Posts

Jeff Marquez recently authored this piece on LinkedIn.

Message from the Middle Whether you are a CEO, president, owner, or Mid-Leader, the answers to these three questions reveal a lot about your leadership and organization. Unless you are the CEO, president, or owner, you are a Mid-Leader at some level. The answers reveal how you are taking care of your Mid-Leaders and how your boss is taking care of you.

I chuckle every time I meet a science-defying person on the sidewalk who hurriedly pulls up their mask when approaching and pushes it down after we pass. 

The probability of catching COVID while passing someone on the sidewalk is equivalent to being killed by a lightning strike. Over a year into the pandemic, this behavior reflects virtue-signaling rather than values. 

Virtue-signalling, like the facades on a Saddam Hussein palace, obscures the realities within. CEO hang-wringing apologia about diversity last year often resulted in no follow-through or change. Harvard business review articles show that most diversity training makes things worse. Still, CEOs throw money at the failed approaches. Plato described the behavior as “seeming over being.” 

You want values that work, and you want what you value to be working. 

Business values are behavioral norms that guide your profitable customer-centric solutions. Some are internal-facing, oriented on how people work together, while others are external-facing to expand your base of loyal customers. The true tests of your values are whether they are profitable for your business, your employees, and your customers. 

If your values set specific behavioral norms that lead to profitable customer-centric solutions, you are going to gain delightful customers and attract employees who will do what’s right, the right way, without you having to micro-manage. Vague values, on the other hand, are slogans that create cynicism. 

The vital step is to set business values that work. To help you do so, I’m hosting the “Never Suffer from Vague Values Again” do-in-ar with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1:00 pm US Central. 

You’ll come away from the event knowing precisely how to set values that are the right fit for your business.

Here’s the game-plan: 20 minutes of format with Jan; 20 minutes working on your values assignment; 20 minutes of advice and support from Jan and me.

To get the meeting link, please donate to your favorite charity and email me ([email protected]) to me know you’ve done so (I use the honor system, so your word is good enough).

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on LinkedIn.

Do you have a jerk, bully, or slacker among you? Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away their behaviors. Chances are the face of a person is coming to mind. What feelings does this person evoke–stress, negativity, anxiety, or anger? Their toxic behavior is harmful to your Team. So how do you deal with difficult or toxic people? Step one is to determine the observable actions and behavior of such an individual and the effects on your organization. Then what?

My colleague and friend Chris Kolenda teamed up with executive coach, international best-selling author, and former FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston, M.D., to share ways to deal with toxic behavior. It was pure gold.

Mark described a typical approach of a toxic person. They charm, frustrate, anger, and outrage you in that order. They use innuendos, and when you respond to it, they got you. Instead, look them in the eye and listen for a question. Then and only then do you respond. He says, “expect difficult people to be difficult, expect them to push or prod.” When they do, he advises holding a little bit of yourself back. They often do not have substance because they rely on provocation.

I have had the unfortunate experience of a toxic boss, and Mark described their behavior to a tee. Now, here you are in the throes of chaos, in the moment, face to face with the toxic one. What do you? Mark says pause and say to yourself, “opportunity for poise,” and do the following three steps:

1. Do not act on the first thought that comes to mind because it is your defense.

2. Do not act on the second thought that comes to mind because it is your attack or retaliation mode.

3. Act on the third because it is getting closer to solution mode.

I reflected on my experience and how I thought that the boss was just having a bad day. That day turned into weeks, then months. Toxic behavior can cause tremendous damage ranging from losing employees, decreased productivity, losing sleep, and impacts on family and loved ones. To prevent or minimize the damage, Mark offered the following ways to deal with a toxic or difficult boss, employee, or peer.

The Boss – If you have a difficult boss, use what Mark calls assertive humility. The tone is important, so a bit of emotion might be necessary.

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something that is affecting my results. When would be a good time to talk?” He or she is likely geared toward results, so they will be curious.

2. At the time, find something positive, flatter them. “Do you know how smart you are in ______ (goal setting, vision…pick something they do well)?” They will become disarmed.

3. Tell them you are bringing that up because you do not want them to distract others from the potential that the specific skill or talent can bring to the organization. In other words, their toxic or difficult behavior is distracting and preventing employees from seeing the boss’s skills and talent.

