A higher standard


Should we, as much public opinion suggests, hold corporate executives, politicians, professional athletes, and so on, to a higher standard because of their high profile, possible role model status?

Then the rest of us could conveniently rationalize personal use of company time and supplies, lying on our taxes, not following through on promises and commitments and telling lies to cover-up our mistakes, all because of our coveted “lower standard status”. 

Sound absurd? 

According to John C. Maxwell, author of There’s No Such Thing As Business Ethics, 84 percent of college students believe the United States is experiencing a business crisis, and 77 percent believe CEOs should be held responsible for it. Interestingly, 59 percent of those same students admit to having cheated on a test.   

In the workplace, 43 percent of people admit to having engaged in at least one unethical act in the last year and 75 percent have observed such an act and done nothing about it. 

People say they want honesty and integrity from their leaders. Ironically, their behaviors tell a very different story. The same person who steals office supplies, lies to a customer to make a sale, discloses company trade secrets, or looks the other way at the ethical breaches of others, demands honesty and integrity from his or her leader. 


The Pygmalion Effect

SculptureWhy does someone who has been transformed through training and on-the-job experiences provided by an organization, choose to leave that organization?  

What can leaders do to help ensure that the individuals they invest in will stay with the organization?  Consider this enchanting and timeless story.

The stakes: The training program expenses.

The characters: Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza Doolittle.

The wager:  A language expert, Professor Henry Higgins, bets Colonel Pickering that he can take a lowly flower girl from the streets of London and pass her off as an elegant young lady of society after an intensive six-month training program.

The tale:  George Bernard Shaw wrote the classic play, Pygmalion, which was the basis for the hit musical, My Fair Lady and the films, Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.

The Pygmalion Effect:  Pygmalion was a sculptor. According to Greek mythology, he fashioned a statue of a beautiful woman. Pygmalion prayed to the gods that the statue be transformed into a real woman. His wish was granted. From this mythical story came what is commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect which states: People can be shaped by others according to how they are treated.

The training program:  Professor Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle etiquette and protocol, shows her how to make an entrance, dresses her as a fine lady and transforms her cockney accent into cultured English sentences.

The outcome:  Eliza Doolittle, following her extensive training, at a party held at Buckingham Palace, is assumed by all in attendance to be of royal heritage and is the talk of the event. Professor Higgins wins the bet.

The rest of the story:  Although Professor Higgins succeeded in transforming the flower girl, he went right on treating her like a street urchin. Eliza, speaking to Colonel Pickering, said “You know I will always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl. But I will always be a lady to you, because you always treat me like a lady.” 

Eliza’s remarkable insight is something for all leaders to ponder. In our varied roles as leaders, parents, coaches, teachers, mentors and friends, most of us are aware of the power of the Pygmalion Effect and realize that people do indeed respond to how they are treated. To this end, we champion and provide growth opportunities for others. What we frequently forget, however, is that it is also important for us to respond to the growth individuals make and encourage others to do the same. 

If we remind ourselves to change our treatment of others to match the changes they have made, then perhaps, employees will not feel the need to take their new skills to a new environment that is unencumbered by old expectations. Perhaps, they will keep their skills and talents in the place that they grew them. And perhaps, the investments leaders make in employee development will result in even greater returns.

When service goes wrong

The scene is familiar. A group of passengers is milling around the airport boarding gate awaiting word on the status of their delayed flight. 

It is said that your customers measure you, not by how they are treated when things go smoothly, but by how they are treated when problems with your product or service arise.  It is in these moments that the customer decides who they will flatter with their future business. 

We were looking forward to our holiday as we boarded the airplane. We were delighted to find that the 767 had been equipped with new, more comfortable seats. The usual boarding and safety drills ensued.

Then came the announcement from the cockpit. The co-pilot had not arrived. 

Federal Aviation guidelines prohibit a pilot from flying alone. Calls had been made to the co-pilot’s home. He could not be located. This was uncharacteristic. The staff was concerned for his safety. 

We waited. 

It was later we learned that the co-pilot had called in three days earlier to book the day off. Someone had failed to replace him on the schedule.  It was Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. We surmised the co-pilot was at the Rose Bowl.

We disembarked.

Three hours later we re-boarded the flight. We were finally on our way. We asked several crew members “what happened?” 

Following are the responses. Imagine you are a senior leader in this organization.  Two of your company’s values are honesty and customer service.  How does the customer experience measure up?


Flight attendant with cabin crew

1. “A new crew had to be called in. We’re doing the best we can.”

2. “I know exactly what happened. We had to take a 35% pay cut and everybody is calling in sick in protest. I was called at 11:00 a.m. to be here for a 2:00 p.m. flight. I’ve worked every holiday this year”.

3. “On behalf of all of us at the airline, I apologize for this unbelievable situation. We know this is an inconvenience for you. I’ve worked for this airline for 24 years and have never seen a scheduling oversight like this. We are embarrassed and appreciate your patience.  We will get you to your destination as soon as possible”. 

All three responses passed the honesty test. However, handling customer communications during a difficult time requires more than just an honest answer. It also requires:

  • Discretion. While you must be 100 percent truthful (customers do not tolerate dishonesty) you do not have to be 100 percent open. Your principal tactical challenge as a leader is to determine how open you should be and train your staff in discretion. The reputation of the organization is entrusted to the individuals who communicate with your customers.
  • Expressing compassion. While challenging, it is important to address the issue from the viewpoint of the customer - not your company and not yourself. That is the viewpoint they will be listening from.

Three honest answers. The differences related to discretion and compassion. Response (1) was impersonal and defensive. (2) revealed troubling morale issues. Only (3) began to address the issue from the customer’s viewpoint. 

Customer service is high on the list of key differentiators and competitive advantage for organizations—including this airline.

Sadly, this uncommon skill is too often left to chance. The good news is the skills of good customer communication are learned and can be taught.

Leadership lessons from little red schoolhouses

Little red schoolhouseWhen the first settlers arrived in their communities they built three things, in this order; a home, a schoolhouse and a church.  Apparently education was as important to our ancestors as worship.

Today, education continues to be a top priority.

In Little Red Schoolhouses (interestingly, they were often painted white), pupils ranging in age from 5 to 21 years would study the three R’s plus subjects like art, music, history and geography with the same teacher for their entire academic career. The state-of-the-art technology that equipped the one-room schoolhouses included a bell tower, blackboards, pot-bellied stove, desks and books.

In classrooms today, students of a certain age study under a teacher (or several teachers) for one year at which time they move to the next grade where the process is repeated. The state-of-the-art technology that equips today’s schoolrooms includes individual computing devices, extensive internet access and modern HVAC systems.

Is the quality of education improved thanks to the modern classroom?

Due to the systemization and mechanization of the industrial era, classrooms have been designed around efficiency rather than service.  Students are divvyed up, not based on their subject knowledge, aptitude, progress, or interest but by something not even remotely correlated to success—chronological age.  Students study the same subjects, from the same books, in the same way, at the same pace.  This method sounds a little like a recipe for making a McDonalds’ hamburger.  Unlike hamburgers, people possess potential, creativity and free will—all of which are inhibited in this one-size-fits-all environment.  Any parent of more than one child knows that people learn and develop differently so they must be treated differently.

Are there lessons for business leaders to be gleaned from both models?  We think so. Tero strives for a learner-focused service model of education that combines the best of both worlds. Without doubt, it’s hard work— we believe it’s worth the trouble and we encourage leaders to embrace these lessons in their own workplaces.

Lessons from the Little Red Schoolhouses of the past led us to:

  • Customize learning and ensure small facilitator to participant ratios.
  • Encourage relationship-building and diversity in its workshops.
  • Ensure learning has practical application in the real-world—now!

Lessons from leading-edge fields such as the neuro-sciences led us to:

  • Design programs that are research-based, multi-sensory and kinesthetic.
  • Build a state-of-the-art learning center.
  • Implement evaluation and measurement tools.

