Friday, March 30, 2007

Buy-In First

In order to effectively lead you must first be passionate about the mission. The leader's passion and desire to succeed must also be bought into by the individuals that are going to play a role in achieving success. So how does a leader go about gaining "buy-in" from their team? What about when going into a series of discussions the leader already has a good idea that the individuals on his or her team are going to be reluctant to rally to a leader's cause? My recommendation is to first speak directly to your team leaders individually and then as a group. After gathering all your team leaders' opinions, empower these individuals to act as sounding boards and to play a role in the development of the business plan or strategy to accomplish your goals or the goals of your organization. Another piece of advice is that you do not rush this course of action. Permitting others to participate in the advancement of your cause can take time, and you need to schedule your agenda through proper planning to allow for the "buy-in" process.

Once your team leaders are bought into and have ownership over the cause, the rest of the process comes about quickly. Set a time to meet with your entire team and lay out the framework for accomplishing your task or goals. If you are met with resistance, the leaders on your team will step in to support and defend your position and aid in leading your team to rally around the cause. The other great aspect of this process is that, if one of the team leaders does not quickly jump in on his or her own accord, you can call on the individuals who are on board to share their opinions with the group. Once everyone hears how the leaders within their peer group fully support your efforts, you will quickly gain "buy-in" from the remainder of your team.

This application may seem basic and more of a refresher for many, but all too often leaders try to impose implementation without following this procedure, and that ends up creating problems. Take the time needed to execute the "buy-in" process first so you can properly execute your business strategy. Ultimately this will save you, as the leader, valuable time by not having to continuously to look over your team's shoulders to ensure proper execution.

How have you gone about gaining "buy-in" from your team prior to a new challenge or task? Do you use a different process when it comes to special initiatives as compared to daily activities?

Open Exchange

Strong leaders have a way of creating an environment that allows for honest and open exchanges with employees no matter how extreme the circumstances. A lot of this responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the employee, but the development of the environment that allows for opening up about extreme circumstances falls directly on the shoulders of the leader.

The creation of an open-exchange environment aids a leader's ability to avoid surprises. I personally have let the individuals who make up my team of direct reports know that I am not a fan of surprises. They have a clear understanding that I would much rather be made aware of a negative situation directly from them verses through the inevitable grapevine. I also let it be known that they will not be met with negativity but with concern and a strong desire to offer assistance in finding a proper solution. Surprises can come in all shapes and sizes. One particular example is when a leader finds out that one of his or her employees is looking for or has been interviewing for another position. This is a tough situation to effectively manage and can be a subject that very few employees would feel comfortable talking about with their direct supervisor or hiring manager. Nonetheless, if a leader has paved the road of open exchanges and invested in building strong enough professional and trusting relationships, employees will have enough repect to make sure the leader is informed of other job offers, discontent with his or her position or environment, etc. Better yet, this can create an opportunity for you, as the leader, to build greater equity in a solid performer to the point that the employee feels better about his or her job and future opportunities within your organization, as opposed to continuing to foster a negative "grass is always greener" state-of-mind.

Make sure your folks know that you care about their professional, personal and mental well-being. This will go a long way in putting you, as their leader, in a position to avoid major surprises because their level of respect for you will not allow it to happen.

What was the situation surrounding your last surprise from a leadership standpoint and how did you deal with the issue?

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. - Colin Powell

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Perception is Reality

Due to the fact that everyone relates to the world differently (see yesterday's post titled "Un-Multitask"), every employee also has a unique interpretation of what goes on in his or her own world or office environment. Each individual will create their own perception, which in-turn creates their own reality. You might be wondering what this has to do with leadership or the development of others. In order to effectively lead individuals out of a rut or through a tough situation from a performance or human resources standpoint, you have to gain a clear understanding of the employee's reality with regards to the situation. Correcting behavior is a far less costly road to travel than replacing behavior, so leaders can utilize the proper management of individual perception to improve operational performance. One essential part of a leader's responsibility in this process is in the well-being and continual shaping of a healthy reality for the individuals that they lead. Conflict typically arises when there are polar viewpoints about a subject within the same realm of responsibility or across departmental lines (sales and production, administration and sales, etc.). By being engaged and fairly and consistently applying company policy, good leaders can avert performance-killing and energy-draining perception-based situations.