4. If necessary, follow up with, “You have a little control of what you say and how you say it, but you have no control of how it is heard. I and others have observed that you are triggering flashbacks in people. Those flashbacks are not always positive like an angry parent, and they can be tough for people to work around. Try to trigger flashbacks that are positive and remind others of a positive parent, coach, or mentor.” 

5. Finish it with, “You have no idea what kind of productivity you can get from people who, when you trigger them, either want to kill themselves or kill you. And you turn them into people who want to kill for you. It will blow your mind!”

Employee – If you have a difficult employee, again, use assertive humility with the appropriate tone. 

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something.”

2. Then say, “I’m really getting close to rooting against you, and it pains me. In fact, I do not want to work with anyone in this company I do not root for. The reason I’m getting close to rooting against you is because…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Let them know that you do not believe that is the person they really are, that they are better than that. “Let’s consider this a wake-up call conversation that could lead to another one because if I get to a point where I am rooting against you, we will have to make changes.”

Peer – If you have a difficult peer or colleague, use assertive humility with tone.

1. Tell them, “I am getting really close to avoiding you. And I do not want to avoid you. It is bad for our Team and for our cooperation.”

2. Say, “The reason I am close to wanting to avoid you, why I am having this conversation is…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them know that you do not believe that is who they are or that something must be triggering them. “Instead of taking on the behavior of avoiding you, and I am not the only one, I am bringing it to your attention.”

Finally, Mark has a formula worthy of remembering: aggression + principle=conviction and aggression – principle=hostility. “Conviction makes you strong; hostility makes you wild.” If you have toxic or difficult people among you, manage or prune away the behavior. Let these tactics help you confront them, and get you back to focusing on your powerful Team and sustainable success. 

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

When you are asked a question and are uncertain of the answer, frustrated, or are short on time, how do you respond? We all have short-circuited answers that allow us to respond and move on. Or so we think. These so-called default answers—“Let’s talk,” “We’ll have an answer soon,” “Don’t ask, just get it done”—can damage the trust between mid-leaders and Team members. While these default answers might allow a leader to provide a response quickly, they can unintentionally send signals of uncertainty and mistrust to the receiver. Put yourself on the receiving end of these defaults and consider the feelings and anxiety they may create:

1.     Let’s talk—uncertainty. Is this positive or negative? How should the employee prepare?

2.     We’ll have an answer soon—ambiguous. Is soon next week? A month?

3.     Don’t ask, just get it done—lack of confidence, trust, and value in the Team member.

Provide context and drive meaning to motivate people. Experts say it takes five hundred milliseconds, or half a second, for sensory information from the outside world to incorporate into conscious experience. So, we can still get an answer out quickly, but if we take a few extra seconds to be more transparent, we can change the meaning of these defaults and bring clarity, understanding, and commitment to our work. Consider how the three defaults from above, but now with context, change the feeling:

1.     Let’s talk about this at 4 p.m. I like your idea of involving the staff because it gives them ownership of the process—You specify why you like the idea, you set the expectation for time, and the employee feels valued.

2.     We have not decided yet but will by the end of the day on Wednesday—You are honest about not having decided and have set expectations so that the Team member has a clear idea of how to proceed.

3.     Here is what we thought when we made the decision—The Team member is going to have a better understanding of the conditions and will likely give their best work because they feel like they are part of the team, trusted, and valued.

Trust comes from words and actions, but it must be felt by others to resonate. Take the few extra seconds to be transparent, honest, and only promise what you can deliver. Think about the work environments this crisis has created with back-to-back virtual meetings and online overload and consider how these conditions impacted your organization. Think about what is before us as we enter the renewal and new opportunities. Do what you can to remove uncertainty. Invest those few seconds to help your people feel trust. 

Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by Great Britain’s royal family. I lived in London for three years and loved visiting Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I binge-watch The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II exemplifies The Operator, one of our four PROM Servant Leader Archetypes (TM). 

I’m dismayed by the ongoing tension with Harry and Meghan, which was on display in the Oprah interview. Bigotry and bullying are unacceptable, and I’m troubled by the stories the interview revealed. 

