Don’t Be a Micro Manager

January 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

”If you buy a trained watchdog you do not go out at night and bark at strangers. You don’t bark. The watchdog does the barking.”  (Jeff Fox)

This makes sense of course, but something happens to sense when we hire people to do a job and then turn them loose to do that job. We meddle.  The manager’s job is to hire good people, provide purpose, direction and scope, tools and resources, training as needed.  Then, let them execute.  Let them make mistakes. Let them learn from mistakes.  Help them with feedback and support.  Be a safety net where you can.  Check in (as agreed upon) on how things are going, but don’t do their work. Don’t over-check.

OK, this is easier said than done.  Take, for example, an engineering manager suffering from “reportomania” (requests for unnecessary and overly detailed reports); or a well meaning sales manager on a ride along, who in a moment of anxiety, hijacks the sales call from her experienced salesman.  Both are driven by the desire to have the work go well.  But what’s the effect of their behavior?

  1. Increased likelihood of keeping the project on track, closing the sale (perhaps).
  2. Resentment towards the manager from the employee.
  3. Employee believes that the manager doesn’t trust his/her work or judgment.
  4. Employee is focused on doing things “the manager’s way” (looking up), versus focusing on their objectives and working in ways that would move them to success.
  5. Increased compliance, decreased passion, commitment & engagement.
  6. Retention at stake.
  7. Manager’s (and company’s) reputation diminished, and thus diminishing the chances of attracting and hiring the highest qualified candidates in the future

Most of us are good people, and most of us are guilty of micromanaging from time to time yet unaware of our sin. Perhaps we are following a model set forth by a previous manager (or parent).  Maybe we are perfectionists with a single-minded view of how things (most things?) MUST be done.  Often, micromanaging behavior is motivated by the fear that we aren’t useful and valuable unless we do something to appear so.  This last one is a common trap – and challenge – for first time managers.  It’s hard to give up one’s experience & success at doing individual contributor work to enter the sloppy, wilderness frontier of managing people’s behavior and motivation.  We know we were good at engineering or sales.  That’s likely the reason we were promoted. We don’t know how well we’ll succeed with the wet work.

If you wondering if you are micromanaging,  it would be worth it to check-in with your employees.  Next time you have a project review meeting, or even an informal status chat, ask them:

“I’ve been thinking that I could give up some of the control and checking in I’ve been doing on project X. Is that something you think would work for you? What would that look like?”

Then try the new plan for 2 weeks and have a follow-up discussion to see how your new & improved relationship to their work is working.

Good Luck!

This post was inspired by & adapted from chapter XXI.

A great book.

Thank you Jeff!

What Really Makes You Smart?

September 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

In 1997, Reuven Bar-On  (author of the EQi emotional intelligence assessment) and Steven Stein were keynote speakers at a Toronto non-profit, community based agency’s 50th anniversary celebration.  The smattering of pamphlets, newsletters and street posters advertised that they would be speaking on the importance of emotional intelligence and it’s link to success in life.  350 chairs were set up in a hotel ballroom to accommodate those the organizers believed might wander in with some curiosity in the subject.  It turned out that over 1,000 people attended.  The presentation was delayed in order to open up a side ballroom to accommodate the overflow – a cross section ranging from mental health professionals, to housewives, to business people to retirees.  Why such an overwhelming response, which continues to be typical wherever the topic is presented?

The answer is because people are interested and relieved to have confirmation of what they’ve intuitively known all along: that there are other intelligences we have that are important, and that IQ need not be taken as seriously, or at least monolithically as it has been.  Do you know someone who is brainy, yet turns others off with coarse behavior?  Is clueless as to how they present themselves? Caves under stress, even mild stress? Runs around like Chicken Little at the hint of bad news, or deflates in “Eeyore” manner when faced with a challenge? Maybe they get so anxious about getting things right that they overcook their own and other’s lives? Perhaps you know the high school Valedictorian who showed up as a train wreck at the reunion? Or the student with the high SAT scores who’s impulse control problems tanked their college career?

Since the 90’s, an explosion of researchAngry Man has shown that one’s success in life is substantially more dependent on EQ than on IQ.  With higher EQ the more likely you are to be successful as a worker, leader, parent, college student, manager, adult child to your own parents, and partner to your significant other. Emotionally intelligent people are more aware of their emotions (and the effect they have on themselves and others); are more positive about themselves; get along better with others; are able to influence others more positively; are better problem solvers; cope better with stress; are less impulsive; and enjoy their lives more – regardless of their situation. By definition, emotional intelligence is the array of non-cognitive emotional and social skills that help us succeed in coping with the pressures and demands in our lives (Reuven Bar-On, author of the EQi Assessment)

This is not to knock the importance of being cognitively smart (IQ).  Your ability to concentrate and plan, organize material, use words, understand, assimilate and interpret facts are critical skills that contribute to doing well in your life. But if you look at the convergence of research, the fact remains that in at least the workplace, IQ can predict between 1-20% of success in a given job. EQ, on the other hand has been found to be directly responsible for between 27-45% of job and success, depending on which field was under study.

In his book, The Millionaire Mind, Thomas Stanley cites a survey taken by 733 multi-millionaires residing in the United States.  When asked to rate the factors, (among the 30) that were most responsible for their success, the top five were:

  • Being honest with people
  • Being well disciplined
  • Getting along with people
  • Having a supportive spouse
  • Working harder than most people

Cognitive intelligence – or IQ – was 21st on the list, and only endorsed by 20% of the millionaires.  Another big difference between IQ and EQ is that IQ is pretty much set by the time your 17.  EQ is not.  It grows naturally on it’s own as we approach 50 – and the skills that make you emotionally intelligent can be improved at any age.  College students can learn to control their impulses, just as grumpy old men can learn how to get along better with their neighbors.

grumpy old manSince I’ve referred to “success in life” so many times in this post, the notion is worth some mention.  What success means for each of us is very personal and changes over time.  What I wanted in my twenties, is different than my goals now.  I have different goals in my work, home, personal and relationship parts of my life.  So let’s define success as your ability to achieve those goals, on your own terms, in all aspects of your life.