When I have been involved in situations that have needed investigating or are in the need of being resolved, the solution will typically come down to reshaping perception based on clearing up misunderstandings. Misunderstandings can be avoided through improved leadership and a higher level of engagement in the shaping of individual opinions into group consensus by leadership. In the sales industry and in management development, it is not uncommon to hear how important it is to gain "buy-in" prior to implementation of a new initiative. In addition to gaining "buy-in" leaders must be engaged in ensuring that everyone has a clear understanding of organizational expectations, communication skills and individual office environments and behaviors.

Do you have someone on your team that has a misconstrued perception about their goals, your office's environment or in how you are leading your operation? If so, what are you doing to reshape their perception to match your reality?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


All too often leaders get caught up in everything they are doing to a degree that they do not make appropriate time for pertinent projects or more importantly people in need of direction. There are a multitude of distractions that can pull at a leader's attention and steer their attention away from the individual or the issue that needs their focus. I know because I am speaking from personal experience. Have you ever been speaking on the phone and feel the tug of your keyboard? The temptation to check that latest email while you are actually in the middle of a conversation? It can be difficult to stay focused on one item or person when you are dealing with many issues at once, and have a lot left on your "to-do" list. Let's face it, being able to multitask actually has a positive meaning in today's professional environment.

I personally believe that prioritization and focus will bring the best results. As leaders, we need to practice and exercise the ability to focus. This will allow our attention to be given to those who are in the greatest need. Have you ever been the one on the receiving end of a less than attentive exchange? It can make it difficult to get your job done or to know exactly 100% the direction in which you need to head upon conclusion of a discussion. It is my opinion that in order to be an effective leader you have to be a great listener. To be a great listener you have to give someone your full attention. Sometimes this means slowing down, un-multitasking for a few minutes to actually give someone or something all of your focus. Pay particular attention to this aspect of leadership as you interact with your peers, boss or teams over the course of a day and comment on your observations. I am also interested in reading about any improvements you come to realize in leading your folks as a result of applying this practice.

Okay, now I can give everyone standing in my doorway some of my time and attention... ;)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Development Tip

One essential of effective leadership is in the fair treatment of the individuals that are on the teams that you lead. Leaders must be fair in the application of policies, procedures, and in how you treat your people. This does not apply, however, to how you develop or lead people. People respond and relate differently to the world and their environments. Typically, experts have categorized adult learners into three categories (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). In order to effectively lead each individual on your team you are going to first have to identify how they primarily learn and relate to the world. Once this is established you can more effectively tailor your message to effectively invoke, improve or change behavior. You can identify this by listening for cues in the language people use in their daily activities. You might hear a statement like, "I see what you are saying." This is a good indication that the individual making the statement is a visual learner. You can use this simple technique to improve the packaging of your communication in a way that will elevate an individuals performance. Play around with this "tip" and let me know if it helps you better connect with someone or convey a message to those you are leading.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Be a Mentor

Do you have a professional mentor? What about in your personal life? If you ask the most effective leaders who their mentors are and have been in the past, they can usually rattle off a short list of names. Being the beneficiary of a mentor can transcend into a leader embracing the development of others and becoming a mentor to those whom they lead; it certainly did for me. I personally find great joy in working with others on their professional development. Do you? It is always rewarding to witness an individual that I am working with walk away from our interaction with a better understanding of how to deal with a professional situation or make a better, more informed decision. Not only have I been fortunate to facilitate this role for others, but I have been on the receiving end from some fantastic mentors over my scholastic and professional career. I have to also give my father credit here as he has been one of the most influential people and mentors in how I have developed personally and professionally. I believe that in order to be an effective leader you have to take an active role in the development of people through mentoring others.

