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Creating an Intentional Culture

Posted February 7, 2019
Intentional CultureToo often leaders default or give in to the culture that surrounds them. You talk about a “toxic environment?” Or, there is a “bullying style of leadership.” How about the permission that is given to the “loose cannon” or “rock-star” or “maverick” to keep doing their work even though there is destructive fallout?

Whether you are the leader of two or 2,000, you are creating a culture around yourself. Creating an environment of how you act and react is an intentional effort that “doesn’t just happen.”

Leaders of companies can make a profound difference by having the confidence to step up and create an Intentional Culture. Culture will happen. Leaders – no matter where they land in an organization – create the culture around them.

A client, Matthew, was blaming the culture of his company where he was a senior leader, for a great deal of his dissatisfaction and unhappiness. He was condemning his boss and the style of leadership being modeled as the cause of all the problems. He fostered a feeling of righteous indignation that legitimized his disgust and anger toward the organization.

Unfortunately, Matthew was also reinforcing and furthering the culture that was so frustrating for him. He was interacting with the leadership and his team with negativity and withdrawal. He was initially not self-aware enough that he could, in fact, create a culture around him in spite of the culture that was in place.

So often I hear clients complain that they work in a difficult or toxic environment. I agree. I’ve been there. I have worked in places with very challenging bosses and where there were structures at the top of the organization that did not support what I believed to be very fundamental principles of good management.

I realized I couldn’t change the culture of the entire company. I could have an impact on what I did have control of, my team, and every person with whom I interacted. I could create a culture around myself that aligned with my values, and what I believed was the way people should be treated.

At one point in my career, I was managing a group, and my leadership team was comprised of about eight people. It was in a young and innovative company where there was a highly competitive sales culture, and the environment fostered – and allowed – a significant amount of judgment, negativity, gossip, and demeaning of others throughout the company.

Although the company was growing, my belief is this type of culture is not appropriate (or necessary) in a professional organization, and unfortunately, it’s all too prevalent. It reduces productivity, and an inordinate amount of energy is wasted due to petty, personal, and unprofessional behavior.

This culture permeated the team I was responsible for when I arrived. I could have tied in and let it continue, but I knew it was hurting our productivity, morale, and how the rest of the organization – and our clients – were viewing us. I did not want to be just like the rest of the company.

I elected to have a sit-down, face-to-face conversation with each of my direct reports. I delivered the same message to each that this kind of behavior is better left to the junior high playground, and has no place in this group. We discussed more impactful ways of using competition to achieve goals that do not include putting other people down or gossiping. We agreed that disagreements or poor performance could be handled directly with the purpose of finding solutions rather than using it as a mechanism to embarrass.

Virtually each of my team members thanked me for my decision to hit this head on. They didn’t like the culture that had been, either. These were good people who had been raised with the Golden Rule, or the parental guidance, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Nonetheless, they were nasty towards co-workers. There was an immediate culture-shift within our team, and the impact of positivity improved our quality of life and began to impact our cross-functional partners and our work product.

One team member didn’t understand the problems I had raised. He was, in fact, responsible for a great deal of the negativity. The subsequent conversations with him helped him know that he could be more successful if he shifted his way of working with others on the team and across the company.

Top management has an opportunity to hit culture head on and create an environment that fosters success, innovation, and productivity by taking into account the human side of leadership.

Read more about the things that prevent us from moving forward with The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

Watch the traffic, not the people, or you just might get run over

Posted January 24, 2019
I was about 13-years-old, and visiting a friend who lived in Manhattan. I was a Long Island kid and was not as experienced as Paul at navigating the craziness of the City. We were headed somewhere and came up to an intersection. I could see the light was changing to red, and I was following his lead and as he stepped off the curb. I assumed that meant we were going to make a move across the street despite the traffic signal. I was wrong. With his casual style and experience of having been raised on the Upper East Side, Paul had every intention of stopping in the street. I kept going and narrowly missed being flattened by a NYC cab. Mostly because of the fear that evoked as well as the embarrassment of not knowing better, that incident reserved a permanent spot in my memory.

Years later when that experience popped into my consciousness, I summed it up with the observation to “watch the traffic, not the people.” By watching only those nearby, I was missing the bigger picture of what was happening further out, and it almost cost me my life.

When we listen only to those closest to us, we run the risk of missing opportunities.

This tendency is not unlike the pattern of creating our bubble that is reinforced by the information we can select, and people we choose to listen to and those we want to ignore. We can create our own reality that makes sense to us, but it might not be the best thing for us in the long term, and we might be missing significant factors just outside our bubble that could present exciting opportunities.

