Posts Tagged support

Support is Key.

My last blog post is one that I would characterize as “vanilla” – fairly mundane and clinical.  I started this blog with those types of thoughts to share, focusing on leadership and communication. I still want to share those things but I may alter it to a much more personal point of view.  The point I want to make now is that I can have it all!  I wrote about two months ago about my trepidation of starting a new job/career with a new company (Edge of a Cliff).  I still want to soar and not crash but so far I think I’m doing a good job.  I was promoted this week!

I will give all the credit to my husband. Without his support, I could not devote my attention to my work during the day.  Also, this is a big change for me and for him in our roles in our lives.  For the last few years I was the one with our kids for any and everything – sick days, summer break, early outs from school.  I enjoyed every minute of it because I recognized it probably wouldn’t last.  One of our agreements before starting my new full-time position was that if it wasn’t me with our kids, it would be him.  We feel very strongly that we need to be as much of a presence in our kids lives as possible.  Now that is his role.

It is a new adventure for my husband as well in this chapter of our lives.  He was a career professional and now is more devoted to our children and our home.  I want to support him in any way possible but I also have comfort that he and our kids are okay.  I appreciate all that he is doing for our family but I feel that he is supporting me as well.  There is no pressure from him to succeed, just a desire to help me in whatever way I need.

That is my point in this blog post – support. We can do things all by ourselves and sometimes we have no choice in that matter.  However, I believe we all benefit when we have support from others in our lives.  That support may not always be in an obvious form or exactly what we think we want, but there is another hidden message.  When we support each other, we show our love and concern.  I feel supported and therefore I feel like I can perform at my best. I hope all those that I support feel the same.

Lori Buresh

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Strength.

strength  When referring to leadership, there is an inherent expectation of strength.  In regards to teams, the leader of the team is the one to provide the guidance and the power when necessary.  What about those times when it is not formal leadership?  For example, a friend calls who is in crisis and needs help.  You are a friend, peer, and equal with this person; although at that moment, you are subconsciously lifted into a position of leadership.  How do you handle that type of situation?   This recently happened with me, so I am writing from a personal perspective.  A friend needed help, and I was the one she asked for support.  I didn’t think about it at that moment, but looking back, I am so honored and humbled that she would think of me in that time of crisis.  Her comment was I would provide strength.  My only comment was that I wouldn’t let her down.  This scenario led me to think about sharing on the topic of strength.

Not only in our organizations and our business teams do we look for and need leadership. We need it in our personal lives as well.  When we have the honor of being able to help and support others, we are de facto leaders in their lives, which is not a responsibility to take lightly, although it is different than being a team leader.  Leadership in this context has to be much more influential and subtle.  The truth is, people can and will do what they choose to do.  This is a big point – while I am going to be the solid, dependable, constant friend, I cannot take on her burden for her; unfortunately, it is hers to handle.  I think we try to assume too much during some of these situations, which can lead to disaster for all parties.  We, as leaders in others’ lives, especially during crisis times, can only provide advice and support to help our friends walk down their own path in life.  In my opinion, part of being in a friendship is our willingness to be there as that support and provide that strength for others when they cannot do it themselves.

Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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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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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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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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Leaders Must Also Follow

                When we think of great leaders, we usually think about specific people – Martin Luther King Jr., John McCain, Lance Armstrong, etc. However, my thinking about this is that these leaders are the main person, but they never achieve greatness alone. This thought appears to be shared by many people, one of whom, Christine Zust from Zust + Co (training and facilitation consultants), wrote a paper about this point, The Best Leaders Know When To Follow.  I particularly liked her statement, “They were successful because they enabled others to achieve greatness and they allowed themselves to follow”.  What does that mean? It means that individuals in positions of leadership have a team working with them to achieve goals together.  When leaders micro-manage, it stifles the creativity and productivity of others.  Christine uses the word “enable” when referencing leaders, which I find particularly appropriate.  One of the definitions of the word enable is “to give power, means, competence, or ability to.” Doesn’t that sound exactly like what you would do to develop leaders?