My first true professional mentor was Shelton Prince, who was the publisher of a regional daily newspaper group headquartered in Brownwood, Texas. Shelton took a chance on a young, green, energetic advertising manager of three weekly community newspapers in Southern Illinois with an offer and acceptance of an associate publisher position. Working for Shelton was truly a learning experience that will never escape me. I still am reminded of his incredible attention to detail and how his appreciation for "seeing to the details" was instilled in me through him. I can almost feel him with me at times as I am typing an important memo, blog post or preparing for a big presentation. Shelton had a way of making me (and everyone else around him) feel important while creating a desire to work hard and do your best. Have you ever noticed how great leaders have a way of doing that without even appearing to make an effort?

The lessons I learned from Shelton live on with me still today and are passed on to the individuals that I am fortunate enough to mentor and develop. Although Shelton is no longer with us, he left quite a legacy. His legacy continues to live on today in the lessons taught by the individuals that were blessed with the opportunity to learn from him and be mentored by him. What kind of professional legacy do you hope to leave?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heavy Lifting Required

Due to recent events in my personal life, it has recently crossed my mind that it is the responsibility of a leader to be a heavy lifter or to carry a heavy load when necessary. This doesn't mean that you should be carrying all the stress for your organization. An effective leader also knows when and where it is effective to hand stress off to their followers. Being a heavy lifter does mean that you carry a larger load of responsibility in terms of organizational goals. This also means that you need to maintain your own load of responsibility outside of the workplace and keep it there. This does not mean that you cannot discuss or share what goes on in your personal life with those that you lead. In fact, these types of discussions are effective in connecting with your people and finding what is important to those on whom you rely the most for success. There is a point when your personal burdens cross over into your professional world. It is important as a leader that you do not let this impact the way you lead or shatter the consistency that makes for effectiveness in a leadership position.

Leaders must strive to carry personal loads outside of the workplace and keep them there. The more a leader can separate the two, the more they will eliminate the perception that personal issues should be allowed to greatly impact performance. This is simply not true. There is a time and a place for everything. Effective leaders know when to switch gears from personal world to professional world. This is not cut and dry, and there is a dotted line between the two. Effective leaders know how to navigate the grey area minefield and utilize this as a way to better connect and ultimately lead their teams to higher levels of performance, no matter how great or heavy the load.

Have you ever felt the scales tipped between personal and professional life? If so, how did you deal with this issue effectively?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Future Focused

Future Focused is our (The Employment Guide's) mantra for 2007. I thought this would be a good opportunity to write about what this statement means to us as a business and why this is also an important leadership trait.

Our business is in a constant state of change. Just like other media and publishing companies, we are experiencing a cultural change in how electronic media plays a role in what we do as a business. Specifically, we have identified an internal need to elevate the education of our leadership team and our front-line folks to a level at which they can become more consultative on how search, social- networking and "Web 2.0" will impact the recruitment industry. I have been impressed with how our business has embraced change. I am confident that we, as a business, are leaving the field of play everyday knowing more about what we can do in the future to stay one business cycle ahead of the current trend in the non-exempt, hourly workforce recruitment sector. Yes, there are good positive changes taking place here at The Employment Guide and

As we experience positive change on the electronic media front, our publishing business still thrives. This is because we have a loyal readership group and valuable distribution channels. The true art of being a successful media company is providing a user focused product via unique distribution channels to a set of users, readers, viewers, etc. This makes it necessary for companies to invest in product(s) to deliver their message to a desired audience. Our 2.3 million free weekly employment publications distributed in 80 markets across the United States are experiencing great pick-up rates and are tremendously effective for our advertisers. When our print product is combined with our award-winning (a Weddle's User's Choice Award Winner for each of the four years this award has been in existence - electronic media product and distribution channels, the reach we provide our clients becomes differentiated.

