Victimhood: How to Turn It Around and Take the Lead

Earlier this week I opened a new Facebook page and set up a new website. “What, another one?” I can hear my friends say as they read that sentence. Yep I did. But it had nothing to do with business. The page is Facebook.com/WildfireSurvivors and the site is WildfireSurvivors.com.
WildfireFlamesSmall
You see, it’s been three years since our wildfire – the one where two people died, over 14,000 acres burned and 509 homes were destroyed, including mine. And during those three years, it took time for some of us to stop thinking of ourselves as victims.

Have you been through your own personal “wildfire?” If so, then tell me if this is true for you:

Phase I: We tell our story because it’s a very big event in our lives. At first, it’s all about trying to cope with the trauma. Then, we relive the experience in some way each day because we’re trying to manage the “mop up” details – all the things that need to be done after the fact. For a while, our whole world revolves around the event. It’s the “gift” that keeps on giving. Every day there’s a new issue to deal with, another memory to face, one more decision to make, grief that shows up in varying ways.

Phase 2: You start to feel uncomfortable when people talk about it because you know others who are much worse off. You’re still slogging through the situation, but now you may feel a little guilt. You may not feel like you deserve the good things, the kind things, that are coming your way. People are bending over backwards for you, but in a way, it’s keeping you stuck in a role you’d like to be rid of.

Phase 3: You’ve learned a lot by going through this “adventure”. You’d like to put it to work in a constructive way, so others need not go through the frustration you faced. But perhaps your first attempts to be of service are awkward – it feels like it’s all about you. People may say to put it behind you and move on. You tell yourself, “I can’t let this define me.” After all, you’ve got other responsibilities to handle and you’re not the only one who’s been through something like this.

Phase 4: Then, a lightbulb goes on. Something channels that energy in a different direction and it’s now easier to see how to turn the “lemon” into proverbial lemonade. Your ideas may become a cause – a worthy endeavor others relate to and want to get behind. You’ve found a way to leverage the lessons learned into a tool people can use to make things better.

Now, it does define you – but in a whole new way. A healthier way. And you couldn’t have gotten there by going from zero to sixty all at once. The process was necessary. Only because of that process can you apply insights you earned to have an impact on those who come next.

And that’s how WildfireSurvivors.com was born!

So whatever you went through, whatever you faced, it may be time to turn it around and take the lead!

Warning! Outspoken Woman Ahead

So I went and did it. I spent $30 to have a banner made, which I hung between two trees at the front of our property, on a main road, for all the world to see. Have you ever felt so strongly about something that you were willing to make a fool of yourself?

Confident Woman, Confident Leader

Yes, I could have been the person who kept my mouth shut. After all, much of my work comes from organizations that prefer people avoid picking sides in public.

But, it’s a risk I was willing to take.

Colorado Care Amendment 69

Some things are THAT important. (Colorado folks, read about A69 here. And yup, poor choice picking that number.)

FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU SPEAK UP

There are lots of pros and cons when deciding whether to speak up or play it safe. I believe I’ve pondered them all, including the following:

1. There is a time and place for everything. You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed (fill in the blank.)” And I’m sure you’ve known people who are so enthusiastic about their latest cause, lifestyle or product that you hide when you see ‘em comin’. So think carefully about when, where and under what circumstances you’ll get the best reception for your message.

2. You may lose friends. It’s sad when people who have known you forever will break off a friendship over one issue, but it does happen. (Have you discussed politics on Facebook lately?) Relationships we have spent years or decades building should not be put at risk because of a difference of opinion. Nobody can agree 100 percent of the time and it takes two to tango, so try to be the person who maintains the friendship. You can have both.

3. People are fragile. They may have experienced trauma, so they feel vulnerable and fearful. They can only take so much controversy or upset in their lives at this point. This is especially true for folks who struggle with depression and anxiety. They are the best judge of how much they can handle. Respect their wishes, no matter how important your issue might seem.

