Don’t Hire Me… Only When Times are Good

Recently, my office received this email response, from a corporate Vice-President, to our sales call.

Dear Marcia:

Thanks for following up.

As it stands right now, we are experiencing some pretty intense business pressure as the overall product category continues to be down. 

With that going on, we’ve got to be somewhat conservative around what we pursue.



This Vice-president’s response typifies a predominant mentality among corporate leaders in this down economy.  Organizations have the money.  Employees certainly have the need for encouragement.  What they often don’t have from their leaders, however, is Managerial Courage.

A lot has been written in an attempt to define the elusive attribute of Managerial Courage.  Some describe it as being decisive.  Others say it is acting with conviction.  Still others claim it is being honest.

Most managers aspire to lead with all of these honorable qualities, particularly in good times.  The ultimate form of Managerial Courage, however, only comes to light in darkness of tough times.  True Managerial Courage is the ability to decisively press forward in when the outlook may be gray and murky.

Unfortunately, many leaders abandon their quest to develop these courageous qualities, at the first sight of trouble, instead opting to hunker down and play it safe.  They don’t realize how they may be creating the very reality they fear. 

The Vice-president, for example, sees that “the overall product category continues to be down”.  He reacts in a number of potentially deleterious ways: confusion, regret, fear, etc.   In order to help him cope with these unnerving emotions, he practices being conservative.  Unbeknownst to the Vice-president his conservatism may be contributing to the problem.

Like gears in a clock mechanism, around and around the Vice-president’s perceptions, reactions, and practices spin: a vicious cycle where he literally creates his experience of the world based on the way he perceives it; in this case, the decrease in sales.

Employees need and expect their leaders to live up to their pay grade.  Workers respect and trust leaders who know where they are going, make tough calls and forge ahead.  Nevertheless, all too often, leaders like this Vice-president lose their nerve in tough times. 

The lack of Managerial Courage commonly appears in the budgetary decisions a leader makes in tough times.  Corporate leaders often cut training and development programs first.  Such a move, however, is shortsighted because training and developing your people arms them the necessary tools critical for weathering tough times.  Training reduces risks, turnover and the need for extensive supervision. Training increases innovation, productivity, morale and the ability to adapt to change.   Without such tools, fear spreads throughout the organization, tanking morale and paving the way for competition to take the lead.

Continually developing your people seems like common sense, but in the words of Voltaire, "Common sense is not common practice”.  Ironically, corporate leaders often invite me to address their employees when times are good, hoping that I can help employees sustain their growth.  While developing your people is always a good idea.  The best time to bring me in to your organization is when people are unnerved and need a message of resiliency and encouragement the most.

Indeed, these difficult days are the times that will make or break your organization. 
Investing in your people when times are tough shows remarkable Managerial Courage.  


Engagement Entropy

Wow.! Here's yet another study that sounds the "engaged apathy" alarm. But, I wonder how many business leaders are hearing it?

Employees who'd rather tune into their iPod than the needs of your customers are nothing new. But is the problem getting worse? As they text and instant message friends about their discontent, or walk the length of the hallway just to gaze longingly at the parking lot, that's not a bad question to consider. A new report, "The State of Employee Engagement 2008," ...reveals that fewer than one in three North American workers are fully engaged. Moreover, 19 percent are completely disengaged, and a further 13 percent are disillusioned and at risk for becoming disengaged. The study, based on a survey of more than 7,500 employees and interviews with 40 human resource and line managers on four continents, identified five levels of employee engagement in North America. Read the full article from "Inside Training" by clicking here.


Should You Be Worried?

A man was pacing back and forth across the floor. His wife entered the room and asked,"Honey, why are you pacing like that?!"
"Tomorrow our $50,000 note at the bank is due," answered the husband.
The wife left him pacing, but returned a short while later and said, "Are you still pacing? What are you doing that for?"
"I told you. Tomorrow the note for $50,000 is due to the banker", he snarled
"Oh, sweetheart, "she replied," Come to bed. Let the banker pace."