Looking at the research on emotional intelligence, we can say that having EQ skills would help a CEO of a Fortune 500 company be successful, just as they would a person rendered homeless by bad circumstances. The CEO is looking for ways to better navigate and lead his/her people through a challenging business climate. The homeless person is looking for ways to utilize health and social services, find access to food and a safe bed, survive on the streets, and eventually re-enter the main stream.  Both need the help of EQ skills to survive (self-regard, confidence, optimism, assertiveness, impulse control, stress tolerance, problem solving, just to name a few).

Emotional intelligence redefines what makes us smart.  As Reuven Bar-On says “it levels out the playing field for success. It helps us account for those cases where some high IQ individuals falter in life, while others with only modest IQ can do exceptionally well.”

To learn more about the components of EQ and how you can develop them, Stein and Book’s The EQ Edge  is the best resource out there.  If you want to get an assessment and interpretation of your current EQ level, using the Bar-On EQi assessment instrument, contact me.

Limerence (the urge to merge)

July 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

More than 30 years ago, the term limerance was coined by psychologists to describe the state of our minds when we experience falling in love.  That place we get into where everything and anything about the other person makes us feel that they are perfect for us. The universe feels unified. All is good.  Really good. Even their quirky habits are lovable, like how he jingles the change in his pocket, or how she twirls her hair.  Being around the other, even thinking about them, has us squirting Dopamine into our system and makes us feel just great.

More recently, Cambridge University neuroscientist, Wolfram Schultze did research on monkeys.  As NY Times columnist David Brooks reports in his new book: The Social Animal, when Schultze squirted apple juice into the monkeys’ mouths, he observed a surge in dopamine neurons firing off.  Like Pavlov, he set up an experiment that had a tone go off just before the juice arrived. As you would expect, it took little time for the monkeys to learn what was going on and  Schultz observed the dopamine neurons firing at the sound of the tone.  What happened next is most curious…..Schultze observed that the neurons quickly began RESPONDING TO THE TONE, AND NOT THE DELIVERY OF THE JUICE. Why weren’t the neurons responding to the reward of the juice as we would expect?

The answer to this question comes from research done by Montague, Dayan and Sejnowski that found that our minds are actually geared more towards predicting rewards (predictive modeling) than the rewards themselves.  All day long, we are thinking that “this will lead to that, that to this,…”  If I smile at her, she’ll smile at me, If I put my hand here, this will happen.  It’s the gift and beauty of homo sapiens’ large neo-cortex –  to have a great capacity to do that.  When one of our models accurately anticipates reality, the mind gets that little surge of dopamine and we get a reassuring feeling – along the lines of being in love.  The universe has confirmed my belief – I feel unified.  When one of our models contradicts reality, then we experience tension, dissonance and concern. Montague argues that the main business of the brain is modeling.  When our model meshes with what actually happened we get the sweet squirt.  When it doesn’t, we’re not happy & the brain has to learn what the glitch is and adjust the model, or adjust the situation to fit our model – like when we feel we have to argue the other person to death in order to feel right.

Brooks sites some examples from research of how our desire for limerance manifests itself  in major life decisions:

  1. People who are named Dennis & Denise are disproportionately likely to become dentists.
  2. People named Louis are disproportionately likely to move to Saint Louis.

As Montague observes, our brains are continually creating little anticipatory patterns.  Are any of you FOX News fans?  Daily Show fans? I’m betting you feel great when your favorite pundit reinforces your inner models.  Same is true in the sports arena where we continue to look for or create patterns and get them confirmed.  For example, most people believe basketball players go through hot and cold streaks (us detecting a pattern to predict the future). But substantial research has found no evidence of hot and cold streakiness in the NBA.  A shooter who has made two shots in a row, is as likely to miss his third shot as his career shooting percentage would predict. In baseball – when there’s a close tag at home plate, and all subjects are looking at the same replay, research shows that most fans of the runner’s team will say he is safe, most fans of the catcher’s team will call him out.

This is the basis of bias, stereotypes and the like.  The brain is just trying to make our life easier – and more pleasurable.    For us in leadership and management positions – take note:  Check your assumptions of a direct report’s ability to improve (or not) in a task.  You may be managing them in a way to confirm your belief, not what reality is. Also – check your bias towards or against an interviewee who went to the same school as you (or didn’t); and especially, pay attention to how you talk to yourself about yourself (“I’ll never be a numbers person,” “I won’t be able to handle it if she gets emotional; he screams”).  You want to avoid fulfilling these prophesies – even if it means missing out on the dopamine squirt.   Don’t let the asset of your neo-cortex turn into a liability.

Just pay attention.

Good luck.

close call baseball

The One Interview Question You Never Want to Ask

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

spanish-inquisition2 Tomas de Torquemada, Inquisitor General of Spain, is known for his campaign to ferret out crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims in the late 1400’s. To do that, he asked some tough , stressful questions.

As a hiring manager involved in the selection process, you have to ask questions too because you are responsible for finding the right person to join your family-away-from-family based on ability, fit and potential amongst a slate of candidates. The job market, being what it is these days, is likely to offer up a wide variety of possibilities, many of whom, on paper, seem quite similar.  Hence the selection interview.

The WORST interviewing technique is to ask the all too common stress question : “So, Brenda, what would you say is your greatest weakness?”    You never want to ask this because:

  1. You are making people feel uneasy and probably forcing them to lie to their new co-workers and boss.  This is not a good strategy for starting a new relationship.
  2. It’s hard to believe that you will get a stranger to open their kimono and answer truthfully by telling you that they are lazy, they procrastinate, lose their temper, can’t handle conflict, or are horrible with numbers.
  3. It’s a stupid, pointless question.  Any interviewee with any savvy (the kind of person you WANT to join you) will see it as a stupid question and realize that she is dealing with an organization of low caliber people.

On the other hand, selecting for people who seek to grow and improve is a good thing.  So here’s a better couplet of questions:  “What area of development are you working on? Can you give me examples of how that would help you in your professional life?”

