Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The team leader - the linchpin in business success

The World English Dictionary defines a linchpin as
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"a person or thing regarded as essential or coordinating element of the company."  Author and business guru Seth Godin urges you to develop yourself into a Linchpin in his book - someone who is indispensable in your company, your community, and your market.

We're talking about team leaders as the linchpins.  You can hold any spot on your company or organization's org chart and fulfill the function of team leader.  Some of your team leadership roles are prescribed in your position description, but some of them are less formally defined as project groups come and go, and as special assignments emerge and are completed.

The focus of the team leader role in today's post is the person in the middle of the company - either a front-line supervisor or middle manager.  The reason why this individual is a linchpin is that he is a hub for communication and relationship building that is necessary to get work done.

Communication upward
The team leader's manager is his or her first customer, before external customers ever see the benefit of the team leader's work product.  Right or wrong, the boss is the first person whose expectations need to be met. An indispensable team leader is proactive about providing information upward in the organization so his or her manager doesn't have to guess about what's happening in the team leader's area of responsibility.  Communication upward about what's happening helps to develop trust in the team leader's capabilities.

Communication laterally
Rarely is the team leader running the only team in the company.  There are other functions, other teams, that are part of the process of providing products and services to customers.  Resources can sometimes be shared among functional groups, or customer problems solved that cross departmental lines. There is potential to create greater efficiency in the production process and financial savings for the company overall.  But without a foundation of open communication among team leaders the opportunities will not be recognized.  Moreover, the willingness to collaborate is dependent upon positive cross-functional relationships. 

Communication into the team
Team members look to their team leaders for several purposes.  Team members need to know what is expected.  They need the resources to do their work effectively.  Sometimes they need someone to advocate on their behalf in the larger organizational structure, or across to other functional groups.  The team leader who is effective keeps the team members in the loop, helping them to see how their efforts contribute to the larger organization's success.  He or she provides performance feedback (congratulatory or corrective) so team members can continue to improve results.  And the effective team leader devotes time to listen to the team members.  She knows that although she is only one step removed from the immediate concerns of the front line, that one step obscures some of her view of where the problems are or where the opportunities for improvement might lie.
You and your team leaders can become even more effective at being the hub for the internal communication and relationship building processes in your business.  Click this LINK for information about Summit's upcoming Team Leadership workshop series.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The pull of universal unacknowledged needs

Wow, sounds like a sales bonanza, doesn't it?  Universal needs - everyone must have whatever it is.  What are the truly universal needs?  Water?  Food?  Shelter?  Wouldn't it be great to be involved in one of those industries where everybody has to have one, or better yet, a constant stream of it?
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Yes, but what kind of water?  What kind of food?  What kind of shelter?  You might sell sushi, and although sushi is food - a delicacy in some minds - it's not the kind of food that some people want to eat.  Sooo, the need for food is universal for sustenance purposes but the desire for sushi is not.  
Maybe there are people out there who would thoroughly enjoy sushi but who have never had the opportunity to taste it.  They have no idea just how delicious it is, not to mention nourishing.  These folks might need a taste of sushi, or a recommendation from someone they trust to convince them to try it for the first time.

Sushi and food are not both needs.  Food is a need and sushi is a want.  Transportation is a need and a Mustang is a want.  Shelter is a need and a McMansion is a want.  You won't die if you don't get what you want, even though you might feel like you can't survive without a Louis Vuitton purse.  You will, however, likely suffer if you don't have what you need.

Consider for a moment the less tangible needs - love, respect, friendship, trust.  They are universal because every person needs them, but in their absence in individual doesn't often realize what's missing.  The person feels discomfort, some sort of emotional turmoil or hole, but they tend only to notice the symptoms.  They realize that they sweat profusely when interacting with a certain individual, or that they feel a bit nauseated when they are preparing to leave for work in the morning.

Something is wrong.  They have a problem - but they have not yet connected it on a conscious level to an unmet intangible need.  Until they make a connection to the cause of their distress they will typically treat the symptoms.  They will fight the sweating symptom with antiperspirant, and they will treat the nausea with antacids.  Neither the antiperspirant nor the antacids will provide what they need.  And the moment they stop applying the remedies to the symptoms the symptoms will reappear.

It's often difficult to make the connection between symptoms (problems) and unmet needs from close up. In the case of intangible needs, the individual's own emotions prevent him or her from seeing clearly. Often it takes another individual, a neutral party, to look at the situation from the outside and to ask questions that help the individual identify the unmet need behind the presenting symptoms.

Once the connection is made and the need moves from unacknowledged to acknowledged, the individual can become ready to take steps to improve or resolve the situation.  They progress from passive, reactive behavior to active need fulfilling behavior.

