Archive for November, 2012

The Seesaw of Praise

As leaders, it is a pleasure and an honor to praise and acknowledge the achievements of individuals and our teams; it can also backfire in our faces.  With the increased demands on people for higher quality, faster productivity and fewer resources to use, excellence in the world deserves admiration.  While it is not always necessary to give accolades, I think many people feel it is nice to be noted and recognized for accomplishments.  It gives leaders an opportunity to directly relate hard work with superior results that made an impact.  The opposite side to this topic is the person or group who feels left out or slighted when it comes to praise.  Some team members may ask “What about me or us?”  Then there are others who do not wish to be praised at all; they prefer to remain unidentified.

We each have our own interpretation of the value of our work and our efforts.  When we are recognized by our leaders for our work, in a way it validates our interpretation.  When we are working within a team or a group, acknowledgement of the entire team may be sufficient if it is agreed that every team member puts forth an equivalent amount of effort or participation. However, if there is a sense of burden for one or two people to ‘carry’ the team, commendation for the entire group may seem unjustified or unfair.   Think of it this way: How would you feel if you and your siblings were told to clean up your shared room and you are the only one who does any of the work while the others goof off?  What if you and your siblings then got the same reward for cleaning your room, yet they were little or no help?  That type of scenario pings on our sense of righteousness.

As leaders, what can we do?  One common thread in my blogs is communication, and this subject is no different.  We need to communicate with our teams, often and directly.  Through communication we are aware of the level of work being performed as well as the people responsible for doing the work.  This makes it easier to acknowledge superior effort since we have the data to back up our praise.  Using data or a process to define excellence, our accolades are less generic and more tailored to that particular group or task. This may ease the sense of righteousness felt in others since the praise is more explicit. Keep in mind though, not all awards must be specific or elaborate; sometimes a very simple “thank you” and a handshake will suffice.  Either way, people know they are appreciated, and that is the best motivator for future success than leaders could ever hope for.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

 

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Perception Can Destroy A Leader

                   Everyone is painfully aware of the adage “perception is reality”.  Unfortunately, that statement is even truer today with society’s thirst for gossip and misdeeds.  Even a suggestion of impropriety leads people to assume the worst–sometimes falsifying the story to fill in unknown gaps.  The real problem is people live for this type of juicy information.  This is why shows like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives and other reality tv programs have such a huge following.  In those instances, the cameras are essentially documenting the train wreck of ‘celebrity’ lives (I am using the term celebrity here very loosely). Maybe we, as a society, are in awe of the asinine behavior of people, or we are jealous of the lifestyle and luxuries afforded to the stars.  Whatever the reason, people love gossip and rumor, and then perpetuate the story by telling it to others.

                One glaring issue is that the gossip and rumor become hard fact very quickly.  Once a bad story is spread around, it is incredibly tough to counter it with truth.  For some reason, no one wants to hear the honest version.  It could be that the real story is not as interesting or that the mystery and intrigue is just too much to let go. This is dangerous territory when it comes to teamwork and leadership.  If the rumor or gossip concerns members of the same team or one member of the team, it can splinter and fracture the team in a heartbeat if not quelled quickly. 

                What if the story is true?  Consider the recent news regarding an incredibly high-ranking military official; the juicy gossip is actually truth.  None of the parties concerned are denying the fact that inappropriate behavior went on.  Ironically, the underlying concern has nothing to do with infidelity but indiscretion of state secrets.  The high -ranking official swore before Congress nothing classified was shared with his paramour, but that may not be enough.   He is known to be a liar in one facet of his life; what makes his word worth anything now?  The fact there was impropriety implies untrustworthiness.  The perception regarding his behavior is that he may have shared more than a bed with his lover. This is a sad statement since the high-ranking official is probably one of the most honorable soldiers around. 

                That is the danger for leaders – falling off the pedestal.  We are taught to set the example and do the right thing.  That becomes the standard and the expectation of our behavior from our teams.   In fact, it should be since that is a big part of leadership.  However, we are still human, and we will all make mistakes.  We have to be cognizant of our choices and how our eventual mistakes will be construed.  By focusing on honesty, strength of character, open communication and being responsible, leaders may avoid the trap of perception.  If we have consistent, truthful interactions with our teams, when we do stumble in our leadership skills, our team is more apt to believe the good story and defend us against the bad.   

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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The Impact of ‘Easy’ Information

               With the introduction of worldwide communication, access to information exploded into our daily lives.  Moving from paper letters to email then instant messages and texting, society is now accustomed to immediate responses at any time or any place. This immediate interaction has an upside and a downside, though.  One upside is our ability to be aware of events as they are happening.  This means as a society we are more involved in international and domestic happenings.  Whereas news before was always at least a day behind (newspapers) or maybe a few hours old (television); now we see live streaming video – raw and unedited – giving us a first-hand look at different situations.  Due to this exposure, I believe we are able to make more informed choices and decisions as a whole. 

