Archive for October, 2012

Focus Please!

                 I’ve started and erased this blog several times now.  Usually I can sit down with a topic and whip out a blog post in about twenty minutes that I’m happy with.  I don’t seem to have the focus that I normally have.  So that is now my topic!  I think I know why though – like much of the United States, I’ve been keeping tabs on Hurricane Sandy and its effects on the East Coast.  This type of storm brings up many emotions.  I rode out a Category III hurricane about ten years ago in Virginia so there are the memories of that storm.  No major damage to her house but it was an experience!  My husband and I have many friends that live on the East Coast so we are concerned for their safety.  Lastly, I have the utmost empathy for the people affected by the storm right now due to our experience with the Joplin Tornado last year.  I saw firsthand what massive devastation looks like, as well as the outpouring of humanity and good will from fellow human beings helping each other during a time of need.   Why would I bring this up in a blog that normally centers on leadership thoughts? Because this is the perfect time to talk about how leaders have to deal with people when they are sidetracked.

                I won’t go into the leadership aspects of a catastrophe. I think we all can understand the need for solid leadership during a crisis.  I want to focus on everyone else when they are distracted by personal emotions and issues.  Right now, my mind is thinking of many other things than focusing on my work at hand.  To put it bluntly, that is unacceptable, especially when there is work to be done.  However, as leaders we have to deal with the fact that people are emotional and everyone has their own individual history and issues.  If someone on the team is having a hard time at home, it is likely that struggle will impact his or her performance at work.  Work performance problems will likely spill over and affect other members of the team which just cascades the issue.   

                    This is not an easy line to walk for leaders.  We want to support our people because we care about them but we are all working because it is work.   Many times, people in leadership are looked to for all of the answers – both at work and at home.  I admit, I’ve given advice to people regarding their personal issues because I thought I could help.  Unfortunately, that may not have been the wisest of choices.  Now that I’m a little more seasoned I see two big problems with being overly helpful in that type of situation: 1. I am not a trained counselor.  While I have the best of intentions and may have experienced a similar situation, I need to leave that type of thing to the experts.  2. By offering support that delves into someone’s personal life, there could be an impression of favoritism towards that particular team member which breaks down the trust relationship between the entire group.   We, as leaders, need to get the focus back where it belongs but do it in a supportive manner.  

                  It is silly to expect a leader to ignore the fact that life happens and people need help.  In fact, leaders can have a great impact to help a team member, but it should be in line with the established precedents and policies for the group.  For example, if someone is struggling in their relationship at home, the leader could help him or her get counseling.  The counselor could then deal with the relationship issues, and the leader could support the team member by arranging the time off needed or being more flexible with assignment due dates.  The leader is then supporting that particular team member in ways that are appropriate without damaging the rest of the team.  In this way, the entire team can get their heads back in the game and re-focus on the work at hand.  Now look at this.. I am refocused and feel good about my blog for today!  I still have my concerns but I am also getting my work done – it can happen!   
– Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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Dealing With Disappointment

                 Let’s face it.  Sometimes we do everything right, and we still don’t end up with the right results.  We can put everything in place for success, but it may just not go our way.  In that case there may be frustration, sadness and definitely disappointment felt by you as a leader and by your team members.  As leaders, we always want our teams to strive for the goal with the expectation of excellence. We push ourselves and our partners with the idea that we will accomplish our mission because we are working hard and doing the ‘right’ things.  What if that just isn’t enough?  What if personal issues or politics get in the way? It is a part of life that not everything is perfect; so how do we handle it?

                There are many psychologists, counselors and spiritual advisors who are ready to answer this question.  Honestly, they are much better equipped to deal with the emotional side of this issue.  Since I am more process-oriented, let’s approach this question from that angle.  With every single project or goal, there should be a final review by the team.  This may seem like overkill or an unnecessary step.  However, it is essentially the first step of planning for the next project.  The team should always come together – success or failure – to look again at the entire process. 

                There are usually five steps to goal accomplishment – planning, analysis, design, implementation (action) and support (long-term viability).  Each one is critical to mission success.  During the final review, the team needs to ask What went right? and What went wrong? during each phase.  This is a time for leaders to be brutally honest.  Allow the team to delve into questions like – Was the communication sufficient? Were there issues getting supplies?  What were the chokepoints or bottlenecks along the way?  Was support lacking or strong from upper management?  This should be an opportunity for the team to let loose on the positives and negatives. 

