Category Archives: Coaching Skills

Value of Advice

Rory would not be deterred. “But, I am young, and, you are experienced. I have listened to you before and your advice has been helpful.”

“I am flattered,” I replied. “But, better to clarify your own understanding of the problem than to take my word for it. My advice is worth no more than you are able to make of it.”

Cause To Be Different

“But, don’t you think it’s important that a leader understands why people do what they do?” Bailey asked.

“The problem with understanding why people do what they do, is that we often look in the wrong place to find that answer,” I replied.

“What do you mean, where are we supposed to look?”

“Think about it. When you look to discover the why in someone’s behavior, what are your clues?”

“Well, first,” Bailey started, “I would look at their intentions, you know, their internal motivations.”

“And, why would that be important?”

“If I understood their motivations more clearly, perhaps I could genuinely influence their behavior toward the goals, expectations we set for the role.”

“So, you think you can cause the other person to be different?” I paused, waiting for the obligatory nod. “Bailey, I ask you to think about yourself, be honest, with yourself. How easy is it to cause yourself to be different? You think you can cause something in another person, that you find difficult to cause in yourself.”

Verbal Warning

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From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a new manager in this company, but I have 6 years experience in my field, so, technically, I am qualified and have the drive to be good at anything I do. I have 2 employees that work directly under me and consistent problems with one. I feel like she resents me, she believes she was overlooked for my position several times because she is a female. I sympathized at first, but after 4 months, it is very clear that her attitude and lack of drive to go the extra distance has been her problem. After one month in my new position without making any significant changes, I sat down with each of them and created in writing what I expect from them. They both signed, agreeing the terms were fair.

Yet, even after our talk, she has been resistant to anything I have asked her to do and continues to argue with me about the way we do things.

I verbally warned her that this behavior is unacceptable, but I feel I need to write her up so it is on record that she has been warned. She wants more money (not the opportunity to make more, but to be GIVEN more) but I am ready to get rid of her. I am a very tolerant guy, but I feel that her resentment is causing her not be able to change her attitude. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I am exhausted. I want to praise her for doing a great job, but I can hardly get her to just do what I expect, much less exceed expectations…I NEED HELP!!!

Response:

I will hold my response until Monday. I am curious what my readers think. Has anyone ever had this person work for you? What were the symptoms? How did you handle it?

Easy Now, Hard Later

From the Ask Tom mailbox –

Question:
I often think, especially in my coaching and team development but also in personal goals, about the hard part. I recently read another blog post about getting to the hard part in anything we undertake and how at times we can have the tendency to want to avoid it. How do we continue to enable or encourage the people around us to focus on the hard part. I want nothing more than the success of the people in my life.

Response:
This is a classic addiction curve. What is easy now, gets hard later. What is hard now, gets easy later. This is also the procrastination curve. The busy curve.

David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, provides a model to work an INBOX (or a to-do list). Work down the list, anything that takes less than two minutes, do now. If it takes more than two minutes, schedule it, delegate it or put it into a project loop. It’s a sucker punch model. It’s too easy to knock out all the two minute tasks and too hard to work on the stuff in the project loop.

Easy to understand, we know what we (and our team) need to do. We just don’t do it. It’s too hard.

Embedded in David Allen’s model, down in the bottom right hand corner is a piece of brilliance. It’s called next action. I call it robust next step, or robust first step. When I encounter anything that looks hard, I just ask, what is the robust next step? And, if I can do that step in less than two minutes, I do it now. Even if it’s hard.

A Level of Competence

“We all have habits that support our success,” I started. “We may have some habits that detract. It is those routine, grooved behaviors that chip away at the world. It is our discipline.

“Emily, why does a star quarterback throw more touchdown passes than others? Why does a singer perform so well on stage? Why does an Olympic swimmer break a record?”

Emily knew there was a very specific answer to this question, so she waited.

“They all do those things because they can. They spend great periods of their life creating the habits to support the skills that drive them to the top. They reach high levels of competence because they practiced, tried and failed, got better and practiced some more, with a discipline to master those skills. They perform at a high level because they can. The great numbers who have not mastered those skills, who are not competent, were eliminated in the first round.

“Those who achieve mastery are a select few. And that includes effective managers.

“It takes a discipline of habits to achieve competency. For a manager, these habits support the leadership skills necessary to be effective. And that is where we will start.”

Commitment or Compliance?

“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”

“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.

“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”

“And how does that work?”

“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”

“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”

“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

The Heart Attack Cycle

People don’t fear change, they fear loss (that might be caused by the change). Five stages of every change initiative –

  • Denial – there is no change, any suggestion of a change must be fake news.
  • Anger – Denial turns to anger, to steel the subject, emotionally, against some negative outcome. Anger is almost always rooted in fear of something. Fear of loss.
  • Negotiation – The realization or awareness of the change begins to set in. Resistance to the change takes the form of bargaining. Negotiation, compromise to stop the changes, or at least mitigate the loss the change may bring.
  • Depression – Through negotiation, the emotion of anger turns to depression, resistance is futile, powerlessness sets in.
  • Acceptance – As the reality of the change emerges, in all the shifts that take place, acceptance finally replaces depression and forward movement can finally begin.

