Be tactful when the boss seeks your feedback

January 25, 2015

Q: My boss asked for my honest assessment about a decision he made which I strongly disagree with. How do I tell the truth without alienating him or should I keep my opinion to myself?

A: While honesty is the best policy, some delivery methods are more effective than others. Rather than react immediately, take time to neutralize your emotions and find some merit in his decision. Telling the boss his idea is ludicrous, then having to retract it afterward is worse than biting your tongue.

Why is he asking for your feedback post-decision? Does he appreciate healthy dialogue, debate and challenge to the status quo? Is he second-guessing himself and values your opinion? Or does he test people to see if they are with him or against him?

What is the potential risk of this decision to the organization and stakeholders?

Be honest with yourself; are you sharing your feedback to improve or alter the situation or to score a win by making him wrong and you right? If the latter, you are sure to lose.

Diplomacy and discretion in delivery are more effective than hitting him between the eyes with brutal honesty.

Meet privately and start by stating what is positive in his decision. Be curious. Ask questions about his decisionmaking before sharing your viewpoint.

Do not launch into a full disclosure.

Be brief with your opinion, framing it simply as another perspective to consider. “Here’s what I see from where I sit …”, “In my view …” Wait. Gauge how it is being received before adding more.

Be prepared with alternate solutions if he wants to change course. However, if he is committed to a direction which you believe to be significantly detrimental, perhaps the most honest expression of your integrity is to graciously exit.

 Reprinted from The Province, January 25, 2015.

Take high road and don’t question decision

March 16, 2014

Q: I was promised a promotion to vice-president based on my knowledge, experience and performance.  Then last month a political appointment was inserted above me, pushing me down a level.

I’m convinced my opportunity has been torn from my grasp.  I feel betrayed and want to get to the bottom of how this happened. What’s the best way to do that?

A: It is devastating being passed over when the selection appears biased, unfair or undeserving. You may have been assured the role, but it still is not an entitlement. Therefore, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by hunting down the culprit.

How will judging or critiquing the boss’s choices reflect on you? A knee-jerk reaction to quit or blame may, in their mind, justify their decision that you were not the right person for the role. This is not your first obstacle en route to the executive suite. The hardest distance to run in a marathon is the last mile.

If you choose to stick it out, take the high road to the finish line.

Keep your disappointment away from the workplace, seek feedback for improvement and support the new leader.

Believe that your continued commitment and outstanding abilities will once again be recognized.

If the leader is not a fit for the role, the obstacle may only be temporary. Therefore, staying the course may still pay dividends, albeit delayed.

Use the additional time strategically, exhibiting qualities of a resilient team player, trusted ally and reliable leader. If this is not the first time you have been passed over, your future may be limited at this company.

Best to move on perceived as a diplomat caught in the crossfire than an antagonistic bridge burner.

Originally printed in The Province, Mar 16, 2014.

Lead from the middle

June 16, 2013

Q I am an influential VP who pushes agendas forward and gets results. I would bring huge value to the executive team, but the CEO says I come on too strong and need to “tone down” first. That’s not my style. Why should I change?

A You are confident and competent at leading from the front. Rather than perceiving the feedback as a need to change, what if it is an invitation to expand your leadership range? How skilled are you at leading from the middle and the back?

Leading peers requires different skills than leading directs. It involves relinquishing control, responsibility and ownership; collaborating, supporting and championing another’s ideas; being curious rather than convincing; listening, questioning and guiding other’s initiatives. Using their influence to persuade others align to the goal and obtain necessary resources to ensure its success.

When leading in the middle, the leader resists jumping in even if they know the answer.

They are not the dominant player. Instead they create a climate of openness and trust by encouraging all viewpoints, soliciting input and active involvement in decision making.

They point out the value in others opinions, facilitate debate, guide conversations rather than take a position. They ask rather than tell.

When leading from behind, the objective is to stay out of the limelight so others receive recognition for the work.

Ensure everyone works together collaboratively, only contributing strengths where there are deficits.

Effective inspiring leaders are adaptive and can accurately access which style is best suited for the situation to achieve results effectively while maintaining strong working relationships. They are able to hand over the steering wheel – becoming a gracious passenger, not a back seat driver.

Originally printed in The Province, June 16, 2013.

Taking high road pays off in the end

September 13, 2012

Q: I was wrongfully blasted by my boss in front of my entire team. I was so blindsided that I couldn’t even respond. I’m sure I’ve lost all credibility and want to know if there’s any way to recover.

A: You probably feel like you have nowhere to go except out the door right now. However, your silence probably saved you. A public outburst or retort against someone of higher rank can be corporate suicide.

Choosing the high road versus defending the indefensible in the moment pays dividends.

