Archive for March, 2013

The Double-Edged Sword of Standards.

sword     Having standards and holding to standards are two different things; yet we often confuse the two.  Let’s take a quick step back to make sure we all are using the term in the same way. Standards are the lowest threshold or the minimum we are willing to accept or expect to uphold.  Standards set the guidelines for areas of our lives like behavior or quality. Standards work in conjunction with our expectations.  Having standards means we have expectations or hope that an outcome will be what we want it to be.  Sometimes we can control the situation to adhere to our standards, and sometimes we can’t.  Notice the phrase “our standards”.  Standards can be fairly subjective, and as discussed before (in previous blogs), subjectivity makes it hard to lead.

Just because I find certain words or actions offensive does not mean that others agree with my point of view. For the good of the team, I believe other leaders and experts have shown that in order to have a cohesive unit, dubious behavior needs to be stopped. By setting the standard of behavior and expected conduct for my team, I am establishing an environment more open for communication and trust, which are foundations of strong teambuilding.  The double-edged sword, then, is that I must also adhere to the established standards.  In fact, as the leader I have to toe the line better than the rest of the team to set the example.  Unfortunately, that is not always easy or fun.  Standards may be tough to take, and to be honest I don’t always want to follow the rules myself.  Yet if I, as a leader, allow exceptions to the standards, I will crush my team faster than just about anything else.

When I do not hold myself or others accountable to the established standards, I essentially communicate to my team that there are no standards.  This is one of those times where the line has to be drawn in the sand or the standard becomes meaningless. There always will be ways to find an exception to get around the rule, which is not an acceptable path for leaders.  Let’s put this in non-person terms – if baby food is produced in a factory that sends the jars through a metal detector, everyone is happy about it.  The standard is set that no metal will be in baby food.  If even one shard of metal sets off that detector, it is never going to be okay.  That baby food will be scrapped, and the entire system has to be inspected.  Why should we ever allow our standards for behavior or teamwork to be any less important?  Lesson learned: Never compromise when it comes to standards.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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egoI was recently re-reading The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.  It is a great book with some simple but profound revelations about building teams.  After this second reading, I have been thinking over the last piece of his pyramid – Ego.  The real tip of his teamwork pyramid is ‘inattention to results’, but the premise is about status and ego.  For some reason, the idea of ego has been rolling around in my head, and here is what I’ve come up with – again, I am no psychologist.

As I’ve reviewed before, it feels good to be recognized or rewarded for a job well done.  That is part of our ego, the self-esteem boost we get from acknowledgement.  Is it really possible to put that thrill aside in our hearts?  I think yes, but it may depend on the loyalty of the team.  We have to recognize that our egos might be getting in the way of progress and then reconcile ourselves to the overall good instead of our own personal agendas.  This is not always as hard as it sounds.  As a mother, I am more than willing to put myself last in line for my children’s needs, without hesitation or question. If you look at critical teams like military units or surgical teams, they may have a similarly strong bond, which makes forfeiting ego easy.  Not every team (I submit, the overwhelming majority) has that type of cohesiveness.  So then what?

This is where the conscious effort has to come into play.  We, as leaders, may have to set the example and sacrifice first, a fairly common occurrence and expectation in my opinion.  We also have to watch the interaction of ego between members of our team.  If one team member’s ego is in the way, it may not be as obvious as someone demanding to be first or get the blue ribbon.  There may be subtle or subconscious indicators like a complete dismissal of other ideas.  I have found if someone is unwilling to listen to any other course of action but his or her own, he or she is relying and asserting their own knowledge above all others.  If you were to confront this person about their ego, he or she would probably have no clue what you were talking about; so one must tread lightly.  The bottom line is, we all have to give up part of our ego in order to be receptive to others and make a strong team.  As leaders, be on the lookout for member egos and understand you may have to manipulate them to accomplish the goal.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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The Use or Misuse of Technology.

Man Holding Cell Phone Camera In some ways people today are no different in our “conditioned reflexes” than Pavlov’s dog.  A quick recap: Ivan Pavlov studied psychology and famously researched learned behaviors on various subjects. One of his most well-known subjects was a dog who was fed at the same time as a bell (or other stimulus) was rung.  The dog eventually equated the ringing of the bell with food and therefore began to salivate with anticipation of eating when a bell would ring.  Equating this same sort of trained reflex to humans is easy with the cellular phone as our point of focus.  If the phone rings, beeps, vibrates or even if it does none of these things, people are quick to grab a hold of their device and tune out the rest of the world. We are in servitude to technology.

