Wow! You’re Saying That Was Wrong?

In the United States we’re experiencing a dramatic shift in our values. As numerous commentators have observed, sexual harassment that has been tolerated for many, many years is no longer being tolerated. Consequently, for very good reasons numerous organizations are implementing training programs about sexual harassment. The subject of the post is: Do we really think that the root cause of sexual harassment is lack of education about what harassment is or whether it’s acceptable behavior?

Sexual harassment is a specific instance of someone misusing his power to mistreat another individual simply because he can get away with it. When a man invites a women to his hotel room to discuss business and then parades around the room naked and demands sex – do we really believe that he mistakenly thinks this is morally acceptable behavior?

The men accused of sexual harassment often deny they did it. But they never defend themselves with the following type of response: (Slaps his forehead)“I didn’t know that forcing a woman to have sex against her will was wrong!” Or, “Wow! You’re telling me that exposing myself is wrong? Who knew?!”

Of course they know it’s wrong. That’s why they go to great lengths to cover it up.

The education people need in this area must begin with toddlers. Don’t hit. Don’t bite. Don’t mistreat others because you’re bigger and stronger than they are.

The men who do this know it’s wrong. There will always be people who think they can get away with it. The education they need is that women are now more likely to speak out. And organizations are less likely to tolerate it. The risk of being punished has just gone up dramatically. I’m hopeful that the deterrent effect of probable punishment will reduce the frequency of sexual harassment.

This is a lesson that’s more likely to be learned the hard way, rather than from a seminar.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

 

Larry Sternberg

This Year, Give The Gift of Gratitude

I’m re-posting this article I wrote several years ago. I hope it adds meaning to your holiday season.

This post will be merely interesting if you don’t act on these suggestions. It will be immensely rewarding if you do.

Think about the people whose influence helped you become who you are today, people who have made a significant, positive and lasting difference in your life.

Now take a few moments and make a list of their names. No matter your age, the list is not long. Just take a few moments and write their names.

Chances are you haven’t thought about some of these people in a while. Some might have passed away.

Visualize each person, one-by-one.

Think about what each one did that influenced you in such a powerful, lasting way.

Now, answer this question: Do they know what a huge difference they made in your life? I submit that unless you have told them, they do not know.

Here comes the immensely rewarding part: tell them. Tell them in person, or tell them in a hand-written letter. Tell them openly, sincerely, authentically from your heart. Do it before you lose the opportunity. They won’t be here forever.

If you’re visualizing actually doing this, you might be uncomfortable or even apprehensive. That’s normal. This sort of profoundly personal, emotional disclosure is rare in our society. Do it anyway.

I promise. Those of you who do this will find it enormously gratifying. For each person you tell, it will be the most meaningful gift that person has received in a very long time.

I’d love to hear accounts from those who try this.

Larry Sternberg

Where Work/Life Balance Meets the Ebb and Flow of Relationships

This post is written jointly by me and Dr. Kim Turnage, my friend and co-author of the book, “Managing to Make a Difference”.

Justin*, a CEO of a small business, recently shared his frustration about the reduced availability of operations manager, Marian,* who had just given birth to a child. Justin routinely works long hours in a 24/7 business, and, until now, he has enjoyed partnering with someone who runs as hard and fast as he does. For nearly a decade, Marian has been that business partner for Justin, and she has performed with excellence in her role. She loves her work and is committed to maintaining her high level of performance. The recent birth of Marian’s child (for which Justin is very happy, by the way) changes not only Marian’s life, but Justin’s as well.

*These are not their real names.

