Are You an 18 Second Boss?

I have a task for you. During your next customer call, or a team meeting – ask about pain points. Delve into the issues that your customer or your team has. Ask for the number one issue and ask for the context so that you can adequately understand it. Now, time yourself. How long does it take for you to interrupt? How long does it take for you to offer a solution? How quickly do you step into this conversation? In this interesting video from leadership guru, Tom Peters, we learn that many professionals (in this instance he profiles doctors – but extrapolates to a wider business audience) interrupt their team within a very short time. So short, in fact, that it can be measured in seconds – 18 seconds. Now, even if you quadrupled the amount of time that you listened to your customer – or your team – you’d still only be “listening” for about a minute. Is a “one minute boss” better than an 18 second boss? I’d suggest that we need to follow Tom’s advice here and recast how we act and perform as leaders. If we did, indeed, place “listening” ahead of strategic plans, how would our organizations change? If we did actively engage in “strategic listening”, how would our teams perform? What would our customer satisfaction ratings show? So once you have listened – well beyond that 18 seconds. Well beyond that one, single minute – how do you respond? How do you build on the moment? I am making a leap here – but it strikes me that listening and empathy go...

Sometimes We Have to Go Counter to Our Instincts

As leaders, we often look for lessons and experiences from others in order to help us navigate uncertain circumstances. Moreover, we frequently base our actions on our instincts, which have been formed over the expanse of our lives and professional experiences. Like many of my peers, in the course of my career, I have had to rely on these things many, many times. I have also learned that there are many times where we must go against our instincts in order to make the progress we seek. For example, the adage “trust must be earned” is one which most of us grow up hearing. As children, we are told “don’t trust strangers” and later in life we carry that skepticism with us, impinging, or at a minimum delaying, our ability to get close to those that we come in contact with in our professional dealings. I live by a modified version of this adage within my career – “trust must be unearned”. Under this approach, I believe that I am able to encourage a results-oriented mindset, allowing my collaborators to buy-in to our mutually agreed goals. And in the spirit of achieving positive results “faster, better and cheaper”, teams which start from a position of trust are able to move quickly from ideas to results. I don’t suggest that this always works – it does not. However, I have found that people respect an approach such as this, and more often than not, rise to the occasion. Furthermore, nothing seems to engender trust amongst team members more than collective success, recognition and reward. Remember, as Wally Bock says, “If...

Small Presentations Make a Big Difference

Issue 50 of ChangeThis was recently released. It is a real milestone in the world of ideas and publishing. If you don’t know, ChangeThis provides a unique way of disseminating ideas — with authors submitting a concept for a ChangeThis manifesto, and the web public voting for those they would like to see published. This is a version of “conceptual evolution” where only the fittest of ideas will survive the initial voting to make their way kicking and stumbling to the vast digitally connected sea. The 50th issue is on the subject of “presenting small” and its author, Andrew Abela, asks us to carefully consider our objectives before we plan for or present our slides in a meeting. In particular, he suggests we determine whether we want to: Share information, motivate the audience or even entertain them; or Have our audience make a specific decision or take action Normally, the former means presenting to a large crowd – maybe a hundred or even a thousand people or more. This is the domain of PowerPoint. The latter is much more personal. It is where you are presenting in a room (not a theater). It is where you are selling your products or services, pitching an idea or seeking a commitment of some kind – you are seeking change. Now, I don’t know about you, but the majority of my presentations are to smaller groups. They may be to a dozen or so executives, a handful of board members or just my direct reports. I almost always want to see some outcome. This means making my presentations: Interactive: Allow people to...

Background – Foreground Communication

Recently, I wrote a piece on the critical importance of communication. In my opinion, the one core skill that any person needs, be it in business or life in general, is the ability to clearly communicate their thoughts and views. After all, without clear communication, how can anything involving more than one individual progress? In an effort to take this point to the next level, I want to share a concept that I learned years ago from some organizational behavior consultants working with my organization at the time on large-scale change initiatives. The concept, called “Background-Foreground Communication”, is intended to enable groups to accelerate their integration and, ultimately, their performance so as to achieve faster results. The concept is rather simple in its description, but amazingly interesting in its execution. In a nutshell, “background communication” is non-verbal communication comprised mostly of thoughts in one’s head that exist during an interaction with another individual or group of people. For example, if you walk into a meeting with a work colleague and you just hung up from a phone call wherein you learned that a loved one had been injured, most likely what will be running through your head is your thoughts and concerns for your loved one and, understandably, not the topic at hand. “Foreground communication” is verbal communication, or simply, what we speak aloud and share with those around us. As I said, so far, conceptually simple. The beauty of this concept is in the understanding that while background communication exists, productive dialog is impossible. In order to achieve productive discussion, it is imperative that background communication be brought...

Why Talk Kills Meetings

We have all been there. The meeting. A room full of folks listening to a speaker, occasionally taking the baton and sharing some insight, knowledge or point of view — but generally the talk is all one-way. Research, however, shows us that it is actually the speakers who  benefit from the time that they spend in meetings — retaining 90% of what they share. Events like staff meetings, team get-togethers, lectures and the like continue to be a fact of office life because they benefit the talker who dominates them — the speaker benefits enormously because the act of speaking fires up , improves their own knowledge retention and it also provides them with ample opportunities for an “a-ha moment” — where a piece of the business puzzle falls into place. But what about the rest of the people in the room? The listeners unfortunately retain only 5% of what was said. It seems that monologues go against the working of our brains. And the sense that this is “just another meeting” (as Seth Godin would call it) just serves to reinforce the sense that all the talk is killing meetings. But there is a better way but it does mean going outside of your comfort zone. Here are three simple things that you can do change the dynamics of your leadership team meetings: Turn it on its head — break up the responsibility for different sections of the meeting by asking others to chair some items. Get them laughing — humor not only brings you together, it also increases your level of openness. If you want your meetings...