Posts tagged Leadership
Your Employees: You Can Pry My Mini Fridge From My Cold, Dead Hands

I was exhausted last night, after an amazing but busy week, so I was curled up in bed ready to watch Netflix when I realized that my two grown children were taking up the spots, kicking me off the service. (Funny aside: Netflix will tell you what your family members are watching when this happens. My son was viewing Always Sunny in Philadelphia and my daughter was on Star Wars-Rogue One). I was mildly irritated, but not too worried about it-I turned to the Wall Street Journal to catch up on the news I’d missed from yesterday.

I didn’t expect to see it in the WSJ but apparently Sean Spicer really wanted a mini-fridge in his office, and wasn’t willing to spend $80 and wait for Prime delivery. The story, as reported in the Journal, is that he sent someone to the tiny, cramped room where junior research employees are housed in a nearby office building, and asked them to give up their fridge instead-and they refused. That alone is a supreme example of poor relationship skills.

What happened next is the kicker-the article reports that he went back to their office after dark to steal the fridge and bring it back to his office. This is the stuff of legendary office lore-if this happened in any other organization, it would be epic: the senior VP who stole the mini fridge from the minions’ office. What isn’t clear from the article is that there are probably some very mundane details that preceded these juicy events. Here’s how I imagine this played out with Mr. Spicer, and with other leaders who have poor emotional intelligence:

Step 1: Leader says, “I need a mini fridge. I need one right now.”

Step 2: Someone in Leader’s circle (we’ll call her “Deputy”) says, “The Research Department bought one last year for the junior employees next door. Let me go get it. They can ask for another one later and someone will replace it.”

Step 3: Leader says, “Okay, go get it.”

Step 4: Deputy goes to see Junior Employees and asks for the mini fridge full of gas station burritos in their office, expecting them to say, “okay, of course, you can give it to Leader-he’s more important than us.”  

Step 5: Junior employees unexpectedly revolt and say, “Hell no! He makes enough money to go out to lunch and unlike us, he has access to the White House Cafeteria. Let him get his own f*cking mini fridge.”

Step 6: Deputy goes back to Leader, fuming that Junior Employees refused to give up the mini fridge for their Leader, one they don’t personally own and that was provided to them by their employer.

Step 7: Leader gets pissed. Who do these Junior Employees think they are? They should know that his need for a mini fridge is primary here. They don’t own that mini fridge. They’re lucky to have a g*ddamn mini fridge in the first place!

Step 8: Leader is working late. He’s in a rage because his cold brew isn’t cold and he is working a 20-hour day while Junior Employees are at the bar.

Step 9: Leader bops on over to the Junior Employee office, takes the mini fridge, and moves it to his office.

Step 10: Junior Employees discover the heist, know they have no power to do anything about it except lie in wait until the right time to leak the story to the WSJ, Glassdoor-style.

Guess what? Your employees do this every day. They suffer thoughtless indignities and reminders of their lack of importance to your organization. Yes, the mini fridge is the company's, not theirs. But it makes a long day in a difficult job a little easier, so they feel ownership over it. And as hard as you work as a leader, taking action that makes clear you think you’re more important than your employees are is not a good look. Resources like technology, work flexibility, headcount, physical space, and, yes, mini fridges and coffee can become a lot bigger deal than you think they are, because the decisions we make around these things send messages to our employees, like whether they are important, and whether the work they do is valued. That goes double for when you take these resources away from someone and give them to someone else, much less yourself. When we’re not mindful of the message, we can end up with a much bigger story than we wanted, and the negative financial and brand impact goes a lot further than the cost of an $80 mini fridge.

Photo credit: glenngould via / CC BY


Communication Requires Actually Talking

I have a group of clients who like to use leverage. This means they will email instructions on a particular issue like they are a done deal, then tell you to move forward with their direction. They will simultaneously copy in other people not likely to agree with them, and pretend like there’s no further discussion needed.

While this does make for some laugh out loud moments on my part when I read my email, it doesn’t make for a functional, interactive and productive group dynamic when the person copied has a tantrum. In situations like this, I usually invite a leader to weigh in.