There’s only one celebrity in the royal family, so I’m also surprised that the young couple did not seem to get the memo. Some of their anxiety appears to come from a feeling of being underappreciated.

This last problem was entirely preventable.

The royal family seemed not to learn a vital lesson from the Princess Diana tragedy: when you treat people poorly, they are likely to return the favor. People who feel unvalued will vote with their feet out of your company or, in this case, out of the country. They won’t be ambassadors for your brand.

There were probably many good ways to give Harry and Meghan causes they could run with that boosted the royal family’s prestige and impact. Harry has been active with wounded veterans, and Meghan’s star power could have advanced that mission and other good ones without overshadowing the Queen.

This story provides some lessons on what to do with the talent on your team:

1. Put them in positions to use their PROM superpowers so that they succeed, and so does your business.

2. Use our weekly check-in questions to keep them focused on priorities, using their strengths, and getting the guidance and support they need. [Reply to me, and I’ll send you the checklist.]

3. Hold them accountable for doing the right things the right way. Every expectation should include what you want them to do, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the date you want the job done.  

4. Follow-up and be consistent about enforcing your standards. 

5. If you find that your team has toxic talent — highly capable people who undermine your company and their co-workers, then fire them. Toxic talent always costs more than the results they provide.

What action steps are you taking to let your subordinates know that you value their work and want to give them opportunities to contribute their best to your team’s success?

+++++

Last week I wrote that the UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials. 

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

My UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials.

Teachers can make a lifelong impact. Mrs. Brayman, Mr. Brayman, Mrs. Evanoff, Mrs. Schneider, Ms. Peterson brought out my best and helped me be who I am today.

Millions of kids, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, have missed the opportunity this past year. The teachers have done their best. Many public school teachers’ unions have kept them out of the schools and away from kids who need them most. The Milwaukee public schools are still not doing ANY in-person classes.

I’m fascinated by how “the science” works differently in private and public schools. My niece and nephew in San Diego have been in person for almost the entire year, and everyone’s been fine. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s no evidence of schools being superspreaders.

Data-denying teachers union officials, however, have fought tooth and nail to keep schools shuttered. The effects on kids who’ve missed a year of school will be long-lasting.

There are some good lessons here for small businesses. As the massive economic renewal gets underway, you’ll want to avoid un-heroes because they are subtraction-by-addition productivity and morale bandits.

1. Say no to selfish talent. A team or unit leader who cares only for their fiefdom will damage your team. I’m sure teachers union officials think they are protecting their dues-paying members, but they’ve forgotten about the common good. My mentor, Alan Weiss, pointed out that attorneys are officers of the court and advocates for their clients. The justice system breaks down when lawyers neglect one of these responsibilities. The same goes for your subordinate leaders.

2. Mind the customer. Had teachers union officials cared about kids and parents — the real customers of schools — they would have fought to get schools open safely instead of throwing up roadblocks. Grocery stores stayed open by putting common-sense measures in place to keep employees and customers safe. Single-issue advocates provide self-interested advice that’s good for their narrow interests but most likely damaging to your community.  

3. Beware of perverse incentives. What you measure creates workplace behaviors, so be careful to avoid metrics and awards that discourage teamwork. Too many teachers union officials felt accountable to dues-paying members and not to the community. Use one-on-one check-ins and meetings to have your senior leaders frame their work in terms of advancing company goals and objectives.

Say no to selfish talent, keep the customer in mind, and avoid perverse incentives so that you can make sure un-heroes don’t make their way onto your team.

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

Winterization is the technical term for preparing your home, car, business, or person for extreme cold weather.

My Norwegian friends tell me that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Winterization is a set of preventative actions you take so that your pipes don’t burst, your engine doesn’t seize, and you don’t get frostbite.

Corrective and adaptive actions are measures you take when these problems occur. 

You replace the pipes (corrective), repair the damage to your home (adaptive), replace the engine (corrective), or get surgery for a damaged limb (adaptive).

Preventative action is always less expensive than corrective or adaptive action.

Don’t be distracted by the blame-game as Texas politicians and energy officials point fingers. 

The failure to winterize facilities and ensure a reliable power baseload has resulted in a deadly and expensive nightmare for Texans.

