Leadership/HR

Righting a mistake

Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

“I have no anger towards Judge Aspen at all. ... He wrote a beautiful letter for me to the president of the United States. It means a whole lot to me, that letting me know that he was giving me the opportunity that he couldn’t have gave me the first time, this time. I would actually thank him for giving me a second chance at life.”

Prison-barsAlton Mills made these remarks when asked to comment about the U.S. federal judge who had sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence in prison for federal cocaine violations. After serving 22 years, President Barack Obama commuted his life sentence. 

Congress enacted sentencing laws that dramatically increased penalties for drug crimes in response to rising public concern about high crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s. The laws, intended to improve public safety, did not deliver those results as the availability and use of illegal drugs increased and recidivism rates remained largely unchanged. 

What did happen was the mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession resulted in thousands of low-level drug offenders serving more time in federal prisons for minor drug offenses than they would have for violent crimes like bank robbery, rape or even murder. Alton Mills was one example. The more serious drug traffickers, who were the focus of the laws, were largely unaffected. 

Applications to leadership

How does this story inform leadership in organizations? There are two insights:

  1. Leaders make mistakes. Leadership decisions, even those that are well-intentioned, sometimes have unintended negative consequences. As leaders, when we discover a mistake, even one we didn’t personally make, we are faced with an important choice. What do I do next? How do I correct the mistake? Federal Judge Marvin Aspen wrote to Obama, asking him to grant clemency to an inmate whose sentence did not match the crime. 
  1. People make mistakes. The low-level drug offenders who received the harsh sentences had knowingly committed a crime. They are also faced with an important choice. What do I do next? How do I correct the mistake? Alton Mills is committed to making the most of his second chance and proving to the president, who granted him clemency, that he was worthy of it. 

We all make mistakes. Our true character is revealed in what we do about a mistake. Take a moment to reflect on the mistakes you have made or discovered. What can you do to right the mistake -- even many years later?

This blog opened with Alton Mills’ responding to the question, “What would you say to the judge who sentenced you?” We’ll close with the response Judge Aspen provided when asked, “What would you say to Alton Mills?”

“I would say to him that I hope he can leave prison and have a positive attitude. I know that is difficult after all he’s been through. So many people have been concerned about him. I hope he can be a positive example to show that not only was a terrible mistake and injustice done to him, but that he can prove by the rest of his life that he was a worthwhile person and justify the confidence that all the people had in him, including myself.”

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The power of the web

Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

The power of the web is not a discussion about the internet. I’m talking about networking. I’m talking about the 4.74 degrees of separation between you and everyone else on the planet (it used to be 6 degrees of separation). 

Businessman in suit reaching out handYou already know that most people find new jobs and opportunities because of connections through a network. Similarly, many leaders leverage networks to find talent for their teams.

While we all realize the importance of a strong web of network connections, many of us mistakenly think that the network connections closest to us are the most important. Interestingly, most of time, key connections are made through distant links – people who are not directly connected to you. 

In other words, the people who are most closely linked to you would probably help you with your goals. Our challenge as leaders is to make the more distant connections. That is, connections with people who have access to different networks.

Therefore, the goal of networking is not simply to make more connections to you. The goal is to make a web of connections, many among other people with no obvious link to you. 

The “work” in networking

At the center of the word "networking" is the word “work.” It is not enough to merely want a healthy, helpful network. It involves work.

Consider the example of a gardener. A good gardener carefully tills and seeds the garden. During the growing season, they weed and water it. In the fall they enjoy a bountiful harvest. What happens if the gardener simply throws some seed packets on the ground and doesn’t care for the garden? They have a bountiful crop of weeds. You can try this over and over again, and you’ll always get the same results. Do the work, and you’ll have a wonderful garden. Just toss some seeds on the ground, and you won’t.

So it is with networking. You cannot enjoy the achievement of your goals without doing the work. Like the skilled gardener, the skilled networker knows that the results are not immediate. Yet so many of us think we can harvest a healthy bounty from a network that has not been cultivated or cared for. When we are unsuccessful with our approach, we fix blame and complain rather than taking the actions called for.

Leaders who develop the skills of effective networking and do the work required enjoy many benefits. Like the gardener, the benefits are greatly multiplied when the work is done well. The gardener plants only one seed, but each successful seed produces a plant containing hundreds of seeds.

Networking Tips

If we can focus more on the other person and less on ourselves, we can cultivate the relationships that will ultimately form the critical links that make up our network. Our leadership success depends on it. View this short video clip for tips on how to build your network.

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Leadership isn't as easy as it looks

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

Leader-holding-meeting-with-team

Tilt your head back, tucking in your chin until your mouth and esophagus align with your spine.

  • These are instructions for swallowing a sword.

As you take off, shift your weight backward by leaning back. This will make you spin.  

  • These are instructions to do a back flip in downhill skiing.

Be humble, communicate effectively and be emotionally intelligent.

  • These are instructions on becoming a leader.

What do these three sets of instructions have in common? 

They don’t reflect the complexity of the task or communicate the enormous amount of practice required to achieve mastery.

They certainly sound simple enough. In all three cases, it isn’t as easy as it looks.

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10 guidelines for improving meeting effectiveness

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

Business-people-planningThe meeting leader has an awesome challenge. This person is responsible for setting the tone of the meeting, keeping the group focused on the meeting purpose, managing (often complex) group dynamics, ensuring everyone is able to contribute to the meeting and managing meeting logistics. 

Sound like a daunting task? Meeting leadership is. And few people are highly skilled at it.

10 Tips for Meeting Leaders

  1. Understand the meeting’s purpose and goals. Why are we together? Distribute an agenda to the group in advance. Provide appropriate information or materials. To prepare people for the meeting and make the best use of your time together, invite participants to come to the meeting having completed a pre-meeting assignment.
  1. Create a safe, nonthreatening environment where all participants feel safe and comfortable and want to engage. Discourage participants from sniping or zinging one another, even in fun. Model an accepting attitude by withholding judgment of ideas and others and by drawing out everyone’s perspectives and feelings.  Encourage contrasting ideas. 
  1. Recognize that while people have different personalities and may or may not actively participate in the discussion, they all want to be listened to, recognized and appreciated as unique individuals. Work toward participation from everyone without insisting on it. Think of various ways people can contribute besides just talking (maybe written responses). Invite the group to help you figure out ways to energize group discussions. Watch for and act on opportunities to tell others that they have done well.
  1. Listen carefully to the person speaking while monitoring nonverbal behavior of the group. Be alert to signs of discomfort from group members. Identify and manage concern or confusion by noting it (e.g., “I sense that this is an area of concern for us ...”). Watch the interactions to monitor and clarify, especially when controversial issues are being discussed. 
  1. Respect the group by starting meetings on time and finishing on time or early. Consider designating a timekeeper for the meeting if you anticipate time management challenges. Only extend discussion times when the group will strongly benefit from that decision.
  1. Seek to reach consensus on issues. Resist the temptation to save time by settling for majority opinion or compromise. Agreement is necessary for lasting and meaningful outcomes.
  1. Handle emotional issues with compassion. Conflict, frustration, anger and sadness all require a great deal of courage to share. Intervene when group members verbally attack one another or when a group member violates meeting protocol. 
  1. Recognize when you are too highly invested in the outcome and ask for someone else to fill the role of meeting leader.
  1. End each meeting with a summary or some type of tying-up activity to provide closure. Clarify roles regarding who will accomplish any follow-up actions agreed to in the meeting. 
  1. Get group feedback on the meeting. Is there anything the group would like to see changed? How are people feeling? What is working? Identify one thing you could do better to make your leadership in the next meeting more effective.

