Respect, Recognition, and Appreciation Matter. | Assessing Your Give and Take

Self-esteem can be pretty fragile.appreciation 4759535950_7bca6684c8_m

Each of us has the ability to pump up another person’s self-esteem or scar it.

A lot goes into developing and maintaining pride in ourselves, especially considering our personal and situational obstacles.

So we need to be caring.

Make others matter.

Most of us crave positive feedback. We want to know in concrete ways that our bosses and coworkers:

  • respect our talents, good intentions, and integrity
  • recognize the contributions we make to the success of the team and company
  • appreciate our efforts, kindnesses, and selflessness

Others want what we want. The question is: “Are we giving it?”

  • To everyone?
  • Just to people we like or who are like us?
  • To those we feel we need to “repay”?

The esteem we show to others is good for us. It’s how we create a bond that:

  • builds dependable relationships
  • helps coworkers try harder
  • develops confidence to overcome challenges
  • buoys up courage to take risks
  • creates community

In all likelihood, the esteem we show to others comes back to us in subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

Respect, recognition, and appreciation are equalizers. They say to the recipient, “I value you” for your:

  • skills and work quality
  • honesty and integrity
  • kindness and generosity
  • dependability and decency

Value is personal not positional.

None of us can do every job that needs to be done. Just look around where you live and count the number of things you can’t build, fix, or solve.

Then look around your company and count the number of jobs you aren’t qualified to do from the top of the organization chart to the bottom.

The only way all of us can live the lives we want is for everyone around us to do their jobs well. For that we all need to express our gratitude.

Assess yourself.

Consider the way you engage with craftsmen you hire at work or at home. Assess the amount of effort you put into expressing respect for their expertise, recognition of the challenges of the work, and appreciation for the outcome.

In my experience, a unique alliance forms, a strategic partnership, and shared engagement in the work where the results exceed the expectations of you both.

I recently accumulated a pretty long list of big and small jobs long overdue at my farm where the buildings were built from 1780 to 1900. The jobs ranged from releasing a frozen pocket door in the house to replacing light fixtures in the barn; from painting and repairing a large shed to replacing slates with shingles in the back of the house. There was other “little” stuff too.

Kirk, the expert in charge, is a one-time home builder, an inventor, and one of the most well-read people know. He took on my work solo because I was his last client in PA before moving to the mid-west.

There was nothing about this work that was easy. At every turn there were problem-solving challenges and surprises. It required:

  • electrical work and some plumbing
  • remodeling and construction
  • roofing, painting, and repair

Kirk says what he thinks, never sugar-coating anything. And he’s not a big giver or receiver of compliments. But he accepted my communicated regard for his expertise and willingness to help when needed.

I had been his customer before, so he knew that I respected him. Ultimately, he told me that he wouldn’t have taken on this wild array of jobs for anyone else. That was a gift for my self-esteem.

It was not about what I was paying him: It was about my respect, recognition, and appreciation.

 As you sow…

Treating people well is about recognizing their value and making that known. At work it’s easy to see our coworkers as just another pair of hands. Any time you treat others in a way that says, “You matter,” you are giving them a priceless gift which will, in time, come back to you.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Photoree

 

 

 

Breaking the Ice—A Priceless Communication Initiative

Getting conversations started can sometimes be a challenge. It’s mostly when we don’t: 

  • Know someone well
  • Don’t want to say the wrong thing
  • Feel intimidated or awestruck
  • Are feeling self-conscious 

Being willing and able to talk to people is the centerpiece of a successful career and profitable business. 

We need to develop the ability to talk to all kinds of people under wildly different circumstances in an effective way. 

It can be difficult to start conversations with a boss, coworker, or customer who isn’t particularly willing or interested in talking with you. That’s when you need to break the ice. 

Why bother? 

It would be easy to just blow off folks that don’t want to talk. We might think it’s their loss, when, in fact, it’s more likely ours. 

When we get people to talk to us, we learn things. Often what we learn is unexpected—an inside look, a new perspective, an opportunity, or a tip. 

This week I had errands to run, so I made the rounds. Since I live in the country, I patronize local businesses. At each stop, I made a point to start a casual conversation with whoever was at the counter. 

