Presence: the prerequisite for leadership!

June 19, 2009

Many books have been written on leadership and you can find about anything you are looking for that explains what makes leaders be leaders.
For those who do not wish to spend time reading, a very simple quality can make a very strong impact on your group. It does not matter if this group is your employees, your family or any social group to which you belong. That quality is presence.

By being present, you send a very clear message: you are involved, you are part of your team, and you are ready to take action and responsibility. This gives a tremendous feeling of security to the members of the team who depend on you. They know that they are not left alone to deal with problems, while the “boss” stays out of the hot spot. This is quite important if you want your instructions to be followed. Rarely seeing the leader, or receiving instructions by emails or from a distance is not motivating, and makes many team members wonder what the respective roles actually are, all the more so when their level of reward is quite different from the leader’s. Such poor leadership very often goes together with a lack of positive feedback (usually such leaders are not shy on negative feedback, though), which is also perceived very poorly.

Napoleon at ArcoleA famous example of presence for a leader is the battle of the bridge of Arcola. Napoleon was still a young general and the battle against the Austrians was not going too well. The story is that Napoleon took the flag and led his troops marching on the bridge, dodging bullets. This reportedly boosted his army’s spirits; they followed him on the bridge for the direct confrontation with the enemy. The result was a strategic victory. Even though this story seems to have been embellished, as Napoleon might not have acted as heroically as the story states, it certainly has established his leadership position and it created a strong mystique about his persona.
Presence, and courage, made him bigger than life!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


I want to hear laughter!

June 17, 2009

Here is the best anti-stress medicine I know: laughter. I have applied it in my professional life as well as in my personal life and it works superbly, and there is no negative side effects known to man.

Hahaha!I have spent a long part of my career in industries dealing with perishable products. Per definition, such products cannot be stored for very long and this makes the business dynamics quite intense, and often stressful, as “everything must go” and for a profit, mind you. Therefore, my assignment to them, next to (or I should say as part of) doing the job was to make me hear some laughter. It did not matter what the reason would be, as long as there would be fun. In that line of work, we were lucky to be able to find many reasons to laugh because we were dealing with colorful characters and we could easily find the funny absurdities of the business. The head office would involuntarily also provide for much material to us as well. If my staff would not laugh frequently enough to my liking, I would pop in and bring some craziness of my own to help them out.
The results were amazing. With a small team (comparatively to other units of the company or to competitors), we were able to deliver a performance second to none, we were able to solve more problems than the others were, and we were having fun. Even as we worked long hours, nobody burned out. On the contrary, success was constantly bring new and more energy to our team. Once again, the boring, unimaginative and bureaucratic HR department was wrong.
Managing is getting things done by your team. Therefore, you had better take good care of your people, and the best way to do that is to have them laugh on the job. It means that they are having fun, and when you are having fun at work, it does not feel like work. Good managers know what is right for their business. Have them laugh!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Empathy: the gentle way to get things done

June 4, 2009

Reaching outEmpathy is one of those qualities that is acknowledged as being important, but for which there is little training given. One reason probably is that empathy, like some other personality traits, one is born with it more than one can learn it. Yet, there are certain patterns that can be acquired and help people interact with their fellow men better.

What does make empathy so effective in interpersonal relationships?
Empathic people come over as more gentle and get their way more easily, because in the interaction, they take the other side’s point of view in the picture. This makes the other party more receptive to your arguments, as they have the feeling that the outcome is not a win-lose but a win-win situation. What empathy does is create a sense of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is true as well in private life as at work.

How can someone learn to become more empathic?
This is not a simple process, as empathy is not a skill, but part of one’s personality. The starting point will always have to be the acknowledgement by the person that he/she needs to improve. To understand the impact they make by lacking empathy, they need to see how other people react to their behavior. A good way to do this is to have a video of how they interact with others. Another powerful way is to have them role-play with an instructor who will expose their behavior. Like many issues related to personality, nothing works as well as immediate feedback and correction. They also have to be able to ask themselves “what’s in it for the other party?”, as they soon will realize that they can achieve much more when their counterpart gets something out of the “deal”. Making a list of the needs and wants of both parties before going to a meeting or negotiation can be very useful, as at least the person has to put him/herself in their shoes.

