GET REAL

Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Random Thoughts About Leadership and Life

Every so often, I add to my list of the lessons I’m learning, or the random thoughts I’m having, based on my experience in the field. The list reflects what I see as common behaviors or circumstances at work and in life that either contribute to successful, or unwanted, results. Here’s my latest update:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Random Thoughts About Leadership and Life, by Donna Rawady, published in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, NY, on Jan 10, 2017.

As I write this, 2016 is coming to an end. With every year we gain experience and add a few more lessons learned. Here are a few random lessons I’ve learned that continue to ring true in my experience. Wishing you all a healthy, happy, and successful 2017.

– Assertive accomplishes a great deal more than aggressive, and engagement always beats intimidation.

– Stress makes us less productive at work, and less accessible to our loved ones.

– Mutual respect and a service attitude are what builds and maintains successful working relationships. This is true no matter what role we hold in an organization or business relationship.

– Effective organizational change management requires a clear vision and consistent reinforcement. It also requires a fair amount of rolled up sleeves and elbow grease.

– We all make mistakes. It’s best to acknowledge them, take responsibility for them, and move on.

– As leaders, if we promise more than we or our teams can deliver, we can break down trust. Yet, if we promise small doable steps and then follow through and deliver, we build trust.

– A leader’s success is often measured by an organization’s profitability. What’s more important are the strategies behind the scenes to keep the profitability sustainable.

– As leaders we’re often baffled by someone’s lack of accountability. Yet, we seldom ask ourselves why we allow it.

– The most successful leaders maintain a perfect balance between business acumen and communication skills.

– Struggling to make sense of something when stressed or stumped is rarely productive. It may be clearer tomorrow.

– It’s important to listen to our gut. It may be trying to tell us something we already know on some level.

– Integrity always matters.

Happy Holidays! —Enjoy the good stuff even in the midst of tough stuff.

Happy Holidays, 2016! Thinking about my mom this afternoon. She passed peacefully in early November. I’m naturally experiencing a mix of emotions this holiday season, which reminded me of holiday wishes that I posted in 2013. They rang true for me then, and still very much do. So I thought I’d share them again.

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Enjoy the good stuff…even in the midst of tough stuff. Originally posted Dec 26, 2013.

This is a time of year when we may experience an interesting dichotomy of emotions. We might find ourselves thinking about all that we have to be grateful for—family, friends, our health, or just being alive. At the same time, our memories or expectations of holiday cheer may heighten our feelings of sadness over the changes in our lives—loss of loved ones, struggling elders, challenging family dynamics, a loved one’s ill-health, and/or career-related stress.

I thought it a great time to share what I’ve been reminding myself and my loved ones of lately. When we find ourselves feeling burdened by difficult circumstances, whether they be during the holidays or occurring in life in general, we can still choose to enjoy the good stuff. It may be as simple or momentary as a ray of sunshine warming your face through a window, or a few hours free of any immediate responsibilities, the thoughtfulness of a friend, or an afternoon with family. Or, it may be that well-deserved vacation or the warmth of your own home or a lasting friendship.

Today, I offer my gratitude to my readers, clients, colleagues, friends and family with these wishes— Every happiness and success in the New Year and seize the opportunity to enjoy the good stuff, even when you find yourself in the midst of tough stuff.

A reminder for the times . . . Emotions are louder than words.

I began using the phrase “Emotions are louder than words” many years ago in my work. This phrase reminds us of the importance of maintaining our composure if we want to influence others when we’re addressing a concern. If we express negative emotions, even subtly, others may focus on our “attitude” instead of what we’re saying. We trade the opportunity to be heard for the possibility of being judged and dismissed.

It doesn’t take much to shift an opportunity for a rich conversation to an altercation or a lasting covert conflict. People may stop trying to understand each other. They might avoid each other for an extended time until resolution seems unlikely. We’ve all seen this happen in the workplace.

We also may be experiencing similar dynamics over the last few weeks. Friends, family members, and fellow citizens are emotionally charged with polarized political views. And we’re finding it difficult to have healthy discussions.