There’s some great interviewing techniques out there that are tried and true.  The best I’ve found is Behavioral Based Interviewing. This technique focuses ALL your questions on examples of the candidate’s past behavior, related to the knowledge, skills and abilities they’ll need in the job for which they are interviewing. No questions about what the candidate “would do” in a situation.  That’s because you could get a candidate who states a textbook answer.  Knowledge is good, but not sufficient. It doesn’t tell you how they would behave.  I once hired a young man to lead white-water canoe trips when I directed an outdoor adventure center.  In the interview, this passionate outdoorsman recited chapter and verse of how to conduct a rescue operation.  But when a situation occurred weeks later on a river, he panicked and froze. I should have asked for examples of past situations he encountered that required quick thinking under pressure.   I learned.

For those of you who are seeking jobs and will be interviewed.  Get ready, there’s a still a good chance that you’ll get asked “the greatest weakness” question.  If so, you can respond with: “Well, what I really want to get better at is ______.” Then turn it around by asking the interviewer for what they see as opportunities in your job for you to build that skill set.  Be truthful and turn the moment to the positive.

Good luck.

Power Poisoning

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Why do really smart people do really stupid things?  It’s not just ex-Governor Spitzer, it’s also Governor Arnold and his attempt to hide an affair and a child.  It’s also those that think they can lie about the numbers (Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay of Enron) and no one will find out.  Ever.

There’s some interesting research on this that’s shed some light on what’s going on, and guess what . .  .  It’s not just them, it’s all of us, or at least most of us that are guilty.  When given even a little bit of power, we tend to abuse our authority position.  So, those of us who are managers and parents, pay attention.  This is relevant.

Bob Sutton, in his book: Good Boss, Bad Boss, references research done by Dacher Keltner and colleagues (Power, Approach and Inhibition).   In this reliable experiment (repeated over 200 times), known as the “cookie experiment,” groups of university graduate students were put into teams of three, with two of them responsible for creating a social policy paper dealing with campus issues (bicycle safety, recycling, etc.).  One of them was randomly assigned to evaluate the output of the other two and determine how much to pay the two “workers.”  They’re given about an hour.  After 30 minutes of work, the experimenter arrived with a plate of five cookies.   This allowed each participant to take one cookie, and at least one participant to comfortably take a second cookie.  Manners being what they are, no one was expected to take the last, fifth cookie, and usually, no one did.  But what about that fourth cookie? The one that could be taken without awkwardness or negotiation, or as the researchers called it, “the cookie in play?”

It turned out that even a little taste of power turned people into pigs: Not only did the “manager” in the group tend to take the fourth cookie: 80% of the time, this student also displayed more disinhibited eating behavior as characterized by eating with his/her mouth open and scattering  more crumbs, more widely: 80% of the time.  Now, for us non-statisticians, an 80% correlation in ANY experiment, is a dream come true for research paper writers.   From the cookie case, we learn that there is a very, very high likelihood that when 4 out of 5 of us (regardless of gender or personality) wield power, we will become more focused on our own needs, and less focused on others’ needs, and act as if the rules don’t apply to us.  This is the Power Poisoning that Sutton is referring to.

But, how do we fight mother nature and prevent ourselves from being poisoned by our power?  Clearly it would help to watch yourself (your smile, tone of voice, the way you look or don’t look at people, the way you greet them, use their name, remember their important dates, thank and appreciate them for efforts, not just outcomes).  But that’s easier said than done.  A more effective , and valid method, also proven by research, is to check-in with your employees (and your kids).  Findings by Susan Fiske (“Controlling Other People: The Impact of Power on Stereotyping)  showed that “attention is directed up the hierarchy. Secretaries know more about their bosses than vice versa; graduate students know more about their advisors than vice versa….(because) people pay attention to those who control their outcomes in an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them.”  So in other words, they are watching you very carefully.  They watch you when you get up from your desk, they watch to see where you’re going, they watch your face when a senior manager leaves your office and make guesses about what your expression means.  They watch who you smile more with – and make guesses about that too.  They talk about your behavior when you’re not around.  Basically, you are on their screen. A lot.  Even more than you are on your screen.  Research has shown that employees can more accurately recall their manager’s behavior during a work day than the manager could recall of her own behavior.

So here’s the suggestion:  Because we are likely to be blind to our own power poisoning, find a safe way to get your employees (or children) to tell you what you are doing that’s hindering your effectiveness as a manager (or parent).  OK, at this point, some of you are thinking: “Yeh sure, this is like asking my spouse to tell me if my butt looks too big in these pants.  Can I count on an honest answer?”  Yes you can, if you make it safe for them to answer. To soften the ground, try a preemptive strike on yourself (“I know I can be too impulsive and wordy at times.  I don’t want to hog the airspace, but frankly sometimes I’m not aware of doing it until too late.  At our next meeting, could you sit next to me and tap your finger when you think I’m over-talking my point, and not letting others comment?  It would be a huge help for me”). 

Don’t over do this, or you will risk creating an “it’s about me” climate around you.  Possibly a theme for the next episode of The Office.  But do try it.  Every one of my clients, and my manager friends (and parent friends) who have done this, ALWAYS say they wish they had done it earlier.

Get better.  Good luck.

Employee Engagement – 2011

April 22, 2011 § 7 Comments

The war for talent has returned.  According to the Adecco HR Group, in 2010, 14% of Americans started a new job.