If you are helping an individual through a thinking and decision making process, whether you're a friend, a coach, or a needs-based sales professional, you need to move beyond the symptom related questions if you want to help the individual to feel motivated to truly move beyond the current circumstances into action and creation.  You might think that skirting the deeper issue is more efficient, or more respectful of his or her privacy.

It is true that you will need to earn the individual's trust to help them be willing to reveal some of the deeper issues at hand.  But the investment in establishing trust is crucial to your (and their) success. Until you get at that nugget - that unmet and heretofore unacknowledged need, you're helping them fix the situation only for now.  You aren't helping them fix it for good.

Want a better understanding of how unacknowledged needs are influencing your behavior as a leader?  Want to do a better job of helping your team members feel motivated for the long haul?  Learn more about Summit's Team Leadership Workshop Series by clicking HERE

Monday, July 28, 2014

Traits of an ideal leader

What would you say constitutes an ideal leader?  What are
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their behaviors, their attitudes?  Ask a group of twenty people to assemble individual "top 5" lists and you might be surprised by the diversity.  You (and they) see ideal leadership traits as those that would motivate you to follow or to perform at your best.

There is no one list, and that's probably both the good news and the bad news.  It's the bad news only in that it makes it more difficult for an individual to get a bead on what he or she needs to do or become to be one - an ideal leader.  The good news, and this is far bigger, is that every individual contains the capacity to lead in some way, for some group under some circumstances.  You don't have to be an extrovert, you don't have to be articulate, you don't have to be any one, or three, or even 5 things.

A leader has followers and achieves desired results.  Period.

Although you might be an effective leader now (that means that you attract followers and are already achieving results,) it is possible for you to become more effective in a broader spectrum of situations.  Leadership isn't inborn.  Sure, you might have won the genetic lottery for intelligence, physical prowess, or interpersonal aptitude.  But any and all of these inborn attributes has to be developed in order to be effective.  You can be born the child of two tennis pros and not have any guarantees of winning Wimbledon without lessons and court time to hone your skills.

If you haven't been quite so lucky in the genetic lottery you can still develop yourself by paying attention to the traits that are important, translate them into behavioral terms, and then make the choice to implement them.  Just like in school, some people seem to acquire the content easily and some study harder.  What matters is the grade on the test, regardless of the amount of preparation invested.

Complicating this ideal leader discussion is that different traits are desirable in different situations.  High intensity, high stakes circumstances might call for more of a command and control, quick decision making style.  Less intense situations might be better handled by a more collaborative and listening-centered methodology of leadership.

What would it mean to you to become more effective as a leader?  The impact might be intangible, or it might appear right in your performance numbers.  Individuals who have chosen to develop their leadership capabilities with Summit have said things like:

  • I got a promotion that I didn't expect, and now I'm making more money.
  • I'm using my time better, which means that I'm selling more.
  • I have my next-in-command ready to go so I can go on vacation without calling into the office.
  • My employees are working harder, and they are not complaining so much.
  • I'm leaving the office and going home on time.
  • Departments here are working together better.
  • etc.
You have an opportunity to choose to be a better leader, and Summit and Alternative HR are providing the structure to help you do it.  Click HERE for more information.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Commands you're hiding in your words

This is from the archives - a message that bears repeating:
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Story #1 - An aunt of mine went with us to the beach when I was just a little kid. She was a young teenager at that point, and the group decided to rent bicycles. She was not a regular cyclist, and to this day she’d tell you that athletics are not her forte. Anyhoo, they were riding their bikes down the side streets in Wildwood, NJ and she was saying to herself, "Don’t hit the parked cars, don’t hit the parked cars, don’t hit the – " when you know what happened. Bam! She t-boned one smack in the middle of the rear bumper.

Story #2 – When she was asked for gift suggestions, I was old enough to remember my mother telling my grandmother, the inveterate Christmas shopper, “I could use some new slacks. But whatever you do, don’t get pink – I have enough pink.” Guess what Grandma bought and wrapped for Mom’s Christmas present. Yep. Slacks the color of a tropical sunset – oh, were they ever pink.

My aunt in the first situation and my mom in the second were exasperated. But they weren’t aware that they had inadvertently hidden the wrong commands in their language. They told themselves and others to do exactly what they didn’t want them to do. If you repeat “don’t hit the parked cars” your brain hears everything but the “don’t.”  If you emphasize "no pink" the person retains "pink."  So you create conditions where you’re more likely to hit those cars and receive a gift that's destined to be returned.

If you're a parent, this concept may show itself in your disciplinary efforts.  Have you said any of these things to your children?
  • Don't jump on the bed!
  • Don't leave your toys laying all over the floor!
  • Don't talk back to me!
  • Don't tip your chair backward!
  • Etc. (the list could be endless Don't!)
The result of the don'ts is simply that they DO them anyway.  And you wind up feeling angry about their willful disobedience. Their behavior might be one part willfulness and testing of limits, but the other part is their hearing of your embedded command without the "don't".

