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Posts Tagged ‘Team Performance’

If you think the rules do not apply to you . . .

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

. . . then they probably do.  That is a coaching phrase that I have used for years in conjunction with a good old standard teamwork game:  Broken Squares.  It’s an activity that requires teams to work together to achieve results and generally brings out both the best and worst behaviors on a team.  Some of the best behaviors are collaboration, innovation, creative thinking, sharing, supporting, and celebrating.  Some of the worst include competitiveness, control, self-absorption, hoarding, judging, and quitting.  It’s a fascinating insight to what makes people tick.

There are lots of rules for the game, and it doesn’t take long before someone breaks one or more of them.  As the teams work in silence (one of the rules), I observe them gesturing and making faces to try to communicate to another team member (against the rules).  And, I say: “If you think the rules do not apply to you, they probably do.”   I never just say it once, because in spite of making the rules really clear, someone always seems to think it’s okay to break them.  Generally, when I facilitate the game, I say the phrase a lot.  I think it is one of the most profound coaching phrases I ever use, with others and with myself.  I don’t just use it when I facilitate Broken Squares.  I use it when talking about accountability because we often look at everyone else to see if they’re being accountable and tend not to look at what we’re doing.  We think accountability isn’t an issue for us and that the rules about accountability don’t apply.  I also use it when talking about collaboration.  We often think of ourselves as the easiest people to work with.  We’re open, we’re honest, we share.  Certainly the collaboration rules don’t apply.

I notice that when I am positively convinced that the rules do not apply to me, it’s likely that I’m working really hard to rationalize, deflect, and avoid taking responsibility for my own actions.  Unfortunately, I mostly notice this after the fact . . . when I’ve already been stubborn and a bit full of myself.  I’m doing my best to shift the trend.  I think if we all looked at how well we are living by the rules instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, things might go a lot more smoothly in our work and personal lives.

Just a thought:  “If you think the rules do not apply to you, they probably do.”

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Managing Transitions – Letting Go

Monday, January 24th, 2011

A longtime client has requested some help with managing change.  So, I’m pulling out my most trusted reference: Managing Transitions by William Bridges.  Anytime I support a client with change issues, this book is part of my toolkit.  Bridges makes an argument that I think is key in dealing with change:  “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”  Simply put, change is situational, yet transition is psychological.  It’s critical to manage the psychological part of change, and that’s often the part that is overlooked by leaders.  In the diagram above, Bridges illustrates the three phases of transition:  1.  Ending, Losing, Letting Go, 2.  The Neutral Zone, and 3.  The New Beginning.

As Bridges makes clear in his book, every transition begins with an ending.  There is some form of “letting go” that accompanies a successful transition.  No matter whether the change is positive or negative, change begins with an ending of something.  For example, a new process means letting go of a strong sense of familiarity and feeling of competence with performing daily tasks.  Or, a promotion means changing peer groups and letting go of daily interactions with people who you’ve grown to know and count on.  Personal changes come with transitions as well . . . moving to a new neighborhood or city means letting go of your physicians, neighbors, and a strong sense of community.  Even when changes are good, there is letting go to do.  Leaders must allow time and space for the psychological process of letting go.

It is possible to create an environment where people are able to deal with losses openly, without it turning into the proverbial whine and moan session.  Bridges offers lots of suggestions.  Here are my favorites that through my work with clients have proven to be very effective:

  1. Accept the Reality and Importance of the Subjective Losses.  In other words, everyone deals with loss differently.  What you may consider easy, someone else may consider wildly difficult.  Learn as much as you can about someone’s perception of loss.  It will make it much easier for you to address it.
  2. Don’t Be Surprised at Overreaction.  The key here is to understand that if somone’s reaction to change is stronger than yours, you’re likely to call it an “overreaction”, when in fact it is simply someone’s reaction.  Loss can, however, be incremental.  That is, an initial reaction to change can be layered with another reaction to something else coming down the pike, and so on.  So, what you may view as an overreaction, might actually be reaction “overload”.
  3. Acknowledge the Losses Openly and Sympathetically.  An empathic leader is a powerful leader.  So, bring losses out in the open and make them safe to discuss.  Invite others to share their feelings of loss, and share yours as well.  For example:  “I know these changes are going to pose challenges for all of us.  I’m sorry about that.” Or,  “I’m feeling a bit like a duck out of water myself.  It’s hard to learn a new process.”
  4. Expect and Accept the Signs of Grieving.  People process change differently, but like stages of grief, you’ll likely notice anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness or confusion.
  5. Give People Information, Again, and Again.  Leaders cannot overcommunicate, especially during times of change.  Even if you don’t have an update, that’s information your team is likely to appreciate.  Keep them informed.
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The Shadow of a Leader

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

A few days ago, I had to pick up a print job at my neighborhood FedEx Kinkos.  The place was jammed with customers, and everyone was hoppin’.  That included the store manager, who was a complete stress case.  He was tight-faced, tight-lipped, and curt with customers and his team.  He wasn’t rude . . . he was just going through the motions.  And, as I noticed, so was everyone on his team.  No one smiled.  No one said “please” or “thank-you.”  Everyone was just moving people through the line with as little personality as possible.  You’ve heard it before:  “I can help the next person.”  Sub-text:  “I can help the next person, but I don’t really want to.”

The scene reminded me of some great leadership development content I learned from the Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group years ago.  I’ve used a lot over the years, and it never gets old.  It’s called “The Shadow of a Leader.”  The idea is that leaders shape their cultures through a powerful combination of message aligned with action.  Through actions, attitudes and messages, they cast a shadow that influences everyone around them.  The shadow a leader casts may be strong and inspiring, or it may be weak and dispiriting, but it always exists.  It is a reflection of everything a leader says and does. 

So, as I watched the FedEx Kinkos team, I noticed they were following their leader, doing as he did, matching his actions and attitude.  Without knowing it, he was setting a powerful example and casting a dispiriting shadow.  It’s that easy to do!  Leaders lead without knowing it.  All they have to do is be themselves, and walk their own talk.  That’s the beauty of leadership, and it’s the burden of leadership.  Your actions speak loudly, and someone is always watching.

Managing your shadow as a leader is a simple matter of awareness and intent.  Here’s a three-step process for better understanding your shadow:

  1. Identify your shadow.  How do your actions, attitudes and messages influence the culture?
  2. Develop a shadow improvement plan.  Once you’ve identified your current shadow, focus on your strengths and figure out how you can use them to improve your shadow.
  3. Share your shadow.  Talk about this concept with your team, and ask them to help keep you on track and casting the shadow that positively influences the work culture.

As Warren Bennis once said, “A leader doesn’t just get the message across, a leader is the message.”

In gratitude for a great lesson learned from my local FedEx Kinkos manager,


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Posted In: Leadership, Organizational Culture
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