Being future focused in how their vision is constructed is a quality that leaders must provide for their business and their direct reports to be successful. Effective leaders know that the vision of what they want to accomplish must be communicated in a manner so their organization will embrace it and take ownership over it. Do you have to have personal clarity about what you want to accomplish and how you are are going to obtain your goals through existing and obtainable resources in order to successfully accomplish this aspect of leadership?

What aspects of your business is reliant on being future focused?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Character Counts

A critical component of being an effective leader and gaining the trust of the people who you lead is directly related to a leader's character. People have to trust their leaders. They have to know that their leader is completely committed to the business, goal or task at hand and is going to do everything that he or she is required to do to guide the team to excellence. They also need to know that their leader is not willing to achieve this goal at all costs if the costs will sacrifice the credibility of the organization. A leader's character denotes that a workplace is professional and treats employees with fairness and respect. Yes, a leader's character does count. It is a necessary trait in order to successfully lead a group of people over a sustained period of time at high levels of effectiveness.

Waste no time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. - Marcus Aurelius

The aforementioned quote is a time-tested message that can be applied to many reference points and fits well into this discussion. As a way of using this subject as a self-test, review the level of trust and buy-in into your leadership among your direct reports. Try to walk a mile in the shoes of the individuals you are leading to gain a better understanding of how your character, recent decisions and actions are impacting the types of behavior from those who are tasked to contribute to your success. Do you like what you see? If not, take a closer look in the mirror to identify if there is a cause-and-effect impact on the perception of your character among those that make up the team or staff that you lead. This can be a tough question to ask yourself, but the net result could be a new direction that will increase your personal effectiveness and the overall ability of your team to exceed your own or the organization's goals.
How would those that you lead define the character of your leadership?

Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure. - Admiral Arleigh A. Burke

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Half-Full or Half-Empty

How leaders deal with performance issues can set the cultural tone for an organization. Being empathetic, listening to our people and taking all feedback into consideration when making a decision can be a messy but necessary process to keep all parties motivated and focused. What do you do when you have an employee who has typically been a good producer and who has all of a sudden become unproductive, or even worse a problem? Do you avoid the issue and hope that it will go away? Do you confront the person and corner them until you get answers? Obviously these are extremes, but there seems to be a grey area between being overly empathic with employees about productivity concerns and communicating that the reward for doing a good job is that you get to keep doing it (your job).

I have had conversations with managers who are dealing with these issues and have employees that they define as a productivity concern combined with having a higher sense of entitlement. What a winning combination! There are two ways leaders view this type of behavior. I will use the "is the glass half-full or half-empty" analogy. The "half-full" leaders see this as a way to correct the behavior of someone they have invested in, so they can avoid the high costs associated with replacing that person. In most cases, the "half-full" leader will equate a problem with an opportunity. They might also see this opportunity to work with someone on their professional development as a way to demonstrate their willingness to work with their folks and display their leadership abilities. The "half-empty" leaders will not deal directly with the real issues and will avoid their employee while allowing the issue to become an even larger problem that will eventually spill over into other departments, business units, etc. Ultimately, this will negatively impact the performance of the office, division, business unit, etc.

Are you dealing with these types of issues in your current leadership position? If so, how are you positively impacting or redirecting behavior in your business?

Monday, March 12, 2007

High Level Leadership

A lot of authors and leadership experts refer to leadership ability in terms of levels. The higher the skill level, the more implicit the skill is in terms of the effectiveness of the individual leader. In my opinion one such high level leadership skill is in the ability to develop direction. Typically formal coaching sessions are when this type of developmental work should be completed; however, I would argue that there are times when we have individuals who are hitting a wall in terms of their ability to develop the business and need the influence of a leader to identify new opportunities for growth. This ability and being able to correctly identify the need to conduct this exercise with your people to create a new-found sense of urgency is truly an art of leadership.

