Ahead of the Curve or Behind the Eight Ball? | Averting Criticism

8-ball 3779658241_bc1e517a8c_mCriticism lies in wait for us at work. Sometimes we can anticipate it and sometimes not.

Most of us learn to live with a few doses of negative feedback, especially when we have the opportunity to rebound.

Averting criticism that has the potential to be truly damaging, though, takes savvy.

 Protect what matters.

We each have a personal, career brand to protect so we can keep moving forward. Our bosses have one too plus the reputation of their work groups. Leaders need to protect the brand integrity of their organizations to remain competitive and viable.

Unfair, relentless, and ruthless criticism can turn your good efforts into ashes.

Consider the potential criticism leveled at a supervisor who:

  • hires or promotes an employee who steals, bullies, or lies
  • decides to absorb another work group and then releases excess employees
  • makes downsizing decisions that  cause employees to lose their jobs
  • replace fully functional equipment or technology with new ones

Everyone affected by those changes, whether directly or indirectly, is a critic in waiting. If the move is successful, they will likely be quiet. If not, watch for incoming!

There’s no reason to be a sitting duck when the potential for criticism is in your path. Going on the offensive, most often, is your best strategy.

You don’t make decisions in a vacuum. There are good reasons to act and risks too. You are ahead of the curve when you anticipate criticism and behind the eight ball if you don’t.

Keep your head out of the sand.

I recently facilitated the annual board retreat of a small non-profit facing the stepping down of four board members, including the president and vice president, both of whom were founders.

These officers were beloved, dedicated, and capable, having led the organization with warmth and strength for eight years. They were to remain as committee volunteers but it was time for new leadership.

The original board of ten would now be down to six, with two becoming new leaders. This was an unsettling time, focused mostly on internal matters. But what about the critics.

The board needed to consider what their constituencies would think and say about this major shift. How would it impact membership, sponsors, donors, partnerships with other organizations, and confidence in their sustainability? These are the questions that once answered and acted on would avert, though not eliminate, significant criticism.

The board decided on some key actions:

  • put together the messaging around these changes
  • prepare the slate of nominees for election at the upcoming annual meeting; arrange for mentoring by the exiting officers
  • develop a Power Point presentation for the annual meeting outlining past achievements, ongoing and new projects
  • write a press release for the announcements
  • arrange to meet with key allies to answer questions and strengthen relationships

Not only will this work strengthen their brand in the marketplace, it will raise the confidence of the board members and provide the messaging needed to expand its membership.

 Averting criticism

You avert criticism by defusing the arguments of your critics:

  • Provide the details of your story (transparency) before misconceptions are devised
  • Talk about your good work and successes as a foundation for your decisions
  • Anticipate and address potentially damaging issues when you see them
  • Address legitimate concerns; reinforce your intentions, purpose, mission, objectives, and positive actions
  • Be upfront and out-front, affirming the standards and values that support your position
  • Build a coalition of supporters who have your back and are willing to say so

By getting ahead of an issue, you empower yourself.

These steps also help if you’ve:

  • experienced a decline in your performance
  • violated a company rule or policy
  • mishandled a customer or vendor problem
  • damaged company equipment or software

Whether you’re an employee, supervisor, manager, or executive, managing your career progress means anticipating criticism, whether deserved or not, and then averting it.

So do you best to get ahead of the curve and watch your value rise.

Photo by lel4nd via Photoree





5 Ways to Fight Off Self-Doubt | Dealing with Performance Dips

We can be our own worst enemy if we’re not careful. We’ll tell ourselves that we:self-doubtb 12593039_d4f6_t

  • don’t measure up
  • never seem to get things right
  • keep falling short of expectations
  • are out of favor with the boss

The more we doubt ourselves…the more we doubt ourselves. It’s a downward spiral we need to stop, and fast!

Heads up.

I’m a big sports fan. I watch golf, tennis, basketball, baseball, football, and  the Olympics, both summer and winter.

I’m engrossed by the theater of sports–the physical skills, the competitive drive, and the players themselves.

