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In my last post, where I talked about measuring competence, I shared a brief tale about trying to get a kerosene heater to work. I read the instructions again, watched a video on YouTube… nothing. After talking to my wife she said I should take it back and try another one. Though I hate doing that, I knew she was right so I went back to the store.

complaint department - please take a number (grenade)
Rev. Xanatos Satanicos
Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

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I went to the returns desk, said I did everything I could but it wouldn’t work and that I wanted an exchange. Instead of just putting it through he called over a guy who supposedly knows something about the heaters and asked him what might be wrong. The guy asked me if I had tried lighting it with a match and I said no, I wasn’t putting my hand inside something I didn’t understand.

Then he told me that the electric igniters on kerosene heaters rarely worked. I said “Why would _________ (name of store) sell something that they knew didn’t work? He looked at me for a moment, then turned around and walked back to the department to get me another heater. I looked at the returns guy, who was suddenly looking down and away and I said “That was kind of interesting, huh?” He said “Yup”.

Can you imagine your employees telling people that what your business does is messed up? Actually I’m sure you can because every place I’ve been, whether I was an employee or a consultant, invariably has someone who doesn’t like something, sometimes many things, about the company they work for, and they can’t wait to tell as many people as possible about it.

The thing is it’s bad enough when it’s at work, but what about when it’s not at work, or at least not only in front of co-workers? I hear people all the time talking about the sneaky things other employees do to cheat customers or products they sell that the owners know aren’t going to work properly. I also know that’s not always true, that it’s just the perception of the employee.

Whose fault is this? Obviously it’s the employer’s fault, even though we want to blame the employee. Actually, the employee isn’t without blame, but overall fault lies in leadership for more than one reason:

* leadership hasn’t spent time on educating its employees on customer service

* leadership hasn’t spent any time making sure that employees are treating customers properly

* leadership hasn’t spent enough time teaching employees about the products and how they should work

* leadership hasn’t paid any attention to complaints from either employees or customers

* leadership hasn’t fully evaluated their products or processes to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do

I get it; no one likes hearing complaints. Yet, sometimes they come, and let’s face the fact that customers and employees aren’t always wrong. Instead of having a kneejerk reaction and wanting to go after the employee, or dismissing customers are being ignorant and troublesome, maybe some time needs to be spent looking at processes and/or products. They just might be right after all; I mean, how many of you have seen the show Undercover Boss and seen how many of these leaders discover things going wrong in their companies that are their fault?

No matter how good you think your company and your product or services are, if your customer services processes aren’t up to snuff, and if you don’t take into serious consideration what your employees or customers are saying, you could end up with no business as consumers go elsewhere for things you offer.

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In a 5-hour period the other day I put together two things.

The first was a kerosene heater. It was more complicated than I expected it to be. Once you put it together you’re supposed to take it outside, fill it up, let it sit for an hour for the wick to get nice and moistened, then turn this knob until it elevates the wick to its highest level, push this button to ignite it, and it lights and starts warming things up.

The heater

Problem is it didn’t work. Nothing’s happening, even after I changed the batteries on the starter. Truthfully, I’m assuming I’ve put enough kerosene in it, have no idea what the wick is supposed to look like, and I’m not really sure what the outcome is supposed to look like, other than there’s supposed to be a fire somewhere. Quite disgruntled…

The second was a brand new chair, because the arm snapped off my other chair. It was much bigger and heavier, took longer to put together, but in a strange way it was much easier to handle. There were no words in the instructions, only pictures, and everything single thing was laid out perfectly. I now have a wonderful new chair with a lumbar support my back is happy about. You should see the smile on my face.

Truthfully, going into each project, I had a vastly different level of confidence. On the one hand, I’d never put together a kerosene heater, hadn’t even seen one in 11 years, and the last one we had that worked my wife had put together years before we met so she knew all about it. As far as the chair is concerned, I’ve put together lots of chairs over the years, as well as cabinets and other furniture, thus I knew that no matter what I’d be able to put the chair together without any problems whatsoever.

