Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2014

Do men and women have the same approach to taking risks?

LeanInSandbergIn her book Lean In, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to “lean in”, to “be more open to taking risks in their careers” since “being risk averse can result in stagnation.”  She suggests that women need to “overcorrect” from their current risk-averse position in order to “find the middle ground”.  Earlier this week, Professor Karl Moore at McGill University’s Faculty of Management (and my fellow columnist at The Globe & Mail) penned an article about just the opposite, how men need to “lean out”.  Together with his student Shaun Collins, they make the case for why men “need to ‘overcorrect’ from their excessive risk-taking towards a more calculated neutral position”.  This point of view that not only caught my attention, but also echoed what I repeatedly hear from leaders (both male and female) in client companies.  Continue reading

Making assumptions is a dangerous leadership practice

This video was actually filmed several years ago by an ABC crew as a social experiment about making assumptions, but I only stumbled across it recently.  It’s over 4 minutes which you may think is long, but watch it – I think you’ll be hooked (and will want to watch it all the way through) after only the first few seconds.

Obviously, the primary message in this video has to do with assumptions – in this case beliefs based on skin colour and gender.  But this experiment got me thinking beyond just racism and sexism; it got me thinking about whether we, as leaders, might unintentionally and unconsciously make other assumptions about our employees.

Marta is a first-generation immigrant, so she must be a hard worker.  Continue reading

How can you build trust in the workplace?

TrustLast week I asked the question – is trust in the workplace earned or lost?  Unexpectedly, responses were mixed: I expected the majority to subscribe to my philosophy of “You have my trust unless you prove me otherwise”, but a surprising number of managers still advocate the “Trust should be earned” viewpoint.  These unforeseen results got me thinking about a follow-up question – Okay, in that case, if trust needs to be earned, what can you (as a manager or team leader) do to foster an environment in which your employees can gain your trust?  Here are some quick ideas:

  1. Find points of commonality, either at a professional or a personal level.  Perhaps you and one of your staff members both have a love of travel, or you and one of your employees both graduated from the same university or college; common ground creates conversation starters and forms the foundation on which to build a relationship.  And as relationships grow, so does trust. Continue reading

Set a date (and keep it) to build your credibility

Seth Godin said something on his blog the other day that struck a chord with me.


If you haven’t announced a date, you’re not serious.

Pick a date. It can be far in the future. Too far, and we’ll all know that you’re merely stalling. A real date, a date we can live with and a date you can deliver on.

If your project can’t pass this incredibly simple test, it’s not a project.

Deliver whatever it is you say you’re working on on the date you said you would, regardless of what external factors interfere. Deliver it even if you don’t think it’s perfect. You picked the date.

And as a professional, the career-making habit is this: once you set a date, never miss a date.

Now Seth was talking primarily to entrepreneurs since that is his target market.  Continue reading

Is trust in the workplace earned or lost?

TrustRecently, there have been a couple of situations that have occurred that have made me think about trust in the workplace, and how important it is for a strong relationship to exist between leaders and their employees.  When I first started working full-time (back in 1988!), the prevailing sentiment was that “Trust should be earned“.  In other words, if you come to work on my team, then you have to prove yourself, and once you’ve done that, then I, the leader, will trust you.  Turns out that many managers and supervisors (still) subscribe to this point of view.

But over the years, I have grown to take a different approach to building trust.  My philosophy for many years has been “You have my trust unless you prove me otherwise“.  So, my going-in position with all my employees, from day one, is “I trust you”.  And I will only change my mind if you do something that makes me reconsider my opinion and causes me to lose trust in you.  Continue reading

Active listening can be accomplished by asking questions

Listening To GossipActive listening is a learned skill, one that gets better with use and practice.  And being a good active listener comes with rewards – not only does it give you more information on which to base your decisions and actions, but perhaps more importantly, it helps you get the best from your employees.  When you listen, actively listen, to what your employees have to say, not only does it affirm them, but it builds and solidifies your relationships with your staff.  In past blog posts, I’ve written about what gets in the way of active listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in” and Be aware of mental and physical barriers that can get in the way) but today I want to talk about the opposite – what can you do to become a more active listener?

One idea – ask questions.  Continue reading

Be proactive – think like a chess grand master to avoid a “checkmate”

ChessPiecesIn chess, a checkmate occurs when a player’s king is under attack, and has no alternative plan or course of action available because every possible escape route is blocked.  At the moment of checkmate, the game is already lost, so the only way to avoid being checkmated is to be proactive, to strategically think several moves before ever getting to this point.  Chess grand masters, able to visualize permutations and combinations involving ten or more moves into the future, have perfected this skill.  Fortunately, it’s far less complicated to avoid a checkmate in the world of work!  In fact, there are only three elements needed to develop a leadership approach that is effective in avoiding a workplace checkmate.

  1. First, pay attention to “checks”.  In chess, a “check” (called by a player when the opponent’s king is under threat of capture) serves as a warning that a checkmate is imminent and gives the opponent a chance to take evasive action.  Checks are also present in the workplace, alarm signals to leaders that things are about to go awry.  But it’s up to leaders to pay attention.  Whether it’s an increase in errors, a rise in customer complaints, or grumbling around the staff water cooler, it’s up to leaders to heed the cautionary signs and take evasive action.
  2. Second, pay attention to the pieces on the board.  Continue reading

Lessons about employee engagement and culture from Mary Poppins

VickiHess2Vicki Hess is not only a highly-respected employee engagement expert, but also my professional colleague and good friend.  In fact, she’s been a guest contributor to the blog before when she penned Professional paradise: oxymoron or business imperative?  And now she’s back!  Today she dives into the world of Mary Poppins to offer us advice once again on how to build fully-engaged employees and leaders.

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Did you see the movie Saving Mr. Banks in theaters recently? I’m a big Mary Poppins fan. I have a signed poster from the Broadway show hanging in my office. I saw the show a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Something about the upbeat songs and the story of transformation and change is very appealing. It also reminded me of the very popular movie that I watched over and over again as a child. Continue reading