Best Way To Help? Be A Good Listener

*From the dusty archives…Man Putting Fingers in Ears

I overheard an exchange between a mother and young child at a store the other day.  The child was trying to communicate with the mom and the mom said, “The best way to help is be a good listener.”  The child began to talk and the mom quickly and ferociously cut her off and said in a sharp, condescending voice, “Oh, you’re already not being a good listener!  The best way to help is to be a good listener.”  This went back and forth for several minutes with both the mom and the daughter becoming louder and more firm in their response.  Finally, the daughter gave up.  You know what?  No one won.

That’s right.  In her zeal to teach her child that the best way to help is by being a good listener, she completely missed the fact that she was NOT LISTENING.  Now, I’m not the perfect mom all the time, just about 50% of the time.  Seriously, I know that little ones can try your patience.  But the point is that we spend so much time trying to teach someone else what is “right” that we don’t do it ourselves.  It’s no different in the workplace.

How many times do we see managers telling an employee the same thing over and over only to have the employee do something completely different?  How many employees have to come to HR to complain that their manager never listens to them?  Then, HR has to try to give recommendations on how to bridge the gap in that conversation.  I’d say it’s almost a daily routine.  What we need to do is tell managers to start talking less and listen more.

If an employee is not doing something “right”, instead of telling him that the manager could say, “Hey, I see how you’re doing XYZ.  Tell me how that is working for you.”- This allows the employee a chance to say why they do something a certain way, aka have their voice heard.  Then, the manager can follow up with something like, “That seems like a good reason.  Have you ever thought of doing XYZ to enhance that?”  Now you’re in a dialogue and the employee is far more likely to embrace the suggestion.

By taking time to really listen to an employee you will achieve better results in terms of:

  • Engagement- Employees who have their voice heard and then see those ideas validated will have higher levels of engagement with you and the department.
  • Teaching and Coaching- When you listen to the employee, you have a greater chance that you can teach them why something is important to handle in a certain way.  They will be more accepting of process changes, procedure changes, or other change happening in the department.  This is also the way to give them opportunity to voice their concerns and you the opportunity to coach them through it.
  • Learning- Even the highest level executives are continuous learners.  By taking that extra time to listen to an employee, you will definitely learn something.  It will spark new ideas, new ways to communicate, help you develop your own skill as a leader, and more.

So, the next time you are coaching your leaders, make sure they understand that by pausing to listen to the employees, they will reap the rewards.  What other techniques do you use to convince leaders that listening is one of the most valuable tools they have?  Share it in the comments.

4 Ways To Achieve Growth: Messy and Painful

“Growth is messy and painful.” ~ William Tincup

Every day I focus on trying to do things the right way, for the right reason.  The goal is to succeed each and every time on projects, in handling issues, or creating new and innovative ideas.  I get frustrated when I hear about people who want to celebrate losing; people who believe that mistakes are not only worth sharing but should be shouted from the rooftop.  Last week I learned that while I may never want to publicly celebrate mistakes, I certainly don’t give myself time, nor permission, to make them.  That is a shame because without failing big sometimes, people never learn and grow.

Achieving Growth

I spent some time with a friend last week and he said something that stuck with me.  He said that growing is messy and painful.  What does that mean?  Well, whenever things are going well, you’re not being stretched.  It feels great in the moment to be in control and have things fall into place.  In fact, it’s that state that most people strive for.  The problem is that no one ever learns from doing everything well.  We learn when we go through struggle, practice and yes, mistakes. 

  • Don’t play it safe all the time-  Next time you’re in a situation where you know you disagree with the way the status quo is heading, speak up.  Disagree.  Make it known that you have an opinion that is not the “norm”.
  • Step up to lead something you don’t know much about-  Some of my best learning came when I took a chance and led projects that I had never led before.  It feels scary and at times, like your hair is on fire, but what a great way to push yourself!
  • Attend meetings outside your area of expertise– This is a great way to get creative juices flowing.  When you hear how a department in another part of your company approaches situations and challenges, you’ll find ways to take that learning back to your own department.  It will be messy because it won’t fit precisely, but it will push you (and your team) to think differently.
  • Get honest-  Find a handful of people you can trust to be completely candid with you.  First, this will feel risky because  you are sharing parts of you with them that you usually keep private (your fears, your losses, etc.).  The growth comes from the candor with which they share how you can improve.  It may hurt.  It may seem harsh.  In the end, you’ll come out ahead.