Do you have other meeting techniques that have worked for you that you would be willing to share? Please use the comments section of this blog to tell us about them.

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The cost of meetings

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings.”

- From Sixteen Things that it Took Me 50 Years to Learn, by Dave Barry

Business-people-meetingWe’ve all been there – captive in a meeting that drags on seemingly forever and nothing is accomplished. What is the underlying cause of the meeting failure, and how can it be solved? 

Many meeting leaders are not equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively facilitate a meeting. Similarly, many meeting participants contribute to the problem through their own ineffective meeting skills. 

According to the Wharton Center for Applied Research at the University of Pennsylvania, the average senior executive spends 23 hours each week in meetings. Sadly, senior and middle managers report that a mere 56 percent of meetings are productive and that a phone call or email could replace more than 25 percent of meetings. 

When the resources that are involved in meetings each day are considered alongside of the above statistics, the financial drain to organizations alone is devastating.

Nearly everyone in a professional environment finds themselves, at some time, asked to participate or present in meetings. As careers advance, increased meeting participation (and eventually, meeting leadership) inevitably follows. 

At all levels of organizations, individuals employ state-of-the-art process improvement methodologies to streamline activities and accomplish more with less.  Curiously, and somewhat ironically, these same individuals who strive for maximum productivity in their work activities wrestle with frustration and setbacks caused by unproductive meetings.

Why are meetings unproductive?

  1. Lack of Progress: They are not strategically valuable. There is limited or no progress against a goal.
  1. Lack of Performance: They fail to bring out the best in the people who attend or those who are affected. Relationships are damaged or interpersonal friction is created.

Since meetings are a part of most corporate cultures and are simply viewed as part of business, many people don’t consider the cost of meetings. Interestingly, many people don’t even consider meetings to be part of work. Some people will end a meeting by saying, “Let’s get back to work,” implying that the meeting time was not work. Even less frequently is consideration given to the large advantage available to organizations that use meeting time wisely. 

Meeting leadership skills are some of the easiest changes to make in an organization. However, like most change, an investment of time in building new skills, challenging old habits and implementing new processes requires effort. 

In the next blog, we will focus on several strategies to improve the effectiveness of meetings.

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The costs of the label game

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

Jane Elliott was a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Ia.  Following the assassination in 1968 of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., prominent civil rights movement leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elliott decided to teach her students about discrimination with a controversial experiment.

She segregated her students based on their eye color. The activity was designed to demonstrate the experience of being a member of a minority group. Beyond an appreciation for the experience of African Americans, the labeling activity held insightful lessons in how all people respond to how they are treated.

The experiment

In the first part of the exercise, Elliott assigned the role of “superior people” to the blue-eyed students giving them extra privileges such as a longer recess, special access to playground equipment, extra helpings at lunch, and full use of the water fountain. 

So that eye color could be quickly assessed from a distance, she had the brown-eyed students wear large, visible collars around their necks. To make the case that blue-eyed people were superior, she pointed out mistakes made by brown-eyed children as evidence of their inferiority and chastised them. She highlighted and celebrated achievements of the blue-eyed children as proof that they were smarter and better people. 

In the second part of the exercise she reversed the roles.  

The results

The students in each group responded to how they were treated. The “superior” students became bossy and treated the “inferior” group poorly. Their performance on tests and tasks improved significantly – beyond their previously demonstrated abilities. The “inferior” students became withdrawn and their performance on tests dropped. 

The performance effect was particularly stunning as it correlated directly to how the students were treated. The blue-eyed students, when labeled inferior, were retested on the same activity they performed the previous day when they had been labeled superior. Their performance dropped markedly. The performance of the brown-eyed students on the same task improved on the second day when their label changed from inferior to superior.

The changes were immediate and profound. Within a span of minutes, the environment created by the teacher transformed the behavior of the students. A viewing of the PBS Frontline documentary, A Class Divided, allows viewers to observe firsthand how these children responded to how they were treated. Everyone exposed to this experience, even viewers decades later, is impacted in a significant way. It is heartbreaking to watch previously confident and outgoing children isolate themselves on the school grounds after being labeled as inferior a short time earlier.

Her “blue-eyes/brown-eyes” exercise is credited for making Jane Elliott famous, earning her the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education and launching an impressive international public speaking and training career in diversity education. 

Back at home, the reach of the experiment extended beyond the classroom activity and had a substantial impact on how Elliott herself was treated by her peer group and many members of the community. Possibly because of the young age of the students involved in the activity, the exercise did not make her popular in Riceville – at least not in the short-term. After an appearance on the Tonight Show, teachers walked out of the teachers’ lounge when Elliott arrived.  Her daughter was taunted with hate messages in her junior high school. 

In the business world

Social media tagDoes an experiment involving children have any material insight for business professionals?

When organizations divide people into like groups, separate them from each other and attach labels to them, they are creating an environment not dissimilar from the environment Jane Elliott created for her students.

That is precisely what leaders do when they create functional areas within the business, designate work areas for various groups and assign department labels.

  • Those sales people…
  • Those engineers…
  • Those IT people…
  • Those executives…
  • Those administrative people…
  • Those accountants…

It is no surprise that people in departments treat other groups within the company as if they were competitors.  Name calling, stereotyping, self-promotion and denigrating others are just a few of the common behaviors that exist when the inevitable effect of The Label Game is allowed to flourish.

It isn’t easy. It makes business sense to have all the accountants working in a common area.  It makes sense to have all the sales people functioning together in a sales department. Creating a laboratory environment for researchers and technicians to collaborate closely together is a good business practice. Assigning call center staff to different areas around the organization would be inefficient and confusing. 

A caution for leaders

Because organizations employ people who are different from each other in numerous ways, virtually every organization is at risk. Leaders must be keenly attuned to the potential negative consequences of labeling in the workplace and work to ensure that they don’t contribute to the problem. Leaders are wise to look for and create opportunities for mutual respect across work groups and departments.

What the blue-eyes, brown-eyes experiment teaches us is labels matter. You tend to get what you expect. As leaders, if we expect people to be bored, sluggish and lazy, we will treat them that way and probably get that kind of behavior from them. If we expect them to be motivated, excited, and interested, we will treat them accordingly and probably find that they are excited and motivated.

While the research is mixed on whether or not Elliott’s experiment in discrimination reduces long-term prejudice, what is clear is that her experiment is conclusive in proving that people respond to how they are treated. A leader (in this case, a classroom teacher) entrusted with the care of others, is able to influence the behaviors of people interacting.

How can these insights inform how you lead?

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

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There are always consequences

“It starts with a small decision.” 

SnowballWalter Pavlo had earned a master’s degree in finance from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. and was a discontented senior manager at MCI Communications when he started taking advantage of the company’s lax accounting standards. He is talking about small decisions he made over the course of time and a path of dishonesty and fraud that resulted in a $6 million crime and two years in prison.

