Take A Summer Vacation This Year

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by Jeff Wolf

How many times have you heard your boss tell you that? In fact, how many times have you told your employees that?

Come on, fess up. Either case is as rare as a drenching rain in the Sahara. Let’s face it. Too many bosses discourage employees from taking more than a day off or a weekend here and there. And even then they don’t discourage a barrage of phone calls from work and many will expect employees to check their email several times a day. A two-week getaway to the Far East? Not a chance.

Every year, the media reports on surveys showing that large chunks of U.S. workers don’t plan on taking all their vacation time. Why does this happen, when it’s part of a worker’s compensation package? Large percentages of workers wouldn’t pass on a company-sponsored life insurance plan, or forgo a paycheck for all of December, so why are so many people willingly (or perhaps not so willingly) giving their paid time off back to their employers?

Forbes Magazine contributor Kristi Hedges nails the explanation: “The idea of a skimpy vacation as a worthy sacrifice or badge of honor is culturally embedded. The U.S. is the only rich country to not have legally mandated paid vacation and holidays.” She goes on, “science tells us that this is a very bad idea. Increasingly, studies are showing that breaks of any kind are not only good for you; they can actually increase productivity and well-being.”

Long Vacations Benefit Both Company and Employee

To create a lasting change in their organization, and maybe even greater society at large, leaders must fully embrace the practical benefits of vacations. Good leaders will be more inclined to not only grant, but also encourage employees to take not just a couple of long weekends here and there-and maybe a week off in the summer-but longer vacation time. Employees come back from a full week (or two or three) of time off when they were able to truly disconnect from work energized and recharged, with better ideas, a fresh perspective, lower stress-levels, and genuine excitement to tackle work challenges that can become overwhelming without time to recharge. Truly effective leaders recognize the value of paid time off, and understand it’s key to a productive and engaged workforce.

Here are specific steps leaders can take to make sure this happens:

  • Issue specific company policies that encourage all employees of the organization to take all vacation days due them, and in any increments they prefer.
  • Be clear the time off must not interfere with mission critical work, but also be clear that one person’s week off shouldn’t incapacitate a well-run department, and that while every department has busier times on the calendar, it is normal and expected that departments will experience slower times periodically throughout the year.
  • Require that all managers and supervisors conduct short meetings with their employees explaining the vacation policy.
  • Ask employees for feedback regarding perceived problems with the vacation policy. Since many employees may feel constrained to speak up, use a suggestion box where they can offer suggestions or voice complaints.
  • Assure that all complaints and suggestions are answered by a third-party, such as Human Resources.
  • Follow-up yearly to make sure the new vacation policy is working.

As we head in to the height of the summer, when friends and family frequently plan reunions, couples get married, families with children have the freedom to travel, as leaders it’s our job to help facilitate these getaways. Your employees will thank you for it, and ultimately, your bottom line will thank you for it too.

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.

Contact us today to discuss how we may partner with you to develop your current and future leaders or to have Jeff Wolf speak at your next meeting, conference or convention: Michael Adams madams@wolfmotivation.com 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

 

Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffWolfUSA

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Leadership in Crisis: 8 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls

Leadership in Crisis: Take 8 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

In the news, we read countless stories of rampant political corruption, financial mismanagement, government bailouts, pandemic layoffs, investment fraud and unadulterated corporate greed.

As leaders, we must avoid potential pitfalls, making a concerted effort to keep people motivated and productive, while building teams and reducing stress.

To maintain a healthy, disciplined work force, take eight steps:

Step 1: Flaunt your honesty.

Today’s leaders must be honest, forthright and “ooze” integrity. Workers want their leaders to be role models whose allegiances and priorities are beyond reproach.

Leaders must have a strong character and integrity, which means “walking the walk” and “talking the talk.” The moment they bend the truth, they lose their credibility—and they’ll never get it back.

Step 2: Focus on your people.

People make a company. Without highly motivated and inspired employees, you will struggle to survive and thrive.

Great leaders motivate people to work together and achieve goals, instill confidence and earn employees’ trust—a commodity that can never be bought.

Step 3: Develop a vision.

Have a clear, compelling and inspiring vision—and communicate in a way that motivates and inspires people to work as a team toward common goals.