You can’t control the weather, pandemics, or many other factors that affect your business.

You can control whether or not you invest in sensible preventative action.

Think of preventative actions in three categories:

Leadership: Investing in your people (and board of directors) so that they make good decisions and inspire people to contribute their best.

Culture: Strengthening your team’s operating system of values and expectations – improving how you work together and serve your customers. 

Strategy: Governing your organization’s purpose and direction and executing a solid game-plan to reach your goals.

Ten years ago, Texas had an energy freeze like it’s experiencing today. 

They failed to take preventative actions afterward.

What preventative actions will you take to protect your business?

Diversity and Inclusion

You would have to be an idiot not to take diversity and inclusion seriously.

Study after study shows the economic power of diversity.

A diverse, high-performing team is more productive, your leaders make better decisions, and you avoid the drama that makes for a toxic workplace.

The return on investment is such a no-brainer that companies spend millions each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.

The likelihood that these programs deliver diverse AND high-performing teams, though, is too limited.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows that companies are doing well in hiring diverse talent, but not in promoting them.

The first management rung seems to be the hardest to climb.

What’s happening?

Systemic bigotry is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that companies set their employees up for failure when they fail to align work with people’s natural inclinations.

When your hiring focuses mostly on diversity-that-you-can-see, you heighten the risk of putting the round peg in the square hole.

You know the results: heightened frustration, less productivity, and faster burnout.

People who report using their natural inclinations – their superpowers – each day are two-to-three times more productive than those who do not.

Using your superpowers each day means higher engagement, better performance, and less frustration and burnout.

Aligning work with natural inclinations is the best way to set up your employees for success so that you are more likely to retain and promote them.

We’ve developed a straightforward and free tool that you can use to promote diversity of natural strengths and make your leaders successful.

Servant leaders come in four broad archetypes: Pioneers (innovators), Reconcilers (team-builders), Operators (implementers), and Mavericks (game-changers).

Your subordinates are more likely to thrive when you put them in positions aligned with their superpowers.

You will be a better mentor when you help each person be the best version of themselves rather than sub-consciously encouraging them to copycat you.

You will also avoid what my mentor Michele Flournoy calls the mini-me syndrome – the tendency to surround yourself with people who think and act as you do.

The combination of physical and cognitive diversity will power your growth, limit expensive mistakes, and make your company a better place to work.

Do your most vulnerable employees feel that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Get the tool here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article?

Add a comment or email me at [email protected] 

Cure Wishful Thinking

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Do you know what it’s like to live every day feeling like you’ve got a target on your back?

Can you understand what it’s like to feel that society has stacked the deck against you?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your co-workers and managers look down on you because you are different?

If you are like me, you cannot answer the first two from personal experience. You can read about it, talk to people who have lived it, and you can empathize.

But you cannot fully understand.

You can do your part to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to make a positive ripple in a lake of prejudice and injustice.

As a leader, you need to get question #3 and fix it. The buck stops with you.

There’s no excuse for ignorance, complacency, or self-deception.

Make your team a lake of dignity and respect that does not tolerate anyone who tries to put a toxic ripple in it.  

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also smart.

I was bullied and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I couldn’t concentrate in school afterward or when I felt the predators were circling.

I’ve also, unintentionally, said and done stupid things that hurt other people.

I was fortunate to have had people who told me the truth – lessons I do not forget.

Employees who feel that they have to hide, live a lie, put up with disrespect, or look over their shoulders are less engaged and productive.

Wouldn’t you be?

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

If you were to use a 1-5 scale, with 5 being “Always,” anything less than 5 from every employee means you are wasting talent and money.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to find out.

1. Get some objective data. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. The combination of anonymous questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews provides you points of view you are not going to get by yourself.

2. Shop your Culture. You shop your business to see how well your sales team performs, and if your processes are user-friendly, why don’t you do the same for your culture?

3. Look for the signals. What do people put in their workspace? How well do your employees care for your bathrooms and facilities? Do people cluster in like-groups or diverse groups?

Look at your workplace from a vulnerable employee’s point of view so you don’t walk past problems anymore.

Once you know the data, you can take action.

How well are these steps working for you?

Let me know: [email protected]