Kim happened to be talking with Marian and Justin together when this topic came up. It clearly touched a nerve for both of them. Justin was half apologetic, half frustrated in his description of the situation. As Kim asked a few clarifying questions, Marian was harder to read. Initially stoic, she was smiling through tears by the time Kim finished advising them on this matter. It went something like this:

It’s important for both of you to keep in mind that what you’re experiencing now is 100% temporary. Caring for an infant is time consuming and physically demanding right now for Marian. Justin, she has been an exceptional partner to you for many years, and you need the expertise she brings to your business. She loves her work, and she needs you to work with her to accommodate her needs temporarily. Are there other people in the organization who can backfill for some of her responsibilities for a time? What other accommodations can you make temporarily?

For how long?

Well, in just a few months, she’s going to be more well-rested because this baby will be sleeping through the night and she will too. Within less than a year, she will have achieved her breastfeeding goal and won’t need to take breaks at work to pump anymore. Within 5 years, this child will be in school. Five years is only half the time the two of you have been working together so far! This is really temporary.

You can both achieve your goals if you can keep communicating and working together on how to get both of your needs met. You have a solid relationship to build from, and both of you love working together. Marian’s need for extra time will certainly ebb and flow, but much of her flexibility can return. The two of you have an excellent partnership, and surely you’re smart enough to figure out how that partnership can continue to thrive, even though Marian’s life circumstances are changing.

In any close relationship, professional or personal, major life events in one person’s life affect the other person as well. Issues of work/life balance intersect with relationship issues quite conspicuously when it comes to parenting, and this is an area where embracing the ebb and flow of relationships becomes mandatory. But too often, people focus on formal, contractual elements instead of treating this as a relationship issue.

The reality is that women often pay higher penalties than men do for parenting. Despite the advances our society has made in equity for men and women in the workplace, the U.S is one of the only countries in the industrialized world that does not have laws requiring employers to provide paid maternity leave. As much as women and men may strive to parent equally, the reality is that if any paid leave is afforded by company policies, it is generally afforded to mothers and not to fathers. Mothers are typically the ones who take a “time out” to care for newborns. (That ‘typically’ turns to ‘always’ for single mothers.) And those time outs are almost never free. Even when they are allowed by company policy, they can detract from a woman’s ability to advance in her career. And women who choose to take leave or adjust work commitments in order to accommodate childbearing and child rearing are often penalized and judged harshly – sometimes most harshly by other women who have made different choices.

Can’t you just hear the “contract” language in that section you just read? Words like equity, penalty, laws, requiring, policy. Work/life issues often raise questions about whether people are getting what they deserve. They can quickly devolve into tit for tat, quid pro quo kinds of analysis. There’s an assumption that the way things are “now” is the way they will always be, and there’s a tendency to take a black and white, all or none position. But those are fallacies that don’t serve anyone well.

Let’s go back to Justin and Marian for a moment. Let’s say Justin decides he just won’t make any compromises. So he lets Marian go and hires someone new. How long will it take before that person gets up to speed? Remember he’s been working with Marian for almost a decade. Also, how can he be sure he’ll find someone who will be as good as or better than Marian? Given that her situation is temporary and that she’s still highly committed to her job, isn’t it worth making some accommodations and waiting for her to come fully back online?

Every relationship has an ebb and flow. Work relationships are no exception. At times more is asked from one person than from the other. Honoring the relationship sometimes involves accepting an additional burden with an open heart. But any additional burden is likely to be only temporary because that’s how ‘ebb and flow’ works. And when relationships are strong, partners should make the assumption that the accommodations will be worth the cost.

Are You Thinking About Boomeranging?

Boomerang employees are people who have left an organization and then been rehired at a later date. It used to be taboo. In fact, about 50% of HR professionals surveyed say their organizations had policies that prohibited rehiring former employees in the past. But over 75% of those same HR professionals say their companies are more willing to rehire boomerang employees now than ever before.

Should you consider returning to a former employer? And if you do, what can you expect? Talent Plus (the company I work for) actively recruits boomerangs. We know that talented people sometimes have opportunities for growth elsewhere that they just can’t – and shouldn’t — pass up. And when their circumstances (and ours) change, we actively recruit them back.

