Sunday, July 17, 2016

                    Let's Ban "MISTAKES WERE MADE!"
   Mistakes were made...Every time I hear that phrase I cringe...How about you?
   Mistakes were made--so vague, so passive, so un-leaderlike.
   Yet, people keep using it. It screams out from the headlines and assaults our ears from the TV.
   Mistakes were made. At first it looks like the leader is taking responsibility for the mistakes. But study your English grammar a little more closely and another picture emerges.
   Mistakes were made. What does it really mean? 'Mistakes' is the subject of the sentence in this passive voice. But the object of the sentence--by whom--is implied. By whom? We don't know.
     Mistakes were made. What the leader is really saying is, "OK, folks, we tried to hide the mistakes but now you've got the evidence so we have to say something that sounds like we're on top of it and sounds like we're taking responsibility. It also buys us time to decide whom to sacrifice...whom to throw over the back of the troika to the wolves--the press, the public, or the employees? Maybe, while they're gnawing on those bones, we can think of something else to divert their attention."
     Mistakes were made, indeed! The first mistake is that we made a bad decision. But then we compound it by ignoring it, covering it up, blaming someone else or taking actions that are incorrect.  There is only one correct answer.
     "I made a mistake. I take responsibility. Here's what I'm doing to fix it." And on a personal note, "Here is what I've learned and how I will apply that in the future." And, by the way, "I will take the consequences."
     I interviewed a wide variety of leaders for my book on strategic leadership, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. I chose them because they had a track record for translating their visions into reality and transforming their organizations. I asked each, "What was your worst business decision and what did you do about it?" They all had similar reports. These are typical:
     "There was a story in the newspapers about a major mistake that we made. You can make excuses for it or you can be transparent about what happened. I sat with the media and I walked them through it and they accurately described it to the public. I hope other companies who read the story will learn from it. But the key is to take an adverse incident like that and turn it into something that we can learn from so it doesn't happen again."
     "Mistakes? I've made some doozies! The ones I've always regretted were the ones where I reacted and said something I didn't mean or that was based on wrong information. One was very visible and I was confronted by a reporter with an email that I had sent. I learned a lot from by boss that day about what a great executive does. He told me to go immediately to everyone on the list and apologize and be humble. It was hard but I did it. The press kept going but all but one individual was satisfied. I learned a lot from that."
     How do you create that environment of responsibility for the entire company?  Listen to another CEO:
     "I want everyone to see our corporate values walking down the hall every day. Let's combine the mind and the heart. It's all about having a mission, and a culture. They've heard so much about making money, budget, and business plans. When we switched back to emphasizing the mission, the values and the culture, the metrics followed and we went from single digit returns to double digit returns."
     Nary a one of the CEOs I interviewed said 'mistakes were made' or any of its variants. Their message was clear. Real leadership, strategic leadership, is about taking responsibility every day for the decisions you make and living your values in your actions.
     I heard a story on the news some years ago that brought it all home in a different context. A high school student's parents were suing a teacher and the school system. The student, who had a good record, made a decision to turn in a class project late after a school trip. The teacher had made it plain that late projects would not be accepted so the student earned a failing mark. The student made the decision not to turn the project in before the trip. Now the parents are suing for the trauma to their daughter. Mistakes were made! What lesson is this young person learning? What lessons are we teaching our employees and colleagues?
     I have some advice: Let's ban that despicable phrase, 'Mistakes were made,' from the language. Let's take full responsibility for our bad decisions, learn from them AND take the consequences. Let's demonstrate our values 'walking down the hall.'
     What's the "mistakes" culture like in your organization? Are people rewarded for accepting full responsibility or are the thrown under the bus? Does every leader take responsibility for his or her mistakes? Or is blame the name of the game and "mistakes were made."

Learn more about your work environment and receive feedback about how it compares to other places. Take our survey, labeled the Whacky Workplace. You will also receive a copy of our comprehensive study when it is published next year.
© Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership

Read more about what successful strategic leaders do about handling their mistakes in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Join me on LinkedIn.