Post-prison, Pavlo works with organizations and business schools to help others avoid the path he traveled. He makes the following point: 

“It starts with a small decision that incrementally got worse and worse. You tell yourself your intentions are good at first, but then you find yourself in a place you don’t recognize…it’s tough to get back.”

The path to corruption starts with a single step – usually a small one that seems like no one is getting hurt and there are no consequences. 

Actions have outcomes. Behaviors have consequences. We can see how a series of small bad decisions and behaviors add up to enormous negative consequences. 

So it is with small good decisions. While small behaviors and actions may not seem to have a meaningful impact and may not seem to have consequences, they do. This truth is hard for us to remember when we are inclined to believe that the big win comes from the big action. It is small behaviors carried out consistently over time that represent competitive advantage for modern organizations.  

The snowball effect

The Snowball:  Warren Buffett and the Business of Life is a biography written by Wall Street Analyst Alice Schroeder on the world’s most famous investor. Snowball is a metaphor for describing the law of compound returns – the core investment concept for how wealth grows over time. A small snowball rolling downhill gathers mass, which increases speed, which continues to increase mass. The longer the hill – the larger the snowball grows. In investment terms – the longer the runway before retirement, the greater the opportunity to benefit from the law of compound returns.  

The same law applies to human interactions. Over time, our actions and behaviors consistently carried out multiply and ultimately become our brand. If they are positive human interactions, the brand is a positive one. If they are negative, so goes the brand.

Sweat the small stuff

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff is one of the Don’t Sweat series of best-selling books by author Richard Carlson, Ph.D.  Carlson, a recognized expert on stress reduction and happiness, inspires people to keep from getting bogged down with little things in life. The ability to manage stress, calm ourselves down and achieve balance is a goal worth attaining. 

Sadly, the sentiment of not sweating the small stuff, intended to preserve physical and emotional health, has a dark side. 

Minimizing or rationalizing the effect of small things is a recipe for disaster, as Walter Pavlo learned when his small dishonest actions added up to a serious crime and prison sentence. Similarly, minimizing the impact of small positive things can lead individuals and organizations to miss important opportunities.

Leaders are wise to contemplate the small decisions that are made daily in the areas of the business entrusted to their care and foster a culture that focuses on getting the little things right consistently.

Taking pains with the wording in an email to a client, matters. Pausing and reconsidering before texting a potentially offensive joke, matters. Struggling with the best way to express our gratitude to a colleague, matters. Wrestling with the various ways our message may be received by our boss, matters. Rehearsing how we are going to talk to our child about values, matters. It’s all seemingly small stuff and it matters.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

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Leadership and trust: 5 key strategies (Part 2)

Boss overlookingIn the last blog posting titled Leadership and trust: Presumed Innocent, we explored the challenges leaders face in fostering a culture of trust. While leaders seek to create a work environment built on trust, most leaders also know the enormous consequences of wrongly placed trust. For many of us, that knowledge has come from firsthand, painful experience.

This follow-up blog provides five leadership strategies to help leaders find balance in the leadership dilemma of leading with a trusting nature while also embracing a healthy dose of skepticism.

  1. Champion safeguards

Remind yourself that the presumption of innocence afforded to an individual does not require naiveté when considering large numbers of people that surveys reveal bend rules and later rationalize their own bad behavior. Assume the best in others while also championing the establishment of safeguards to reduce both temptation and the ease of wrongdoing by individuals inclined to breach ethics.

Facilitate process improvement events that seek to move beyond simply improving efficiencies and also flag or prevent ethical breaches. It has long been a standard practice in accounting that the individual responsible for paying the bills is a different person from the one responsible for reconciling the bank statement. Similarly, a company policy that requires the most senior person at a business function to pick up the restaurant tab, naturally ensures that expense approvals are made by a third party who was not at the event and can evaluate the expense on its merits. Introduce checks and balances throughout the organization whenever process improvement is on the agenda.

Provide a mechanism for individuals in the organization to ask questions about ethics and report misdeeds without risk of negative consequence.

  1. Trust and also verify

Ask for details. Ask for information to be repeated. Ask lots of questions. Ask about different topics. Ask for written summaries of steps taken and actions agreed. Even the most skilled liar will often stumble when required to fabricate many answers or when required to record their deeds in writing.

Remember that deception is difficult to detect. Mechanized lie detectors and polygraph tests have proven unreliable in detecting lies and in providing an alarming number of false-positives. Similarly unreliable are many human attempts to accurately diagnose deception, even by highly trained professionals like police officers and judges who get a lot of practice being lied to.

Collect data and rely on the systems in place to do the job they were designed to do.

  1. Take the time it takes

Trust is built over time. A valuable lesson to learn and to teach others is to slow down and build a relationship before reaching an agreement, negotiating the solution to a problem, or closing a deal. The odds of being deceived are much higher in transactions that involve a single interaction over those that involve a series of interactions over time.

It is interesting to note that as the means of electronic communication becomes easier, people often find face-to-face communications more difficult. In pursuit of relationship-building, encourage personal face-to-face communications. It’s easier for people to lie when the communication is more impersonal such as on the phone or via email. The expediency of electronic communication is small reward if you’ve been deceived.

  1. Training, feedback and coaching

Acquire skills to learn how to do the two most critical things leaders are called upon to do: (1) select people who not only possess the skills and knowledge to carry out job responsibilities but also fit within the corporate culture and reflect the ethics desired by the organization and (2) create an environment where people can thrive and be most successful.

It has become clear by now that the traditional education system is not going to ensure that the future members of the workforce graduate with a solid foundation in personal and interpersonal skills to bring to their careers. To foster a culture of ethics, leaders must equip people with critical skills such as communication, etiquette, listening, judgment, decision-making, team-building, negotiation and conflict resolution.

  1. Conduct a self-audit

Hold yourself to a higher standard. Become the rare person who carefully and consciously chooses your behavior.  Constantly question and challenge yourself. Are you judging yourself by your good intentions or by your actions?  Are you rationalizing a bad act after-the-fact to justify it or did you act from your core values?

Remind yourself that your acts of omission are just as dangerous as acts of commission when the result is the other person missing critical information or inferring an untruth. Many of us create a double-standard by refusing to lie on principle (innocent of commission) yet fail to disclose important information (guilty by omission).

If you have a naturally trusting nature (many of us do) and believe others until you have a reason to distrust them, balance it with a strong sense of curiosity and awareness, especially early in the relationship-building process.

When systems reveal deception, resist the temptation to transfer your feelings to others who may be worthy of trust.

Foster a culture of trust by talking about ethics, go public in your commitment to honesty and openness, and role model the behaviors you want to see. And when you make a mistake, as you inevitably will, ‘fess up and make it right.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

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Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Leadership and trust: presumed innocent (Part I)

“Trust until you have a reason not to.”

Wooden gavelPresumption of innocence is a fundamental right in most civilized countries. In criminal trials, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution which is required to meet a threshold of presenting evidence to convince beyond a reasonable doubt. So indoctrinated are we to that concept that a presumption of guilt is regarded as immoral. To that end, business practices, such as pre-employment drug testing, are frequently the target of rights activists who believe such practices violate the principle by requiring job candidates to prove themselves innocent.

