Archive for October, 2010

Focus on Strengths

October 25, 2010

“We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.”   Thomas Jefferson

At the time, I did not understand the concept of the power of synergy.  However, I soon found out that it means one plus one is sometimes greater than two.

My best boss paired me up on a project with another employee who I was not particularly fond of working with. We were both trainers and the woman who was assigned to be my partner was very skilled at creating workbooks and doing research. My strengths were in the front of the room—it was easy for me to make people laugh and it always seemed that being in front of the room was effortless. Typically, I was surprised they actually paid me to do this job. However, I was always missing the deadline for creating workbooks. I could sense my manager was becoming a little frustrated with this shortcoming.

When my boss assigned the project of working together, I questioned her ability to lead. I wondered how my boss could put us together; we do not even like each other, much less working together. Nevertheless, she said our strengths matched—whatever that meant.

Therefore, we worked on a few projects.  She would create the workbooks and do the research and I would read the workbooks and use my front room skills to educate and entertain. After awhile it became apparent we were jelling as a team, but we still were not particularly fond of each other.

However, after a year I began to realize what my boss meant by the power of synergy.  The two of us together were able to produce more and better training programs. We were able to produce more than we could ever produce by ourselves. My best boss ever, knew the power of synergy, by putting teams together and looking at each of our individual strengths and weaknesses, she was able to create a stronger team.  She recognized that I was strong in front of the room and she knew that my new partner was very strong in research and developing workbooks. The employees got a much better training program and they got our great workbook that they could use as a reference tool long after the training session had ended, which helped to reinforce their learning. In addition, they got my storytelling and my humor, which allowed the ideas to stick. At first, I thought this arrangement was absurd, but after working with it for over a year and a half, I began to realize the power of synergy. I had to tip my hat to my best boss, because she had used that power of synergy to create a very strong training team.

My recommendation to all managers is to use the power of synergy to create a stronger team.  The other great lesson is that my boss did not try to fix our weaknesses.  She recognized our weaknesses—she overlooked them—but she utilized our strengths.  A year later, I asked her how she came up with the idea.  She said she had read the book “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and she recognized the power of focusing on peoples’ strengths. She said when she was a new manager, she tried to focus on fixing weaknesses, but she realized this is a futile attempt at absurdity.  She said, “You cannot take an introvert, send them to Dale Carnegie training for two weeks and turn them into Martin Luther King.” She said, further, that you could take an extrovert, send them to Dale Carnegie training and make them a much better speaker. She said now she just tries to focus on utilizing peoples’ strengths and minimizing their weaknesses, or balancing their weaknesses through team member strengths. She said by putting us together she took my strengths of presentation skills and my partner’s strength of research and documentation and made us a much better team. The two things I walked away with from this learning point was to use the power of synergy and focus on peoples’ strengths. If I can do that as a manager in the future, I can make an impact on the lives of the employees I work with and I can make a strong impact on the organization I work at. If I can do those two things then it was worth it for me to have chosen the path of being a manager.


In the Loop

October 18, 2010

A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and of vice.”   Ann Radcliffe

 My best boss ever kept us in the loop of what was going on at the bank.

 At the time, I was working for a large regional bank in southern Florida. I had been working there for about ten years and had a big portion of my career invested in that bank. One day, I began to hear some rumors that we might be in trouble. Of course, my antenna went up and I began to research a little further. Shortly after my research began, a memo circulated that asked all of the employees to attend a mandatory meeting at a local hotel.  About 600 employees attended.  There were no balloons, no festive decorations and no semblance of any celebration at this event.

After everyone was seated, the doors were closed and the CEO took the podium at the center of the stage. He shared with us the shocking news that the bank was in serious financial trouble.  He asked us to keep this information extremely confidential. He asked us not to even share this information with our spouses or parents.  He said if we did, it might cause a run on the bank and cause all of us to lose our jobs immediately. He went on further to explain that we would have career counselors available to help any employees’ transition to new jobs. For those employees who stayed up to the point of liquidation or merger, a severance package would be provided.  He said that although his goal was two-fold, he first wanted to make sure that we heard this information from the CEO. He also wanted to make sure that his employees had the opportunity of a soft landing during this transition.

I was at first shocked and then amazed that everyone in the bank had been given this information. I was incredibly touched that the CEO would trust all of us with this very vital information.  No one in the bank broke the code of confidentiality, although the bank was not successful and eventually merged with another large regional bank.  However, the jobs and careers of hundreds of employees were saved because of the integrity of my CEO, who shared information with everyone in the bank.  This experience is my benchmark for integrity and for caring for employees and an organization.

Hopes, Dreams, Wishes and Aspirations by Rory Rowland

October 12, 2010

Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.”  Anais Nin

 In the late 90s when I was brand-new to the speaking business, a client arranged for a limousine to pick me up at the airport. It was the first time I had ever had a limousine pick me up while on business. My sense of self-importance was incredible, however that feeling of self- importance was to be overshadowed by what I was about to learn. Rosie was the limousine driver who was to take me from the airport to the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida. Rosie was happy, friendly, and quick with a story. Since this is the first time a client had ever had a limousine for me to get from the airport, I really did not know the protocol. Rosie guided me to the limousine and just at the right moment, she held the back limousine door open so I could step inside. Coming from a blue-collar family, I asked if I could just sit up front with her. My father was a truck driver, so obviously I did not know anything about riding in the back of limousines. She smiled and quickly moved to open up the front door for me to climb into.