Sometimes we have to figure out ways of figuring out our own levels of competence. I know mine pretty well, although sometimes it’s depressing. I had a feeling the kerosene heater might not work, but since my wife is out of town I had to give it a shot. I knew the chair would come together perfectly because I have that level of competence; if I know what something is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to work then I’m good.

my chair
My chair

If it’s hard for some people to figure out their own levels of competence, it’s no wonder so many leaders fail to figure out the levels of competence for those who report to them. Here and there I’ve asked leaders why they assigned certain work to an employee and rarely has the answer been definitive as to their level of skills. Instead, I usually have gotten “I thought they could handle it.” That always leads to the next question, which is “Why did you think that?” The reply most often given: “I don’t know.”

There are times when you can get away with allowing someone to try something without knowing if they’re up to the task. However, it should never be the norm because what it does is sets both the leader and the employee up for potential problems and loss of confidence. If the employee really doesn’t know how to do something they’re not going to feel well, and if the leader recognizes later on the person wasn’t capable they’re probably not going to trust them again, which pretty much means that person’s growth will stagnate.

This just won’t do. Instead of floundering, here are 3 ideas you might want to try the next time you’re thinking about giving someone a responsibility you’re not sure they’re ready for:

1. Not only explain what you want someone to do but tell them what your expected deliverables are. In other words, if you want a graph, a report, a completed project or the results of something, let them know this so they have some kind of idea of what you want.

2. Give them some kind of idea how to do it. Hopefully you’ll know how they can proceed on your request, and if so, you should give them help towards your ultimate goal. Make sure you not only tell them how to do it but have them parrot it back to you and ask if there are any steps they’re unsure of. If you’ve fostered an environment where employees aren’t afraid to show you what they don’t know this will work great.

3. If it’s a project that could take longer than two hours, check on the person just before halfway of when the project is due to see how things are going. Don’t just ask how it’s going, ask some specific things to see if it’s progressing the way you need it to.

Competent people don’t wait until the last minute to do a project. They always want to have something in case a leader stops by to check on them. If you don’t see what you need, either your instructions weren’t clear or the person doesn’t understand what to do. Either way, it’s better to know sooner than later.

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I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about some of the crazy things some people do.

Dru! via Compfight

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of things I don’t take chances on because, well, life is tough enough. Sure, there are people who get on rollercoasters and that might be a bit too extreme for me; if I can’t control it, I’m probably not doing it.

But there are some people who do some truly extreme things. There are people who climb mountains and will hang in the air while using grapples. There are people who climb these mountains only to jump off them without a parachute, trying to hang glide. There are people who will get into the water with deadly animals just to take their pictures. There is a video of a guy who climbed into an active volcano just to see if he could do it.

Wow, not me! I’ve never been able to understand people who take these kinds of chances with their life. I understand it’s their right to do it, but I have to admit that when I see or hear of these things, such as another Wallenda deciding to walk across a high open space without a net underneath, I get nervous, even if it’s already completed and all I’m doing is seeing it on a video.

When my friend and I parted, while I was driving back home, a question jumped into my mind: could I ever trust anyone who did things like that?

I have to admit that I don’t trust easily. I’ve seen too many things and heard of way more things that leads me to be skeptical with people where it concerns me. I never trusted employees to do the right thing until I educated them on how to do those things, and then monitored them to see how well they did, how well they listened, and how capable they were to learn more. Even then, it would take a lot more stages for us to go through before I trusted them more than when I met them.

Mother and Infant Bond
Steve Corey via Compfight

To me, trust is given to people who I believe would never do anything to harm me. At the same time, trust is given to people who seem to show that they care about themselves enough to never put me into a position to not trust them or their judgment.

Herein lies my issue. People who take chances with their lives scare me to no end. If I had to work with one of those folks I probably wouldn’t work with them for long except in a consulting capacity, where, by definition, I’m given the right to be somewhat removed.

For me, it’s not just extreme behavior like what I mentioned above that would trouble me.

Micro managers trouble me because it’s an extreme manner of leadership, a horrible one because no matter how much training I might get or what I might prove to be capable of a micro manager is never going to allow me to thrive.

Managers who show me they don’t care because they don’t know what I do trouble me because if they don’t care about the work I do, then they really don’t care about the work they do or about me and my options for improvement, and once again I’m not going to have the opportunity to thrive.