Unfortunately, bankers are not the only ones pacing today. The very mention of the word “recession” is sending shudders of worry throughout workplaces.
Wouldn’t life be easy if you could shun worry like the wife above? You can’t stop worrying, nor should you. As human beings we think and feel, therefore we worry. Sometimes a proper dose of worry can be good. A little worry about an economic recession prompts you to hone your sales skills, curb spending, and diversify your investments. But too much worry chokes off your creativity and resourcefulness. In fact, the word “worry” comes from the Germanic wurgjan, which originally meant, “strangle”. Too much worry about the faltering economy creates panic.
You can’t stop worrying, but you don’t have to allow worrying to stop you.

Being born without arms, I have worried plenty. I use my legs and feet to do everything including shaving, eating, and driving a car. But, I worry that some day I could lose the use of my legs from arthritis. Living with such a scary situation has given me some insights on how to manage worry. I offer the following ideas to help you.

Examine your expectations

I recently delivered a speech for a company whose meeting planner went into a whirlwind of worry, ravaging everything and everyone in her path. She was a well-organized, take-charge kind of person. Like many meeting planners, she had high expectations of executing the perfect offsite. Like a nervous bride, she controlled every detail to make certain “her” event went off without a glitch.
But, when the hotel switched the meeting room at the last minute and the printer messed up the handouts, she panicked. The planner’s co-workers told her she was needlessly worrying over things she couldn’t control. As the meeting day went on, the amount of details the planner was trying to handle alone overwhelmed her. At one point, she broke down in front of the CEO.
I am all for having high standards, but your expectations of yourself can create a lot of anguish. Some people allow themselves to become stressed over the way things should be. When the winds of change blow, you may need to adjust your sails accordingly. Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your expectations. Are you expecting too much from yourself or other people? If your expectations are making you worry, give yourself a break, and keep an open mind. Some of life’s greatest opportunities and most beautiful moments are spontaneous.

Explore your options & keep them open

Recently, a client needed to reschedule a seminar I was supposed to deliver in San Diego. The new date my client needed would put me back-to-back with a previously scheduled speaking engagement for the Illinois State Police in Chicago. I worried how I would deliver one speech after another halfway across the nation. After spending an entire afternoon exploring options with five different airlines, I panicked.
The earliest flight back to Chicago arrived at 12:05 pm on the same day I was scheduled to speak to the officers at 2:00 pm. That meant I had only two hours to get to the meeting location, get my audiovisual equipment set-up, and gather my thoughts for the speech. Looking at such a short period, I worried, “If I get delayed in any way, my client won’t have a speaker and will be upset with me.” I resigned that I would have to cancel one of the engagements.
Thankfully, I talked out the problem with my Business Manager, Marcia, and she suggested that I ask an old friend and fellow speaker to be available as a stand in on short notice. My friend was happy to do so. The meeting planner felt reassured having another speaker on stand-by. He even arranged for a State Trooper to pick me up at the airport and drive me in a squad car so I wouldn’t get caught in traffic!
Ultimately, my flight landed precisely on time. The trooper met me at the airport; fully uniformed right down to his wide brim hat and gun. I felt very official as he grabbed my suitcase, and whisked me off. We arrived at the venue so expediently I was able to take the stage a few minutes early!
You can always find options as long as you are willing to open up and acknowledge the problem. Opening up requires personal courage to admit a mistake or ask for help. Opening up also involves listening to the advice and viewpoints of others. Remembering that other possibilities exist helps us feel less trapped. Where there are options, there is hope.

Live in the present

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is hard to live in the present. The past and the future keep harassing us. The past with guilt, the future with worries…Our worries fill our lives with ‘What ifs’: ‘What if I lose my job, what if my father dies…’”
Kids often ask me, “What if God would give you arms today, would you accept them?” I don’t like to ask “What if…?” questions. Many times, “What if?” questions don’t have clear answers. Asking “What if?” questions takes us out of reality and leads to more questions and more worry. Have you ever noticed that many of the things you feared the most never happened? But the things that you never expected to happen ended up blind-siding you.
A caveat here: If you are going to ask, “What if…?” questions, ask them ahead of time when the sky is clear; not when dark clouds are looming and thunder is rumbling. “What if we have another terrorist attack?” “What if our server crashes?” “What if the economy slows?” A responsible businessperson prepares his or her company for such catastrophes. I have worked with many small businesses that do not have a budget, succession plan, or credit line available.
How does one live in the present moment? Charlie Brown (Charles Schulz) once quipped, “I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time.” You don’t have to dread one day at a time, but you might need to fight one battle at a time. Often the best way to get through a problem is to break it down into manageable parts. When you take life one challenge at a time, you focus on your assets and strengths. Such an inventory gives you self-confidence, and tells us where to start tackling the problem. When you take one thing at time, you can focus on what you know to be real right now.
You can also live in the present moment by investing a few moments of daily quiet time or prayer. Worry winds us up, but quiet time winds us down. Whether you take a warm bath, a walk in the park, or write in journal, taking time to relax creates a well of serenity, from which you can drink. As the day becomes hectic, your mind will revert to the quiet time, become steadied and give you composure to get through the difficult moment. Of course, finding time to be still is not easy. But, sometimes the last thing you have time to do is the first thing you need to do.
During these uncertain times, it’s hard to stop worrying. It’s more important than ever to be good to yourself. Don’t waste your psychological energy on thoughts of fear and self-doubt. Invest your energy into examining your expectations, exploring your options, and living in the present moment. When you find yourself looking ahead and fearing what may happen, pause and look back. You’ve overcome tough times before. Don’t allow worry to stop you now!