Clearly define and paint an exciting path to the future, while providing ethical and logical reasons as to why you’re moving in a specific direction. Articulate a clear framework and provide a cogent message that delineates each person’s role in realizing the vision. This builds support and enthusiasm, creating a culture where people are aligned and eager to help achieve goals.

Spark people’s imaginations of what the future holds.

Step 4: Correct negative habits and behaviors.

People leave organizations because of the boss. Poor leaders create a climate of negativity, coupled with rare—or no—praise and recognition. The inability to keep one’s word, poor treatment of people, taking credit for others’ successes, and blaming others to cover up mistakes a leader has made—are behaviors that result in high turnover and a lack of engagement by those who stay.

By failing to delegate or empower people, poor leaders then micromanage others’ work. Their inability or refusal to develop a culture of trust deprives people of opportunities to grow. If this behavior goes unchecked, there may be a point of no return that destroys a once-productive company. Poor leadership is often correctable— if swift corrective action is taken.

Step 5: Invest in training.

Most first-rate leaders aren’t born with extraordinary abilities; rather, they develop their skill sets by learning, practicing and refining them daily.

Leaders must commit to working hard, adopting a positive attitude, and seek constant learning. They must remain flexible, adapting their leadership style as circumstances dictate.

Aspiring leaders must create a development plan, put it in writing and then “work it.”

  • Read the best books and attend the best training courses. Vary courses so you can experience a spectrum of skills.
  • Learn the areas in which you must improve. We see some of our weaknesses, but it’s impossible to identify all of them. Working with a coach is a powerful way to improve your skills.
  • Learn what your company looks for in its leaders. Study a competency model that identifies desired strengths and characteristics and practice them. If no such model exists, seek out successful leaders, and talk with them to understand how they became successful.
  • Volunteer to lead small projects that provide useful leadership experiences. You’ll gain confidence and enhance skill sets.
  • Use 360° feedback and other assessment tools to identify leadership competencies and skills. This provides a valid measure of the areas that require work.
  • Always be curious. Seek new opportunities and experiences; try something out of your comfort zone.

Step 6: Develop leadership programs.

Use coaching to enhance the capabilities and performance of leaders, high potentials, and top producers. When leaders coach, people become more confident and motivated, which leads to higher performance and productivity. Leaders build relationships of trust when they support people so they can be all they can be. Organizations with a strong coaching culture develop higher engagement and performance.

A coach will ask: At what do people excel? What are the weaknesses, potential, limitations, desired directions? A coach works one on one with key personnel to stop bad habits and start positive ones. Participants can discuss what’s working—and not working—in confidence, and the coach holds them accountable and supplies support.

Step 7: Retain high performers.

Great organizations view employee retention as a competitive advantage, and they work hard to retain their most talented people. They understand that talented people are their most important asset.

Retention starts with culture. If you want to keep your top talent, you must create an inspiring and energizing culture of which they can be a part. This means having an organization with shared values, openness and honesty, thereby creating trust and allowing talented people to share ideas, and then recognize and reward their successes.

Step 8: Have fun!

You and your people should be excited and energized about going to work every day. After all, you spend one-third of your time at work.

Fun in the workplace must be part of your strategy. Working hard and having fun are not mutually exclusive. So, appoint two CFOs; the traditional CFO and the chief fun officer, who creates ways for people to have fun at work.

People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it. Having fun also impacts the bottom line. Fun breeds creativity, energy, productivity, innovation, and profitability—a win for all concerned.

 

5 Simple Ways to Lead in Uncertain Times

5 Simple Ways to Lead in Uncertain Times first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Photo of people around a desk.

Image via Morguefile.com

Leadership today, due to uncertain economic times, plays an even more important role than ever before. The role of a leader now means more than just managing the bottom line. It means always remembering that your first priority is your people. Great leaders never forget that their employees are the keys to an organization’s success!

As an executive coach, consultant and former CEO, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of successful leaders at every level who perpetuate the growth of their companies, departments or teams.

I have found that successful leaders practice the following Five Simple Leadership Skills—all based on developing people. The result of implementing these skills keeps people focused, reduces anxieties and fears, reduces turnover, and makes employees feel loyal and positive about the company they work for.

