Creating Beautiful Music

I have this wonderful vision in my head.

I have this dream that my teams will function like a masterful orchestra that creates beautiful music and achieves brilliant success.

In order to get there though, they need something.  They need something from me.

Every great orchestra takes it’s cue from their conductor.  In the case of the team, they take their cue from their leader.  This is me.  This is you.

What is it though that they need from you and I to create beautiful music?

As I was perusing some of the TED videos, I came across one that intrigued me.  And struck a chord as to how great conductors lead.

Watch this amazing video from TED and I’ll catch up with you afterwards to share my observations and thoughts.

To start, I found this video to be intriguing.  Did you catch the leadership lessons?

The guy that brought us “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” marvelously displays how great leaders lead. [Actually, Bobby McFerrin is a genius of a guy if you ever listen to him talk.]

Here are 5 leadership lessons I observed:

  • Great leaders demonstrate the behavior or action that they want from their team. Did you notice how he started out simply by showing us what he wanted on the first note?  The team (audience) quickly picked it up because he was clear (even without using words) as to what he wanted them to do.  Once they picked it up, he moved on to the next note (lesson).  How often do you demonstrate desired behavior or lessons for your team?
  • Great leaders reinforce desired behavior. Did you notice how (even within a minute) he reinforced their understanding of the note by having them demonstrate and practice it over and over again.  Sometimes he would let them sing it alone and sometimes he would reinforce the note by singing it with them.  How often do you reinforce desired behavior when developing an employee?
  • Great leaders ‘let go’ and trust. Did you notice that he stopped instructing and singing and let them sing the notes?  He trusted that they would follow his lead, which they did because of the foundation of the first two points.  They also developed a reciprocal trust in him and his leadership.  How often do you ‘let go’ and trust that your team will do what what you have taught or instructed them to do?
  • Great leaders help their team understand the bigger picture. Did you notice that after they had established trust in each other and they were doing what he expected, he chimed in with his own melody over the top of what they were singing?  To me this was a great audible example of displaying how their part worked with the greater whole.  This gives meaning and purpose to those things that we ask our teams to do.  How important is it for your team to understand how what they do contributes to the greater whole?
  • Great leaders stretch their teams. Did you notice that once his team was comfortable with what they knew and trust was established, he started to stretch them in to the unknown?  In fact he stretched them down the scale beyond their learned limits and then back up the scale above their learned limits.  They did more than they probably ever thought would be possible.  How often do you stretch your teams to new heights?  To do the improbable?  The impossible?

The result?  Beautiful music.




It’s Just the Beginning!

Today is DAY ONE of The Leader’s Locker.

As you can tell, I’ve already started populating it with lessons, articles, and stories that have previously been written.

Some of the categories haven’t been filled yet, but I’ve got some good ideas as to the type of content that will go in there.  Now, it’s just a matter of putting pen to paper….or however that works out on a computer.

What I am most interested in though is what YOU think.  I’d love your comments. Either here, through email, Facebook, Twitter, carrier pigeon, or whatever means.  This blog will only be successful if it’s used, read, and shared.

So tell me, what are you interested in hearing about?

Thanks for stopping by!  Come back often!


A Lesson in Graciousness and Servant Leadership

A friend of mine shared this story that was posted on CNN and I thought it was a fantastic display of servant leadership and graciousness.

In reading the below story, I wonder if the participants ever would have thought this would have ended up in national news.  Think what kind of story this would have been if the participants would have been snobby, uncaring or arrogant.

It doesn’t matter how great you think you are or great you may be, true leaders understand that serving others is the greatest way to lead and then act on it.

What kind of story are people telling about your actions?




4-star general, 5-star grace

CNN -February 13, 2011- Written by Bob Greene

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Graciousness can pay priceless dividends.

And it doesn’t cost a thing.

You may have heard the story about what happened between White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Four-Star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a recent Washington dinner.

As reported by the website Daily Caller, Jarrett, a longtime Chicago friend of President Obama, was seated at the dinner when a general — later identified as Chiarelli, the No. 2-ranking general in the U.S. Army hierarchy, who was also a guest at the gathering — walked behind her. Chiarelli was in full dress uniform.

Jarrett, apparently only seeing Chiarelli’s striped uniform pants, thought that he was a waiter. She asked him to get her a glass of wine.

She was said to be mortified as soon as she realized her mistake, and who wouldn’t be? But the instructive part of this tale is what Chiarelli did next.

Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.

As Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr:

“It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters’ pants — REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March.”

Now, even if you’ve never met Chiarelli or followed him in the news, you have to be impressed with him after hearing that story. With his lofty rank in the military, he could have given Jarrett the deep freeze, reproached her and corrected her. But he poured her the wine — “It was only good fun,” he wrote to Starr — and invited her to a meal at his home. He came out of the incident as a decent and magnanimous person.

