Blog Categories: Workplace

How to get emails returned

Posted on May 31, 2019

With the opportunities to write through social media and email, we are awash in words, some communicate well, others don’t. This quick read article offers some strategies for how one might write in emails in a more compelling and authentic way–which might be more interesting to read.

The Need for Managers with Coaching Skills

Posted on April 1, 2019

Managers who effectively harness their coaching skills reap multiple benefits. Their employees are more committed, willing to put in greater effort and are less likely to leave.

Most managers have had some training in coaching people for high performance. Ten years ago, 73% of managers received some form of training, according to BlessingWhite, a global leadership-development firm. But the firm’s 2015 report reveals that employees who receive regular feedback through coaching conversations are in the minority.

Why Don’t More Managers Coach?

Managers usually cite lack of time as the main excuse for failing to coach employees, but the real reasons may be different, note John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010).

Three common barriers stand in the way:

  1. Misconceptions of what coaching is
  2. A desire to avoid difficult conversations
  3. No clear game plan for initiating and framing coaching conversations

The Manager-Fixer

Despite good intentions, the manager-fixer creates numerous problems:

  1. Quick fixes don’t teach people to think for themselves.
  2. When work is challenging, employees will look to their managers for an easy fix.
  3. Managers who fix problems encourage dependency, thereby creating additional work for themselves.

Let’s address the reasons why managers fail to coach.

  1. Misconceptions of What Coaching Is

Coaching isn’t instructing, mentoring, counseling, cheerleading, therapy or directing, although there are some similarities. Coaching skills include:

  • Clarifying an interaction’s outcome and agreeing to a conversation’s goal
  • Listening to what is—and isn’t—said
  • Asking non-leading questions to expand awareness
  • Exploring possibilities, consequences, actions and decisions
  • Eliciting a desired future state
  • Establishing goals and expectations, including stretch goals
  • Providing support
  • Following up on progress
  • Setting accountability agreements
  1. A Desire to Avoid Difficult Conversations

Coaching conversations require time and energy, but they’re the only way to gain trust, honesty and transparency. If you’re unwilling to invest the required time and effort, coaching will inevitably fail.

  1. No Game Plan for Coaching Conversations

Many coaching models exist, but the best are short, simple and easy to employ. With a solid framework, you can achieve results in as little as 10 minutes.

GROW Model

One of the original coaching frameworks is the GROW model, created by Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore:

G Goal The Goal is where the client wants to be. It must be clearly defined so people know when they’ve achieved it.
R Reality The Current Reality is where the client is now. What are the issues and challenges? How far away is Goal achievement?
O Obstacles What Obstacles are stopping the client from reaching the Goal?
Options Once Obstacles are identified, the client finds Options to deal with them and make progress.
W Way Forward The Options are converted into the Way Forward—action steps that map the way to reach the Goal.

 

FUEL Coaching Conversations

Zenger and Stinnett suggest using the FUEL model in The Extraordinary Coach:

  • F = Frame the Conversation. Set the context by agreeing on the discussion’s purpose, process and desired outcomes.
  • U = Understand the Current State. Explore the current state from the coachee’s point of view. Expand the coachee’s awareness of the situation to determine the real coaching issue.
  • E = Explore the Desired State. Articulate your vision of success in this scenario. Explore multiple alternative paths before prioritizing methods of achieving this vision.
  • L = Lay Out a Success Plan. Identify the specific, time-bounded action steps to be taken to achieve the desired results. Determine milestones for follow-up and accountability.

Face the Coaching FACTS

While people enjoy receiving their managers’ support, they also want to be challenged, note John Blakey and Ian Day in Challenging Coaching: Going Beyond Traditional Coaching to Face the FACTS (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2012).

Blakey and Day developed the FACTS coaching model from frontline observations:

  • F = Feedback: How can coaches provide challenging feedback that informs and inspires? How can we ensure that praise and recognition are balanced with honest feedback on mistakes?
  • A = Accountability: How does a coach hold people accountable for commitments without blame or shame? How can accountability be extended from personal commitments to alignment with the values, strategy and ethos of the wider organization?
  • C = Courageous Goals: How does a coach move beyond incremental goal-setting models to those that engage the right-brain attributes of courage, excitement, inspiration and transformation?
  • T = Tension: When is tension constructive? How can coaches practice creating and holding tension without risking burnout in key performers? How can the tension in a conversation be calibrated and dynamically adjusted to ensure peak performance? When does tension go too far and damage the underlying relationships?
  • S = Systems Thinking: How can a coach stay sensitive to “big-picture” issues like ethics, diversity and the environment without losing focus on bottom-line results? What can be learned from the world of systems thinking that enables the coach to be a positive agent of change for the wider organization?

