WARNING: I have a SHORT FUSE

Mark is a senior manager at a reputed MNC and I’ve been his coach for the past few years. He recently took up a new job with a team of three reporting to him. But within the first couple of weeks he noticed one of them, Tracy, showing resistance to his suggestions and initiatives. Soon she escalated to their general manager that Mark is a difficult person to work with, and work for. In order not to “rock the boat” the general manager promptly re-assigned Tracy to a new manager. Despite this change Tracy continued to spread unpleasant words about Mark at the lunch table and water cooler. His attempts to be more sensitive and garner her support were all futile, driving him to consider a new job search.

When Mark called me for guidance I told him I will meet him at his office. Reaching his office I took a walk around and observed his team’s work desks. Tracy’s cubicle stood out with a loud poster on the wall which said:

i-have-a-short-fuse

Very often we, managers, tend to miss or ignore such early warning “signs” in our sense of urgency proving ourselves at the workplace or meeting deadlines. In the daily grind we tend to forget that we are all eventually dealing with people – and every individual is unique. What triggers one to stay motivated could be a total deterrent for another.

Further discussion made it apparent that there was a fundamental culture chasm in Mark’s company, and these were the telling signs:

  • Everyone knew the company’s “vision 2018” but had no clear idea how the management was executing to this vision.
  • Mark’s role and responsibilities were not properly communicated to the wider organisation by the general manager.
  • She gave him no orientation on the team, their attributes, attitudes, or background.
  • The idea of ‘change’ was alien to most of them. “It’s always been done this way” syndrome ruled their kingdom.
  • The general manager was too busy or inexperienced to coach the team, and quite often exhibited lack of professionalism in managing the people.

Managers Leaders

It is true – not all managers think or act as leaders.

Managers must demonstrate leadership by diligently communicating the vision and purpose of work, identifying what motivates their team, and keeping them motivated and committed. I covered these topics extensively in two of my earlier blog posts, you can read them here and here. Today’s leaders have an additional challenge at hand. As my ex-CEO John Chambers wrote recently, we have to go through “near-death” experience in order to make our companies great. In today’s digital world we have to constantly think of disrupting ourselves, else we will be disrupted and displaced. Managers have to act as leaders, and inculcate this culture throughout the organization.

The Culture of Change

If you want to be the best, you have to embrace change. From the top down, everyone in the organization must adapt and adopt this culture. In her most recent interview with HBR Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo said “I told everyone that if they don’t change, I’d be happy to attend their retirement parties”. I encourage you to read the full article for the context of her statement, and also for some incredible lessons from her experience at PepsiCo.

When Lou Gerstner remarkably turned around IBM, it was through wide-ranging programmes of management culture change, and diligent focus on execution. In his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Gerstner says “The hardest part of these decisions was neither the technological nor the economic transformations required. It was changing the culture – the mindset and instincts of hundreds of thousands of people […] It was like taking a lion raised for all of its life in captivity and suddenly teaching it to survive in the jungle.”

Coaching Tips

Let’s re-look at Mark’s case now. It is apparent that his general manager showed poor judgement by instantly re-allocating Tracy to a new boss. A better approach would be to first have an open unbiased session with Tracy and Mark, and observe his communication style to learn what makes Tracy so sensitive about it. As a leader she should then coach her whole team to collaborate, ensure they all understand the company’s strategy and execution plan, clarify to Tracy why they hired Mark as a change agent, and reinforce that there will be more changes coming ahead, and for the better. Keeping Tracy happy is a myopic approach, because if she continues to light her short fuse the whole team’s future could be in jeopardy. As for Mark, building rapport with the team, and taking Tracy’s poster as a warning sign to adapt his communication and delegation style accordingly, could have saved him half the trouble.

Here are 3.5 things you can do as a leader to inculcate the right culture in your company:

1. Communicate

Communicate your vision, strategy and execution plan all the time… simply, and consistently. Garner feedback, get people involved and aligned. Make sure everyone’s roles and responsibilities are clearly articulated, but don’t let them build silos.