4. Show them they’re not alone. It’s amazing what happens when you freely admit you’ve struggled with something – a health issue, a moral quandary, significant loss, doubts or indecision, etc. People who have experienced something similar will be SO relieved they’re not the only ones! You may give them courage by sharing your story. They will be thankful someone finally said what they’ve been thinking (or experiencing) all along.

5. Pick your battles. (You’ve heard this before.) We don’t have to weigh in on every issue. Figure out what’s worth “going to the mat” for and let someone else take the lead on other issues.

6. Become informed. There are so many GOOD sources for information available these days. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by spin doctors, and I think you know who they are. Dig deeper. Listen to folks you respect, who have a head on their shoulders. Too many people buy into the drama and disregard the backstory. Look at the bigger picture. Remember that history does tend to repeat itself.

7. Give them time. People who are naturally more skeptical or cautious may need time to digest your information. They are good poker players and won’t divulge their opinion right away, while others will light up immediately like a neon sign. Be satisfied you’ve planted a seed.

8. Be transparent – it’s refreshing. Jerri Marr, forest supervisor and face of Colorado’s 2012 Waldo Canyon Wildfire communication efforts said, “The words ‘I don’t know’ will set you free” as she spoke about leading through crisis. People are hungering for someone to be straight with them – who will tell them the truth without a hidden agenda. They may not agree with you, but they sure will respect you.

In summary: I believe that when we step forward and speak up, we hope it will count for something. Someone’s life will be better off. A problem will be solved. But if not, at least you build skills that may be useful in the future. And ya never know, you may inspire someone to become more of a leader than they’d ever imagined, just because they saw you in action! 

Independent Thought Alarm and Principle of Legitimacy in Leadership and Governance

People aren’t complicated. Human nature is fairly predictable. And we don’t need a plethora of rules and regulations to define every possible way a person might step out of line. Typically, we can boil it all down to the basics – a few simple things most people want and deserve.

Governance and Leadership Independent Thought and Principle of Legitimacy

[Read more…]

27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Manager

You know those annual surveys consultants and HR folks send out every year or so? They’re designed to chart the state of morale, levels of engagement and satisfaction with leadership. After the surveys are completed, I’ve been asked to confidentially interview employees to get more specifics about their concerns. You won’t believe what they’ve said!

Employee feedback

(Image by my brother the artist and photographer: EricSchickler.com)

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

  1. We watch you when you arrive in the morning to see what kind of mood you’re in.
  2. A smile, a hello and a few minutes to see how I’m doing would mean a lot.
  3. I’d like regular feedback about my performance, delivered somewhere other than the parking lot, the hallway, the bathroom or on your way to a meeting.
  4. When you go out on leave (maternity, disability, etc.) check in with us once in a while so we know you haven’t forgotten us.
  5. We listen to the way you talk about your peers.
  6. Your meetings are too long and little gets done. Give us an agenda, stick to it, address people who monopolize the discussion and end with actionable items of who’s going to do what by when.
  7. Please deal with the person who is disruptive, disrespectful and a slacker. The longer it takes you to handle that situation, the less confidence we have in you.
  8. Ask for my opinion once in a while. You’d be surprised what I know.
  9. Flexibility with my schedule, especially for family activities, is one of the best things you can do for me.
  10. Training will make us better at our jobs. Please give us some.
  11. We love it when you stick up for us.
  12. We’d ask more of our friends to apply for work here if they were treated better during the application process.
  13. It would be nice if someone got to know me as a person.
  14. You make us crazy when you change the rules without telling us.
  15. Posting a policy on the bulletin board is not enough communication.
  16. Yes, you ARE asking too much when you hold meetings at 5pm on Friday.
  17. Since you now hold meetings at lunchtime, even the 15 minutes I used to have with a sandwich at my desk is gone. And you wonder why “engagement” is only at 30%.
  18. Internal transfer requests should count as turnover and retention bonuses should reflect it.
  19. Don’t ask me to come to you with solutions. I’m not a whiner. I should be able to tell you about something that’s going on without the pressure of having to solve every problem.
  20. It’s okay to say you don’t know. I’d rather you be straight with me.
  21. You don’t have to try and be our friend, but it would be great if you could be friendly.
  22. We watch how you treat our vendors. Aren’t they customers too?
  23. I’d like to tell you I’m too busy to take on one more thing, but I’m afraid how you’ll react.
  24. I’m tired of them telling me I have to be more “strategic” and never explaining exactly what that means and how to do it.
  25. Want to make our day a little better? Surprise us now and then with something small: a shorter meeting, a thank you, smoothies in the foyer, a clean refrigerator, etc.
  26. It’s time to tell the lady with the low cut blouse and the guy with the racy calendar to clean up their act.
  27. We could cut out 50% of our emails and get a lot more done. We don’t need a class to teach us how to manage the email volume we have. We need standards and practices to eliminate the unnecessary and CYA messaging.