Powerful Questions

Managers who avoid coaching often struggle with starting a coaching conversation. In the absence of deep, hour-long coaching sessions, you can use key questions to realize change and growth.

Michael Bungay Stanier shares seven core questions to open coaching conversations in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (Box of Crayons Press, 2016):

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. What else?
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you’re saying “yes” to this, to what are you saying “no”?
  7. What was most useful for you?

Why You Should Put a Little More Thought Into Your Out-of-Office Message

Posted on October 14, 2018

This HBR article written by Michelle Gielan,

Positive Psychology researcher gives a surprising view of Out-Of-Office (OOO) messages.  She gives ideas as to how we can use the message to build social connections which, research finds that social connection, which adds meaning and depth to our relationships, is the greatest predictor of long-term levels of happiness, and can be a major contributing factor to our performance at work.  She also offers some creative examples beyond the boring OOO that can forge conversational sharing and ways to be offer resources to your clients while letting them know that you are away.

This Is How To Create Happy Memories That Will Last A Lifetime: 3 Secrets From Research

Posted on November 12, 2017

It’s fascinating what causes people to remember certain experiences, activities, and times in their lives.  Yet, most of the time we wonder what we did last week that was meaningful or, how fast time is going by and … what is there to show for it?  This article describes the research behind what makes certain events memorable and how to create more of them to savor and enjoy the life we have.  Here are some hints:  tell a employee that you appreciate their work, celebrate getting past a disagreement and remaining friends, mark a memory with a ritual that involves a sensory delight…live your life and look to make more moments of connection and gratitude.

Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones

Posted on August 3, 2017

We all know negative thinking when we hear it, the challenge is managing our own negative thoughts even in the face of hearing the “half empty glass” dialogue of others.  This article by NYT health editor Jane Brody describes the compelling research of current social scientists whose data suggests that developing positive emotions in oneself promotes healthy bodies, minds and more life satisfaction.

This is How to Be More Productive: 4 Secrets from the Stoics

Posted on June 12, 2017

The Stoics were those Roman and Greek philosophers who flourished in and around the 3rd Century. The Stoic philosophers promtoed ways to manage one’s minds to have a better understanding of the natural world, to be open to a broader view of life beyond pleasure and pain and, to treat others in a fair and just way.

Sounds like a great formula for team work?  Yes, and we can also learn a lot from the Stoics about choosing the right actions and priorities which can aid our productive habits.  Read on about tips regarding how we think about our time and effort can lead to being  more productive, ultimately leading to contributing your talents most effectively.

Be the Authentic Leader Your People Need

Posted on May 11, 2017

Many leaders are unaware of how their lack of authenticity chips away at people, breeding dissatisfaction, distrust and disloyalty. Organizational effectiveness and productivity suffer when workers view leaders as inauthentic.

One out of three people distrusts his or her employer, according to the 2017 Edelman “Trust Barometer.” Four out of five don’t see authenticity in their leaders’ performance. When only 20 percent of leaders come across as genuine, they handicap their organizations with insufficient influence, poor worker engagement and, ultimately, disappointing corporate results.

The Real Deal

Authenticity is an emotionally vital state of well-being for employees—one that heavily relies on a leader’s consistent true-ness, explains consultant Karissa Thacker in The Art of Authenticity (Wiley, 2016). Being authentic encompasses several other key leadership mandates:

1. Be self-aware.
2. Earn respect.
3. Connect.
4. Convey credibility.
5. Earn trust.

Be Self-Aware

Great leaders know themselves well, notes Brenda Ellington Booth, a clinical professor of management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.

When you recognize your limitations and weaknesses, you can openly admit to them, learn to compensate and find workable solutions. Focusing on self-improvement, with an emphasis on asking others to assist you, is as authentic as it gets.