The average half-life of knowledge is estimated to be four years. That is the length of time that half of what we learn in a given year will need to be replaced by new knowledge.  In fast-changing industries, the half-life is arguably much shorter.  Said another way, half of the knowledge acquired in year one of a university student’s higher education experience will be irrelevant or need to be replaced by new knowledge before the time they graduate with a four-year degree and enter the workforce.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, education does not conclude at the end of formal schooling.  Ongoing and continuous learning for leaders and employees alike is an imperative for businesses that intend to remain competitive.  Leaders are wise to consider the championing of learning as an integral part of their job description and couple the lessons of the past with the innovations of the present when considering growth and development opportunities for people.

Courtesy - the understated virtue

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.



While sorting through some old boxes in our storage room, I came across a collection of things from my school days. My mom saved things for us three kids and on this particular weekend I was grateful for that. 

Among the many items was a speech I delivered in junior high school. The ink produced by the Underwood manual typewriter on the faded small cards was still quite readable.  Even now, I vividly remember the challenging assignment.  Complete this sentence:  Together we will . . .  

I wrestled for many days trying to complete the sentence. It was my dad who provided the inspiration for a speech that would win a Manitoba Provincial Championship that year. What I had no way of knowing was that its timeless message would reflect, years later, a critical lesson for leaders and the mission of Tero. Below are excerpts of the speech.

Together We Will Promote Courtesy - The Understated Virtue

At this time I would like to discuss a much neglected topic. It relates to the concern we must have as human beings for the feelings and sensitivity of the others we come in contact with in our daily lives. It relates to the recognition by one and all of the value of courtesy in these relationships. It relates to the duty each of us has to accord this particular virtue the importance and consideration it deserves.

It is easy to take the virtue for granted. If you were to visit some quite unfamiliar place such as China, the first thing you would mention in a letter home would be the way the people there behaved. This would be the most important thing to you, and the way you behaved would be equally important to the Chinese. Indeed it is only when we are in an unfamiliar circumstance that we begin to realize that courtesy and good manners are the universal passport to friendships and respect. 

Courtesy is hardly some strange inheritance from the distant past, but rather, it is a long standing code of behavior. Moses did more than bring down the Ten Commandments from the mountain, he inferred to those who followed a standard of personal conduct; the need to respect the blind, the deaf and the infirm, the need to refrain from bearing tales about others, the need to be civil to visitors and strangers.

It is one of the misfortunes of today’s society that these fundamentals are ignored by many. This was recognized by a Canadian newspaper columnist, Clair Wallace, in 1967 when she said “There is a greater informality in life today, in conduct, in clothes and particularly among young people. Yet this does not alter the fact that good manners and living by the rules of society are important.” Are there really any rules?  Yes—there are rules that society has codified in association with ideals referred to as etiquette. There comes a time in everyone’s life when he or she wants desperately to know how to do the right thing in an unfamiliar setting. 

Nonconformity to the niceties of society is not a sin, but a public nuisance. Orderly social relations are needed so that people can live and work in reasonable harmony. While everyone is free to behave socially as she wishes, that does not give her license to act in such a way that it detracts from the well-being and ease of other people. There is something of the clown in a person who goes out of his way to act differently from the company he is in, and the hallmark of a vulgar person is his love of attracting attention to himself. Sir Winston Churchill once said of a member of parliament “The honorable gentleman is trying to win distinction by rudeness.” 

Courtesy is consideration for others. It is really nothing more complicated than this. If the automobile drivers of the world alone would recognize this, only a fraction of the accidents which now occur would actually happen. Together we must make an effort in our ever more complicated environment to be more courteous. It can be accomplished by less effort and ultimately will produce greater benefit than almost anything else we can do. To do this we must remember that courtesy consists of little things. No one is ever likely to say “thank you” too often. When any service is performed there should be no hesitation in expressing appreciation with a smile. A spirit of tolerance should be encouraged. We need to make allowances. To learn not to peer at others looking for fault in them. In short, we must learn to treat people as if they were what they could be.

Arnold Bennett once said “you will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.”  With this remark, he illustrated his awareness of the virtue of a courteous person – one who is gentle in manner, tolerant in temper, civil in behavior, humane in mood, broad and comprehending in outlook. The virtue of courtesy is indeed worth attaining.


Leading in matters of principle

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

What qualities do employees look for in their leaders? 

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity. Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 


How do these qualities translate into actions we observe? When and how do leaders learn these behaviors? Great leaders learn them long before they are leaders. They practice them in situations, all day every day, not merely when called upon to lead. While these leaders realize that they may need to adjust their approach based on a unique situation—what some experts call situational leadership—they also realize that there is no place in leadership for situational ethics.  

Like Thomas Jefferson who cautioned “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current”, these leaders know that the only thing not subject to change is one’s principles.

Consider the following three examples:

1. The media is full of stories of business leaders who have left us all shaking our heads at their careless disregard of ethics and principles. The consequences of their actions have had a major negative impact for both their businesses and the people employed by them.  The names WorldCom, Enron, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are just a sampling of companies whose leaders were involved in corporate collapses and major scandals. Even those organizations that survive the scandal struggle to emerge from the shadow of the leader’s missteps – consider Tyco, BP and AIG. Today, the General Motors’ story continues to unfold as we examine the GM leaders’ handling of major safety issues that are viewed by many as unethical.

2. I do not object to hunting. Like 75 percent of adults in this country, I support legal, responsible hunting. What I object to is the disregard some hunters have for personal property. When my husband or I come across a hunter trespassing on our farm (with a gun; near our horses) we marvel at how the hunter’s story changes to fit the new situation. First the hunter claims to have permission to hunt. Then, the story changes to a claim of following a blood trail (to the uninitiated, a blood trail means that the hunter is tracking a wounded deer). Then, when help is offered to track the wounded deer, the story changes once again with a confession that the (alleged) trail is now lost.

Is the misuse of property by hunters any different than the misuse of resources by corporate leaders? While the consequences are certainly different, it could be argued that the (un)ethical behavior of the parties is the same.

3. I met two friends for a glass of wine after work. Charges for only two of the three glasses of wine were reflected on the bill.  My friend, who wasn’t charged for her glass, could have easily considered the oversight her good fortune. She didn’t. She pointed out the error. A $5 glass of wine—was it a big deal?  Absolutely!

What qualities do leaders look for in their employees

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity.  Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

In other words, the qualities that employees look for in their leaders are the same qualities that leaders look for in their employees. 

Shouldn’t they also be the same qualities we look for in our mirrors every day? Every day we all make ethical choices. Can I get away with misusing company assets? Can I trespass without being caught? Should I point out an error on a bill I received? 

Perhaps Shakespeare, as is so often the case, said it best. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.  

Beyond technical competence

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

The pilot just announced that we have arrived at our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.  It occurs to me, at this moment, that I have few options but to trust that the pilot possesses an adequate level of technical skill to handle whatever situation we may encounter.  As I reflect on this, I confess that I find it interesting that I have placed complete trust in someone I have never seen, never met, probably will never meet, and have only heard speak about two sentences.

Yes, I trust that the leaders and staff working for this airline are technically capable.  Confident in this, I return to my laptop and think only briefly about the important responsibilities I may be called upon to perform from my assigned exit row seat.

Airplane 3Is it my good fortune to be flying the friendly skies on the airline that employs the most technically capable people? I doubt it. I assume the crews of all major airlines possess similar technical skill.

I do have a choice of airlines to fly as the flight attendant will remind me in the next hour when she repeats the phrase that I am certain she must say in her sleep by now. “We know you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.  When your plans call for air travel in the future, we hope to see you again on one of our flights.”

Yes, I do have a choice.  How do I choose?

Like many of you, I look first to my immediate short-term interests – the flight schedules and cost.  This usually narrows my choices to two or three possibilities.  How do I choose from the short list?  I choose based on who I think will treat me the best.

That’s how most of us make the decision about who we will flatter with our business.  Across almost every industry—air travel, hospitality, financial services, retail, and so on—process and technical abilities are fairly easy to copy. The competitive advantage goes to those who treat the people they serve the best. Even when transactions are conducted business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer, it is important to realize that people are always at the center of decision-making.  Businesses don’t do business with businesses, people do business with people.  And people want to be treated well.