             One major drawback to immediate interaction comes in the form of social sites like Facebook and Twitter.  I enjoy Facebook as much as anyone, but it has a voyeuristic quality to it.  We add ‘friends’ that may or may not be worthy of that title, then post snippets or pictures divulging potentially intimate moments in our lives.  While it is helpful because everyone can see the same posted information without having to email or contact hundreds of people, it is becoming more common to use this type of personal information to attack each other.  It is easy to forget how far the internet stretches when it feels like you are only putting information out for your own ‘friends’.

           The influx of information and our tendency to share every moment of our waking day with each other has created an unintended side effect.  Now that we are privy to everything, including the intimate details of real-time news, photos of every birthday and holiday, political viewpoints, emotional outbursts and even unfortunate hard partying antics, we expect this level of information all the time.  When we do not receive knowledge of events or happenings globally or individually, there is an aura of distrust.  A nagging question (which I believe is unjustified) comes up. “Why wouldn’t you want us to know?”

                A benefit to our exposure to easy information is that new generations have a global awareness never seen before.  It is not unusual for younger people to have friends they have only met via their computer or interests not found in their own backyard.  The world is smaller, which has many advantages, including a better understanding of other people and cultures.  However, it is critical that we, as leaders, stress the importance of selective sharing for ourselves and our team members.  The internet is an untamed land; in fact it was designed that way.  

             When I served as an officer in the US Navy, one litmus test was never to engage in any action that I would be embarrassed to have written about on the front page of the Washington Post newspaper.  The same holds true for the internet. Never share or engage in actions that are questionable unless you are ready to answer up to the consequences and judgments of others.  Everyone has an opinion; unfortunately, most people are ready to share that opinion whether you want it or not.  The bottom line: some things are just better left private.

 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Demonstrating Unity Through Leadership

                Today is an important and historic day for America – a Presidential election.  Unfortunately, by tomorrow about half of America will be unhappy with today’s results. There are many sentiments flying through the air about moving past the results no matter what and doing the right thing for the country as a whole. This idea should not be isolated just to the election results of today.  We, as leaders, face decisions made by senior leaders that we may not agree with. For example, today’s election may have results we don’t like; however, how we perform in the face of contrary beliefs helps define us as leaders.  This is the point I’d like to focus on today but on an organizational level specific to individual leaders. 

                Anyone who has studied naval leadership should be familiar with the story “Damn Exec”. The tale relates the decisions made by the Executive Officer (or XO) and passed down to the department heads.  One particular department head (DH) decided to relate the decisions and orders to his department but made it clear that he did not agree with the choices and put all disdain and blame on the “damn exec”.  The intention may have been to form a closer bond with his team – everyone against a common enemy – however, the opposite occurred.  The DH’s team lost all respect for him.  The team did not see the DH as a leader; he was essentially a middleman and a whiner.  There was no confidence or trust in the DH since he was basically deferring responsibility for the work or path ahead to the XO. 

                One of the fundamental lessons of leadership is to demonstrate unity throughout the entire chain of command, especially to the team members.  Like parents with children, children learn from the behavior and example set by the parents. If the leader is openly rejecting or rebuffing the direction of the senior leaders, then it sets the example for accepted behavior and attitude by the team.  By setting that type of example, the work effort and performance of the entire team is most assuredly to tank.  Leaders no longer are leaders at this point since the opportunity to motivate and inspire the team is lost. 

                The right answer to this problem is one known well: Unless it is unlawful or immoral, a leader must embody the decisions and direction set forth by senior leaders as his or her own and go forward to achieve goals.  Academically, this is a fairly straightforward and obvious solution.  However, if you think about the world around us (and outside of the military), people struggle with this concept every day.  In my process-oriented brain, I like to go back, once again, to the root goal in order to squelch my anger, disappointment, or even elation (to avoid gloating).  The decisions made by senior leaders are intended to be the best path forward even if I disagree with the method.  As a leader, I look for that ultimate achievement to provide focus.  By honing in on the achievement at hand, the entire team can work to put aside emotional differences in order to accomplish the goal. 

                One final thought: The election results may upset half the nation, but underlying everything, we all want a better America.  Our elected leaders often lose sight of the basic lesson of this blog – demonstrate unity – and allow personal emotion or political party antics to get in the way.  I submit once our government leaders start acting a little more like leaders, we as Americans will reap the benefits of clear focus and direction. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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