Here’s what happened:

At the feed mill, I chit-chatted with the clerk about how my horse had a breathing disorder exacerbated by the pollen. She owned horses too and told me about a new dustless bedding product which I then bought. (Learned something new

Then I went to the butcher shop. The butcher’s wife, Susan, who works the counter, is generally cold and standoffish. The customer before me was a native Italian who owned the local pizzeria. He purchased three spleens. (Yep, spleens!) When he left, I asked Susan what anyone would use a spleen for and she answered, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know!” We had a good laugh. (Warmer relationship

The next stop was the bank. While the teller was doing the paperwork, I asked what was new in the neighborhood. She explained how several local teenagers had been apprehended after a series of robberies. She gave me details on the sting that nabbed them, information that wasn’t in the paper. (Insider information

Multiplier effect 

Ice can refreeze, so our initiatives to keep the ice open need to be ongoing. 

Think of the people you work with who try to keep you at arms length or are uncomfortable sharing their knowledge, points of view, or personal side. 

You do yourself and others a huge favor by making it easy for them to talk to you. It’s how you build bonds. 

These conversations help you figure out what’s really going on around you. By being an ice breaker, you discover that you will: 

  • Build a broader base of relationships
  • See things from different sides
  • Get a heads up when you need it
  • Feel gratitude and appreciation for and from your coworkers 

Early in my corporate career, I worked in marketing where I needed to procure a truck and a 32-foot trailer outfitted with interactive displays. Working with the purchasing department required jumping through a lot of procedural hoops held by agents being chomped on by managers across the company.

To purchasing, my project was small potatoes and I was a nobody. Russ was the agent assigned to handle my purchase, and I suspected this wasn’t something he was keen on. I asked to meet with him, so I could better understand what he was up against and what I could do to make it easier for him. That ice-breaker conversation created in an ally I could count on for the rest of my career there.   

Take the time 

The avenue of least resistance can turn into the highway to nowhere. Everyone has something of value to say. We just need to take the time to break the ice that’s in their way and ours. Now flourish your ice picks! 

Photo from elefevre7 via Flickr

Hungry for Leadership Success? Whip Up a Batch of Principles

Serve them to your employees. They’re as hungry for success as you are.

Employees know the drill: They’re expected to deliver specific results for which they’re compensated. The better they perform, the more likely their careers will advance. 

When they understand what matters to their bosses, they can perform with minimal uncertainty. Bosses who aren’t clear about what drives their leadership and who act inconsistently give their employees a stomachache. 

Use organic principles. 

There’s so much written about leadership (a lot of it really good) that it’s hard to get our practical heads around it all. 

Clearly, the higher up we go in the organization and the broader our accountabilities, the more complex and strategic our leadership requirements. The closer we are to work output, the more linear and tactical it is. 

No matter our level, leadership includes: 

  • Principles—our core beliefs about what good leaders do; the standards that drive us
  • Traits—the distinguishing features marking the way we lead, like courage or optimism
  • Behaviors—our conduct, specifically the actions we take to get results like building partnerships or making timely decisions 

Role models (family members, coaches, bosses) are often how we first learn about leadership. But those people aren’t us. We’re unique. What drives our way of leading is a reflection of what we value—our principles. 

The recipe 

Step 1: Get clear about the principles that underpin the way you lead. You can’t lead consistently when you’re confused about what you value. Your principles are your daily guide and are tested when you face tough decisions. 

Step 2: Write your principles down and share them with your employees. That includes talking to them about why each principle is important to you. Let employees ask questions and generate clarifying discussion, so that you understand each other. 

Hold yourself accountable. 

If we are true to our principles, we’re willing to go to the mat to protect them. Here are some examples and what they require of leaders who own them

Principle: I believe that all employees should be treated with respect, patience, and consideration. 

That means: 

  • I will intervene immediately where there may be bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • I will listen and consider all feedback from employees, including differences around performance appraisal, hiring/promotion decisions, and personal requests.
  • I will make time to meet with employees face-to-face, when requested, to hear ideas and provide information, providing actionable direction. 

Principle: I will assign accountability for results, delegate responsibility and authority, and support progress by removing obstacles as appropriate. 

That means: 

  • I will allow employees to succeed or fail in the assignments they own, not “rescuing” a faltering assignment, but offering support and direction.
  • I will not micro-manage delegated assignments.
  • I will treat employees as professionals by empowering them to manage their assignments, using my position to help them overcome obstacles as needed. 

Principles abound. You just need to focus on the ones you know will help you lead more effectively in the situation you and your employees share. 

You can write principles about: 

  • Vision and strategic direction
  • Employee engagement and group problem-solving
  • Achieving business and individual goals
  • Employee growth and development
  • Mistakes, code of conduct, ethics and integrity
  • Teamwork and trust
  • Can-do attitudes, collaboration, and sense of humor 

There is no leading without followers. You need to develop principles that motivate your employees to follow because they share your core beliefs and see the reward in them. 