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
320 S. Flamingo Road, Suite 291, Pembroke Pines, FL 33027

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dirtiest Election Ever: Beyond Obscenity to Articulate a Vision

In the recent “presidential” debate, just when we thought it couldn’t get any lower, sure enough one of the candidates made a vulgar allusion. (Yes, you had to have a dirty mind to catch it.) Of course the media are all atwitter. (Can Twitter be atwitter?) They run the clip over and over, pretending to be offended, but they run it ad nauseam.

So what? Move off the networks and onto the cable channels and the Anglo-Saxonisms flow regularly across the airwaves. But looking back to the really nasty election of 1800 and its parallels with 2016, what is the story when it comes to salty language and attack words? At the time Thomas Jefferson and John Adams faced off in what historians cite as the dirtiest election ever, what was the state of public discourse? In some ways it was as coarse as today.

Today, as in 1800, there were words people thought too rude for public discourse. But behind the scenes? There folks weren't as gentlemanly as we like to think, especially when talking among themselves. Adams’ surrogates claimed Jefferson was an atheist who wanted to turn churches into brothels. Adams’ irascible personality and weight were always fair game for “His Rotundness.” 

George Washington had a towering temper he usually kept in check. When he let it rip he could toss the verbal bombs with the best of them. When delegates to the Constitutional Convention sat with their pipes and port after dinner, they often swapped bawdy stories. One of their favorite games was inventing wilder and wilder sexual puns about Gouverneur Morris' wooden leg and his way with the ladies. James Madison was infamous among his contemporaries for his dirty jokes.

It's true they didn't throw the F-Bomb but they certainly came close. John Adams was no fan of Alexander Hamilton and in an 1806 letter to Benjamin Rush hurled this diatribe against Hamilton for his remarks denigrating George Washington.

Although I read with tranquility and suffered to pass without animadversion in silent contempt the base insinuations of vanity and a hundred lies besides published in a pamphlet against me by an insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company, where there was good wine, without getting silly and vaporing about his administration like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets, yet I lose all patience when I think of a bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar daring to threaten to undeceive the world in their judgment of Washington by writing an history of his battles and campaigns. This creature was in a delirium of ambition; he had been blown up with vanity by the tories, had fixed his eyes on the highest station in America, and he hated every man, young or old, who stood in his way or could in any manner eclipse his laurels or rival his pretensions. . .

Pretty strong stuff...but not as strong as these "gentlemen" wrote under pen names in the popular press skewering one another and accusing one another of the worst intentions and even treason. Generally they lambasted one another with innuendo as well as direct attacks. It can be a delicious pastime to dissect their elaborate language and watch as they slip the verbal knife between the ribs and give a fatal twist.

Today it's so easy go for the obvious obscenity rather than the creative cut. In the 2012 presidential race, George Will wondered why Candidate Mitt Romney was embracing Donald Trump, whom he called a “bloviating ignoramus,” certainly an arcane insult the founders could have appreciated in their own rough and tumble elections.

Is this what we want to hear from our leaders? Has reality become reality TV? Are there any Leadership Lessons in all this? Perhaps a few:

·  Leaders control themselves: George Washington was prickly, thin skinned, and took offence easily. Yet his advice to himself and others was to show restraint of "tongues and pens." He kept his temper in check most of the time. He knew "losing it" on a regular basis causes people to disengage.

·  Leaders cultivate creativity: "Bloviating" is such a yummy word, I'm sure folks scurried to google its meaning (synonym for blow hard.) In our general anti-intellectual climate, leaders encourage their people to think and grow and become more articulate, communicate better for collaboration, without reducing everything to the lowest common denominator.

·  Leaders do not condone crudity: Leaders know language can offend like the bawdy stories and sexist remarks disappearing from most workplaces. Leaders insist on better communication not to be "politically correct" but to be inclusive; they need everyone engaged. Leaders foster serious, passionate debate and discussion to unearth the best solutions.