Here’s what Adecco’s 2011 Workplace Survey says about the American workforce today:

  • 28% will be starting a new job
  • 50% of 18-34 year olds will be looking
  • 26% of 35-50 year olds will be looking

Of those who will be starting or looking for work in 2011, here’s what they say is important in a job:

  • 21% – Job security
  • 20% – Health benefits
  • 14% – Salary or compensation
  • 11% – Financial or retirement benefit
  •   5% – Vacation or days off
  •   4% – Company culture
  •   1% – Company perks

If you are concerned about ATTRACTING talented employees, this data is worth paying attention to.  But if you are also concerned about RETAINING your high performers, especially as our economy turns, there’s more you need to know.  The Corporate Leadership Council’s (CLC) research on EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT tells us what keeps employees engaged – and it is not necessarily what brought them to the job.  And by engagement they mean that the employee:

  1. Is PROUD to work for the company
  2. SPEAKS HIGHLY of the company
  3. Experiences their WORK as MEANINGFUL & INTERESTING
  4. Believes that the best way to GROW is to stay
  5. Willingly provides DISCRETIONARY EFFORT to help others

As a manager there are elements in the above lists that you have less personal control over (job security, benefits, perks, corporate actions and policies, etc.), but what the CLC’s research has shown, as well as findings from Towers-Watson studies, is that the manager has a much larger impact on employee engagement than company or environmental (marketplace) factors.  Those of you who study this stuff may recall that the U.S. Navy did some research decades ago and quantified the effect of submarine Commanding Officers (on morale, motivation, performance)  to be 50-70%.

According to the CLC, here’s how engaged employees describe their managers:

  1. Demonstrates that he/she cares about me
  2. Encourages my development and growth
  3. Sets realistic & relevant performance goals
  4. Helps me find solutions
  5. Accurately evaluates my potential
  6. Provides rich, frequent, informal and specific feedback
  7. Trusts me to do my job
  8. Recognizes my achievements
  9. Is friendly and approachable

Three things about the above list:

  • There are ways to do each of them better or worse, and I will address best and worse practices in upcoming posts.
  • Care (#1) and Growth (#2) of the “smaller by the bigger” are the most important (South African leadership researcher, Etsko Schuitema does a fine job speaking about this)
  • Trust (#7):  According to Towers-Watson, 42% of employees do not trust their manager.   If you want to assess yourself on this, see my previous post on TRUSTWORTHINESS to understand what it takes to earn or gain trust.

Take-Away:   Don’t assume your high performers have high potential.  They may be great team players, but may not be engaged.  Often, we leave our “A” players in the dark while we try and fix the problems with the “B’s” and “C’s,” and are surprised when the top talent leaves.  Connect with your talented people and find out how they feel about their work.  Listen to them.

Failure, Adversity, Resilience – What’s Your Explanatory Style?

March 30, 2011 § 10 Comments

25 years ago, Scott Peck began his landmark book, The Road Less Traveled, with the sentence:  “Life is difficult. “ Long before that we learned Buddha’s first truth: “Life is pain.”

If you are aged enough, you know these truths to be self-evident.   The difficulty and pains of life can be seismic (death of a loved one, disease, divorce, 9/11, tsunami).  They can also be smaller in scale, but still have the ability to rock us off our center and send us into fight, flight or freeze mode. At home, it’s being turned down for a mortgage, a conflict with your partner, or the message from your child’s principle asking for a meeting. At work, it’s getting an angry co-worker’s ‘ALL CAPS’ email, the lost sale, the less than stellar annual review (you had expected better).

How we’ve learned to habitually respond to these pressures and demands  – called our  Explanatory Style – determines how resilient we are, and how focused we can be to bring ourselves back to center. For leaders, this is a most crucial ability, as all eyes are on you waiting to take their cue after a set-back has hit.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a.k.a. the father of positive psychology, has studied the nature of resilience for more than 40 years. Of note, he has studied how we respond to failure in our lives. His research has been able to predict who will return to normal after failure, who will collapse, and who will grow. This is significant, because failing at something and experiencing loss is as common a trauma at work as dashed romance is in personal life. What we can learn from Seligman’s research is important because it’s applicable not just to how we deal with failure in our lives, but also how we can be resilient in the face of ANY pressures and demand we encounter. This includes when the Red Sox loose to the Yankees.

Do you know Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote?  “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Well, it’s not exactly accurate.  According to the research, how human beings react to adversity, especially extreme adversity, is normally distributed.  At one end are those that fall apart, feel helpless, hopeless, pessimistic & anxious, become depressed and stay that way for a very long time.  In the middle are most of us who react with symptoms initially, but within a month or so (or less), are back where they were before the trauma.  That is resilience.  On the other end are people who show growth – Nietzsche’s people.  These people, within a year, are better off than they were before the trauma.

In fact, Seligman and his colleagues, as reported in this month’s Harvard Business Review, have developed a program for teaching resilience and are now testing it in an organization of 1.1 million people where trauma is more common and more severe than any corporate setting: the U.S. Army.  Their goal is to reduce the number who struggle, and increase the number who grow.  The $145 million initiative is called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and in large part, they do this by helping soldiers learn to move from a pessimistic to optimistic, and most important, realistic explanatory style in which they personally interpret adversity.

Explanatory style is the habitual way we tend to interpret, and respond to setbacks in our lives.  It is usually acquired early from our parents. And like any habit, it is changeable – along as you maintain awareness.  It’s measured along 3 dimensions.  Non-resilient people habitually tend to live at the extremes of these dimensions.  Resilient people take a breath and assess the situation realistically. They are able to respond to trauma realistically & appropriately.

The 3 dimensions are:   Personal – Permanent – Pervasive.

See if you can identify if you tend toward non-resilient extremes when adversity strikes you.

1.  PERSONAL (Who or what is causing the adversity)

  • Extremes: TOTALLY DUE TO ME  – or –  TOTALLY DUE TO OTHERS or circumstances
  • Example:  Your business presentation gets shot down.
  • Do you say:“What’s wrong with me!”  “I don’t have what it takes!” “I’m no good at this!”
  • Do you say “What’s wrong with them!” “They expect too much!” “They are impossible to deal with!”
  • Reflexively going to either end will cause you to be non-resilient.

2. PERMANENT (How long will the adversity last)

  • Extremes: Will ALWAYS be present  – or –  Will NEVER AGAIN be present
  • Example #1:  You get laid off from your job.
  • Do you think: “I’ll never be able to find a job like that again!”
  • On the other extreme, do you think: “This is a fluke, it could never happen to me again!”
  • Example #2:  Your child gets a D in a course.
  • Do you think: “She’ll never get into a good college!”
  • On the other extreme, do you think: “This is a one-off, there’s nothing to be concerned about.”
  • Either belief could lead you to non-resilience.