It’s scary to push out the boundaries of your near-in experiences to not merely focus on the people or situations right in front of you. Past experiences and fear of the unknown all contribute to a reluctance to move forward. It takes confidence that is sometimes hard to come by to make that push or even to consider listening to other voices.

Seeing people move forward is perhaps the most gratifying part of being a coach. When clients are making the big life-shifts like a job change or retirement, and I see them looking at their options differently, it’s powerful. More immediate challenges, such as managing conflict in a working relationship, are often discussed when in a coaching engagement. Bringing about change can happen quickly for the client by gaining a broader perspective that coaching delivers.

So often we are locked into a mindset of only looking at what is immediately around us, that we cannot see further ahead and what might be. We allow the fears, experiences, and voices to hold us back from pursuing options that might change our lives. How many times have you thrown an idea out there to change course, and have friends or family not daydream with you of how to make it happen, but instead focus on all the reasons it probably won’t work. All too often we tend to look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right. The result is a diminished capacity to aspire or dream.

Having the confidence to look ahead and seize change is not easy. We talk ourselves into playing safe, and out of dreaming big. Or, when we do imagine big, we lack the resources and stamina to seize what might be.

You bring more to the table than you think. Look back at all your wins and successes. Use those examples to give you the confidence to look at each situation, think for yourself, and move forward with confidence.

Read more about the things that prevent us from moving forward with The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

There’s a Right and a Wrong Time to Say, “We’ll See”

Posted January 10, 2019
Sporting results are outside our control. “We’ll see if the Bears make the playoffs this year.  Unless a coach or player, you really can’t impact NFL results. “We’ll see” makes sense here.

Plane schedules and weather are outside our control. We’ll see if the plane is on time so I can catch my connecting flight.”  “We’ll see” is appropriate in that case. 

Too often we say “we’ll see” when we actually have more control than that suggests. Are you giving up your influence too quickly when you can actually stay more engaged and have an impact on the outcome?

It might feel like trivial word choice, but it does make a difference when you really dial into when and where you say “we’ll see.”

I often hear people say, “I’ve got my resume done and sent it to a few people. We’ll see what happens.” When I hear this I am concerned that there is more action that can be taken – both practically and emotionally by the job-seeker.

Of course you don’t have control over whether they hire you or not, or if they even read your resume. You can avoid passivity and complacency by using a more proactive or assertive mindset. “I’ve got my resume done and sent out. I’m going to follow up with the company and will be continuing to look for other opportunities while it’s under consideration. I’m going to learn from whatever happens and continue to drive my search.”

Much more impactful.

Here’s another example. “I’ve hired a new member to my leadership team. We’ll see how she works out.” Here’s another opportunity to move from passivity to action. Remember that you’ve invested time and money in hiring her. You have high expectations for her. Does she know what success means? Does she know you are there to support her? How are you going to stay engaged with her through the onboarding in order to achieve the outcomes you all want? Are you prepared to step in, listen to her, and figure out corrective measures when there are the inevitable challenges? Are you creating a culture where the rest of the team understands how everyone works together during this transitional time?

Leaders don’t wait and see they look, listen, and take action.

I challenge you to listen carefully when you find yourself saying “we’ll see.” Ask yourself if things really are outside your control or if there are actions you can take to be more engaged in whatever is going on. Similarly, as a leader, when you hear those around you use that phrase, assess how true it is and help others avoid passivity and complacency.

Think of a new phrase to substitute when you realize you don’t have to sit back. How about, “What will I do next?” “How can I make a difference?” “I got this.” Or, my favorite, “What’s the opportunity?”

Avoid saying,“We’ll see” unless it’s truly something outside your control.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Phrases I Don’t Like: “It’s the way I am. I can’t change.”

Posted December 13, 2018
I Cant ChangeWorking in direct care for special needs individuals is a daunting undertaking. I have great admiration for people who make it their life’s work.

I had the privilege of working in such a role early in my career. Teenagers who have developed problematic behaviors due to abuse or neglect and are struggling to create a more independent life need tools to move forward. I learned that so many behaviors are learned and those that don’t serve us can be “unlearned” and new behaviors can be taught replace them. For instance, someone who grew up thinking the only way to get what they want is by yelling and being abusive can learn new skills that can achieve the outcome they want, and typically with more success.

Some actions are more ingrained than others and it takes more work and commitment to bring about change.

How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s just the way I am. I can’t change.” Not changing is a choice. You can make the choice to change.