This sequence was originally coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe the emotional cycle of terminally ill patients facing their disease. She adapted the cycle to describe a similar cycle of grief. I call it the heart attack cycle.

First, there is denial you are having a heart attack. Anger replaces denial, what an inconvenient time to have a heart attack. Negotiation sets in, attempting to trade the reality of a heart attack for future church-going, swearing off drink or pasta. Depression sets in as the heart attack drains the power of the individual. Finally, acceptance. Yes, a heart attack is happening. The time it takes to make it through all five stages determines the amount of time it takes to call 911.

And, so it is with management, to assist our teams through change, to cope with the fear of loss. It’s not a heart attack, but we have to move through all five stages before we can move forward.

Instead of a Confrontation

Cheryl emerged from her team meeting, eyes wide in partial disbelief.

“So, how did it go?” I asked.

“I expected a big confrontation, didn’t sleep last night worrying, but I think we solved the quality problem with the incoming plastic parts,” she replied.

“How did that happen?”

“I knew how I wanted this problem solved, but, instead of telling the team what to do, I just asked questions and listened. At first they were going off a cliff, so I asked the question in a different way. It was like magic. They gave me the solution I was looking for. Before I could say anything, they volunteered to fix the problem.

“It seems the burrs on the plastic parts were all from the same lot number. Sherman volunteered to run the defective parts over a grinder to remove the burr, but it was Andrew who surprised me.

“He volunteered to call the molding company and find out what was causing the burr. In fact, he left the meeting for five minutes and had the answer. The molder knew there was a problem with that lot, but didn’t think it would matter. He has since fixed the problem, sending a short run over for us to inspect. Andrew said he would be standing by.”

“So, why does this surprise you?” I asked.

“Instead of a confrontation, turns out, all I had to do was ask two questions.”

“So, what are you going to do the rest of the day?”

“I was thinking about taking a nap,” Cheryl said with a smile.

My Favorite Subject

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a Regional Manager, responsible for seven locations across the Midwest. I feel I have the ability to manage effectively without talking to my team on a daily basis. But, at times, I feel as if I am not in touch with their issues, challenges or daily routines. In fact, some are not even “available” for lunch or dinner when I am in town. Have I lost touch? Can you recommend a book to read, symposium to attend to improve my management skills? What has been your experience in managing people in multiple locations?

Response:

Thank you for your question. Reading a book will not solve your problem. Staying in touch with your location managers is tough when face-to-face meetings are not frequent. It’s tough, but not impossible.

First, create a master schedule of all the touches for the next six months. This includes face-to-face meetings, conference calls, 1-1 coaching calls, birthday cards and handwritten notes that are snail-mailed.

Ask your location managers what interaction is the most helpful, how you can provide the best support for them. Each person is different and may require a different frequency and kind of touch.

Next, my question. When you do meet with your managers are you bringing real value to the conversation, or would they just as soon skip it? If you are bringing real value to their thinking and their work, your managers will look forward to these meetings. They will not miss these meetings for all the tea in China.

So, what does that conversation sound like? How do you, as their manager, bring value to their thinking and their work?

Most managers think they bring value by providing direction and advice. Of course, there are times when direction and advice are helpful, but please, don’t ask me to dinner so you can tell me what to do.

Instead, ask me questions. Ask me how I am doing. Really doing. Ask about my challenges or difficulties. Ask how I am solving problems. Ask how I feel about my job. Ask how I feel about my life. No advice, just ask and listen. I would love to tell you how I am doing. I would love to tell you how I feel about my life, the things that are important to me. I will not miss the opportunity to talk about myself. It’s my favorite subject.

Whose Problem is It?

“Tomorrow is Saturday,” I said. “Rachel has an 8-hour shift. For the past two weeks, she left early, with work undone. The first Saturday, you were furious. The second Saturday, you were calm, but she still left early. What will be different tomorrow?”

“Lots will be different,” Karyn replied. “I took what you said about seeing Rachel as a person, instead of as an employee. As long as I saw Rachel as an employee, her leaving early was my problem. Only when I saw Rachel as a person, did I realize it was her problem. I also realized, if I saw Rachel as a person, why would I wait until Saturday to help her, when I know that is the day of something going on, in conflict with her schedule at work. So, I asked her to lunch on Friday.”

“And?”

“At first, she thought it was a trap, but she agreed to show up. And, we just talked about her. She is in a custody battle with her ex, and she is losing. Three weeks ago, she was late to soccer practice because we made her stay over 15 minutes. So, her ex took the child and she missed the one night a week she has with her kid. She vowed to herself never to let that happen again. She was embarrassed to ask for the time off, but the tension on Saturday, knowing if she was late, that she would not see her kid for another week, it just came out.”

“And?”

“I am the manager. I control resources and scheduling. I asked Rachel, if I could schedule her to leave a half-hour early, if that would help? Turns out, Rachel’s behavior had nothing to do with me, or respect, or authority.”

“I know this conversation seems to be about Rachel and what we learned about her, but what did you learn about yourself?”