Just because the founding fathers weren't saints doesn't mean we do not honor and respect them. We admire them because, like us, they were all too human, capable of pettiness and backbiting, and sometimes behaving badly. We learn from them precisely because they made mistakes and then triumphed over their human nature.
This doesn’t mean we want this dubious name-calling, sexual-innuendo tradition to continue. When I watch fired-up candidates yelling insults rather than debating issues and policies, I flash on our sons as teenagers sitting on the sofa hurling barbs and punching each other. Normal teenage malarkey...but not the vision of leadership, functioning on the global stage or wrestling with intractable conflicts and seeking resolutions and peace. I hope we deserve better.
Jefferson, Adams, and the other founders showed us real leadership in tough times. They rose above their character defects. Can we do the same as we select a world leader?
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What's your idea: Can we joust without bloviating?
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Want to know more about the tumultuous fights at the Constitutional Convention and the election of 1800? Check out Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

I started a companion video series during the 2012 elections that holds true today. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let’s Monkey Around: Will the Year of the Monkey Improve or Thwart Productivity at your Workplace?

The Year of the Monkey has arrived in the lunar calendar bringing in wittiness, cleverness, intellectual curiosity, and, of course, fun and mischievousness.

The Buddha used Monkey as a vivid metaphor: “Just as a monkey, swinging through a forest wilderness, grabs a branch. Letting go of it, it grabs another branch. Letting go of that, it grabs another one...In the same way, what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.61) BJ Gallagher pushes the destructive side of the metaphor further, describing our minds as “drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly.” (Buddha: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind in the Huffington Post.)

Monkey, therefore, is a great symbol for our distracted, do-more-with-less, fractured Whacky Workplaces. But Monkey has other alleged characteristics we can use to create a more productive environment; hard work, adaptable, fast learner, clever, intelligent, many interests, disciplined, creative, and fun.

Think about your current work environment. Which part of Monkey’s persona describes it best? Which Monkey comes out to play? Positive environments invite us to be creative and use our full spectrum of talents and brain power while negative ones simply drive us to distraction, suppressing our initiative and creativity.

Nine is a lucky numbers for Monkey. Here are 9 tips to keep those Naughty Monkeys at bay, free up our Ingenious Monkeys to counter the Whacky Workplace and create an environment where we can tap into all our positive traits.

Monkey works very hard: In a Whacky Workplace hard work is not rewarded. In fact, the boss often assigns more work because of poor delegation and management. We know we are supposed to work smarter. Hard-working Monkey knows the secret; work very hard on the most important tasks aimed at accomplishing objectives and getting necessary results.

Monkey adapts: In a Whacky Workplace the situation is always fluid and chaotic, lurching from crisis to crisis. Adaptable Monkey doesn’t waste time bemoaning the situation, gossiping, or supporting dysfunction. Adaptable Monkey focuses on objectives and results, figuring out HOW to get the job done.

Monkey is a fast learner: The Whacky Workplace lacks formal training and education and teaches the wrong lessons. Learning Monkey wants to learn and use every resource available to increase knowledge and skills. Learning Monkey is always proactive and never sits back waiting for the company to provide training.

Monkey is clever: The Whacky Workplace ignores ways to improve. Clever Monkey cannot resist seeking a better way to get the job done. Clever Monkey wants to improve efficiency AND effectiveness, asking, “How can I make this better for our customers and colleagues?”

Monkey is intelligent: The Whacky Workplace is DUMB, wasting time, money, people’s abilities, and everything else. Intelligent Monkey is too smart for that sort of nonsense. Intelligent Monkey harnesses brainpower to analyze the situation, finds the root cause, tries out solutions to solve the problem, and thinks ahead to prevent problems in the future.

Monkey has many interests: In a Whacky Workplace, only the Distracted Monkey is encouraged with endless incentives to multitask. But Interested Monkey knows neuroscience; the human brain cannot multitask but moves from task to task and back again, eliminating focus and flow. Interested Monkey focuses on the most important tasks, getting results and meeting goals before grabbing the next interest branch.