Beyond law and order, the presumption of innocence has implications in all aspects of our lives. From parenting to education to business to politics, and everything in between, we are continuously challenged to assume the best in others and suffer the disappointment and consequences when our trust turns out to have been misplaced.

In the business world, leaders are encouraged to build a culture of trust. Evidence of this consistent message to leaders was revealed through a casual Google search on the words ‘trust’ and ‘leadership’ that yielded over 350 million hits. Nearly all of the volumes of books, articles, classes and speeches on the subject extol the virtues of trust, remind leaders that employee surveys reveal a deficit of trust, and encourage leaders to trust more and assume the best. After all, presuming innocence is not only an essential moral foundation of a civilized society, it is also sensible business practice.

Or is it?

Lying, cheating, stealing

In surveys, 82 percent of young people admit to lying to a parent about something significant, 60 percent admit to cheating on a test and 28 percent admit to stealing from a store. 

Ninety-eight percent of these same survey respondents believe that honesty and trust are essential in personal relationships, 92 percent report being satisfied with their own ethics and character and 74 percent say they are better than most people they know at doing what is right.

The numbers tell an interesting story. The same population who describes themselves as ethical also admitted to lying, cheating and stealing…on the same survey.

What can be gleaned from these contradictions?  Apparently the behaviors of lying, cheating and stealing that the survey respondents admitted to have been justified in their own minds, extending to themselves the presumption of innocence.

It’s a disturbing thought that the young people who confessed to these ethical breaches today are the parents, educators, colleagues, employees, leaders, elected officials and business owners of tomorrow.

The Leadership Dilemma

It is difficult to find a leader at any level that doesn’t readily agree about the importance of honesty and trust. However, the same leaders, like the young people surveyed, frequently fall short when called upon to translate the virtue they embrace into action.

There is little we can do, or indeed little anyone would want to do, about the fundamental right we cherish of the presumption of innocence. To embrace a philosophy that presumes guilt would be tantamount to turning back the clock on civilization.

For nearly everyone, the questions are troubling and the actions called for unclear. For leaders charged with building a culture of trust in organizations, the complexity of nurturing an ethical environment can be overwhelming.

Is there a solution? Can a trusting nature and a healthy dose of skepticism co-exist in organizations? Can a culture of trust be fostered at the same time as a culture that challenges the choices people make?

Stay tuned for the next blog on this subject where five leadership strategies are explored to address this challenge.  In the meantime, use the Comment section of this blog to share leadership strategies you have found effective.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

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A tragic and inspirational story: the ripple effect

"He said, 'Just do it for somebody else.'

 That's when it dawned on me that it was one of those pay it forward scenarios

and that it would mean a lot to him if I accepted."

It was one of those days.  It was Nov. 10, 2015.  Jamie-Lynne Knighten had just returned home from a visit with family in her native Ontario, Canada. Jamie, her husband and young children were moving into their new San Diego, Calif. home. She was picking up groceries at a supermarket. 

She had taken her youngest child with her to the store. The five-month-old was being fussy. The shopping excursion took an hour and a half. When she reached the checkout, she realized she had forgotten her debit card at home. 

The grocery total was more than $200. She remembered she had her Canadian credit card with her. Jamie gave the cash she had on hand to the cashier and swiped her Canadian credit card. Declined. She swiped it again. Declined.  She surmised that they had put an anti-fraud lock on the card because of her travels and she called the credit card company to have it lifted. Her phone died. A line was forming behind her at the checkout. She was trying to hold it together.

It was one of those days.

“Take us back to the day in the grocery store. How did you come to meet?” was the question posed to Jamie-Lynne Knighten by CBC Radio As it Happens host Carol Off.

Jamie recalled that she was about to ask the cashier if they could hold her purchases so she could return home to fetch her debit card when a stranger’s voice said “May I?”

“May you what?” she replied.

“May I take care of your groceries?”

She protested with her thanks.  After all, it was a large purchase and this was a stranger. 

The stranger replied “I would like to. Do me one thing. Just do it for somebody else.”

Jamie realized he was serious and this was a pay-it-forward gesture. She accepted.

KNXV final act of kindness_1448498758194_27464102_ver1.0_640_480As they left the store, she introduced herself and learned the young man who had performed this random act of kindness was named Matthew. She shared with Matthew that her family had just moved to the area and that she was feeling a little overwhelmed. She inquired where he worked and he responded “LA Fitness”. Jamie promised herself that she would follow up with Matthew in the days ahead to thank him more formally.

It would be another week before she would learn that Matthew’s last name was Jackson. That he was 28 years old. That he died in a car accident on Nov. 11, 2015.

Jamie had called the local gym about a week after the encounter and spoke with Matthew’s manager in hopes of reaching him and reconnecting. It was through tears that his manager told her about the tragedy. 

When Jamie called her husband to tell him the sad news, it hit him hard. The stereotypical Marine, who doesn’t get upset about too many things, was shaken by the news. It was a cold reminder of how fragile life is.

Jamie came to know about Matthew and his character from his boss who had worked with him for four years. She told Jamie “That’s who he was. Always doing for other people. Never asking for anything in return.” Through his co-workers, Jamie was able to connect with Matthew’s mother and spent two hours discovering more about who Matthew Jackson was.

"She told me that he was a big sweetheart that was always doing things for other people. One thing she's really proud of is that he's a bear hugger. In every photo that you see of him with somebody, he doesn't just have one arm around them. He's giving them a huge bear hug. And that's what it felt like when he paid for my groceries and took care of me."

Jamie created a Facebook page called Matthew’s Legacy asking people to do something extraordinary for a stranger to honor Matthew and help restore faith in humanity. The response has been worldwide and the stories are heartwarming. Jamie says she wants for her children “to recognize that they can actively participate in making a positive change in the world like he did.” She goes on to say “It doesn’t have to be monetary.  It doesn’t have to be huge and grandiose. Create a lifestyle of kindness. Help people in small ways or big ways. Whatever you can do.  Every little bit helps.”

Matthew’s legacy endures and Jamie is paying it forward. 

A powerful leadership lesson for us all to contemplate.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

A culture of entitlement

Female with papersRank can be consciously or unconsciously assigned. Take a look at the law of the pack. Take a look at dogs. 

Buster comes to his new home from the Humane Society. He is automatically programmed to either relate to his owners as parents or siblings. What do his owners do? They gush over him and talk to him in a high-pitched voice that sounds to Buster more like a sibling than someone responsible for him. When he gets excited, they allow him to jump, charge through doors, drag them down the street or claim privileges of higher rank. His position is set. He is in control. Buster outranks his owners.

What does this tell us about how leaders should indoctrinate new employees to their new environment?

Organizational Culture

One of the greatest challenges faced by organizations is providing a work environment and benefits that attract the best employees yet still create an expectation for what it is they want the person to do without fostering a culture of entitlement.

Leaders in organizations never intend to communicate that the comfort and personal equity of the employee takes priority over what it was they are tasked to do. Yet, what does the interview candidate or new employee think when the tour includes a visit to a state-of-the-art fitness facility, no formal dress code, game rooms, compensated meals, convenient flex hours, and optional educational programs. Add to this the promise of lavish bonuses when the company is profitable, regardless of individual contributions. 