Research supports this. According to Harvard University, Stanford Institute and the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of success is due to technical skills. In most industries, the people we serve assume a level of technical capability. It is the people skills that are the differentiator, to the tune of 85 percent.

My experience today has been satisfactory. It appears the employees I interacted with have been schooled by their leaders in the culture of their organization and expectations for customer service. I will include this airline in my future travel plans—unless and until another airline figures out how to leverage the 85percent of their success that relies on people skills and takes my experience to a new level.

Take the time it takes

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

As many of you know, I live on a farm with 28 cats, a dog, 3 horses and a mule (and husband, Ted).    

Interacting with cats is a strength for me.  I have even, on occasion, mastered that unmasterable skill of herding cats (Monster.com may have a job posting for that). Horses

Horses are another matter.  Interacting effectively with horses has never been a strength of mine.  So I went to school.  My horse trainer politely explained as I wrestled with the complex skills, “If you take the time it takes, it takes less time”.

Those words are certainly unpopular in our fast-paced world of multitasking, instant solutions, and Mc-everything.  Nevertheless, some things take time.  Sometimes we need our leaders to remind us of this reality and sometimes leaders need to pause and remind themselves of the same thing.

The popular business press advocates the importance of maximizing strengths of people and that, for the most part, overcoming weaknesses is a waste of precious time.  That it takes far more time and energy to move from incompetence to mediocrity than to move from competence to excellence.

Sadly, many people, especially those with great strengths in specific areas, adapt this insight into an excuse for not knowing anything (or knowing very little) about other areas.  This is intellectual arrogance and is quite different than having no strength.

Consider highly technically-skilled individuals like engineers, accountants, scientists and technicians who report “I am not a people person” and defiantly oppose any situation that requires them to work effectively with people unlike themselves.  Similarly are the professionals in areas like marketing, sales, and human resources who pride themselves on their ignorance of basic process methodology or elementary accounting.

Although our goal should always be to build on our strengths, almost everyone can acquire enough of any skill or knowledge not to be completely incompetent about it.

No one can escape the fact—defects and weaknesses matter.  Success depends not only on moving steadily forward but on preventing derailment.  Preventing derailment means going beyond nourishing strengths and attending to flaws.

I invested the time it took (sometimes painstakingly) to learn to interact effectively with the horses.  Although I’m not off to any equestrian competitions, I now enjoy my horse interactions.

Practice makes perfect

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

“We’ve never spent so much time and money to be so bad at anything.”


That’s the phrase my husband uses to describe our collective attempt to master the game of golf.

He is referring to hours at the driving range, more hours on the course and years of membership at a private golf club. We were convinced that if we simply practiced enough, our game would improve. I should point out that by mastery we didn’t have any illusions of playing on the pro circuit. For us, simply not embarrassing ourselves on the golf course qualified as mastery.

Countless hours of practice and payments every month to the Club and our game never sufficiently improved.

What was missing? Did it require even more time on the golf course? This was already a time-consuming activity and we couldn’t imagine devoting even more time to it.

Maestro, mentor and polio survivor Itzhak Perlman had the following wisdom to share on the subject of practice. 

“As a child, I hated to practice.  But practicing is an art; it’s not just about putting in the time.  A lot of kids are too young to immediately get that.  They say, well, I’m going to do my four or five hours a day, and I’m going to keep repeating everything and it’s going to be good.  And sometimes they wonder why it’s not working. You need to organize practice; you need a goal. You need to ask yourself, 'Why am I practicing and what is it for?'  Sometimes the repetition without thinking can be counterproductive. If you practice something wrong – without knowing it – then you have to undo it by practicing even more.  If you practice slowly and with a brain, you will save a lot of time. You can accomplish in an hour what could take a week.”

Does practice make perfect? It is more accurate to say that practice makes permanent. 

This is an insight embraced by the greatest leaders. They acquire skills, set specific goals and practice those. That, not mindlessly repeating the way you’ve always done it, is the intelligent approach to mastery. They help those entrusted to their care to do the same.

How did the golf saga progress? Training helped. Videotaping helped. Small shifts in grip, swing and line of sight all contributed to improving the game. Now we know what to practice.

Predicting the future

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Employees look to their leaders to paint an inspiring picture of the future.  How good are your predictions about the future?  How open are you to unforeseen changes?  How confident are you in your forecasts? Future_leadership

Following are actual quotes taken from a university marketing textbook.

Can you guess who made these now-famous blunders forever recorded in history? (Correct answers follow).

  1. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” 
  2. “This Telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us.”
  3. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.  Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
  4. “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.”
  5. “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
  6. “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
  7. “Can’t act.  Slightly bald.  Can dance a little.”

  Answer Key:

  1. Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM 1943.
  2. Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  3. David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urging for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  4. A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service (Smith went on to found Federal Express).
  5. H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
  6. Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  7. 1933 memo from MGM testing director about Fred Astaire’s first screen test.  (Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills home).



The changing environment

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Are you positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented by change in the business environment?   Change_1

As my husband and I bounced through our woods on ATVs, I observed, with some sadness, all of the trees that had fallen by the strong storms this summer.  The mature and now struggling oak savannah reminded me of a question posed by scholar and futurist, Joel Barker.  Which plant species is best positioned to take advantage of the prime real estate that comes available when a large tree falls and opens the canopy to new sunlight?

According to Barker, the common thinking was that the most competitive plant would prevail.  Like many things, modern research has brought a change to that thinking.  It turns out that it is not the most competitive, but the plant(s) in the best position to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself that win the battle for the coveted niche.

Of course, that makes sense.  If the most competitive plant won every battle then the entire forest would be populated by the same species.  In nature, as in business, diversity is the spice of life.  Small, sometimes extremely fragile plants are able to find a niche in which they don’t just survive, but thrive, despite competitive pressures from all around.  This is also true of many businesses. 

This insight from the natural world is both excellent news and concerning news for us all.  It provides great hope that the changes that are constant in the marketplace, if properly prepared for, may present great opportunities for the future.  It also provides evidence that enjoying market leadership may be short-lived if preparation for the changes of the future doesn’t remain at the forefront of leader’s strategic agendas.  

How quickly do changes happen?  In high-tech industries, the changes can happen multiple times in a single year.  Although they experience change more slowly, in other markets, such as the funeral industry, leaders are facing new challenges they’ve never seen at any time in the past that are reshaping business models. New technology introduces new possibilities to memorializing a loved one.  Rising social interest in concerns about land use is leading people to make different choices around their final decisions.     

Whether at the cellular level, the personal level, the organizational level, the national level or the international level, everything is changing.   

Is your organization positioned to take advantage of opportunities presented when the landscape of your business environment changes?


How does image influence leadership?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the last in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters.” 

To judge content, whether found in the pages of a book or in the character of a person, we must assign the powerful thinking center of our brain to the task. 

In the case of the book, that occurs when we find the cover engaging enough to open the book and then choose to explore the content. 

In the case of the individual, it occurs when we find our perceptions of the person favorable enough to ask questions, listen, and engage in a healthy interpersonal exchange.  Alas, in an increasingly busy existence we rely more heavily, not less, on shortcuts and first impressions.

Harvard says we form an impression in two seconds, hardly enough time for someone to gauge your competence and capabilities.  What are they forming that impression on?

Ample research shows that people size you up very quickly and make inferences about your competence based on visual qualities such as your height, weight, age, skin color, gender, etc.  The things on this list are not easily changed or influenced yet they have a large impact on how you are perceived by others.

Consider research that reveals:

  • We perceive tall people to be more credible than short people. 
  • We perceive men to be more capable in crisis (particularly a physical crisis) than women. 

There is good news. Your grooming and attire also make a powerful first impression and are completely within your control. Becky Rupiper-Greene_edited-2 

Let’s ask an expert to weigh in with advice.  Becky Rupiper-Greene is Senior Training and Image Consultant for Tero International.  Leaders from diverse industries and geographies look to Becky to help them sharpen their professional images to ensure that a visual misstep doesn’t lead to a career misstep. 

