Posts Tagged communication

Forgiveness.

I’ve heard quite a bit about forgiveness recently which made me start to think about how much I forgive and how much I don’t.  Forgiveness is not one of those clear-cut, black and white emotions.  For example, I can be quick to forgive my close friends for actions or words but not be able to do the same for someone I just met.  Instead of laughing off a sarcastic comment from a friend, a stranger’s words might spur hurt feelings.  Why is it I can quickly forgive my friends but it is harder for strangers? Does it matter the severity of the hurt – words or actions? Let’s explore this topic a little.

In my opinion, I can forgive my friends quicker because of longevity.  Quite simply I’ve known them longer.  We have history and a relationship that builds a bond of trust.  It is that bond of trust that keeps words from stinging or actions from hurting more than they should.  It also means I can extend the hand of forgiveness quickly, sometimes without even thinking.  With an established relationship, there is trust.  Once again, trust leads to the strength of all interactions.  However, I submit that the severity of the hurt also plays a part in the ability to forgive.  Let’s say that a long-time friend forgets my birthday. Honestly, I wouldn’t even think twice about that.  But if that long-time friend spreads a vicious rumor about me, that may take longer to forgive, maybe because the bonds of trust have been stretched or broken.

Then I question – what is forgiveness? Merriam Webster says that forgiveness is a noun meaning “the act of forgiving someone or something”. That doesn’t help because what does it mean to forgive? Back to the dictionary I go.  To forgive is a verb meaning “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong); to stop blaming (someone)”. Okay – now we are getting somewhere.  When we look at the definition of ‘forgive’, it is entirely personal. It means that I must stop feeling anger outwards, not that someone else must act.  It is internal for me to forgive and for me to calm my own emotions.  No one can do that for me and I cannot do that for someone else.  A much bigger and much deeper question is how do we forgive?  That is a great question but one that I am totally unqualified to answer.  I will share that I struggle with forgiveness.  I can easily move past wrongs from certain people and not others. Notice my choice of words – move past and not forget.

I don’t remember every single time I’ve needed forgiveness or forgiven others but there are those deep hurts that I’ve chosen to let go.  I probably will not be able to ever forget them but I can do my best to let go of the anger.  I also admit that deep hurts may be forgiven, not forgotten, and therefore shape my relationship with that person in the future.  I may continue to have a friendship with someone but for deep hurts, I’ll do my best to never allow that situation to happen again – good or bad, right or wrong.  There are a lot of questions about forgiveness so this may come up again.  I’d like to share how motivation and intent play into forgiveness, or some ways it has been hard for me to forgive.  Those thoughts are for another time.

Lori Buresh

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Remote Leadership.

Laptop with Webcam Communicating via technology is not only expected but required for most positions today. As our teams become more separated, not just via computers at our desks but even across the globe, we have to learn how to work and lead using technology. Integrating technology expands the work location options, where some jobs allow remote computer access as a means of off-site support, and some encourage a better work-life balance. Therefore, working from home is promoted 1-2 days per week, while others are 100% remote positions. I started looking at these full-time telecommuting jobs (100% remote), trying to detect any expectation adjustments between off- and on-site positions. The truth was there was no difference in the job descriptions except to be comfortable with remote work. However, for the people in charge, it means working and leading in a whole new way. Instead of standing in the room with someone and shaking his or her hand, interactions are completely non-physical. The question must be asked:  How can we lead when we don’t actually meet? I believe we can still practice the core fundamentals of leadership face-to-face or otherwise.

First we have to go back and look at the requirement for a good remote team member before we can lead the team.  I mentioned that remote work or telecommuting requires people who are comfortable with that type of environment. That means the person doing the job will be essentially on his or her own.  She/he must be ready to learn new skills and processes (sometimes with little to no support) and keep motivated without someone literally standing over his or her shoulder.  That second part is the harder part.  For me working at home sometimes can be more of a distraction than a blessing.  There are so many little to-dos that take my attention as well as the big focus-getters like family. Leaders need to look for qualities and characteristics that demonstrate strong personal motivation and self-starting for team members who will work remotely.

Leaders also have to be strong personal motivators, but with a remote team they have to figure out how to motivate others, too.  The advancements in technology help in this area. Video communication tools like Microsoft Lync or Skype give the opportunity to put a face to the name.  Also, voice communication gives people the chance to see/hear the conversation instead of completely relying on emails.  As mentioned in many other blogs, emails have a way of being misconstrued or misunderstood.  Bottom line, being a leader is just being a leader – the fundamentals do not change.  Even though the team may not sit in the same room, it is possible to get people to communicate; it may just take a little more effort. Therein lies the key. Communication is critical no matter what the environment of the team. One last point: In my opinion, leaders’ expectations of performance and professionalism should not be sacrificed at the altar of technology.