2. Set an example

Be authentic, passionate, decisive, demanding, consistent, impartial, and firm. Be a role model for the whole team. Get the culture right, and be maniacal about driving it through the length and breadth of the organization.

3. Coach

Stick to the strategy and demonstrate in execution. Don’t tell them “this is how I do it.” Teach them how to fish, don’t give them a fish every time. Give them the tools to do their job. Understand every team member’s motivational triggers and sensitivities, and adapt your coaching style accordingly.

3.5 Zero tolerance

Do not tolerate mediocrity, and certainly do not tolerate people who are unable or unwilling to operate within the values – no matter how talented, experienced, or apparently successful they are. Remember that letting small things go unfixed can have surprising repercussions.

So are you are a manager aspiring to be a leader? Go ignite your people’s passions, not their short fuses.

5.5 Communication blunders you can easily avoid

Every day we communicate with people via many modes: face-to-face conversations, phone calls, emails, snail mails (who sends them these days?), text messages, you name it. We communicate professional and personal stuff. Though we all recognize the importance of proper communication, what we don’t realize often is that we tend to make fundamental communication mistakes that can cause serious consequences such as angry clients, lost business, tarnished reputation, or an upset spouse.

Here are 5.5 common communication blunders found in work environment… and the good news: they can be easily avoided.

1. Not preparing properly

Whether it’s a presentation, an important email message that you are about to send out, or an important conservation you are about to have with somebody, it is essential that you prepare and plan your communication carefully. Create an intelligent, credible and compelling message that can be understood by your audience.

2. Not proof-reading/editing your work

Mistakes such as spelling and grammar errors will make you look silly and careless. Do not rely on spelling checkers because they won’t pick up words that are used incorrectly. Did you notice that I had inserted an intentional spelling error in the above paragraph? I used the word  ‘conservation’ instead of ‘conversation’? A spell check tool will never pick that up.

Do not misspell the name of the recipient. It is an insult.

And how about sending that email to the wrong person? Email clients tend to pick up names from the address book as you start typing the name. What if you accidentally sent out an extremely confidential internal company document to some random guy in your friend’s list (who happens to work for your competitor)?

Another annoying thing I see is the incorrect use of words such as “your/you’re,” “their/there”, “it’s/its”, “effect/affect” etc.

It’s not always easy to spot your own errors so you may want to consider asking one of your colleagues to proof-read the content before distributing it.

3. Assuming that your message has been understood

Email clients can notify you when your message is delivered. But do you know if your message has been understood? You can ensure this by prompting the recipients to respond with questions, or by asking them to repeat back to you what the key take-away of your message was. It is a big big mistake to assume that the recipient or audience has understood your message.

4. Not being assertive

Being assertive is about stating what you need, while taking into consideration the other person’s wants and needs. Being assertive is often confused with being aggressive. Aggression is pushing your way down someone else, and that is not what you want to do to anyone. Assertiveness also means saying “no” when you need to, and saying it in a smart and agreeable manner.

5. Reacting instead of responding

How often have we seen people shout back at somebody, or send a nasty email reply in haste? These are all emotional reactions rather than calm and careful responses. This is what spoils your reputation and upsets people around you. I have known people who lost their jobs because of this.

When feeling emotional rage, tell yourself to calm down… turn off that email client or your computer… step away from the situation for a couple of minutes… do whatever it takes to regroup yourself and get back your composure. Those few minutes are perhaps worth your career or relationship.

5.5 Delivering bad news over email or text message

Am sure you saw that hilarious Facebook post going viral about the guy who broke up with his girlfriend via SMS. If that was laughable and childish, how about laying off someone in your team over email or Whatsapp? Sending difficult messages is not an easy task, and it demands softening the message with non-verbal cues such as body language and tonality.

If you need to deliver a bad news to someone, do it in person. Think of the sensitivity and the emotional state of the recipient before you plan to do so. And be available immediately to actively listen and to take questions from them.

 

We all make communication mistakes once a while. If you can work on the above and avoid these common blunders in your day to day life, you can certainly protect your reputation and maintain your relationships. Over time this will help you achieve greater job satisfaction and to develop into a credible leader and team player.