What techniques do you use to grow and develop?  Share them in the comments.

How To Train Your Team On Zero Budget

One thing I am routinely told by leaders of various levels is that they do not have the budget in their organization to train their team members.  This statement comes from leaders who work at companies of various sizes and from several industries.  With the economic outlook unstable, many organizations are still not able to focus significant dollars on training.  What we do know is that if employees are not offered continuing development, they will not:

  • feel valued
  • be able to provide creative, innovative results
  • grow their skills so they can progress to the next level in the organization

In fact, companies who do not offer training opportunities often find that they have significant retention issues.

If you are a leader and have little to no training budget, there are ways to offer development to your team members by taking advantage of free,  online resources.  Here are some ideas of how to offer development with zero budget:

  • Leader as a trainer-  As the leader of the team, your plate is likely quite full.  However, if you can commit to routinely carve out time so that you personally train your team, they will respond positively to your commitment.  For me, this may mean training my team on coaching skills, communication, writing, presentation skills or even “how to” sessions on human resources and social media platforms.
  • Conference session replays–  Most industries have numerous conferences and today, these conferences are beginning to offer  either live session streaming (for free) or recorded replays of conference sessions.  One tactic I use is to ask each team member to watch a different session then report back to the rest of the team at an upcoming meeting with information on the session and the key learning points.  If it seems valuable to the larger group, it can than easily be added to each person’s development plan.
  • Podcasts-  With sites like and other online podcast resources it is easy to find industry-related podcasts that take thirty minutes to an hour.  Since many employees listen to music at work, why not encourage them to listen to a podcast then come together as a team for a brief discussion on the topic?  It’s a great way for them to share ideas and opinions and learn from each other and you.
  • Articles-  Information abounds on the internet, so take advantage.   Find several articles and assign one to each employee.  Give them a week to read the article and come up with some talking points for the team to discuss.  Again, it opens up discussion and sharing of ideas.
  • Book Reviews–  Possibly the most “old school” approach to personal training, but still entirely effective if used properly.  Most leaders have a bookshelf full of leadership and business books.  Why not ask each team member to take one and summarize the key learning points of the book?  That team member can then become a discussion leader on that book topic at an upcoming team meeting.

Team learning is about opening people up to talking about issues and how to find new approaches.  By giving the nudge on different ways to find current information, you will encourage individual and team development and even with little or no budget,  you and the organization will reap the benefits of better retention and more energized, educated staff.

What tactics do you use with your team?

Training Programs: Two Sides of the Same Coin
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I heard a story on CNN’s American Morning about bullying.  There is a school program called Sociable Kidz that several schools are beginning to embrace.  This program, designed by two teachers, will focus on the child who is the victim of bullying and teach that child skills to improve his or her confidence and self-esteem.  It also gives them techniques to respond to the bully when a situation arises.  While all this sounds good, what was missing for me in the CNN story was what the schools are doing to address the child who IS the bully.  Are they offering skills training for them?  Do they just punish without correcting the behavior?  Do they get rid of the child by expulsion?

Training to combat a specific problem or situation in the workplace should be no different.  There needs to be skill development for employees on both sides of the issue.  For example, if you are providing training to managers on how to give feedback, it would make sense to give training to staff on how to receive feedback.  But, we all know that does not happen in most organizations.  Feedback is a one-way street that a manager walks down.  It shouldn’t be that way, but tends to be.  A balanced training program should address both sides of the skill deficiency or issue in order to really help provide a change in behaviors, thus a change in culture.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  How has training been handled in organizations you’ve been part of?  Ever have one that addresses both side of the training coin?

Walk A Mile In My Shoes: Using Robotic Technology To Understand Work Behavior

I recently read a fascinating article about an experiment at MIT’s Agelab.  Agelab researchers have created technology in a suit that uses robotic technology to take able bodied individuals and put them into a simulated situation where they have limited mobility, limited eyesight, etc.  They are hoping that by having younger individuals wear the suit while trying to perform “normal” day-to-day activities, the individual will experience the challenges an older person does with completing physical tasks.