Question:  Shouldn’t business leaders be able to wear whatever they want without being judged on appearance?

Becky says:  Absolutely.  Research continues to clearly indicate, however, that both men and women are judged by their appearance. We’ve all seen talented professionals lose out on a promotion to a seemingly less qualified individual who exudes executive presence – from entry level to C-suite positions. What I have found to be much more effective than focusing on what we should wear and what we should not wear, is to instead commit to looking like an expert in your industry. That will, of course, look completely different for someone working at a creative marketing firm compared to someone at a conservative financial institution.  When you look like an expert at what you do, you will visually command and convey respect.

Question:  Do you believe that women are judged more critically than men on their appearance?

Becky says:  The question itself indicates that we are aware of the unfair reality. Sadly, research done by the Center for Talent Innovation also shows that not only are women judged more harshly, women actually judge other women more harshly on appearance faux pas such as tight clothing.  

We perceive ourselves in our best light. We judge ourselves by our good intentions. Others can’t see our good intentions. They first see the visual image we broadcast to the world and that plays a huge role in how they judge us. Is your visual presence communicating positively for you?  

How are you perceived?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the third in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters”. 

How are you performing as a leader?  Leadership_blog1

In many tangible tasks and activities, how well we are performing can be quickly assessed.  For the golfer, you receive immediate feedback by looking at your performance on your last golf swing.  This helps inform what adjustments you need to make for the next one. 

Most leadership activities are different.  Leadership is rarely a repetitive behavior and is never a solitary activity.  By definition, leadership is about people.  In their classic leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner present research about which behaviors followers consider most important in their leaders.  Survey respondents cited four characteristics over 50% of the time.

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspiring
  4. Competent

Unlike a golf swing, these qualities are largely intangible and success can only be assessed over time. 

How do we know if we are performing well in areas that don’t allow for immediate feedback? 

Long term, your legacy will ultimately confirm your leadership performance.  In the short term, exemplary leaders realize that influencing the perceptions others hold of them as they are exercising leadership is critical.  Do you look honest?  Do you come across as confident, competent and inspiring?  Can people tell you are forward-thinking?

Some of the only data available to people entrusted to your leadership on a daily basis is how you look and sound.  The pace we walk when we enter a room, the eye contact we make with others, our hand movements, our facial expression and our vocal quality all communicate for us non-verbally – for better or for worse.  These behaviors shape the perceptions others hold of us.

Appearances matter.  Do a self-audit.  How are you perceived?

Is your body language and vocal quality communicating that you are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent?  Or do you, like many busy leaders, unintentionally and non-verbally communicate qualities such as impatience, disinterest, insecurity, incapability or uncertainty.  

How do filters impact your organization?

This blog is the second in a series that began with the Leadership Blog titled “The Cover Matters”. 

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I was born and raised in Canada.  When you think about Canada, what comes to mind?  Polite people?  Cold weather?  Hockey?  Toques?  Curling?  Free healthcare?  Eh?  Funky_glasses

There is an excellent chance that the things that come to your mind when you think of Canada and Canadians are an incomplete and inaccurate stereotype of a diverse country and the individuals who call it home. 

Each of us is, mostly unconsciously, programmed with filters.  Our cultural programming causes us to look at the world through the lens of that culture.  Our family of origin largely influences our programming, especially early in life.  For better or for worse, our beliefs about money, race, gender, age, religion, politics, the environment and so on are often shared among family members as if they were recorded in our DNA.  Our education system imprints us with filters.  Our peer groups influence the way we view the world. Our leaders indoctrinate us into a corporate culture.  The media plays a role in shaping the stereotypes we hold.  Our past experiences color our future experiences.

Do filters help us or are they harmful? That is an important question for all leaders to ponder.

Consider several commonly held negative stereotypes and contemplate how these filters may lead to poor decision making in the workplace.

  • Older people resist change
  • Young people are self-centered and entitled
  • Introverts don’t make good salespeople
  • Accountants can’t see the big picture

Even labels that don’t degrade the group they are assigned to can lead us to make decisions that have negative unintended consequences.  Here are some common examples.

  • Midwesterners have a good work ethic
  • Asians are good at math
  • Women are collaborative
  • Men are most capable in a crisis

What are some of the filters that permeate your organization?  Are they helping or hurting?

The cover matters

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Don’t judge a book by its cover – so the saying goes.  Book_learntolead

Sage advice? Perhaps. 

Practical? Not at all. 

Recall the last time you were faced with a multitude of titles on a single subject. How did you cull through the mass efficiently to locate the resource that would serve your purpose? The advice proffered about not judging a book by its cover is not useful to you in this moment. It is not practical for you to read each book in its entirety, or even to speed read critical sections, to determine which resource contains the most robust, relevant information for your needs. 

You need a shortcut. You narrow the possible choices to a few based on book covers, familiar authors and recommendations from others. You further narrow your selection by perusing the book jacket where you can quickly decipher what critics have to say about the contents of the book. If the choices are still too many, perhaps the table of contents gets a look.

Why we take shortcuts

While few would argue with the beauty of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, our natural programming makes this unlikely. 

We do judge a book by its cover – literally and metaphorically. On the surface it seems unjust.  Practically, it is how we make sense of the world and how we quickly sort through the huge amount of sensory stimuli we encounter throughout the day.

In the business world

What relevance does this have in a blog about leadership? 

We can squawk all day long about the unfairness of being overlooked for a promotion at work when we perceive we are clearly more qualified. We can lament the injustice of inequalities we perceive in the workplace that seem connected more to gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability or other differences than they do to workplace contributions.  

Or, we can seek to understand our natural filtering system that makes it possible for us to take shortcuts. We can embark on a journey to incorporate this critical knowledge into our leadership toolbox and into our day-to-day leadership practices. Through acquiring intelligence and wisdom about this all-too-human characteristic, we can ensure the shortcuts we take as leaders do not lead to negative unintended consequences.

In the next several blogs I’ll explore both research and experiences on this subject from a variety of perspectives. In the meantime, I invite you to think about your own leadership experiences in judging and being judged.

Perseverance is key in leadership

IStock_000009035898SmallRowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

It’s a rare leader who doesn’t get discouraged. When faced with challenges, the essential leadership trait that serves us best is perseverance.

The value of courage, persistence and perseverance has rarely been illustrated more convincingly than in the life story of this man (his age appears in the column on the left): 

Age 22      Failed in business

Age 23      Ran for Legislature – defeated

Age 24      Again failed in business

Age 25      Elected to Legislature                                     

Age 26      Sweetheart died                                               

Age 27      Had a nervous breakdown                               

Age 29      Defeated for Speaker                                       

Age 31      Defeated for Elector                                        

Age 34      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 37      Elected to Congress                                         

Age 39      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 46      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 47      Defeated for Vice President                            

Age 49      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 51     Elected President of the United States

That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln. 

Organizations experience success and good fortune. It is easy to be a good leader when things are going well. 

They also experience frequent changes and obstacles. It is how leaders handle the challenging times that reveals their true character and shapes how they are described and remembered by others. 

Napoleon Hill once said, “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

So it is with great leaders.

The myth of multi-tasking

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

One of the most enduring myths around time management is that multi-tasking saves time. Evidence that we are surrounded by this myth comes from the more than six million web pages offering strategies about how to multi-task.  

Leaders covet this quality in employees and interview candidates brag about high multi-tasking abilities. People proudly credit multi-tasking for their ability to get many things done. After all, doing two things at once must be better than doing one thing at a time. Or is it? Multi-tasking

The Research

In his book, The One Thing, author Gary Keller cites a 2009 study designed to reveal the qualities that make for a great multi-tasker. Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, divided 262 test subjects into two groups. 

The group of high multi-taskers were outperformed on every measure by their low multi-tasker counterparts. Despite their own convictions about their capacity to do two things at once, the research was clear. Multi-tasking is a recipe for losing efficiency and effectiveness. When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or you won’t do either task as well.


