management, role

What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you.

When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn’t do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible.

Even though I didn’t see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn’t fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What’s Their Story?

Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue.

Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don’t go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction’s values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.

How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?

For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will “tweak” you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you’ll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly.

With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

anxiety types

Is Your Influence Recognized and Rewarded in Your Company Culture?

Which leadership behaviors are reinforced in your company? In particular, does your company culture recognize and reward behaviors you would describe as more “masculine” or those you would describe as more “feminine”? And maybe it’s a balanced blend of both.

Male and Female Brains

To set the stage, not all women exhibit 100 % feminine thinking, speech, or behavior. Not all men, have completely male mannerisms, behaviors, or thought and speech patterns. Each of us is our own unique combination of masculine and feminine traits. However, current brain research shows that most women tend to have more female brains, while men tend to have more male brains. Brain structure and functioning is also influence by gender-related hormones of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, etc. And because of that most women show a propensity for more “feminine” ways of operating, and most men exhibit more “masculine” modus operandi. The culture in which you were raised adds a layer of gender-based expectations.

This makes it interesting to look at the kinds of behaviors your organization tends to reinforce. If you’re a woman in the workplace you know this ground quite well. Even though most workplaces today are roughly 50/50, male/female, most corporate cultures in the US are still very male-oriented. Thus, it is commonplace that your thinking, speaking, and other behaviors are misinterpreted by the corporate culture and the men around you. Because of this, the way women interact within their companies is interpreted and explained away through a male lens. In fact, more and more research shows unconscious bias in companies adversely affects, not only people of color, but also women, especially when it comes to promoting individuals into leadership positions.

For example, the leadership model has been shifting over the past couple of decades from using mostly hierarchical authority towards more egalitarian influence. This seems great for most women because the female brain tends to seek out complex and robust relationships. Most women want to create good relationships in the workplace. Once they foster relationships, they also work to maintain those relationships and keep them intact. On the other hand, the male brain is wired to prove prowess and strength. So, so men tend to be more aggressive and competitive, looking for ways that they can prove themselves.

Relationships Versus Competition

Apply this to one area of being successful in most companies: showing your success by stating your accomplishments. This often comes up in performance reviews. Because women generally seek to maintain relationships, they will tend not to brag about their accomplishments for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re a woman, you don’t want to appear as though you’re better than other people because you’re trying to relate to others without positioning yourself as “better”. Second, you realize that other people contributed to your success. Third, if you have to brag about what you accomplished, it diminishes any recognition you received for your feat.

Conversely, men aren’t defining themselves primarily by their bonding and relationship skills. Rather, if you’re a man, you compete to the best most accomplished or best performer. That’s why most men don’t have a problem bragging about their accomplishments. In fact, it’s important that they call attention to their abilities. Consequently, men generally can more easily talk about their wins.

Collaboration and Influence

Another area where your influence and might be missed is through collaboration. Masculine versus feminine notions of “collaboration” can look different. Women will ask others to participate in projects or decisions. As a woman, you may hold off landing on an answer to a challenge and gather a lot of input from others up front. Not only do you value the connection with the people, but you might be looking for a lot of different perspectives or ideas that about the challenge. This inductive thinking is about gathering more ideas for a better solution. In contrast, male collaboration comes from a competitive competence angle. If you’re a man, collaborating with others is a way to test out your ideas and see how well they measure up. With this more deductive style of thinking, you start with your idea and see how well it stands up to challenges from others.

How have your behaviors been perceived through the lens of your company culture? How are you perceived by various factions within your company culture? What are the implications for you and your leadership?

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Follow Beth:
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LinkedIn: /company/firebrand-consulting-llc or /in/bethstrathman
Facebook: /firebrandleadershipconsulting

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

8 Focal Points for Deeper Listening

listening, communicationEarly in your career, your idea of being a good communicator might have been making cogent arguments and clearly expressing yourself verbally and in writing. This would prove your capability.

But those things, while very important, are not the keys to becoming really great at communication.

With experience and more confidence in yourself, you gradually discover that communication is less about how you express yourself and more about how deeply you listen to others. Listening allows you to focus on what is important to others. In turn, you can then tailor your communication to them to find common ground or to respond appropriately.

