Last year, I did an entire video series focusing entirely on effective and powerful employee motivators; strategy #19 was to delegate responsibility, authority AND accountability. I was reminded of this important leadership tenet a few evenings ago in the most unexpected spot … following dinner at a Chinese restaurant!
Leadership wisdom from a fortune cookie
I admit it … I love cracking open a fortune cookie! It’s the excitement of the unknown … what great wisdom is about to be imparted in the palm of my hand? And the other night, after a delicious bowl of noodles and spicy green beans, the opportunity arose once again! I held the ends of the crisp cookie between each hand, and pulled it apart with great anticipation. The sage insight that fell out on to the table:
No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Plato-worthy! But nevertheless, it still caught my attention … because it actually contains a great leadership message. Continue reading →
Last April, here on the blog I asked the question: What’s stopping you from moving forward? And to answer it, I used the metaphor of paddling a kayak. Today, I have another metaphor to address the same question.
Imagine a bungee cord
Imagine a bungee cord. One end is attached to a fixed object and the other is hooked to the back of your belt. As long as you stay close to the stationary end, the cord remains loose and there is no tension. But as you walk away, the slack in the cord will begin to tighten and you’ll feel a pull on your back. Continue to step away and you’ll find that eventually it will be a struggle to keep going. In fact, not only will the bungee cord hold you back from moving forward, but you will also be at serious risk of either losing your pants or getting smacked by a broken bungee.
All of us have bungee cords attached to us, links to the past that hold us back from moving forward. And the more we try to get ahead, the more the stress and tension grows forcing us to stay where we are. And often the fear of losing our pants or getting smacked by the broken bungee keeps us from continuing to try. Continue reading →
The sorites paradox: if individual grains of sand are removed one at a time from a hypothetical heap of sand, what is the point at which the heap can no longer be considered a heap? At first glance, you may think that this is merely a philosophical question, but the metaphor has great applicability if you carry it into the workplace. Consider this: if minor seemingly harmless problems or changes go unnoticed and do not individually attract attention, is there a possibility that eventually the sum total of these issues over time will result in a major setback? And what if the significant outcome is one that, if it would have happened all at once, would have been regarded as negative, undesirable or objectionable?
As a leader, you no doubt have a multitude of issues to deal with – and what usually happens is that the crises get dealt with, but often everything else seems to drag on. Thus, it’s useful to periodically ask yourself the question – what’s stopping you from moving forward? Whether it’s streamlining an outdated work process, dealing with an ongoing interpersonal conflict, or getting that big project on your to-do list started, what is preventing you from moving forward? I have a metaphoric perspective to offer.
Is your kayak moving forward?
Here in the northern hemisphere, as the days get longer and the mercury begins to claw its way up out of the negative digits, collective minds turn to spring and upcoming warm-weather leisure activities. I am no exception as I think longingly of my favourite watersport – kayaking.
Sitting low to the water at dawn, legs outstretched, the blades of my paddle slicing through the water like a knife through butter, moving almost silently across the vast expanse of the calm harbour, the stillness broken only by the rhythmic gentle sound of the oars and an occasional call of a seabird. For me, the image evokes both serenity and triumph. Serenity because kayaking gives me time to think. And triumph because several miles of kayaking makes me feel like I’ve gotten a good workout. But the picture-perfect scene quickly shatters …. when I realize that my kayak is still tied to the dock!
What is your workplace equivalent?
Sure, laugh if you must; I did too (well, much later) when it happened to me. But I bring it up to make a very specific point. Continue reading →
Every so often I run across a nugget of news that makes me shake my head, partly in amazement and partly in frustration. Take the case of Veronika Bobrus, a 26-year old Russian florist who, exasperated by number of potholes in her home town of Omsk (and seeming lack of action by city crews), decided to take matter into her own hands. Mind you, not by complaining to the city, or going to the media, or god-forbid, staging a sit-in, but by taking action. By going out in the middle of the night with concrete and gravel to fill the potholes herself! In the middle of winter! In Siberia! She became an overnight local celebrity in Omsk (dubbed the “road fairy”) when last month, a local motorist caught her on his dashboard camera and subsequently posted the video online.
So far, so good, you might be saying. Why would this cause you to shake your head Merge? Continue reading →
The premise: Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness – a statement I make repeatedly to managers and supervisors. What I’m really saying is: make decisions and take action. In the column, I tell you why, I explain what I mean, and I even show you how to “ask” for forgiveness. And guess what? The word “sorry” doesn’t come up even once!