It’s easy to do, if you care about other people’s feelings.

[There are more examples in the original article, which you can access via this link to CNN.]

What Gen. Chiarelli did though was to demonstrate, instinctively and in an instant, what it means to be a big person.

The rest of us may never reach the exalted status of those three men. But kindness knows no social stratum. Every day, we’re given the choice. Consideration? It’s free of charge. It can echo forever.

Are You Wasting My Time?

Photo Credit: John Zubrovich

Yesterday I observed a classic scenario that I am sure you have experienced repeatedly in your career.  How often have you been in a meeting that has no direction, the speaker is incoherent, and you just want to scream, “Are you wasting my time?”

I was in such a meeting yesterday.  Shame on me though, I had joined the conference call late and so for a moment sat there and listened to the rambling thinking it was penance for my late arrival.  I assumed that someone had already covered off the agenda, the purpose, and participants in the meeting.  I assumed wrong.

There were two PowerPoint presentations that had been sent out for the 30 minute meeting that together represented 75 slides and apparently we were going through each; one by one.  The meeting really wasn’t going anywhere and the speaker didn’t fully know what they were talking about or what the needs of our business were.

Before I stepped in myself, a beacon of light emerged on the horizon.  A young senior manager, apparently fed up, had enough managerial courage to jump in the middle of the meeting and take it over by asking, “What is the purpose of this meeting?  What are we trying to get out of it?”  He wasn’t rude, but was in fact very professional in the way that he went about it.  From there he steered us through what we needed to accomplish, next steps, and closed us out.  [In my mind I was cheering him on.]

As leaders, we all have many opportunities to both lead and attend meetings. In each role we have responsibilities.  I’ve included some bullet points below that highlight these responsibilities.  This is not an exhaustive list, but covers many of the basics.  We also find ourselves in situations where we may need to step in and take control, as this senior manager did, but it must be done with professionalism and finesse.

So, as you examine your own meeting etiquette, ask yourself, “Am I wasting people’s time?”  If your response is ‘yes’, then what do you need to do differently to fix it?

I’m including some basic bullets on good meeting management and good meeting ettiqute below my signature.  There are tons of great resources on the web.  Search “Leading Effective Meetings” on the web if you need more.

Time is one of our most precious and scare resources.  So, as a leader, I challenge you to 1) be known for leading great meetings and 2) be known for being an engaged active participant.




Responsibilities in leading a meeting:

  • Don’t waste people’s time. Come prepared.  Start prepared.
  • Make sure the meeting length is appropriate for the purpose of the meeting.
  • Send an agenda ahead of time.
  • Begin (small) meetings with introductions
  • Ensure everyone knows why they are there and the expected outcome.
  • Stay on topic and on time.
  • Plan time in for questions and be prepared to answer questions.
  • Set next steps and action items.
  • End meetings with a summary of decisions, assignments, and next steps.
  • Thank everyone for attending.
  • End early if you can (give back time).
  • Follow up with a recap email.

Responsibilities in attending meetings:

  • Only go to meetings that there is a reason or purpose for you to participate in.
  • Come prepared.
  • Pay attention.
  • Be an active participant in the meeting.  Speak up. Don’t spend time in sideline conversations, on your blackberry, or on your computer.
  • Ask thoughtful, brief questions that contribute to the conversation.
  • Do not interrupt others.
  • Attend the ENTIRE meeting.
  • ASK CLARIFYING questions if you don’t understand.  Chances are others don’t understand either.
  • If the meeting is out of control, contribute in helping the facilitator retain control.  If they facilitator is the cause, you may need to exert some managerial courage and take over.  Make sure to do so professionally and politely as possible.  Don’t engage in unprofessional behavior or call the facilitator out.

SIDENOTE: Every situation is different and you will have to use your best judgment based upon the variables presenting themselves when dealing with a situation like the one described above.  Dealing with especially difficult situations may require you talking with the facilitator or their supervisor after the meeting has concluded in private.

Grief in the Workplace

Photo Credit: Photobucket

Maybe it’s me, but here recently, it seems like I know more people in the workplace that have been struck by a tragedy or personal loss.  Whether serious personal illness/injury or loss of a loved one, dealing with loss or grief in the workplace can be very difficult.

I find myself thinking, “What do I say?” Am I going to aggravate them by simply saying “I’m sorry” or “How can I help?”  I definitely feel compelled to say something, but sometimes it feels awkward, uncomfortable, and quite frankly, I personally feel helpless because there is little I can do to ease the situation for a friend or co-worker.

Let me start by saying that I am not an HR professional.  Simply, someone who has been there a few times and have my own experiences to pull from and in talking with a few of you, know that this is a topic that many don’t know how to tackle well.  So, I offer my own thoughts to this difficult and delicate subject.