Leaders who fully understand and express their vision are clearer about promoting it—and more successful in getting others to believe in it.

Earn Respect

Being respected begins with showing respect to others, both upline and downline in your organization. Model respect for everyone to imitate, and it will be contagious.

The phrase “leading by example” is more than a suggestion. Leaders who model the behavior they want their organizations to exhibit make the most effective strides in establishing a healthy culture. Employees respect leaders who walk the talk.

Humility, expressed as a willingness to listen to and learn from others, is one of the most effective ways to earn respect, asserts leadership coach Brent Gleeson in his Inc.com article, “7 Simple Ways to Lead by Example.” Authentic leaders recognize they don’t have all the answers, and probably never will. Soliciting others’ ideas showers them with affirmation.

Connect

Sincere leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. A genuine, relational approach to people shows them they’re valued, Booth notes. When they see a leader who’s interested in them, they’ll reciprocate, which fuels engagement and productivity.

Relationships ascend to the next level when you seek feedback from your staff, especially regarding how they’re being managed. Your willingness to listen demonstrates an authentic sense of vulnerability that reveals courage, candor and caring.

Convey Credibility

People don’t believe leaders who exhibit questionable behavior. Being true, inwardly and outwardly, avoids this potential pitfall.

Trueness to oneself is the most basic form of genuineness, which aligns with authenticity. Be the real you. Faking things is deceptive and eventually evident to all. People aren’t fooled for long. They’ll question and distrust inconsistencies. Being true to yourself requires healthy self-awareness and self-worth. Who you are is the person people will see, and it’s the noble character in you they want to see.

Consistency in trueness builds credibility. People know who they’ll face day in and day out, through good and tough times. Great leaders have trained themselves to proactively discern the high road and take it, with honorable motives.

Honesty shouldn’t be the best policy; it should be the only policy. Leaders caught in a lie inflict damage to themselves and those around them.

Exercise judgment when truth must be guarded. Confidentiality is required for credibility. Sensitive, personal or private information must be handled carefully and discreetly. Don’t jump to conclusions or make decisions based on assumptions or rumors. Once inappropriate things are said or misinformation falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be retracted.

Earn Trust

Establishing a system of personal checks and balances conveys the importance of accountability. Submitting to the authority of peers or top leaders helps assure people that the decisions governing them can be trusted as prudent and beneficial for everyone (catering to their inward need for safety and assurance).

When you accept blame for errors and give credit for victories, you’re demonstrating accountability and setting the stage for greater trust. Your actions place value on the most appropriate people: those doing the work. Without your people, you accomplish nothing, so be sure to express appreciation. You’ll be rewarded with their trust.

The greatest leaders give their people the most freedom possible to make decisions, pushing authority down to the most foundational level. This is a powerful sign of trust in staff, and it is returned with something just as powerful: trust in the leader. Employees free from overcontrol and micromanaging acquire a sense of empowerment that raises productivity and innovation.

Finally, authentic leaders are flexible. They adapt to shifting situations and go off script if needed, always keeping in mind their people’s well-being. Sticking to routines or insisting on preferences shows inflexibility, which is usually self-serving. Your willingness to change plans in response to a challenge or crisis, with authentic good judgment, is a sign of your trustworthiness.

You owe it to yourself and your people to continually refine your character and insights, as well as think and respond in credible, authentic ways. Work toward making effective decisions and powerful impressions that draw your people into an engaging and productive unity you never thought possible. Let an experienced leadership coach assist with the areas that challenge you the most.

Can We Really Fix Dysfunctional Teams?

Posted on May 11, 2017

 

Organizations waste vast amounts of time, effort and money each year by failing to recognize or correct dysfunctional teams.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 200 global companies across various sectors―involving more than 10,000 projects―found less than 3% successfully completed their plans. Similar research reveals 60%–70% project failure rates. In the United States alone, IT project failures cause estimated losses of up to $150 billion per year.

Dysfunctional teams cannot be blamed for all business failures, but they play a major role in unsuccessful projects and missed goals. In his acclaimed bestseller, organizational consultant Patrick Lencioni identifies The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

1. Absence of trust
2. Fear of conflict
3. Lack of commitment
4. No accountability
5. Lack of attention to results

1. Absence of Trust

Lack of trust is the core dysfunction, the one that leads to all other problems.

