Listen Long

Today’s Lesson: Be generous with your ears.

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I am always surprised by the amount of time and attention my boss gives to his team members. He is a very busy and ambitious successful business owner, yet he seems to overflow with patience and curiosity. When I sit with him, I can not help but be aware of how much our chit-chat is costing him.

While we share stories about our weekend or our thoughts on leadership, I can almost hear a clock ticking in my head because I know I am keeping him from dealing with people or issues that affect the multi-million dollar enterprise he is responsible for running.

Yet, I always appreciate his graciousness and generosity with his time. I value it and I always walk away having learned something. As a leader, I think I have usually been good with giving my best people my time but I have also been guilty of cutting a conversation short so I could complete an assignment on time (or because the conversation had become circular).

I am reminded that a leader’s time is more valuable to his or her team than nearly anything else. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do as a leader is to just sit and talk with people (and spend more time listening than speaking).

 

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (5 of 5)

A friend asks: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Yep. I have 5!

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Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out but you are not sure how without the situation backfiring.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but here are five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4.)) 

 

5 (of 5). Ask dumb questions. A “dumb” question is what I refer to as “a blatantly obvious question to which you already know the answer“. Pretend you have no idea why your boss is asking whatever he is asking and that you are somehow missing the point. Ask the dumbest question you can think of that will innocently challenge his proposal (probably something like, “Okay, but may I ask why?” or “Help me understand why we are… ” And consider following up with, “Okay, what can I do to help?”

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes asking dumb questions leads to great insights on both sides of the conversation.

I hope this series helped you find ways to politically and tactfully challenge the ideas you think might not lead to the best outcomes. If you want to keep the conversation going, share a story, or offer a tip of your own, be sure to comment on my FaceBook or Tumblr page, or via Twitter. Also, if you found value in the posts, be sure to share them or subscribe to the blog. Thanks for reading and sharing!

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (4 of 5)

Reader question: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Why, yes. In fact, we have 5!

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Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out (and your peers are hoping you will) but you are not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, and part 3.)) 

4 (of 5). Use humor. Not agreeing with your boss is almost always more palatable if you can have her laughing while disagreeing with her. Most people love to laugh and are more amenable to suggestions if they are at ease in a good mood. Here is a super secret pro tip I stole from James Altucher: if you know you are going to confront your boss tomorrow, spend today listening to comedians or watching stand-up comedy.

Think about it. Stand-up comedians are professional speakers who challenge conventional ideas for a living and they do it in ways broad audiences accept (and even laugh about!). Before having a challenging conversation, watch stand-up acts. Pay attention to their movements, mannerisms, and vocal cadence. Notice the pauses and set-ups for punch lines. Don’t steal their act. Steal their actions.

This tip is also great as preparation for public speaking, interviews, most social gatherings (if you feel nervous about crowds), or pretty much any speaking engagement.

 

Today’s Lesson: Laugh it up before putting yourself on the spot. It puts both you and the other person at ease. Also, learn from the people who do what you need to do best.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a dumb tip that works magic.

 

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (3 of 5)

From a former colleague: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!

*****

I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business or frankly just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak out (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1 and part 2.))

3 (of 5). Understand your boss might not necessarily agree with the instructions he or she is giving you either. If your boss is generally a bright person yet he is asking you to do something that seems counter to his personality or typical leadership style, he might be following directions, too. A good manager never lets his direct reports distinguish from the Company’s viewpoint and his own (because that is a sure-fire way to disenfranchise employees and pit them against their employer, as well as make the boss seem ineffective and powerless). Or he might understand how the Company is looking at it because he has information you are not yet privy to. That info might change your mind but he may not be at liberty to share it yet.

In all my years leading teams, I have never seen a strategy rolled out without the Company’s best interest in mind. Companies never come up with ideas to sabotage themselves (not intentionally). Front line workers and middle managers do not always see the big, long-term picture. Unfortunately, middle managers are stuck between both standing behind the Company and standing up for the Employee–it is a tough, unfair spot but that is why the best people in the company are usually there.

 

Today’s Lesson: Companies and bosses, like all people (which is what companies and bosses are made of) sometimes have to learn from their mistakes before they can grow again. You can challenge every decision you think is bad but remember you might not have all the information and you can always try trusting your boss first…

Tomorrow, I will give you a super-secret tip that will help you stand up in front of any crowd!