3.  PERVASIVE (How much of my life is affected)

  • Extremes:  This will affect EVERYTHING in my life  – or –  This affects JUST THIS situation
  • Example #1:  You are 25 lbs overweight.
  • Do you think:  “I am ugly!”
  • On the other extreme, do you think: “I am 25 pounds overweight, there’s nothing to be concerned about.”
  • Example #2 (layoff): “My life is ruined!”


To be a resilient, optimistic, effective problem solver, and positively lead others, be aware of your explanatory style when adversity strikes. Pressure test your assumptions on the 3 P’s.  Resilient people are able to accurately read the adversity (or find others to help them do that), and then do something about it to get back to center.

Good luck.

Do You Hate Going to Business Networking Meetings?

March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am not a hunter, and I hate being hunted.  In the past that’s how I experienced business networking meetings.  You know, those business mixers with name badges, a sea of strangers daring you to approach them, and a stack of your business cards poking you in the ribs like a Glock G21.  Last summer, Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of BNI (world’s largest international business networking organization), and labeled by CNN as the “father of modern networking,” asked a crowd of over 500 at one of his association’s events: “How many of you came here hoping to do some business today – maybe make a sale?”  About half of the people raised their hands.  Then he asked: “How many of you are here hoping to buy something today?”

No one raised their hand.

Now, I’m not saying that sales don’t get made at networking meetings.  They do. But the lottery is probably a better play for you.  So if true, why invest your time (and money) to go to a networking mixer? The answer depends on your frame.  Frame #1 is the “hunter vs. the hunted” mindset  (the way I used to view networking meetings – and networking in general).  If you keep this frame, don’t go. Trust me,  it’s a waste of your time.  Frame #2 (Misner’s recommendation – and now mine) is that you view it – and experience it – as farming.  Farming in the sense of farming: You are planting seeds, caring about other people, and growing relationships that later on might provide RECIPROCAL BENEFITS to you and those you meet.  In the short term, you go to one of these events to increase your visibility, or to grow your credibility with others, or, as Dr. Misner suggests, to meet a known referral partner.   But what we have to keep in mind foremost is that successful relationship marketing means building a connection with others that is developed and nurtured over time, and most of all, others experience you as someone who cares about their needs and is able to help them – even in ways that clearly don’t directly benefit you.

People do not like to be sold.  You have to be patient and have the belief that in time, there will be a harvest from your investment.

Maybe think of these meetings the way Lucy Mauterer, an Atlanta BNI networker and owner of Healthy Cleaning Solutions does.  For her, networking mixers are like the first day of a school season.  A chance to meet new business playmates who are willing to play the game of business.  When you think of it this way, you think about how you can help them, if they can show you how, and if they wish, they can help you back.   I like this approach.  For me, it’s been a game changer.

So, what does helping others look like through the lens of business networking mixers? Beverly Kaye (President, Career Systems International) has a list of 10 ways people can experience you as helping them in the context of networking (many correlate to Dr. Misner’s 10 commandments of networking). Here’s Beverly’s advice:

  1. Introduce them to others.
  2. Share data you have that could help them (that’s what this blog is about).
  3. Promote their ideas.
  4. Help them brainstorm.
  5. Ask questions and listen to them.
  6. Volunteer to help them.
  7. Offer appreciation (specifically about what they did, and what positive result happened).
  8. Recommend them to others.
  9. Share your expertise (to help them get better).

If you are serious about the trajectory of your career, if you dare to think of yourself as “Me, Myself, Inc.,” then you need to think of business networking as a competency and practice to get better at.  We all do.  Even the pros.  Just remember to care for others, and help THEM grow.

Good luck.

Do You Have Global Brains?

February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

About ten years ago, when introducing this question to a group of managers in a leadership development program, I was asked what that actually meant.  Someone wondered aloud if it was a reference to the famous dinner scene with Ray Liotta’s character and the cannibalistic serial killer played by Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal. Ultimately it’s a question each of us has to answer for ourselves. But be wary of being too dismissive. I know a field service engineer who five years ago, spent all of his time maintaining wind turbines in rural United States. Not much use for the nuances of other cultures then.  Now, he’s a manager of field service crews not only in the U.S.,  but due to acquisitions by his company, he climbs the 200+ foot ladders with crews he supervises (well) in central and eastern Europe.

Just recently, GE’s Growth Value Competencies have been refreshed and brought forward into the global arena.  In this company, if you want to succeed as a global project manager, or even as a vibration analysis engineer in Kansas, you need to have global brains.  Here’s just a few examples of what that means at GE and how the company intends to evaluate it’s people:

  • Recognizes the importance of current global events, customs and practices related to one’s team.
  • Incorporates knowledge of world events into current work situations.
  • Adapts oneself to, and appreciates other cultures and customs.
  • Applies knowledge of current world events, and cultures to assigning roles and responsibilities.

OK, that’s fine, but how do you do those things?

In my development work with managers, I’ve found two great resources that helps my clients increase their global effectiveness capability. One is a terrific book:  Managing Across Cultures (Solomon & Schell, 2009).

The other is web-based GlobeSmart . An interactive website sold on an enterprise wide basis, so individual use is limited.  It’s data base of over 60 countries helps you understand the expectations, values and behaviors of other countries (not just facts and statistics) based on 6 dimensions of culture. These dimensions correlate highly to the work of other researchers (Geert Hofstede) , as well as the Managing Across Culture book.  What’s cool about GlobeSmart is that you can assess yourself on the 6 dimensions to get a read on your own biases, and then compare that to the dimensions of a country you’re interested in – and see where you line up, and where you need to pay attention in order to appreciate and work with others who are not like you.   GlobeSmart advises you on how to handle, per culture,  specific business challenges such as persuading others, motivating employees, resolving conflict, negotiating, making decisions, and if you want, will present you with short cases to test your learnings and assumptions.

Example: You are meeting a prospective client for the first time over lunch in a restaurant. Do you bring handouts with you and begin discussing business as soon as introductions are over? Or do you spend a leisurely amount of time (possibly the duration of the entire meal) finding out about the other person’s background and interests and waiting to talk business till another time?