Our brains are hard-wired to focus. 

Can I walk and talk at the same time? Yes. You use different parts of your brain for those activities and one of them (walking) is unconscious. If you are walking over treacherous terrain, the conversation would stop so you could concentrate (become conscious) on the walking. Similarly, you can drive your car and listen to the radio. That is, until you find yourself driving in a blinding Iowa snow storm and then the radio becomes a distraction. Driving has necessarily become conscious and you must focus.

Many of the things we try to do at the same time use the same part of our brain. For example, the activities of emailing and talking on the phone both use the communication center of your brain. When you try to do both activities at the same time, you miss something. When you try to read the scrolling updates at the bottom of the television screen while also listening to the media interview, your attempts at multi-tasking fail you and you miss something. When you are working on an expense report and your colleague drops by to interrupt you to talk about a business problem, the relative complexity of those two tasks makes it difficult to jump back and forth and it takes a toll on our productivity.

The Cost

What do multi-tasking and interruptions cost? It depends on the complexity of the tasks. Researchers estimate that the time lost can range from 25% on simple tasks to more than 100% on complex tasks. 

Multi-tasking also exacts a toll on relationships. When you are attempting to listen to someone while also checking your Smartphone, the other party realizes that they don’t have your full attention and the cost goes beyond lost efficiency – relationships also suffer.

Leaders can quickly enjoy improvements in productivity, decreases in errors and reductions in stress by applying this insight to their workplaces.

Leaders and Relationships

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Do you miss Canada? The answer is the same today as it was when I immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago. I miss the people.

This is probably the same answer you provide when asked if you miss your hometown. Your previous job. Your college days.  Leadership_shake hands

Relationships matter. Whether at work or at home, it is the quality of our relationships that shapes our lives – for better or for worse. Our personal experience testifies to the importance of relationships and independent research confirms it. Harvard University, Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute all showed that 85% of professional success is related to people skills.

Here are five leadership activities to help improve your relationships this week.

  1. Look up from your computer when interacting with someone. Many of us are so preoccupied with email that we fail to honor the human interaction in front of us.
  2. Turn your smartphone off when meeting or dining with someone.
  3. Make eye contact and smile when you greet others. 
  4. Write five thank you notes in the next five days.
  5. Provide others with tips on how to effectively interact with you. 

Relationships are a practical matter for leaders. While many people join organizations because of inspiring missions, great benefit packages and world-class training opportunities, research reveals that they stay for one reason – their relationships. 

The bottom line: People don’t leave organizations, they leave relationships. One of the most important relationships people have at work is the one with their direct supervisor.

The Power of Inner Motivation

What motivates you to do a good job? Leadership_motivate

Most of us have seen examples of passionate people who outperform individuals with greater technical qualifications or skills.  Without passion, individuals can lose their knowledge advantage through complacency.  Leaders who match individuals to jobs they are not only skilled in, but also motivated to do, will thrive in the face of today’s rapid changes.

External Motivation

A common approach to motivating people is to reward them for the behaviors you want to see and punish those you don’t want to see.  Hence the common saying, “What gets rewarded gets done.” 

Motivation theorist Frederick Herzberg describes external rewards like pay and benefits as hygiene factors.  They are like temperature.  When the room temperature is comfortable, we don’t think about it.  When it is too hot or too cold, we are unhappy and think about little else.  Similarly, the absence of rewards can be de-motivating.  The presence of rewards is not, in isolation, motivating.  

Inner Motivation

Inner motivation is something that motivates people to want to do something without expecting a reward.  According to study after study, people report feeling motivated by things like:  a sense of accomplishment, pride in good work, sense of growth, being challenged and working with great colleagues.

If we don’t tap into the emotion and passion of others, we are unlikely to achieve much more than short-term, limited success.  Competent leaders do not underestimate this challenge.  They know they cannot force someone to be passionate, and they understand the difference between external and internal motivation.  They devote energy to creating an environment that fosters and naturally promotes inner motivation.

Does this mean leaders shouldn’t reward people?  Rewards are important when they are given as recognition rather than bribe.  When rewards recognize the intrinsic motivation already in play, people cherish them for what they symbolize. 

Stephen Covey, author of the seminal book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People once said, “You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart.  You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain.  His heart is where his enthusiasm is; his brain is where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”

If you’re frustrated that you can’t offer greater rewards to your team, reflect on the tireless efforts that people devote in the spirit of volunteerism and ask yourself why?  You’ll probably reach the same conclusion the motivation studies report.  Tapping inner motivation doesn’t require a larger budget.  It requires leadership.

Leaders and delegation

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Clean your room. Please, clean your room. I’ll pay you to clean your room. You can’t go out until you clean your room…

Rewards, punishments, begging, nagging... Why is it so challenging to get people to do things?


Delegation, whether at work or at home, is an area where many leaders struggle. Many times it seems simpler and more expedient to do the work ourselves. 

When done well, delegation benefits everyone. Leaders free up time for other activities. Followers grow and contribute.  Organizations achieve more. Sadly, many of us have never learned how to delegate well and we stress over whether the delegated task will get done right, or at all. Here are some fast tips.

Leaders must correctly diagnose two areas: skills and interest. If someone knows how to do the task and likes it, delegation is appropriate.  If one of those two variables is lacking, a different leadership action is needed.

1.     Skills and Knowledge

As leaders, we often make too many assumptions about what people can do and what they know (or should know). It is further complicated by employees who underestimate the task or overestimate their own skills and abilities. When someone lacks skills or knowledge in any measure, delegation is risky.

Let’s return to the “clean your room” example. It is common for parents to believe that their young person already possesses the necessary skills for this job. Do they? Really?

Why would a young person know how to clean a room well? Why would they share the same definition of “clean” that a parent does? If you have ever been met with the response “I did clean it” and the result doesn’t meet your standards, chances are there is a skill or knowledge gap. Delegation wasn’t appropriate.

Leader Action: Training and coaching.

2.     Interest and Motivation

If they have the skills and knowledge, can the leader delegate? It depends. Do they also possess sufficient interest and motivation?

All of us have things to do that we are skilled in but lack interest. We procrastinate. We make excuses. Does the individual find the task itself motivating? If yes, delegation is appropriate. If not, delegation may fail. You may find this is true of the exercise program you keep delegating yourself to do. You know what to do – you just don’t want to do it.

Leader Action:  Support and encouragement.

Leadership – An introduction

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is her first IowaBiz blog post.

Leadership is all around us. In our businesses, governments, sports teams, homes, schools andRowena Crosbie
communities. Many of us are called to lead formally. All of us are called to lead informally. 

What is leadership? Who is qualified to lead? What are the qualities of leaders? How do leaders bring out the best in others? What role does hard work play? What about ethics and values? Where does motivation and emotional intelligence fit in?

The definitions of leadership are numerous and the theories about what makes an effective leader are mixed. We do know that leadership is learned and that most leadership happens on a small-scale in everyday situations.   

This blog is dedicated to the subject of leadership and will be published twice a month. Stories, research studies and theories will be presented here. 

Why a leadership blog?

In 1993, I started Tero International with an idea and $200 that the bank required to open a business account. The first Tero office was a spare bedroom in our home. I named two house cats vice presidents of the company. They were my constant companions (at least as constant as you can be when you sleep 16 hours a day). Leadership was simple.

The idea: To provide presentation skills training to professionals who believed that competitive advantage was due, at least in part, to the ability to communicate persuasively and confidently.  It was a good idea in 1993 and corporate education is even more critical two decades later. 

Today the cats are retired, the business has grown and my role has changed. I am privileged to lead a team of professionals committed to helping clients build leadership and interpersonal skills. Like most of us, I have been a work-in-progress in developing my own leadership capacity. Unlike most of us, my job allows me to immerse myself in leadership research, a time-consuming luxury few leaders enjoy. This blog will share insights from both vantage points.

We hope that in this blog you will find ideas, inspiration and a community to help you develop your leadership capacity and improve things in whatever context you lead. For Tero graduates, we hope this blog is a valuable resource to further your professional development.