Listening requires that you move beyond merely hearing the words expressed by others. Instead it requires that you tune into communication aspects other than words. Like the insight tied to your “3rd Eye”, it’s as if your physical ears are tuned to the words used and your “3rd ear” is tuned to a deeper level.

Use your “3rd ear” to listen for one or all of the following to deepen your listening:

Commitments, Aspirations, Point Of View, Interests

What is important to this person that they would put whatever it took into accomplishing, preserving, exemplifying, etc.? What’s their vantage point?

Emotions, Fear or Disappointments

Based on tone of voice, word choice, and facial expressions, what is the overriding feeling this person is experiencing and what does that tell you? What might they regret or want to avoid?

Values or Priorities

For which principle(s) are they taking a stand? What’s important to them?

Analogies

Are they using similes, metaphors, or other comparisons? How can these analogies apply to the way forward?

The Crux of the Matter

What is at the heart of their message that they might not have put into words?

Impacts

How did you or someone else impact them? Did it help or hinder them in their pursuit?

How to Help or Serve

Underneath it all, are they asking for or do they want/need something from you?

Simply Hold Space

Sometimes, others just need a witness as they wrestle with a conundrum or to clarify their own thinking. You don’t really need to DO anything. Your presence alone is enough.

Next time, you’re listening to someone, practice zeroing in on one of these areas. What do you hear? How does it add to their words and your understanding?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Avoid Being Misunderstood

misunderstoodDo you feel misunderstood by your direct reports or colleagues? Do they think you’re an ogre when you’re really fun and fair? Or maybe they think you’re a pushover when you’re really purposeful and committed.

There might be a disconnect between what you intend and how you’re coming across. Here are four ways avoid misunderstandings by closing any gap between your intentions and your actual impact on others.Get clear about what you want to happen. Conventional wisdom says that we are on auto-pilot about 95% of the time. Which means we are consciously thinking about or aware of what we are doing very little during the day.

  • Get clear. Know what you want to accomplish before you go into a meeting, have a conversation with a co-worker, or work on a project. Ask yourself what you want to get out your time spent.
  • State your intentions. Based on the outcome you want to create, state your intentions out loud, especially when interacting with others. By doing so when going into a meeting or conversation, you are not leaving to chance how the other person will interpret what you say or do.
  • Ask for the other person’s perspective first. As a leader, when you speak, your words carry weight, and that weight often shuts down others who are further down the food chain. Additionally, listening first will give you a chance to tune in to the other’s perspective.
  • Seek to reconcile different perspectives. With a clearly stated intention and after sharing perspectives, you will have a better understanding of how the different perspectives overlap or don’t. Revisit your intention again, and ask for how you can move forward by using what most important from each perspective.

By consciously focusing on a clear intention and being open with your perspective, you can create conditions that allow others to “see” you for who you are.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders to maximize the “people side” of business and evolve into the leader they are meant to become. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Follow Beth:
YouTube: Firebrand Consulting LLC
LinkedIn: /company/firebrand-consulting-llc  or /in/bethstrathman
Facebook: /firebrandleadershipconsulting

Align Your Leadership Spine

leadership alignmentRemember the 55-38-7 communication rule? Even though its specifics have been disputed, there is truth to the idea that the messages you send are muddled when your words don’t match your behaviors. The same confusion can occur between your company’s strategy, initiatives, and daily work. To avoid confusion, align this leadership “spine” by adjusting your intention, attention, and actions. When you do, strategy and initiatives inform daily work and flow together. When you align these leadership activities, you bolster your capacity to lead. Here’s how:

Clarify Your Intentions

Intentions set the course for what you want. Your intentions seem obvious to you, but they aren’t necessarily obvious to everyone else. Without the benefit of knowing exactly what is in YOUR head, others interpret your messages based on what’s in THEIR heads. For example, from your perspective, if you’re hesitant to move forward on something, you might be concerned about identified risks. However, others might interpret your slow decision-making as a lack of know-how or of confidence or interest in moving forward with an initiative.

Your intentions are unclear, when:
1) your decision and resulting action plans are disconnected from your company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy and/or
2) you haven’t communicated your decision and proposed action plan in a way that explicitly ties them to the company’s broader strategy.