Kim Turnage is my co-author of the book, Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), and she is a Talent Plus boomerang. In this post, she shares her insights on this type of career decision.

How did you decide to return to the company?

I got a call from our recruiter, Kyle Bruss, asking me if I would consider coming back. The timing and the opportunity were both right. I knew the company culture and values. Many of the same leaders were still there even though I had been away for about five years. I believed in the company’s mission and believed I could add value by coming back in a different role than the one I had left five years earlier. I consulted some people I trusted who were still working with the company and decided to make the leap. It was a great decision!

Did you try to pick up where you left off? 

I did not. I approached the role with humility and a commitment to learning. I had done some parts of the job before, but I needed a refresher. And a lot had changed, too. I assumed nothing and asked a lot of questions.

I also invested in strengthening relationships with people I knew from before and cultivating new relationships with people who had joined the company in my absence. I considered myself a newbie with some background knowledge and tried to remember that what I thought I knew from the past might not be applicable in the present.

What did you say when people asked questions about why you left and why you came back?

If anyone asked (and even sometimes when I could tell people were curious but too polite to ask) I told the truth.

  • Why I left: I had worked for the company full-time for four years then moved to working part-time from home for an additional three years after my second child was born. Some other opportunities highly aligned with my interests became available during that time, and I made the choice to leave the company in order to pursue those opportunities.
  • Why I came back: My family had moved to another city, and I was in the process of deciding what to do next when our recruiter, Kyle, called and offered me an opportunity to work remotely. This opportunity fit very well with my talents, served the needs of the company, and allowed me to do work that contributes to a greater good. It was an easy decision to come back.

How did you re-establish yourself within the company? 

I acted like I would at any new job. I did my job well and raised my hand for special projects where I could make positive contributions. I worked on establishing trust-based relationships with my manager and the members of my team. Working remotely, hundreds of miles from our company headquarters, made that process a little slower and more complicated, but my colleagues were equally committed to building those relationships. One of the key ways I built trust was by looking for opportunities help other people achieve their goals.

Was it harder or easier than you expected?

Yes. Some parts were easier and some were harder.

I knew the culture and knew some current employees who helped accelerate my ability to establish new connections with new people. I was open to learning, and several leaders invested the time to help me connect what I knew before to what I needed to know in the present to succeed.

The hardest part was less about coming back and more about the fact that I was coming back as a (really) remote worker. I had worked from home before, but in the same city as the company’s headquarters. When I boomeranged, my home was hundreds of miles away from the office and my family commitments made travel very difficult and infrequent. That distance was the source of most of the difficulties I encountered, but I was working with a company who had extensive experience with people working remotely…and with people boomeranging…and we worked through issues effectively, primarily because we started from a foundation of trust.

What advice do you have for people thinking about boomeranging?

  • First of all, consider how and why you left the company. Were you on good terms? Can you tell a true, positive story about why you left and why you want to come back?
  • Make sure you have an accurate picture of the organization as it is today. What are you hearing from the people who are recruiting you or who would make the decision about whether to run with your desire to return to the company? Have you maintained positive relationships with some other people in the company whose insights you can trust? What can they tell you about how things have changed, and how consistent are those changes with your goals and the way you want your next role to look?
  • Consider the role you’ll be coming back to. How is it similar to and different from the one you left? What knowledge and experience have you gained in your absence that will add unique value? What has changed in the interim that you will need to learn about or retool for?

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim Turnage for her worthwhile advice about boomeranging. As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Adjust to a New Boss?

From time to time in your career you’ll confront the challenge of adjusting to a new boss. In many cases, this will be a situation you did not seek. Suddenly, you find yourself forced into a new relationship in which the other person (your new boss) has considerably more power than you do. Here are some tips for adjusting to a new boss.

  1. Don’t pre-judge.

Give this person a fair chance. That’s what you want, right? You don’t want your boss to prejudge you, so why should you prejudge her? Ignore whatever you might have heard and base your thinking on your own direct experience with her.