HOW TO GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Nobody wants to burn a bridge when they leave an organization, so exit interviews don’t get to the heart of the matter. People who speak up are labeled “not a team player” so they learn it’s not worth it to voice their concerns. And leadership books that tout 7 Steps to XYZ ignore the granular issues people struggle with on a daily basis.

I’ve heard more supervisors say, “If I ask them to tell me what’s bugging them, I’ll get a laundry list of things I can’t change or they’ll ask for perks we don’t have money for.”

So our managers don’t ask or cut short the discussion when it starts to feel like a gripe session. They think it’ll open up Pandora’s Box. They think there will be a price they can’t afford to pay to even listen.

But those conversations will still take place – just out of earshot. The feelings and frustrations will still be there. And you’ll wonder why productivity is suffering.

It’s a heart problem, not a systems or process issue.

So if you really want to have an impact, make it a better place to work and get honest feedback, here are four steps you can take:

1. Hold a regular weekly meeting. Allow time (and permission) for people to speak up, ask questions and raise issues about things that are bugging them. If you can’t give them an answer right then, go find out and get it to them before or at the next gathering. Just the fact that you encourage open discussion will let a little steam out of the pressure cooker.  Listening is half the battle. If people won’t talk, don’t lose heart. Try it again the following week. Be sure to thank those who do speak up and for goodness sakes, don’t dismiss their concerns or laugh at them.

2. Instead of a Suggestion Box, create a Question Box. People can anonymously pose their questions and you can answer them at your meeting, in your newsletter, via email, or all of the above. Asking them to provide solutions can squelch feedback. It’s much easier for people to ask a question.

3. Use a Pain Scale to rate key aspects of your workplace. Take the pulse of your organization by asking, on a scale from 1-10, where they’d rank communication, trust, confidence in their supervisor, freedom to express themselves, time-wasting practices, how difficult or easy it is to get their work done, their stress level, etc. It’s often easier for people to put a number to something than explain themselves using words.

4. Have the Strengths Interview conversation as recommended in First, Break All the Rules by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. If you start the work relationship by showing your employee you take an interest in them, they will be more likely to trust you and give you honest feedback. You can also create an anonymous survey based on the 12 Critical Questions that define a good workplace.

I VALUE YOUR FEEDBACK TOO    

In the weeks ahead, I’ll write more articles about issues people struggle with, whether you’re a supervisor, manager, business owner or frontline employee. Don’t be shy. Anything you email me will be held in confidence. Is there something you’d like to get off your chest? I’ll compile and feature key concerns and comments, anonymously of course. Don’t rely on me to make this stuff up. Give me something to work with! 

Articles in the weeks ahead:

  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Employees
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Customers
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Co-workers

Let’s see if we can’t shake things up a little and make the world a better place in the process!

P.S. Share this post, please.

10 Things Top Communicators Do Differently – and you can too

Great communicators aren’t defined by whether they’re extroverts. They don’t have to have the gift of gab and be able to keep a non-stop patter going. But they do have one thing in common – they put effort into improving their interpersonal skills. It is important to them to build and maintain positive, constructive relationships and they do that through a focus on communication.

top 10 things good communicators do differently

The top 10 skills good communicators develop also include:

1. They are aspirational. They understand that what people need most is to be heard, appreciated and encouraged. Everything that comes out of their mouth or shows up in print is designed to make things better rather than tear events or people down. Since readers and listeners respond well to upbeat, optimistic news, they strive to focus on the good things as much as possible.