 

Lori Buresh

The Professional Development Team

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The Frustration of Politics.

   I believe politics, in this context organizational not legislative, boils down to a self-centered point of view.  First, I must clarify my definition of politics in this regard so we are all on the same page.  When I mention organizational politics, I mean that a group of people are struggling to communicate and therefore unable to achieve the overall goals for the company or group. Why is that? Because each person in the group has his or her own needs, wants and tasks to complete.  Everyone is ultimately looking out for his or her own priorities. While it is true that certain individuals are willing to put others’ needs first or sacrifice for the good of the team, the chances of having an entire team made up of such noble people is rather rare.  Enjoy it if you have that opportunity!

Many times when businesses talk about politics in their organizations, it implies someone (maybe someone in upper management) may get his or her feelings hurt or be effected personally by decisions or projects.  In order to avoid dealing with the consequences of hurt feelings or snubbed projects, leaders may have to tread lightly. So what does that mean and what happens to the rest of the team?

To be fair, when a leader is trying to be political in this context, is does not always translate to a bad thing. Political discussions may also equate to tactful discussions or mediating a problem for the benefit of everyone.  Political in that regard may actually be beneficial.  However, many times, people are so worried about being ‘politically correct’ that they are unable to accomplish goals.  Think about a time when you tried to please everyone in a group.  How well did that work out?  The truth is we all have different ideas, motivations and needs.  When leaders try to appease everyone, the outcome is rarely truly satisfying for the whole group.  In fact, I equate the effort of being politically correct with decision paralysis.  If leaders try so hard not to offend or upset anyone (like many legislative leaders try for votes) then how is it possible to get anything done?  I submit leaders are essentially stymied if they continue on this path. While we don’t have to be mean or cruel purposefully, leaders have to be ready to handle hurt feelings, conflict or rejection by others of their team.  On the flip side, leaders have to be ready with thicker skin and a higher vision when others approach your team with less than ideal options.  By using data, documentation, planning, a pragmatic view of the big picture, and above all – communication – I believe we can move past politics and get into accomplishment.

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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Fish or Cut Bait.

                It is a cliché, and under most circumstances clichés should be avoided. However, when talking about decision-making, it is entirely appropriate.  The implication of a phrase like ‘fish or cut bait’ is to make a decision one way or another.  Unfortunately, there are more than enough stories of businesses or people who failed at reaching goals because they could not make a choice and commit to the path ahead.  I particularly like to reference ‘fish or cut bait’ because it directly talks about either stick with the current plan or abandon it – two very different choices.

                In my experiences, I’ve seen many a project progress (forced is more like it) forward even though it could end up being a bad idea.  Maybe there was an upcoming shortage of money, resources or other support; maybe the outcome was no longer a priority or even necessary.  Whatever the case, leaders may be reluctant to stop. Some refuse to admit the true situation due to passion about the topic or some do not even see there is a problem.  It is really tough to devote time, effort and money to a goal that struggles.  But the question is: What do you do about it, and how can you handle the impact on the team? Keep in mind that an entire group of people has devoted time, effort and maybe money to the goal. A decision has to be made to either push forward or change, and neither one will be easy.

                The first thing I do when faced with a fork in the road like this is look at the whole picture – review again what the end result is supposed to look like and then backtrack over the path that led to this point.  It is important to keep clear where there were missed warning signals and what circumstances were outside the team’s control.  The reason for this clarity is the next higher person in the chain of command is going to want to know these answers; so it’s best to get ready.  I also would engage the entire team for this review.  Other people see things differently and can offer valuable insight to help understand where things may have gotten off track and what the path forward might look like.  People in groups can usually tell when situations get uncomfortable and have some wisdom in how to make them better.

                Leaders must have the courage to look at a situation and be ready to leave the existing road completely, which can be rather intimidating.  That type of change is rather personal for the leader and the team because it signals failure on some levels.  The important thing to remember is that through all failure, there is the opportunity for greatness by learning from the experience.  We have to be brave enough to change the end goal if necessary or change the plan for success or even both.  The key to overall accomplishment lies in the attitude approaching the change and the communication of the change up, down and sideways through the chain of command.  Everyone involved needs to be aware of where things are at, where they need to be and the structure to achieve the goal. Otherwise, the team will end up with another struggling endeavor and go through this type of change more than once on a task, which could be devastating to the team.  As leaders we want to achieve; so either be ready to be patient, solid and calm to get the fish or cut the line, try a new lure/bait/location (hopefully improved from the last unsuccessful attempt) and fish again. Either way, we don’t stop fishing!