1. Communication

The late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, said, “Communicate everything to your associates (he called everyone an associate); the more they know the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.” Because of the downturn in the economy, people feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. They are also worried about cutbacks and layoffs. Communicate everything to them by letting them know what is happening in your company, team or department. Open the lines of communication with everyone and let them know that you care not only about their involvement in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well. A leader places a high value on human capital

2. Praise

When you praise people you inspire loyalty and encourage them to perform great work. Praising also creates positive energy in companies when people are continually being praised for doing good work. Great leaders go out of their way to praise people. I like to call it, “Catching people doing something right!” When praising people, do it in a timely fashion, make it specific and try to make it public in front of their peer group. Use statements such as, “Thanks for getting that report in so quickly. You handled that situation nicely. That was an interesting point you brought up in the meeting. We couldn’t have done it without your help. I can see you’re improving in that area; keep up the good work. Your contribution is really making a difference on this project.” Leaders realize that people drive organizations. Praising your people will keep them motivated, inspired and full of positive energy!

3. Humor

People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it! Humor helps people through tough times, reduces absenteeism and brings them closer together. Many major companies believe so strongly in having fun at work that they now have two CFOs, the traditional Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Fun Officer. Humor in the workplace reduces stress and absenteeism. When people are having fun and laughing, the brain produces a chemical called endorphins, which helps heal the body and makes them feel good. Humor breeds creativity. People are more willing to take chances and be more creative if they don’t have to worry about making mistakes and can laugh at their mistakes. Humor also helps workplace relations by opening up lines of communication and gets people united. Leadership has to set the tone. Laugh at yourself and you will find that your employees will find you more approachable and that having a good time at work is acceptable.

4. Empowerment

Great leaders realize that in order to be successful they have to create more leaders at all levels of the organization. Empower your people; nurture the development of leaders. Don’t just delegate work; delegate decision-making powers to people. When people have the authority to make important decisions, they feel part of the organization, and they are more likely to remain part of the organization. You will make your people better and more motivated. By empowering your people, you are allowing them to reach their potential. When you fail to empower people, barriers are created that people cannot overcome. If these barriers remain long enough people give up and leave. Many of those people go on to become great leaders at other organizations.

5. Coaching

Coaching is a process that increases productivity, builds teamwork, motivates employees to elevate performance levels and helps people overcome obstacles to their success. A great leader spends time working with individuals to see the blocks in their performance. A successful leader and effective coach are one in the same. People do not and will not change until they see the need to. A good coach listens to people to find ways to break down the barriers that keep people from reaching their full potential. They must then work with their people to outline a plan of action that clearly states the goals for improvement and accountability. Coaching helps people learn, grow and change. It provides a powerful structure through which people can focus on specific outcomes, become more effective, and stay on track.

The success or failure of an organization and their people during these uneasy and turbulent times lies in the hands of its leaders. Uncertainty calls for strong leadership that can successfully guide people through troubling times. Your people need to become inspired and motivated to help them adjust and be productive employees. By utilizing these Five Simple Leadership Skills, you will see how attitudes will be changed and the workplace will become a very positive and nurturing environment.

6 Steps for Listening Your Way to Success – Part 2

The following is a guest post by Jeffrey Scott Klubeck. M.A. 6 Steps for Listening Your Way to Success first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Read Part 1 here.

Photo of person cupping ear to hearSTEP FOUR: KNOW YOUR PURPOSE

Returning for a moment to the distinction between hearing and listening, we can see that, like all senses, the primary purpose of hearing is “survival.” The primary reason we can hear (and listen, for that matter) is to protect ourselves from physical danger…first and foremost! So, let’s assume this need for physical survival serves as a first level filter that only 2000 out of 4 billion bits of data “gets through” and into our conscious. Next, let’s assume that the remaining 2000 is screened for physical threat and found to present none. When we (decide we) are not in physical danger, where does the focus of our listening turn? What are the primary “purposes” of listening when we are “safe” physically? That’s right! Emotional!