Answer:  Generally speaking, in Mexico you wait.  In Germany, be prepared to talk business.

Caution: A little information can be a dangerous thing.  Whatever your reference is, be careful about jumping into stereotypes.  What the research tells you should not be a source of cultural absolutes.  What you’ll learn by going to these resources should not be applied to every person in every situation in a particular country.  There is variability within cultures (just think about the U.S. where a New England Yankee moves to Southern California). In all cultures, people are different according to background, education, ethnicity, age, gender, etc.  So, while it’s helpful to make some generalizations (Germans are generally direct in their communication), be careful about stereotyping with a fixed view (Americans are violent).

Below is a snapshot of a GlobeSmart country home page.

Here’s a summary of Key Cultural Dimensions that correlates across global brains literature:

1. Group vs. Individual Focus: In group cultures there is more attention to the needs of the group with recognition and decision making focused there  (ex: Japan, Malaysia).  Individualistic societies encourage people to express their uniqueness (Who’s the MVP after the big “team” game?). Laws here are focused on protecting individual rights (ex: Australia, N. America).  Take-Away: Think about whether you want to recognize an individual in public.  Think about whether you’ll put forth your own ideas – or will you try to touch base with everyone in your group first to make sure all views are reflected in your proposal

2. Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism: This is about how we view authority and power, how much deference we give to people in authority and whether or not individuals have a right to express themselves, make decisions on their own, and take initiative.  In hierarchical societies, social and organizational structures are stratified.  People in authority are treated with formality (ex: Germany, UAE, India).  Egalitarian cultures have few stated barriers to opportunity.  Authority is earned and can be challenged, the feel is more casual, and the belief is that all should be treated with the same amount of respect (ex: Israel, U.S., N. Europe).  Challenge Question:  February, 2011, where would you put Egypt? Take-Away: Consider this situation: You are on a sales call and when you walk into the room, your client, her boss and others are there.  Will you talk to whomever you like or need information from, or will you defer to status and rank and direct questions only to your client?

3. Transactional vs Interpersonal Relationships: Here it is about how important it is (or not) to develop personal relationships before conducting business and whether trust is assumed or earned at the onset. Interpersonal societies (ex: Mexico, China, Saudi Arabia) conduct business after rapport is developed. Who you are, and who you know is important.  This takes time and effort and as a result, relationships (and networks) mean a lot in these cultures and they are often passed down through generations. On the other end of the spectrum, are the Transactional cultures where people don’t need to know others well before they do business and associations develop quickly, but may not last for more than a short time (ex: N. Europe, N. America).  Focus in these societies is on achievement/what you can do.  This dimension is a challenge for U.S. companies as they hire overseas. Companies governed by U.S. Fair Employment Practices Law cannot not ask candidates about their (non job related) hobbies or their families.  In Mexico (if you are hiring there), you can expect people to be insulted if you don’t ask them about these interests! Take-Away: If you are doing business with a visitor from an Interpersonal culture, be prepared to spend time with them outside of the work hours.  It’s likely that they will expect you to bring them home to meet your family and/or friends.

4. Non-Direct vs. Direct Communication Style: There are some cultures that place great attention to what, when and how something is said.  Context, background info, tone and non-verbals count for a lot and carry meaning.  In these Non-Direct countries (ex: China, India, UAE, other Middle East countries) there is great importance placed on harmony and saving face, so publicly debating someone on their idea is not so acceptable. On the other side (ex: Germany, Denmark, Israel, the U.S. – but less so) are countries where getting to the point, making strong eye contact and saying exactly what you mean is seen as a virtue.  Openly confronting difficulties and providing constructive feedback are skills that are valued and taught from an early age. Take-Away: Consider this situation: Imagine you have a direct report and have heard complaints about this person’s work.  Do you talk to the person immediately and not worry about where and when the conversation happens? Or are you more likely to go for a drink or lunch with the person preferring a non-threatening, relaxed setting to feel out how things are going in general?

5. High (short term)  vs. Low (long term) Time Orientiation: There are some places where the belief is that time is fixed, can be spent, lost or squandered.  These High – or short term – Time oriented cultures value immediate results, efficiency, schedules, and short-term benefits. Time is of most importance, meetings start and end on time. Punctuality is a virtue (ex: Switzerland, Germany, Israel, U.S.).  If you go to the Low Time end of the continuum (ex: UAE, Spain, Brazil, Africa), you experience how much relationships matter over efficiency. Plans change frequently, and arriving late to a meeting doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on you.  In fact, scheduling time is often viewed as a limiting activity.  In Mexico, when your child is invited to a party you are told that it will start at 3 pm.  Unlike the invitations to my kids’ parties – there is no end time noted.  My Mexican friend laughs at our custom of labeling the end time. He asks: “Is that when the fun is expected to end?” Take-Away: Low Time Orientation people often appreciate being informed and reminded about due dates and milestones.

6. Tolerance for Risk vs. Risk Adverse: In Saudi Arabia, children are taught: “The chameleon does not leave one branch till it is sure of the next one.” Risk Adverse cultures (ex: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Chile, Czech Republic) minimize risk through information gathering and thorough processes for getting things done.  Speed is less valued than thoroughness.  In these cultures failure is viewed more negatively than cultures that are more tolerant of risk (ex: Australia, Canada, Israel). Here, taking risks is more acceptable and flexibility, quick results and speed are more valued.  Interestingly, the U.S. scores in the middle. China in the past was seen as more Risk Adverse, but it is transforming and moving to the other side due mostly to their fast economic growth. Sort of like the U.S. was back in the “Westward Ho!” days.  Take-Away: Consider this situation:  A manager from corporate is asking you to make a decision regarding your department’s ability to commit to a specific production goal by the end of the month. Do you tend to make an approximate guess at the number of units you believe your department will produce, figuring it’s better to shoot for a high goal, than to be too conservative. Or, do you ask for more information, require time to research many different factors, want some assurance of the qualifications of the individual or group asking the questions, need to consult other members of the group, etc.?