Individual athletes reveal so much about what it takes to be successful, especially how to handle mental pressures, particularly the  moments of self-doubt and shaken self-confidence they must overcome.

Self-doubt  threatens to derail an athlete when, during a game or match, s/he experiences a dip in performance. Suddenly the player will:

  • miss a gimme shot like a layup, a short putt, or an overhead
  • lose their rhythm, become a step slow, or misread a defense
  • make a series of poor decisions–wrong golf club selections, an excess of 3-point shots, too many returns to the forehand

As employees, we too experience dips in our performance when we:

  • miss errors we normally find; incorrectly enter routine data
  • neglect to jump on a situation before it becomes a big issue
  • make ineffective decisions about problems we need to fix

Just like athletes, anytime you feel off your game, self-doubt has a field day.

 Listen up. Take 5.

Live action sports commentators have a knack for spotting an athlete’s self-doubt during the heat of play. Since many sportscasters like champion golfer Sir Nick Faldo or NBA star Reggie Miller were former pro athletes, they know how to shut those negative voices down.

These five bits of advice that work for athletes can also work for you when self-doubt starts creeping into your thinking:

1. Don’t dwell on a bad call.

Your boss is like a referee. Sometimes s/he will draw a wrong or unfair conclusion about the quality of your work, your role in a decision, your attitude about an assignment, or your willingness to do more. Once you’ve calmly offered your side of the story, commit to avoiding a repeat and move on.

2. Keep playing.

Like an athlete, sometimes you’ll miss a shot or make a bad play. You may forget an assignment, write code that doesn’t work, or make a poor presentation. Everything is fixable but only if you stay in the game and keep working. So do what’s necessary to correct what went wrong and keep improving your skills.

3. Correct missteps asap.

The sooner you jump on the cause of glitches in your performance the better. Waiting only allows self-doubt to settle in and put a death grip on your self-confidence. If you can, take steps to improve in real time, by asking for help from your boss or coworkers right away, just as players do in a sideline huddle, with a caddy , or coach  while the game is live.

4. Plan for what’s next.

In most cases, there’s always another game or contest. To fight against self-doubt, you need to keep looking ahead for other opportunities to demonstrate your skills, your commitment, and your mental toughness. Your workplace is a competitive environment where you’re always challenged to put forth your best effort. There are a lots of days in the week to work on getting better and building your self-confidence.

5. Reach out.

Your boss and coworkers have a stake in your performance. The better you perform, the more successful they will be. Not everyone will have your back, but some will. When you have doubts about your performance, get some help. Often others have a more objective perspective than you do and will likely also  remind you of your strengths. It’s difficult to overcome self-doubt alone, so it’s worth the risk to  reach out.

 Build self-confidence.

Achieving and sustaining success requires self-confidence. Self-doubt kills it.

Overcoming internal negative voices tests your mental toughness. If you take some time to listen to pro athletes after wins and losses, you’ll get some priceless perspectives on how to fight the good fight.

Photo by hotblack via Photoree


Excuses–Self-Inflicted Career Wounds | A Pro Knows

You can run but you can’t hide. Mistakes, poor decisions, sub-par performance, rafa 5888490595_395af05248_munbecoming behavior, and unmet expectations stalk even the most skillful among us.

Performance missteps will happen spite of our best efforts to avoid them. In every case they belong to us. We own them and it’s in our career best interest to admit that.

Excuses cut deep.

We don’t want to goof up at work. It feels bad. When it happens our knee-jerk reaction may be to think, it’s not really my fault:

  • It just looks like my fault on the surface.
  • It’s the fault of my coworker, company policy, the customer, or the situation.
  • I’ll accept it as my fault, but I really don’t think it is.

Looking for a way out of blame is a pretty natural reaction, but routinely making excuses can become a damaging habit that’s hard to break.

I suspect you’ve worked with people who have an excuse for everything they do that doesn’t measure up like:

  • That work isn’t in my job description.
  • I was never trained for that.
  • No one ever explained that policy to me.
  • John said he was taking care of that job.

Those excuses get old fast and start to chip away at your regard for those coworkers.

