Building the Future

December 8, 2010

Leadership Lessons of ‘The West Wing’

Many of you will remember that I’m steadily working my way through the 7 seasons of ‘The West Wing’ boxed set. And so far, it’s not difficult to appreciate why so many Americans (and others) would readily take Jed Bartlett as their President.

There are many aspects of Bartlett that are agreeable and none more so than his tremendous leadership of others.

In an example I watched just the other night, one of his senior team takes an incredibly brave step to ask Bartlett personal details of his relationship with his father. Whilst this might seem a step too far in his relationship with ‘Mr President’, Toby Ziegler is performing an ideal, if rather intimate service to his boss.

Initially, Bartlett is rather incensed at Ziegler’s impertinence and then, in the next couple of episodes, we see the true leadership come through, where he responds to the raw edge that Ziegler has exposed. Bartlett sees past his own bruised ego and ‘gets’ the point of Ziegler’s intervention.

In his own way, Bartlett shows Ziegler how much he values the man’s courage to speak up in such a sensitive area – and, incidentally, an area that Bartlett really does need to investigate.

In too many cases, leaders are so engrossed in their own ego that they fail to appreciate that giving feedback to your boss is a tough thing to do.

Bosses very often intimidate, whether they mean to or not.

To have the courage to give feedback is a rare thing in an employee. Even when they do get brave enough, the handling of this feedback has to be very careful indeed, or valuable relationships will stutter and the most likely outcome is that no more feedback will ever be forthcoming.

(Hint – never start to argue or justify your side of it, just thank them and accept the feedback very graciously and ponder on it honestly).

Great leaders – like the fictional character Bartlett that Martin Sheen plays so effectively – value both the very feedback they are given by acting on it constructively, as well as respecting the generosity and courage shown by the employee who has the kindness to offer it.

We see feedback as a one-way street – often interpreted by employees as ‘criticism’ (and negatively as a consequence) – where we dole it out downwards when we lead others (often more for our benefit than theirs).

Where we graciously accept feedback given that is intended to help us ourselves evolve, we make best use of the gift for our own benefits and also show our people that it adds value and is to be appreciated, which, in turn, makes it much more likely for them to value too when they are on the receiving end.

When we accept and look into feedback that seems hard to take, we are being provided with a perception of us that sometimes – often indeed – is just where our blind spot is.

And that’s such a valuable steer for someone to take the time and trouble to share with us.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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December 6, 2010

The Curiosity of Employees

How do children learn? It is, after all, something we all have to do – and the formative years of kids are fascinating to observe.

Children learn be experiencing new things. By having the freedom – whilst being protected by their carers as much as possible from harm – to explore anything and everything in their lives.

Each object, idea and concept is there for the level of study they feel appropriate, simply by being curious.

We let them be that way without demeaning them. We smile at their odd questions and behaviors and enjoy the moment with them.

Over the years of getting older, as we discover our emotional side, we lose the ability to take risks with new things in quite the same way ever again.

It happens to a greater or lesser extent in every single one of us, as we move into middle childhood and then as adults.

Often in the workplace, this can prevent learning and development, at the very least, with the possibilities to explore and learn by doing falling way behind in the self-fulfilment pecking order.

We protect ourselves from experiencing painful and indeed harmful emotions that hurt our self-esteem, by being a lot less inclined to do things when we have been affected before.

So, unless carefully nurtured, as employees we hold back and stay safe. We’ve experienced the bump on the head or the graze on the knee once too often to try it again, especially when it made us feel not only physically bad, but even more so when it hurts us inside.

As managers, we can really get much more from the potential of our people by making exploration and new learning a very safe place to go.

When we start to appreciate just what it is that we need to do to lighten up our people; to let them make their mistakes; to let them learn from the little bumps and scrapes that children learn from, we offer an enlightening experience indeed.

We are there to nurture our people to ‘find things out’ freely and without besmirching or embarrassing them at all, we do them such a favor. Indeed we develop our teams so effectively as well.

So once again, where we take the time to recognize exactly how each of our employees needs us to be, everyone can become a winner.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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November 17, 2010

My Team Is Famous For…

Getting great people to be in the team is one of the most rewarding tactics to help managers deliver the results demanded of them.

Yet these ‘great people’ as employees can be so hard to find.

Some managers have found the key to unlock creating a successful team, by ensuring that they get well known for the environment in which they and their people work.

A compelling experience for those employees who are lucky enough to be in there. Indeed, an experience so rewarding that there is a queue to join.