How to deal with low-empathy people?
In my view, the best way is by using your empathy and figure out what their motives might be. It is also very important to be quite firm on what you want and to not give away anything without getting something in return. Assertiveness is also a powerful tool: tell them how they make you feel and what you think about that! However, the most powerful tool of them all is very likely to make them feel that they will lose more than gain by not changing. Low-empathy people do not like losing anything.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Management & Leadership lessons from my dog – Part III: Leading the pack

June 2, 2009

After having reviewed how to communicate effectively and after having identified whom the boss should be, my dog Slider will now present her third topic, about getting the pack moving in the right direction.

Hello again dear readers,

A pack well led!

All team members executing their mission

In order to have a group that moves and acts harmoniously, the first thing is to set the rules, then make sure that the rules are understood and accepted, and finally give the  team members correct feedback swiftly and appropriately.

Settings the rules
In our dog world, no rule means my rule. Therefore, if you want to avoid total anarchy and a pack that disintegrate, you must make sure that all team members understand what you want and which behaviors they are allowed and which ones they are not. As the leader, this is your duty. You must make them clear and enforce it, meaning that you must correct improper behavior immediately. Failure to do so will send a very confusing message to our simple dog brains and we will improvise our own set of rules among ourselves.
The way to do this is rather simple, as it comes down to communication. It is all about clarity, consistency, patience, and verbal as well as non-verbal communication. For more details, I will redirect you to my first article about that particular topic.

Show integrity
Mean what you say and act accordingly. This set the example and set the standards that we want to live up to. Do not start negotiating every time we try you, because at this game, we are just smarter and better than you are. Moreover, do not start bribing us! We love it and be assured that we will ask for more, but you will never be able to get anything valuable out of us. Once you do this, you will not be the boss anymore.

Reward good behavior
This seems obvious to us dogs, but unfortunately, it rarely seems to be a spontaneous thing. Let us know when we do something right! It is not difficult to do and it makes us feel really good. When we are rewarded for doing well, we just want more reward, and you can be sure that we will do all we can to please you! Nothing works as well as celebrating a success together!

Reprimand and correct bad behavior
For as much as we understand reward, we do understand reprimand, too. Even though we might not be as smart as our human bosses, we really get the message expressed by frown, a stern look and the word “bad!”. You do not need to shout and gesticulate for minutes, and you certainly do not need to use violence. We get the message! The question is do you get our message then? You should, as our body language will show you that we feel bad about it. The only difference that I see between dogs and people when dealing with reprimand is that we, dogs, will forget about the tension rather quickly and resume our duties, while humans seem to have this tendency to grow resentment and anger. Trust me this is not worth it. A great boss will reprimand you, but will not make it a personal matter. He had expectations and they were not met. He will tell you exactly that, and he will tell you what he expects from you from now on. This is clear. You made a mistake and now you know what to do next. With a great boss, there are no hard feelings or frustration, just feedback and new objectives.

Well dear readers this conclude this short presentation. So remember, if you wish to be the boss, you must act like one!

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the dog only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd, but we tend to subscribe to the dog’s views more and more.)

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Management & Leadership lessons from my dog – Part II: Recruiting the Boss

May 14, 2009

This is the second article from my dog Slider. This time she shares her views on how to recruit a proper boss.

Dear readers,

At first, I thought that I would deal with recruiting the boss in a similar way as bosses recruit their employees: by asking for a resume.

Unfortunately, this appears rather useless very quickly, as all the candidates refer to the same great things about themselves. They have had experience with or owned dogs in the past and they can walk on two legs! For how impressive their skills and experience are, for a simple dog like me, this is not convincing, and that by a long shot. It does not tell me much about their qualities as bosses and from my experience, I am more stable on four legs than on two, so that particular skill might even be overrated; and I, too, can do some impressive tricks.

Leading is not a givenSo, let’s forget the resume, as it not giving me the right information and let’s try to see if a personality test would work better. In my doggy world, we establish who the leader of the pack is in a very simple and primal way: the more dominant one leads. Could it be any simpler than that? Although we need to take a slightly different approach with people, establishing a relationship dog-boss follow a rather similar process. We will accept you as the boss only if you are able to earn our respect. Look around and you will see all those dog owners who failed to get to that point: they simply do not have us under control. We run away, we pull in a different direction than the one they want us to go to, or we are aggressive. In short, we behave badly. Well, that is from the boss’s perspective. For us there is another truth: we behave that way because we have no boss. There is no one we respect enough to follow, so we set our own course. Does that sound familiar to you humans? Interesting, isn’t it? We do not have the ability to do politics; neither do we have any awareness of our pedigree. Therefore, respect is about all we have. Also, remember that you do not spell respect F-E-A-R. If you lead us by fear, we probably follow because we prefer to avoid the consequences, but we will not like you, we will not respect you, and when the time is right, we will turn against you; unless we just become dysfunctional and neurotic, as I have sometimes seen.

