Be like Teflon

March 21, 2013

“Like Teflon…”  That is what I say to my executive coaching clients. You have to be like Teflon when others are throwing darts.  Just let it slide right off like eggs on a Teflon pan.  It’s not easy to do but this is one of the best responses when colleagues, former friends or even family members are throwing verbal darts.  In all my years of coaching, I’ve seen many responses to gossip, interpersonal difficulties and even out-and-out professional and personal attacks.  I’ve seen scenarios blow up into something much bigger than it originally started out, and I’ve seen scenarios where it just went away over a few days or weeks.  In my experience, the latter is much better.  There is less collateral damage, and the number of people injured by the verbal response and defense is minimized.

I know you are probably agreeing with me so far.  You may be thinking “Right!  That’s exactly what people should do.”

It’s easy to say, and it’s easy for me to write, but let’s face it.  It is VERY difficult to do.  Think back on your most recent experience of someone saying something about you either professionally or personally that wasn’t true or accurate in the way that they were positioning the information.  Our first response is almost always to defend ourselves, to set the record straight and to clear up the other person’s incorrect thinking and most of us have in fact, jumped into the verbal tennis match more than once, me included.

The only problem is that it doesn’t work.  It almost never gets the result that we want.  Instead of making our point and clearing the air, what typically happens is that we come across as defensive and as operating on the exact same level as our attacker.

On the other hand when we don’t engage, the whole scene usually fades away over the next few days or weeks.  I can think of a recent experience in my home when my husband and our teenager were beginning the cycle of a heated back and forth.  Since I wasn’t in the engagement, I could see more clearly and started helping my husband by saying “Abort! Abort!”  He realized he had been sucked into the battle and immediately just stopped talking.  Our teenager, left with no one to battle, stomped off to curl her hair only to reemerge a few minutes later in a good mood as if the whole incident had never happened.

A workplace version of this scenario happened to one of my coaching clients last year.  A Vice President in a large, publicly-traded company was the target of internal sabotage by another Vice President who hoped to outlast him, since he couldn’t seem to outperform my client.  My client wanted to punch his lights out but had opted for an out-and-out confrontation, preferably with their boss in the room.  I came in as he was preparing his points for this crucial conversation.

“Wait!”  I said.  Let’s think this thing through.  “What do you expect to gain from this confrontation?” I asked.

“I expect to straighten this jerk out and hopefully my boss will see what an idiot he is!”  He answered.

“I hear you, and I know you want to do that, but I would like to challenge you to take a different approach.”

“Well, ok.” He answered. “What approach is that?”

“I propose that you do absolutely nothing about what he is saying.”  I said as I saw his face turn a little pale.

“I know.  Hear me out”  I said.  “Instead of using your energy to prove him wrong, what if you use all of that energy to get more results for the company?”  “Which one do you think will yield the greatest harvest in the end?”

“Probably the results.” He answered, clearly disappointed to have to give up his encounter with the enemy.

“Yes, and if I remember right, you are going for SVP, so let’s stay focused.” I encouraged.

He got the message and did not confront his workplace nemesis.  Within 7 days, the whole thing had died down and turned into nothing.  We can never know for sure, but I feel confident that if he had confronted his peer, it would have turned into a big deal with Human Resources having to get involved and an irritated boss in the middle of it.

You may be experiencing a situation where the verbal attacks are coming straight for you and causing you a lot of pain.  I know I’m asking a lot, but just this once, experiment with me.  Don’t answer. Be like Teflon and let it slide right off.  I have a feeling, you are going to like the results.


An All-Women Senior Leadership Team?

March 20, 2013

Leader’s Question:  We now have a senior leadership team that is made up of all women.  Is this a strength or a weakness for the organization?

Bonnie’s Answer:
In my experience working with many women and men across many organizations there are not a lot of all-women teams in senior leadership.  In fact, there are still a lot more all-male teams at the top, which never ceases to surprise me given the changing demographics in the workforce.  However, I expect we will see more and more all-women teams as women will soon exceed 50% of the workforce.

We are more likely to see all-women teams when we move below the C-suite.  There we find that women team members are often seen as intelligent, hardworking, compassionate, outgoing, and creative, so their contribution to a team cannot be underestimated but men and women are different.  Women typically approach both team and individual work slightly different than their male counterparts.  All-women teams are often efficient, focused and results-oriented.  They often get the job done with speed and accuracy and expect to be recognized without a lot of self-promotion. They expect everyone to do their part and may be incensed when a team member slacks.   On the other hand, male-dominated teams often outshine all-female teams not because they are better but because they are quick to point out their successes versus the all-women team who assumes that their “superior” work will naturally receive the greatest recognition.  If only….