Is there a problem with companies seeking to create a state-of-the-art workplace and exemplary employee benefits? 

No. The problem lies in the incomplete communication. There are many examples of organizations who offer their employees a unique and upscale work experience. Zappos and Disney are two examples. What they communicate, and many organizations fail to, are the expectations of the employees. 

New Employee Orientation

Zappos provides a unique organizational culture that appeals to many individuals. They also spend several weeks in new employee orientation educating the new employee on the organization’s goals and the expectations of each employee. They are famous for “the offer”, which is a $3,000 take it or leave it offer to leave the organization after the company has outlined the expectations. Employees have the opportunity to publicly affirm that they are signing onto the expectations or they are walking.

Disney has a similarly intensive new employee orientation program that not only covers the many benefits of working for this prestigious organization but also describes the hardships employees encounter such as unattractive shifts, strict dress code and the requirement to be pleasant in every situation – even when you don’t feel like it.

In their attempt to sell the benefits of the company, organizations often fail to put performance expectations at the forefront and help the employee see that the many benefits are in exchange for top performance.

Like the new dog owner, the intentions of the organization are good. They are setting out to create a wonderful experience for the new employee in their new environment in the hopes that performance will follow. Instead, entitlement is the result.

What was the employee to think when this is the focus of the first day walk-through. We know how Buster responded. How is the new employee going to respond?

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Giving up accountability

Team conceptYou don’t have to look far to find proof of the stunning success of teams within organizations. Teams are one of the most effective responses to today’s business challenges. Challenges posed by customer service, quality, continuous improvement and all of the other hot topics that separate today’s market winners from the companies they leave in the dust. 

In pursuit of this competitive advantage, leaders commonly remind employees that there is no “I” in Team. “We” becomes the mantra. 

Leaders beware! There are risks.

The word “we” means nothing to you. It means nothing to any of us.

For organizations to be successful, each individual must see him/herself as accountable for a final result. Even in the case of team goals, each individual must understand and carry out their specific role and responsibilities. Giving up accountability to “the team” sends a powerful message to our subconscious minds to look for excuses rather than to take actions that will move us closer to the goal.

Most sports teams imprint the goal of “we will win”. The most successful sports teams know that they can’t stop there. They take it one step further. They have each individual member of the team imprint the specific role they are accountable for as part of the team goal.

Consider this familiar example:

Why does one parent sleep through a baby’s cry in the middle of the night while the other parent needs only to hear a change in the breathing of the child to be on red alert? 

When parents bring their newborn baby home, both are on heightened alert for anything that may represent a threat to the infant. After a few days pass, the task typically falls to one parent who most consistently rushes to the child’s side at the slightest peep from the little one.

The other parent remains peaceful in deep sleep. Imagine the surprise of the well-rested parent who discovers in the morning that their cranky, sleep-deprived partner was up five times during the night with the child.

None of us realize that we block sounds from our peaceful sleep every night (furnace or air conditioner coming on, TV set blaring, music from next door, siren down the street). We don’t hear the many sounds that occur in our homes every night. 

Why does one parent block the baby’s cry and the other doesn’t? Isn’t the baby valuable to both parents? 

Of course, the child is important to both parents. It isn’t a question of buying into the value of the new life. It is because one parent has given up accountability. One parent knows the other will get up allowing his or her subconscious to rest soundly in the knowledge that “the parenting team” has it handled.

Teams in the workplace

A similar phenomenon happens in the workplace. Every team has one or two individual(s) who everyone knows “she will” or “he will”.  The comfort of that knowledge allows other members of the team to rest their creativity, their talents and their awareness.

Giving up accountability causes us to miss a lot of opportunities and warning signs that will take us more speedily to the achievement of our goals.

A wake-up call for leaders

The next time you are leading a team that sets a team goal, take the extra step to make sure everyone knows what their specific roles and responsibilities are. There may not be an “I” in Team but teams are made up of individuals and each individual needs to be accountable for their own contributions.  

To be fully accountable means we need to know what is expected of us. In this way, we engage both our conscious and subconscious creative genius.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Leading with self-talk

Businesswoman_thinking

What is your self-image? What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Don’t think about what others think of you. What do you think of yourself? 

You have many beliefs about yourself. These beliefs control your ability to realize your leadership potential. When you learn to change these beliefs, you can expand your skills and realize your potential. If you grew up thinking you were shy, then you are shy. If you believe that you are naturally overweight, then diets will only work for you for a short time—you will gain the weight back. 

How we talk to ourselves, our self-talk, has a powerful impact on our lives. Self-talk is the internal conversation we have with ourselves all day long, every day. The beliefs we hold about ourselves are what control the real use of our potential. Over the years we’ve been telling ourselves a lot with our self-talk. We’ve been telling ourselves we’re shy or outgoing, a warm person or a cold person, a high performer or a low performer.

We build and change our self-image through our self-talk. Many of our thoughts are constructive and others are debilitating. It is often said that if a friend talked to you the way you sometimes talk to yourself then the friendship would be over in a hurry. The greater our self-image or self-esteem, the easier it is to deal with new situations and new challenges. 

Affirmations

Don’t think about a steaming hot piece of apple pie. Don’t think about the big scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream melting on the top of it. Don’t think about the wonderful cinnamon smell. 

It’s hard not to think about it, isn’t it?

The message I just placed in your head was a powerful one and I did it by telling you what NOT to think about.  Your self-talk (negative or positive) is doing the same thing all day, every day for you.

Affirmations are positive self-talk that guides us toward our goals. It is important to affirm correctly or the desired results will not be achieved.

If we go through life focusing on the negative, we prevent ourselves from maximizing our personal potential — an insight Mother Teresa tried to pass on to a fervent group of antiwar protestors. The protestors asked Mother Teresa if she would be willing to lead a huge antiwar demonstration. “No”, said the wise nun. “I won’t march against war. If you ever hold a demonstration for peace, call me”. When your mode is anti, you have to use your creative energy in defense, leaving little to create what you want to do with your life.

Does this sound like some kind of crazy self-help technique like standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself that you are wonderful and that people like you? In some ways the answer is yes. The important thing to recognize is that it’s not a question of if you’re going to affirm — you already do. It’s whether you’re going to do it effectively.

Try this at Home

If you want to imprint your children with a good sense of self-esteem and a positive expectation for the future, try asking these two questions every night.  It will cause the young person to shift their self-talk.

What did you do today that you’re really proud of?

What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Stick with it. Your young person might think the questions are odd at first. Once they get used to the new pattern, you’ll find they talk positively about themselves every day.

Your Own Self-Talk

What conversation do you have with yourself at night before you go to sleep?

Are you telling yourself how proud you are of your performance? Probably not! If you’re like most of us, you’re probably berating yourself for not getting enough done during the day. This is self-talk and it’s negative. Shift to the positive.

As a Leadership Strategy

After practicing on yourself and your loved ones, try the technique out on your team. At your next staff meeting, invite each member of the team to respond to these two questions:

What are you proud of from your actions last week that moved us closer to our goals?

What are you looking forward to doing this week that will move us closer to our goals?