  1. Get to know each other.

Spend some time getting to know each other. An excellent way to get started is to use the Focus On You activity that you can download from the Website Managetomakedadifference.com

  1. Listen, listen and listen.

Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

  1. Be positive.

This should go without saying, but sadly it does not. Demonstrate optimism about the future. Don’t focus on what’s wrong.

  1. Avoid gossip.

Don’t say negative things about others.

  1. Be supportive.

Make it clear that you are committed to helping your new boss be successful. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. You can help her avoid stepping on land mines, and you can share your inside knowledge to help her succeed.

  1. Make you boss’s priorities your own.

Find out what your boss’s expectations are, what her goals are and what she wants to focus on. Get on board with those priorities.

 

Thanks for reading. I’m sure you have additional tips to adjust to a new boss. I’d love to hear them.

Larry Sternberg

What More Can We Say About Building Trust?

Just for fun, I Googled, “How to build trust.” Google returned 523,000,000 results in .38 seconds. I apologize, but I’m going to make it 523 million and one. Most of the conversation I hear or read on this topic focuses on being trustworthy, which is supremely important. But there’s another aspect that doesn’t get as much attention: being trusting.

Being trusting is more nuanced than being trustworthy. Let’s begin by acknowledging that it’s possible to be too trusting. Think about the purchasing function, for instance. The risk of malfeasance is so great that it would be foolish to forego rigorous controls and oversight. Everybody involved in that process understands and accepts this.

But some leaders see every situation like the one described above. This lack of trust is rationalized in various ways: I don’t trust their judgment; I don’t trust their knowledge or experience; I don’t trust their intentions; I’m worried they might commit malfeasance; I don’t trust them to follow up. I’m sure you can add to this list. The result is lack of empowerment and more control mechanisms. People hesitate to take initiative. The organization becomes less agile. Morale suffers. And most importantly relationships suffer. When trust is low, you cannot create a high performing team.

I’ve worked with way too many leaders who are quite comfortable telling me they don’t trust one or more of their direct reports. Does this sound familiar? Why would a leader choose to work with someone they don’t trust? Sadly, often the answer is: they wouldn’t trust the next person either because they can’t bring themselves to trust anyone.

When trust is high relationships flourish, the organization is more agile, morale improves, collaboration improves and productivity improves. Readers might be interested in reading, “The Speed of Trust” by Steven M. R. Covey and “I Mean You No Harm; I Seek Your Greatest Good” by Jim Meehan.

You can’t create a high performing team absent a high level of trust. Being trustworthy is not enough. You must also be trusting, which involves risk. But let’s be honest. It’s a choice you can make. Find direct reports you’re willing to trust. The rewards are well worth the risk.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Will You Please Quit Checking Your Phone Constantly?

These days it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a good listener. We (I include myself) always have our phones out, and we’re always checking briefly for incoming texts, tweets, emails, etc. Recent research suggests that just having your phone visible affects the conversation, and that people experience anxiety when they’re separated from their phones or can’t answer an incoming message. To read the research click here.

Many readers will rationalize this behavior, stating that briefly checking their phones does not detract from listening. But it does, and it impacts your relationship.

Remember, your relationship with another person is shaped by the way you respond to that person. Constant phone checking sends a message about how important (or unimportant) the person or the conversation is to you. Suppose your best customer stops in for a serious conversation. While she’s talking are you checking your phone? No. Suppose your CEO stops in to speak with you. Are you going to check your phone? No. How would you feel if your doctor checked her phone during your examination?

I understand that there’s a difference between casual conversation and other types of conversation that carry more significance. For instance, if you’re just talking about yesterday’s sporting event, it seems acceptable for both of you to check your phones. But if that same person is pouring his heart out about the recent terrible diagnosis of a loved one, please control the urge to check your phone.