Another plus and minus of all-women teams is their ability to multitask.  Women are often masters at multitasking, but this can also be the team’s downfall if not managed appropriately.  The team can become fractured in their efforts and stray from the designated path.  Women teams may make excellent decisions; however, they are sometimes slow to make them which can cost the company time and money.  Slow decisions are, at times, counteracted with quick action in an all-woman team so there are checks and balances.

One question that some may ask concerning all-women teams is whether or not they get along as well as all-male or mixed gender teams.  In my experience both men and women teams can get along great and both can be quite petty and disruptive.  It isn’t the gender that creates interpersonal issues but the personality mix and chemistry.  When any team isn’t working, sometimes just removing one cantankerous person from the team changes all of the dynamics and interpersonal swirling stops and work gets done.

Thank you for your questions, keep them coming and make it a great day!

Employee Selection Best Practices

March 7, 2013

Leaders Question:  Can you please explain best practices in employee selection?

Bonnie’s Answer:

Well, since you are asking me, I’m going to assume you are asking about selecting leaders versus broad-based selection but much of my answer will apply to both.

Staffing and selection are both about choosing the right candidates out of the pool and getting them through the recruiting funnel and into the leadership pipeline.  That part of the process called staffing.  Selection is when you have your final three to five qualified candidates.   You can think of this process as supply and demand. First you establish the need (demand).  Then you conduct an outreach to  established the right mix of demographically diverse candidates (supply).  Then you narrow the pool down to three to five qualified leaders for a position,

And it is time to make your quality selection (purchasing) and put the new hire into his or her position (production).

Every part of the process will ideally align with the Human Capital Strategy and, ultimately, the vision and strategy of the overall organization.  When it comes to selecting leaders, there are tools that each organization can tap to greatly assist in the process.

The most obvious selection tool and the one most organizations use is the interview. We are strong believers in the behavioral‐based interview and believe a face‐to‐face meeting is imperative at this stage of the process. Meeting with the candidate face‐to‐face provides significant and valuable information about the candidate’s nonverbal behavior, presence, interpersonal skills, and how he or she is perceived by others in general. The interview consists of questions related to professional skills as well as personal preferences, choices, and attitude. There is so much more to a good hire than just evaluating technical qualifications.

Regardless of the demographics, you’ll want to know that each person seem healthy enough to carry out the responsibilities of the position. Just as candidates for the president of the United States have their health evaluated by voters before the election, leaders must also be deemed healthy enough to carry out the duties with excellence.  It is a great time to start evaluating “fit” on both sides. Just remember, if the talent pool includes Gen Y, they may show up at the interview with their parents, so try to keep your jaw off the floor and don’t throw them out. Just because it’s not the way of the Boomers and the Gen Xers doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.  They are bringing their trusted “counselors” to the process.   So, why not talk to the parents, too?   If the potential candidates interview well, and they should once they make it to this point, it is time to look under the hood.

You are making a potentially expensive “purchase,” and you’ll want to know as much as possible about each candidate regardless of his or her generation. Selection assessment or, at high levels called executive assessment, is a great way to look under the hood. This is a good time to bring in selection assessment.  This involves a comprehensive process designed to align with the organization’s strategy, culture, and development initiatives. The person doing the assessment typically begins with a telephone meeting with key stakeholders to gain an understanding of the position requirements, strategy of the organization and culture in order to appropriately analyze for fit. The next step is to meet each potential candidate face‐to-face for an in‐depth assessment which may include role play, situation analysis and response, and other such tactics. Standardized tests and personality inventories are also used to provide normative data.

Once the process is complete, telephone feedback is typically provided to the hiring executive and the HR business partner. This feedback focuses on each candidate’s strengths, developmental needs, and potential limitations relative to the position in question. The end result is a written report that focuses on conceptual skills, emotional makeup, motivational factors, interpersonal skills, and leadership style.

On top of selection, the standard processes of background checks, while always important, become crucial if the organization is using some of the out‐of‐the‐box recruiting methods.

Doing these steps is just part of looking under the hood. Remember, reference checks are easier than ever, especially for the Gen Yers because their “stuff” is posted all over the Internet. The Boomers and many Gen Xers are a lot less likely to post their “stuff,” so you’ll need more traditional routes for their reference checks. Just don’t miss the “casual” references.  “Casual” references are when you call a friend‐of‐a‐friend who knows the candidate or worked with them or knows someone who did. These are often very telling as the references people post on their résumés are obviously going to be good references.  Okay, it’s time to make your (purchase) decision and hire your new leader, and regardless of the chosen demographic, the organization needs to be well‐prepared to onboard the new leader, but that’s a whole other topic…..

Please send us your leadership questions and make it a great day!