                The review session is not complete, however, without going over every single positive and negative, asking How can we repeat this (for positives)? and How can we prevent this next time (for negatives)? This is the most important part!  Making a list of good and bad stuff is all well and good, but it does nothing for you as a leader or as an organization unless there are actions taken as a result of that feedback.  So how does all of this help with the initial issue of disappointment?  Disappointment is an emotion but the review process I just described helps take emotion out of the picture for a moment.  If we as leaders can remove emotion from the equation, it can help everyone regain the right focus because it is a process, not a personal endeavor.  The failure is on the project, not on the people.  Along the way of the review, there may be a negative that just could not have been predicted or foreseen.  It can be easier for the team to see that the failure of the project was not their fault if approached in this way.  Ease the emotion by approaching the subject through the objective – it’s one idea.

           Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Inspiration – The Spark for Action

               As I recover from knee surgery, I’ve been paying attention to inspiration: finding my own to get through some tough physical therapy sessions.  In the last week, there have been various references, especially through Facebook, from friends and family to inspirational stories or actions.  I started thinking about what inspires people and why it inspires.  Inspiration, along with motivation, is a large driving force behind leadership and goal accomplishment.  As leaders, we look to inspire others, but what does that mean? The definition of the word “inspiration” from is an inspiring or animating action or influence. 

             I believe that the animating action or influence is what we strive for as leaders.  Leaders work through actions, behaviors, talents or words, to provide an example that motivates others toward a desired goal.  The truth is we cannot force others to do things they choose not to do.  Every single action people make is a choice; the objective is for people to make good choices! As leaders, we need our teams to choose to do their individual parts to support the entire group.  That is what inspiration does – provides us with the internal strength to make choices.  

              Inspiration is a very personal thing.  What inspires me may not inspire others.  In my case, I am inspired by a former college classmate of mine who has been on the brink of death more than once and keeps fighting back.  I am inspired by my husband who endured a brain tumor with subsequent surgery; he has worked hard to overcome his challenges in amazing ways.  I am also inspired by my children, who have faith, trust, and innocence in the world around them – I want to see the world through their eyes.   My inspirations provide mental strength for me to work harder in my own life.  It is that mental strength, an individual internal spark, which leaders look to tap into when inspiring their teams. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Establish Clear Expectations

                One common theme among people in positions of leadership (at least those with compassion) is the uncomfortable feeling regarding negative conversations.  When I say negative conversations, I mean bad reviews or firing someone.  These are tough talks to have with a team member because the leader has to be the bad guy.  Delivering positive news and rewards is fun and enjoyable, while undesirable feedback or terminations are certainly not.  Not to say that some team members are just not the right fit for the team and need to find another opportunity.  I find terminations are tough because I think about the impact it will have not only on the person but on their entire family as well.  I get frustrated when a team member’s behavior or attitude directly impacts his or her family in that manner.  On the flip side, the team member may (almost guaranteed) feel frustrated or angry as well. So what can we as leaders do in these situations?

                My philosophy is to try to stop the reactive environment by using a proactive message and manage expectations.   The beginning of a working relationship is the best time for leaders to spell out their expectations of team members.  The team members are receptive at that time and willing to assimilate to the team.  The early discussions of the working relationship should not be only one way from leader to team member; the team member has expectations as well.  It is important for leaders to understand what their team members are looking to them for in regard to support (if the team member knows).  With that kind of reciprocal information, leaders then have a starting point as to the level of communication or feedback desired by the team member.  If the expectations are clearly laid out ahead of time, any contradictory behavior later can be dealt with easier.  The conversation is less emotional when everyone is clearly aware of the rules.  It is more of a conversation about what the consequences of the adverse behavior will be rather that arguing about the validity or understanding of the rules.   

                One thing to keep in mind is the early conversations regarding expectation may seem like micro-managing or controlling, and in some respects they are.  However, there can be quite a bit of freedom and trust given once the initial guidelines are established and agreed upon.  Watch children at play. Once you give them the boundaries and the rules, you can turn them loose to be as creative as they want to be.  This does not mean a teacher doesn’t have to monitor the playground, but all the children can have a much better time if everyone plays by the rules!

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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