My personal opinion and experience has been – when responding to a situation involving grief or significant loss:

  • Treat people respectfully.  Be kind and supportive.
  • Don’t avoid or shun.  Talk to them.  Offer your support and check in on them, but allow them their space.
  • If they ask for your support, give it.
  • Be present.  If appropriate, attend the funeral, wake, or go to the hospital.  Back up your verbal support with your physical presence.
  • Pay attention to the longer term.  Clearly when there is a death, many people rally around, but as the weeks pass, the support often goes away.  So continued support is appreciated and necessary.

This is an important topic for leaders. Why?  Because you don’t get second chances or ‘do-overs’ when responding to someone else’s grief or loss.  You have to get it right the first time and there isn’t a manual that says “do it this way” every time.  Times of crisis like this, when there is a great need, often define how people perceive you as a leader and tests what you are made up of as a leader.  In essence, you show your true colors.  Plus…it’s not about you.  It’s about fulfilling a need for another.

Few of us are prepared for it though.  So, I researched around and found some additional tips on how to handle grief in the workplace that I thought pretty universally applied to supervisors and coworkers.

Above all, these situations require judgment and common sense on your part as everyone deals with grief differently and has different needs.

Leaders can play a key role in helping a person to heal. Resuming the normal routine of work is part of the healthy recovery process. Knowing something about the various stages or behaviors that are common in the grief process can be helpful in understanding how to support grieving workers (there are plenty of resources online to learn this – search “stages of grief”).

Here are some additional tips for dealing with grief in the workplace (specifically around loss):

  • Make contact with your bereaved associate as soon as possible after you learn of their loss. Offer your condolences. Listen and respect confidentiality. Expect sadness and tears.
  • Be prepared. Know your organization’s policy on bereavement and personal time and be ready to explain the policy to the associate.
  • Be as flexible and negotiable as possible in allowing your associate to have the time and space to deal with their loss.
  • Arrange for back-ups and replacements necessary to cover the person’s work during their absence. Ensure that phone calls and e-mail messages are re-directed.
  • Get information on services, funerals and memorials to the person’s colleagues in a timely fashion.
  • If appropriate, help to organize some form of group acknowledgment to support the associate, such as issuing a card or flowers, or planning group attendance at a memorial ceremony.
  • Ensure that support continues when the person returns to work. The first few days may be particularly difficult adjustment.
  • Have back-ups or a buddy system in place when the associate returns to work to provide support and check in with the associate periodically to see how he or she is doing.
  • Consider adjusting the workload. Expect productivity, but be patient and reasonable in your expectations.
  • Be sensitive to the cycle of upcoming holidays or trigger points that might be difficult for the associate.
  • Recognize that other cultures may have customs, rituals or ways of dealing with loss that differ from those to which we are accustomed, especially in our multi-cultural workplace.
  • Watch for warning signs of prolonged grief and ongoing performance issues, such as poor grooming, severe withdrawal, substance abuse, or other uncharacteristic behaviors might be warning signs.
  • Offer resources for professional help. As a manager, you are in a unique position to observe a need for help and to recommend assistance through a referral to your EAP or appropriate community resources.
  • Be mindful of how this situation may be directly or indirectly impacting others in the workplace.  There are many friendships in our workplace, and others may also experience varying levels of grief in support of their friend or colleague.


What Kind of Impact do You Create?

Today on the way in to work, I was walking along the sidewalk and as someone was approaching I looked them in the eye and said, “Good Morning”.

The person never looked at me and when I spoke, slightly turned their head up and away, almost in a snobbish fashion.  I was a little surprised and my first thought was, “Wow.  It just got colder outside.”  My second thought was, “Wow.  I hope that wasn’t someone that works here”.

Who knows what was on that person’s mind.  Who knows if they were even cognizant of what they did.  All I know is that I was slightly taken aback as I thought, “How rude”.  Never having met this person before, this is now my first impression of them.

At Walmart/Sam’s Club we practice the 10 foot rule.  This is part of our culture. It is part of who we are.

Acknowledging someone else’s presence costs you nothing, but can create a great positive impact.

NOT acknowledging someone costs you nothing, but can create a GREATER negative impact.

So my questions for you are; What kind of impact do you create? What kind of impression do you leave with people as you pass by them?



The Power of the Question

As a leader, have you ever become frustrated and thought “I could do this myself much faster”?

Did you act on that?  Or did you give the other person the opportunity to define the problem, come up with a solution, and succeed themselves?

I know I have been guilty many times of just taking the reins and trying to solve the situation faster for whatever reason.

Part of becoming a good leader is empowering others to succeed by helping them develop the skills they need.