Retirement & the Baby Boomer Generation

January 17, 2013

Leader’s Question:

I thought it was odd that Jack Ma of Alibaba decided to retire at the age of 48 to “turn the reins over to a new generation.”  At my company the Boomers are staying even longer than usual.  Any insight into the retirement issue for Boomer leaders?
Bonnie’s Answer:

The squeeze for the Boomers is getting tighter and tighter.  They have retirement coming from one direction and Gen X and Gen Y coming from the other direction. Many are loosening the knot on their ties and wondering “Is it starting to get hot in here?”

Here’s the issue:  We now have three primary generations in the United States’ workforce. This workforce is currently estimated at approximately 140 million between the ages of 20 to 60.

1. The massive Generation Y (born between 1985 and 2004)                                                                        79.5 million

2. The small Generation X (born between 1965 and 1984)                                                                             69.5 million

3. The current king of the mountain—the Baby Boomers(born between 1945 and 1964)                78.2 million

(dates and numbers vary slightly depending on the source)

The Boomers with their huge numbers are now at the top of most organizations.  Many who were planning to retire by now, haven’t due to a shaky economy and now, they have clogged the leadership pipeline.  They may not be enjoying the extended stay very much either.  Boomers sitting in today’s suite seats are not able to sit back and enjoy the executive perks.  They have to bring their A Game every day to keep up with the creative demands of the younger generation, technology changing at the speed of light, the ever-changing marketplace and government policies and a very litigious environment to top it all off.  It takes a lot of energy and stamina and some Boomers may not wish to live at this level of intensity at this stage in their lives.

One of the most overwhelming challenges for Boomer leaders is the speed at which technology is changing and this may be why Jack Ma felt it was time to leave Alibaba . Technology is changing everything.  The solutions that have worked for the past 100 years no longer work.  Some leaders are willing to dig in and learn new ways of doing things while others feel that it’s too much to learn and it’s time to pass the baton.  The workplace game has changed for everyone, so it’s no surprise that the players are starting to change as well.

White Space

December 10, 2012

Leader’s  Question:
What do you think is the most important discipline for leaders?

Bonnie’s Answer:
White space.  That’s the most important discipline – disciplined white space.  I know you were probably expecting something different like setting a vision or building a cohesive team and of course those are very important, but I’ve been developing leaders for over 17 years and one of the most elusive and yet most important disciplines a leader can have is white space.

What do I mean by white space?  Well, if you visualize your calendar, white space is that time that is open – no meetings or plan.  It is when you are at work but you have not filled your calendar with a meeting, a project or a to-do list.  This is the time when you use your mind – the most important tool leaders have.   You get hired for your intelligence and your skills and then often end up running from meeting to meeting with little time, to truly engage.

Creating white space is crucial for the new age of leadership. When I look at our research and experience along with other forward thinking analyses I see these key competencies as crucial to lead organizations in this new and tumultuous environment:
•    Critical thinking (Creative thinking, Strategic thinking, Problem-solving, and Decision-making)
•    Inspiring leadership
•    Collaboration and Partnering
•    Communication
•    Comfort with change
•    Continual learning mindset
•    Building cohesive teams

All of these require time to think thoroughly about issues and time to think is something that most leaders do not have.

Now, here’s the trick.  White space has to be scheduled.  You have to block time on your calendar to think, strategize and prepare for important meeting.

When I work with clients, one of the first things we do is go through their calendar and try to cut the number of meetings they attend.  There are many ways to do this so we cut strategically until the meeting count is more manageable.  Then, we block the first two hours of each day for outgoing.  Most of the time, we have to start several months out to get past the meetings that are already on the calendar but once we do, we block the first 2 hours of every day to get the most important things off of their plate.  This is NOT a time to do email.  This time may need to be used to think through an important issue, to complete an analysis or prepare for a retreat or performance evaluation.  Obviously, each leader will need to spend time on his/her own critical priorities.

Once the first two hours of each day are blocked, then we go through a few weeks on the calendar so I can help them create white space. We block for prep time. We work on delegation.  We find ways to create white space.  Once the leader gets the hang of it, he/she is usually excited and grateful.

And what results come from white space?
•    More time to think
•    Better and more well-thought out plans
•    More effective meetings
•    More meaningful performance conversations
•    Greater overall influence
•    Increased emphasis on his/her unique abilities
•    Maximized use of time, and
•    More fulfilled and cohesive direct reports and teams

It’s worth it to take a serious look at your calendar and create some white space.  It will take a lot of self-discipline and boundary control to keep the white space in-tact, but if you do, I believe you will agree with me that this is the most important discipline for leaders.

Send in your leadership questions.  We would love to hear from you!

A How-to Lesson: Communicating a Culture Change

November 27, 2012

Leader’s Question:

What is the most important way for leaders to communicate when they are trying to change a culture?