Make this a weekly routine and monitor the results.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Tips to handling conflict

Boxing gloveA colleague takes credit for your idea. A manager sets an unrealistic deadline. A family member doesn’t perform the household chores as agreed. Your inability to stick with your diet and exercise program is frustrating you. Conflict takes many forms.

Whether it's with a co-worker, manager, loved one, or self, conflict takes a heavy toll on relationships and productivity. 

The ability to deal well with conflict is a rare skill. Hardwired at birth for fight or flight, we default to aggressive or passive behaviors that produce only losers and no winners. Is there another way?

The single biggest thing that characterizes conflict is heightened emotions. How can you manage your own emotions in the heat of a conflict? Here are two tips:

1. Find something to occupy your mind and distract you. Physical activity is always a good choice. Avoid activities that allow you to ruminate (i.e., driving or shopping) as you are unlikely to cool down and may get more worked up. 

2. If you can’t physically leave the environment, consciously change your emotional state. Silently say the alphabet or your social security number backwards. It is difficult to remain emotional when your mind is challenged with such a complex task.

With a cooler head, you are ready to address the conflict. Here are four tips to start:

1. Remember, people in conflicts get emotional. Although tempting, it is not productive to ignore emotions. 

2. Challenge your assumptions. Recognize that your evaluation of the situation is probably only one of several interpretations.

3. Be tactfully honest about your own interests and ask the other party to be clear about their needs. You might find that the conflict is only a symptom of a deeper issue.

4. Ask for a “do over” if things get off to a bad start. According to research, 96 percent of communications that start badly, end badly.    

Conflict resolution, when done well, is an important and inevitable part of progress.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

The risks of losing touch with reality

 

 

Carpet

What would you do if someone came up to you and asked, am I half way to Chicago yet? 

If you’re like most people, you’d respond “where did you start?”

We must know not only our goal (vision) but also our starting point (current reality).  Without that, you have no idea where you are in your journey to reach your goal.

My husband accidentally burned a 14-inch ring into our carpet.  He was microwaving hay in a paper bag in an attempt to measure the moisture of the hay – an interesting story! DuPont was right – its carpet is fire resistant. Naturally, the carpet needed to be replaced. 

While I was contemplating the flooring options, I put a throw rug over the spot.  What was I doing?  I was disguising reality.  Without the ability to see current reality, I lost the creative drive and energy to fix the problem (my vision) and the damaged rug remained for nearly a year.

We do the same thing every time we pull a piece of furniture in front of a blemish on the wall. We close our eyes to reality. Without being able to clearly see reality, we lose the vision and the goal is never reached. 

If you want to earn an extra $500 per month and are currently broke you must hold both images (reality and vision) clearly in your mind. Seeing yourself with $500 extra per month while simultaneously seeing yourself broke will help you find the creative drive and energy to find the solution. If you borrow money from your credit card in the meantime, you lose sight of reality and never solve your problem.

This is also the reason support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous work (AA). That is a group all focused on a common goal (being free from alcohol). Their program requires its members to keep two images clearly in their minds. Reality, I AM an alcoholic; and Vision, I choose a healthy lifestyle for myself.

Similarly, leaders who set ambitious goals for the future but fail to assign metrics (current reality versus desired goal) are destined to have their goals remain in the future.

When has losing touch with reality happened in your life? What excuses have you been using to explain why you can’t achieve your goals?

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content: Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Watch out for your leadership biases

Dog and cat

The world is divided into two different types of people – dog people and cat people.

My husband and I share our farm with three horses, two dogs, a mule and 30 cats.  Yes, you read that right – 30 cats. I’m a cat person.

It wasn’t always that way. My two brothers and I begged our parents for a dog when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was our pleas or if our parents decided that a canine would be a welcome addition to the family, but at some point they relented and King joined our family. He came from the dog pound (I don’t remember it being called a shelter at that time). My brother Kevin named King. Since Kevin’s name started with a ‘K’, the dog’s name must as well. Interestingly, many years later, he named his daughter Kourtney. Perhaps for the same reason?! I digress. King became an instant member of the family and I was a “dog person”. I didn’t like cats. I had a bias that favored dogs – not cats.

The bias was understandable. I didn’t know any cats. All my friends had dogs. Cats, it seemed to me, didn’t become close members of the family. They were loners. The only thing I knew about cats was they chased mice. 

That would be a factoid that would become important to me years later.

I love country living – except for the mice. I had heard if you saw one mouse, there were 50. I don’t know if that is statistically correct but I did know we had more mice than I was comfortably cohabitating with. I recalled the knowledge from my youth – cats chase mice.  It turned out to be true. 

Our first three cats were barn cats – to keep the barn mouse-free. And they did. People advised me not to feed the cats or they wouldn’t hunt. It didn’t take long to realize that cats, even well fed ones, hunt mice. It’s what they do. If I fed them, they hunted closer to home. I liked that. And I liked the cats. The more I got to know them, the more I liked them. 

We challenge biases by expanding our knowledge and experiences

Biases and stereotypes are normal. We all have them. We hold biases about people, about careers, about our business competition, about industries, about products, about beliefs…about almost everything. As we expand our own knowledge and broaden our experiences, we naturally challenge our biases and stereotypes – usually with good outcomes.

As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to ensure that our biases, and those of the people entrusted to our care, either consciously or unconsciously held, don’t prevent us from reaching our potential.

The more we are open to learning about a wide range of things, people and experiences, especially those unfamiliar to us, the more our leadership potential has a chance to fully mature and our own lives are enriched. 

What biases do you hold? Are they holding you back as a leader?

What biases hold sway in your team? In your department? In your organization? What can you do to positively challenge those biases and stereotypes?

Excuse me while I get some tuna for my house cat who is chirping at me.

Forget multitasking and focus

Businessman_multitasking 
Does trying to read the news updates crawling across the bottom of the television screen while attending to the main program frustrate you? Do you get engaged in the interview and then catch a glimpse of the end of a news update “…dead at 21”? Do you spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out who died? 

We delude ourselves into believing our multitasking efforts result in saving valuable time. This false belief is reinforced by time management experts prescribing multitasking as a time saving tool and a civilization that demands constant and overlapping activity.

The research is clear. Our brains are designed for focus and it is when we concentrate that we are at our productive and inventive best. Scattered attention guarantees we do neither task well and research reveals that the stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the system. Far from a time-saving approach, multitasking is a time waster and a stress inducer. 

Multiple experiments have shown that focusing on one task at a time delivers the most effective and efficient results.

Can we do two things at once? Yes. On the condition that one of the two things is habitual and unconsciously done (not requiring creative or cognitive thought). For example, driving a car while listening to an audio book is easily done unless you’re on icy or unfamiliar roads that require your focus and attention.  Walking and carrying on a conversation is a breeze on familiar terrain. Reading while exercising on the treadmill can provide a useful distraction.

However, when both activities demand your complete attention, choose one. The next time you find yourself reading an email while talking on the phone, texting while driving, checking your iPhone in a meeting, completing a puzzle while interacting with your kids, reading PowerPoint slides while listening to a speaker – pause and remind yourself to focus on one task at a time. 

Slow down and focus.  It’s a quick, no-cost approach to increasing productivity and reducing stress.

The leader's lyrics

Musical note


Have you ever been driving down the road and found yourself singing along with the tune on the radio?  I often do. Fortunately for those I travel with, I usually reserve that routine for the times when I am alone in the car. 

