not have themselves, so they find it very difficult to teach others.

Here are just a few of the skills that are essential to “play nice in the sandbox” that are not inherent in everyone’s personality, but can be taught:

§ Building self awareness – Most individuals do not have a high degree of awareness of why they act and react the way they do, especially to the point where they can change their reaction as necessary.

§ Identifying common goals – Focusing more on daily tasks, many people never take the time to identify goals, much less what goals are universal to their team or organization, and how each person’s contribution is essential.

§ Earning trust – There are a variety of ways people describe trustworthy behaviors.  One of the most common is that people Do What They Say They will Do.  Try this:  in a group of 10 people, ask them for a definition of that phrase, you will get a huge variety of responses.

§    Communicating effectively – Talking to one another is something that seems like it should be really simple, but based on the enormous volume of resources available on the topic, skills such as listening are on the forefront of what people need to learn more about how to do well.

§    Engaging in productive conflict – Rarely more than 5% of the room ever responds that they enjoy conflict when I ask the question.  Yet so much productive conversation, innovative thinking and utilization of creative and unique approaches are never seized without a productive discussion that may stem from or be full of conflict.

§ Interacting with those very different from you – Not only do many individuals not have a firm grasp on their own style and how they come across, but seeing the strengths and benefits of others’ approach is challenging to do without some good tools in your toolbelt.

§    Increasing confidence by improving one’s own performance – There is only so much that we can improve without continually asking and challenging ourselves with what we will do differently.  Consistently doing a great job often feels like enough to us, since our lives are so busy or stressful, and is considered enough by our supervisors who may not wish to challenge us or rock the boat if we are doing a good job already.  Without incremental and continuous success and improvements the confidence of any member of the team can erode, which may result in increased defensiveness.

Share your insights!  Agree or Disagree.  What other skills have you learned that make you a better sandbox member than you were years ago?  What skills have you taught your team that make them easier to get along with – resulting in better business results?