tips for leaders

February 3, 2018

Are You Listening Fast Enough?

How long has it been since you were having a conversation with someone and suddenly realized you had no idea what they just said to you? 24 hours? Five hours? Five minutes? It happens to all of us.

There is sciencey stuff to explain it that we always share in our communication training. Our brains simply process words faster than we can speak them. In fact, the differential is about 75%.

Yikes. Our brains have lots of time to wander around while we are talking to each other. That’s why the ability to listen attentively is such a critical part of communication. How much of your work depends on you listening to someone, or someone listening to you?

If you are a manager, being a good listener is hugely important. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65% of employees don’t feel appreciated at work. 65%!! One way to fix that is for managers to learn to listen in a way that make employees feel heard.

We listen differently

In addition to the brain stuff, communication preferences also affect listening. Some of us prefer to talk and think at a faster pace than others do. For me, I’m a doer. I’m all about bullet points and making quick decisions and moving on to the next challenge. I use fewer words, and need to hear fewer words. My husband is quite the opposite. He’s an analyzer. He wants a slower pace so he can process. Quite often, our conversations result in me getting impatient or being short, trying to move things along. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what he’s saying (well, mostly); it just means we are processing at different speeds.

Listening tips

Respecting other people’s communication preferences is one way to improve our listening skills. Following are three tools you can use to listen more attentively.

  1. Make eye contact: When you are looking someone in the eye, you are more focused on them. Plus, you are also reading their facial expressions, which are a big part of communication.
  2. Ask clarifying questions: Help your brain not only process, but also store information. Asking clarifying questions focuses your brain by putting it in the mode of information retention.
  3. Summarize, paraphrase or rephrase: If your brain is actively working on synthesizing the information you’re hearing, it’s more likely to stay connected to the speaker.

A lot goes into effective communication. Speaking and listening are equally important. Using these tips, and learning to read behaviors, can help you equalize speed differences. At Ignite, we spend a lot of time training on this topic. Let us know if your organization could use some help.

June 29, 2017

Walking the Talk

When Deb Schmitz and I headed to Atlanta for a business retreat in February, the last thing we expected to walk away with was an entirely new business. But as we worked with our coach, Laura West, to strategize plans for Mountain Laurel as well as our individual businesses, things began to crystallize. We didn’t know who we were because we were trying to be too many things at the same time.

Does that ring any bells for you? We were experiencing energy drain from trying to put our focus on too many objectives. You know what I am talking about if you are trying to be wife, mother, sister, daughter, charity volunteer, AND do your “job” all at the same time. It’s that multi-tasking thing we preach against.

So we decided to be the kind of leaders we want other women to be. We decided to take a big risk, merge our businesses, and really go for it. Because “going for it” is what we want you to do. Let’s face it, you will never think the time is right, or that you know enough. So, move forward anyway. Take that one next step that feels really scary to you, and then take another step.

That’s one thing we’ve been most proud of in the leadership boot camps we’ve been teaching. The women really start challenging themselves to be all they can be. And they are being really successful, getting promoted, getting elected, you name it.

So July 1, 2017, we are going for it, too. We are igniting our passions completely.

Go on this journey with us, won’t you? Look for your next email from Deb or me at Ignite.

January 18, 2017

Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

airport terminal

Terminal B at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport was my overnight host Sunday night. It was almost midnight Sunday night before I finally heard the words “cancelled flight.”  It was really bad weather, and I was on one of 67 flights that got cancelled.

Many of us sat at the gate from 6:30 until we heard those fateful words at nearly midnight.  And as we watched the departure time change roughly every 15 minutes, we all started to get a bit angry. Finally, one young man almost lost it. All because there was no communication from our gate agents.

Building relationships

In a crisis situation, clear, consistent, and frequent communication is critical. When you don’t tell your people what is going on, they fill in the blanks with frustration, negativity, anxiety, and lots of other negative emotions.

Fortunately, most of  us had weather aps on our phones, so we knew when a tornado warning was issued.  The gate agents didn’t tell us.  They also didn’t communicate about the mechanical issue or that the pilot was concerned about the route because of the weather.  We knew all of this because an experienced traveler continued to go to the gate and ask questions. Then he would share the info with folks around him, who would share it with folks around them.

Imagine if the gate agents had put themselves in our shoes, or had really treated us like a part of their family, like so many large companies tell us we are.  If they had acknowledged our frustration and stress by simply sharing status updates regularly, even to say we don’t know anything new, they could have built trust and relationship with us for their organization. Instead, they filled their time joking with each other, talking among themselves, and ignoring us.

As a customer, you want to be treated with respect, with dignity.  That night, we all needed a little warmth and compassion, a little empathy, some real customer service.  But that night, it didn’t exist.

December 7, 2016

Three Ways to Turn Down the Stress of Mistakes

“Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes.”                  ~Judy Hopps, Zootopia

MComputer keyboard with "oops" on return keyistakes in the workplace can be the source of huge stress. They can slow down productivity, cause rework, and/or create conflict. And right now, as many organizations have to balance the crunch of year-end deadlines with the social demands of the holidays and the unexpected impacts of winter weather, opportunities for mistakes intensify.