  1. Be aware of your own biases and how they play out for you in business and social interactions, even within your own culture.
  2. In a cross-cultural situation, be thoughtful about who you are interacting with and don’t make assumptions that they are the same as you.
  3. Do the research.  In advance.
  4. Be a compassionate detective: Ask others from different cultures how they want to be treated, how flexible they are on time, etc.

Good luck.  Get Better!

Meditation Proven to Increase Emotional Intelligence

February 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

My friend, a meditator, has been saying this for years and now it’s proven. Meditation helps him as a business leader.  In the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, researchers found that pre-post changes in certain areas of gray-matter density resulted from 30 minutes of Mindful Meditation.  The changes in the brain were in areas associated with self-regard, empathy, emotional regulation reality testing and optimism.

And BTW – the research showed that gray matter concentration increased in brain regions associated with learning and memory processing as well.  So the practice can also make you smarter!

As we are learning in the field of behavioral neuroscience, there is more than one intelligence.  While IQ is basically set in our teens, EQ can be improved.  Great leaders know how to understand and manage themselves and their response to pressures and demands around them.  Who would want to be lead by someone who doesn’t do that?

Mindful Meditation, known also as Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a non-religious practice and is accepted, and promoted, in the medical community (helps blood pressure problems). It’s been around in the United States since the 70’s.  The research that has just come out is the first of it’s kind to clinically prove actual changes in the brain.  John Kabat-Zinn, MD and professor at UMASS Medical School is a noted leader in the MBSR field and it may be worth your while to view a video of John leading a session on mindfulness at Google.    Click here to view the video.

If you want to get better, more effective, happier and healthier –  as a leader, friend, parent, brother, sister – you have another tool now to support you on your journey.

And for those of you who are saying “This is not me, and I don’t have the time for this,”  the volunteer subjects in the research were “meditation-naive participants” and practised MBSR 30 minutes/day for 8 weeks to get significant results.

This is doable for all of us.

Good luck!

Can You Really Boost Your Emotional Intelligence by Attending a Workshop?

January 8, 2011 § 4 Comments

Reuven BarOn, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis  and others have shown that emotional and social intelligence accounts more for success in life than smarts.  There is a growing consensus that EI competencies can be developed (whereas IQ is fixed by the time we are 15 years old).  EI is a major topic of interest in leadership development.  In fact, according to an ASTD report, 80% of companies are trying to promote and develop EI with their employees, particularly through training and developement, evaluating performance, and in hiring practices.

But can attending an EI workshop really effect your development of EI leadership competencies?  This question was studied and reported in the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (Demystifying the EI Quick Fix, Laurie Carrick, Training & Development, Nov. 2010).  Participants from a variety of  companies and organizations took the EQ-i assessment then attended a ½ day workshop where feedback was given to each person on their level of EI.  During the workshop, participants learned about the components of EI and their importance in the management of people.  A key component of the session had participants focus on the few, leveraged EI competencies they wanted to improve (ie: assertiveness, empathy, impulse control, … ) and had them set specific goals, objectives and action plans for personal change.  Post training coaching was provided. Also, a three month post  EQ-i  assessment was administered to determine if any change actually happened.

The Findings:   If post-training coaching reinforcement doesn’t happen, it’s likely that improvement of your EI competenies will not happen. Participants in the ½ day session gained awareness of EI and their personal level of competence in EI, but that was not enough to cement personal change.  Only 27% achieved improvements on a few of the competencies.  The good news is that the combination of WORKSHOP + POST-COACHING sessions worked.  When the post-coaching sessions specifically focused on follow through of action plans, that was enough to help a significant number of people achieve their goals.

Take Away: If you want to improve your EI as a result of attending a workshop, you’d best set yourself up with post-session coaching.

How to Set-Up Your Own,  Zero-Cost, Peer Coaching, Follow-Up (Adapted from the work of Marshall Goldsmith)

1.    Find a partner in the workshop who will commit to being your Peer Coach for the next 90 days.

2.    Each of you develop a  list of 10-20 MEANINGFUL, GOAL RELATED, DAILY QUESTIONS you will have the other person ask you, on the phone, each day for the next 90 days. These will be short calls – only a couple of minutes/call – and it’s best to work off a fixed, daily time if possible.  The questions will be different for each of you because you are working towards different EI objectives.  Note that the questions will only elicit a ‘Yes/“No” answer, or a #.  For example:

For working on ASSERTIVENESS: “If you disagreed with your boss today, were you able to tell her?”   “How many times did you stand up for your needs today?” . . .

For working on EMPATHY“How many times were you able to reflect back another’s feelings?” . . .

For working on IMPULSE CONTROL: On a 1-10 scale, how well were you able to control your anger today?”   “How many times did you interrupt someone while they were speaking?”. . .

3.    No discussions, no elaborations.  Don’t make negative feedback comments or any comments that might produce feelings of guilt in the other person.  It’s OK to make short positive comments to reinforce successes and positive trends.

4.     Consider adding questions that touch on different areas of your life (“Did you tell your spouse you loved them?” How many sit-ups did you do today?” “Did you eat well?”)

5.     At the end of asking questions of each other, simply say thanks and confirm tomorrow’s call time.  If you miss a session, just pick it up the next day.

That’s it!

Specificity of  an objective, and being held accountable to a living, breathing, human being are the secret sauce to successful personal change.   Every gym trainer knows this.  Besides having my clients practice this – and seeing success – I’m a user myself.

Good Luck!


December 26, 2010 § 11 Comments

In a 2009 report: “Turbocharging Employee Engagement,” Towers Watson reported on research that found “58% of workers trust their immediate supervisor.”  This means that 42% of people in the workforce are mistrustful of their boss.