An example of this in our business would be an advertising specialist who is having difficulty diversifying their client base to reach across industries. Another example would be a circulation manager who is having a hard time identifying new outlets for our distribution. This could also be an individual in an organizational leadership role who is having trouble in the identification of new product or business opportunities. No matter the example, the ability to redirect and inspire to execute is a trait that is typically found in what I identify as high level leaders. Is there someone currently facilitating this skill in your development? Do you see the value in perfecting this skill?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Investment Tip

Traditionally leaders are drawn to work on the improvement of under performers. Typically an inordinate amount of a leader's time is spent working on improving the performance of individuals with the lowest sales figures, productivity levels, throughput, etc. While I do not disagree that there should be an investment of time with this group (especially if they are new employees), I do not believe that leader's should spend the majority of their time and energy working with under-performers. In his book How to Become a Great Boss, Jeffrey J. Fox compares the investment of a leaders time in developing and supervising their people to investing in the stock market. Fox states, "If you were investing your money in the stock market and had the choice of putting money into a growing high-return company, or a sluggish low-return company, where would you invest? Use the same principle when you invest your time in people."

The investment of a leaders time starts with determining how much time you are going to set aside each day, week or month to work on coaching, training, etc. Once the amount of time that is going to be invested is determined, we should allocate our time based on the performance of the members of your team.

My opinion and using our business, The Employment Guide, as a model, no less than 50% of a leader's allotted time should be spent exclusively with top performers. This might be a radical but necessary shift in philosophy for some even within the company I currently lead. I do not believe that top performers want to be left alone. In fact, the more they are engaged in the business and feel as though they are regarded as a business partner by the amount of time their leader spends with them the more productive they become. What has been your experience? If this is different than what you have tried in the past, try this approach and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

"Fire In Your Belly"

The name of this post is the most eloquent way I have ever heard someone describe the will to win. It is important to take a look in the mirror and at the individuals on whom you most rely for success to make sure this trait is alive and well. Once the will to win is gone it can be almost impossible to rekindle the flame. You can readily identify this "fire" in those that are competitive by nature and the ones who are putting forth a champion effort on a daily basis. After all, the will to win requires hard work. You know you have a problem on your hands when you have employees showing up late routinely for work or who get in the habit of "clock watching." Other ways to identify a declining will to win is if your conversation is dominated by problems, disappointments, etc. Finally this trait is readily visible in those who do not learn from their mistakes. It is okay to fail forward, but repetition of failure should be a red flag that you have a declining will to win on your hands.

So who has the responsibility to keep the fires burning? Is it the responsibility of the employee or employer? What is your opinion? I believe it is the responsibility of both. Employers and the leaders within any organization must be committed to the ongoing development of their people and placing carrots in the right places to push their teams to strive for higher levels of success. Company leaders should also be expected to provide employees with the tools they need to be successful as well as a a safe, fair and professional work environment. If the issue is that people are leaving early or coming in late, I think the leader has to take a close look at whether they are providing a fun, challenging work environment. Is it possible that they are giving people a reason to want to run out the door everyday at 5:00 pm? If so, it could be time to change up the routine to charge up the troops!

On the other hand, I do believe that there are things that employees should be asked to do to keep their "fire." Jobs are not always all fun and games (that is why it is called a job). We make it more rewarding by challenging ourselves daily and setting both short-term and long-term goals. What are yours? I have a picture hanging in my office that reminds me everyday of a goal that I am working towards. A constant visible reminder of an individual goal (whether it is a vacation to Europe, putting your child through college or buying your dream home) is a great way to keep your personal fire alive and well. It is also important to not let yourself get into a comfort zone. This is especially true for individuals that are doing well professionally and are at a point that they feel they do not need to put forth a tremendous amount of effort to continue to grow their business, skill set or professional abilities. The day will come when these folks wake up and go to work, and the world has changed. In some the change will reignite the fire. In others it will simply mean that it is time to move on. If you fall into this first group, take it upon yourself to force the issue today. Change your routine. Work on developing a new set of strengths. The old adage of "a the best defense is a good offense" pops to my mind. It is my goal to walk away from the office each day knowing that I have improved the ability of the business for which I am responsible to be successful (short-term goal). By accomplishing this, I also improve my own personal skill set (long-term goal).