Your integrity and credibility at work are a function of your trustworthiness. The more your colleagues know they can count on you to be honest, even when you were wrong or ineffective, the better their esteem for you.

It takes courage to tell the truth, own up to your faults, and face up to your shortcomings. Most coworkers and bosses find courage admirable.

Listen to the pros.

Professional athletes, as a rule, don’t make excuses when they’ve lost crucial games. What they say about themselves and their opponents demonstrate how not making excuses raises our regard for them.

In his 2013 Wimbledon first round match, fifth ranked Raphael Nadal, lost to Steve Darcis, ranked 135, in a stunning upset. When asked by a reporter whether his once injured knee contributed to his loss, Nadal answered, in an SI.com article, it’s “‘not the day to talk about these kind of things’ and that it would sound like ‘an excuse.'”

In the same article, Nadal owned his defeat when asked what he did well in that match: “Not a lot of things.”

The same no excuses standard was demonstrated by Tim Duncan, champion pro basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs after their 2013 Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat  in NBA Finals.

Washington Post writer Michael Lee quotes Duncan after the game:

We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well. And I played awfully…Whatever it may be. They responded better than us….They outplayed us.”

As Spurs team captain, Duncan gave voice to the team’s ownership of their loss as well as his own contribution to it.

Both Nadal and Duncan, historically, have shown and articulated respect for their opponents in victory and in defeat.

Gregg (Pop) Popovich, future Hall of Fame coach of the Spurs, sets his own example– one that we would hope our workplace bosses would emulate.

In an article at ESPN.com, Marc Stein quotes Hall of Famer Chris Mullin on Pop:

Pop is incredibly humble. He gives out all the credit for the wins and he takes all the blame for the losses. He’s a prototypical leader.

There’s an old adage that says if you aren’t making mistakes at work, you aren’t doing anything.

In pro athletics, it only takes a few mistakes to lose a game, so when we see them, their impact becomes bigger than life. Fortunately, that’s not so in our jobs.

Stop the festering.

Excuses are obstacles to your growth, your reputation, and your confidence. If you don’t avoid making them, there will be a career price to pay.

Pro athletes know that recovery from poor performance means committing to getting better, not making excuses. That strategy works for us too. When you under-perform, acknowledge it, ask what you need to do to get better, and then work at it.

It’s time to go like a pro.

Photo by Caronine06 via Photoree





Relief for Leaders–Understand What Keeps You Up at Night

lipkin book 17987524I couldn’t resist the invitation to write a post about Nicole Lipkin’s new book with this irresistible title: What Keeps Leaders Up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues. Having spent my own share of sleepless nights over the years, I could relate.

You’ve made it. You’re in charge. The lead is in your hands. It’s exciting and challenging, an opportunity to set direction, form a productive team, and impact the company.

Leaders set the tone and establish workplace culture. Their decisions affect employees individually and collectively along with the company’s customers, investors, and suppliers. It’s a big deal being the leader, sometimes bigger than we can fully grasp.

As leaders we get our real education about the scope and challenges of the job when things start to go wrong…not when things explode but when they start to erode.

Nagging concerns

As leaders we often get a sense that something isn’t quite right, but, gosh, if the work’s getting done, it can’t be that serious, right? But somehow we just can’t stop thinking about something we’ve done, observed, or heard that was unsettling. Whatever it is, it’s ours to handle.

In her new book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, corporate psychologist Nicole Lipkin lipkin 6e4120eb91d40a7e9d9ac5_L__V388068734_SX200_targets eight of the most significant management issues that trouble us as leaders. Her focus is on the behaviors that drive both employees and leaders, building understanding through anecdotal situations, psychological studies, and remedies that we can adopt.

As leaders we make mistakes, some big and some small, some consciously and some unknowingly. To that Lipkin writes:

You can’t change what’s already happened, but you can change what you do next…I’ve learned that the solutions always begin with raising my self-awareness and helping others raise theirs.

So instead of self-flagellating, we need to step up to the plate and turn things around. Lipkin covers eight big issues that often plague leaders.Since I’ve written before about bad bosses,  I was drawn to this chapter:

I’m a Good Boss, So Why Do I Sometimes Act Like a Bad One?

