On the road again

It seems travel became the focal point of my life these last couple of months.  I completed three trips between early March and late April and realized how much I appreciate being able to do laundry in my own washer and dryer.  I know the dogs have a good time at the boarding kennel but they seemed to have that “not again?” look when I dropped them off this last time.

The hassles of travel can get to even the most experienced traveler, much like the hassles and frustration of unresolved work related issues and problems can wear down even the most experienced and effective leaders and managers.  Just when you think it’s going to be smooth sailing yet another problem (or the same pesky problem) shows up.

Just as we’ve had to adjust to changes in travel procedures like making sure we’re at the airport in plenty of time to get through security, wearing shoes that slip on and off with minimal hassle, etc. have you made any adjustments to your approach in handling difficult problems in your organization? Or are you trying constantly to impose what you think are tried and true solutions to today’s problems?  Remember that definition of insanity?  Why keep trying the same approach that still hasn’t worked?  Do you listen – actively listen – to good advice from others?  Or is it more important that you impose your solution to the problem despite all the information showing that your approach just doesn’t work?  You may want to ask yourself a question at this point.  Is this about the success of the organization or is this about your ego and need to always be right?  What’s really holding you back from learning about and using group dynamics in a positive way?

The “Dream” Memo to Your Staff

It’s the end of yet another difficult week and as you start to leave the office, do you think about writing just one more memo to your staff?  What about to the stockholders?  What would you want to say in that memo?  Would you tell your staff that you’re sick and tired of all the stupid little games and petty arguments that constantly undermine the effectiveness of your organization?  Would you tell your stockholders that you’re fed up with their constant second guessing?   For some, the only exercise they get is jumping to conclusions that you’re incompetent and they could certainly manage the organization better than you’re doing right now.  Does your memo include the invitation to all those who think they can do a better job to step up because you’ve gone fishing and will return when the blue cheese on the moon is being harvested?  Why is it that no real progress seems to get made?

My question to you is – how well do you understand and appreciate the dynamics of the groups that make up your organization?  Have you created an environment where a group can come together and function effectively?  If you haven’t, why not?  Do you understand and appreciate the characteristics of the groups?  Do you even know the stages a group has to go through to come together and become effective in completing the assigned tasks?  Or did you simply think that all you had to do was call some people to your office, assign the job to them and give them a deadline?  If you answered “no” to any of my questions, let’s chat.  This is a good a forum as any!

What do you mean I can’t fire you?

Have you ever had to work with someone who was a charter member of the Office Jerk Hall of Fame?  Did you go home at the end of the day, gnashing your teeth, pulling your hair out or thinking dark thoughts?  I think it’s an unfortunate fact of professional life that we all, at some point in our career, will have to deal with a complete and total jerk.  As much as you’d like to tell that jerk off you really can’t, especially if you’re the boss.  And if that jerk happens to be Aunt Nellie’s favorite nephew, is it worth committing professional suicide to call him every name in the book just before you fire him?

Jerks come in a variety of forms and no listing here will ever be complete.  So let’s look at one type.  How many of us have gone to a staff or management meeting hoping to get something constructive done only to have the office jerk take control of the meeting?  The agenda goes out the window and beating a dead horse becomes the only accomplishment of the meeting.  You can see that your other staff or managers are frustrated, bored and looking for any excuse to leave.  Today’s meeting is going the same route as the last two.  What to do?

It’s time to become creative.  Robert Detman, writing for Yahoo! HotJobs suggests that if it’s possible, have a meeting where everyone is standing.  This change will likely throw the jerk off his/her game and stop the unproductive dominance.  Good idea for a small informal group meeting but what if it’s a large gathering for an all day training?  Any thoughts?  What’s worked for you?

Cheerleader or Saboteur?

When it comes to problem solving, as the leader of your organization are you a cheerleader or a saboteur?  Do you sit on the sidelines while others work to find practical and realistic solutions, supporting them and encouraging them in their work?  Or are you sabotaging their efforts by second guessing their decisions and trying to force your choices on them?  When someone brings a creative solution to a problem do you give them lip service and then undermine any effort to achieve a consensus?

Does this really matter?  Yes, it does, if you’re serious about resolving problems within your organization.  Being a cheerleader reflects your confidence not only in your skills to lead but in the skills and talents of the people working for you.  Think back to a time when someone supported you and how motivated you were to achieve the goal or complete the task.  That same approach will motivate your employees to work as hard as they can to complete the tasks and achieve the goals.

What do you think happens when your employees figure out that you’re a saboteur?  How motivated do you think they will be to work as hard as they can to make the organization a smooth running operation, profitable and successful?  As the saboteur, how much support will you get for the solutions you support?

Put in these terms, which role have you played?  Honest answers may just help you begin the process of engaging in problem solving that is finally effective.  Bringing a professional problem solver into the mix can help you be even more effective.

Magic and Problem Solving?

Wouldn’t life be a whole lot simpler if we could snap our fingers, wiggle our nose, or blink our eyes and make all our problems disappear?  Why do the seemingly easy problems always cause the greatest heartburn?  The last question is the easier one to answer.  Whenever human beings are involved problems are almost always going to get complicated.  If there’s a problem with your car, you take it to a qualified mechanic, spend some money and the problem goes away.  Having a problem with your computer at work?  Call in the IT folks and again, the problem disappears.  Having a problem with two employees who can’t or won’t get along?  Why won’t that problem go away?  As a facilitator and problem solver I’d caution you about letting the egos and emotions rule.  When the problem involves humans it becomes crucial that the focus remain on the behavior or the issue – not the individuals.  It’s hard – sometimes seemingly impossible – but the egos have to stay out of the resolution.  That caution also includes you as the leader or manager.  Your ego and emotions need to be checked at the door as well.  If that ground rule isn’t followed the chances of reaching a consensus and resoluion will be greatly diminished.  Keeping your emotions in check can be easier with the help of a professional problem solver.  Save your ego for the verbal beating Aunt Nellie wants to unload on you about last month’s dividend check.

Are You a Control Freak?

Are you the type of leader who’s in charge – or are you the control freak who drives all your subordinates crazy?

A good leader will create a work environment where subordinates feel that they can trust the leader to have their backs because he or she trusts them to do their work.  Good managers will insure that standards and policies are followed while also encouraging creativity and innovation.  As the leader you are responsible for insuring the success of the organization.  (Let’s not forget Aunt Nellie and the other stockholders.)  How you go about achieving that success will reflect on the organization.  Are you comfortable with being in charge or do you have to control every single detail of virtually every task of the organization?  When someone describes a problem that was resolved, is your first reaction to say something to the effect of, “What you should have done was . . . “ What message did you just give the other person?  (By the way, it’s easy being the Monday morning quarterback.)  When someone shows you a written communication do you immediately start to re-write it?  Do you say something to the effect of, “Well, I suppose you could say it that way but it’s better if you say this…(my way).”

As a leader who’s in charge, when a subordinate describes a problem area and resolution, LISTEN FIRST.  Compliment the effort.  If there were areas of improvement noted, ask how the leadership or management team can work together to implement new approaches to resolving the problem.  End the discussion with another compliment.  It can be something as simple as thanking folks for their hard work and dedication.  If you stop the “I’m in control and everyone had better realize it” nonsense you just may discover how much easier it is to hire and retain quality individuals who are dedicated to the long term success of the organization.  You and your stockholders will be amazed at the success of the organization if you stay in charge.  If you remain the Control Freak, you’re going to become overly familiar with the same old problems and Aunt Nellie will have more than enough ammunition to ruin a lifetime of lunches with you.