Managers who had problems with substance abuse, who use a lot of profanity, who fly off the handle at the flip of a switch… I don’t trust any of them. Managers who don’t do their job, who claim credit for the work of others, who gossip about people who work with and for them… they might as well be the people who jump into holes just to see what’s in them.

I believe trust has to be earned, but I also believe there are times when someone with extreme behavior, no matter what else they may or may not do, are going to be horrible leaders. It’s possible I might not be fair in my assumption, but history has shown me that there’s a pattern, a track record if you will, where my beliefs are correct at least 90% of the time, and I think I’m being generous with that number.

Still, it begs the question I started with; how easily do you trust people and what does it take for you to decide to trust them, whether you work for them or they work for you? If you don’t trust all that easily like myself, what would it take for you to start trusting others?

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I’ve got a story for you.

Many years ago I was on a consulting assignment that had been going really well. I was having a lot of fun and a lot of success; we were all getting things done in a miraculous and positive way.

Math on the Wall
alist via Compfight

One day a new CFO showed up and decided he wanted to change things up. He stated that before I could make any changes to anything he needed to review everything first. Knowing how busy CFOs are, and questioning his knowledge about what I did internally, I suddenly worried that things were going to get backlogged and that it would destroy the continuity that had already been established before he got there.

So when the first critical item came up, I decided to follow the request and send it to him for his review. I also decided to give him all the information I thought he’d need so he could make an informed decision. By the time I was done I had attached 15 pages to the item and sent it to him in an interoffice envelope; this was before one could scan things and send them out as pdf’s.

Later in the day the project manager came to me. He said that the CFO called him up and asked what all the information was. The PM told him I was just following his new directive for wanting to approve all changes. He said that was too much information and that what he really wanted to know was the financial category I was going to put things in, not what things were.

In the long run things still got bogged down because, as I expected, his time was pulled in other directions. In that regard I was totally correct. In the other… the question is should I have given him all that information when I knew it was going to confuse him?

First, let me state that not every situation ends up getting the same activity. I was trying to make a point when I did what I did, and though it was taken, the CFO wasn’t the type who was going to change his overall direction; micro managers never do.

Second, I have always tended to believe that any time we underestimate the intelligence of someone else we’re setting the clock in motion for something bad to come our way. It might not be catastrophic but it will be irritating enough to cause things not to work all that well.

I was consulting somewhere and was suddenly included in a rash of emails regarding some procedures. It happened to be something I knew well, and as I looked at previous messages I realized someone was about to make a critical mistake.

I decided that since I’d been included in the discussion to say something; as a matter of fact, that was almost my opening line word for word. I mentioned the process, gave some history on how it all came to be nationally, told them why they couldn’t proceed the way they wanted to, and added that, since I was incorporated as a business and was indirectly listed with the organization whose rules they were about to break that if anything bad happened and the authorities came a-calling that I’d have to mention how I’d told them not to do it. I added that part because once I was in the discussion it would always be a possibility that they might try to say they were doing it on my recommendation; that wasn’t happening.

What happened next was somewhat surprising. The next email came from a project manager with a lot of juice in the organization. She thanked me for all the information I gave them, said they certainly weren’t going to do it after I gave it to them, and thanked me for clarifying the whole issue. Suddenly I was the go-to guy, which I found interesting because before that it seemed like no one cared much that I was there, even though they were paying me. :-)

The thing is, even if the information I gave them might have been over their head, they knew I understood the issue; in this case I wrote it so that the people who needed to understand it would do so. That’s the thing about giving people all the information they need; it does no good if they can’t interpret it because you’ve used words or terms they don’t know.

This takes us back to the original question: Will they understand? Maybe, maybe not. I always err on the side that says they will, and, for the most part, I try to help them in as easy a way as possible.

You should too.

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One of the things about being an independent consultant is that I get to work with a lot of different entities. That also means I get to see what leadership is like in many places; unfortunately, it’s often not all that great.