– 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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Communicating Decisions – A Case Study

            Let’s face it, not every decision we make as leaders will be popular.  How do we handle those situations?  I was witness this weekend to an example of how NOT to do it.  First, you have to understand the circumstances of the decision and this is the story.  On Saturday, September 1, 2012, Notre Dame played Navy in Dublin, Ireland in what was titled the Emerald Isle Classic.  This was just the second time this game had ever been played outside of the United States and it is a fairly significant rivalry.  Due to the time difference, the game was slated to start at 9am EST/8am CST.  Being big Navy fans, my family and I (okay, me..) were excited to spend our morning cheering our team.  Also, in my particular area of the United States, USNA does not get much attention by the local schools, this was an opportunity for the area to get to see more of the Naval Academy (in propaganda form). I checked the local guide the night before to make sure I knew the right time and channel for the next day.  After waking up with the kids and making homemade cinnamon rolls, we were ready to go however instead of the advertised Notre Dame vs. Navy football game; we were subjected to Doodlebops and all of the other morning cartoons.  I voiced my displeasure via email to my local television station and via Facebook.  What happened next was amazing, shortly after I got done pouting (not really) there was an announcement posted on the local television station’s Facebook page from the president and general manager explaining his decision making in pre-empting the football game.  He explained that the FCC has rules regarding how much air time must be devoted to children’s shows and to other programming.  He specifically stated that “we can’t please everyone” therefore he chose to keep the regular Saturday morning family viewers happy and not air the game. 

                The power of the internet is underestimated.  From what I could gather from the president’s message, there were A LOT of upset Notre Dame fans which stands to reason since there are only about 6 Navy fans in this region.  There was an immediate and immense response on both sides of the issue.  There were emotions running high on this particular topic which was amazing to watch.  There were comments related to the failure of the television station to broadcast something that was unavailable on any other channel while children’s shows were readily accessible all over the stations. Opposing those comments were the people who believed children’s Saturday morning programming was critical to family happiness and to let the kids watch their shows. There were direct questions to the president asking why all of the other regional affiliates neighboring our region were able to handle the FCC guidelines and air the game.  The response was so powerful, the president of the station turned off the children’s shows an hour early to turn on the game (time delayed) however that decision upset the people who were waiting to watch the US Open Tennis match, then he turned off the game and went back to tennis.

                The president of the station was right, we can’t please everyone all the time.  In fact, sometimes we have to make choices that we know will make at least a section of our customers unhappy.  The mistake the president made was not to communicate this change.  Number one issue – the programming guide stated the game would be aired.  That set up the expectation by the customers (including me) that the game would be on at the scheduled time.  When it was not shown, with no explanation as to why, I was disappointed and confused which led to a more emotional response.  It was only after there was a large backlash by the people that there was any notification or communication regarding the programming change.  This made the president look foolish and the television station was railed against on the internet. 

                In this case, the president had every right to make the choice he did but the failure was the lack of communication to the customers.  Maybe he underestimated the popularity of the game or the response by the people but the consequence of his actions means his television station took a big hit in confidence and support in this area.  What should have happened was a correction in the scheduling guide or at least earlier notice through social media to alert people.  This particular example shows when there is an expectation that is not delivered upon, the response is always negative.  Not that people would have agreed with his decision had he communicated it earlier, but the credibility of the station would not have been damaged as much as it was. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Technology and The Team

            While reading an article in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek regarding Jim Messina and his efforts as a campaign manager, one message is crystal clear – technology must be embraced and used to get a particular viewpoint communicated to the masses.  But what about individuals? While many people race to get the latest gadget, app or software, there are plenty of people out there who still resist placing an infinite amount of trust in technology.  To be honest, Team Reluctance has a point.  With security breaches almost daily, costing people and companies thousands if not millions of dollars, confidence can be shaken easily regarding personal information protection.  Also, pushing to store business data and information in the cloud sounds like a great idea; however, anyone who has experienced an outage or a loss of data will attest that online storage may be like putting all of your eggs in one basket with potentially catastrophic results.  Should Team Reluctance win out over Team Technology?

                Nope.  The fact you are reading this blog means technology has major advantages that should be valued.  One of the biggest benefits is communication.  Basically, in one generation, the world shrank.  It was pointed out during a generational discussion I facilitated last week that the Millennial generation is global.  No longer do we rely only on the daily newspaper or the evening news to understand the world around us – and I do mean world. Think about this: It is now commonplace to chat with someone thousands of miles away, something unheard of without high phone bills only twenty years ago.  Texting, tweeting, Facebook posts, blogging, even email – all of these activities are different media in which to communicate.  The messages we share are potentially destined to go around the entire world! This can be a key asset for businesses looking to spread their message.  Whether it is a political campaign, advertising pitch or just a point of view, technology today gives organizations the opportunity to connect with people on a personal level faster and more in-depth than ever. 