Learning leadership is a journey that happens over the course of a lifetime and in partnership with others. I look forward to our travels together and welcome your comments, suggestions and questions.

Employees with second jobs

In this economy, many people find it necessary to have second jobs. Reasons for those jobs vary from person to person and are needed for many different reasons. You probably have employees who have second jobs and you may not even know about them. Just because your employee has a second job does not mean they are not happy working for you.

Have you addressed second jobs in your handbook? Do you have a policy which states what kinds of jobs your employees may take? If not, you might want to take a look at the topic. Depending on what your business, is you might want to limit where employees can work part time. For instance, if you are a CPA firm you do not want your employee moonlighting for a tax place during tax season. In some industries it is OK to work in the same field, such as the food industry or healthcare. A nurse is a nurse no matter where they work but an accountant deals with clients. You do not want your clients going to another firm and following the employee.

It is a simple policy to implement and in certain cases much-needed. It also does not hurt to have in your handbooks that employees need to clarify it with human resources when they are seeking a second job.  The point is not to tell them they can’t, but to make sure they are not moonlighting with a competitor and also to find out why they need it.  Remember, they might really need it because of circumstances that you have no control over such as divorce, a spouse losing a job, kids going to college or they want to get out of debt. You need to be fair but firm with them.

-Susan Jones

Working from home

So you are one of those wonderful employers who allows employees to work from home when they want to. That’s great  - from the employee point of view. However, are you really getting the most and best out of your employees when they are working at home? 

There are many reasons to allow employees to work from their home. Convenience for them if they live far away and there is bad weather, or they (or their child) are sick. But how much work are they really getting done? If they work from home regularly, are you certain they are truly devoting eight hours to work? If it’s a beautiful day during the spring, how do you know they are not out planting a garden? Or hanging out at the beach?

Before (or perhaps after the fact now) you make it a regular practice to allow employees to work from home, you need to make some rules clear to them. For instance, checking in, whether it is by phone calls or emails, you need to be able to get a hold of them when needed. You both need to agree on their schedule, whether they will be working mostly during regular business hours or if it will be after hours and/or on the weekend. Both employer and employee need to be on the same page as to what is expected of each of them. 

Having employees working from home can be beneficial for both parties and some occupations can absolutely be done from outside the office. Just make sure you are truly
getting what you are paying for. If you have doubts it never hurts to have the situation evaluated.

-Susan Jones, Owner

JB Consulting

Does your company handbook help you or hurt you?

*Editor's Note: Susan Jones is the president of JB Consulting, a human resources firm located in Central Iowa. Susan has more than 20 years of human resources experience in the industries of insurance, healthcare, accounting, retail and other small business. She is the newest addition to IowaBiz.

Most businesses are under the impression that because they have a handbook which covers the basics, they are covered in all situations. A correct handbook can be a great asset and tool for a business. However, if your business has changed anything -- from adding departments to benefits -- within a year, you need to update your handbook. Also, if you do not have someone who pays attention to new laws and legislation regarding employees, your handbook can get you into some serious trouble.

When putting a successful handbook together, one must be able to look at it from different perspectives. Each employee will read that handbook from their perspective and their situation. Not only does the owner need to put in the basic rules of hours, payroll, benefits, what to do in case of conflict and so on; in today’s society new issues need to be addressed, such as social media. 

A handbook can also be a great way to communicate information to employees. It can include where, how and why the business was started, and by whom. It can also include what is expected of each employee in and outside of work. For a smaller firm in a small town, how someone is perceived outside of work can influence how the public sees the entire firm. Some forward thinking companies also require some kind of volunteer or community service. 

One important thing to remember when putting an effective handbook together is that whatever is in there, you as the employer are expected to abide by. The rules you are willing to bend for your best employee are the rules you need to be willing to bend for your worst employee.

-Susan Jones, JB Consulting
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I suggest you wobble

learning to ride a bike - _MG_2933Photo credit: sean dreilinger

David Allen, the guru of organizational skills, says "you have to do something to know something."

If you wait to know something before you do something, likely neither will happen. The development of real knowledge requires intentional activity. As you faithfully move -- your body, your thinking, your spirit... things unfold that would be inaccessible in any other way.

An old proverb reads, "When you stand, stand. When you sit, sit. But most of all, don't wobble."

I say, "wobble!"

The learning is in the wobbles. As kids, we learned to walk and ride a bike through a long process of trial and error. Our enthusiasm and others' encouragement gave us the persistence to stay at the task until we reached our goals. But as adults, we don't like to take that long to learn something. We want to know how, now. So, we often resist taking the time to learn something new because we don't like the feeling of being out of control, looking silly or wobbling.

As a leader, what's one thing you know you need to learn or know how to do to be more effective? Get started. Take action. And when the wobbling starts... and it likely will... be patient with yourself. Focus on what you're learning and not on how you're looking.

You didn't learn to ride a bike sitting in a seminar; you learned to ride by riding, by wobbling.

- Shirley Poertner

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Her name was Dorothy

118218401You have to care enough about someone to learn their name and then -- most importantly -- to remember it.

I wrote down a short blurb from a Guideposts magazine while waiting in a doctor's office a number of years ago written by a woman named Joann Jones. She said, "During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a pop quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one. 'What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?'"

"Surely this was some kind of joke," Joann thought. "I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade.

'Absolutely,' the professor said. 'In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.'

'I've never forgotten that lesson,' Joann continued. 'I also learned her name was Dorothy."

When I think about the most effective leaders I know, one of their outstanding qualities is their interest in others, demonstrated through the remembrance of others' names. I've toured dozens of offices and plants and worksites over the years and I'm always empressed when those leading the tours --usually a senior leader -- knows the names of those working the equipment, directing a work crew, or just waiting for the elevator. And talks with them. And introduces them to those of us on the tour. There's nothing more disheartening than to see a leader in his or her own department stand there and talk about the employees without ever engaging with them.

Saying, "I'm just not good at names" is a cop-out. We don't forget the names of those who are important to us -- our family members, friends, co-workers, team members, or our administrative assistant. Widen that circle. We know we have the mental capacity to remember thousands of names -- everyone on our floor, in our division, at our branch office -- if we care enough to do it.

If you learn everyone's full name and something about them, and do it sincerely, and they know you know them, their impression of you as a leader will be greatly enhanced. And you know what? Connecting in even a small way with those you bump into every day will make you a better human being. Whether it counts toward your grade or not.

- Shirley Poertner



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Who's the most miserable of all?

Cover of "The Three Signs of a Miserable ...Cover via Amazon

We read all the time about how miserable many Americans are at work. We hear about the "Sunday evening slump," when something clicks in the brains of millions of Americans and they recognize the weekend is history, and tomorrow it's back to the grind. Why do so many people hate their jobs?

If you're a leader, you should be especially interested in the answer to this question. Heaven forbid that your employees fall into this funk and go from being a fun and engaged parent on Saturdays to being despondent and grumpy on Sunday nights.

Patrick Lencioni has written numerous books about dysfunctional teams, deadly meetings, and other pitfalls of corporate America. In one of his latest books, he takes on this topic of misery at work. In Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he identifies the three things that make people miserable at work: irrelevancy, anonymity and immeasurement. In other words, people are miserable if they don't see how what they're doing makes a difference -- to anyone. It doesn't seem like their manager knows they exist, and they can't tell how well they're doing unless their manager decides to clue them in with some sort of subjective assessment.

So...step back.

Let's flip the characteristics that reportedly lead to dissatisfaction and look at them from a  positive angle. If I were to ask your employees the following three questions, do you know how they'd answer?

  • How does what you do on your job matter, and to whom? How do you know?
  • How well does your manager know you? How do you know?
  • Are you successful in your job? How do you know?

We talk about employee engagement. Here it is. The essence of engaging the hearts and minds and hands of the people who make leaders successful. They're pretty basic but they take attention and intention.

Through planning and processes and systems, leaders can implement ways for employees to see the connection between what they do everyday and how it matters: to the environment, the community, customers, and even to each other. Embedding metrics for measuring "How I'm doing" takes time but is totally do-able.