Of course, there are those who think that buying us is enough to make them our bosses. No, it just makes them our owners. We do not feel too much for hostile takeovers. The merger and acquisition process needs to happen in a firm and effective manner. Of course, some bosses deal with the problem by getting rid of the “difficult” ones among us, but they probably will experience a similar situation with our replacements anyway.

To conclude, I will sum up like this. In order to be our boss, you must demonstrate that you indeed have the ability to lead the pack, which you only will do effectively by earning our respect. Being a two-legged creature or repeating us that you are the boss is simply not enough. Once you have earned our loyalty, you will be amazed by how much you will get in return!

DSCN1492

Next time, I will return with Part III: Leading the Pack.

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the dog only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd, although they usually do.)

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Signs of a good company culture

May 11, 2009

You know what they say to job candidates: you have only one chance to make a good first impression! This is valid for a company, too.
Regardless of any PR work done or how well crafted their website might be, nothing compares with just the possibility of walking around and watching.

First, take a good look at the surroundings. Are they inviting? Is this a place where you would like to spend half the time that you are awake? If the place reminds you of a hospital or a prison, you probably do not want to work there, unless of course the place is a hospital or a prison.
Nothing spells sadness more than empty silent corridors with closed doors. A high-energy high performance place is alive. It is buzzing with people and communication, and generally most doors are open.
Another thing that catches my attention is the presence of those business posters on the wall. You know, the type that will celebrate the virtues of teamwork or of customer service. Unless they have been placed by the employees themselves, it might be a good indicator of the management style and communication style. Instead of leadership by walking around and frequent contacts, the company probably prefers totalitarian regime-like propaganda. Some of those posters are really pretty, though.

In Good CompanySecondly, just observe the people. In the great places to work for, people exude happiness. They will smile at you in the corridors and they will say hello. Beware of the workplaces where you will not even get eye contact, forget about a smile.
A good place to go for a quick assessment of the culture is the water cooler/kitchen/coffee machine. When you pop in, watch what happens! In a good company culture, you can be sure that the employees present will look at you and greet you with a smile. If, instead, your arrival causes the voices to turn down or simply stop, with straight faces and an awkward silence, then you can be pretty sure that the discussion topic is not about how to beat last month’s results.
A brief chat with the employees will show you the company culture. In a good company, people are genuine and enthusiastic; when they talk about their workplace, you can see their eyes and faces come alive and do not be surprise if you have the feeling that they try to convince you that you should work there, too.

In a good company culture, everyone makes sure that the workplace is friendly and inviting. The main signs of a good company culture are happiness and absence of fear! And this describe exactly the “happy” (using vicious would be inappropriate) circle. Fostering happiness and fulfillment increases the commitment of the employees and their performance. They will go the extra mile for the company without asking anything (well not much) in return. They will not watch the clock to decide when to go home. They will leave when they have that sense of completed work. The absence of fear allows the employees to be more entrepreneurial and to dare more. This increases the performance of the company, reinforces its competitiveness and, success breeding success, this creates more happiness and fulfillment in the workplace. Full circle.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Energizing frustrated employees

May 11, 2009

Here is one of my favorite ways to help the staff focused on work, and not get distracted for too long by the frustrations that their work sometimes causes them.

Tensed

We had two main rules:
1) There had to be a good reason, as I had no interest to be disturbed for insignificant problems. After all, my staff had to be able to deal with most issues themselves.
2) They would make sure that I would be available at that very moment and, if not then, we would agree on a time to review the matter. “Can I come in and vent?” would be the password.

This technique has delivered wonders, and the funny thing about it is that in most cases I hardly had to say much at all. I just would ask a few questions about what, who, how, when or why and they would tell me all about the issue.
In most cases, they would know how to solve the problem that had arisen, but they actually were looking more for support and confirmation that they had the right solution in mind.

Back to SerenityThis is just an example of how important presence and availability are in managing people. If you have done your hiring properly and brought in the right people in the right jobs, they will understand very quickly how to do what is expected from them and deliver the performance that meets, and in most cases exceeds the targets. The role of the manager in such a situation is a little comparable with a shepherd. You keep a good oversight of your troops, but if any one wanders in the wrong direction, you just bring him/her back on the right track.

Further, once people have vented, they can “breathe” normally again and they will get back to work, not only happier than before the session, but actually energized to go out there and deliver more results.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.