Managing Mistakes

Following are three things companies can do to reduce the stress employees feel when mistakes occur.

1. Expect. Unless your workforce is totally robots, mistakes will happen. You can reduce employee stress by giving them tools, including processes and procedures, to counter mistakes that you can anticipate.

2. Accept. Create a culture that supports the idea of learning from mistakes rather than punishing for them.  When you can remove the fear, you reduce stress.

3. Learn. Pay attention to “mistake trends” like creating routine time binds. Departments or individuals put others in time binds when they are overly cautious or they fail to properly prioritize. Creating time binds sets the stage for increased levels of mistakes when people have to work too quickly and/or have to ignore checks. You create unnecessary stress when you reduce employee ability to provide quality work.

The organizational attitude about mistakes starts at the top. Is your “mistake culture” fear-based or learning-focused?

April 13, 2016

Three Dangerous Things Disengaged Employees Say

There are some standard phrases you will hear from employees who have disengaged from your company. Three of those are dangerous because they have a direct connection to your bottom line.  When you hear any of the following three, your red alert siren should immediately start sounding.

It’s Not My Job. You hear this phrase and your mind needs to think, “Uh oh, silos.” The “not my job” folks either have lost their desire to be team players, or they never really were.  “Not my job” means the employee is going to do their specifically defined job and nothing more or they have a distinct allegiance to their departmental team and will do what it takes to make that unit successful and nothing more. Fixing this starts with having a management team that is free from turf wars, and who cascades those attitudes and values down throughout the organization. The fix also includes ensuring that each and every employee can tell you how their  specific job supports the company mission, and they believe in that connection.Graphic depicting the three clues described in the article

Those Pesky Customers. Customer satisfaction can take a huge hit from disengaged employees. So can employee satisfaction, for that matter. Because disengaged employees are just checking a box, they fail to go above and beyond for customers, to actively problem-solve, to put on their smile before they pick up the phone. And they don’t hesitate to complain about customers, sometimes loudly, affecting the attitudes of others around them. Unless a company has a standard definition of “excellent customer service,” and what “above and beyond” means, employees will make up their own definitions and resulting customer satisfaction levels will vary based on that.

In most companies, “customer” is defined as those external people who buy our products and services. There is usually little recognition that each employee has both external and internal customers. For example, while administrative employees (IT, human resources, finance, etc.) touch external customers in some of their processes, they serve other employees with much greater frequency. What are the standards of performance for serving their colleagues? Instituting standard definitions of “excellent service” for all customers is a starting point to begin re-engaging employees.

I’m Taking a Mental Health Day. “Mental health days” are sick days and/or personal time off used to provide time and space to manage stress. However, it’s the reason that employees take these days that we need to pay attention to. Today, the level of stress in the workplace is greater than it has ever been thanks to longer hours, constant connection, and more sedentary jobs.

Encouraging employees to disconnect and manage their stress is a good thing. Maybe there is about to be an unusually sunny day when it would be great for any employee’s mental health to spend a day hiking, golfing, or just drinking in the sunshine. So they manage their priorities and take a mental health day to do just that: disengage and de-stress. That’s good.

But when an employee takes a mental health day because they simply cannot face dealing with an obnoxious boss, a difficult colleague, or because they don’t see how their job matters, mental health days are problematic. In this case, the company is creating an environment that is affecting the employee’s outlook and their health. It’s a broken culture. One that has to be fixed from the top down.

October 17, 2015

Capitalizing on Acumen: Our worldview and our self-view 

How keen is your acumen?

If you look at a dictionary definition, “acumen” is  defined as “ keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters.” You’ll find synonyms like “astuteness,” “shrewdness,” “wit” and even “guile” for “acumen.” Among the antonyms, or near antonyms, for “acumen,” you’ll find “naïveté,” “ineptness,” “unworldliness,” and “ignorance.”

Our acumen is directly related to our level of performance — what we “can” do.  To understand it more fully, let’s look at the six dimensions of acumen divided into our worldview and our self-view.

Worldview (how we view the world) 

  • Systems thinking: Can we understand systems and order in the world?
  • Practical thinking: Can we understand practical values in situations in the outside world?
  • Understanding others: Can we understand individuality in others?

Self-View (how we view ourselves)

  • Self-direction: Can we understand systems and order within ourselves?
  • Role awareness: Can we understand practical values in situations in our own roles in the world?
  • Sense of self: Can we understand our own individuality?

Our acumen expresses itself in our problem solving, our sense of proportion, our awareness of situational reality, and how appropriately we respond in difficult situations. With acumen, as with emotional intelligence and behaviors, we have the potential to improve — to increase our level of performance both professionally and personally.

So these are the acumen fundamentals.  Let me know if you’d like a deeper understanding, of if you’d like to assess how keen your acumen really is.

Scroll to top