Of the three elements of job misery, however, I find that the feeling of being anonymous is the most disheartening. And it can't be faked. Not really. I know of work places where employees can go days without a connection with their manager, not because the manager isn't around, but because the manager is focused on the tasks at hand at the expense of any kind of relationship-building.

What's your take on this prevalent but often ignored topic in the workplace? Does anonymity make people the most miserable?

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What I learned from Great by Choice

BookIn his latest book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins examines why some companies thrive in tumultuous times and extreme environments and why others don't. It's a fantastic read; I highly recommend it.

Collins, his co-author Morten T. Hansen and a team of 20 researchers discovered after 9 years of research that the best leaders were not bigger risk takers, more visionary, or more creative than those who failed to achieve greatness in equally challenging circumstances.

What was it then?

"They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid," Collins says. But it's not those 3 qualities independent of each other that's the key. It's the combined effect of all three that makes the difference. It's the "and" principle at work. The best leaders in the worst times are disciplined AND creative AND what Collins calls "productively paranoid" -- in other words, taking precautions before the storm hits, remaining ever vigilant, and "bounding" the risk.

  • Who do you think of here locally, in a leadership position, who demonstrates all three of those traits in combination?
  • Think of the leaders we've seen come and go over the past five years as we've ridden out this historic recession. Were those who didn't make it lacking in at least one of those combined characteristics?
  • How do these three qualities apply to leaders within your own organization or industry?

I remember the first time I saw the cover of Collins' book at Barnes & Noble last year and was struck by the word "choice" in the title. Choice? Surely Collins' research doesn't show that some leaders choose to be great, and some not.

As Collins explains in his epilogue, "Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstances; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline." It's about taking action in a disciplined way regardless of what's going on in the markets or the environment. A quote by Ron Serino in Great by Choice sums it up well: "Freely chosen, discipline is absolute freedom."

(By the way, Jim Collins is speaking in Des Moines in June at the ABI Taking Care of Business Conference!)

"We Can Do" and you can too

"You don't really need to be a genius. You just need to work hard and you can accomplish anything."

That's what 14-year-old Moshe Kai Cavalin believes. His new book, "We Can Do," hopes to inspire other kids to do amazing things by focusing and approaching everything with total commitment. He means it. And lives it. He has earned two Associates Degrees since he was 8 and is about to graduate with honors from UCLA. He does more than just study though. He enjoys -- and excels at -- scuba diving, soccer, and martial arts.

Oh, and did I mention he's written a book, published in both Chinese and English, and did the translation himself?

Cavalin is to be commended. Being that focused and committed is not easy at any age. But I bet that Cavalin isn't facing a big mortgage or worrying about rising gas prices. Just how practical, and healthy, is all this talk about working hard?

We can. We do. Everyday. It's about rolling up our sleeves and:

  • defining what's really important to us -- our values. That provides focus.
  • putting in extra time and effort which leads to new challenges and opens new doors
  • committing 100% not just to our own success, but to our manager, our team members, our peers, our organization.

Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Cavalin's been enamored by "overalls" for half his life. You can be too!

The sky is not the limit

No one can put a limit on you without your permission.

Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. People thought that traveling thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood. Morse had to plead before ten Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph. Yet for all of these people the sky was not the limit.

In grade school I learned this little ditty and it has stuck with me ever since. "Beware of those who stand aloof and greet each venture with reproof; the world would stop if things were run by men who say, 'It can't be done.'"

Do you hope and strive for the very best, or do you just hope to avoid the worst? Is there some area where you've been your own worst enemy, putting your own limits on success?

Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, but by the time we unlocked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks and shut off the burglar alarm -- it was gone! Don't be one of those leaders who spend their lives looking around, looking down or looking behind, when you need to be looking up. The sky is not the limit.

Look around your world. Can you see the limits, the "I can'ts or shouldn'ts" that you have created for yourself? Remove just one this week and start to see just how high you can go.

Guilty of innovation pitfalls?

JERUSALEM - JANUARY 24:  Yad Vashem director A...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

In Blueprints for Innovation, Prather and Gundry list five pitfalls to innovation. If you're trying to change a process, create a new product or service, or get your team to think in new ways, check out this list of pitfalls. Are you guilty of letting any of them hold you back? Be honest with yourself. Ask others their perspective.

  1. Working on the wrong problem. You may be expending too much energy on something minor or even something that only you see as an issue.
  2. Judging ideas too quickly. There could be a "nugget" buried within a thought and you'll miss it if you're evaluating rather than really listening.
  3. Stopping with the first good idea. When you explore a variety of ideas, you can more carefully analyze, bring key thoughts to the top, blend the best of the best, and chart the path to innovation.
  4. Failure to get a sponsor. You can do few things in isolation, and innovation is dead without the support and blessing of key decision makers and influencers. Selling your idea to others is crucial to moving them forward.
  5. Obeying rules that don't exist. Know what's written in stone and what you see as true because it's always been that way. Innovation comes from those who think differently.

So what do you think? Recognize any stumbling blocks within that list to your own efforts to be more innovative? If so, focus on how you can eliminate it this week.

- Shirley Poertner

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Feed your back burner

English: Sopa de albondigas or Mexican meatbal...Image via Wikipedia

It's soup season. Don't you just love the aroma of a hearty pot of soup that's been simmering all afternoon when you walk into the house after a long winter's day at the office or in the field? I do. 

Our creative minds work kind 'a like that stock pot full of soup on the back burner of your stove.

The back burner of our minds work in much the same way as the back burner of a stove, slowly brewing a pot of vegetables and broth into a delicious, succulent feast of soup. All we have to do is put each of the ingredients in the pot, stir them up, and then leave them alone to cook, only periodically adding a dash of this or that and stirring the pot.

A soup on the back burner needs to cook slowly; if we cook it too fast, the flavors don't blend properly or we burn the ingredients. The back burner of a stove requires little attention; we can cook something else on the front burner at the same time.

Putting problems and decisions on the back burner does two things according to Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey in Slowing Down to the Speed of Life:

  • It allows us to slow down to the moment and attend to what is happening now and enjoy our lives.
  • It puts our most creative and intelligent thinking to work on issues that we have no immediate answer for.

We can solve problems with far greater ease if we feed our back burners. Try intentionally setting on your back burner a pot of problems, a handful of possible solutions, facts, and a timetable for when you need an answer. Like the ingredients of a soup, the thoughts you put on the back burner must now be left alone to cook properly while you go about the daily responsibilities of being a leader.

When you revisit the problem after it's simmered a while, you'll find the ingredients have come together in a way that will surprise you. And the solutions that surface will be much different -- and better -- than what you'd have gotten by turning up the heat and rushing the process.

It's like Emil Vollmer, the inventor, said years ago, "The challenge is the thing. I might not get the answer right away. I might have to walk away, have a cup of coffee, but when I come back, the idea comes to me."

- Shirley Poertner

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Is your name Buffett?

Is your name Perot, Gates or Buffett? Probably not. But it doesn't matter. A name and a bank account may open a door, but ultimately the person who walks through it will be measured by his or her core capabilities and actions. Successes in your past may be noteworthy, but it's how you handle each new challenge before you today that continually shapes your life and eventually your legacy.

Think about your current challenges. Answer these three questions:

  1. Has past success made you "dangerously comfortable" with your life?
  2. Can you risk "certainty" to create new levels of competency?
  3. What can you do to re-invent yourself, expand your skills and awareness, and move forward for self-growth?

The old Irish proverb is right: "You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."

Even if his name was Buffet.

-Shirley Poertner

Actions versus words

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't," Margaret Thatcher said.

It's the old "actions speak louder than words" philosophy; those who have to talk about their power are working to convince themselves -- as well as others -- that they really have it and know how to use it. But people become leaders in the eyes of others through their actions, not through their job titles or their rhetoric.

When you think of a true leader, who comes to mind? Who inspires you to be part of their team? What gives that person his or her power? What is his or her uniqueness, and how can you put such skills and capabilities to work for you? Alfred Lord Tennyson called power "self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control." An organization can bestow a leadership title, but only an individual can earn it.