                Think about a corporate meeting or a group strategy session: A bunch of people are sitting around a table working on a problem or a task.  If everyone is contributing and participating in the work session, the meeting is highly productive.  If the meeting or project serves only as a validation of the one head person’s idea or direction, the group may not provide optimal results.  During a productive meeting or project, the leader may at some point actually be someone else in the room with a bright idea or a new strategy to achieve goals, not the figurehead, like Bill Gates, that the public recognizes.  Shocking as this may sound, it is occasionally better for leaders to remember to listen and follow others as well as to lead in order to remain humble.  Humility is one of the virtues that repeatedly surfaces as a key leadership trait.  It is important to note, though, that there is a distinct line between humility and meekness.  Humility keeps a leader’s ego in check while appearing meek is in direct contrast to the concept of strong leadership.  So the idea is this: Leaders are strong because of their team and as such, leaders must listen and be ready to accept input/help from their team since it enables the team to reach their own potential.  One last thought to keep in mind, at the end of the day it is the leader who has the ultimate authority and responsibility.

-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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The Power of Confidence

                As I was thinking about leadership this morning, I started going through the different words that I associate with leaders.  Many come to mind but one stuck out – confident. Leaders display some level of confidence in their actions or in their team.  Used in this way, confidence has a two-fold effect: 1. creates a sense of trust by the team members in the leader and 2. shows the team members that the leader has trust in them.  In this sense, confidence comes down to trust.  It may be fair to say that confidence equals trust because without one you really can’t have the other. 

                Assume there is a decision to make and the responsibility is up to you to make it.  It is possible you have very little data or supporting evidence to base your decision on; however a choice must be made.  If you make the decision with a large amount of waffling or outward insecurity, what message does that project to the team members both in the choice and in you as the leader?  Keep in mind that as a leader you do not always have to make decisions all by yourself.  In fact, soliciting team members for their input is encouraged to gain their insight and engagement on the path forward.  Nevertheless, the final authority and responsibility lies with you as the leader, which is important to remember, especially if things go wrong.

                How many times in life do we make the best choice possible and hope for the right outcome?  The key is the confidence which can directly drive to the results desired.  If the leader has confidence, the team may be more willing to put faith and trust in the decision (and the leader) as well. With the team’s support, the leader can show trust and faith back to the team by working together to accomplish goals.  Confidence can be the building block for a strong team. 

– Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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New Ideas – It’s About Managing Change

            “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!”  It is a phrase we hear over and over again.  The point is to come up with different ideas and new concepts, which are fantastic but I see two things usually occur: 1. new ideas are not accepted or 2. new ideas are not implemented correctly and fail.  The problem, I believe, is as new ideas or new process changes are discovered the first thing upper management does is question – How much will it cost? What is the impact?  Yet the designer of the fresh concept probably does not have the answers right away.  Upper management has legitimate questions and concerns; that is why businesses stay focused on their target areas.  However, if a unique idea is immediately shot down or poked so full of holes with negative comments, then the creativity that generated the new idea is diminished.  I find that many business leaders want a new approach to processes yet fear the change that is automatically involved.  This is the time for business leaders to face that fear but not so far as to jeopardize the organization.  If a leader is asking for help with coming up with fresh concepts, then he or she must also be ready to support the idea at least through an initial phase of research and testing.  I suggest the approach to prove the concept won’t work – come up with all worst case scenarios FIRST!  Then the hard work of proving that the new concept is able to withstand the trials is already accomplished.

                Once an innovative concept passes the test of acceptance (at least by upper management), the next challenge is correct implementation.  Many great ideas fail to live up to expectations because of poor integration – into the current processes and into the company culture.  People are inherently resistant to change, and an implementation means change.  The best thing is to work on the plan for implementation so the entire team knows the steps involved and its expected role.  The next step before anything else must be education and training.  The more communication the better! For example, I always share good news and bad news as soon as I know it because no one really likes surprises (except on their birthdays).  If it is bad news, then the initial shock can diminish and I can be better prepared later on. Good news means happiness, but I can still be prepared for the upcoming changes.  I feel the worst when something is different from what I expect and I figure it out on my own, and THEN get the memo about it.  At this point I’m already unhappy about the situation; telling me the details after the fact will not help.  In fact, my trust in the process and in my leadership has been negatively affected by this lack of communication.

                After communicating the changes early and often, the new idea is ready to roll out to a prepared environment.  It takes time, planning and effort but it is worth it to see something really make an impact!

 

          Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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