Except...sometimes they don’t take the opportunity to provide clarity. In that case, it’s up to me to recognize the need and take a stand with a firm recommendation. That recommendation is often not the last word, and the arguing continues. Even then, in some cases, a leader won’t engage to hear both sides, and make a decision to put the issue to rest.

It’s then I know we not only have a problem to solve today, but a development need for tomorrow as well. Communication requires actually talking to one another, hearing all of the details, risks, costs and benefits, and then making a decision that everyone agrees to live with and move forward under.

The decision is definitely important, and it’s up to the business to make one. But it’s also about the communication. That is something we can and must facilitate in HR.

Photo credit: jackracker via / CC BY

Volunteer Leadership is Real Leadership

Reminder: volunteers don’t get bonuses or performance reviews. And they don’t give a hoot whether you are happy with what they do, unless they care personally about what you think and want to exercise their own integrity and motivation in carrying out their volunteer duties. This makes them an absolutely perfect practicing ground for honing your leadership skills!

I am participating in a volunteer committee through my professional group. When things go well, everyone is so happy to be together, contributing to the group and spending time together working on projects. But I noticed recently that the “masks” we might wear at work are not on when we get together as volunteers. When a volunteer doesn’t agree with something, or doesn’t like an outcome, he wears it all over his face. If someone is disengaged, the negative body language in response is immediate. We don’t hold the same level of patience for our fellow volunteers that we do for people who control our work destinies.

It’s easy to be annoyed in that situation, and get lost in the emotional response to others’ cues. But it’s such a fantastic opportunity to observe how people respond to the way you communicate. I asked myself these questions:

  • What communication approaches (in-person meeting, email, polls, social media) generate the most productive responses?
  • Do I need to listen more and talk less?
  • Am I using the right level of clarity, or assuming shared knowledge that just isn’t there?
  • Are there members who are hanging back, waiting for assignments, but feeling frustrated about their level of involvement?
  • Conversely, are there members doing too much work and feeling put-upon?
  • Do people need more information to connect the work they are doing to the mission of the organization?

All of these questions make me a better leader in projects and teams for “real” work, not just volunteer activities. The great bonus in my group is that I am working with a team of effective, motivated and successful professionals who truly care about their work (paid and unpaid) and about each other. It’s the kind of high-performing team that is fun to work with and generates great results.

If you want to be a leader and aren’t finding opportunities in your current role, consider a volunteer position. It’s “real” experience, learning and development, and helps your community too.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: byzantiumbooks via / CC BY

Friday Facts: Self-Improvement Edition

Today I am curious about the cottage industry of leadership development and coaching, and all of the nebulous advice I see out in social media telling us all how to have a better career. These are just a few representative articles of the type I see every day:

Ten Unexpected Things that Will Radically Improve Your Life

Nine Things Emotionally Intelligent People Won’t Do

Five Traits of Successful Leaders

Want to Succeed at a Startup? Focus on These Five Qualities

Ten Secrets to Living a Vibrantly Happy, Healthy Life

Surprising Habits of Truly Powerful People

I’ve concluded that we are all starving for this kind of advice, because it’s so ubiquitous in the places where professionals gather, online and in person at conferences. We all are longing for a roadmap to personal and professional success. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an actual way to just follow the directions and do it right?

But this is just one piece of that puzzle. The rest has to be gained through experience, self-awareness, reflection, and, frankly, a willingness to be vulnerable and accept one’s own failures and learn from them. I know how to put on a mask of confidence, capability, understanding and leadership-but if I’m not genuine and trustworthy, you will sniff me out as a fraud and reject whatever it is I have to say, and you certainly won’t want to accept me as a genuine leader.

As much as I love sitting around reading these articles and thinking smugly, “mmmm, hmmm, I knew that,” it takes a lot more work to get to real emotional intelligence, recognition, respect, effective leadership and success than what I will read online or hear from even the most engaging speaker at a conference.

Guess I’ll keep reading, just in case. But I’ll make time to do a little thinking too.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via / CC BY-SA