                When it comes to smaller groups or tasks, though, leaders have to balance which side they are on – Team Reluctance or Team Technology.  It really depends on the group they are leading and the goal in mind.  If the group is savvy with communication tools like texting or Skype, leaders should explore those communication options in order to help their group be more efficient.  The team may even feel held back if they are not able to use their available like texting!  On the other hand, if the people who comprise the group are not ready to integrate that type of communication into their work habits, leaders should avoid that type of tool.  When it comes to work habits, leaders may make group members uncomfortable or confused, which may slow down productivity if the leader pushes new technology into an unwelcoming environment.  Bottom line: Leaders need to read their team and use the most efficient tools for that particular group.  Leaders, therefore, must be technically competent in order to be on either side of the equation regarding technology integration. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Motivation – Where’s Your Focus?

                 I doubt this will be the only blog post I write about this topic since motivation is at the heart of what makes a true leader.  But this is the first one.  I started thinking about motivation after watching a brief news clip about Colonel (ret.) Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War.  His story is just as amazing as you would expect from a MOH awardee. He was wounded with shrapnel, bleeding from his head, yet he went back into the battlefield and rescued 14 of his fellow soldiers before he collapsed and had to be taken out by medevac.  When asked why he returned to the battlefield 14 times after he was bleeding profusely, he said, “I thought I was the only guy who could do anything… If the situation were reversed, [the men] would do the same for me.”

                Col. Jacob’s was in the middle of battle and thought only of his men.  His own pain was of little concern at that moment.  His source of motivation was saving the lives of others.  I believe that is the mark of a true leader.  The purpose of his action was in no way self-serving, but purely for someone else.  Many times, our decisions or our choices are made with some hint of self-preservation or self-centered thought in mind.  I admit that I am just as guilty as anyone in that regard – it is part of our human nature.  Looking back on my life, I notice that the times I’m at my best are the times I’m focused on something or someone else.

                What does this mean for leadership?  Should we all run out into the field of battle to be tested? Probably not the wisest of decisions, yet we should be grateful for all the men and women who do each day.  However, we can each do our part in our own capacity, especially in business.  I was told of a business owner who refuses to communicate with his people and has a rather dictatorial approach to his company.  Now I am not personally acquainted with this business owner and cannot speak to the truth of the accusations, but I could clearly see the impact on the employees through our conversation.  It appears to the employees as if this owner’s motivation is NOT the company and NOT the employees.  The people I spoke with do their work and like their jobs (for the most part).  The take away is this: Think about how much more powerful, energetic and ultimately more profitable this business could become if the owner’s motivation was shifted in a different direction. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Acceptance – A Leadership Challenge

                In the town where I live, there are two rather large divides across sections of the community.  The first is cultural, with a growing Hispanic population that is not well integrated into the town as a whole; the second is generational, with the older population striving to keep our town more historic and serene instead of growing with ‘box stores’.  Both of these problems are stifling the ability of our town to grow and may in fact cause it to shrink in population and revenue.  I sat down recently with the Director of the Chamber of Commerce to talk over some of my thoughts regarding these divides.

                One of the main hurdles to overcome is acceptance. This is a two-fold issue in regards to the cultural diversity – acceptance by the community for cultural differences and then acceptance by the Hispanic community of efforts to better join all members of the town together.  Acceptance though means trust.  We can only accept that which we trust either as safe or as truth. It comes down to leadership to establish the necessary trust relationship.  In this case, top down is the way to go.  The community leaders from all facets of the town have to work together to bridge the gaps.  By demonstrating the efforts and benefits of melding instead of isolating, leaders will set the example for others.  With an issue as emotional and personal as cultural diversity, it will take time and perseverance for trust and acceptance to build on both sides of the divide.  I believe that all of the community leaders see the value in the efforts but it will take a lot of work to build the necessary relationships for a long lasting and supportive community. 

                As mentioned above, cultural diversity is only half of the battle – the other half is generational.  The town has deep roots from the Civil War and the Route 66 era.  There are indications of the rich history all over which many people enjoy and want to maintain.  The issue is not that the community should destroy the history or cover it up, but there is a sentiment that if more industry or larger stores are brought in to the area that the quiet, peaceful nature of our town will be corrupted.  Again it is up to leaders to build the trust relationships with community members to prove the goal is to grow in meaningful ways while not forgetting our past.  It takes leadership to show that accepting growth for the future does not mean history is lost. 

– Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team 

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