Imagine that your team ‘brand’ is such that you have people clamouring to be a member. A reputation to ensure that you need not seek great employees any more – they come to find you.

In times where employee costs are most often the biggest expenditure any organisation has to endure, throwing money at recruitment is not only expensive, but it’s usually a waste of time.

Creating a renowned workplace experience that others want to become a part of, means that as long as the pay you offer isn’t stupidly small, you can get away with paying a good average rate for the job, so long as…

…what they find when they get there is good.

Here’s a secret. there are not that many components of good and what’s even more interesting, as long as you pay at an acceptable level, pay isn’t in that set of keys.

By providing an environment that your people like and enjoy, not only will the word get round and you find people come to you to join your team, you lose less of the one’s you’ve already got.

Now, it’s not about providing a cushy little number where your people can snooze their afternoon’s away. that’s not part of it at all – here are the keys…

1. A challenging job that:- stimulates and encourages employees to take risks and grow, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and not chastised when things don’t quite go to plan.

2. Leadership that:- delivers it’s promises; values the individual; listens much more than speaks (whilst communicating effectively); is trusted and trust others; oils the wheels to make delivery of high performance easy for the team members; can be hands on; pays attention to what’s going on.

3. Have fun – simple as that!

With these in place, your team will definitely be famous for…the team that it really is worth being in.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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April 13, 2010

Sharing Responsibilities in Building Workplace Relationships

Over time, relationships between managers and employees have not always been at their best.

The way forward for both sides to be satisfied in their work experience and results, is to park this history and move on. It’s all about shared responsibility.

To get the best from employees, managers need to make sure that they create an environment where their people can be of their best at all times (OK, maybe with the occasional hiccup!). This involves both sides in trusting each other to look out for each other, where they can.

Building successful workplace relationships in of value to everyone in any of the regular interactions they have together. ‘Not getting on’ is simply ‘Not good enough’ any more.

To have an effective relationship, there has to be value created for both sides, so they have a return on the time and effort they invest together.

Managers (supervisors; team leaders; CEOs; whatever) of this world want results that will improve their standing and support the development of the organization – however small or large it is. Then they are safer in their role and even have the opportunity to progress.

Employees, who up to now have been sitting firmly on the other side of the desk, want survival for their job in this uncertain world in which we live and also want fulfilment, development, excitement, challenge and success (and more!) themselves too!

Both sides need each other to understand how they can help each other achieve their goals, so the shared responsibility to get on with each other well is part of the deal.

Of course, where existing ‘rivalries’ are currently in place, bringing together extreme positions is always going to be the most challenging, of course – and it can be done. There is no magic formula here and only by gently building trust through good communication skills together, will relationships start to get better.

Of course employees might expect the driver of better relationships to be their line manager. After all, they probably feel most ‘done to’ by the organization, the most accessible lead of which is their immediate boss. Of course any capable manager would already understand their obligations in this area and be taking action themselves.

There’s more to it than that.

Employees who are prepared to hold out that flag of truce are themselves taking up the responsibility, which ultimately (and hopefully) will lead to better work experiences for themselves and their colleagues as well.

Managers, who are worth their salt here, will do well to observe the significant effort being made by one or more of their team, reflect upon it and acknowledge their ‘head above the parapet’ attitude, by meeting them at least half way in their own response to the initiative.

It’s unacceptable these days, to cast blame for poor relationships on ‘the other side’. What can, and must happen, for the benefit of all, is that everyone who wants the best environment to work in, makes the effort and shares responsibility for the relationships they have with each other, whatever past experiences might imply.

All parties must share the responsibility for creating worthwhile workplace relationships and once this opportunity is recognized, there is the potential for rapidly accessing benefits for everyone, in the goals and experiences they each seek.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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April 11, 2010

Management Development Tips – Maintaining Your Momentum

As you develop and grow your management skills, it’s easy to slacken and ease off when you have a busier week.

The key here is to keep the momentum going – and only you alone can do this.

Making progress with management development is easy at first. The most obvious changes to your skills and behaviors will be the most apparent and potentially (though not necessarily!) the easiest to change.

Once you are aware, through your own very focused and objective assessment of your performance, where you can make a start and have quick successes, you will find that in itself is quite enough motivation for you – if you really are up to the challenge.

As you find activities that will help you, through an easy to use and simple guided program maybe, or a book that you’ve carefully selected and read, you will carry on along the career-long path of continuous improvement.

This journey is one to be relished, as you see opportunities come that will make you more fulfilled, much more capable and ultimately successful in your role as a manager.

There is always plenty to go at too!

