Archive for July, 2012

Adaptability – A Key Leadership Trait

                Here in my house with no air conditioning on a day with 106 temperatures, I started thinking about how we deal with tough situations.  While this particular instance is more of a nuisance than a ‘tough’ time, it still brings up the same thought process – how can we handle this?  My husband and I have two children – 4 and 6 – which directs our concern to their well-being.  Taking care of them is paramount.  To equate this to general leadership, attention by the leader for the team as a whole and the team members individually is critical. I believe it is the ability of leaders to adapt to situations quickly and confidently that sets them apart.  Last night it was our job to figure out the best spot to sleep so everyone could get some rest before we (hopefully) have the AC fixed today.

                When a leader is presented with a problem, one character trait that stands out is his or her lack of panic.  I’ve seen many instances when people are presented with a decision or a situation, and they are reduced to a quivering mess.  Leaders may also feel fear, trepidation or uncertainty, but they seem to be able to control those feelings better. In fact, the team is expecting the leader to have that strength and calm demeanor.  How do leaders do it?

                It is not only in crisis situations that leaders have to display courage and confidence but also long-term changes.  One tactic I’ve used during any major situation or event is to focus on the strengths of my team.  By putting everyone to work in some fashion not only helps the progress of the team, but that person is able to be involved in his or her own useful way.  By utilizing the whole team, everyone had an emotional and personal investment in the success of the problem. Also, by delegating work and responsibilities, I was able to keep a more strategic and overall view of what was going on.  That also supported the team’s confidence in me since I seemed 1. To be in control and 2. To have all the answers.  The truth was, I usually didn’t feel in control or have all the answers, but by keeping the total picture in view, I was able to make choices that were beneficial.    Therein lies some success for leaders – the ability to stay out of the micro unless necessary and maintain the macro view.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Personnel Development – Is It Worth the Cost?

                 There is a gentleman I talk with occasionally who has a viewpoint 180 degrees from my own. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Sam.  Sam believes (quite strongly) that personnel development is not his problem.  Personnel development in this instance means cross-functional training, leadership training or any other non-direct work-related education.  Sam’s stance is his employees are being paid to do their jobs. Their job is to service Sam’s customers – basically provide excellent customer service.  Sam owns his business which provides regulatory support for blue collar companies.   Sam doesn’t really care about his employee’s personal development or desires.  Sam explained to me that if you remove the emotion from the equation, it boils down to doing your job.  It is the emotional part he refuses to be involved with. 

                Sam’s opinion is one that may be rather divisive.  It goes against the grain to suggest that employee satisfaction is irrelevant.  He has some supporters however because it is cheaper and easier to take this position.  If all an organization provides is job-specific training and only an expectation of job fulfillment, there is a reduction in overall cost to the company.  However, as John Marshall Reeve states in Understanding Motivation and Emotion “People are motivationally complex.”  In essence, people want to be challenged (but not overwhelmed) with positive feedback to support their efforts and competence.  Sam’s position does not provide a challenge, feedback or support. So while he may save money he is not getting optimal work from his employees; although Sam’s profession is one where it may not matter.

                To put it bluntly, I disagree with Sam.  I believe companies are finding the more empowered and supported employees are, the more they engage in the company itself.  Companies need to have an edge in today’s global economy and that edge is sometimes the people who are working in the company.  Everyone has ideas and improvements that, if fostered, could mean a breakthrough for the organization.  Employees, who have the ability to learn, grow and have their input valued, may provide some of the best cost-savings!   We all enjoy feeling important by applying our particular skills and talents to problems. Also it is proven that in this ever changing world, the more leaders work together and support employees towards strategic goals, the better the results. My question back to Sam is: aren’t your people worth it?  I know mine are.

          Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Communication – What Method to Use?

               The three main types of communication are verbal, non-verbal and written.  What fascinates me is the trend of the world to migrate away from verbal and non-verbal towards written.  Many people will question my last statement since writing a letter is a rare occurrence, but written also includes texting and email.  With that clarification, I’m sure you will agree with my earlier statement.  Why is it we are now so fixated on communicating via email or texting versus picking up a phone or talking face to face? In fact, I have witnessed a large aversion to verbal communication. Why is that?

                There are a lot of other articles and research dedicated to the effectiveness of various types of communication.  Lists of advantages and disadvantages to email or phone calls are readily available.  My point is responsibility.  I believe that emailing and texting are more conducive to removing responsibility from the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong – I email and text all day long; so I’m in this boat, too!  The point is, when we email or when we text, it is a one-way conversation. We are able to write out our own thoughts and feelings exactly how we understand them and send them out into the void.  How our words are received is no longer in mind. The assumption is the reader will understand the message. 

                Think about a time you sent an email or a text message that was misunderstood. The person on the other end misinterpreted your message or was offended by your words.  How did they react? Probably badly.  How did you react to their reaction?  That is a tougher question.  In my own case, I am usually confused by the other person’s emotion. I may get defensive of my own email or text because.. well.. it made sense to me!  Basically, in that scenario, I have all the answers – I knew exactly what I meant in my original written communication. Unfortunately, the other person is really out of the loop since they are not inside my head.  At this point, we should pick up the phone or walk over and switch to verbal communication; however that doesn’t seem to happen very much. 

                Again, I believe it comes back to responsibility. When we text or email, it is possible we try to shift the responsibility of the message to the other person. They are supposed to understand! If we have to repeat or message or say it verbally to someone, it takes on a different tone.  Now that the words come out of our mouths, we internalize the message. The message is now our own to convey and take ownership.  This can be uncomfortable for some people because of the content of the message (saying something hurtful) or because we are not really believers of the message ourselves (passing along tasking from a manager).  As humans, we take the easier route, which means opting for the path of less responsibility – at least it seems like it.   Maybe we should stop and think about that the next time there is an email chain a mile long or texting turns into a thumb war.  

 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Technical Competence or Influence? The Right Skills for the Task.

                In a recent master’s course we were asked which we would choose – a leader with technical competence or more influence.  Technical competence is of great importance to our group since it is a Masters in Computer Information Systems.  The majority of us, of course, said we would like a little of both, but we also leaned heavily toward influence over technical competence.   Technical competence is wonderful when it comes to understanding the micro-level of a project or a plan.  For instance, a software developer would be overwhelmed, unproductive or even destructive without technical knowledge of the problem and the solution. However, the upper levels of leadership need different skills.  

                This is not to imply that leaders are not technically savvy, far from it. The relevant skills of middle or executive level leaders are more in their influence or power to get things done.  Let’s explore the software developer mentioned a moment ago a little deeper.  This person could be a wizard when it comes to creating the next iPhone or Android app, but maybe he or she really likes to work from home or might need a nice quiet space to focus.  While the upper leaders are not the ones doing the coding work, they are ensuring the software developer has the time and the tools he or she needs to do the work required. 

                The leader understands the needs of the business and translates those needs to the team. The team’s work is incredibly valuable; it is up to the leader to make sure it is appropriately applied or understood.  What if the software developer needs additional resources – maybe a deadline extension or overtime pay? It is up to the leader to work out issues with customers, other departments or higher leaders in order to keep the entire project on task while supporting the team. That is the true skill of a leader – getting others (over whom they have no authority) to support his or her team.  In order to do this, leaders MUST have at least a baseline of technical knowledge, but they need a lot more influence. In my opinion, I would much rather work with or for a leader who has the ability to get me what I need to get the job done instead of being technically fluent. 

          Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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