If you want to be heard, minimize those loud emotions, because it’s probable that no one is hearing you above the noise. Here’s one way to do it. Write your uncensored frustrations down for your eyes only. Re-visit your writing a day later. Highlight only those areas that focus on the business case, or the mutual benefits to you and the person(s) you’re planning on talking with. Then base your discussion on the highlighted points. It’s a start anyway.

Whether you’re at work, at home with a loved one, or engaged in a political debate on line, consider this. If you’re preparing to address a concern or debate an opposing idea, focus on mutual respect and the mutual benefits of a positive outcome. Minimize your emotions and maximize your impact.
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This article was originally published in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, NY on Dec 4/5, 2016.

Leaders—Explore your role relating to accountability

There’s a delicate balance between encouraging people to feel free to explore, own, and implement their own strategies, and understanding when there’s a need to set specific requirements relating to necessary deliverables. One of the most significant factors for leaders in balancing these two approaches is identifying the leadership style needed based on the levels of competence, experience, and capabilities of the people they lead.

Failing to clearly communicate and require specific expectations around roles and responsibilities — within an agreed upon timeframe — can easily lead to significant performance issues, and disappointment. This is a common and consistent missing link to desired and successful outcomes — as is the absence of any clearly stated consequences if the person is unable to deliver within that time frame.

As leaders, when we’re strategizing our role in successful outcomes, or we’re up against a performance issue with direct reports, we must ask ourselves:

• Have I been clear about the non-arguable expectations and deliverables?

• Have I set specific target dates to review required progress toward the objectives?

• Have I clearly stated the business impact and consequences (i.e., shift in their role, adjustment to compensation, termination) if the employee is not able, or equipped, to meet the expectations or objectives within stated time frames?

• Have I followed up frequently enough to ensure that they’re having successes, and am I aware of their specific challenges so that they’re getting the support and coaching they need to be successful?

Of course your direct reports also have a responsibility to ask you for clarity relating to their role and responsibilities. Yet, the simple, yet loaded, question remains: As a leader, when dealing with a performance challenge of unmet deliverables, have you stated the end-goal as a request or a requirement?

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(This content, written by Donna Rawady, was originally published in Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, October 24, 2016—Titled: “Leaders, explore your role with accountability”)

When Productivity Plummets at Work

Read any statistics about cyclical or situational drops in productivity in the workplace and we find out that we’re not alone. We’re just human. I had this brief article published a couple of weeks ago. There’s much more to be said and to be done about what impacts workplace productivity—awesome to poor leadership strategies, well-thought out to unorganized change initiatives, exciting to devastating personal situations—but my charge was to share food for thought that didn’t exceed 300 words 🙂

Originally published in Democrat & Chronicle, 9/13/16 – – – – – – –

Our ability to be productive is a crucial factor in our success at work. Yet, there are times when situations, distractions, and emotions can impact our productivity.

Here are—from my observations and experience—a few situations, emotions, and factors that decrease productivity in the workplace. As you read them, I assure you that you will relate to several, if not all of them.

– At the onset or during the beginning phases of organizational change, anxiety sets in about your ability to lead, or participate successfully, in the change.

– Health or family concerns have you preoccupied.

– You’ve been working a ton of hours and several weekends over a long stretch of time without a considerable break in demands or travel. You’re exhausted.

– Resources are scarce. You’re overwhelmed and you’re afraid of failing at what’s expected of you.

– You’re confused about how to strategize and plan a project, or tackle a complex task. Instead of seeking clarity, you’re hoping to figure it out on your own.

– World events and news are distracting and generating feelings of sadness, fear and/or anger.

– You’ve pulled off some great work over the last few weeks, and you’re disappointed in yourself for making little use of the first few days you have without meetings or immediate demands.

Want or have to get back on the productivity wagon? Here are a couple of simple recommendations to get your started:

– Generate some movement, however small. Take one doable action toward a project or task. Begin writing a rough draft of that email that’s hanging over you, or tackle an easy portion of a task that’s on your list. If you’re unable to generate movement at work, make use of the time to pull of a personal task that needs attention.