My call to action here is to consciously, intentionally practice separating ourselves from our phones so that we don’t experience phone separation stress. When we’re in a meeting, let’s agree not to check our phones. This will free us to be in the moment and create the opportunity to engage in meaningful, human conversation. I think we’ll find that the world does not quit turning on its axis.

Here’s a great example. I have a friend whose social group gets together frequently for dinner parties. At the beginning of the evening they all put their phones in a basket and don’t retrieve them until the event is over. That’s a commitment to be in the moment with their friends. The more we do things like that the easier it gets.

I’m making a commitment to do better at this.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Manage Up?

A couple of my friends recently suggested today’s topic. It’s certainly not something I’ve done with excellence over the years, but I hope I’ve learned and improved in this area. It’s important. As I share my thoughts, I hope to stimulate your thinking and solicit your contributions about what’s worked for you.

First, let’s understand that we’re talking, once again, about relationship. When viewed in that light, the question can be re-stated, “How do you have a great relationship with your boss?”

  • Honor his character traits, values, strengths and weaknesses.
    • Don’t wish he would change, and don’t try to change him. Accept him as he is. This is one of the most affirming things you can do for anyone.
    • Look for areas where you and the boss have complimentary strengths. These present opportunities for synergy.
  • Understand his needs, goals and expectations.
    • You want to understand these things about your customers don’t you? Why? Because knowing these things empowers you to add value as your customer defines it. Do the same for your boss. The more clarity you have about expectations, the easier it is to meet those expectations.
    • Make your boss’s priorities your own.
  • Demonstrate fierce loyalty and unmitigated trust.
    • Make sure your boss knows you seek his greatest good.
    • When you disagree, do it in private.
    • Support his decisions public, even if you don’t agree. Remember, you might be wrong.
    • Keep him well informed. Don’t hide information.
    • Don’t speak negatively about your boss. That’s blatantly disloyal.
    • If you’re going to meet with his boss, tell him so before you do it.
    • If his boss calls you into a meeting, let your boss know what it was about as soon as possible.
  • Ask for advice and guidance.
    • Although you should bring possible solutions, you’ll run into problems. It shows respect to ask your boss for guidance.
    • Don’t be defensive. That’s worth repeating.
    • Don’t be defensive. From time to time you’re going to get your ass chewed. Sometimes it’ll be unfair. As my friend Jim Horsman says, “Lick your wounds and move on.”
  • Share good news.
    • Don’t create a situation where you only interact with your boss when there’s a problem, or when you’re going to ask for something. Share a team success, share something great about one of your team members, or share a new idea.
  • Show appreciation. Give your boss recognition when he’s earned it.
    • We tend to think about recognition as being only top down. We need to escape that thinking. Like anyone else in your organization, your boss does things that merit some recognition. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Please click here to learn more about how to do it.

There’s a time-honored technique, ass kissing, which works wonders with certain people. I don’t endorse it, but I’ll conclude this post with a little humor. My best friend, Pat Mene, once wrote a list of top ten kiss-up statements of all time. I don’t have the list any more, but I do remember the #1 statement, which you can use if all else fails:

“Boss, now I know how the disciples must have felt!”

Thanks to Christie Calkins and Heath Stukenholtz for suggesting this topic.

Thanks to Pat Mene, not only for the quotation, but also for the countless ways in which he has enriched my life over the years.

And thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Who Should You Make Friends With At Work?

OK, the grammar of the title is terrible, but that’s the way I’d say it in conversation. Sometimes proper grammar feels a little pretentious to me.

Recently an associate forwarded to me the following request from a media outlet asking for comments on making friends at work. Here’s their request:

We are looking for people who can comment for an article about the people you should make friends with at work, and why. Who are the people who are important to your career? Who are the people who can help you be happy at work? Who are the ones who can help you or be someone you can rely on? We are looking for tips on how to identify these people as well as how to know what level of friendship you should have with your co-workers.