Your principles let your employees know what they can expect of you, particularly when the chips are down. 

When you compromise your principles, you sully your relationship with your employees. Each time to stand by them, you strengthen it. 

Please take some time to whip up a batch of your principles. Then serve them up with a cold glass of milk! Enjoy. 

Photo from Matt McGee via Flickr

Becoming a “Celebrity” at Work? Take Lessons from Roger Federer

Getting discovered is pretty exciting. One day we’re plodding along doing good work and the next our boss is telling us we’re part of his/her succession plan. 

That often means accelerated development opportunities, high visibility assignments, and access to upper management. 

In a blink we’re on our way to celebrity status in our companies, with new expectations and pressures. 

This is what we wanted, right? But are we ready for it? Do we know what to do? 

A new vantage point 

It’s challenging when we realize that others are seeing us in a brighter light. 

When we’re in a career growth spurt, we need to know how to make the most of it. The right steps increase the shine; the wrong ones can blacken it. 

Being a rising star, raises the bar. The good work we’ve been doing is now looked at with more eyes and increasing expectations. Our every move comes with an assessment: 

  • Can s/he hold up under the pressures of the board, media, regulators, and investors?
  • Is s/he the kind of leader who can affect change, engage employees, and achieve corporate goals?
  • Will s/he be accepted by other executives, community and industry leaders? 

We can be years away from gaining an executive position, but our “potential” will be assessed continually with every action. 

Follow the winners 

Everyone who makes it big was once discovered. With help and hard work, we can all achieve our own celebrity status where we work. 

Roger Federer, a Swiss professional tennis player, has won a men’s record 16 Grand Slam singles titles on three difference surfaces (clay, grass, and hard courts).  By many he is considered the greatest player of all time. 

Once a kid with a temper on the court and now a celebrated tennis icon, Federer demonstrates positive ways to conduct ourselves when our careers are on the rise. Here are lessons we can take from him as our career celebrity grows: 

  1. Don’t complain or bad-mouth—As pros it’s our job to “get on with it,” finding a way to deal with issues in a positive way rather than stoke them with blame or criticism.
  2. Don’t detract from opponents—At times we won’t win. Sometimes a decision will go someone else’s way, their argument will be more compelling, or they will get the job. It’s for us to applaud their successes and accept that we simply fell short that time.
  3. Stay well—Federer is known for never being injured, a credit to his fitness and health, enabling him to fulfill his tennis commitments. Our dependability is measured by our ability to always be there.
  4. Communicate appreciation—We don’t get ahead without the help and support of others. Federer always thanks his fans, the tournament organizers and sponsors, and his team for his successes. In our careers, it’s not all about us. When we are gracious, we solidify support.
  5. Accept set-backs as learning opportunities—Our resilience is tested when things go wrong. Success is a product of our ability to turn set-backs into opportunities and get better. You win some and lose some. But if you learn from each, you’ll win more in the long run.
  6. Dedicate yourself to getting better—A rising career demands continuous improvement in all aspects of our work—training, preparation, self-management, relationship building, and performance. When we slack off, we decline gradually until we’ve lost our edge.
  7. Love your work—Our success will continue if we love our work, not our success. Federer loves everything about tennis—the practice, the players, locker room activities, the competition, and the business. If we don’t love the work we do for our companies, the people, and the industry, we will struggle unhappily to sustain success. 

Keep things in perspective 

Success is illusive. We contribute to it but it’s not wholly under our control. If we follow Roger Federer’s example, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to keep the success door open. Swing freely!

 Photo from mbevis via Flickr

 

Not Your Ordinary Interview Preparation Checklist—Everything Counts

Every conversation becomes an interview, of sorts, when there are questions to:   

  • Get information and/or share ideas
  • Form or validate perceptions
  • Assess capabilities or weigh credibility
  • Develop or broaden relationships
  • Explore or finalize next steps
  • Offer or retract opportunities 

That means we always need to be ready to answer questions effectively, especially when they are part of: 

  • Job interviews
  • Promotional discussions
  • Performance feedback
  • Special assignment offers
  • Requests for project support 

Interviews affect our careers. We can’t afford to be sloppy or naive about them. 

Be on your toes 

There is casual conversation at work and there is serious conversation. We need to know which is which and when one suddenly becomes the other. 

What starts out as a “how was your weekend” conversation with your boss can quickly turn into: “I didn’t know you were so involved as a youth soccer leader. Do you know _________? He’s a good friend of mine.” (Interview question) 

In an instant you have added another variable to a work relationship and more data about your skills. 