What are your short-term and long-term goals? What about the goals of the individuals that are the primary reasons for your success? I bet we will all learn something new about the folks that we work with and have some interesting conversations if we ask these types of questions.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Does seeing to the details really matter? In my opinion this is what separates those that are exceptionally good at something and those who are great. It has been my experience that "detail management" usually comes down to doing the small things with precision and making sure that everything right up to the slightest detail is in line with your highest expectation. A former mentor of mine used to pound this philosophy into my head by always reminding me "it's all about the details" whenever he uncovered a good coaching opportunity for my professional development.

This subject also makes me remember an interview that I saw on television when I was much younger where Jimmy Connors explained the difference between being a world class tennis player verses being a really good player as being able to make contact with the tennis ball two inches farther out in front of your body. More important was how he was able to master this, which was to work at it longer and harder than the other players (details). Yes, seeing to the details is much harder and takes a lot more effort, but the payoff can be substantial. The concept of detail management can be applied to our businesses in terms of everything that we do as professionals and will have a lasting impact on our final revenue, income, share price, etc. It will also have a great impact on those that we have the ability to work with on their professional development. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I have been on the receiving end of this coaching and know that I am a better professional today due to being taught and being a practitioner of detail management. Do you have any examples of this that show up in your work environment?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Natural Born Leaders

I greatly enjoy discussing, reading about and being a student of leadership. I recently had an interesting discussion with a colleague about natural born leaders. That discussion lead to me remembering a question that was raised in my mind by a book I recently completed on whether leadership is a trait that we are born with, or if it is one that can be developed? What do you think? The answer as laid out by author John C. Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is that both answers are correct. He further specifies that you can achieve higher levels of effectiveness by improving your leadership skills in stating "Personal and organizational effectiveness is proportionate to the strength of leadership." This is an interesting subject and one that can lead to developmental opportunities in how we look at this unique blend of skills that allow us to effectively lead our businesses, teams, etc., to perform at peak levels.

I personally believe that there are two groups that could benefit the most by increasing their leadership skill set. First there are the individuals that are exceptionally intelligent but limit their ability to be successful due to lacking the necessary leadership skills to accomplish greatness. This can, however, be reversed if the individual understands their need to grow this particular area of their ability and makes a strong personal commitment to follow through on execution. Then there are the individuals who fall into the "natural born leaders" group who rely way too much on their instincts verses being an ongoing student of leadership. I say this because if someone achieves high levels of success only using their God given leadership abilities (in my opinion) it would be a travesty to not make a commitment to develop those skills to an even higher level of effectiveness. Do you fall into one of these groups? Better yet, do you have any resources that you are currently using or have utilized in the past that have been particularly effective in developing your leadership skills or the skills of those around you?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Welcome to the 5 O'clock Blog

As my first 5 O'clock entry I thought it would be fitting to write about what I am going to write about most often. I think the name of this blog "5 O'clock Blog" denotes a couple of things. First, that I am going to post new entries towards the end of each work day based on issues I have dealt with from a professional leadership standpoint. Second, That it will be a forum for professionals and leaders (you) across all industries to huddle up on a particular subject toward the end of each work day. Consider this blog a daily look into my world and a way for me to tap into your thoughts, opinions and expertise for the benefit of our mutual professional development. I look forward to reading your comments on my comments about important topics and issues related to developing people, business, partnerships and working together towards success. I typically gravitate to issues relative to leadership and sales as well as product and personnel development.

All that being said, I will do my best to keep my entries thought provoking and short enough to act as food for thought on your drive home or to simply provide insight into how others are dealing with business related issues across multiple industries. I hope you will take a couple minutes to join me (hopefully in the near towards the end of each workday. I look forward to our time together.