It is on these occasions that I wonder, how many times I may have heard the song before I memorized the words and could sing them with enthusiasm and passion, mimicking (albeit poorly) the artist?

I suppose the first few times I heard the song, I didn’t even hear it on a conscious level.  Sometime later, perhaps when my mind was clear, void of distractions and generally at peace, I allowed the song to reach my conscious mind. Then, I made a decision about how I felt about the song. Probably lukewarm at first (knowing that new things often hit me off balance). After hearing the song a few more times, I begin to like it. The rhythm begins to move me. The chorus is becoming familiar. And before I know it, I can sing along. However, without the music on the radio to accompany me, I probably can’t remember many of the words, except perhaps the general theme of the song, how I feel about it, and the artist’s name. 

Therein lies some great insight for leaders. 

We carefully craft our messages, giving a great deal of thought to how our audience will receive our important message, only to have most of them remember very little if any of our words, much like the first time we hear a new song.

So how do we make sure others leave our presentations singing our song? Especially when the lyrics are completely new? 

For starters, we should think about the mood they are in when they listen to our message.  Is there anything we can do to create a mental state in our listeners that primes them for our message? As we prepare our talk, we can learn from the great songwriters, to develop a catchy chorus, and use it frequently throughout the presentation. 

How many times did I need to hear the song before I could recite the lyrics? My best estimate is three times and I knew the chorus (of course, I had heard the chorus three to four times in each listening). 

I wonder how many times I heard the song before I was even conscious that I had heard the song? An interesting question and food for thought for leaders.

 

The emotional side of change

“Any change, even a change for the better,

is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”

Arnold Bennett

 

Man_changing expressionsYou’ve probably heard the saying “Leave your emotions at the door.” 

The saying implies a hierarchy of fact over emotion and further implies that the workplace is no place for emotions. Although it’s difficult to trace the exact roots of the saying, it’s possible that it arose during the Post-Enlightenment period of Taylorism—a time when theorist Frederick Taylor viewed employees as machines that could be studied for time and motion efficiency and tweaked or tuned to maximize output.  The view at the time was that the scientific method was absolute and would eventually perfect a process if applied consistently.

Since that time, management and leadership theory has evolved to incorporate the humanity of humans.  Some residual strains of the theory continue to prevail.  “Leaving one's emotions at the door” is one such strain. The truth is that the more we know about the science of the human brain, the more we’ve learned that it’s not only impossible to separate a human from his or her emotions, it’s not even desirable.  Eliminating the capacity for emotion would serve to destroy the same motivation, passion and interest that leaders covet and credit for success in reaching goals.

In the mid-sixties, researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe concluded that all change—good and bad—takes an emotional toll due to the transition it requires. They found that even when the change is a good thing (like the birth of a child or a promotion), letting go of old expectations, habits and patterns and moving through the uncertainty of transition can be frightening, confusing, and ultimately correlated to higher risk of illness.

Leaders who dismiss or underestimate the emotional response people have to change or believe that they need only provide the logic to “make the case” for the change are destined for change results that fall far short of goals. 

4 Tips for Handling the Emotional Impact of Change

The important thing to remember is that change does exact a significant emotional toll which cannot be underestimated or ignored. The type of emotions can run the gamut from anger to sadness to confusion to denial and everything in between.  As you build your skills for leading change, do the following:

1. Validate the emotional process of change. Reassure people that their emotions are normal. Model this by talking about your own emotional reactions to the transitions. It will speak volumes when they see that you too struggle with the feelings of sadness and loss.

2. Pay attention to the ways individuals deal with their emotions. Some people will want to talk about them over and over and over. For them, talking about their feelings helps make sense of them—as though getting them “out in the open” provides for a type of verbal organization process. Others will need time to retreat into their own reverie of solitude to think things through and process their feelings internally. Expect variety and provide opportunities for people to process their emotions in a variety of ways.

3. Recognize (and communicate to others) that energy and morale levels will be lower during the change process as people’s emotions get redirected toward assimilating the change. Energy and morale will return if you manage the process effectively. You will have to be patient.

4. Remember to take care of yourself (and others) before you and/or they think it’s necessary. Often, competent professionals report that they feel “fine” (and therefore not in need of pampering, decompression or relaxation) until they reach maximum stress levels that precipitate a crisis. 

Resistance to change

Business person_resisting

 

“Progress is impossible without change,

and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding change and none so pervasive or dangerous to the ultimate success of change efforts than the mistaken assumption that people resist change.

To state that “people resist change” is not only to assume that all people are alike, it's close to suggesting that they are still infants. Simply growing up requires many changes that most of us have gotten through with reasonable success.

Click here to watch a video clip that debunks the commonly held notion that people resist change by using an example that almost all of us can relate to. It challenges leaders to address the real stopper to successful change efforts – people resist the unknown.

Common complaints about leaders during change

Why aren’t our leaders communicating?  What aren’t they telling us what is going to happen?

Leaders are often accused of not caring about people when changes are introduced in an organization. Interestingly, the evidence is overwhelmingly against that theory. 

Leaders typically spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about employee morale and how change (especially major change) will impact people.  Sadly, they do this among their own peers, usually behind closed doors.

What they fail to do is to communicate the change early and frequently enough that people can more successfully navigate the inevitable emotions that accompany change and the fear of the unknown that is illustrated in the video clip.

There are countless examples of employees finding out about major changes in their organizations by reading about them on the internet or hearing about them on the news.

When leaders do try to prepare employees for change, they often do it in the form of a one-time formal communication (speech during a staff meeting or a carefully crafted email) that does little to help people process the emotions of the change they will experience or get their questions answered.

They comfort themselves by calling what they did “communication.” We know from our research at Tero that one-way communication is a very narrow definition of communication. To be effective, it must be kinesthetic, visual and auditory.  It must involve opportunities for questions and answers. And when the change is a large one, it must be frequent. 

Simply telling people one time does not satisfactorily prepare people to experience the change any more than announcing kindergarten in the car on the way to school is going to be the best approach to prepare a young person for such a major transition in their life.

How much communication is appropriate? It depends. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Receptivity depends upon several factors.

  • Some personality types embrace change more easily than others.
  • Our receptivity increases when it was our idea or we clearly see our role and responsibilities.
  • Change is easier to accept if it doesn’t impact me personally.
  • Timing – what else is going on at the same time?
  • Have I seen this change before? For example, people who have been through acquisitions in their past experience have an easier time in future acquisitions (if their experience was positive).
  • Trust.

Sometimes, as a leader, trust is the only thing we can impact. Frequently we can’t disclose information about a change well in advance of the change unfolding. If people trust us, they will follow. Take a moment to think of people you will willingly follow.  Do you trust them?

Change begins with an ending

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International  

 Typewriter_the end

 

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy;

for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;

we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

 

Reflect on the major changes in your life. It could be a career change, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, marriage, divorce… 

Did the changes involve an element of loss? 

All changes, both positive and negative, begin with a loss. They first begin with letting go of the old.

William Bridges wrote about this intuitively logical notion in his book Managing Transitions. As Bridges describes it, transition is the emotional process we go through to get from something old to something new. Before you arrive at the new location, you must leave home, travel through what Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone” which is neither home nor the intended destination.

