Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Not to Do



It's that time again.  Time to share some of my favorite faux pas from the road in "What Not to Do."  The following true story came from a colleague of mine, we'll call him Ray.

The Setting:  Christmas Eve

Ray and his family have just finished a delicious holiday dinner and are sitting around the fireplace wrapping presents.  A toy train is slowly but methodically making its way around the base of the Christmas tree while Bing Crosby sings about letting it snow.  The house is cozy and festive, smiles all around.

There is a knock at the door, perhaps it is a neighbor with a plate of cookies or UPS with a last minute package.  As Ray opens the door he is handed an envelope from a young man in a FedEx hat.  

Ray anxiously rips open the envelope thinking that maybe this is finally the year he will receive a bonus.  He is an exemplary director and has faithfully served his current employer for nine years, eleven months and three weeks. However, like many, he has not received a bonus since 2008.  As he reads the stapled packet of papers his facial expression turns from excitement and hope, to worry and dread.  

Ray has been sent a letter of termination effective that day, December 24th.

Merry Christmas.

Because Ray was approaching his ten year anniversary, his company thought it might be prudent to "eliminate his position" before the new year to save from having to pay two more weeks of severance.  

Sure, they may have saved a tiny bit of money.  But, their reputation suffered severely.  The thing they didn't think about was the fact that their community is a small, specialized one. Ray was asked about his termination during every single interview, and the dates of his previous job are on every single resume.  It didn't take long for the word to spread on Glassdoor and similar sites. Once one person spoke up, the populace unleashed their gripes with fervor.

C'mon! Don't do this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is Your Confidence Contagious (enough)? Part II


This is a continuation of an article I posted in our monthly Performance Pointer.  If you would like to subscribe to the monthly newsletter click here.  This article is also featured in its entirety on LinkedIn.


By merely expecting their own enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity to catch on via modeling, they've unwittingly done one of three things:

1) Enabled their team to become lazy and dependent by a lack of accountability.

2) Failed to get to the bottom of why their team lacks energy and purpose.  Often, we see talented employees languishing because they are assigned tasks within their skill level but outside their interests.  Just because we do something well doesn't mean we want to be doing it.

3) Sent an unspoken message to the team that they are a one man show and the rest of them are non-essential.  Team members begin to disengage simply because they cannot keep pace with their driving style or continually fail to measure up to unrealistic expectations. 

In their book, Primal Leadership, Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis defined this third leadership mistake as part of the downside of a "Pacesetting" leadership style.  "The phrase that best describes the operating mode of the pacesetting leader is "Do as I do, now."  One of the perks of the Pacesetting style is they are quick to get results.  On the other hand, they are just as quick to burn through people.

Employees are often overwhelmed by the speed and demands placed upon them, resulting in rapidly eroding morale.  "The pace under this leadership style is so quick that instructions may not even be clear. And to make matters worse, the leader has no patience for those that need to learn or are not picking up new work fast enough," says Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis.

While leading by example is indeed a crucial component of successful leadership, this method alone is not sufficient to ignite engagement or build the catalyst ingredients of star performance - CONFIDENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and MOTIVATION MATCHING.  In this month's Performance Pointer, we will focus on the Confidence component.

Leaders often overlook the significant influence a sense of confidence has on the performance, or lack thereof, of their team members.  This cause and effect, confidence to performance relationship has been largely misunderstood.  Thought to be something yielded primarily from in born personality, observation or inspiration, leaders are often puzzled why their high drive and fearless attitude doesn't catch on. 

Paradoxically, some of the most hard-hitting, self-assured leaders produce the weakest teams.  They cast long shadows, a tempting place for their team to hide.  Certainly, confidence can be air-borne contagious, but merely being in the presence of a strong spirited leader produces only temporary esteem building effects.  Because at its core, self-assurance is a belief system, true confidence must be infused and internalized to have real, long lasting effects.  One cannot merely feel it, they must BELIEVE it. 
So what exactly is confidence?  Confidence is defined as self-assurance or a belief in one's ability to succeed.  A confident person is made, not born.  Our level of self-confidence is impacted daily by our actions and the response from those around us.  As such, it requires development and nourishment to realize its full potential.