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (2 of 5)

Question from a reader: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!

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((Read part 1.))

I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business, for my team, or frankly, just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak up (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to approach my boss without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that helped me keep the peace while challenging the status quo so far in my career:

2 (of 5). Keep your emotions out of it. When your boss asks you to do something you think is stupid or not in your best interest, probably two things are happening. The first is, your boss likely struck a nerve that makes you feel intimidated by the request or demand (which probably means it will lead to personal growth–something we all react to with initial resistance). The other thing that happens is it becomes an interruption to your emotional comfort zone, which means you are going to feel emotional about it. The problem with acting on your emotions is they are sometimes misplaced or out of proportion to the actual problem.

We sometimes become irrationally mad at inanimate objects that do not act differently than they have acted before (I am prone to be angry at my phone when it runs slowly–something it sometimes does yet I am always surprised and angered by until I reign in my emotions). When I react emotionally, I am giving away my power and authority to random chemicals and inciting the other person to do the same. Soon, any actual conversation has ended and we are both only trying to out-emotion each another (whoever seems angriest wins). The actual problem is never solved. The only resolution is the contest of emotions is over and ultimately my boss has the trump card on that anyway.

You can not control or dictate the emotions of someone else but the calmer and cooler you remain the more you signal the other person to do the same and the more power you gain in the conversation.

 

Today’s Lesson: Some people think power is loud and boisterous. Power is the opposite. It is the quiet, calm collection of thoughts and precision placement of words and influence. Before any storm, there is always the Calm.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what your boss can’t or won’t.

 

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (1 of 5)

Great question from a friend: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do… now. In fact, we will have 5 this week!

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I have definitely been there. My boss asks me to do something that either seems bad for business, bad for my team, or frankly, just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak up (and sometimes my peers are counting on me to speak up) but I have no idea how to approach my boss without the situation blowing up in my face.

I do not think there is a good “fits all” cookie-cutter answer for this because every boss is different and every working relationship is different, but I can offer five tips that have helped me keep the peace while still challenging the status quo. I can probably also offer 100 tips of how I learned NOT to approach bosses and challenge them, but here are 5 that have not bitten me back so far in my career:

1 (of 5). Start with a request for help (even if you do not actually need help). “I need your help with…” or “Help me understand why…” is a more effective way to start the conversation than directly confronting someone who has power over your employment. Starting with a request for help is better than starting with, “Well, I just don’t agree with that…”

Requesting help puts the burden on your shoulders as someone who wants to do the right thing but is maybe not understanding how, instead of putting your boss in a corner and forcing him to defend his character or actions. Put another way, “I need your help with…” translates to, “I don’t get why you are asking me to do this AND… I want to get it right.” On the other hand, “I don’t agree with…” translates to, “I don’t get why you are asking me to do this AND… I think I can do your job better than you can.”

 

Today’s Lesson: Sugar is a better way to attract flies than salt. Sweeten your challenge to an idea by becoming a partner (asking for help) instead of by becoming a combatant (which at the very least tarnishes your boss’ opinion of you and at worst can lead to the end of your employment).

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to prepare yourself for any tough conversation, including challenging your boss.

 

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What Makes You a Leader?

Who died and made you boss?

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The managers on our team and I have a round table discussion each week. The topics range from sales figures and strategies to what the word “premium” means (as in “premium retailer”). This week, the question was thrown out there, “How long did it take you to feel comfortable in your role as leader?”

I pointed out that when someone is promoted to manager, nothing magical happens. There is no one who knights you or gives you a ring endowed with magic manager powers. In fact, nothing looks different from the day before. Nor should it. “Manager” (or “leader”, “executive”, “director”, etc.) is not an elected position. That was the first piece of advice I was given when I landed my first management position. My boss at the time (and one of the best leaders I have ever worked with to this day) explained that “manager” is no better than “janitor” in an organization. It is just a different set of responsibilities.

This realization would impact the rest of my career and provide one of my greatest strengths as a leader (in my opinion)… I never look down on the people I employ. I treat them as partners in the organization, only with a different set of responsibilities from mine. I believe this single, simple principle has brought forth dynamic change anywhere I have worked with oversight of a team.

 

Today’s lesson: When you take on a leadership role, don’t let it go to your head. You were not elected to the position and you hold your authority by the grace of the people willing to let you lead them.

 

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Should You Be the Life of the Party?

Everything was going great until SHE arrived…

 

At a party, I noticed how adept the host was. She held herself confidently and expertly kept the room engaged and having fun for several hours. She clearly had a strong presence and was viewed as “the leader of the party”. Then someone else arrived on the scene and everything shifted.

The new person was a business mentor of the host and was clearly used to having authority. She literally and figuratively commanded the room’s attention. Many of the guests began fawning over the new arrival and the host of the event gracefully slipped into the background, letting her mentor steer the energy and focus of the party.

It was fascinating to watch the shift in power and I realize that I have seen it before… when my boss visits my stores, for example, there is a clear (to me) shift in the energy and focus of the store. There is also a clear shift from the store’s normal manager to me when I visit.

Today’s lesson is: recognize when you are playing to your strengths and the world is with you. Be aware, also, when you are taking the limelight from another leader and unintentionally undermining their authority. It is okay for you to lay back and let another less experienced leader practice leading. Also, if you are going to a party and realize you are in command of the room, be gracious enough to step back and let the host be the host, even if they are gracious enough not to call you a jerk.

 

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Today’s Lesson: “Overwhelmed” is an Adjective, Not a Verb [140929]

 

We all feel overwhelmed at times.

 

Work, family, and personal stress can mount and sometimes many events cascade and need resolution at the same time.

 

No matter how much you have planned for a day, no matter how much pressure you accept from others (and any pressure placed on you must be accepted by you), and no matter how stressed or powerful you feel… you can only accomplish in a single day whatever you accomplished that day.

 

Obviously, you can’t go back and add another three tasks to yesterday. If you do not get something done today, then it simply was unable to fit in today. You chose other priorities.

 

Never stress about what did not happen. You are always doing the thing that is most important to you in a given moment (or else you would be doing something else, right?).

 

The word “overwhelmed” is a verb in the dictionary, but I think that is wrong. “Overwhelmed” is not an action or a state of being. Rather, it is a descriptive word like “green” or “clever”. The distinction is important. By removing “overwhelmed” from your list of verbs (action words) and transferring it to your list of adjectives (descriptive words), you essentially transform it from an inherent state of being to a choice of descriptors.

 

“Overwhelmed” is a choice, not a fact. We demonstrate this all the time, too. If your boss tells you she needs the TPS report by 9 am, you might drop everything to do it, rearranging your priorities. You accept the pressure. If a stranger walks up to you and demands you wash her car, you might laugh at her. No pressure because you would never accept it as a priority in your life.

 

So… the next time you feel overwhelmed, drop the façade. You accepted the pressure. Either embrace the challenge or choose other priorities (of course, that also means you accept the consequences of your choices but that is a different lesson…).

 

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Who’s Your Buddy? [140928]

 

My boss said something last week that resonated with me today. He said his wife is his favorite drinking buddy and talked about how much fun they have together.

 

Today, as Nicole and I walked around town, she said, “I love the spending the day with you,” and we talked about how much fun we have being together.

 

I remember one of my first bosses taught me the same lesson many years ago. He asked if I was single, and, looking at an attractive young woman nearby, I quipped, “No… unfortunately.”

 

I was joking because I thought that’s what men do–you know, the “old ball and chain” and “being whipped”, and other men versus women jokes. He set me straight, though, with two simple sentences. “Huh,” he said, “I love my wife. She’s my best friend.”

 

From then, I never looked at relationships the same and, to my regret, I never told my boss about the impact he had on me and we lost touch over the years.

 

I love spending the day with Nicole and for sure, she is my best friend and favorite ally.

 

The obvious lesson here is to be with someone who adds value to your life and makes you feel good about who you are when you are together.

 

The deeper lesson, though, is to be aware of how you portray the people you love to others. Your jokes about your relationship are the reality of your relationship to people who have not met you both or do not know you both well.

 

Put another way, choose your words carefully. They create the tapestry of your life.

 


 


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