Leaders, not surprisingly, are notoriously focused on the new. They are victims of the erroneous thinking that change begins with something new. While, it’s tempting to think of change as the beginning of something new, this mistake in thinking is a leading cause of change failures.

In reality, or at least in our emotional reality (which tends to take precedence over “objective reality”); change begins with an ending. Before we can move into the new, we must first leave the old. Leaders who fail to recognize reality this lead change at their peril.

Leaving the old behind

Consider moving houses. To be sure, there is a day when the moving van (or your friends and a truck) transfer your possessions from the old to the new. However, the change, as anyone who has made it knows, involves more than the physical move. 

You begin with letting go of the old. Mourning the loss of the familiar. Thinking about the memories (even if they aren’t fond ones). Once you actually move, things don’t quickly fall into place. You wake up in the middle of the night in a slightly unconscious state in search of a glass of water and walk into a wall because the old house didn’t have a wall in that location. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

You have to find a new route to work. You realize how challenging this is when one evening you are on your way home and unconsciously find yourself driving to the old house. You have to find a new grocery store and the new one doesn’t arrange their shelves like the old one. It takes more time.   

You miss the old, familiar place. 

If you made your move with a family, not only are you dealing with the process of change, you are also leading others on the journey. They miss friends and neighbors at the old location, the old school, the favorite hairdresser, dry cleaner, banker, physician. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

Some people find the process of leaving the end behind so challenging that they will go to great lengths to hang on to the old. Consider people who drive a couple of hours to keep their relationship with their hairdresser, banker or doctor.

Even a positive change like the birth of a child requires us to give up the way things were.  Countless new mothers and fathers experience tremendous guilt as they know societal norms demand that they be euphoric at this wonderful new change. While they love the new life entrusted to their care, they also suffer in silence wondering if there is something wrong with them as they grieve the simplicity of the life left behind. Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard this was going to be?  Am I the only one feeling like this? 

Even in the case of a planned, positive change, you miss the old, familiar place. 

In the workplace

New processes and systems, technological advances, new teams, new leaders, new products, growth, down-sizings, acquisitions, restructurings… the change itself doesn’t seem to matter much. The one thing they all have in common is that, like the personal changes we make, individuals in the workplace first must leave the old comfort zone behind before moving to the new.

Leadership strategy

What can leaders do to address this reality?  Stop, pause and dignify the ending.  Celebrate where we came from and what we’ve achieved before we run too fast into the change ahead.  Mourn the past – even the parts we are happy to leave behind.

Some ideas include:

  • Celebration
  • Themed luncheons
  • Tell stories (do you remember when…)
  • Validate the old
  • Thank people for their contributions
  • Allow time for grieving

Dignifying the ending is an important tradition when someone has died. It is the purpose of funerals and celebrations of life. It is critical to dignify the ending before we can move into the new. Retirement parties are designed for the same purpose.

Leaders can learn lessons on leading change from contemplating these important traditions. 

Leaders and change

Wooden arrows

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

-Woodrow Wilson

 

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International

In modern times, most organizations are undergoing some type of significant change at any point in time. New product introductions, downsizings, acquisitions, divestments, restructuring, expansion, and so on… are just a few of the major change challenges organizations are tackling. 

How are they doing?

Change efforts in organizations fail at an astonishingly high rate. Failure estimates range from 66% to 75%.

Why?

There are a lot of reasons changes fail.

Each failed change has its own special blend of things gone wrong. The one common element to most failed change efforts is that leaders enter it without adequately understanding the process of change.

This is the first in a series of blogs designed to explore the subject of change from a variety of perspectives and provide leaders with useful tips and insights into how they can increase the likelihood of success when leading change.

Spoiler alert:

Commonly held beliefs on the subject of change are going to be challenged and debunked.  Stay tuned…

Change: Start with small wins

Baby steps

“Things don't have to change the world to be important.” Steve Jobs

 

Rowena Crosbie is President of Tero International

Change is scary.  

It is easy to make excuses that the risks of failure are too high and reconcile ourselves to the comfort of the familiar (even if we don’t particularly like the familiar and don’t find it all that comfortable.)

Wise leaders know this and know that they will need to start small with recognizable, feasible steps toward the larger goal. Tackling the whole thing at once would be too overwhelming. The small, doable steps are called “small wins” and they are imperative for fueling the positive momentum toward the final goal.

In their seminal leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner provide a good example of a leader who knew about how to use small wins.

Charlie Mae Knight was the new superintendent of a dying school district in California. Fifty percent of the schools in the district were closed. Those that weren’t closed were run-down with broken windows, graffiti on the walls and rats running all over the yard. Worse yet, the teachers were demoralized, the drop-out rate was really high and 98% of the children that remained in school were performing in the lowest percentile for academic achievement in California.

Rather than marching in and suggesting that she was going to improve test scores and reduce drop-out rates, as the leaders she followed did, she started with small, observable wins.

She recruited volunteers to help her repaint the walls and got pellet guns to kill the rats. Soon people started noticing that the place looked nice and they began to believe that a change was taking place.

Eventually, test scores did improve and drop-out rates were reduced. Ms. Knight knew that to bring out positive change, she would have to start with small wins that would give people the hope and encouragement to keep going.

A small win is something a leader can do right away that will represent a baby step in the direction you want

Don't talk to strangers

 Stranger
Most people go to conferences with two goals:

  • to further their education
  • to network

At a conference I attended, one concurrent session was facilitated by a blind presenter.

I laughed out loud when he described the pattern the seating had likely taken in the room. When we enter a room, we first look for someone we know to sit with. Locating no familiar faces, most of us choose to sit alone (usually along the aisle to allow for a quick exit or at least one seat away from the next person). If that is not an option in a crowded room, we look for someone like us (same gender, age, skin color) to sit next to.

He was right. A quick glance around the room by the sighted people revealed that exact pattern. People sitting with colleagues or friends, the seats along the aisles completely filled and the center sections dotted with individuals seated one, two or three seats apart.

Don’t talk to strangers! This phrase is a common refrain parents and teachers preach to children. Deeply engrained, it becomes our behavior. The result – it helps keep children safe from predators seeking to harm them by offering candy, pretending to locate a lost pet, or showing false kindness.

As we mature into adulthood the part of our brain responsible for judgment also matures.  We gain the capability to discern which strangers to avoid and which ones we should get to know. Or do we?

The imprinting in early childhood is so deep that we tend to carry it throughout our lifetimes. As a result, 76 percent of adults suffer from some level of social anxiety – the stress that prevents us from forging new relationships with strangers who might be valuable additions to our professional networks and social circles.

The age of social media has dawned along with the illusion that we are creating large networks. While technology allows quick access to information and facilitates speedy communication with people we know, it is a poor substitute for the face-to-face interactions that lead to building new relationships.

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Go to a networking function alone and introduce yourself to a stranger. Sit next to someone you don’t know at a conference and strike up a conversation. Attend a training workshop and learn the skills of rapport building that will help to reprogram the voice in your head telling you “don’t talk to strangers.”

A higher standard

Businessman_superhero

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. 

Hmm. 

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.

 

Yesplease

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. 

Ethics_wood

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.”

Golf_leadershipblog

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.

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