Employees with a high degree of confidence demonstrate APPROACH instead of avoidance behavior with new tasks, consistently produce high quality work, and resist the urge to let failure define or restrict them.

Through a series of targeted, ongoing developmental exercises, leaders can build individual as well as team confidence.  You might just find yourself with a "new" team, without the hassle of costly staffing changes.

Here are just a few ways to get started:

1) Developmental "play" - Take it apart and rebuild it

Some of the most effective developmental toys for children involve taking the toy completely apart so the child can learn to put it back together.  Many times there are several ways it can be done, allowing the freedom of experimentation without being restricted to one "right" way.

The beauty of applying this learning design to daily work is that every person will approach tasks in a new and different way. Because they have a unique vision of what they would do if they could completely reinvent something, this process of experimentation is rich with discovery. 

It is easy to find ourselves in a confidence rut because we live in a world of routine.  When you do things the same way every time it is hard to feel the thrill of purposeful excitement that only comes from providing a unique contribution to a successful venture.

Leaders can encourage creativity, fearlessness, and independent thinking by assigning employees the task of taking apart certain routine procedures or projects and rebuilding it in a new way.  It may mean only a slight change, but giving them permission (and accountability) to rethink the familiar can have a big effect on their confidence and willingness to accept responsibility.  It can be fun too!

2) Make friends with your fear

The most courageous people are not immune to fear.  They just don't believe all its hype.  Contrary to popular belief, self-confidence is not the opposite of self-doubt.  They are, in fact, quite intertwined.

Genuine confidence is gained by having the courage to try something even when there is a risk of failure.  As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly put it, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face....You must do the thing which you think you cannot do". 

Pay attention to possible areas of fear or insecurity in your employees (i.e. avoidance behavior) and engage them in dialogue about it.  It is important to remember that people also avoid what doesn't interest them, so be sure to probe whether it is more a matter of a lack of motivation for the particular task.  Strategic division of labor is a major factor in high performance teams but is often overlooked as a means of improving employee's performance.

Ask permission to partner with them in overcoming this perceived obstacle.  For example, a leader noticed an insecurity one of their employees had in dealing with numbers and financial data.  After exploration and discussion of the employee's needs, she provided them with an instructional DVD set for basic accounting and financials that they could study in the privacy of their home. 

Remember, it is in our nature to avoid what we fear.  Instead of focusing on only their strengths or wishing they'd just "get over it", spend time understanding what holds them back.  Find ways to give them safe (and not too public) opportunities to stretch into the areas where fear holds them back.

3) Highlight the most "successful failures"

The best way to make someone feel safe to take risks around you is to prove that you understand and appreciate the value of failure.  Successes are obviously worth our attention, but our failures are often better teachers.  Instead of just broadcasting the wins, make it a point to highlight the losses that resulted in big learning gains. 

Start with your own and the habit will catch on.  Work toward freeing your employees of their failure inhibition and you'll be blown away at what they are capable of. 
The bottom line is this: 

You will not reach your performance goals without a confident, accountable, motivated team.

You have the power to create the team you desire.

Your belief in others should be based on a genuine desire to see THEM succeed, not in your terms but their own.  This is the difference between helping them soar on your confidence and freedom or watching them sink from your pressure.


YOU don't have to take on everything yourself.  Create a team just as courageous as you and imagine the possibilities.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Competency Dilemma



















Written by Jen Shirkani and

There is an old saying, “If you want something to get done, give it to the busiest person you know.” Every organization has a group of people who are always willing to help out, work longer hours, and go the extra mile. If you are that person, the odds are your company will continue to lean on you, whether or not you have the bandwidth or aptitude. Too often, this dynamic leads to a new kind of dilemma, one that you may have lived through, or are currently facing. It’s called The Competency Dilemma.

A competency dilemma doesn’t simply occur as a onetime event.  If it isn’t successfully resolved, it can ultimately become a barrier to professional success.  Without regard for the signals and alerts along the way, it can trigger an alarming state of “task creep”: one by one, little extra tasks find their way to your desk.