As always, I’m eagerly awaiting your reactions and perspectives. As in all the columns I write for The Globe, it’s a short read and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. I really want to know what you think! Do you agree? Or not? Add your viewpoint to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, drop me an email or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).
And please help me get the word out … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love to hear from them as well! And if you have experiences or “war stories” of your own to share, PLEASE DO!
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere: http://tgam.ca/EHTj
You might have already read about the public relations nightmare that Papa Johns, the international fast-food pizza chain, faced recently. But if you haven’t …
Last Monday, on January 7, Minhee Cho stopped in to pick up a pizza at a Manhattan location of this chain. The young cashier rang in the sale, and then typed in a description on the receipt to identify the customer. The description – “lady chinky eyes”. Ms. Cho, not surprisingly, was a tad bit offended and posted a picture of the receipt on her Twitter account with the following text: Hey @PapaJohns just FYI my name isn’t “lady chinky eyes”. Also not surprisingly, the photo went viral. In fact, last I checked, it had been viewed 244,843 times.
A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with several clients at a popular eatery in Chicago. The atmosphere was lively and the conversation animated, and while emphasizing a particular point, one of my dinner partners accidentally knocked over her drink. A staff member rushed over to clean it up and our waitress offered a refill.
“Yes please” replied my colleague, “but this time, could you put it into a short glass instead of a tall one.” “I want to make sure I don’t spill it again,” she said with a smile.
Imagine my surprise when the waitress’ brow furrowed and she replied, “I don’t think I can do that. We only make this drink in tall glasses. I’ll have to check with the bartender, but I can’t make any promises.”
Seriously?! Our collective jaws dropped as the waitress left to determine whether such a breach in beverage protocol would cause havoc and consternation in the kitchen! Continue reading →
When you get agreement from an employee on a particular course of action, increase the likelihood that the employee will follow through on the commitment by asking him or her to summarize the decision in an email and send it to you. This seemingly small action is very powerful because research has shown that people are much more likely to follow through on commitments that they have made when it is in writing. This concept was first demonstrated in an experiment conducted by Delia Cioffi and Randy Garner and published in the February 1996 issue of the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin. A group of undergraduates was asked to volunteer for a AIDS education project by filling out a printed form and affirming their choice. A second group volunteered for the same projects but this time by leaving blank a form stating that they didn’t wish to participate. So the first group volunteered by saying yes (active choice) and the second group volunteered by not saying no (passive choice). Later, when the volunteers reported for duty, approximately three-quarters of those who showed up were the students who made an active choice to participate. Since this original experiment, subsequent research has continued to demonstrate that people are much more likely to live up to what they have written down. Worth keeping in mind if you have a situation where you want to ensure follow-through.
What do you think? Have you seen this phenomenon to be true in your workplace? Share your experiences by clicking on the Comment link below.
On May 27, I fractured my foot as I (mis)stepped off the stage after delivering a keynote at a conference in Penticton, Canada. Unfortunately, I did not realize I’d fractured it (I thought it was just a nasty sprain) until May 30. Between when the break happened and when it was diagnosed, I had traveled 9,390 miles and 23 hours across the Atlantic, over Europe and Asia, and was now in New Delhi, India. Definitely not the ideal time to discover that I needed medical attention! For the next two weeks, I was scheduled to be in four different cities in India, and my timetable involved a fair amount of walking, both on stage as well as on uneven terrain. A broken foot was definitely going to put a crimp (or should I say gimp) in my plans. This was my first visit to India in almost thirty years, so it was with some trepidation (even though he came highly-recommended) that I went to see an orthopedic surgeon. I need not have worried.
Dr. Seth took the time to ask several questions and gather relevant information; he took ownership of the (in this case, my) problem; and then he acted decisively to produce a solution. He examined my foot, sent me for x-rays, and listened while I told him about my business and leisure plans over the next two weeks. His thoughtful questions and genuine interest in my concerns made me feel like he understood my apprehensions about my various commitments in India. I could tell that he was exploring alternatives to support my foot and help the fractures heal, while still letting me manage my obligations in the upcoming days. The final solution: a lightweight fiberglass walking cast with a waterproof liner. Within moments of receiving my concurrence, my foot was being cast. Less than one hour later, I walked out of his office, pleasantly amazed and utterly impressed with his focus on getting things done.
So what can a leader learn from Dr. Seth about getting things done? Three things – take the time to gather relevant information, take ownership of the problem, and then act decisively to produce a solution. Not that difficult, is it? Then why do so many people get it wrong? Your thoughts?