Monday, January 23, 2012

What's a flash bulb?

What's a Flash Bulb?

Tonight I was having dinner with my girlfriend and her kids who range in age from 9 to 18.  Somehow the word flashbulb came up and the 9 year old asked 'what's a flashbulb'? I tried to describe to him what it was and how it was used, and it got me thinking about how and when we teach the people who work for us.

So I thought I'd talk about the ways in which we correct behavior when we witness our 'apprentices' doing things like not listening to understand, forcing their will on team members, insulting anyone (I'll always assume this was not purposeful since if it was purposeful that person would not be my apprentice), or not showing emotional intelligence.  

I suppose there are many way to address these issues.  I'll focus on the way I prefer, and the way my last boss acted.  So... in my last job my team leader had 3 assistants who were also my bosses (yes it's quite bothersome having 4 bosses in case you were wondering!)  They are at various stages in their development, and so they each made the usual mistakes given their level of competency and experience.

My team leader would allow them to make those mistakes with us no matter what the circumstances or consequences.  He would then talk to them privately, and tell them how he felt about their actions.  My experience was that the assistants might or might not come back around to make amends and set things right (more often than not they would fail to follow through with this).  I cannot say exactly what the assistants learned from this process, since most of the time they did not talk to us about their behavior and how they felt about it in hindsight.  The damage remained behind and eventually resentments built up in the people who worked for them (yes I was one of them).  I did speak to my team leader about this course of action and attempted to influence him to change, however I made little progress.

The way I have learned to address these issues is a bit different.  Having held pretty much every position in the chain of command at that workplace, I came to understand the long term damage done when leaders fail to admit their mistakes and make amends (I had to learn this lesson the hard way).  Morale is negatively affected, and this of course leads to to all sorts of problems that take a long time to sort out and correct.

When I witness one of my assistants failing to listen, or allowing their emotions to affect how they deal with team members, I step in right then and there.  I DO NOT belittle or reprimand my assistant, however I do my best to step in as mediator.  My goal is to minimize or eliminate any long term damage to team moral and to the relationships on the team.  I'll give you a 'for instance' or two...

I've been in team meetings where my assistant has acted as if questions from team members were keeping him from telling them how to fix an issue, and started to shut the team members down.  In fact, I felt those questions were not only allowing  the whole group to feel like they could ask any questions needed to be sure they understood what was going on, but also after one question led to another, the group was actually coming up with a better idea than the original one my assistant and I came up with!  I stepped in and said that I was also a bit confused (even though I wasn't, I felt that if one person stated that they were confused then the odds were good that several more were probably confused too!)  I brought down the level of emotion in the room, and didn't allow the process to go on until every one felt heard.

That process kept us from getting to several agenda items that day, and... having team members leaving the meeting feeling heard, my assistant witnessing a good example of what to do when this happens in a meeting, and no one waking away carrying resentments was well worth the price!  My assistant and I later talked privately about the process and what he might be able to do differently next time

The other example that comes to mind was when my assistant and I were talking to a new team member.  From this team member's work history and what he promised in the interview we had high expectations for him, however we were not seeing that.  We pulled him off the floor and sat down to have a pretty casual talk about his experience of our workplace so far, and our experience of him.  For whatever reason the team member was defensive and argumentative.   This assistant was not showing emotional intelligence and started to react to the team member's emotions.  I tried to give him some clues as to how he was acting and how the team member might be feeling, however he was too caught up in his reaction to pick up on them.  

So again I stepped in and brought everything back to the beginning.  It turns out the team members was tired (we caught him near the end of his shift) and he didn't really 'hear' us the first time around when we described how we simply wanted to talk about how things were working out from each of our perspectives.  He was also worried about one of his kids, and we would have found that our had we done a better job of making our way into the conversation.  We talked for a bit longer just to be sure we were all feeling good about leaving the conversation to the next day (earlier in his shift) and you can bet we were sure to check in and see how he was feeling about his personal issues before getting into our work concerns.  Following this path I avoided an emotional blow up that would certainly have taken some time to fix (If indeed it could be really fixed).

