Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

After several hours of a rough morning with the monkeys, I found myself threatening thus: “I’m going to call your father.” To which the monkeys literally responded: “Why?”

And really, I’m not sure why I said it. They’re not afraid of him, and really, he was working at a cafe. What was he going to do?

I must have gotten it from my mom, who would routinely make the same threat. While it might have been somewhat more effective, because my dad was much more removed from the day-to-day  parenting than Mr. Daddy is, it couldn’t have really been that effective. After all, in the house where I grew up, my dad was the softie and my mom was the disciplinarian. It’s a good bet that had my mom called my dad, he would have been as likely to brush her off or talk her down from her anger as he would have been to punish me.

I can only guess that my mom was doing the same thing I was, using a threat that her mom used. And from what I know about my grandmother and grandfather, I’m guessing that the ‘I’m going to call your father’ threat was actually effective three generations ago. I think my grandfather could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.

This kind of passing on of tactics from one generation to another doesn’t just happen in households, it happens in offices, too. Just as I learned how to parent – both how to parent well and how to parent less well – from my own parents, I learned how to manage and lead from those people who have managed and led me. And I’ve got to say, I think I’ve had better role models in the house than in the office.

Either way, though, it’s really easy to find yourself parroting a voice that you heard long ago. We think of legacy systems as technology or organizational structure, but there are implicit ‘systems’ of leading and managing that get passed on in organizations, too.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the monkeys don’t resort to an ‘I’m going to call your mother,’ when they’re trying to wrangle their kids. And I think most parents are already pretty concious about not repeating what we see as our parent’s mistakes. As a leader, I feel like I need make sure that I’m equally concious of not repeating the mistakes of mediocre or bad leaders or managers that I’ve encountered during my career.


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If you’ve ever read anything about giving feedback at work, you know that we all should be giving more of it. In particular, we should all be giving more positive feedback. And we should be giving more concrete feedback, to help people really understand what they’re good at and know exactly what they can do to get better.

But if you’re a regular person, while you most likely try to give more and better feedback, you probably don’t always hit the mark. Why is it so much easier to give specific comments when someone has messed up than when they’ve succeeded? I say, ‘the title of this slide doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t capture the main point?’ or, even better, ‘this diagram is confusing because of these three things.’ And when I like someones work, what are they likely to hear? ‘Great job! I love this!’

It’s no wonder our people aren’t growing as fast as we’d like, or aren’t as satisfied in their jobs as they’d like to be.

Yesterday, Monkey #2 gave me some very specific feedback. He was sitting on the potty, deep in thought, when he announced, ‘Mommy, I love it when you take us a bath.’  Tired, responding to the spirit of the comment if not his exact words, I replied, ‘I love you too, honey.’ ‘No, Mommy,’ he insisted, ‘I love it when you take us a bath.’

So there. This was not some general ‘great job’ but a concrete, specific piece of feedback intended, I’m sure, to make sure that I continue giving him his baths. And guess who ‘took’ him a bath tonight?

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Management is “DOING THINGS RIGHT” while leadership is “DOING THE RIGHT THING” from The Six Domains of Leadershipby Sim B. Sitkin and E. Allan Lind.

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Someone found my blog yesterday by googling “hit new husband with rolling pin.” I am so proud.

The search tracking capability of wordpress is great because it allows you to see the digital wake that your writing leaves. Themes, posts and comments all merge together in this wake in a way that the writer can’t control. So if you want the right people to find your stuff for the right reasons, you need to generally be conscious about the types of posts you write and the language within those posts.

This makes me think of another wake metaphor that my team coach, Sarah Singer Nourie, has talked to my team about. She talks about how people, like boats, have a wake. Often times, the higher a person is in an organization, or the bigger their personality, the bigger their wake. Just like boats. What this means is that even your intentional actions – walking through the office, stopping or not stopping to talk – have unintentional consequences. The leader who is always running and never walks sends an implicit ‘hurry up’ or ‘oh, no, the company is on fire’ message. The leader who always walks the same path, stopping to talk to the same few people, sends a message about who is important and who is not.

As a parent, I can see the results of my wake on my children. When I’m stressed about getting them to school on time so I can get to a meeting, they tend to be high anxiety, too. Especially in the house. The minute we get outside and we are headed where we’re going, we all visibly relax. And if I’m calm and intentional, they’re more likely to act that way too, with me and each other.

The more intentional we are about our behavior, the more our wake has a desirable impact, not a destructive one.