Yet, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s something you have to practice.  And practice often.  If this is new to you, it’s hard to get the hang of at first because your natural tendency is to revert to what you know and just do it yourself.  In fact, it may seem unnatural at first.  But it is critical to learn if you are to be a successful leader.

So, HOW do you develop this skill?

Well, practice is important.  But what do you practice?  Asking open ended questions. Questions that start with the 5Ws are a great start!  Who do you need to engage?  What do you hope to accomplish?  Where do you need to start?  Why do you think that?  How will you engage your stakeholders?

The key is to lead someone to where they need to go by asking questions.  Again, this is a skill that you can develop over time; through trial and error.  I know that on occasion, I have sometimes interjected a closed ended question.  But the reality is that you can get someone thinking much broader if their response has to be something other than a “yes or no”.

Does this mean that you can never ask a close ended question? No, but remember your ultimate goal; developing someone else.  If an occasional close ended question needs to be asked, so be it, but try to get the person you are developing to think broadly and solve the issue for themselves.

Also, just because you are the leader doesn’t mean that you know the solution to the problem.  And quite frankly, you don’t have to know what the end solution is.  But you should be able to ask the right questions to elicit the response and/or behavior that you are looking for.  Ultimately, you are developing skills in others to properly problem solve or process information so that they become more effective and successful in what they do.

You may ask yourself, “Do I always have to ask questions to get someone to where they need to go?”  My personal answer to that is no.  It depends upon the situation.  Sometimes you need to be more directive; like during an emergency or time of urgency.  Could you imagine the fire alarm going off and you trying to get your direct reports to leave by asking questions?  There is a time for different approaches and you need to learn how to determine the best approach based on the situation.  What we’re talking about here is those teachable moments and developing others.

As an illustration, I’m attaching a link to where they had an excerpt from the book The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.  This is a good book if you’ve never read it.  In the excerpt they play out a conversation between an employee and supervisor.  The conversation centers around problem solving, but what I want you to focus in on is how the supervisor asks questions to get the employee to where he needs to be.  [JFYI – Fast Company is an excellent business resource for leaders and one I use often.]

At the end of the day, by putting the Power of the Question in to practice as a leader and becoming good at it you are not only developing others, but you are developing yourself to succeed at a higher level.



47 Minutes Well Spent: Part Deux

Following on to the original post 47 Minutes Well Spent, I wanted to accomplish two things.

First, provide you with the lessons from the handout that were shared with us during this leadership session.

Second, use the words “Part Deux” in a blog post.

Now that I have satisifed both, I hope that you find the below information helpful.  There are great nuggets of information in here on how to improve your communication skills.  The bullet pointed list is by no means all inclusive, but is good information to absorb and share.

What communication practices do you find work well for you?




General Comments on Good Communication

  • What do I know and Who needs to know it?  (especially when in crisis)
  • Be proactive, brief, honest with information.
  • Think before you speak – know your impact
  • Translate the technical to the appropriate level when you are communicating.
  • Best information comes directly from the top of your team, division, organization – don’t let it be filtered.
  • Bad news does not improve with age!
  • If you think you are being micromanaged – it might be because you aren’t communicating – Avoid micro-management by informing your boss what you are up to.  Beat them to it and they will know you are taking care of business.
  • The Sundown Rule should apply when someone asks you for support – respond by the end of the day – even if it’s “I’m on it.”  Acknowledge the request.
  • Talk to your team about integrity and be sure you don’t assume they know what it is.

Email Communications

  • Tell them what they need to know, not what you know. (brief, concise)
  • Write it so it can be read quickly on a Blackberry.    (spaces between bullets, and just a few brief bullet points)
  • Write it, shorten it, and then shorten it again – then think about it one more time before you send it.
  • Make it easy for your boss to forward it to his/her boss without having to translate or rewrite it (just pass it on – giving the information/initiative and the organization speed) – and giving you credit
  • Write only what you would be proud to share in a court of law or in the Wall Street Journal (otherwise, pick up the phone instead)
  • CC your boss if sending an e-mail to his/her boss (confidential N/A).
  • If your boss’s boss e-mails you directly, when replying…include your boss.
  • If your boss is Cc’d on action/customer issues, include them on reply.
  • When writing e-mails,  don’t “think out loud”…get to the point
  • If you need action from someone, assign ownership (no us, we, they)
  • Although 100% of e-mails make it, respond with “will do” or “got it” (imagine that you are in the same room asking someone a question)
  • Close the loop/ follow-up.  If you’re working on it, let them know.  Don’t leave them hanging.

Be a Great Listener!

  • The #1 technique of communication is listening.
  • What your hear and how you respond is more important than what you come up with yourself, and means a lot more to your associates.
  • The #1 threat to good communication and good leadership is Ego.  Ego stops listening.  Ego stops respecting.

Again, not all inclusive, but great bullet points on communication.



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