Several group behaviors demonstrate distrust. Team members may have low confidence in others. They may fear that any sign of personal weakness could be used against them. Consequently, people are unwilling to be vulnerable, transparent or open when exchanging ideas or expressing their feelings.

A lack of trust creates defensiveness in team members, notes leadership consultant Roger M. Schwarz in Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Defensive team members feel the need to protect themselves.

Leaders who want to rebuild trust can try the following strategies:

• Vulnerability: Create an environment in which team members can safely feel vulnerable. Draw out people’s personal experiences by sharing your own stories, thereby setting the proper tone and lowering barriers.

• Honest Feedback: Team members must learn how to provide feedback. Acknowledging and affirming others with constructive feedback set the stage for positive reinforcement and encouragement.

• Authenticity: Practice humility to tear down walls. If you and your team can admit that you don’t know everything, the experience will be freeing.

• Integrity: Model integrity in group dynamics. Everything you do is magnified and often copied. When you “walk the talk,” others will follow your example.

2. Fear of Conflict

Lack of trust within a team easily leads to fear of conflict, confrontation, criticism and/or reprisal. When teammates and leaders are seen as potential threats, people adopt avoidance tactics. This sets up an artificial harmony that has no productive value. There is no true consensus, just a risk-preventing sentiment of “yes” feedback. True critique is avoided. Genuine solutions are not explored, and the team functions poorly.

This dynamic allows a domineering team member to take over, with a unilateral-control mentality. Dominant personalities believe they’re always correct, and anyone who disagrees is wrong and disloyal. Independent ideas are stifled. Negative feedback creates discomfort. People’s spirits and self-esteem eventually plummet, crippling group performance.

Conflict-resolution training can help you encourage productive debate without hurting feelings or wounding character.

3. Lack of commitment

When teams lack trust and fear conflict, they’re likely to avoid commitment. We focus on self-preservation and maintaining amicable relationships. As we attempt to avoid confrontation, we stop listening to others’ concerns. Discussions become superficially polite.

Most people can sense when someone isn’t listening to their ideas or questions. This single dynamic―often subtle―will shut down team engagement and commitment, and tension continues to grow.

Teammates who are cut off or ignored feel left out. They’re less committed to team effort, so they’re unlikely to “get with the program.” It becomes difficult for a team to move forward amid stalled decisions or incomplete assignments. Enthusiasm for projects takes a nosedive, and confrontations become commonplace. Some members even stop caring about whether the team succeeds.

Lack of commitment also becomes a problem when you fail to convey clear goals or direction. People are left to wonder what they’re supposed to do, and the team’s success is no longer their top priority. They mentally check out and just start going through the motions.

You can reestablish commitment by prompting team members to ask questions. When you invite dialogue, teammates learn more about each other. They’ll see others’ intentions, attitudes, motives and mindsets more clearly, eliminating the need to guess or assume.

4. No Accountability

If you fail to reverse a lack of commitment, dysfunctions will intensify. Team members will lose their sense of accountability. If there’s little buy-in, there’s no desire to meet obligations, follow directions or help others. This is most common in environments where progress isn’t adequately assessed and definitive project schedules don’t exist.

Work toward establishing clear directions, standards and expectations. All team members need to work with the same information set at all times. Realistic, understandable schedules help drive activities and allow work flow to meet interconnected goals.

Activity tracking methods should clearly report which tasks are on time and which are late. Corrective action plans should make the necessary adjustments and redirect activities accordingly.

5. Inattention to Results

Without team accountability, the focus of group success is lost in the shuffle. Self-preservation and self-interest trump results in a climate of distrust and fear. Your inability to track results leaves you with no way to judge ongoing success or failure, progress or pitfalls. No one is praised for good results, and no one is corrected for the lack thereof.

Effective project management methods must track progress toward intermediate and final goals. Affirm team members (and their interdependence) through their accomplishments and struggles. This draws them together and lets them know they’re valuable to the organization, team and, ultimately, themselves.