Lipkin boils this issue down into three digestible bits. As the leader ask if you’re:

  • Too busy to win…Have I gotten so lost in the trees that I can no longer see the forest?
  • Too proud to see…Letting yourself get so tied to an idea that you won’t let it go.
  • Too afraid to lose…Question and second-guess every step along the way.

The consequences of failing to resolve this management issue are major, so facing your contribution to the problem is key.  Lipkin writes:

Self-awareness begins with admitting that you are human…your natural neurological and psychological make-up must cope with huge pressures….You see what you want to see.

Just pausing to cast an objective eye on your maladaptive or unproductive behavior or asking a trusted ally to tell you the honest truth…can get you back on track.

I have also written about the importance of managing expectations in the workplace, especially by bosses, so I was especially interested in her chapter on this sleep-threatening issue:

What Causes a Star to Fade?

Whenever we take a job or get a promotion, we start with great expectations of what the opportunity will contribute to our careers. In this chapter on the importance of employee engagement, Lipkin writes:

Every company and every boss enters into a psychological contract with their employees…an individual’s beliefs about the mutual obligations that exist between the employee and the employer.

When promises are known or perceived  by employees to be broken, they choose actions, as Lipkin notes, that fall into four broad categories:

  • Exit: Leaving or planning to leave the organization
  • Voice: Speaking up to address the breach with superiors, co-workers….
  • Loyalty: Suffering in silence and hoping the problem will solve itself
  • Neglect: Making a half-hearted effort to do the work

Each of these can negatively affect the business and induce a leader’s sleepless night.

And there’s more. Nicole Lipkin covers these questions too:

  • Why Don’t People Heed My Sage Advice?
  • Why Do I Lose My Cool in Hot Situations?
  • Why Does a Good Fight Sometimes Go Bad?
  • Why Can Ambition Sabotage Success?
  • Why Do People Resist Change?
  • Why Do Good Teams Go Bad?

Bedside reading.

I like a book that I can turn to easily when an issue jolts me into wakefulness. Lipkin’s book is an easy reference for her eight knotty problems. The psychological concepts are written in lay terms and posed in practical situations. Reading adds to our awareness and gives us tools to solve the problems unique to us.The right book and a handy nightlight can be trusty aids to restore our sleep.

Fired, Downsized, or Eased Out–Helping Employees Save Face

It’s awful. Letting employees go, no matter what the circumstance, is a dreaded task for respect 4621075758_6c21beb236_mmost managers.

That’s often the reason why they:

  • put the task off for too long
  • tell HR to take care of it
  • find a way to do it remotely
  • botch the conversation

Good managers understand that when they have to let one of their employees go, it’s the way they do it that will be remembered and become lore.

Be clear about why.

Employees are fired, downsized, or eased out for any number of reasons:

  • Poor performance, rule violations, improper conduct, or breaking the law
  • Company reorganization, elimination of a product or service, merger, process redesign, or technology changes
  • Inability to adapt to change, resistance to direction, or loss of performance value

In each instance there should be a valid set of circumstances to support separating the employee from the company. Whether they accept it or not, employees deserve to be told specifically what has led to the loss of their jobs.

This means the manager who delivers the message must understand and be able to articulate those facts clearly. That’s what often scares them.

No one likes to deliver bad news. In the working world, losing your job, for any reason, feels like career capital punishment.

Sure, there will be opportunities for future career steps–more than likely a job that’s a better fit in a company with a more compatible culture and a boss that you click with.

But when that hammer hits, most employees just feel the crush of it. Finding that new door that will open seems like a million light years away.

So no matter the reason for the “letting go,” the manager who must deliver the message knows that s/he will be facing a difficult conversation that may result in hurt, backlash, argument, or conflict.

Do what’s right.

When we get hired as managers, we’re expected to come to work with our big girl and big boy pants on. That means being present to do what’s right, particularly when it comes to our employees.

You can run but you can’t hide.