Our listening will be pointed in the direction of survival first and THEN what will make us “FEEL” the best. Here are the five broad categories that represent our “purposes” for listening:

  • Survival: Again, first and foremost we listen to protect ourselves physically! Everything else represents or is intended to fulfill “emotional” survival
    Informational: This purpose is to “help the self” through the acquisition of information…this includes information that protects us physically, but more often than not it leads to emotional fulfillment (knowledge = power, significance, certainty, safety etc.).
  • Empathetic: This purpose is to “help others” by attending so much to what they are sharing that you “put yourself in their shoes.” The closest we can ever truly BE to BEING someone else is to listen to him or her. It is from that place of absolute empathetic (selfless) listening that we are of most help to others.
  • Evaluative: To decide, after learning how the world “is”, what that MEANS to us…how we FEEL about the way the world IS…and how we wish to behave in the world.
    Appreciation: To be impressed, motivated, enlightened, entertained or to feel any other form of variety/excitement (adrenaline, adventure, fantasy, novelty etc.).

Can you see how the “bits” that make it into consciousness will fall into one or more of these categorical purposes? Secondly, can you see that these purposes are not mutually exclusive…and therefore how easily can you see that these purposes may be “competing” for attention each second, minute or hour of even the BEST “attention spans?” Therefore, Step Four towards improved listening is to “know your purpose” and be able to continually remind yourself WHY you are or should be attending to the one to the exclusion of all others that are competing for your conscious attention!

STEP FIVE: KNOW THE ENEMY

There’s a saying that you should keep your friends close and your enemies even closer! The thinking is that what you don’t know can hurt you…and the more you know your enemy, the better you are able to protect yourself from it (or even avoid it altogether).

So, what are the enemies of effective listening? Again, and in one word, emotions! Emotions have the greatest impact on our effectiveness as listeners. Essentially, when we are listening we are vulnerable and knowing that makes it easier to understand why listening is so hard. Step Five to improving our listening is to be more “aware” and “familiar” with the enemies of listening…so it will be easier for you to (and for you to help others) avoid/overcome them.

What follows is a comprehensive list of factors MOSTLY made up of our own behaviors (motivated by our emotions/vulnerability) that prevent true and truly effective listening!

BARRIERS THAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS TO US (the listener):

  • Physical Surroundings/Context: The background noise/competing stimuli including your own hunger, fatigue, anxiety or need to use the restroom for example.
  • Pre-Occupation/Personal Problems: Areas of our life with strong emotional impact like health, relationships, finances have incredible “distraction” power from anything we may otherwise “want” or “need” to be paying attention to instead.
  • Bias/Pre-Judgment: Pre-conceived notions, feelings, attitudes or beliefs about EITHER the speaker, content, or occasion/context can serve as a major barrier to the open-mind and focus required to listening.
  • Assimilation and Filtering: When we filter and then attach meaning to what we observe, we may differ from the meaning made by others of the same observation. The differences in each of our filters for meaning-making are made up of values, attitudes, beliefs, past/personal experiences and culturally determined “ways of doing/being.” These differences and more so how often we IGNORE vs. ANTICIPATE/ACCOUNT FOR those differences in is a critical barrier to listening.
  • Message Overload/Complexity: This is usually more a function of how committed you are to listening (the “pay” of paying attention as I say) than to how truly “complex” or “too much” any information could be. We may be uninterested or inexperienced but hardly ever un-ABLE to process information.

Again, when we truly listen we are vulnerable to SOMETHING! Our fears of losing time, pride, money, status, health, comfort, or anything of “value” may or may not be obvious to us, but you can bet that the following behaviors created by our fear/vulnerability are obvious to others:

BARRIERS THAT ARE OBVIOUS TO OTHERS (the subjects of your listening):