Monkey has discipline: In a Whacky Workplace, self-discipline goes out the window. In these environments being disciplined and focused is seen as a negative when everyone else acts like drunken monkeys. Disciplined Monkey creates an oasis in the chaos so important work can go on. Disciplined Monkeys and their teams keep on turning out results.   

Monkey is creative: In a Whacky Workplace, creativity is consumed in survival. Creative Monkey keeps creative intelligence focused on creating new goals, inventing new products, and anticipating customer needs. “Thrival” is Creative Monkey’s watchword.

Monkey has fun: In a Whacky Workplace, fun is off the menu. In fact, communication, relationship-building, and cohesion are frowned upon, while fear, cliques, and internal competition are promoted. Fun Monkey knows play releases our creative and intellectual powers. Fun Monkey focuses on building strong teams who enjoy working and playing hard together. Fun Monkey makes sure we celebrate milestones, holidays, birthdays, and exult in the pure joy of life.

Let all these great Monkeys loose in your workplace, your team, and your life. Monkey around a little and enjoy the results in greater productivity, better results, and happier team members.

Monkey Business is Good Business.
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Find out how your organizations compares to the Whacky Workplace. Take this short survey and discover where you score on the Whack-O-Meter (designed by Mischievous Monkey.)

Looking forward to your comments on the Year of the Monkey. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Were You Thinking? Act to Avoid Bad Decisions & Assure Success

During the news, do you find yourself musing, "What were they thinking?" Of course the standard reply is, "They weren't!" If I'm the one guilty of a stupid decision, I grab the old defense, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

When we make a wrong decision, there can be serious consequences. Think about the aftermath of your own bad decisions. What was going on? What were you thinking? Were you thinking critically?

In another lifetime, as a software developer, we were going to issue checks to 40,000 vendors for the first time with our new system. I came in on Saturday to let it rip. I hit the button...the system started whirring, the printers were loaded with blank checks, we were going live...

Then the system crashed...the dreaded error code S0C7 rolled across the screen..."Oh Charlie 7" is geek speak for a non-numeric character sitting in a numeric field. Sure enough, I had let bad data creep into the vendor payment field.

Yes, I had made a stupid beginner's error but the real error was my own stinkin' thinkin.' I thought, "No one will put anything but numbers in that field." I was trained as a scientist and steeped in logical thinking. However, my logic failed me when I assumed everyone touching the machine would think logically. Humans, as Mr. Spock might tell us, are often highly illogical.

When we did the post mortem, I realized 3 things:
*  My mission was off target
*  My plan failed to consider important risks
*  I ignored my most important software tool -- my brain.
3 Critical Thinking Actions to Assure Success

We can draw critical thinking lessons from this story to improve our daily decision making and problem solving.

1.  Mission ain't wishin': The mission is not just pretty words on a plaque. The mission is a daily guide to decision making and problem solving. I mistakenly thought my mission was 'automate the vendor payments.' Had I thought more critically up front, we might have had a mission like, 'Ensure timely, correct vendor payments.'

Focus on correct payments would have spurred me to think about how to ensure the system would produce that result. Timeliness would have spurred me to test the system long before going live.

Critical thinking begins with a concrete mission we can act upon. We must ask THE strategic question: Will this move me closer to or further from the mission?

2.  The Plan is the Boss: All our work must be guided by the plan. Otherwise it's too easy to pull in different directions. It is very difficult to make a great decision or solve a problem permanently in a vacuum. We must understand the context and constraints for making the decision or solving the problem. Where does this situation fall within the company plan?

My plan was incomplete because the mission was incomplete. Through risk analysis of the likelihood and impact of common problems, including non-numeric data in numeric-only fields, would have ensured our plan contained actions to address these risks.

3.  Best Tool = Brain: There are many "tools" we can use to solve problems, make decisions, and enhance critical thinking. However, there is an old saying: A fool with a tool is still a fool!