Casting A Long Shadow
Durotriges via Compfight

Whenever I’ve been brought into a place where I’m going to be an interim leader, I like to try to make sure everyone knows who I am and what I do. I don’t just mean the people who will be reporting to me, because if they don’t know who I am then I’ve already lost. I mean everyone; housekeeping, IT, maintenance… the other direction as well, CFO, senior VPs, up to the top position.

I recognize that it’s not always easy to meet the very top people, especially in a large organization. What I have recognized though is that the type of leadership the person at the top exhibits ends up being the kind of leadership that others down the line start to exhibit. Thus, if the person at the top is fairly cut off from almost everyone else, then the trickle down effect will be the same.

To me, elitist leadership means not caring enough to even attempt to know the people who are going to be responsible for your ultimate success, thinking you’re either too busy or too important. I’ve seen this manifested in quite a few ways:

* talking badly about people you’ve never met or whose jobs you don’t understand

* not taking the time to meet someone who might directly impact your organization’s success

* not leaving your office for almost any reason other than your personal whims

* not sharing information with most people within the organization until things start going badly

* not saying “hello” or “thank you” or any other type of greeting to people you pass in the hallway

* not knowing what people do, even if you see them every day

Last week I went to a local seminar titled 7 Habits of 7 Highly Successful People. All of them are leaders in their industry, a few of them presidents of their organization.

One of the things all of them mentioned was making sure they not only communicated with all their employees, but took the time to learn what they did, often shadowing them on a day to get a feel for their needs and concerns, as well as seeing who had real talent. They also thought it was important to show, when they could, that they would do the down and dirty work just like everyone else.

The best run companies have leadership that takes an interest in their employees in some way. Giving cash bonuses to faceless people won’t get it done. For myself, the most successful working relationships have come when I’ve been able to talk directly with the people above the people I report to. Not that I go above the heads of the people who brought me in, but knowing that they know what I’m doing and how I’m helping to improve things goes a long way in helping me do my job. When people know that upper management cares about the success of the organization, my job is easy.

Do you see yourself as an elitist leader? Do you work for one?

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I recently came across a blog post recommended by someone I’ve known for a long time on social media. The title of the post was 5 Reasons Why Living Your Life to The Fullest is Wrong Advice.

Up Above!
Creative Commons License Koshy Koshy
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In the post, the writer said that people have been given incorrect advice and he lists 5 reasons why he believes it’s bad advice. He also gives 3 ways people should think about living that he believes are better.

What’s funny is that I don’t disagree with his 5 reasons at all. What I disagree with is the conclusion he came to based on those reasons. I hope you check out the post for yourself to see those 5 reasons. I’m going to go a different route, and tell you 5 reasons why you should be trying to live your life to the fullest.

1. We all deserve to be happy.

What I’ve found is that people who don’t believe they’re getting everything out of life that they want aren’t necessarily very happy. The thing is, everyone doesn’t feel the need to get more out of life than they have and that’s fine; in their own way they might already be living their life to the fullest.

Another Day
Kevin Conor Keller
via Compfight

2. Just because you can’t definitively define it doesn’t mean you can’t find it.

My mother enjoys watching TV and her DVDs and that makes her imminently happy. She’s in her mid 70’s and has traveled all over the country and spend time in another country, and now she just wants to relax and enjoy a much quieter life.

Some people are happy helping others; some are happy making money. You might not know how to get there, and you might not be able to qualify it; sometimes you just happen upon it, and that’s not a bad thing.

3. There’s no real thing called “comfortable”.

Often when the subject comes to money, people say “I just want to make enough money to be comfortable.” My response is usually asking the question “what is comfortable?” The response I get back is usually “enough money to always be able to pay my bills.”

Let’s be truthful; no one wants that. The ability to pay bills means you don’t want anything else in life. Most people could pay their bills if they didn’t buy conveniences, certain types of clothes, vehicles, go out for entertainment, etc. Minimum wage at 40 hours a week can pay for a place to pay, some food, and the bills of necessity; is that all anyone really wants?

Living one’s life to the fullest means you get to have some fun. Even the least bit of fun can make some people uproariously happy. For the rest of us, we tend to want more; maybe not excessively more but more nonetheless. You can’t get there if you’re not trying to live life to the fullest.