The exchange revealed not just your character but that of your boss under pressure. It is not a weakness to stand in the tornado without acquiescing to your emotions or retaliating.

Demonstrating self-control shows self-discipline, inner resolve and emotional intelligence.

Leaders who manage their impulsivity create an environment of trust, comfort and fairness. One study showed that executives promoted to CEO demonstrated seven times more emotional self management than those who were passed over.

Your team is unlikely to come to your rescue. However, don’t interpret their self preservation as abandoning you.

They are watching you closely. What kind of leader do you want to be viewed as? It is entirely possible to turn a slap in the face into a powerful victory by being viewed as calm, fair and honourable.

Focus your energy on the issue at hand rather than taking the attack personally. Look beyond the boss’s behaviour and determine the underlying trigger for the outburst.

Detach from your reaction before responding so you will be calm and objective as you determine your desired outcome.

Set up a private one-on-one to understand the boss’ perspective, clear the air and set the record straight.

Following these steps could avert being the boss’s future scapegoat when he loses control.

Originally published in The Province, September 9, 2012

Introverts need time and trust to open up

June 18, 2012

Q: I have inherited two executives who are challenging me.

The rest of the team exchanges ideas and dialogues passionately while they sit withdrawn and silent.

When asked to contribute, their ideas are well formulated and sound. But they are painfully slow at articulating so I often pass over them. How can I get them to keep up with the rest of us so we can include their input?

A: Recognize these leaders are likely introverts. Introverts reflect, think and process information internally before responding to a situation. They need to be asked for their opinions as they rarely volunteer their depth of knowledge. Introverts prefer to listen. They think before they act and once decided, aren’t easily swayed.

These executives may not appear as team players. Introverts are generally private, requiring time and trust to open up.

Extroverts process their thoughts by saying them aloud.

Comfortable in groups, they take up a lot of space and their energy drains introverts.

Communicating in larger groups is more challenging for introverts. They far prefer deep discussions one on one.

Introverts have a greater ability to focus their attention narrowly for longer periods than extroverts.

Get the best from these executives by giving them time to prepare their thoughts. Tell them you’ll be asking them for their viewpoints shortly. Draw them out by asking them specific questions.

Pause and leave space for them to participate. Give them the time they need to talk.

Understand it takes extraordinary effort for introverts to get their momentum.

Don’t interrupt. Keep meetings short and regular rather than infrequent and protracted so it is less taxing. Give them the option to communicate their views in writing after the meeting. Respecting the introverts’ style will bring out their best providing your team with more range and depth.

Originally printed in The Province, June 17, 2012. 

Take positives from negative

December 5, 2011

Q: I just got my 360 review and I’m devastated. I thought I was doing a great
job because my staff always achieves their results.

I discovered that being task focused makes people feel used and ignored. How
will I recover from this?

A: While the review may be negative, your attitude is positive and open. How
you handle the results is far more important than what you received. Absorb,
understand and act.

Take time to let the results sink in. Pay attention to good feedback, too.
Reflect on the information with curiosity and compassion rather than self

Reduce the risk of appearing defensive. Don’t take any action until you are

Never seek more information or confront respondents. They already risked
giving you an honest assessment. Ask yourself: What are the common themes? How
are my good intentions being negatively perceived? What kind of leader do I want
to be?

?What three behaviours that would create the greatest positive impact and
reveal the leader you are aspiring to be?

? What small simple behavioural shifts would make a big difference?

? What manager, mentor, colleague or leadership coach would support your
development with ongoing feedback and holding you accountable to your

Bring your staff onside by sharing with them how you intend to change. Invite
them to keep you on track by acknowledging you when you are successful and
calling you out when old behaviours creep in. Making changes based on their
feedback demonstrates you are a leader who values your staff enough to listen
and learn from them. That alone will positively alter their perception of

Originally published in The Province, December 4, 2011.

Steer clear of minefields

November 3, 2011

Q: My peer’s hypercritical attitude is wearing me down. Rather than deal with it, her supervisors are waiting for her to retire. I try including her in discussions, but it doesn’t help. What do you suggest?

A: Since she interacts with others the same way, this reveals more about her than those she criticizes.

Life rarely measures up to a critic’s expectations, since they usually hold themselves to an even higher level of criticism than they do others. So don’t waste your energy taking it personally. Stress can make people curt or blunt. Maybe she is unaware of how her words come across or how her negativity siphons other’s energy.

If inviting input or opinions, you must to be willing to hear her feedback. Focus on ‘what’ she is saying rather than getting caught up in ‘how’ she’s saying it. Find the golden nugget being offered and acknowledge its value. Leave the rest. Critical people believe the validity of their viewpoint and want it to be heard.