2. They ask questions. Too often, we believe people are stronger and more competent when they are directive, assertive and commanding in tone. But that can get old. The best communicators know how to strike a balance and ask more than they tell. Questions draw people out. They generate more and better information. And some studies show that leaders only get a small fraction of the information they need to effectively do their jobs.

3. They are sincerely interested in others. How do you take a sincere interest in others? (For some people this does not come naturally.) Back to #2 – you ask questions. You also make a point to remember key components of the person’s life, like what they do for a living, how many kids they have, whether they found a new place to live, etc. And you take the time to have a personal conversation with them now and then. We are usually “oh-so-busy” worrying about getting our own needs met that we often overlook the fact that we’re dealing with another human being. They deserve our attention too.

4. They avoid million dollar words. Nobody likes to feel dumb. So when we say “utilize” versus “use” or “compensate” versus “pay” we may think we’re flexing our language muscle. But we can come across like we’re putting on a show: Pretentious Language-itis. Let’s make communication easier for others. The fewer barriers we build, the smoother the process will go for everyone. 

5. They have a purpose. Good communicators have a goal for each interaction. It may be subtle, but it’s still there. The goal could be to make the other person feel more comfortable, understood or supported. The purpose might be to reach an agreement, make a decision, apologize. The more challenging the interaction, the more important it is to have that objective clearly defined, even if it’s just in your own mind. It’ll keep you on track and help you feel more confident.

6. They are consistent. People never have to wonder about who they are, what they stand for and how they’re going to behave. They don’t flip-flop. Change is not something they are afraid of, but they also realize that people like to know what they can count on. It’s important to them to give others a sense of security, knowing that uncertainty makes it hard to trust and can make communication difficult.

7. They are credible. They do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t lie through omission. People see them as an authority or resource. Credible communicators don’t inflate or overstate. If anything, they will under-promise and then over-deliver.

8. They see the big picture. They try to keep things in perspective. Good communicators don’t get wrapped around the axle over experiences that aren’t relevant to the bigger goal. They ask themselves, “What’s at risk?” and keep their eye on the ball. Roadblocks or speed bumps in life don’t slow them down from achieving what’s most important. 

9. They have a positive attitude. They are the epitome of Dr. Seligman’s learned optimism. They see bad things as temporary. They don’t apply negative events or experiences that impact one segment of their life to every segment. And they work to avoid taking things too personally by letting criticism roll off their back.

10. They listen with an appropriate style. Listening is the most important communication component. Good listeners are aware of the right style or approach that’s called for depending on the situation. The five listening styles are:

  • Appreciative: when someone is telling you a joke or a story.
  • Empathic: when people need understanding as they discuss a problem or concern.
  • Discerning: to gather complete information, like when you return from vacation and are debriefed on events that occurred in your absence.
  • Comprehensive: a big-picture approach where you’re trying to spot a trend or pattern, understand meaning or organize information.
  • Evaluative: to critique information, make a decision, decide if someone is right or wrong. (Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Personal Listening Assessment)

These are learned skills. Many of us must work on one or more of the above to improve our interpersonal communication. Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if they all don’t come naturally. It comes down to what you decide is most important at home, at work and in our community. Since organizations find that good communication skills lead to better relationships with customers, co-workers and constituents, isn’t it worth putting some effort into developing one or more of these traits? A little bit of focus is all it takes to move the needle and get noticeable results!

Read more about communication at:

How to Tell the Boss You Are Overwhelmed

How to Stop Them from Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

Non-verbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River

Nonverbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River

After a trip to Flaming Gorge UT, a friend and I explored an area near Dinosaur in northwestern Colorado. We drove along the Green River to Brown’s Park, also known as Brown’s Hole, a favorite hideout for Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang. We came to a narrow, single-lane bridge, which of course we just had to cross.

interpersonal communication skills

As we approached the bridge, we saw a sign at the entrance that said, “Weight Limit 3 Tons”. So I casually asked my friend, “Just out of curiosity, how much does your truck weight?” And he said, “With you and me in it? About 6800 lbs.”