The other day, a friend of mine said when we were discussing the integration of technology into our lives, he tells people, “This is for my convenience, not yours”.  I really enjoyed that sentiment when he shared it with me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. For the sake of brevity, I will focus this topic just on the communication aspect of cellular phones, not all the other fun stuff.  The purpose of the cellular phone when it was developed for the general public was to aid in communication away from home.  It is hard to remember a time when phones were mounted on kitchen walls, tethered with a curly cord that was forever tangled up.  When you were not home, you just missed the phone call.   I also know that there were many times, especially dinner time, when the phone was not to be touched.  If someone called, they would just have to call back later.  Now, if the cellular phone is not right next to the dinner plate, it is sitting in someone’s lap waiting to be picked up again at a moment’s notice or on a counter where there will be elbows to the face, knees to a groin and probably bloodshed to get over the table to reach the ringing phone.

Like Pavlov’s dog, we used to be in control of our own senses and reflexes around a ringing phone.  It did not take long for us to react without thinking, as if it is a bodily need instead of a controlled action. Now we are almost in bondage to our cellular phones.  Is it so hard to believe that if someone calls, we do NOT have to answer the phone, or if someone sends us a text message, we are not absolutely required to respond immediately? This is a hard concept because many people live their lives through the communication on their phone.  People will literally sit right next to each other yet text instead of speak.  Think about the impact that has on our ability to communicate – both sending and receiving.  I believe we lose some of our ability and vocabulary when we believe “r u ok” is the correct way to ask how someone is doing; our friends and colleagues are no longer able to articulate their needs to us if all they get as a response is “k”.  It is not just the words but the tone, inflection, facial expression or maybe just a simple hug that can say so much more than a 😉 (winky face).

Turning this around for a moment, think about those around us who see more of the tops of our heads, instead of our faces, as we endlessly stare at our phones either texting or talking.  The implication is the person we are communicating with on our phone is more important to us than whoever is in the same room.  That phone (and the other person) has our undivided attention; so I have a hard time understanding how can we maintain our “real” relationships at that point. I am not going to pretend I’ve never done it, but I know that after this point, I will be more aware of my reflex response to my phone. Cellular phones allow us to be more accessible but that does not equate to a substitution for in-person dialogue.  My friend is right.  The phone is for my convenience and maybe the convenience of my employers (if they pay for my phone).  Otherwise, I am free to live life without being tied to a ring, bell or buzz.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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The Power of Choice.

               The Power of Choice We make hundreds of choices each day–from what to have for breakfast, what to wear for work or what to do during the weekend. We have options.  Some of our choices may not feel like choices anymore in our lives, like do we listen to the alarm clock and get out of bed for work. While it may not seem like there is a choice of going to work or not each day, truly the option is still there.  The reality is there are consequences or reactions to all of our choices.  If we do not go to work today, we may not get paid, or we may even get fired.  Since that is a consequence that is unacceptable, we choose to go to work. 

                Let’s think about how we analyze our choices – usually we look at the benefit or the penalties to the options before us.  An easy example is choosing what to wear – maybe the criteria are color, cut or comfort (or all three).  As we pull items out of drawers or the closet, we are looking at the benefits (looks great, feels awesome) or the consequences (uncomfortable, mismatched) of the choice. It may be subconscious, but we should apply the same principles to all of our choices. Admittedly, we may not always be aware of some of the benefits or consequences of choices until after the fact.  If we had foresight and hindsight all wrapped together, it would make choices a lot easier!

                When faced with multiple choices that may create a jumble of different outcomes, it can be entirely overwhelming to see a clear path ahead.  I submit the first thing is to remember that we DO have choices.  With choice comes power. Power in this case is manifested in the form of control. When we make certain choices, we may give up some of our power but again, it is a choice. For instance, my earlier example inferred I have control over what I wear each day. That may be true for certain professions, but while I was in the Navy, I had zero control over my choice of outfit. In fact, I had very little control over much of my life, but that was my choice.  I picked that path knowing what the impact would be on my life. 

                Sometimes it feels as if our opportunity to choose is taken away, maybe due to someone else’s poor choice.  That is a frustrating and disappointing situation; however, once again we have to look at what choices remain.  I may be impacted negatively by someone else’s bad decision, but I have the ability to choose how I will react or handle the outcome.  When we recognize and fully develop our own sense of choice (and acceptance of the good or bad results) then we truly have power.


-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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