"Bored" a Bigger Burden than "Busy"

Overtaxed workers may not be the ones most at risk of becoming disgruntled in your organization—it's those empoyees who are "bored" that are causing problems.

An ironic factor in the stuggle to make things happen!

Check out this interesting article in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine.


Do You Trust Me?

Trust is fundamental in the employer-employee relationship. But according to a recent European study, there are problematic gaps in this vital business relationship. Check out this fascinating article in Sales and Marketing Management, which provides further evidence that exasperated employer-employee relationship impacts the ability to translate visions into outcomes. The article states only “38 percent feel that their organization’s vision and strategy are effectively communicated to employees.” If a company expects to consistently execute a strategy, the organization must begin with the basics and address the trust quotient.

To read the article click here.


How to De-motivate People

A saleswoman with a St. Louis advertising company recently shared this motivational gasp with me during a coaching session.

Her sales director wore a Chicago Cubs T-shirt to the company’s weekly sales team meeting. He opened the meeting by stating, “As you know the Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. They lost the World Series in 1906, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945. The Cubs are a losing ball club because they don’t work together as team. And, you guys aren’t working together either…”

To make matters worse, this incident took place shortly after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series while fans were still relishing their team’s victory.

Perhaps the director was trying to be clever and get his team’s attention, but the salespeople only heard, “We’re losers!” The director got their attention, but lost their respect.

Given everything that has been written about effective management, it’s difficult to imagine that some leaders still employ the old “Carrot and Stick” motivational practice in the 21st Century.

Still, this incident provides some lessons:

First, the saleswoman should gently tell the director that his Cub’s analogy really hurt people and rippled wave of anger and apathy throughout the organization. As a senior staff member, she not only has the clout to speak with her boss, others look to her for leadership as well. If someone like her doesn’t speak up, the director will think his tactics are tolerable, and he will continue to practice intimidation.

Secondly, I suspect an underlying fear is stoking the sales director’s angry and pessimistic demeanor. He is probably under pressure to meet his revenue goals. Rather than wearing his anxiety on his sleeve, the director needs to learn how to positively deal with his stress. He needs to recognize that his ill-temper only spawns fear. His people need leadership, not condescending and concealed threats.

Finally, the director should understand that he doesn’t need to try so hard to motivate his people. The very concept of motivation is internal or self-starting. You can't motivate people. A person must choose to motivate himself. (For example, only I could choose to take initiative with my handicap.) This director’s job is to create the circumstances in which his peoples’ inherit motivation—their intrinsic commitment and initiative—is released and focused on achievable goals. Currently, he is just de-motivating his people.


How to find and fix the causes of workplace apathy

What's The Problem Here?

How to find and fix the causes of workplace apathy

The department responsible for maintaining shipping supplies at a mid-sized telecommunications company had done its job — at least, from a numbers standpoint. There were plenty of boxes in the warehouse for shipping the phone systems the company sold. The trouble was: some boxes were white, and some were brown. A minor concern, you’d think. Unfortunately, the discrepancy caused quite a stir.

In the white corner stood the Western-region sales and marketing team. In the brown corner stood the Eastern-region sales and marketing team. Both felt their color preference was best, and both had their reasons. On the floor, there was little sign of unrest. Orders were coming in, paperwork processed and phones shipped as usual. Around the water cooler, though, it was a different story...Read the full article here.