Seeing the capabilities of the suit made me wonder, could MIT’s Agelab help generation X or Y understand the aging work population and their work behaviors?  From a physical standpoint, I think it could.  Jobs that involve a great deal of physicality can certainly be simulated by technology like this.  What would be even more interesting to me would be a way to simulate the mental challenges a leader faces, and those people in leadership roles tend to have been in the workforce longer.

Much like a simulator for pilots, creating a simulated work experience for leadership roles could actually help train and prepare more junior staff for roles they are working toward.  For example, it would give the staff insight into areas they need to increase skill and knowledge like understanding financial statements, feeling the pressure of multiple high-level demands from the c-suite, negotiating contracts and making critical hiring and termination decisions.

If you could create an ideal simulator for a skill, ability or task that a leader faces, what would you add to the simulated experience that you wish you had known when you were more junior in your career?

Human Predators & Personal Safety While Walking or Jogging

Today’s guest post comes from Larry Kaminer, President of The Personal Safety Training Group. Several times a year he provides readers of this blog with practical safety advice.  Now that it’s becoming dark earlier, he wanted to share some safety tips for us that relate to being aware of our surroundings, especially in the dark.  Please check out his company for your safety training needs.  You can also find him on Twitter @safetysecurity.

The Animal Kingdom

Think back to the documentary on television where the lioness is hunting.  She stalks a herd of deer as they approach a water hole.  She waits in the same place because she knows that the deer, being highly predictable, will come by at the same time every day. They must do so to drink.

As she moves in, she stays well hidden and singles out her target; usually the very young or very old, the sick member of the herd or the animal least aware of its surroundings! They are easy or “soft targets”. The inattentive animal doesn’t look up from grazing and hardly scans its surroundings. This is the animal that is also not listening and clearly does not know what is going on behind it. The lioness is much attuned to the body language of the inattentive. So are human predators!

If she is not hunting under her preferred cover of darkness, she will try to have the sun behind her so the herd is blinded making her even more difficult to see. She moves in as close as she can and then launchers her attack from behind, her victim’s blind spot.  If possible she will run her prey toward a terrain feature such as a steep embankment to be sure she channels it in the direction of her choosing. By the time her victim realizes what is going on its too late and the attack is complete.

If her intended prey starts to pay more attention to its surroundings and moves back into the middle of the herd where it will find safety in numbers, the lioness will wait, pass over what has now become a “hard target” and look again for an easy mark. This is called the victim selection process and is not unlike the process human predators go through. Victims are chosen, the process is not random and the attack plan well thought out.

Human predators operate in much the same way. Their ideal target too exhibits the three elements that make them “a victim looking for a place to happen”;  lack of awareness of surroundings, predictability of schedule, and placing themselves alone in an isolated environment.

Some Tips and Safety Strategies to Consider now that it is Getting Darker Earlier

  • If you run with one or two buddies, you are safer and have made those isolated areas less of a threat.  This is even more important in early morning and evening low light hours.
  • If you walk or run on different trails on different days at slightly different times with you buddy team you have exponentially hardened your target profile. Remember, predictability is one of your enemies.
  • Hearing is your parallel primary protective special sense. It’s on par with vision, so leave the head phones at home. People who have had close calls often tell us they heard someone coming up behind them before they saw them, giving them time to react.
  • If you must run alone, choose busier well light streets and run FACING traffic, making it difficult for a vehicle to pull along side. Also let someone know your route and the time you expect to return.
  • Always know where your “safe havens” are located. This could be a busy coffee shop or retail area, a well light parking lot or even a knowing at which homes along the route people are home.
  • Always bring your cell phone with you and be sure to keep track of any areas where there is weak or no signal.  Place it in a small Ziploc bag if you are worried about moisture.
  • If you carry pepper spray, carry it in your hand with a wrap band. It will only be of help to you if you can bring it to bear and discharge in an instant. Buy fogger sprayers NOT stream dispensers!
  • One of the best “things” you can bring on a run or walk is a dog. Regardless of size, they are good early warning systems and are just another layer of complications for a would be assailant.
  • If it’s cold wear earmuffs, NOT a hoodie which robs you of peripheral vision. Hoodies can also be grabbed and used as a “handle” by which to control you.
  • Remember that the most important area to be aware of is the blind spot behind you. The place ambush or blitz attacks are launched from.
  • Carrying a small personal alarm is preferred by some as is a small very high intensity flashlight that can temporarily blind an assailant and illuminate those dark areas that offer great hiding places.  These items can be easily clipped onto your waistband which is where your cell phone should be too.