  • Rehearsing Your Talk: We can actually “hear” the other person when we are rehearsing in our mind what we want to say next…it is a TRAP! As obvious as it is when someone does that to us, it is equally obvious to others when we are doing it!
  • Pseudo Listening: This is when we consciously pretend to listen when know we are not. This is hard to do in person but very prevalent on the phone. We know we are TRYING to listen by intent, but to others we are paying attention to something else. It is better to be upfront that you are multi-tasking and give the other the option of tolerating your split attention or communicating another time…or it’s on you to prioritize and focus on one thing or another.
  • Monopolizing: This is dominating or interpreting every conversation to focus on the self only. I used to have a friend that I’d watch ask others if they surfed that day JUST to interrupt the first word of their answer with, “Yeah, I got out and let me tell you about this one wave…” Sometimes, this is narcissistic and other times there is a genuine belief that the self is the most interesting/important subject…usually, however, monopolizers do not recognize that behavior as monopolizing…but its obvious to others!
  • Selective Listening: Those we are listening to are well aware of the points they are trying to make. In our responses it becomes obvious if the listener was focused on only parts of the message vs. the entire meaning. This usually takes three forms:
    • Ego-Defensive Listening is a focus on ONLY the parts of the message that can be interpreted as “attack”…and, of course, making and responding to THAT interpretation alone: “I’m being attacked, I’m defending myself.”
    • Ambushing: Listening ONLY for messages that can be interpreted to support personal/pro-active attack. The behavior is “accusation” and ambushing is the listening that “decodes” ONLY for the purpose of accusing/attacking another.
      Literal Listening is when we ignore (intentionally or innocently) the context, situation, environment or any “accompanying” factor for that message and interpret it on “face value” alone. Imagine listening ONLY to “break a leg” and ignoring the fact that you are an actor about to go on stage…you wouldn’t because that would serve you. But we serve ourselves by literal meaning to what others are relying on “context” to help them communicate.
    • Knowing the Answer: When we think we already know what the speaker is trying to say, we may impatiently cut them off…if we ADD dis-agreement to that before we have given them the chance to express themselves fully, we can expect communication to degrade.
  • Intention to Help: If you are pre-disposed to “helping others” you may mis-interpret the speaker’s TRUE need (or lack thereof) for ACTUAL HELP especially if you have mentally begun solving what you THINK is the problem before you actually if know if it really is a problem or what the problem really is! “I was just trying to help” MEANS (doesn’t excuse) that you were NOT “trying to listen!”
  • Discussion as Sport: Some behavioral styles are pre-disposed to competition, achievement, goals, etc. As such, they can often “emotionally” disagree to avoid the vulnerability of seeming “weak”…even if they inwardly agree! Without even knowing it, these people can drive conversation into a “points contest” and decode everything to facilitate conflict and confrontation.
  • Having an Agenda: If listening is for the execution of an “ulterior motive” or hidden agenda to impress or influence the speaker will be distracted from paying full/objective attention to what the speaker feeling, thinking or intending.
  • Red Flag Reactions: Red Flag “words” can trigger immediate and powerful emotional associations in a listener’s mind to their private beliefs or past experiences of significance. Unaware of this filtering, unintended reactions occur when words that are “benign” to the speaker are in fact “malignant” to the listener…distracted by the private association, the listener is less able to understand what the speaker is really saying.
  • Ambiguity of Language: Language is an organized system of symbols. These symbols have both connotative and denotative meanings…semantic and syntactic ambiguity plus cultural differences and many other reasons that language use does not guarantee shared meaning. Instead language use at best is to help us “predict” meaning that otherwise must be actively negotiated, calibrated and verified. When we misplace our trust in the precision of words we shortcut our capacity as listeners.
  • Behavioral Style/Orientation: Much has been developed in the area of Behavioral, Personality, Emotional, and other such Assessments (Myers/Briggs and D.I.S.C. among the more popular) to improve the communication and human performance on the job and in relationships. Differences in these styles/orientations accounts for most mis-communication including “auto-stylistic and auto-motivated” listening.

All of these behaviors/barriers to listening come down to our vulnerability and willingness to BE vulnerable in exchange for the benefits of effective listening. The “survival instinct” (both physical and emotional) can work against our efforts to develop listening as a skill!

STEP SIX: ACKNOWLEDGE AND TREAT LISTENING AS A SKILL

I get so angry when I read a position description that includes in the qualifications: Must have excellent oral and written communication skills! I do not believe I have ever seen a position description that declares a requirement that candidates be excellent listeners! Listening is BY FAR the most under-rated and under-developed communication skill of all.

Because, and even if, people are afraid of Public Speaking, they usually admit readily that they “should take a public speaking class or join Toastmasters.” Some people you talk to would admit they could benefit from taking a writing class…people who are terrible writers will SAY they are. Yet, we are all poor listeners (especially compared to our ability) but NONE OF US admit we are or that we can benefit from IMPROVING this critical skill.

So, Step Six towards improving your Listening Effectiveness is to acknowledge and TREAT listening as a skill. Use it or lose it! Pay it if you want it to pay you! No pain, no gain. You get out what you put in! If you are not getting better you are getting worse! All cliché’s apply!