In our personal and professional lives I believe there are very few behaviors that can’t be changed. “I’m always late, I can’t change that.” “I’m a procrastinator, that’s just the way I am.” “I’m sarcastic.” “I get overwhelmed easily.” “I have a short temper.” “I’m too sensitive.” “I talk too much.” “I overthink things.”

It’s the way I am. I just can’t change.

How true is it that you can’t change those things? What are the root causes of those behaviors? Many are so deeply rooted they are indeed extremely difficult to change. Others are just ways of behaving we picked up somewhere along the way and we don’t really think about.

There’s a simple question to ask yourself to assess if it’s worth trying to change any behaviors, “How’s that working for me?” Be honest. Ask yourself the impact those behaviors are having on your relationships, work performance, leadership impact, and general happiness.

Sometimes it might be very clear what you’re doing, how it isn’t serving you, and what you would like to do instead. Sometimes you might choose to continue with the behavior deciding you don’t want to make a change or it just isn’t that important or worth the effort.

If you do opt to change, what will your next steps be? It can be a very difficult process. It takes a great deal of vulnerability, transparency and trust. The root cause can be painful. The mistakes can still be haunting you. Our blindspots are, by definition, hard to see. Start to seek the appropriate resources to start moving forward. These resources might include your boss, a mentor, peers, your partner, Employee Assistance Services provided by your company, friends, a coach, a therapist.

Once you’ve identified that resource set yourself up for success by setting a date for when you will contact them. Share your plan with a trusted friend or colleague who will hold you accountable to making these critical next steps.

You can teach an old dog new tricks! You need the awareness, commitment, and resources to make it happen.

Case Study

A client, Andrea, had been on a fine upward trajectory in her career. She had big client wins in her first five years at her company. She then hit some real obstacles. First, a client asked that she be taken off her account. It was a big, important account. Second, another client slowed down a planned increase in work which Andrea had been counting on to hit her goal. For the first time her annual review wasn’t full of praise, and the 360° input suggested she was seen as unapproachable and short with both her peers and direct reports. She was taking it hard, and it was impacting her personal life as well as her professional future.

As we started our engagement we looked at some of her key behaviors and her interaction style with both clients and peers.

The feedback from clients was that she failed to exhibit the sense of passion and urgency to drive their work. Deadlines were always met, but she wasn’t proactively communicating with them to understand additional ways she could help them. Meetings and communication were frequently handed off to members of her team and the client wasn’t feeling they carried the same impact as Andrea could have.

Andrea was resistant to much of the feedback stating she was so busy she couldn’t give as much attention across clients as they needed. She was justifying sending in her team for the same reasons.

She shifted blame to her team members claiming they should be able to handle the work, and because of her “my door is always open” policy they should come to her when they needed help.

How’s that working for you?

Andrea began to admit she wasn’t giving the attention to the clients as she once had. She realized some other clients were getting the bulk of her attention, and it wasn’t necessarily the best use of her time. As a result, she had cut down on her communications with them and was procrastinating when working on their projects. The quality of the under-the-wire delivery of work was noticeable to her clients.

With her team it was clear even though she said the right things, they didn’t feel they could really approach her. Andrea reflected and realized she wasn’t engaging with her team as effectively as possible, and it was true, no one was coming to her proactively with problems. Most of her interactions with the team were around problems that had emerged and she was confrontational in those situations.

Andrea realized that behavioral change would help address the problems that had emerged. With respect to clients, she would focus on being highly conscious of how she was allocating her time across clients, how frequently she was communicating with them, and adhere to schedules to avoid the procrastination that was creating sub-standard work.

When it came to her team, she decided to spend more time with them as new work was allocated to make sure they were clear of the scope and expectations. She was committed to listening to them and developing a level of trust from the start. This felt like a time consuming step, but she realized it would save time and energy as they would be able to communicate more effectively during the course of the project to help bring about better client outcomes.

Behaviors are learned. They can be unlearned and replaced with new behaviors that are more effective.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Photos from Release Party for “The Impact of Confidence”

Posted September 11, 2018

Thank you to all who joined me for the release party for “The Impact of Confidence:7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership” at The Metropolitan Club in Chicago on Thursday, September 6. I am so grateful for your ongoing support.

Special thanks to friend and professional speaker Sima Dahl, Casey Clark of Cultivate Advisors, Lisa Dieter of Ember House, Catalina Gaete of Catan Pisco, the Scott Hamilton Band, and Andrew Kjos of Kjos Photography for going above and beyond!