Any time you have to let someone go, the onus is on you. Your reputation (yes, brand) as a manager is enhanced or damaged by the way you handle the situation.

I’ve seen and heard about employees who learned they were  being let go when they:

  • came to work and found a dumpster in their offices
  • were met by HR or company security as they came to work and were immediately sent back to their cars with the news
  • called into HR and while there someone from the company was packing up their personal effects
  • got the news by phone or email, even while on vacation

I  worked with a high ranking corporate attorney who didn’t have one personal item in his office. When I asked why, he told me that’s so when he left or was asked to go, there was nothing for him to take along.

It’s about respect and humanity.

Telling employees that it’s their last day is stomach-churning and uncomfortable. You can’t predict how your employees will react and that doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is the way you treat them in their most unsettled and scary hour. That’s what they’ll remember and say about you after the dust settles.

Your respect and humanity toward your employees in those meetings are what enables them to retain a good portion of their self-esteem and self-confidence going forward.

No matter how awful their reactions may be toward you, you need to show them respect, patience, and caring.

That means you need to:

  • Prepare your conversation using respectful language and tone
  • Acknowledge their disagreement agreeably
  • Speak calmly and listen attentively
  • Encourage them to move forward

Losing one’s job can feel pretty humiliating. So anything managers can do to help employees save face and rebound is a gift. Our job is not to ruin our employees’ careers but to help them to plant their roots in the best soil and grow.

Photo by B.S. Wise via Photoree

Stumped About Why You Didn’t Get Hired? | Here’s the Back Story

To many job candidates, the all important hiring decision is a mystery. More often than not hiring managers don’t say much about the factors they considered. In January 2010, I wrote this post to lift the veil a bit, clear the air, and add some motivation.

Myth: The job candidate who flat out “nails” the interview gets the job.

Truth: The decision about who gets the job is, well, complicated. 

For all the years that I was a senior manager at a Fortune 500, every time I didn’t select internal candidates who thought they had the “right stuff,” I was questioned. Actually grilled!

Filling job vacancies from an internal or external candidate pool isn’t as simple as having an opening, interviewing candidates, and picking one. It would be nice if all business decision-making were linear, but it’s not.

It’s not always about you!

A lot goes on behind the scenes in the hiring process and it’s different in every organization.  (I’m not here to judge either the ethics or the efficacy of those processes.)

It’s just important that, as candidates, we understand that these are business decisions, not personal ones.

Typical reasons why candidates aren’t selected

The hiring manager knew the person s/he wanted from the outset. 

Many companies have a mandated hiring process whenever there’s a vacancy. The preferred candidate participates in the process along with others, although his/her selection may be a foregone conclusion.

That may sound unfair, but if you are a competing candidate, it still gives you a platform for showing your stuff. How you perform in the interview will be remembered and can one day work in your favor.

The company wants to develop a high potential employee or add diversity. 

All companies need to build a bench so they can fill sensitive positions down the road. They look for candidates who have the potential to take on increasing responsibilities or need to broaden their company knowledge.

For those companies that have been slow to incorporate diversity into their workforce and their management ranks, vacancies are an opportunity to remedy that. In both cases, these are business best practices that can add needed capabilities.

Once again, simply by being a participant in the candidate pool, you gain important visibility.

You don’t complement the “chemistry” of the hiring manager’s work group.

The ability of people to work effectively together is important to every hiring manager. Any time a new person is added to the mix, the “chemistry” of the group changes. You may have great capabilities, but if your work style and personality don’t “fit” well within the team, then you will likely not get selected.

The hiring manager doesn’t feel comfortable about supervising you. 

This is a very personal thing. Hiring managers don’t get many perks. The one they do get is to hire people who will make their work life more pleasant and easier. So if there are two equally qualified candidates, they will likely say to themselves, “When I come to work on a bad day, which one of these two people do I want to deal with?” That will be the tie-breaker.

Why this is so hard to swallow. 

If these realities are frustrating to you, I understand. Remember, for you the hiring process is solely about you getting the job. For the business the decision is multifaceted. The best hiring decisions weigh the potential for the candidate to take on increasingly more complex work and then to be ready for advancement in a reasonable period of time.