To clarify your intentions, create a clear line of connection between company vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities/goals by highlighting the decisions you made and actions taken. Communicate these connection to direct reports and others before you start moving your decisions forward.

Move From Distraction to Focused Attention

With clear intentions, your employees will follow your lead regarding where to put THEIR focus. Thus, you must limit distractions and model an ability to focus your attention on the things that will help your company stay the course.

To determine your level of distraction versus focus, look at how much time and effort you give to people and tasks related to what you say are the company’s most important priorities. The 80/20 rule serves as a general guideline. That is, strive to spend approximately 20% of your weekly working time performing tasks that are appropriate to your role and that relate to your team or company’s important initiatives.

Check yourself by looking back at how you’ve been using your time over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve been distracted from the company’s most important priorities, look at what’s getting in your way (e.g., allowing unnecessary interruptions, unclear work processes for direct reports that create dependency on you, failing to take time to analyze data or to plan next steps, etc.).

Take Deliberate Action

With clear intentions and focused attention on important priorities, you’re ready to “walk the talk” and to take action, appropriate for your role, to move things forward. You could . . .

  • spend time following up with direct reports on progress in their respective roles,
  • communicate with a broader group of employees about what’s happening and how progress is being made,
  • spend time fostering internal and external relationships that will further those initiatives, and/or
  • ensure direct reports develop new competencies that support the initiatives.

The bottom line is to do the tasks and strengthen the relationships that will further the original intention of the strategic and tactical plans.

It seems so simple to make sure your words and actions are reflecting company priorities. Yet, if you don’t consciously maintain that aligned focus each day, you can easily become reactive and find yourself distracted by events that aren’t worth your time and attention. In the end, you will see how powerful it is to align the leadership “vertebrae” of intention, attention, and action.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics during rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Signs You Shirk Responsibility When Communicating

angerCommunicating effectively is probably the most common area where most leaders need to grow. In fact, a 2016 Harris poll found that 69% of managers surveyed said that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees. I wager that discomfort comes from not knowing how to connect with the other person in a way that both of you will leave the conversation on the same page and feeling respected and heard. First, however, you must become aware that you’re not taking responsibility in your interactions with others.

One simple (but not easy) technique to take responsibility and thereby improve your communication with others comes from the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). Dr. Rosenberg’s teachings are based on consciously taking responsibility for yourself during any conversation. When you do this, you tune into your own observations, negative emotions, and underlying unmet needs that are shaping negative reactions you may have in a given situation. You can then make a request of the other person that will allow you to meet those needs. You will create connection and understanding by discerning and meeting your own needs and the needs of others.

Here are 5 signs that you might be shirking responsibility and inhibiting your ability to communicate effectively:

1. If I don’t get what I want from an interaction, I give up and blame the other person for not understanding.
2. If business results are poor, I look at what other’s did or failed to do to cause them.
3. Under pressure, I get reactive and express my first impulse or feeling regardless of how it will impact others.
4. When in a conflict with another, I don’t give in and wait for them to apologize first.
5. Even if others admit mistakes, I often hold a grudge and have a hard time working effectively with them in the future.

If even one of the above statements describes you, consider taking a hard look at your responsibility in that instance. Leadership requires you to look at yourself first and to shoulder the responsibility for everything that happens on your watch. Learning more effective communication techniques, like those taught in NVC, can help you do just that.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.


This post was inspired by an interview with Julie Warr:

Julie-Warr-NVCJulie Warr has a passion for compassion. Inspired after her attendance at the 2015 Parliament of Religions, followed by a serendipitous suggestion from her coach, Julie explored the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, the founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication. For Julie, “the heavens opened, angels sang, and my mind lit up”. She knew she had found what she was meant to do.

Although she still works full-time in the financial services industry, Julie continues to pursue what she considers her life’s work. She is in the process of forming a non-profit organization, with the intention of bringing NVC to Salt Lake City. Julie and I met at her office recently to talk about NVC and how it can be used in the workplace to create more satisfying, productive, and peaceful interactions. You can find out more about Julie’s endeavor,The Compassion Connection, on Facebook and Instagram. You can contact her at juliewarr.nvc@gmail.com.