Again I spoke privately to that assistant about what we could have done differently.  I asked him to read (or listen to) either Primal Leadership or Working with Emotional Intelligence (offering to purchase it for him) over the next few weeks.  As he read the book we made time to talk about what he was getting out of it, and I offered some of the hard lessons I hard learned along with what I got out of reading about Emotional Intelligence.  

To wrap up, I feel very strongly that interceding and fixing small issues, while providing a good example for my 'apprentices' is the better way to go.

Oh… and if you like the blog please like my facebook page.  Thank you!

I'd also like to share a link to a blog post I liked.  One of the things that earned me a ton of team member respect while I was a Store Team Leader at Whole Foods Market was simply cleaning up spills and messes when I saw them.  Instead of grabbing an hourly team member I would grab a mop and clean it up... really easy and quick, and for some reason team members LOVE to see the boss with a mop in his/her hand!  Try it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Great Leaders Must Have Emotional Intelligence and Self Awareness

It's so easy to judge the behavior of others...  In our personal relationships with our significant other, kids, or friends; and at work with our peers, our team members, and our leaders... the default path is often to look at their behavior as the cause or determining factor in what's wrong.  The much more difficult choice, and the only one that can actually make things better, is looking at our own behavior.  It takes a level of self awareness that, at least for me, seems to come and go.

A little over a decade ago I was getting married.  A week before the wedding an old back injury came back to haunt me with a badly herniated disc.  After the second surgery (and the better part of a year healing) I was fixed.  In the mean time however, I did not deal well with what life gave me.  I was out of work, and money became an issue very quickly.  I couldn't lift anything... not even to help with the laundry.  I had to watch my father in law mow my lawn...  Since I had very little self awareness, I found it emasculating, and humiliating among other things.  Unable to identify much of what I was feeling, much less deal with my emotions, I projected all of my feelings onto my wife.  Not good...

I was talking with a friend who was in the same class at the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center about all of 'my wife's' issues, and how everything had gone horribly wrong.  He told me that in his 20 plus years of marriage he had found only 1 thing to be true all of the time...  when problems arose the only thing that made it better was looking at what he was doing, either to cause or fix it.  In the middle of my 'crisis' I wasn't really able to digest his advice and make it work for me.  However it stuck with, and more and more I find myself able to draw on it.

As leaders we know that we cannot control anyone's behavior.  We can only hope to influence them (or at some point help them find their way to another job).  Talking with our team members (or our leaders) about their behavior is appropriate and necessary.  I try to impart to my team members that hearing and acting on feedback is one of the keys to success in becoming a leader, and so 'judging' their behavior and talking to them about it is what I do.

We will however find ourselves facing situations where we must look to our own behavior... our part in what's going on.  We have to be able to reflect honestly about what we are doing.  Even if I'm not aware that I'm feeling offended or insulted, I can more often than not reflect on how I've been acting and see that I've been defensive or projecting.  I may not realize that I'm feeling jealous or afraid of not getting enough attention, and through reflecting on how I'm acting I can see whether I've been taking or giving away the credit when things go well, or taking the blame when they don't.

Once we're able to recognize how we've been acting we can pretty easily drop our defenses (or whatever we need to do) and start acting without the emotional charge.  It's the only way to be really honest, to make real connections, and to find real solutions.  And... ummm... easier said than done. The only way to get better is practice, practice, practice.  Set some time aside each day to honestly, and as objectively as you can, look your actions each day.  Were there any conversations that didn't go as I had planned?  Did I take credit when I could easily have given it away?  Did I celebrate and praise my team members as much as I could have today?  Have I told AND shown those who are important to me how much I love and appreciate them today?  Did I hold the door open for someone and become indignant when they didn't thank me?  

It's not too late to fix it...  And luckily I get a whole new opportunity to get it right tomorrow.