About geraldgraham

Professor, author and management consultant.

How to Communicate with a Difficult Boss


“My vice-president is hard to work with,” a manager said to me.

“Do others feel the same way?” I asked.

“Yes, there is general frustration.”

“Exactly, what does the vice president do that causes stress?”

“His meetings last way too long and we still do not agree on what we need to do. He sometimes gives different messages to our staff members than to us.  When someone brings up an issue, he listens.  Then he joins others in identifying why it is an issue, but we do not identify a solution.”

When experiencing noisome relations with someone (including your boss), it is necessary to communicate honestly with the person.  But communication with another about a troubling behavior is akin to walking on tacks.

Pick one, and only one, issue and avoid any mention of what you think the boss may be doing wrong.  Rather, begin with something like, “I think we may be missing some opportunities here.  During our meetings, how about I list the options being discussed?  At some point, I can summarize the ideas and see if we can get support for one of them.”

Don’t expect an immediate miracle turnaround.  Be patient, stay the course, and look for small improvements.

 

Are Flexible Work Arrangements a Fad or a Trend?


What if there were no set work hours for employees or no specific places they had to be to do their work?  Would the result be extra “vacation time” for many employees?

Perhaps not.  Bill Gates said that the most important perk companies could give their employees is flexible work arrangements.

Bill Murphy, Jr., columnist for Inc.com, reports on several studies were productivity and efficiency actually increased when employees were allowed to work anywhere.   And there could be a savings in costly office space as well.

Many companies (Dell, Apple, Jet Blue, American Express, Amazon and others) currently allow some of their employees to work from anywhere at any time.

Still, I do not believe the work-from-anywhere option will spread like wildfire throughout the workforce.  Employees who work in factories, retail establishments, transportation, food service and the like have to be at specific places at specific times to do their jobs.

Further, even with our robust technical tools, teams that require collaboration may need to work in close proximity.  Reliable, individual performance metrics also help.

I’m sure many employees prefer flexible work arrangements–count me in this group–and I think we will see more companies embracing this practice.

Are You a Balcony Leader or a Basement Leader?


Employees in Department A described their manager with comments such as:

“She sincerely cares about us.”

“A very good listener; that’s how I would describe her.”

“A good cheerleader, realistic but upbeat.”

“When she comes into the room, the energy level goes way up.”

Employees in Department B, when describing their leader, said things like.

“It seems that she thinks our work is never quite good enough.”

“I may not see her for days, but if I do make an error, I hear back immediately.”

“She may want the team to succeed but she will see negatives in everything.

“She has high turnover.  No one wants to work with her.”

Joyce Heatherly in her book, BALCONY PEOPLE, explained the differences between these two leaders.

Balcony leaders (Department A) are encouraging, helpful, considerate and joyful.  They seek ways to grow and develop staff members and ensure their successes.  They are diligent, compassionate and quick to forgive.  Balcony leaders strive to develop staff members to be the best they can be.

By contract basement leaders (Department B) are very critical and hold grudges.  They have long memories and put their individual desires above all others.  Basement leaders belittle, discourage and take energy out of the team members.

 

The Team with the Better Players Usually Wins


I believe the greatest responsibility of a leaders is to make their teams better.  Jack Welch, the former outstanding CEO of General Electric phrased it this way, “The team with the better players usually wins.”

Whether the arena be sports or a company, there are three major strategies for improving your team.

One, invest heavily in developing current team members. “We are always training and retaining our operators,” a manger told me. “And whenever we get a new tool or discover a better process, we educate members thoroughly.”

Two, consider shifting the roles of some of your team members.  A member, who performs marginally in some tasks, may perform well in different tasks.

A manager of a floral shop said, “Soon after I assumed my position, I began getting many customer complaints about one of our employees.  I asked the owner, why he had kept the person and he said because she is a genius in floral arrangements.  I moved her to the back of the house arranging customer orders and she performed exceptionally well.”

Three, if marginal employees do not respond to training and if there are no other tasks they can perform well, the only remaining option is to replace the marginal employee with a more talented individual.

Do You Have Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?


As a leader, information comes at you from many directions, for example:  conversations with others, reports, phone calls, texts, and emails.  A less obvious source of data includes what you see, sense and feel.

Dr. Goleman in his book, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (EQ), wrote that EQ is the ability to perceive and regulate your own emotions and to understand others’ emotions.  Below are staff members’ comments about their boss who was known to have a high EQ.

“When the (bleep) hits the fan, she is the calmest person in the room.”

“She can sense when you are worried and empathize with what you are going through.”

“She is not a poker player.  You can tell immediately if she is pleased, puzzled, or upset.”

“She is a good listener and she gives meaningful feedback.”

“She just seems to know what is needed and how to gain the confidence of others.”

Individuals who register low EQ may act erratically, hide their emotions, fail to see the stress in others, are paralyzed by decision making, have wide mood shifts, and recoil from the slightest set back.

Many, including myself, believe that a high EQ dramatically increases the odds of leader success.

 

You Must Learn to Read Your Manager


Two newly appointed managers were discussing their vice president.

“I have a hard time communicating with him.  He asks for status reports but he doesn’t listen, he interrupts, and seems easily distracted.”

“How do you present your information?”

“I send him written reports.  In meetings, I give him updates and back them up with data and justifications.”

“He doesn’t want to hear all of that.  He is not a reader.  Just give him two or three key data points.  Use charts and graphs.  If he wants more information, he will ask.”

To communicate well, managers must learn to read their bosses preferences.  Does the boss prefer written or oral reports?  Just a summary or gobs of tedious minutiae?

Some managers want to hear about plan disruptions immediately.  Others like more systematic, periodic reports and may say, “Bring that up at our next meeting.”

Above all, find out what most interests your manager, that is, what may keep the boss up at night.  Is it schedule?  Work quality?  Safety?  Customer service?  Something else?

By learning your boss’s preferences, you will know where to put your energy.  Further, your encounters will be both more pleasant and more effective.

Why Didn’t Someone Every Tell Me?


“I don’t understand why the manager lets Warren get away with behaving like he does,” one friend said to another after a particularly stressful team meeting.

“I know.  Warren is arrogant and downright rude.  His report did have errors in it and when someone called him on it, he starting ranting like a spoiled child.”

“It’s not the first time.  He has a history of bragging, not delivering and then shutting people down with his anger.  I think some people are afraid of him.”

Warren had been on the team for a year.  In his first two months, Warren caught a design error that saved the company considerable time and money.  But he had no other notable successes.  His team behaviors, which  were never great, worsened during the last six months.

Eventually, the manager called Warren into his office, and after listing several incidents of bad behavior, said, “Warren, your early performance showed promise.  But the team can no longer tolerate your disruptive behaviors.  I’m letting you go.”

Warren, looking like he had been betrayed by his only friend, first flashed rage and then in a downtrodden voice said, “You are firing me for that?  Why didn’t someone every tell me?”