I laughed as he started to cross the bridge and asked, “Do you really think we should be doing this?”

He gripped the steering wheel a little bit tighter and said, “Yeah, we’ll be okay. I’m an optimist.”

So I held my breath as we drove forward. S L O W L Y.

nonverbal communication

Cables on the suspension bridge began to hum and the wooden planks curled up around the tires. I peered out my window at the swirling water below, wondering how cold it was. Then I heard a noise from the other side of the truck. So I looked over at my friend…

…he had lifted up the steering wheel, unbuckled his seat belt and rolled down his window!

Holy cow! We’re goin’ down!

NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION

Hmmm, what to believe, words or actions?

Ever get mixed messages from friends, family, customers or co-workers?

When it comes to interpersonal communication, we want people to be congruent in speech and action. The principle, “Walk your talk” is recommended so we can become better leaders or parents. In fact it’s such a common saying that people poke fun at themselves by urging, “Do what I say, NOT what I do”.

Researchers have found we filter out or morph the meaning of 70% of messages we hear. We tend to focus on parts of the message that supports our position, desires and goals. And we may also disregard critical elements of the message that seem minor but contain the essence of the person’s true intent.

Because of that bias, it’s easy to miscommunicate. We can’t peer into someone’s head to see what they really mean. So if we care, we often try to compile clues from what they say and do.

It helps if we have some history working with the other person – some kind of relationship. The more trust we’ve built, the easier it is to decipher someone’s motivation. We cut them more slack. But even among those who have a long track record with one another, misunderstandings can still occur.

APPLICATION AND ACTION STEPS

So, to reduce the risk of getting crossways with people too often:

  • Tell them your intent and motivation: My intent is to maintain our friendship
  • Identify the outcome you seek: I want to get this project done on time
  • Clarify the position you hold: I’m not crazy about this idea
  • Point out roadblocks that could derail understanding: I tend to be easily distracted
  • Ask them to repeat your statement back: What did you just hear me say?
  • Define what reality/certainty means to you: I’m certain we can reach 80% of our revenue goal
  • Define what hope/possibility means to you: I think it’s possible to exceed our goal by 20%
  • Consider your personal listening style: Appreciative, Empathic, Discerning, Comprehensive or Evaluative

Next, to improve communication within your team, board, family or with customers, ask:

  1. What behaviors and messages do I tend to misunderstand from others?
  2. What do I say or do that others misinterpret?

Exploring those triggers will help you build bridges rather than undermine relationships. 

Are you wondering if we made it across the river? Thankfully, WE did.

But this guy sure didn’t!

Interpersonal communication problems

Brown’s Park Tractor Disaster

How to Maintain Integrity and Deliver Negative News

Ever received a piece of negative news? Were you blissfully tripping through life thinking everything was rosy when out of the blue you learned something that impacted you in a big, big way? You never saw it coming. Now your world is upside down and suddenly, there is a new reality to cope with.

How to have a difficult discussion

It takes a while to get your bearings again, doesn’t it? Would things have been easier to manage if you’d had a heads-up?

Of course. 

Negative news is never easy to hear. While discomfort and disappointment are part of life, the true test of character is how we handle ourselves as both the giver and receiver. 

It doesn’t matter whether your situation occurs at work or in relationships, people don’t like surprises. They deserve honesty and transparency, so they can…

  • adapt their mindset
  • maintain a sense of self-respect
  • change their tone or language
  • make a behavioral course correction
  • become more self-aware
  • pursue other opportunities
  • manage their emotions
  • focus energy
  • take control of their circumstances

So give people credit for being grownup enough to handle it. No one is served by being elusive, vague or dishonest by omission. Many justify delaying the inevitable because they’re uncomfortable, but the longer you wait, the more this issue will weigh on you. It’s  like not knowing what you have in your checking account. You’re afraid to look, but know you can’t put it off forever. And you will feel so much better once the deed is done.

The recipient may not like what you have to say, but they’ll be more likely to see you as a person with principle and integrity for having the cojones to speak up. You’ll prove you walk your talk.