You can choose to embed positive commands into your language. For example, if you would say to a loved one, “You can relax now,” you’re giving them a command embedded in a comforting statement. Or you encourage a friend to talk by saying, “Tell me what you were thinking about that situation.” 

Embedded commands can help prompt a response from a person just as well as a direct question can, but they can have a softer touch. This helps you in situations where the person you’re talking to might be feeling sensitive, or where the topic itself might be emotional or controversial.

If you think that someone has overreacted to a “simple” question you asked them, think about whether you asked a question with embedded commands. Your commands might be communicating assumptions that aren’t valid, or might imply judgment. “Does that outfit make you feel fat?” sends the message that feeling fat is relevant to the situation – in other words, might suggest that you think the outfit makes them look fat. If, on the other hand, you want to be supportive of that friend’s weight loss efforts you could choose to embed a positive command, “Does that outfit make you feel sexy?” Or if you want to choose to be neutral a preferable question would be, “How does that outfit make you feel?” 

Your language holds so much information of which you’re not conscious, but that impacts your emotions and the quality of your relationships with others. If you choose to be more aware of the manner in which things are expressed to you and by you, you can have so much more insight into what’s creating the dynamic between you and other people. You can be better able to use your critical thinking to separate fact from opinion. You can become more skillful at relating to others in a win-win manner. And that benefits everyone.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What do you do when you screw up?

It's a given that if you are stretching yourself and your
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capabilities you are going to mess up from time to time.  What can make the difference, though, between the people who prevail and succeed and those who struggle, is the manner in which they deal with the inevitable setback.  How do you handle your own mistakes?  How do you respond to others' mess-ups in your workplace?

You could characterize yourself (and maybe even your work climate) as one of these characters where mistakes are concerned:
  1. Mistake repeater - This is the person who seems like an exile from the movie "Groundhog Day."  They walk the same path over and over, and sometimes it seems like they will never figure out exactly what the mistake was, much less how to correct it.  Some skills and lessons are hard to learn, and some people are quicker studies than others.  Some problems and problem behaviors contain a lot of variables that can create complexity.  The key is whether the same unsuccessful remedies are applied repeatedly after having been proven ineffective.  There's something to be said for tenacity, for perseverance, but ultimately your business doesn't survive on good intentions and effort.
  2. Mistake avoider - The mistake avoider believes that no action is better than the wrong action.  They will analyze an issue half to death, certain that the perfect and definitive answer is right around the corner.  The problem with this person's approach is that timing will eventually become a key issue, and if no action is taken they will fail just as surely as they would doing the wrong thing.  Besides, sometimes you don't know what the "right" action or decision is until you do something and see the results it creates.
  3. Mistake preventer - The mistake preventer does his or her due diligence ahead of time.  This person thinks about the obstacles and contingencies, and plans for them up front.  The preventer's actions provide him with an elevated probability of success, with one caveat:  at some point the preventer can morph into the avoider if she spends too much time planning and not enough time implementing.
  4. Mistake handler - The handler is great at sweeping up the messes, at responding to crises.  They are quick to develop and implement alternative remedies, and they sometimes even enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from responding to an emergency.  Errors create the opportunity for them to stretch their mental muscles, to ride to the rescue.  In some cases the handler doesn't have enough motivation to prevent mistakes - what would be the fun in that?  In the meantime, cost, time and customer satisfaction might be placed at risk. 
  5. Mistake prosecutor - The prosecutor is like the detective in the old movies who assembles all of the suspects into the study and keeps them there until he interrogates each and determines who killed the heiress.  The prosecutor finds great importance in accurately assigning the blame.  In addition, the "enthusiastic" prosecutor gathers additional negative energy by assuming a bad intention behind the mistake.  A good pep talk, lecture, or browbeating snaps the offender into line and assures that the mistake will never never happen again.  This sets a hostile tone in the workplace, and increases the likelihood that the next murder to be solved will be his - and there will be numerous suspects with adequate motive!
If you want to produce a consistently high quality work product you need to engage employees at every level in solving and preventing problems.  You have some leadership choices to make along the way, including the manner in which you communicate about mistakes, and whether your approach is to fix it for now or fix it for good.  It's often quicker and cheaper to apply spit and bailing wire rather than it is to implement a full-scale solution, but if you do it this way you're choosing to wear the hat of the mistake repeater.  Ultimately it will catch up with you and you will be handling the same problem again.