Of course there are exceptions. I kinda like this post  about making sure that expectations and standards are aligned to foster good communication. The wake: ‘jeans that make your butt look good’ is one of the most popular terms that people search when they find my blog. I just hope they’re not too disappointed.


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Amid all of the rumor mongering about the Clinton campaign today, I spotted this. Hillary is reportedly ‘open’ to a veep role. I think an Obama/Clinton team is unbeatable. And I love the idea of a visionary leader backed by a no-nonsense go-getter.

I’ve heard that some ‘feminist’ groups don’t like the idea of Clinton taking a back seat to the male candidate. But seriously people, Vice President of the United States is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this rumor is true, and that the oneabout Gina Gershon isn’t. (I mean really, how much heartache should one woman be served in a single week.) 

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Brazen Careerist, is one of my favorite blogs, and I especially liked Penelope’s recent post on how to be a good manager. Her mantra: be generous. Which I love, of course, because it’s not only something that applies to being a good manager, it applies to being a good person in general. Life is not a zero sum game. Surprisingly, giving more to other people doesn’t leave you with less. It leaves you with more. So yes, generosity is critical, in management and in relationships outside of work.

This post got me thinking about what I think it takes to be a good manager. And I think it’s simple: be empathetic. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes, seeing a situation from their perspective is critical. It allows you to assess the situation better and therefore respond to it in a more appropriate manner. It also helps you win the trust of the people who you are managing or leading, so that even if you have to tell them some stuff that’s hard to hear, they know that you’re coming from a place of understanding and appreciation of their position.

I learned a little bit about empathy this week from the monkeys. Monkey #1 was really sick: pneumonia. For the second time in three months. Poor guy was a mess, with a fever and a hacking cough. To make things worse, his cough kept him from sleeping for very long. So, I had a sad, feverish, phlegmey, tired kid on my hands for several days.

His brother was equally sad, whiny, and clingy. But not sick. Initially, I’ll admit, I was annoyed with monkey #2. Couldn’t he see that I had my hands full with his brother?  Didn’t he know why I couldn’t pick him up?

But then I looked at the situation from his perspective.

Here he was, deprived not only of a lot of my attention, but also deprived of his playmate and his best friend. Realizing that Monkey #2 was reacting not only because he was jealous but also because he was lonely and, of course, bored, helped me help him. I sent him to school without his brother. I made sure that he got plenty of park and play time with Mr. Daddy. And I made some room on my lap so that he could get in some snuggles, too.

It was still a pretty rough week, but at least I didn’t feel like I was ripping Monkey #2 off.

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Tonight, I was playing in the basement with the monkeys before dinner. Urban Super Dad called down to let us know that dinner was ready. “OK, Monkeys,” I said, “time to go upstairs for dinner.” It was 6:30 and I was hungry. “We’re playing,” was the response, accompanied by a complete lack of movement towards the stairs. “OK,” I tried again, “Who wants to go upstairs to check the mail?” This, of course was a big hit. Within seconds we were all upstairs, had quickly checked the mail, and were washing up for dinner.

The trick is one employed by parents everywhere, I’m sure. Don’t worry so much about what you’ll do once you get there, just get everyone going in the right direction, and it’ll all work out. By shifting my focus from something that they weren’t excited about – dinner – to something that they were – the mail – I was quickly able to get the monkeys where I wanted them – at the dinner table.

It’s a tactic that smart managers use, too. My boss does it to me. He’ll tell me over and over again that he wants me meeting with a certain kind of person. I show a complete lack of interest. Then he points me to a couple of specific interesting people at specific organizations, and there I am, meeting with a certain kind of person.

Peter, our communications lead, just successfully did the same thing. He’s been trying to get folks at the company to write articles and submit papers to conferences for over a year, and has had limited successes with one or two people. Recently, he tried another tack. He told them all about a great conference in Paris, and told them that our company would pay for attendance for whomever gets accepted. Within weeks, eight people submitted abstracts, three of which were accepted. It really moved the needle.

This tactic works because it involves figuring out what’s going to motivate people to act quickly and get them in the direction that they need to go in. It’s requires thinking of both the short term and the long term benefits of the actions that you’re trying to get people to take. It requires you to articulate not just why an activity is good for your company or your family, but also why it’s good for each individual involved.

Even better, it helps you avoid the hassle of convincing people that they need to do something that you want them to do. I could have spent 15 minutes trying to convince my kids to go upstairs for dinner. We might have finally gotten to the table, but by the time we got there, we all would have been worn out and dinner would have been cold. Instead, we had a nice family dinner. Oh, and we got the mail.

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