It stinks to work in an environment where you mistrust your boss, but what’s the business cost of this?  Has it been quantified?  It has, and it’s quite significant.  According to Tony Simons’  2002 Harvard Business Review article:  “The High Cost of Lost Trust,”  6,500 employees in the U.S. and Canadian hotel industry were surveyed and asked  questions about their managers’ behaviors including questions on the integrity and sincerity of their boss. The findings: Hotels where employees tended to trust their managers “…were substantial more profitable…”  In fact, a 4% increase in the trust of management  “….could be expected to increase the hotel’s profitability by 2.5% of revenues..(which)… translates to a profit increase of more than $250,000 per year per hotel. No other single aspect of manager behavior that we measured had as large an impact on profits.

Trust.  What exactly is it and how do we get to be seen as trustworthy?

Is it simply credibility and dependability based on knowledge and expertise?  I know a mechanic I would trust to fix my car, but I’m not sure I would trust him alone in my house.    Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was once asked to define trust.  His response:  “I know it when I see it,” (almost identical to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s response to how he would define pornography).  Charles Feltman (The Thin Book of Trust. Oregon, Thin Book Publishing Co., 2009) defines it as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”  As managers, we need and we want to be seen as trustworthy.

Feltman did research on this perception of trustworthiness.  He asked people to rate themselves, and others on a  1-10 scale (10= “can be trusted in all situations,”  1=  “can rarely or never be trusted”).  He found that people “….tend to judge others to be less trustworthy than [themselves].”  This means you can likely predict that there are people you work with who experience you as less trustworthy than you experience yourself.


What are the factors that make us trustworthy?

Maister, Green and Galford studied the elements of trust (The Trusted Advisor. New York, The Free Press, 2000) and have put trustworthiness into an equation, with four independent variables.  I have used these behavioral foci to help my coaching clients increase their trustworthiness.                                        

Trustworthiness      =      (C + R + I) /  S

C = Credibility.          Can people trust and believe your competence, trust what you know and say about subjects?  Does your logic hold together? Do you say ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t,  or do you spin?  Credibility is about truthfulness, knowledge, credentials.

R = Reliability            Can people trust you to act?  Do you deliver what you promise? Are you consistent, dependable and predictable (your project docs have a consistent look and feel; you are rigorous with business practices and following up on issues)?  Are you sincere (say what you mean, mean what you say) and do your actions back up your words? As my friend Chuck Phillips used to say, “does your video match your audio?

I = Intimacy                Do people feel safe around you?  Can they trust that you won’t embarrass them?   Do they experience you as discreet and empathic? Would they say you listen to them,  accept their point of view, appreciate them when they deserve it,  share your own vulnerabilities with them?

S = Self-Orientation    Would they say you keep THEIR interests in mind when you make decisions and take actions?  When problems occur, do they see you owning up to your role in them, versus blaming others?  Do you apologize when you need to? Would they say that you act in ways that really has their best interests, their careers at heart (especially when there’s no direct benefit to you)?

Take-Away: In a study of over 12,000 individuals (Maister,, the findings showed that the people who strongly lead with Credibility and Reliability had among the lowest overall trustworthiness scores!  High Credibility and Reliability are the rational components of trust and are incorrectly assumed as good enough to label someone (or yourself) as trustworthy.  High Intimacy & Low Self-Orientation are the emotional/psychological components of trust, and are the most critical. Without these in place, people will limit their trust of you to specific situations (ie: just to your area of expertise, like me and the car mechanic), but not to YOU as their manager. And as their manager, you will not succeed at creating a climate of safety, engagement and creativity. And you will not be experienced as trustworthy as you would like to be.

So, what’s the single most leveraged behavior you can practice to increase your trustworthiness?  LISTEN MORE.  Listening triggers the human process of reciprocity,  and you will build intimacy and trust.  Never underestimate how much people just want to feel that they have been heard.

Consider what New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman says on the matter:

People often ask me how I, an American Jew, have been able to operate in the Arab/Muslim world for 20 years, and my answer to them is always the same. The secret is to be a good listener.  It has never failed me….Indeed, the most important part of listening is that it is a sign of respect. It is not just what you hear by listening that is important.  It is what you say by listening that is important…”

Emotions are Contagious

December 15, 2010 § 4 Comments

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, Weep and you weep alone,” begins Emma Wheeler Wilcox’s poem Solitude. She wrote it in 1883 shortly after her train ride to Madison, Wisconsin where she was looking forward to attending the governor’s inaugural ball.  Enroute, she noticed a crying young woman dressed in black.  Emma sat next to her and comforted the woman for the rest of the trip. When she arrived in Madison, Emma was acutely aware of how depressed she felt. She wondered if she would even be able to attend the festivities.

smiling frowning woman

More than 100 years later science has proven that indeed, emotions are contagious.  In a 2008 Harvard Business Review article, “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership,” Goleman and Boyatzis reported on the behavioral neuroscience discovery of mirror neurons in our brains. Think about what happens to you when you’re near someone who yawns.  That’s mirror neurons being activated. This class of brain cells apparently act like neural Wi-Fi that help us detect someone else’s emotions and create a quick shared experience.

When you’re at work and someone smiles at you, these mirror neurons light up (faster than you are aware of cognitively) and make you smile as well.  There’s a subset of these neurons whose only focus is to detect others’ smiles and laughter prompting smiles and laughter in return (Aha!  the science behind the TV laugh track!)

Mirror neurons are important in leading people.  A leader’s emotions and resulting behaviors prompt others to mirror those feelings and deeds. Research showed that if you have a boss who is easygoing, smiles, laughs and generally sets a positive tone, you have people around her that act more like that, are more bonded, and perform better. According to Goleman:  “…top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often (compared to) mid-performing leaders.” Leaders who appeared solemn, self-controlled, and humorless “..rarely engaged those neurons of their team members,” and those leaders didn’t perform as well.  For you sales people: Individuals who are anxious and stressed make others feel similarly, which decreases the likelihood of a sale.

The take-away: Being aware of your emotions and how you are behaving is the foundation of emotional and social intelligence.  Be thoughtful of what you are feeling and how you’re behaving, especially in stressful situations.  New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani recalls the morning of 9/11 and credits the advice his father gave him:  “In a crisis, you have to become the calmest person in the room.”

To see emotional contagion in action, check out this 2 minute CELTICS FAN CELEBRATION video (hint: Full screen & volume up!)