|Published: December 2, 2011
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
Traveling Light’s Greatest Hits, or at Least Our Shortest Hits
In looking back at the early issues of Traveling Light, the biggest change I see is that I’ve shifted to writing many more articles that share very little strategy and instead deliver those down-in-the-weeds, here’s-the-technique, start-with-this-script, say-this-not-that tools and advice. Why? You tell me you like them and use them and get results. I really do listen to your feedback!
I’ve also started sharing more of my observations about what’s going on culturally, and how I see this impacting you as a leader. The fundamental nature of our relationships is changing in dramatic ways, influenced by forces that simply were not at play in 2007. The workplace will never be the same, though at the moment this is entirely hidden from most leaders, so I’ll continue to work to bring this into the light.
As I began writing more tool-focused articles, I dropped the even shorter quick tips that used to open Traveling Light, so today, I bring you all of the original quick tips. See which tips you can use now to skyrocket your impact and reduce the load in your life:
- If you’re in a leadership role, you’re probably in the top 20% of people in intellect, talent, and responsibility. Some people who work for you are your peers in all three areas. Some are not; they bring different gifts to the table. Unrealistic expectations about human beings create a heavy burden for you and for everyone who interacts with you. Free up some energy. Don’t expect everyone to be motivated by what motivates you, as quick to learn, or ready, willing, and able to step into your role.
- Speaking of successors, who will replace you if you get hit by the proverbial Mack truck today? In 15 years of working directly with leaders, I can say that, with a few exceptions (such as early-stage start-ups), the best leaders seek out, hire, and develop at least one successor, if not two. The weakest leaders don’t want the threat of a powerful underling. Be strong. Hire, support, and develop your successors well. If you never get hit by that Mack truck, it’s a beautiful thing. If you do, your preparation will have lightened the load for you and your organization.
- While I’m on a roll here, did you know that an astounding number of management positions in the developed nations will be vacated by retiring baby boomers over the next 10 years? Leadership is not a part-time role, no matter how good you are. It’s not a semi-retired consulting project, either, unless clearly defined as interim leadership. What are you doing to reach out to younger people with leadership potential? What are you doing to develop leaders from other countries?
- Looking to show your appreciation for an employee? Save yourself time: ask directly how he or she likes to be recognized. Sounds awkward. Works beautifully. The downfall of many well-intentioned reward programs is that they reflect how their authors like to be rewarded, which may have little similarity to how your employee likes to be rewarded. Just ask my deeply introverted colleague back in our Amoco days. She declined a $1000 award (a rare thing for oil company employees in 1990) because it involved walking across a stage in front of several hundred people to receive a certificate. The money just wasn’t worth it.
- Thinking maybe you should show your appreciation a little more often, but don’t have the time? One of my clients came across an unopened box of thank-you notes when packing up his office to move to another building. Instead of packing them, he dusted them off, sat down, and quickly jotted off a note of thanks to each direct report, noting work they had done and how it positively impacted the customers or company. Normally a very particular man, he didn’t have time to worry about forming perfect messages or even getting the spelling right. His team was stunned, and happy, and no one noticed misspelled words or complained that his praise wasn’t as eloquent as his executive briefings. The vibe lasted for weeks. A ten-minute investment with a multi-week reward. Now that’s what I call Traveling Light.
- Do you have the opposite challenge – you need to give negative feedback to an overly sensitive employee? Start with the right mindset. Feedback that helps a person grow and improve is a gift, even though it may not feel like it in the moment. Why would you withhold information that could help him or her make better-informed choices? Make your feedback specific to behaviors you can see, don’t try to guess at his or her internal mindset or feelings, take a deep breath, and give it your best go. Sensitive employees will only fall behind if you let their fragility stop you from telling them what they need to know in order to grow and keep pace with their thicker-skinned peers.
- Hate your boss? A Florida State University study found that people with unsupportive bosses are twice as likely to feel sad and helpless, which doesn’t strike me as the optimal state for productivity, creativity, great leadership, and whatever else we may need in our people on any given day. Those who built strong bonds with their coworkers offset some of the stress. Do I have to state the obvious implications for bosses? Too many of my clients say they want to be respected and they don’t care if they’re liked. All well and good, unless your behaviors are seen by your employees as unsupportive. Find out.
- Think you have to be as depressed as Sylvia Plath to be a creative genius? Luckily, no. One study after another has found that a generally positive work environment, free of interpersonal conflict, stokes the creative fires. I’ve seen this in organizations with which I’ve worked. Now I’ve come across a study from the University of Toronto, indicating that upbeat people produce more ideas and are better able to consider a range of solutions. Maybe Pollyanna was on to something.
- Need a little perspective after this week’s market slide? Some long-term trivia to remind us that a week is just a week, not a lifetime: In 1907, the average work week for all people (not just harried professionals) was over 60 hours, only 6% of manufacturing workers took vacations, the average woman spent 12 hours a day on laundry, cooking, cleaning, and sewing. The economic improvements of the last 100 years have been substantial, to say the least. Even those over my lifetime have been impressive. I’m not going lose any sleep this weekend over that little ol’ growling bear.
- Recent conversations have reminded me how essential it is for leaders to dust off, revisit, and perpetually remind ourselves to tune in to others. Force yourself to listen by both summarizing what the other person has said and asking the individual if you’ve understood his or her key points. Our minds can’t think as slowly as our mouths speak, so simply telling yourself, “I’ll really pay attention now” is a little like telling yourself, “I’ll really ride slowly on the roller coaster now.” It will have no impact on the outcome. Bring your team along for the journey by raising your expectations of their listening as well. Genuine listening and dialogue take more time than shoving your ideas down each other’s throats, but I think of it as an investment to achieve a sustainable solution instead of one that constantly unravels, is sabotaged, or simply fades away.
- If you want to make a change at work, try spending time with those who’ve already done it, or who are at least committed to similar goals. You’ll be doing what participants in Weight Watchers International have been doing for years. A recent study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that our behaviors are largely influenced by our social networks. Hence, those who spend time each week at Weight Watchers with like-minded individuals are far more likely to make the changes they want than those who go it alone or enroll in programs that don’t involve routine contact with other people who share their goals. While the study focused on weight, it’s not a big leap to see how this influences other aspects of our lives, particularly for us externally-focused Extraverts.
- Stressed out by the afternoon? Don’t think too deeply about this if your lunch consists of a sandwich and some fries. I’ve had clients come to me with concerns about their waning enthusiasm and commitment to work who essentially were just eating a lousy lunch and then suffering the aftereffects every day. The 25-year-old body can usually handle the sandwich and fries and keep on going. The 45-year-old body generally can’t. I’m waiting for someone to invent a low-carb French fry so I can live by my own advice here. Until then – sigh -- I’ll keep relegating the fries mostly to the weekends.
- When you sit down next to the CEO at a meal, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. You can cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink. Try it now. See? Nifty, huh? Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a great conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light…”
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