The Competency Dilemma:  A Progressive Condition

At the time we’re hired, or when we’re promoted into a new position, the most common goal is to exhibit ways to prove our worth.  We strive to assure those around us, (and particularly our leaders) that the decision they made in hiring or promoting us was indeed the right choice.  Showcasing our skills and abilities (competencies) is a natural response to our primal need to survive in a new environment.

Over time, our competencies become apparent within the culture.  We may ultimately find ourselves becoming the “go to person” for multiple projects that begin to stretch our ability to prioritize and manage a wide array of requests.  Suddenly, we awaken to a newly defined, and amazingly expanded job description.

And so, the dilemma begins.  Discretionary time is greatly reduced, or becomes non-existent.  Our personal and professional identities become blurred, and the need for restructuring is eminent because the consequences often include high stress, family strife, damaged peer relationships or even health issues. It’s usually not a sustainable situation. 

If you are reading these words and are starting to realize that you are currently experiencing a personal Competency Dilemma, it’s time to take action. The solution requires a proactive approach.  I am not going to say that you are being taken for granted, but the truth is that no one is going to show up at your desk with a solution on your behalf. It’s time to reset some boundaries and establish a renewed state of personal and professional alignment.

The Competency Dilemma:  Awakening & Defining a Solution

Start by clarifying the expectations put on you. How much is actually delegated and expected, and how much is the perpetuation of old habits from you or them? Are there things that could be more effectively managed by another team member?  Could you be partnering more productively with others, in order to benefit both you and the organization?  Is the bulk of your workload out of alignment with the responsibilities associated with your job description?   If so, when was the last time you initiated a discussion regarding the areas in which you possess the most significant competencies?  And, what are the areas of development in which you’d like to gain a new understanding or skill?

The thought of being the catalyst to a discussion based on the need to re-align your workload can be intimidating at first glance.  However, as we all know, the ever pressing potential of a personal business crisis awaits those who are unwilling to communicate tactfully on their own behalf.

Unfortunately, we don’t usually awaken to the potential dangers of a self-described Competency Dilemma until we begin to feel the stress and overload associated with being assigned (or when we have “over-volunteered” for) projects beyond our capacity to function effectively.

The dilemma didn’t evolve in a moment’s time…so likewise, a long term definitive solution will only be consistently successful as a result of your ongoing effort to enact positive change.

Remember:  Your ability to thrive within any organization, is based upon your capacity to function within the limits of your competencies. And, that is something everyone wants. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Penumbra's Month in a Minute


Me and Craig Robinson of Broadcom
July took us across 7 states and included workshops and speaking engagements. We have been busy preparing for our new webinar series "Ego vs EQ" to help leaders learn more about the pitfalls that impede our ability to successfully use emotional intelligence. The first program is on Sept 17th and is free, so we would love to have you join us. Click here to register.

Pam with her fabulous KPMG
 workshop participants in Dallas
I have learned a valuable lesson this month about the 
importance of confirming assumptions. I was asked to speak to a group of senior leaders in a manufacturing company on emotional intelligence so I assumed they would want practical tips and examples, relevant to their leadership responsibilities. So with help from my team, we built the content to be application-focused, and spent less time on research or brain science. Later in the month, I was asked to speak at the State University of NY (SUNY) summer institute program for cardiovascular research associates. I built a research-heavy presentation with studies from medicine and academia assuming they would want a more scientific perspective. Well, the manufacturing client wanted much less on mindful behaviors and more on scientific research and I spent most of my time with the SUNY scholars on ways to use EQ to be more influential and successful in careers. And as hard as it was to not “show off” the detailed slides it took time to research and create, I dumped the ones they didn’t have an interest in. A good reminder to stop assuming and start verifying no matter how sure I am about what I think the 
audience wants. The other important thing it reminded me of was the importance of being flexible in the moment to meet the needs of the person I am with, not be locked down to my personal agenda. And that is darn hard sometimes.