Coaching Conversation Checklist for Smart Managers

Posted on January 10, 2017

Coaching Conversations for ManagersA Coaching Conversation Checklist for Smart Managers

In spite of wide-spread coach training, many managers aren’t using coaching skills to grow and develop their people. Instead, they see themselves as problem solvers, cutting short conversations with employees by providing solutions, advice, and answers.

Yet managers who coach find that their employees are more committed, willing to put forth greater effort, and less likely to leave.

“Clearly, the benefits of building a coaching culture and increasing the effectiveness of coaching are great. There are both tangible benefits (increased employee engagement and productivity) and intangible benefits (improved culture and finding meaning and purpose in work).” ~ John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow, McGraw-Hill, 2010

The authors suggest using the FUEL model outlined in their book to help create a coaching checklist:

  • • F = Frame the Conversation. Set the context by agreeing on the discussion’s purpose, process, and desired outcome.
  • • U = Understand the Current State from the coachee’s point of view, and expand his awareness of the situation.
  • • E = Explore the Desired State. Help the coachee to articulate a vision of success in this scenario.
  • • L = Lay Out a Success Plan. Identify specific, time-bound action steps to be taken to achieve the desired results with milestones for follow-up and accountability.

Step 1: Frame the Coaching Conversation

Conversations with employees often turn into project task updates instead of furthering growth and development. A checklist helps set up a coaching dialogue. According to Zenger and Stinnett The Extraordinary Coach, there are three steps that work well for initiating a developmental dialogue.

  1. Identify the behavior or issue to discuss.
  2. Determine the purpose or outcomes of the conversation.
  3. Agree on the process for the conversation.

This sounds almost too simple to bother with, but without it employees aren’t clear about what the issues are and how they can use them to grow and develop.

Step 2: Understanding Leads to Insights

The next step in a coaching conversation is to address the “meat” of the issue. This part can be tricky because of our natural tendency to assume we understand what the issues are. We fill in the blanks and automatically judge—usually prematurely.

Instead, a manager needs to listen well and encourage the coachee to talk. Explore what the real challenge is for her.

Do:

  • • Ask open-ended, non-leading questions
  • • Act as a mirror, observe, and repeat what you hear and see
  • • Encourage the coachee to explore what the real issue or challenge is
  • • Discuss consequences in the event things don’t change

Don’t:

  • • Assume anything
  • • Judge, criticize, or categorize
  • • Ask for too many details or focus on other people
  • • Offer your perspective or advice right away
  • • Find an answer for the person

People won’t change until they experience a need to, and if a manager is too helpful, the coachee won’t feel enough motivation.

Step 3: Explore Desired Outcomes

Typically, managers are excellent problem-fixers and advice-givers. They want to jump in at Step 3 and often skip over Steps 1 and 2.

But that is a big trap. Instead of pouncing on the first viable solution, it’s worthwhile to explore alternatives by helping people think things through. Let the coachee do most of the talking to find out what matters most to her. By suggesting at least three alternatives, she will end up with a more effective solution. As the manager, you can negotiate and influence what the measures of success must include.

Step 4: Lay Out a Success Plan

This is the home stretch in a coaching conversation and should not be rushed or skimmed over. Your role now is that of a guide. Together you will develop and agree on an action plan with timelines, enlist support from others, and set milestones for follow-up and accountability.

Why Bother with Coaching Conversations?

Without going into all the statistical ROI studies, let’s look at the benefits of coaching as a managerial style.

  1. Coaching gives new meaning to work. When people feel that they are engaged in a useful cause and not merely performing menial tasks, they will go beyond minimal requirements.
  2. Coaching leads to more engaged and committed employees.
  3. Coaching increases productivity.
  4. Coaching refocuses people on the most important objectives.
  5. Coaching leads to a stronger culture, which has a tremendous impact on performance and productivity.
  6. Coaching strengthens the relationship between supervisor and employee.
  7. Coaching promotes heightened self-esteem and confidence among employees.
  8. Coaching encourages resilience and creative problem-solving ability.
  9. Coaching helps people take responsibility and ownership of both problems and solutions.

 

A Simple Breathing Meditation

Posted on April 11, 2016

mindful-breathing

Taking time in the midst of a busy work day to breath deeply has been shown to increase awareness, decrease stress and anxiety as well as enhance work performance.  To learn more read this brief “how to” article complete with a 5 minute breathing meditation instruction.