Mistakes grow when they are covered up, and if you have played the role of the prosecutor for too long you are probably already experiencing the negative consequences associated with problems discovered only once they have grown to 800-pound gorilla size.  People will only readily admit to errors when they have no fear of retribution or unreasonable censure.  It is more important to solve the problem than it is for every participant to feel the full weight of the blame.  They will feel badly enough about it on their own without having the prosecutor pile on.

Mistakes are best handled at the closest point to that at which they occur.  This means you need to involve your staff in solving them, and also in preventing future repeats.  Use describing words rather than judging ones to keep an adult-to-adult tone in the conversation.  Sure, talk about the ramifications of the mess-up, but also talk about the benefits associated with solving it.  A mistake is an opportunity to improve.

It is said that it's useless to cry over spilled milk, and you shouldn't shout over it either.  Clean up the spill together, straighten up the cup, figure out how not to spill it again, and then get on with your day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You Can Lead a Team That Rocks!

Are you responsible for the performance of other people? 
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Would you like to be the sort of person that inspires loyalty, top performance and an energized workplace?  Would you like to be known to be a developer of tomorrow's leaders in your company? Would you like to create a well-oiled machine that produces sustainable, outstanding results for your business?

Outstanding team leadership isn't a talent that has to be inborn - it can be developed.  You can build upon your individual strengths and your background to increase your results, expand your area of influence, and multiply your career development opportunities.  And you don't have to wait for something that's sponsored inside your company to give yourself a leg up on your success!

Join Us Starting August 20th!
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions you may be a candidate for our 9-session workshop series, Team Leadership, offered via a partnership between Alternative HR and Summit HRD in York, PA.  The series will include topics such as:

·        Successful Team Leadership
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·        Goal Setting for Success
·        Turning Solutions into Action
·        Organizational Goal Setting
·        Managing Your Time
·        Motivation and Confidence
·        Building a Successful Team
·        Creating and Managing Performance
·        Employee Evaluation and Discipline
·        Decision Making and Problem Solving
·        People Skills Development
·        Productivity Development
·        Time Use Evaluation
·        Copyrighted Goal Planning Tool
·        Live issues From Participating Peers
·        Direct Practical Application in your Biz
·        And More!

Each workshop session will be hands-on and interactive, and will last approximately 2 hours.  They will be led by Julie Poland, founder of SummitHRD.  Ms. Poland has more than 24 years of experience in helping businesses and their leaders improve results through people, planning, and process improvement.

How much difference would it make to you and your business to improve your team by improving your team leadership skills?  Prior participants have experienced results like:

1.      Improved Productivity
2.      Improved Morale
3.      Better Customer Relationships
4.      Lower Cost of Turnover
5.      Less Overtime for You and Others
6.      More Engaged Employees
7.      Fewer Preventable Mistakes
8.      Higher Profits
9.   Promotions and Higher Salaries

Contact Kellie Boysen at Alternative HR ( or Julie Poland at SummitHRD ( to discuss how you might participate!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Annette Simmons says you might be bug soup

Annette Simmons, author of the book"Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins," 
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was speaking to a group of marketers, coaches and storytellers on the topic of reinvention
.  She talked about how you don't start anything from scratch.  There is a process of destruction that has to precede creation or resurrection.

She used the example of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that has become the symbol of reinvention, of rebirth.  But Simmons' next comment took the attendees aback for a moment:  "The caterpillar spends a lot of time in the cocoon.  While we're in there we're bug soup and we need to acknowledge that."  

Bug soup.  Have you ever thought about it that way before?  The caterpillar enters the chrysalis looking sort of cute in a caterpillar-ish sort of way, then emerges beautiful and flying in its refined state.  Have you stopped to consider the detail of what happens behind the walls of the chrysalis?  Bug soup.  What an apt description for how it feels sometimes when the going seems really hard.  There is a time of languishing, unattended, feeling destroyed with no re-emergence in sight.  

Simmons says that sometimes in the process of reinvention we might need to take time to back up and take another road.  "Backing up is not a waste of time.  Sometimes you can't go forward without examining the past."  One of her other points is that we need to experience our feelings fully, however uncomfortable they might feel.  "Emotions buried alive don't die," she advises.   You have to be in them, experience them, acknowledge them, before you can move on from them.  

She told a story about a team building exercise she was supposed to do with a group of military folks in the early 2000's,just after the weapons of mass destruction weren't found in Iraq where they were expected to be.  The group couldn't even consider going through her planned activities to build the team until they had the opportunity to discuss the elephant in the room - "Why couldn't we find them?"  They were devastated, haunted by the feeling that they had failed in their mission.  They had to deal with that first in order to free themselves to move forward.

You could expect that almost anyone would want change to be more like the removal of an adhesive bandage - one quick rip that hurts a bit, but then it's over with - quickly - and we get on with our lives.  Real transformation isn't like that.  We have to become bug soup first if we're going to emerge and fly.