HOW TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION

There is a popular feedback approach called the Sandwich Communication Method where you start the conversation with something positive, then lead into the constructive feedback and close with another positive comment.

Let’s not fool ourselves. People know that when you start a conversation by saying, “Bob, I really like the effort you put into the XYZ project, BUT…” there will be something negative coming next. Everyone I’ve ever asked tells me the same thing – they know the BUT is coming so they aren’t even listening to what you said just before that. And the positive comments you make at the end seem gratuitous. People question your sincerity.

Some say that giving two pieces of positive feedback will balance out the negative feedback. Yet according to social psychologists, negative feedback “weighs” nine times more than positive. It’s heavier. It has a bigger impact. It makes a bigger withdrawal from Stephen Covey’s emotional bank account. Even though you may have put a lot of emotional credits into their account, one big event could wipe out all the savings you’ve worked so hard to build.

The best way to build trust is to be straight with people. There are a number of ways you can do this.

LANGUAGE TO LAUNCH BY

Yes, I know it’s hard to have the conversation. The hardest part is just knowing how to start. So here are some phrases you can use:

  • I have some concerns…
  • You deserve to know that…
  • I respect you enough to tell you the truth…
  • You’ll respect me more if I’m straight with you…
  • I want to be honest and transparent…
  • I don’t want to undermine our relationship…
  • You’ll trust me more if I…
  • I want to maintain integrity…
  • I’d like to openly discuss…
  • You’ll be able to make better choices if I…
  • We will both be better off if I…
  • I’d like us to create a new approach…
  • I’d like you to have every chance to…

THE 5-F COMMUNICATION METHOD

When people are nervous, they tend to blank out and have a hard time remembering what to say. It makes it easier if you put structure into the conversation by framing it with these five components:

Facts – be specific; stay above the “waterline” by not assuming you know what people are thinking or what has motivated them

Feelings – Are you concerned, confused, misunderstood, unclear, frustrated?

Fallout – the most likely outcome if things continue as they are

Feedback – give them the opportunity to share their thoughts/feelings

Focus – on the end goal or objective you’d like to achieve to move forward

Even if you don’t remember to address each one of these components or even get them in order, including two or three steps will help guide the discussion.

ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

It’s not necessary you do all the talking. Asking questions is a great way to get input from the other person so you can have a conversation. And by the way, asking one or more of the questions below doesn’t mean you are waffling or backtracking on your difficult news. These questions are designed, however, to help you coach the person and hopefully help them move from where they are to a much better place. Make sure to start with “how” or “what” so you don’t put them on the defensive. “Why” and “when” questions sound accusatory.

  • how would you like this to end?
  • how could you/we do this differently?
  • what do you think worked?
  • what could you/we have gone better?
  • what can I do now to make things better for you?

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

PRINCIPLE OF LEGITIMACY

Most people just want to know that things make sense. They will accept negative news much better if you apply the Principle of Legitimacy. Originally created in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna, it provided guidelines for rulers. But it applies to modern day relationships and interpersonal communication too. The three components include:

  1. The rules don’t change
  2. People will be treated fairly
  3. They have a voice in the matter and can be heard

If you keep these principles in mind, you’ll be much more successful when you decide to have the big chat.

IN SUMMARY

Life is tough. Communication is a challenge for most people. Relationships are complex and don’t follow predictable paths governed by checklists or flowcharts. We are complicated creatures. And we possess a boundless capacity for using our emotions and intelligence to achieve much better outcomes. There is everything to be gained and little to lose by doing the right thing for the right reasons.

So often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key. ~The Eagles, “Already Gone”

 ADDITIONAL READING

Why the Open Door Communication Policy is a Bunch of Baloney

How to Kill a Relationship By the Way You Respond

11 Top Tips for Managers and Supervisors

Boy, I wish someone had offered me an “Emerging Leader” training program before I stepped into a supervisory role oh-so-many moons ago! Here’s what I wish I could have learned:

11 Tips for Managers and Supervisors

1. Read First, Break All the Rules by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. Focus on the 12 Employee Needs and the Strengths Interview (a getting to know you meeting). I believe this book should be required reading for anyone in a leadership role or better yet, long before they actually start to manage a team.