The only piece of the hiring process that you control is yourself. 

Because there are so many variables contributing to the hiring decision, your best course of action is to simply do your best. Pay attention to the way the process is conducted, the questions you are asked, the responses and feedback you receive. Build on those insights.

Remember: Hiring decisions are business decisions. So don’t take them personally.Your best approach while job hunting is to:

  • Be prepared
  • Present yourself well
  • Have confidence
  • Keep at it

In time the right position under the right company circumstances will present itself, and you will be well-positioned to accept it. In the meantime, throw off your frustration and concentrate on becoming a candidate to be reckoned with!

Photo from Giulia Torra via Flickr

Struggling with a Difficult Choice? The Answer Can Be Fit to a “T”

Making the right work decision can be stressful, even paralyzing. We just don’t want to get it wrong.

“What if I:”

  • End up looking like an idiot or incompetent
  • Lose all the career ground I’ve gained
  • Cost myself or the company money
  • Cause terrible embarrassment or brand damage

Too often we over-focus on the downside of our choices. However,  being overly optimistic about the upside can be a problem too.

“Finally I’ll:”

  • Be the next in line for promotion
  • Get a great bonus or raise
  • Put the company/my work group on the map
  • Have the team I need to lead like a champ

Too much pessimism and too much optimism are the enemy of sound decision-making.

Use your head not your knees!

Knee-jerk decisions can cripple your career. We decide that way when we’re:

  • Overly emotionally about expected outcomes
  • Impatient with the time factors and/or complexity of the choice
  • Confused by things we don’t understand about the options
  • Stressed by the pressures to decide

There’s no getting away from these realities, but you can replace those jerky knees with a calm and disciplined head.

There are lots of different kinds of decisions we have to make around our careers like:

  • Which job offer to accept
  • Who to hire or promote
  • Which policy recommendation to accept
  • What the most important priorities are

Usually, you’ll have a specific window of time when you have to make a decision, so you need a reliable tool to put into practice each time.

The “T” chart to the rescue!

“T” charts (or tables) are simple analytical tools. They rely on you to identify and weigh the right factors in advance of your decision, so you will balance the positives and the negatives.

Let’s say you have two reasonably comparable job offers and decide to use a “T” chart for each job that you’ll review side-by-side to help you make your choice. Here’s how.

  1. On a blank sheet make two large “T” shapes–one for each job you’re looking at.
  2. Across the top of each “T” write Pros and Cons.
  3. To the left of both “T’s” write the criteria that you are looking at for both jobs.

Consider criteria like:

      • Total compensation
      • Characteristics of the work group
      • Leadership and corporate culture
      • Stability of the business
      • Opportunities for growth
      • Authority and autonomy
      • Nature of the work

4. Write the pros and cons for each criteria for each job as you see them on each “T”.

5. Compare both jobs and base your decision rationally the facts you’ve assembled.

You can repeat this process for other kinds of decisions using different criteria in situations like:

Hiring/promotion decisions by considering the candidate’s

      • Skills and knowledge
      • Interpersonal style
      • Leadership qualities
      • Growth potential
      • Experience

Management policy changes:

      • Impact on the bottom line
      • Employee readiness
      • Timing and potential fall out
      • Regulatory/legal implications

The more specific and relevant your criteria, the more likely you will assess your options effectively. The key is not to stack the deck and select criteria that support what you may want to do at an emotional level. You need to keep it real.

Weigh your options.

The cons (the negatives) are often seen as the deal breakers in any analysis. Many of them should be. However, all cons are not created equal.

Once you have looked at your decision-making data, revisit the cons column and see if any negatives can be mitigated. Are there legitimate ways you can make them less of a problem? If, for example, the total compensation for the job you want is less that your other choice, consider whether their job training and opportunities for promotion offer a better chance to advance and make more in the future.

Using a “T” chart to help you make important decisions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be right, but it will keep you honest with yourself. It’s just the rationale approach you need for a sound move forward. Choose away!

Photo from paul spud taylor via Flickr