There thousands of bits of information and experiences plus endless relationships and connections that you’ve accumulated in your life so far. 

I suspect that you, like most, don’t consider most of them assets for the interviews that are coming your way. That’s a big mistake. 

Our credibility as employees, job candidates, managers, business owners, consultants, and teachers is rooted in our experiences.

Everything counts 

Careers grow on the basis of knowledge, skills, experience, and relationships. 

“Been there, done that” in business is exactly what management wants when we’ve done both well. It’s what an interview is designed to reveal. 

Surprise yourself by completing this inventory about what you’ve done that is relevant to your career today and for the future. 

Then turn it into a checklist to help you prepare for your next “interview.” (The parens are ideas to get you started.) 

Your “been there” list 

  1. What different kinds of organizations have you worked for? (Companies, non-profits, start ups, store chains, mom and pops)
  2. What states, town, and countries have you worked in?
  3. Whom have you meet that you’d admit to? (Business owners, community leaders, politicians, journalists)
  4. What career experiences have you dealt with? (Job loss, promotion,  transfer, company closings, achievement recognition)
  5. What schooling, training, and travel experiences have you had? (Institutions attended and degrees/certificates received, countries and states visited, cultures experienced) 

Your “done that” list 

  1. What kind of office work have you experienced? (Management, administrative, technical, financial, communications)
  2. What kind of field work have you done? (Sales, construction, troubleshooting, installations)
  3. What entrepreneurial or freelance experiences have you had? (Hobby business, social media marketing, blogging)
  4. What volunteering have you done? (Cause promotion, political candidate support, fund-raising)
  5. What have you done that’s creative? (Musical/theatre performances, artwork exhibited, writing published, arts patronage) 

Everything adds up 

Every interview and conversation is an opportunity to connect with someone. What makes you interesting are your experiences. Where you’ve been and what you’ve done create a picture of what you know and the skills you have. 

Some experiences are serious and others funny. They all have value. 

I’ve written in this blog about being hit between the eyes with a spitball when I taught high school, hauling cartons of frozen butter and turkeys to Head Start centers when I worked in social service, and being questioned by a dozen lawyers during a utility company rate case. 

You have your own stories like these to draw from but better.   

Keep track 

It’s tempting to minimize our experiences. We tend to think the experiences of others are grander. 

A successful interview isn’t about being grand. It’s about connecting, being authentic, and sharing experiences that demonstrate your capabilities, integrity, and commitment. 

Take a little time to create your checklist. Use it when you prepare for your next interview. You’ll be surprised at what an asset it is. 

Photo from bpsusf via Flickr

                       

New Employees Can Mean Trouble | Managing Team Chemistry

A filled vacancy starts with optimism. The boss is high on what the new employee can add to the team. Existing employees are relieved they didn’t have to absorb more work. 

Bosses usually start with an announcement before the person shows up. Employees hear about the new hire’s capabilities and experiences. They often hear high praise for how s/he will strengthen the team. Enough already! 

New employees mean change.   

Adding someone new to the mix changes its chemistry. A new teammate comes with unknowns like his/her: 

  • Personality traits, moods, ability and willingness to collaborate
  • Work ethic, skills and knowledge, learning curve
  • Personal aspirations, competitiveness, trustworthiness
  • Performance standards, communication style, principles

Existing employees are full of curiosity and questions, even if the new employee is someone they know or know about. Each will feel out the new person in their own way, deciding what kind of relationship they will try to build. In turn, they may also modify or adjust their relationships with others on the team. 

Everyone adjusts their alignments in some way. 

While this is going on, the boss is being watched to figure out: 

  • What is his/her relationship with the new employee?
  • Does the newbie enjoy any favored status?
  • Might the boss change his/her opinion of existing team members based on the way the new employee is accepted?  

By the natural order of things, the team dynamic starts to recalibrate. The pecking order is revisited. When supervisors don’t manage this change, they’re asking for trouble. 

Focus on the team 

Existing employees often feel diminished or even set aside when someone new comes on board. We often feel that we need to compete with this new person to show the boss that we are as good or better. 

The supervisor’s job is to create an environment where employees work effectively together, as a unit. That includes keeping a keen eye on the collective chemistry of the team, intervening when relationships aren’t what they need to be. 

Every time a new employee is added, the chemistry changes. It can be obvious immediately or surface gradually. Supervisors who guide these changes never miss a beat. 

Steps to take 

Smart supervisors take advantage of staff changes to refocus the team by following steps like these:

1. Gather the team together for introductions. 

  • Introduce the new employee and review their role.
  • Have each team member introduce themselves and summarize their role.
  • Comment, as the supervisor, on the value each contributes. 