The requestor wants to know who and why. I think the “why” is most important, because once you know why you’d like to make friends with someone, the “who” follows. Do you make friends with someone because you want something from them? Would you tell them that? If not, you have a hidden agenda. You’re using them. That’s not my idea of friendship.

I’m not saying it’s wrong in any way to pursue a relationship with someone who can help you with your career or bring you other benefits. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I can bring you benefits x, y and z. And you can bring me benefits a, b, and c. Let’s start a relationship.” That might be a positive, mutually beneficial relationship, but it’s not a friendship. It’s a business deal.

Think about your current friends. Why did you become friends? Why does your friendship continue? Your answers likely are different than mine. Whatever your reasons are, why would they be different for people at work vs. people in your personal life?

Whether at work or in my personal life, here are some of my reasons:

  • The other person likes, values and appreciates me.
  • I admire the person.
  • I think I can help that person.
  • We have good chemistry.
  • The person has a good sense of humor and can at least tolerate mine.
  • I look forward to spending time with that person. We enjoy each other’s company.
  • I can be myself with that person.
  • We trust each other. We seek each other’s greatest good.
  • We’re loyal to each other. We can count on each other.
  • My situation requires me to work with or spend a lot of time with that person.

I could probably list more criteria, but you get the gist. When those criteria exist, I want to be that person’s friend whether we work together or not.

The requestor’s final question is what level of friendship should you have with your co-workers? My answer is: Do not place limits on the depth of your friendships with co-workers. The world is full of misguided thinking that passes for wisdom. People are taught not to get close with their co-workers or with their direct reports. Do not heed that advice. To read more on this topic, click here: Are You Getting Too Close To Your Employees?

What would your life be like if you worked every day with a group of good friends?

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Improve A Relationship When Trust Is Low?

A client recently asked me this question. As usual, I don’t think I have the answer, but I do have some thoughts.

Let’s think about a hypothetical situation that, sadly, is all too common. Suppose you have to work with someone you believe (perhaps for very good reasons) intentionally does things to undermine you. Trust is low. In the normal course of business, he calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. Before reading further, take a moment to answer the following questions: How does that make you feel? What do you do?

Now, let’s alter that hypothetical slightly. Suppose a close friend at work calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. How does that make you feel? What do you do?

There’s a good chance that your answers for the first hypothetical were very different than your answers for the second one.

In the first hypothetical, you might be upset or even angry. Depending on your style, you might confront that person in an adversarial manner. Or you might not discuss it directly with this person but instead discuss it with others, as more evidence that this person is trying to undermine you. Neither response is constructive.

In the second hypothetical you might well be somewhat upset, but your response wouldn’t be adversarial, and you certainly wouldn’t badmouth your close friend. You’d be more likely to have a non-confrontational conversation about why you weren’t invited, and you’d readily believe it was an oversight. Your response would be constructive.

Our interpretation of someone’s behavior depends on our relationship with that person. When trust is low we automatically attribute bad motives, but when trust is high we refuse to believe that bad motives account for the behavior.

So here’s what you can do to improve a relationship when trust is low.

First, recognize that your feelings do not have to dictate your behavior, and ask yourself, “Suppose the person who did this (whatever “this” is) were my best friend. How would I respond? What would I do?” CHOOSE THAT BEHAVIOR, no matter what you feel like doing. In the case of being excluded from a meeting, for instance, start with the assumption it was an oversight (even if you don’t believe it!) and choose your behavior based on that assumption.

Second, remember that your assumptions about a person’s motives might be mistaken. It’s almost always constructive to ask why… if you ask the way you’d ask your close friend.

I’m not suggesting that this strategy is easy to implement. On the contrary, repairing relationships is really difficult, but it can be done. It involves risk, it takes time, and it almost always requires you to be the bigger person.

My friend Carol Ott Schacht sums up this strategy quite eloquently: “Love ‘em to goodness.”

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg