Responding to Mistakes

Everyone reacts differently to mistakes. Some have no fear and admit them. Some learn from them and move on. Others regurgitate the facts to place blame on others. Ignoring your mistakes can have a detrimental effect on client and/or co-worker relationships. It’s a sure-fire way to derail your career now and can prevent future opportunities. The next time you make a mistake, or your team fails to fulfill a project’s intended goals on-time or within budget, resist the temptation to find excuses and blame others or situations.

What worked? What didn’t work? Take time to objectively review the elements of the project. Start with objective (factual) items that did work. There will always be some. Then, focus on objective items that did not work. (Objective facts can usually be quantified.) Come up with resolutions with your team. Then, present these results to your boss for  approval to resolve and move forward.

Talk it out with boss or coach. Sometimes we make things mean more than they do. Other times we may be obtuse and not accept the seriousness of our words or actions. Feeling bad does not erase the impact of the mistake. But failing to resolve it and hoping it will go away can be detrimental to your future with the company.  It’s better to talk it out with someone who has more experience and will provide learning opportunities. Resist starting a gossip mill in an attempt to place the blame elsewhere. Not only will doing this limit your ability to positively impact the concerns, you will loose your credibility as a leader.  

Stop mind-reading. Ask! Do not assume you know what others think. Gather their feedback. Allow them to vent, appropriately, if warranted. Actively listen so they will share their experience of the impact on them, or their company. Apologize first, then explain your own actions and intentions. Offer an equitable resolution. Give them time to think about it and set a time to come back to the discussion. The key? Keep communication lines open. Don’t stop talking until the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction, whenever possible. Failure to resolve the mistake sadly means this type of issue will occur again and again, until the lesson has been learned.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

Do you silently yell to be heard?

Many executives, managers, bosses and employees have been known to loudly yell from time to time. However, when yelling or shouting is the norm it can damage customer (internal and external) relationships irrevocably. This usually happens when the person has found yelling to work in the past and has no other objective model of how to effectively communicate. Most workers have experienced loud yelling. However, silent yelling can be more damaging.

Vanity is not a virtue. Frequent excuses about your inability to hear will inevitably curtail people from sharing critical news with you. If you have trouble physically hearing others, stop blaming them and set your ego aside. Get a hearing aid. Headsets can help too.

The silent impact. Cyber-space communication is becoming the norm. Unfortunately, email and other forms of electronic chatter can be easily misunderstood. They do not have the benefit of facial expression or voice inflection. Falsely believing it saves time, people have developed a bad habit of sending emails or text messages instead of talking it out with their employees, bosses or co-workers. Wait 24 hours to respond to any upsetting internet communiqué, thus allowing any misperceptions to de-escalate. Better yet! Talk it out face-to-face. Remember, most people only have a sixth grade reading (and writing) level.

Take responsibility. Some busy professionals can easily become upset, while others have too long a patience cycle. Both can be very detrimental when patience is lost! If this is the norm, talk with a therapist for emotional support. Seek objective support from your coach, or business advisor. Limit any venting to a selective couple of people. Please, be sure to ask permission to be candid; limit the time you spend venting. Disregard your ego’s need to exert undue pressure on others to support your view of the facts. Steamrolling only causes explosions, now and in the future. Formulate a win-win plan. When talking it out face-to-face, focus on shared goals and truly hearing their perceptions. If it’s a heated debate, include your boss in the discussions. All together, develop a new plan of action. Keep talking until it is resolved. Only rely upon conference calls as a second best alternative.

Don’t kill the messenger. When you react negatively to upsetting news, it can create defensiveness. You stop receiving critical business or office information from others. Making emotionally charged decisions in retaliation can backfire, making the situation worse (Think, “You’re fired!”). Employees will simply look the other way, or acquiesce, even when they know your mandated resolution won’t work. Or, hire an employment attorney. If you need to vent, ask permission first. It’s a great time to call your coach or business advisor. Learn to take time to collect your thoughts. Ask questions calmly. Listen to others’ replies objectively. Incorporate their ideas whenever possible.

Disagreements. In situations where there appears to be no agreement, it’s far more effective to say:  “It seems like we disagree about that.” Why? It’s a fact. Trying to out-talk them OR browbeat them into your point of view isn’t going to work. Raising your voice will be even less effective. The silent treatment can be deadly to ongoing relationships because they know you have refused to listen to their points of view. Often this behavior speaks loudly, and can be interpreted to mean you are less than professional in how your handle yourself and your business. Listen, learn and look for areas of agreement. Build upon these for a win-win solution.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

Do you provide unwanted advice?

First, realize this: people don’t really want advice. There is a false perception that if you don’t already know the answer, it’s not important! 

Many people – bosses and leaders, men and women -love to give advice. They love to fix things. Too often they do this without investigating the core issue. If the advice offered is based upon a misperception, the resolution or good feeling doesn’t last very long! When your employees disguise their requests as asking for advice, it’s simply a device to get themselves or their team off the hook. If you do not recognize these requests as ploys, it will hurt the same people in the near future when yet another similar – but bigger – issue arises. 

What Worked/Didn’t? Train yourself – and your employees – to look objectively at any issue. Describe what worked or benefitted the customer or project. It’s a great place to start. Follow up with objectivity looking at the specifics of what didn’t work. From this vantage point it’s easier to ascertain learning opportunities and/or changes required to move forward and resolve issues. 

Ain’t It Awful Trap. It’s a vicious cycle we fall into too many times. No one wants advice when operating in this modality. Most human beings love others’ drama since it takes their minds off their own job concerns. While it may the PC thing to do (e.g., blame game and finger-pointing), it rarely fosters opportunities to grow the project, resolve the client issue effectively, or help someone learn for future challenges. Remember, as their boss or coach, you are either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Listen Empathetically. Often it’s hard to listen to people’s upsets when logically they don’t make any sense. Remember, they are reliving past upsets that have not yet been resolved. When an employee, co-worker or customer needs to talk, listen without providing advice. Most times they simply need to vent. Without the venting process any offered resolution will be unheard. Limit the venting process. Ask permission to provide advice. Limit the ideas you provide to two.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

Waiting for the leadership fast track?

You may be waiting in vain. If you’re expecting formal authority, a title, compensation, perk or some other official designation, you probably have a VERY long wait. Tomorrow’s leaders step up and make positive differences today. They bypass others because they do not wait until they’ve gathered the credentials, experience, education, etc. They prove their ability first, and then are awarded by promotions and financial compensation.

Perception is reality. Up and coming leaders take the initiative. They make suggestions and act upon them, regardless of their position. They make it easy for others to work with them by creating win-win outcomes. If they don’t have the experience, they go get it now by learning from others (e.g., working with a mentor, or hiring a coach). They use scientifically validated assessments to clarify their strengths and operate accordingly. They are seen by others as the person to count on to get projects completed or issues resolved.

Network for success. What’s the fastest way to be recognized as someone with leadership potential within your own company? Join outside community, trade or industry associations. Get involved with committees or take a position on the board of directors. Show up at meetings. Learn how to influence others by using a balance of factual and people skills. Don’t rely solely upon your passion as the selling point for your ideas. This shows management and workers you know how to work effectively with others.

Professional savvy. Adopt the motto: Listen and learn! Use appropriate manners. “Please” and “Thank You” help in any situation. Be open to building upon others’ ideas to create sustainable results. Respect others and their experiences to help you gain credibility quickly. Learn to work with and through others to achieve an outcome everyone can live with, even if there is not 100% agreement. But beware of bypassing your boss or team members when you don’t agree – that’s the fastest express to career derailment! Leadership success is achieved more upon your people savvy than your technical expertise.

(c)Jeannette Seibly, 2011

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Are your best employees difficult to work with?

Difficult employees can be very competent, technically. Or, they might have great people-savvy but limited technical abilities. Due to this global market we operate within, they may have entirely different definitions of integrity, ethics, and other core values. They provide challenges to you as the boss.  Either they do not have a well-balanced approach to issue resolution, or worse, they refuse to develop these abilities. Although they may lack the interest to acquire these skills, they end up blaming you when problems arise! As the leader, you must be proactive. It may save your job.

Use scientifically validated assessments. Using an assessment tool will facilitate a better understanding of each person’s thinking style, core behaviors and occupational interests.  It will provide a bigger picture of their personality traits in comparison to the rest of the working population, which provides them with a better understanding of why they may have trouble working with different types of people. To receive the biggest ROI, have all your employees together when debriefing the results.

Require appropriate training.  Investing in areas where these employees require a stronger skill set may make all the difference. Enable highly technical people to develop the appropriate people skills. Develop project management skills for employees who have great people skills but show little interest or ability to manage processes and details. Remember to include training for setting goals and achieving results on-time and within budget. Ethics training for all employees is a great tool to get everyone on the same page.

Exploit strengths. If your employees are good either with the details or the bigger picture, have them review a current project with you and together determine why it is stalled or not working well. Listen for the gold; ask questions. See if these individuals can uncover the issue(s) themselves. Even if they have been the biggest nay-sayer, this process will bolster their own buy-in to the project.

Keep attitude positive. Too often we place blame on difficult employees and hold them responsible for our own negative attitude towards them. Unfortunately, you foster dissension that may spread to other employees when you do. Instead of creating this hostile working environment, teach your employees how to value others’ contributions, regardless of how they share their ideas  Be a better boss by conveying how to do this through your example. Your ROI will be evident as you watch your employees develop stronger interpersonal skills and build a cohesive team.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

Leadership Maturity

Honestly ask yourself:

Are you able to discuss others’ opinions without being defensive?

Do you know how to take an idea or concept and make it profitable?

Do you laugh at appropriate jokes without taking it personally, even if it’s about you?

Do you have the ability to see the bigger picture and patience to rephrase it into bite-size pieces so that others can get on the same page?

Can you make decisions that balance both the facts and the human interests?

If you answered yes to these questions, good for you! You are on the right track as a leader. The higher up the corporate ladder we climb the more our effective leadership relies upon interpersonal skills such as these and less about technical expertise.

But often as leaders, we take ourselves too seriously. We are unable to build upon ideas or create a consensus that works. We openly disparage others when they disagree with us. We exclude people with broader experience instead of learning from them, and defend our limited experience in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. This is career limiting behavior for any leader!

Persuasive Listening. To truly listen, we must silence our internal chatterbox and refrain from thinking about our response when others are talking. We will hear similarity in arguments even when it appears we are on a different side of the issue. Good leadership skills – like active listening – provide new solutions that might not be readily apparent.

Be open to differing opinions. We can make better decisions for our companies and organizations when we openly hear what others have to say. But if we become defensive or belittle differing perspectives, we make less than adequate decisions, fail to address the bigger picture or miss details for implementation entirely.  We create a negative reputation for ourselves and our organizations. Disparaging others reflects more negatively upon the speaker than the person being belittled!

Be a team player. Many leaders don’t make good team players. They may play at being part of the group; however, they are more interested in how it applies or affects them personally.  Team has evolved into a broader definition this decade: It’s getting everyone on the same page and moving forward together. It’s not about everyone thinking the same thing or using the same signals or jargon!  It’s about learning to appreciate others and elicit the best in them, as they are. Learn this masterful skill and be seen as a leader to follow!

(c)Jeannette Seibly, 2011