2. Schedule a team meeting to revisit and update position descriptions. 

  • Explain the importance of keeping position descriptions current.
  • Have employees suggest description changes/additions/clarification.
  • Lead discussion to resolve issues and incorporate revisions.
  • Finalize description updates. 

4. Schedule a team meeting to review the status of work group goals. 

  • Share accomplishments to date and goals at risk.
  • Engage the new and existing employees in discussion about how they can/need to assist/support each other around specific goals.
  • State that you’ll be meeting with the new employee to finalize their individual goals so they align with the work group’s goals. 

5. Where useful, arrange for the new employee to spend time with each team member to learn about their work first-hand. 

The primary chemical element is you 

As supervisors, we are the first chemical element put in the beaker. The way we introduce and engage new employees demonstrates our recognition of how good chemistry can solidify a team. 

Supervisors who don’t understand or care about team chemistry will likely experience an eventual explosion. 

Show your team that you care by the way you manage their chemistry. There’s nothing better than elements that bond together to create something good. Avoid the big bang!  

Photo from Horia Varlan via Flickr

 

Seeking That Elusive “Executive Image”? Polish Up Your Interpersonal Skills

This post is part of the Executive Image series started by Daria (aka @MominManagement). I am honored that she invited me to participate along with her and five other amazing women. For more about the series, visit Daria’s website, MominManagement. 

A one-size-fits-all definition of “executive image” would be so nice. Instead we’re left to decode the shifting sands of “I’ll know it when I see it.”

We get it that executive image is hooked to  our attire and our self-confidence.  

It’s our interpersonal skills, however, that take us to the next level.  Why? Because they’re how we engage others and build the relationships we need to influence and lead, precisely what executives are expected to do. 

Be easy company. 

Interpersonal skills are what we use to connect with people. This isn’t just about the way we act in front people: It’s how we engage them. 

I was a high school teacher before I started my management career at a male-dominated, Fortune 500 energy company. Transitioning from the classroom to a cubicle was an out-of-body experience. I knew nothing about how “corporate types” conducted themselves or their business. 

What I did know was that successful school teachers relied on flexible interpersonal skills to deal with students, parents, administrators, and other teachers. That meant sensing someone’s needs, using the right language at the right time, knowing when to reach out or back off, understanding when to smile and laugh and when to be silent. 

I’d brought those skills to my corporate job, and they worked there too, loosening up coworkers and managers who wondered why their company would’ve hired a school teacher.  

I wanted to make it easy for people to talk to me. So I’d ask questions, express gratitude for their time, and invite them to my programs. Their response was great. 

And then this happened: My boss got a memo from his boss, the department manager, about a program I was working on. The last line was completely off topic. He wrote: “Does Dawn have to be friendly with everyone?” 

My boss was shocked, but our answer was the same: “Sure. Why not?” 

There’s a difference between being friendly and being friends. I opt for using interpersonal skills in ways that make us approachable and easy to do business with, even when we don’t agree. Friendship is a bonus. 

Keep your interpersonal skills polished  

Here are 10 interpersonal skills I consider most important to building an executive image no matter where you work: 

  1. Greeting people in a way that clearly shows you “see” them; shake hands when appropriate
  2. Smiling and opening up informal conversation
  3. Asking questions that start substantive dialogue
  4. Demonstrating patience and respectfulness
  5. Listening actively to all points of view
  6. Bringing people together to resolve differences and get things done
  7. Offering praise and recognition; expressing appreciation and gratitude
  8. Showcasing a consistently positive demeanor
  9. Demonstrating a sense of humor at the right time
  10. Defusing criticism and complaining 

We need to adapt our interpersonal skills to be effective with different people and situations. That means tailoring what we say and do when we’re:  

  • Attending a staff meeting or a board meeting
  • Meeting a new colleague or a vendor
  • Leading a grievance meeting or union negotiation
  • Facing our detractors or our fans
  • Delivering a presentation or attending training 

The pay off 

There is the misconception that building our executive image is about showcasing our interpersonal and other capabilities to executives. Actually, our executive brand emerges from what others say about us—our employees, coworkers, customers, and vendors.

From the beginning of my career, I simply wanted to be taken seriously and to influence decision-making. I never aspired to any position.  In time, however, I was promoted to increasingly higher level jobs, until I was a director, considered executive level. That still amazes the school teacher in me!

Along the way I tried to demonstrate my regard for the value of every person in every job. Through them I learned that “executive image” comes from the people across all levels of our companies who give voice to our authenticity. The rest takes care of itself.