Even the most powerful tools cannot be used alone. We must always do a reality check to enhance our decision process. I got wrapped up in the cool new technology and didn't ask critical questions.

The most powerful tool we have is our brain. The best tools facilitate tapping into our brains' many analytical capacities. Each time we solve a problem or make a decision we store more information to help us with the next problem or decision. When we do that post mortem we lock new information into our neural pathways.

Thinking critically is our most vital asset as we make decisions and solve problems every day:

*  Create a strong mission
*  Execute a robust plan to fulfill the mission, and
*  Cultivate and flex full brain power.

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Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Ph.D., and president of Advantage Leadership, Inc., was a geneticist and medical researcher and learned to apply her critical-thinking skills as a manager and leader in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She works with leaders and manages so they achieve their strategic goals applying critical thinking to pressing challenges.
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(Note: Mr. Spock drawing by Donnietu)

Want to know more about making better decisions and solving problems successfully? Join us for Critical Thinking: The Secrets to Successful Problem Solving & Decision Making.

*  June 2, 2015  1-2:30 US Eastern Time (GMT -5)
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Join me on LinkedIn Visit our website: 

      Advantage Leadership, Inc.
   320 S. Flamingo Road, Suite 291
       Pembroke Pines, FL 33027 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Want to Build a Positive Culture? Apply Four Bickisms

[Excerpts from an interview with Bick Whitener, currently principle with Bickley and Company.]
"I became the Director of Getting-Things-Done." That’s how Bick Whitener describes the way his boss acknowledged his leadership. Bick Whitener has a long, distinguished career in the property/casualty insurance world and has been with companies such as The Hartford, Prudential, Atlanta Casualty, Assurant, and many others.

I was privileged to consult to one of the companies where Bick was a manager and see the vibrant culture of accomplishment he created. He and his team were very different and getting more done than other areas. They were a "real" team and excited to learn new skills and approaches. The very positive culture he developed within his division stood in contrast to the overall company.

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein: Bick, you have a solid track record of changing the culture of any group you work with to make it more of an integrated team that gets solid results where people love being part of that team. How do you do it?

Bick Whitener: Let me start with what I believe is a simple statement. Culture change happens through people. I believe life is about two things. Life is about choices and life is about relationships.

Culture change happens through people. Have you ever noticed that people don’t like change? So if it is going to happen through people and they don’t like to change, leadership has to be both effective and efficient in helping them change, in helping with the culture transition.

Your people are your most valuable asset. Their time and their skills are your most valuable asset. You have to be wise how you spend those. People go crazy when I look at them and say, turn off whatever the notification is that tells you that you have a new e-mail. It is mail. How many times a day do you run to your mailbox? How many times a day do you run to the post office? Take your time and focus on the important things. The important things are "the right things."

Rebecca: Bick, I know you have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom you package in pithy statements you call Bickisms. Can you walk us through your steps for culture change with these Bickisms? (For a few more, check out Bick’s LinkedIn profile.)
Bick: Sure! 

STEP 1 Bickism: Never talk about culture.

Rebecca, let me start by telling you I’m a sneaky little devil. I never start out talking about culture. But what I do start out talking about is the vision that we have; that journey that we want to take, where we want to get to. So you have got to find people that want to buy into that vision. Clearly articulate that vision. Show them what that vision is going to do in terms of value to them in the future. Then find the people that want to buy in.

STEP 2 Bickism: Nothing anywhere ever gets done until somebody somewhere does something.

Don’t misunderstand. I like strategy. I like tactics. I like planning. I like locking myself in a room and talking about innovation. But I don’t like it unless things get implemented because brilliant ideas that are not implemented lose their value.

STEP 3 Bickism: Create a shepherding group.

Once you find people that want to buy in, you need a shepherding group. That is a tricky part of the process because the shepherding group has to have adequate spheres of influence. Otherwise you are going to get into trouble because those with the power will oppose the vision and the change and they will stop it.