These activities might take a few minutes to set up and then even just a few minutes to do, especially when they are simply part of the day-job.

There is much evidence to show that the most successful managers are able to learn on-the-job at least 70% of the time, whilst a measly 10% get full value from a workshop or training session (the other 20% comes from coaching or mentoring from your boss, one-on-one).

Even if the activities take up to a maximum of an hour, this need not be separated from what you do as part of your job anyway. The best opportunities will always be where you learn in real-life experiences and try new things on to see how they fit.

The only test to see how it’s going is how it works in the real world.

Truth is the biggest mistake any manager can make is to get today’s job confused with what’s needed to make tomorrow better. By working on development as you do the normal work, you will feel that both are being satisfied!

You see, it’s false economy to say that you are ‘too busy’. In that mode, you’ll be way too busy every day of your career.

Investing a little time in simple daily tactics and actions to develop your management skills really will make the difference going forward.

Remember this, in moments of weakness.

Fire-fighting just puts out the fire, it’s the prevention that stops them happening again and again.

So spending just a little time invested each week in making things different for the future, truly will pay off for both your business results and yourself.

In the long-term, whilst not forgetting the importance of the short, management development right there where the workplace action is, will provide ongoing opportunities to grow.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Management Development Tips, Managing Me by Martin

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March 25, 2010

Management Development Tips – Learning Outside From The Workplace

Great opportunities are all around managers in the workplace when they want to improve and grow their skills.

There are a range of people who can support them and sometimes, to add to the mix, there are opportunities to learn from further afield too.

Like never before, where managers have the vision to see the possibilities as they develop their skills and career, there are no end of opportunities they can experience, even aside from the usual workshops and training sessions.

As we become aware of the responsibilities we have to improve ourselves, we will listen to the wisdom of mentors, who have done the role we have and, as they say, ‘gotten the tee-shirt’!

If we are truly fortunate, we will enjoy the support of our own line-manager who will have the care to nurture us through their challenging coaching, which will draw through us our latent capabilities.

We will see and hear the works of employees, colleagues and our peer group managers who can share experiences and ‘what worked’ and ‘what didn’t’ too.

In the workplace therefore, there is much going for us where we can expand our basic abilities we have to become much, much more.

For those managers who care to look further afield, there are ideas and strategies for you that can pop up from the most unlikely of sources.

Here are three rather different places to look for a little enlightenment, in the broadest sense!

Similar Organizations

Where you can take a close look at what competitors or other like-minded organizations do, there are often useful insights you can glean from what they are about.

You can assimilate tactics from these, but to find out about their management activities that will help you develop personally, you need to know more.

It could be that you listen carefully to those of their people you come into contact with and extrapolate the management behaviors that drive their sharp-end employees’ performances.

Different Organizations

If you are confident enough, you can draw just as much valuable information from very different organizations and businesses.

By being very broad in your awareness of what other management teams do in their workplace, you can start to draw out ideas that might work in a very different environment.

Here, you need to be prepared to move away from tunnel-vision around your industry and prepared to take a risk or two with the integration of very different management behaviors.

Would Ricardo Semler’s ‘Maverick’ washing machine self-managed team tactics work in a retail organization? (The answer is yes, by the way!) How might the core activities of an ambulance service be paralleled with the creative team focused on new ice-cream flavors?

There will be links you can use, if you look hard enough and they will give you entirely new ways to consider some of the ways you and your people currently do things.

Other People

Even when you get a life and out of the day job, there are vital lessons you can learn. Where you are on a day off or vacation is the ideal time to make observations of anyone around you that might give hints and clues that you could find useful.

How does the deckchair rental guy make sure that no-one gets off without paying? How is crowd control balanced with the drive to give extraordinary entertainment at a rock concert.

Watching a child explore and be curious about the world around them can be incredibly revealing for you – and how can you add value to your own team from what you see there as the child plays?

How do your observations of these mini-scenarios fit for you in, say, your expanding coffee-shop business?

There are more – and the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.

The key here for managers who really want to maximize their performance, is to be open to the possibilities that will ‘ring a bell’ for them from anywhere.

Then notice things that appeal as interesting just from the curiosity you have been able to show

And finally, work on how you can translate what you see and hear for yourself, taking care to be accepting of ideas that comes from unexpected sources, if even just for the heck of it!

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Management Basics, Management Development Tips, Managing Me by Martin

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March 19, 2010

Building Workplace Relationships – Being the Model

The value of excellent workplace relationships cannot be over-estimated.