While upfront, I asked her how she liked being a limousine driver and how she liked working for the World Center Marriott. She said she loved it and would gladly work there for many years. She said that the World Center Marriott was special because the General Manager was extraordinary. The General Manager, she said, knew almost all the employees by their first name. He had also given many of them a nickname. I asked Rosie what her nickname was and she responded with, “Trouble.” Her response showed that smile again and a bit of a laugh. Her sense of pride that she was recognized as important was very evident.

During my stay, I asked other employees how long they had worked there and if they liked it there. They all said yes, with a smile and enthusiasm. I could not find anyone who had worked there for less than five years!  For the service industry, in my mind, that was extraordinary.  Particularly in Orlando, where an employee can leave one job and get another the same day.

After my speaking engagement at the World Center Marriott, Rosie took me in the limousine, (notice I was again in a limousine) and I told her about the extraordinary service I received at the hotel and what a great job they did there. I then asked her to tell me a story that illustrated the General Manager’s extraordinary skills. Rosie shared a story about a housekeeper who always wanted to see Bill Cosby perform. However, since she was a housekeeper in Orlando, Florida, it was difficult for her to travel to Las Vegas.  On top of that, the show tickets would be too expensive.  Since the General Manager was so people-oriented, he knew and remembered many details about his employees.

When Bill Cosby was scheduled to perform in a corporate event in Orlando, the general manager remembered this fact. On his own accord, he contacted Bill Cosby’s manager and asked if the housekeeper could meet Bill Cosby and then possibly see his show. Bill Cosby’s folks were incredibly gracious and not only did they allow her to meet Bill Cosby, but they gave her backstage passes, she had her picture taken with him and she was able to watch the performance with the other folks who were at the corporate event. 

Rosie told me that the housekeeper thanked the General Manager profusely for allowing her to live a life long dream.

The General Manager knew the hopes, wishes, dreams and aspirations of his employees. He used that knowledge to deepen and strengthen his relationships with his employees. Moreover, that knowledge helped him earn the respect, admiration and loyalty of his employees for a lifetime.

Manage by M&M’s® by Carolyn Warden

October 6, 2010

 “The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.”   Agha Hasan Abedi

 My best boss managed by using the power of M&M’s®.

 Remember that first job and the pressure you felt.

 You always had to hurry with the constant effort to work fast because of your lack of knowledge. The hurried feeling that never seemed to go away those first few days—always having to rush around in a helter-skelter fashion because you did not know it all, yet.

 When you are at the ticket booth you see customers standing, waiting in line, looking at you and then you read their minds, “Oh this is the rookie, they have no idea what they are doing and we ended up in their line.” Then, you do some more mind reading and they go on further, “Why don’t they get someone out here that knows what they are doing?” The feeling of stress, anxiety and panic just grows. Then magically another employee appears in the ticket booth next to you and they clear the line in no time, with what looked like little or no effort. You experience the humiliation of not being that skilled in processing tickets and the first time in your life feeling a stress your parents cannot fix. Then an employee that was never very friendly says, “When are you ever going to learn this stuff? It’s easy.” The feelings of inadequacy jump out to grab you like a monster at a haunted house. When the stress would pile up and the feeling of inadequacy would rise up like an insurrection, I would go talk to my best boss ever.

 If I had a problem and I went to talk to her about it, she would invite me to sit down and invite me to enjoy some of the M&M’s® that were always in a bowl at her desk.

 Of course, I would pop some M&M’s® in my mouth. She would excuse herself, because at that moment she always seemed to have to make a short phone call. To this day, I really do not know if she was actually making a phone call. She could have been calling time and temperature, for all I know.  However, those few moments allowed me to get a bit of a sugar rush and a moment for myself to relax. Her office was a safe place, a place where I could go to be heard. After eating a few M&M’s® and taking in some relaxing air, even though I did not realize at the moment the importance of just sitting there and breathing, nothing seemed quite so challenging. After she concluded her phone call, she would give me her full attention and then I could tell her anything that was on my mind. Her listening skills were legendary with everyone who worked on the boat. I did not go to her office to talk, I always went to her office to be heard. Being heard is much different from being allowed to talk. She always listened so intently, in a non-judgmental way and after the M&M’s® and a few moments of being heard, I was always able to go back out there and give it another try. She did not just seem to listen; she seemed to really give me a second chance. After talking with her, I felt refreshed, invigorated and recharged, and ready to try again.

 Therefore, the power of this best manager was that she always had something to give us.  Although supplying the colorful and tasty M&M’s®, her best skill was her ability to listen to us regardless of what we had to say.  Because she was such a great listener, she was able to allow us to talk through it and she only asked clarifying questions. This allowed me to hear myself and I presented the opportunity to correct myself. I did not realize the power of this technique until much later in life. I was always grateful that she listened, but I was more grateful that she taught me how to be a great boss. I still to this day keep in touch with her. Her skills and abilities made an impression that lasted a lifetime.