Social Media and your Personal Safety

  • Do not plan runs or announce rendezvous points to your exercise buddies  via any social media or networking platform
  • If you want to post about a pleasant exercise outing, do so after the fact and keep the details, especially the route and location very vague.

 The Danger of Complacency

At this very moment and as you read this would be criminals or predators are not your primary enemy. Complacency is.  Do not fall into a false sense of security telling yourself “We live in a good area” or “Nothing bad ever happens here”.  Anything can happen anywhere. Don’t take chances. Implement your strategy and engage it with discipline. Be smart. Be safe and stay healthy!!

Do-It-Yourself Tools for Leaders

Inspiration on how to be a better leader can come from anywhere.

I recently came across an interesting tool called D.I.Y Design It Yourself Deck by editors Alissa Faden and Ellen Lupton.  It caught my eye because it is a small box chock-full of cards with instructions on projects you can do yourself.  What I liked the most is the quality of the card stock and the images on each card.  It’s a vibrant look at how to use our visual and tactile senses to teach or learn.

Thinking about how our day-to-day world is changing with technology and how people spend time now thinking of ways to unplug gives me ideas of how to use different tools.  As a strong proponent of technology, even I can appreciate that there are times when it creates a mental overload of stimuli and I long for a more analog experience.  There is still value in holding paper in your hand or writing with a pencil or pen instead of typing on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Using the idea of a do-it-yourself deck, I’d love to create a tool for leaders so they could pull out a card, a recipe of sorts, to find ideas on how to handle situations that arise.  Benefits of do-it-yourself cards for leaders:

  • Precision–  The information would need to be presented in a concise form due to space constraints.  There is no shortage of leadership information out in the world, often in book form.  Cards like these would force brevity, thus increase usefulness in the moment.
  • Size–  A small deck of cards is a good desk tool as well as being portable.
  • Versatility–  Cards can cover a wide array of topics that leaders face in managing their teams or departments.

I plan to play with this idea of creating a desk tool for leaders that they can pull out when they need a non-technical approach to human interaction.  What do you think?  Do you have any ideas of how to incorporate more simplistic presentation of traditional management skills?  Share with me in the comments…

Experiential Learning: Apollo

I want to talk about your role in developing yourself.   Not just developing yourself as a business leader, but fostering skills that can help you throughout your daily life.

As a working professional, I know that both time and dollars are limited.  That’s why it’s so important to find local courses, conferences, and other learning opportunities that are a good use of both your time and your money.  As I’ve written before, training comes in many forms and for me, the type with the most impact is experiential learning.  One I personally believe in and participate in are the Conference Board’s Leadership Experiences.

The Leadership Experiences are not conferences.  They are an opportunity to immerse yourself in a historical situation and live and breathe the event as it happened.  It’s your chance to understand WHY decisions were made at the time and how the leaders reached those decisions.  After participating in the Leadership Experience at Gettysburg last summer, I came home and described it as life-changing.

The lessons I learned were easily transferrable to my interactions with executives, with colleagues, and will employees.  It made me look at the way that my own leaders make decisions and have a better understanding of how they do that based on limited information at times.  Most importantly, I saw first hand what happens when a decision is made and factors change. How leaders handle change is critical to how often they succeed.

The newest opportunity for an experience like this is the Apollo Leadership Experience:

Apply the business lessons of the race to the moon to your own professional goals. This new program draws on the leadership lessons of the manned space flight effort over the 10-year period of The Apollo Program. Participants delve into leadership practices, confronting the challenges of innovation and maintaining global advantage, team leadership, and crisis and risk management. The program takes place on site at the Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and will also explore managing complex organizations and creating excellence in execution.

The opportunity takes place in Houston, TX and is available October 26- 28.  Click here for more information and to register.  I’d love to see you there!

For further information and registration, please contact Jeff Jackson  212-339-0380;