Bonnie’s Answer:

To change a culture, whether it’s a county or a business, one must first influence the human spirit.  Throughout history this influence has come through both inspiration and force, and it has always been driven through communication.  During World War II, one of the most monumental events in our history, the countries involved each had their own “propaganda machines” of  radio, newspapers, flyers and other forms of communication to direct the people toward a specific agenda.  Whether for good or for evil, a well-thought out agenda, a clear message and powerful forms of communication are the tools leaders use to change cultures.

While driving change via communication isn’t new, the way the communication is delivered is evolving with great speed.  Instead of driving change through traditional means, today we have You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, podcasts, and other forms of social media.  Speech, television and radio are all still important methods for communicating culture changing messages, but now there are many more avenues.  These additional avenues mean we can reach more people groups according to their age, geography and their tastes.

Ultimately driving change through communication is a form of art.  It is designing just the right mix of color and emphasis, sound and text to create in the observer an emotion that moves him or her one step closer to the desired culture.   The new culture message is delivered over and over again in both obvious and subtle means.  It is plastered on social media pages, flown like flags on signs in our path, hung in art forms on the walls, preached from the company or national stage and even embedded in the stories that are told.

These are the obvious and visible drivers of culture change, but then there is the deeper and more meaningful work, the work of determining what needs to be changed and building the case for making that change.  This is the where the message is formed, the new culture is created.   It is here, behind the scenes that the culture change begins.   Take, for example, the movie Money Ball.  The initial change began when Peter Brand, the young Yale economics graduate formed his radical ideas about how to assess player’s value.  He had an idea that the way baseball players are chosen could and possibly should be different.  He came up with a message, a low-key mathematical and visual message that the experts could respect, even if they didn’t fully understand it.  When he convinced, the Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s Manager of his theory, the first wave of change began.  Changing the culture of team managers and recruiters took a lot of hard work.  Getting buy-in was difficult and slow.  They had to take risk and push through resistance but they ultimately made a lasting impact on the sport.

In the days ahead, we will undoubtedly learn to use the multitude of communicate tools better, refining the way we communicate by determining which delivery methods, stories and technologies work best, but this refining of the delivery will always be second to how clear we are about what needs to be changed and how convincing we are that it can be changed.
Please send me your questions, I’d love to hear from you!

How Do I Decide?

July 17, 2012

Leader’s  Question:
I’ve been working hard to improve myself in order to get promoted at my current company.  And… I just received a great offer.  The only problem is that it is not with my current company.  In order to take the new job, I will be trading a sense of security and work/life balance for more responsibility, more money and a better title.  I’m struggling with the decision.  Any suggestions.

Bonnie’s Answer:
Learning to make difficult judgements (decisions) is a key leadership skill.  In fact, our research shows that critical thinking (creative thinking, strategic thinking, problem solving and decision-making) is one of the top 2 skills leaders need today and the #1 most lacking skill in next generation leaders.  So how do you learn this skill?  Well, there are tools that you can learn such as the ones we teach in our Critical Thinking Boot Camp.  They include:

•    Force-Field Tools,
•    Deviation and Distinction Tools,
•    Creative Problem-Solving Tools,
•    Decision-Making Tools, and
•    Anticipating Problems Tools.

There are methods you can learn in a book such as Now You’re Thinking, and there are ways that you can learn to make decision on your own.

In this decision, I recommend you start by silencing all of the competing voices.  Silence the money voice, your spouse’s/partner/friends voice, your current boss’s voice, your potential future boss’s boice and the voice of your children if you have them.

OK, do you have silence?  White space?  If so, now bring the new job into the white space.  Without thinking about the money or other voices, ask yourself these questions.  (Or you can click here to see the Job Decision Matrix).

You are breaking the decision up into components just like you would take a chemical apart in a science experiment.  You do not introduce a new element until you have adequately dealt with the one in front of you.

Now, one more exercise.  Write down your Top 5 Values.  Here is a list to choose from:

•    Intellectual Development
•    Use of Abilities
•    Achievement
•    Advancement
•    Giving/Charity
•    Leadership
•    Autonomy
•    Creativity
•    Financial Rewards
•    Personal Development
•    Risk Taking
•    Social Interaction
•    Work/Life Balance
•    Variety
•    Cultural Acceptance
•    Safety
•    Spirituality
•    Physical Fitness
•    Recognition
•    Security

Highest Personal Value:_________________
#2: _________________________________

Is your decision congruent with your stated values?  If not, you need to either re-evalute your decision or get honest with yourself about your values.  Getting clear about your personal values is very important in decision-making.  For example, lets say you went through this exercise and the majority of your answers were “no” but you decided to take the job anyway because of the money.  Then, just be honest with yourself and admit that Financial Rewards is either your highest or at least one of your top values.  Your decisions and your personal values should be in alignment.

Hope this helps….

Send in your leadership questions.  We would love to hear from you!