Leveraging the interactions between individuals, be they manager to employee or visa-versa is incredible, so taking responsibility for this has to be progressed by someone.

When a manager recognizes that there is work to do on taking up the responsibility for making better use of workplace relationships, that’s a great start.

Simply noticing that the way they interact with their people is not as productive as it might be, is a huge step, because that awareness so often leads to an understanding of the situations they face.

With awareness comes a decision. Whilst the responsibility for moving relationships up to a new level does not entirely fall on a manager or supervisor, there is an opportunity for them to make the first step.

Recognizing that relationships are not working as positively as they might is one thing, the next step is the logical progression to appreciating that a responsibility for moving them forward is the first step.

Now, it’s possible that everyone on the team understands that there is more to come, but the management focus needs to be on leading from the front and grasping personally the responsibility for improving relations.

Sometimes, there can be hurdles to overcome. Past history, personal preferences and, yes, prejudices can get in the way. There can even be a bit of ‘Why should I?’ in the pot as well.

Managers need to see past this, because the rewards are clear. By taking the responsibility for moving forward relationships that aren’t working to their best, managers start to model for their people a broadening of attitudes that they will replicate.

When there’s a brick wall, someone needs to be prepared to take the first swing at it, because until someone does, there will be no progress. Once a chink of light is seem, others will become much more able to get involved themselves.

Where managers show that they will take responsibility themselves to improve the working environment by engaging better with their people, the relationships will all start to grow, with gathering pace, so that the value from everyone getting on better, with trust, support and encouragement, begins to be realized.

As you people notice those small changes, they too will embrace the needs for change. they will notice how improved relationships begin to make a positive contribution to their lives as well. They will begin to see that they have some responsibilities in this area themselves.

Where you take responsibility for the first steps and show them they way, your personal modeling at this stage will be the catalyst for significant shifts for each one of your team as well.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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March 17, 2010

Outcomes to Seek When Building Workplace Relationships

The relationships any manager builds with his employees is the critical factor that will decide whether they are successful.

No manager is an island and with the help and support of their team, they will be able to deliver. There is work to do to achieve this.

Managers make relationships with the people in their team for a number of reasons. There is, however only one bottom line purpose for any of the activities that managers get involved in – and that’s to deliver the outcomes that are required of them.

Relationships are the facilitator of success and there are real and vital reasons for this. Working with a team of people opens up the scope of possibilities for managers, such that there is leverage in the simple numbers, as well as varied inputs from the different characters there.

When relationships are built based on trust, honesty and shared purpose, there are many simple outcomes that will lead to that end goal being delivered.

Such relationships are easy to create when you ensure that you spend at least some part of your day in easy conversations with your people. Once that’s in place, between you will find you are much more able to deliver:-

•    Openness – ensuring that each side is prepared to let the other in
•    Volume – the numbers onside will help to share the load
•    Creativity – from openness comes the ability to ‘think out loud’
•    Synergy – sharing ideas enables each to build on the other enabling more productive outcomes
•    Commitment – through the bonding that comes with trust and honesty
•    Morale – built through all working together in an open environment
•    Motivation – comes from being heard, fundamental in all good workplace relationships
•    Support – because they are open, they ask for help more
•    Drive – when people feel a full part and valued, they contribute more to the bigger goal
•    Understanding – knowing each other well, means there is focus on common expectations
•    Communication – always works better when there is a great relationship

There may be more of these in particular locations like yours and if the relationship is good, you will have a clear route to get to know them better yourself.

Remember, the resulting value of these small outcomes of great relationships is much, much bigger than a simple sum of the parts. Yet whilst we might look for and even actively seek much more, each component needs to be in place to enable the whole to be that bigger benefit.

The base of good interactions between managers and employees has to come from the manager themselves in the behaviors they show.

Taking the time to ensure this is a strong element of your management toolkit is an investment worth making and over time, be assured that little effort will be needed to keep the plates spinning.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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March 13, 2010

Effective Workplace Relationships – External Influences

There is value in ensuring that the interaction between a manager or supervisor is effective. Both sides have much to gain.

Although this would seem to be a relationship between two individuals, who else might be involved?

When managers work closely with team members, the exciting relationship that builds is value-creating on both sides.

Greater productivity and performance being the most likely outcomes for the manager, whilst career development and a much better working experience for an employee – just two examples for each that can come from working well together.

There are challenges enough for those two to get together productively, with both sides needing to have the intention to succeed in how they interact, as well as being able to work to come closer together to create the right environment.