Identify one element of your leadership style that you would like to focus on in the coming week. Make a list of 3 or 4 specific actions that you could undertake that would help you hone that element. Remember, it's those actions that make all the difference, not the words!

- Shirley Poertner

Just get up!

Vince Lombardi said, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

Ever had a game plan that simply didn't work? Have there been days in which nothing seemed to go as you'd planned, no matter what you tried to accomplish or how you worked to move forward? How well did you handle your frustration and disappointment? Did you crumble in defeat or display resilience?

Do you make a practice of taking time to calm down, breathe deeply, reflect and develop a bounce-back strategy? A leader is not defeated or distracted by mistakes; a leader asks, "What can I learn from this? How can it empower me? How is this an opportunity to increase competency? What solutions am I not seeing?" A true leader is responsible for leading people out of disappointments and uses them as a way to rally and involve others in problem solving.

Vince Lombardi didn't say this, but he could have: Don't look to learn from those who win every game, go to the top, and then stay there. Look to learn from someone who has won, lost, and come back to win again. It's what you do when you don't win that helps you win in the end.

Try this: Identify someone you could learn from. If they're local, take them to lunch and ask them for tips and suggestions. If they're from elsewhere, or famous, read their blogs or books to gain some insight into their ability to get up when knocked down.

- Shirley Poertner

Who's driving your bus?

Imagine this: you've got a window in your forehead, so you can look in and see what's going on. There in your brain is a steering wheel, a big ole leather seat, and even one of those hats with a badge on it -- just like a Greyhound bus driver wore in the old days.

My question to you is, "Who's driving?" And the answer we often have to give is, "I've got a hijacker driving my bus!" Every one of us has one kind of hijacker or another driving our bus, at least some of the time.

So who's driving your bus? These hijackers or phantom bus drivers are our old, dependable habits. What each one of us is today, for better or worse, is the result of behaviors that we have repeated again and again over months and years and it is the same method -- repetition and practice -- that we must use to replace the hijackers in our driver's seats with new habits. New habits that are more effective and satisfying and that will drive us to a new and better destination.

Scary as it may sound, what you are or will be at sixty is what you are at thirty -- doubled. Unless you decide to change drivers. Now. No other outcome is possible otherwise, for practice makes perfect. With thirty, forty, or more years to drive the same route hundreds of times, your bus driver will be able to do it blindfolded, without even thinking about it.

Want to adopt new habits? Then take these steps:

  1. Name the old habit you want to change or eliminate.
  2. Clearly describe the new habit you want to adopt.
  3. List the steps you will take to get started and keep going.
  4. Identify right now how you keep yourself from deviating from your new habit at the first bump in the road.
  5. Ask someone to help you stay on course and be specific about what you want them to do.

Wrestle the wheel away from your hijackers! Drive your own bus to where you really want to go, not just to the place you happen to be headed.

- Shirley Poertner

Be the best you can be

Jessica Guidobono said, "Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence." When people see your "autograph," what do they see?

An employee went to his supervisor to ask for a raise. "I am already planning on giving you a raise," she said. "Oh, great!" he said. "When will it be effective?" "As soon as you are," she explained.

Do you give your best in your role at work? If a thing is worthy of our time (...and we all certainly dedicate many hours to our professions), it is worthy of our best efforts.

In some of his speeches, Louis T. Rader relates that many top executives feel that a 99 percent effort is good enough. But here is the eye opener. If this figure -- 99 percent -- were converted into our daily non-industrial life, it means that:

  • More than 30,000 babies would be accidentally dropped by doctors and nurses each year.
  • Electricity would be off for fifteen minutes each day.
  • Twelve newborns would be given to the wrong parents daily.
  • 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes would be shipped each year.
  • 18,322 pieces of mail would be mishandled per hour.
  • 2.5 million books would be shipped with the wrong cover.
  • Two planes would crash daily at Chicago's O'Hare.

Perfection is impossible for us to achieve. But doing and being one's best is not. Texas' first black congresswoman, Barbara Jordon, once said, "Each day you have to look into the mirror and say to yourself, "I'm going to be the best I can no matter what it takes." She never said, "I will be the best." She said, "I will be the best I can."

Think about the effort you put into being the best programmer, the best sales rep, the best leader you can be. How would you rate yourself on a 10 point scale, with 10 being "I consistently give my best" and 1 being "I'm a sluggard."

If your job is a self-portrait of you, are you proud of that portrait?

  • If you can honestly answer "yes," how can you ensure that you maintain that level of effort through the ups and downs of the workplace?
  • If you had to answer "no," what one thing can you do differently starting today that will begin to improve that picture of your and your effort?

- Shirley Poertner


Don't be the bass on the wall

Ever notice that you never see a fish on the wall with its mouth shut?

Opening your mouth can get you in big trouble sometimes. Knowing when to speak up - out of conviction, regardless of the consequences - and when to remain quiet. That's the challenge. It's like teetering on the edge of a precipice. Lean backwards? Or lean over the edge and plunge ahead?

We've been blessed with two ears and one mouth. That's not an accident.

William Penn said, "If thou thinkest twice before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it." My motto has always been, "If in doubt, don't." Saying that phrase to myself in the moment of indecision ("Should I say this or not?") has served me well in the workplace. Seldom have I regretted holding my tongue if that still, small voice inside my head raised a red flag in the heat of the moment.

Can you think of a time when you wished you'd kept your mouth shut because you felt like you ended up mounted on someone's wall for all to see, embarassed and regretful? Think right now of a motto that you can silently say to yourself in those moments of temptation to give yourself time to decide, "Should I say this or not?"

- Shirley Poertner

Bring problems to their knees

Ever heard of Steve Ventura? He's a smart guy. He said, "The hallmark of a well-managed organization is not the absence of problems, but whether or not problems are effectively resolved." Sure beats trying to create a problem-free environment, huh?

Apollo 11, the first successful space flight to land humans on the moon, was off course 80 percent of the time throughout its successful 1969 mission. But thanks to continually making strategic changes and fine-tuning, they reached their goal.

Problems are inevitable and provide the best opportunity for real learning. No one welcomes yet another challenge, but we learn through the experience of dealing with them. Leadership guru Warren Bennis calls mistakes "missteps" that are necessary for actualizing visions and achieving success.

  • When faced with a problem, do you develop and consider at least two solutions? Or three? or four?
  • Are you comfortable with the challenges of "what if's?"
  • Do you consistently look beneath the symptoms to find the root causes?

Decide right now to use your next misstep as a practice field to bring problems to their knees and solve them.

- Shirley Poertner

Don't be a chicken: Fail quickly!

Rooster in grass.Image via Wikipedia

The people who design jet engines use a chicken test. This test fires chickens (usually purchased at the supermarket) at a running engine. They attempt to run this test as early in the design process as possible because if the engine can't pass the test, there is no point in spending additional millions designing it.

Fast failure is acceptable; slow failure is not. But even more unacceptable is NO failure. If you aren't failing anywhere at work, then it's likely that you're not trying hard enough. You are not pushing the envelope.

The following related story may be urban legend but it's a good one. (It comes from David Thielen's, The Twelve Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management.) A British company asked Boeing for one of its chicken guns to test a new jet windshield. After using it the Brits called up Boeing and reported that the chicken went through not only the windshield but also the brick wall behind it. Boeing sent an engineer over to England to investigate. After watching the workers run the test again, Boeing added to the instructions, "Make sure chickens are defrosted before firing."

The point? Identify failure as fast as possible.

  • Sit down and try to come up with everything you're doing that could lead to failure. (It's usually pretty easy to accurately predict all the things that could trip you up. The surprise is usually in which of the predicted items actually did cause the failure.)
  • For each item on your list, figure out how to determine, as early as possible, if this is a showstopper.
  • For each showstopper, don't give up. See if you can find a way around the problem.
  • Only if the problem is truly unsolvable do you kill the project.
  • Oh, and be sure to read the instructions. All the instructions.

- Shirley Poertner

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