4. No one wants to live a life with lots of regrets.

Parkpop 2009 - Sabrina Starke
Maurice via Compfight

Here’s a truth very few people know about me. When I was 22 years old I really wanted to be a songwriter. I’d record my songs and send them all over the place. This one time someone wrote back and asked if I’d like to be a part of a jazz singing group like Manhattan Transfer. If I did I had to be in New Jersey in 4 days at a certain address.

I wasn’t sure what they heard in my voice but I agonized over it for about a day. My dad said if I wanted to go he’d fund it for me. In the end I decided not to because it wasn’t a music I was really familiar with. Yet, when it comes down to reality, I turned it down because I didn’t see myself as any type of singer. Who knows what might have happened, how my life would have been different.

That’s one of few regrets I have in my life. I was locked into a specific way of thinking and couldn’t see any deviation from my beliefs. If I’d known about the concept of trying to live my life to the fullest, even if it hadn’t worked out the adventure would have been amazing and led to an even better story to tell. What have you given up on that might have been a great opportunity?

5. Disappointments; I’ve known a few. So what?

Just because everything doesn’t always go smoothly when you’re trying to live your life to the fullest doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Back in 2001 I decided to take a shot at working on my own. It was scary and there have been some tough times here and there. But there have also been some wonderful times.

If I thought I’d traveled when my family was moving around as a kid I had no idea what travel meant. In the past 13 years I’ve been to cities and states I’d have never thought I would ever see, and been in cities I’ve always wanted to see and other cities I’ve never heard of.

I’ve made more money than I’d made in the previous 20 years combined, and plan on building on that. I’ve given way more money to charity and been able to give in other ways. And I’ve helped plenty of people and entities with their issues, hopefully leaving all of them at least a little bit better than when I arrived.

I can’t say it’s been perfect but it’s definitely been fun overall. I won’t be jumping out of any airplanes or climbing any mountains; I’m not quite that extreme. But based on the life I want, the only thing I could want more is more of the same.

How many people can say that? Can you? Are you ready to try to live your life to the fullest?

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Last week I had someone ask me a question that I found interesting. The question was: “Do you believe someone can turn things around and become a good leader if the team has been broken apart?”

Karlene Explaining the Reality of the Airline Industry...
Creative Commons License Joe Kunzler via Compfight

As someone who’s written a book on leadership, is working on a second book on leadership, talked about leadership, wrote a newsletter on the leadership for 10 years, and traveled to a few states giving presentations on leadership, I certainly do hope and believe people can become good leaders. However, I have to own up to a few things.

What I’ve found in almost every presentation I’ve ever given is the people who show up are people who are already pretty good at leadership. I’ve done the workshop thing where you give folks tasks to do in small groups to see what they come up with and they’ve always performed as expected from people who know what they’re doing as leaders.

This tells me that those who probably need the lessons the most aren’t coming, and it’s the crux of the problem with bad leaders. Either they don’t know they’re bad or don’t care that they’re bad. When that’s the case, it’s hard for many people to believe that someone can change, and I can see the point.

Still, I have to believe it can be done, and it will be done… if these 3 things happen:

1. A person acknowledges that the results they’re getting aren’t what they were hoping for from others.

I often wonder how people in leadership positions don’t recognize when things aren’t working correctly. Then I go the other route; they do know, but they don’t know what to do about it. As Dr. Phil says, acknowledging the behavior is the first step towards fixing it.

2. A person takes steps to address the issue.

You can’t continue doing what you’re doing and expect changes right? A new action has to occur, but what kind? It’s going to have to involve at least one, though probably more than one, of the following:

* talking to the people being affected
* talking to someone who might be able to offer help
* taking positive action steps that signal a change in personal behavior
* changing demeanor, being more professional

3. Being authentic in change.

Others know when behavior is phony. If they can’t fully diagnose it they can feel it, and no one likes phonies. Sometimes people make changes, see the results, and start to fully embrace the action of good leadership. Other times, folks have an agenda, will change to get what they want, and then go back to negative behavior. You’ll only get away with that once.

Yes, people can become good leaders, and can turn a team into a cohesive unit. But they want to change; otherwise, it won’t work.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2014 Mitch  Mitchell