2. Have one of your employees teach you their job. Not only will you learn what they do at a deeper level, but you may find some ways to improve the process. When I led a new upsell effort in a call center, we asked each supervisor to sit with one of their folks and work the phone for a few hours. The supervisor took the order and made the upsell offer while the employee coached as necessary. Each of them learned something from the other.

3. Establish and maintain standards of respect and courtesy. If you let employees engage in actions that don’t honor one another, it won’t be long before destructive behaviors undermine productivity, teamwork and job satisfaction. People will be more stressed and distracted. You might find yourself mediating more battles. Get the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.

4. On a related note, don’t let people abuse one another and then cop out with claims of “I was just kidding!” That kind of humor can mask anger and a desire to inflict pain. Hold them accountable to their words and actions.

5. Insist on cleanliness, especially inside the restrooms and office refrigerator. (You think I’m kidding?) Some say that allowing disorder to reign sends a subtle message it’s acceptable in other areas, such as work product or customer service. Studies have found that once you clean things up, better behavior follows.

6. Banish foul language. Just like the paragraph above, swearing dirties up the environment. Many use it for shock value or to try and “bond” or fit in with others. It shows a lack of respect for co-workers. It indicates you have limited language skills. It also implies you lack self-control. Is that really the message you want to send?

7. Ask for people’s opinions. It is one of the highest compliments to ask for someone’s opinion – as long as you have a sincere interest and you’re not trying to entrap them. This is important: just because you ask for feedback doesn’t mean you have to agree. Some managers don’t want to open “Pandora’s Box” by asking employees what they think, want or need. Consider a fishbowl. Within the glass confines, you have a lot of “water” to move around in, but there is also a barrier in place. You can still enforce boundaries while trying to get better information. 

8. Ask Provocative Questions. Managers believe they get less than 13% of the information they need to do their jobs. Why? Because employees filter out the negative news or anything they think you don’t want to hear. (You didn’t tell your Mom and Dad everything you did, now did you?) So in your weekly team meeting, ask questions to get them to open up. You’ll be amazed what you learn!

Example: What did we do this week that was…

  • customer focused?
  • innovative?
  • redundant?
  • worthy of bragging about?
  • disappointing?
  • just plain wrong?
  • surprising?
  • something you haven’t yet told anyone about?

9. Have an off-site. If you can schedule it once or twice a year, it’ll be a huge morale booster. Of course, make sure you maintain coverage of essential functions, but don’t let that stop you from making the effort to line up backup. Give people an agenda and some “pre-work” ahead of time so they come prepared to discuss key topics. Hire an outside facilitator so you don’t have to do all the work that day.

10. Cook a meal. There’s nothing more fun for folks than watching their frontline leaders or management team flip a few eggs or burgers for the team. You’ll look human. It shows you appreciate them. Even if you buy some subs and distribute the food, it’ll send the same message. Add to the fun and hold a contest so they can vote on who has the most creative apron or chef’s hat.

11. Recognize the power of authority. In one of my favorite books, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, he cites the Milgram Experiment in his chapter on Authority. Because you are the boss, you have more perceived power than you might realize. You can impact their paycheck, performance reviews, job assignments, office space, work shifts, etc. So avoid the temptation to be heavy-handed. Sometimes less is more.

Being a manager or supervisor is a wonderful learning opportunity. (No sarcasm intended.) You gain insights into human nature, motivation, ethics and critical thinking. You get to test your personal and professional strengths. You find out where your boundaries are. And you figure out how to help others work around the obstacles.

I don’t care what you call it – leadership, management or supervision – if you’re in charge of one person or a whole team, you’ll grow. You’ll be the person they talk about over the dinner table. You could have more of an impact on someone’s life than you ever expected.

Got a tip you’d like to share? Send me an email and maybe I’ll add it a forthcoming workbook.

Additional Reading:

Why Your Biggest Embarrassment Makes You More of a Leader

One Amazing Leadership Example

Secrets From an HR Manager