If you’re not ready to hear her insight, do not solicit it. Keep your communications factual, business-like and brief. Stay away from minefields and limit interactions to essential items.

You can’t change others’ attitudes, but you can choose how you react. Why do her criticisms get under your skin? What meaning do you attribute to her comments? What is it that bothers you? Just as the critic’s comments reflect more about them, your reaction reveals more about you.

Ironically, she can be a great teacher. A self-critical person doesn’t have the capacity or ability to offer it to others. However, you will have developed increased self-awareness and self management when you are can respond to her with genuine compassion and understanding.

Originally published in The Province, October 30, 2011.

Dealing with clashing values

August 21, 2011

Q: Two of my employees clash over their competing values, creating tension in the department. I appreciate both of their viewpoints. How do I get them to do the same so they will work together productively?

A: Values conflicts can be more challenging to work through since they are emotionally charged. People tend to feel judged, threatened or personally attacked because their values reflect deeply held beliefs. This takes a more delicate mediation.

Start by facilitating an honest dialogue where both parties can explain their value freely and fully without being interrogated or criticized. The first step is to break through possible misconceptions or stereotyping by ensuring both parties feel heard.

Build trust and safety by keeping the conversational tone neutral. Ask each party: What does this value mean to you? What’s important to you about this value? Have the other party repeat what they heard and articulate how this complementary viewpoint strengthens the department.

The outcome of this meeting is to open up understanding and mutual respect for each other’s viewpoint. The intention is not for both parties to come to an agreement or to change either party’s values. You will need to remind them of this often throughout the process.

Establish common ground by finding a larger universal value that they can both support. For example: the company’s mission. If the conversation circles back to their differences in belief, keep reinforcing their commitment to the larger shared value.

Operationalize the new mutually held belief by formalizing an agreement on how they will work toward it in their own way. Include concrete action steps that they will be held accountable to attain. Finally, affirm their commitment and mutual respect.

 Originally published in The Province, August 21, 2011.

Meet Gen-Yers on their turf

June 12, 2011

Q: I’ve been a CEO for a long time and frankly this generation has me stumped. Our new hires are 20-somethings. I hate to stereotype but they seem arrogant and self absorbed. During an interview one candidate even checked a text message on his phone! How do I manage and motivate them?

A: Generation Y are whiz kids raised on instant gratification where a click of a button gave them access to everything. They have short attention spans, which makes them excellent multi-taskers.

If you want to reach them, meet them on their turf. They respond better to an instant message or text than a phone or face-to-face meeting. Be brief. They speak in shorthand, processing information quickly. What you may be interpreting as disrespect is their chomping at the bit to take action.

They work best in an open, energetic atmosphere. They love to participate, not wanting to miss out on anything. They thrive in an entrepreneurial environment where they are empowered and rewarded for their individualism.

Salary is less important than meaningful work where they’re recognized for the difference they make. They are motivated by a management style that mentors and develops them professionally. Inspiring leadership can unleash tremendous productivity. When they’re engaged, they willingly work after hours as long as they can check their Facebook status at work.

Sharp, highly creative and ambitious, they crave variety and challenge. If they aren’t given the chance to advance they’ll be out the door. They know they don’t have to go far to replace an aging boomer. With 1,000 retiring each day in Canada, you’ll need to continue meeting the key retention question: “What’s in it for me?”

Originally printed in The Province, June 12, 2011

Try handling with care

May 9, 2011

Q: Due to economics, I am forced to revoke some employee benefits. My HR director says I should inform staff first. To me that’s pointless since they have no say in the matter and that would lead them to think they did. I believe it is better to play it low key and let them discover it for themselves. Who’s right?

A: Employees understand leaders are charged with making decisions they won’t necessarily agree with or support. Anger and resistance are natural responses to change. The only hope of getting staff on board is to communicate with them early and often.

Begin your message with empathy. Imagine a perk being taken away from you without being informed. Wouldn’t you feel disrespected and cheated? What would you want to hear?

What if you were told up front of the company’s challenging situation and how circumstances are forcing a difficult decision? You still wouldn’t like it, but you would be more likely to accept it.

Expose your thought process, the tough questions you asked yourself and how you wrestled with hard choices. This demonstrates that you didn’t take this lightly. Articulate three sound and compelling business reasons for making the change. Your explanations should address their likely questions so it reduces their fear, insecurity and objections. Hard news takes time absorb.

Staff want to hear the implications for them. Give them clear and specific information about what will be the same or different. Providing a forum to ask questions, express their concerns, opinions and feelings will clear the way to move forward faster, easier and with less resistance. Finally, offer them roles in the change because people support what they create.

Originally published in The Province, May 8, 2011.

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