That said, theirs will not be the only influences that will come to bear, despite this seemingly being a one-to-one relationship. We are all shaped by our whole environment and it’s likely that these ‘external’ influences will need consideration and the working relationship progresses.

So, just who could be implicated in how two people interact, apart from those individuals themselves? Here are some possibilities:-

Family and Friends

This can present some of the most difficult challenges.

In such cases, employees can be influenced into working in certain ways by others who, variously, may not have the full picture; will have had very different work experiences; and ultimately, just be unwilling to go half way to work well with other people, especially managers who are trying hard to make things work better.

Managers need to acknowledge such pressures and ensure that whatever they do to make workplace relationships better, the external influences can be very robust. It’s not to give up on at all, indeed these workplace experiences might be a breath of fresh air to the person they are trying to be creative with. It might take time.

Having a consistent approach with all team members will help, so that those facing this particular issue will be encouraged to overcome other prejudices, to dig in and take the risk of trying on better working relationships with supervisors or managers.

Other Colleagues

When two individuals are working together to build a better working relationship, this can be influenced by the shared perceptions of others in the team.

This is usually caused by fear and other emotions, like jealousy or frustration and more.

Managers need to watch for the reluctance of individuals to get more involved. By ensuring that everyone in the team gets the same treatment, this issue usually resolves itself.

Other Line Managers

Managers are frequently encouraged to work in some bizarre ways by their colleagues, who might have experiences that are set in quite different circumstances and with different people and situations involved.

Managers need to understand that they will create relationships best, when they are being at their most authentic with themselves and not feel obliged to ‘do it their way’.

Being able to stand up and develop their own strategies takes courage and, from time to time, the occasional failure. this is all part of management self-development and is a very worthwhile exercise!

External Business Contacts

There may be times where the impact of other business contacts can affect the way that managers get on with their team.

Sometimes such extraneous influences can be hard to pick up on and adjust in favor of your own activities.

The key here is to be good at creating good working relationships with all of your people, all of the time, so that anyone affected by external influencers can see that the ‘home way’ is best and then they are likely to gradually fall in line.

These are a few of the possibilities – and there may be more. The key element here is to remember that whilst two individuals might wish to create a much more positive working relationship, there will be underlying and sometimes even unconscious thought processes that can take time to overcome.

Great working relationships are hugely valuable, not just to a manager who can get more out of their team, but, when working well, to each single individual who is on the other side of the desk, in the personal reward and development, not to mention exciting and motivating work, that they can experience too.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People by Martin

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March 12, 2010

Management Development Tips – Look Inside Yourself First

Progressive managers learn to develop themselves by ensuring they continue to grow through their careers.

When they get stuck, the first place they look is within.

All good managers have the innate capability to look inwardly from time to time to understand better how they are doing.

They can be very focused and objective about how they go about their self-assessment, or – which is much more value-creating on a different level – they can ask their team about how they are doing as well.

When you are able to do this, you’ll have a far greater knowledge of how you work yourself, which is extraordinarily useful, generating interesting insights as well as offering lots of possibilities too.

One of the reasons people (not just managers), struggle with a better understanding of themselves, is that they are frightened of what they might come up with.

It’s a scary place, being your real self – especially when, for a long time – many years even – you have become used to playing an inauthentic role. Truth is, we are all acting a part in our lives, because of the way we have become fashioned through our experiences.

And it can make us both uncomfortable as well as less capable when we are working outside our natural skin.

Once you have taken steps to recognize any areas where you need to fine tune them, you can take steps, often with the support and help from your team, to develop your skills in a much more productive way.

For junior managers, you can start this right from the beginning of your management role. By engaging others in your team with your development through a bit of self-analysis, you will help them see that this is the most valuable way to progress their performance.

For more experienced managers, such openness, whilst relatively rare, has enormous possibilities for you as well as the team itself.

Being open about who you are and how you go about your work, is most revealing – not least in the response you get from your people, which whilst initially may be a little puzzled, is likely, over time, to become fascinated by the internal changes you make and they can learn from too.

Often there will be programs that will be able to help you. Your organization may have one-off training courses you can do. You may have team members or colleagues who have the specific experiences you need if you take the time to look around.

There is nothing like being focused, taking your development into your own hands and creating the opportunities for your own development yourself.

If you sit around waiting for the magic workshop to transform your management development to clear all your shortcomings, you may well have to wait a long time indeed.

Far better to seek out support from an experienced hand that will be able to guide you through ‘learning by doing exercises’ that will neatly feather into your day-job.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Management Development Tips, Managing Me by Martin

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