– Quit beating yourself up about having a drop in productivity from time to time. It’s only human.

Interrupt the norm—Nix the slides for a change.

I had the best time presenting at a leadership conference last week. I was invited to facilitate an hour-long concurrent session on Emotional Intelligence. Based on registration and the size of the room I was presenting in, I was told to anticipate between 150 and 175 attendees, and well over 160 attended. Most important presentation tool of the day? —A wireless mic. Nothing more disengaging than having to yell across a room to be heard….Can you all hear me!???

Understanding that a slide deck has become an expected element of a “presentation”, I took a few days to decide…Slide deck or no slide deck? Based on the topic (i.e., Emotional Intelligence—The ability to be attuned to our own emotions and reactions, and the emotions and reactions of others) I was leaning strongly towards…no slide deck. My objective was to genuinely engage participants to contribute ideas, while I provided some valuable information, ideas, strategy and food for thought. My plan was to create handouts that helped them learn, participate in an exercise, and take notes. I finally decided to nix the slide deck, and simply connect with the audience. Somewhat of a risk, I realized, but I was steadfast in my decision.

After offering a few opening remarks, I brought the audience’s attention to the blank wall behind me and asked: “Did you notice? No slides.” I heard an acknowledging murmur of “yes” across the room. They had noticed. I very briefly explained my decision which was based on wanting to be fully present with them. “Disappointed?” I asked. They responded enthusiastically in unison…. “noooo!”. I was immediately relieved and pleased with their reactions and my choice. We went on from there and shared a great exchange.

I wondered later about the audience’s positive reaction to my not using PowerPoint. Did they relate to the goal of genuine interaction? Or, was it simply that it was different from what they’ve come to expect. I think both may be true. Yet, I’m convinced that making some small change to the status quo once and a while will interrupt the mundane or expected, and raise interest and engagement.

I’m certainly not recommending that you remove PowerPoint from your tool box, but I am offering these considerations:

– Once and a while, less just might provide more.
– A shift in the norm may be a simple way to generate a different level of interest and attention.
– What norm or way of doing business might you shift a bit when working or meeting with your team—or your clients?
– How might you noticeably shift a typical team meeting, for example, to better engage your team’s interest, curiosity, or creativity?

3rd Time’s a Charm—The Power Behind Active Delay

Originally posted in 2007…Posted again in 2010…Six years later, still a simple, meaningful, and powerful tidbit.

———-2010 Post: Active Delay Revisited

Once and a while, I’m reminded of a past blog entry because of its acute applicability in the here and now. This one is from the Summer of 2007. I’m reminded of it because of the increased volume of emails that we’re all receiving on a daily basis, that generate action on our parts. Following the advice in this entry may help you maintain a reputation of dependability, even while you find yourself falling behind. So, here you go, posted in July, 2007, and again for you, today . . .

———-2007 Post:Active Delay

Interestingly, in just the past few days, several people have mentioned to me that they’re frustrated with people not returning their calls and/or emails promptly. Perhaps it’s the season. Summer in the northeast—being so short—tends to slow things down a bit. I’m one of those people who, short of an email or voice mail falling through the cracks, will call you back even if I don’t have anything to tell you. Which leads me to what I want to share with you today.

Perhaps you’re not prepared to return an email because you’ve not had an opportunity to complete what’s been asked of you. Or you’re not quite sure of the answer you want to provide to a question asked. Or maybe you’re simply swamped with higher priorities. —All of which understandably may cause a delay in your responding.

Why not offer an active delay? A quick voice mail or a one-line email (or text) acknowledging the other person’s outreach and your intention to respond as soon as you’re able, or prepared to, is a powerful piece of communication.

Promptly returned messages offer us an immediate opportunity to service our clients, colleagues, and internal and/or external customers. It says: I hear you, and you matter. And everyone wants to be heard and to matter.

So when you find yourself setting aside an email or message because your ability to fully respond may be delayed, why not offer an active delay? Even in the midst of high demands, you can be building trust in your reliability.