In the early 1500s Niccolo Machiavelli said, There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, or more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. And almost 500 years later that is proving to be very true in our business environments today.

So never talk about culture. Talk about the vision, speak the vision, get people to buy in, find a shepherding group and start the process.

STEP 4 Bickism: Go for small wins.

Once you get the buy in you can actually start going for small wins. Don’t shoot big. Once you get a couple of wins two great things are going to happen. The first one is some fresh people are going to buy into the culture and the buy-in group gets bigger. And the second thing is you start to create momentum and that momentum becomes your friend.

It’s shared vision followed by wins. Celebrate the wins. Make them very, very visible.

Hear more Bickisms and gain more wisdom as Bick Whitener discusses his remarkable achievements and how he got them. Listen to the entire interview on Business in the Morning produced by Todd Schnick. 

An in-depth profile of Bick Whitener will be featured in the forthcoming book, Washington’s Shadow: How Leaders Cast a Long Shadow and Create a Positive Culture.

 This post also appears on LinkedIn

Friday, October 31, 2014

STEM & STEAM Not Hysteria: Why we need to think critically

There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness...To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country. – George Washington
A nation that expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization…expects what never was and never will be. – Thomas Jefferson
The current public discussion of Ebola quarantines has me throwing bipartisan shoes at the TV. I don’t want to discuss the political posturing, which is bad enough but expected.

I want to hone in on the sad state of our general education and the absence of critical thinking. Founders Washington and Jefferson warned us and gave us sage advice, which we seem to be ignoring at our peril.

OK, what right do I have to be spouting off about Ebola, science, education, and critical thinking? Here are a few bio tidbits:
Rebecca the Science Teacher
  • Trained as biochemical geneticist
  • Medical researcher
  • Taught biological and physical sciences for ten years in high school and college
  • Consult to a county STEM board (supports programs in Science Technology, Engineering and Math)
  • Board member, GeekiGirls (supports girls' interest in STEM and the Arts, STEAM)
  • Foreign Member, St. Petersburg Engineering Academy.
So I'm an educated layman, trained in critical thinking, OK?

Let's take a quick look at Ebola and the missing critical thinking here in the U.S. Ebola is a devastating disease we mostly ignored here until it entered big cities and spread quickly in three West African countries. Volunteers from around the world have gone to these countries to contribute their skills to fragile and collapsing health systems there. They are working in very primitive conditions in places where electricity and potable and running water are not the norm and local practices exacerbate the spread of the disease.
     Fact 1: People only spread the virus by direct contact with bodily fluids, most commonly diarrhea, blood, and vomit.
     Fact 2: When people have no symptoms they cannot spread the virus.
     Fact 3: The incubation period is 21 days in humans.
     Fact 4: The Centers for Disease Control have issued new guidelines based on the degrees of exposure to people with the virus and supported by international health groups.

The hysterical moves by the governors of New York and New Jersey, other states, and the U.S. military to quarantine everyone returning from work in the region ignores the facts, ignores the science, ignores the advice of medical experts, and ignores critical thinking.

Listening to TV reporters, news readers, and "hosts" stir the pot of fear and misinformation is more than inane, it is dangerous. The rampant speculation, ignorant questions and comments, and refusal to listen to science are scary. The fact that people fall for it points to what many studies show; the dire state of science and critical thinking education in this country is a threat to democracy. Even the college-educated reporters and commentators demonstrate a lack of scientific understanding and thinking a 7th grader should have mastered.

This is nothing new. When the Russians launched Sputnik and caught the U.S. flatfooted, there were no other girls in my physics and advanced math classes and many college-bound boys avoided these hard classes. Government created the National Defense Education Act and the National Science Foundation created four new science curricula. I went through graduate school with an NDEA loan, which I repaid by teaching, including the new science curricula.

I have a couple of suggestions:
  1. Create modern programs, similar to the post-Sputnik ones, to assure every student, in every school, gets grounding in real science and critical thinking. Emphasize teaching elementary and middle school teachers to teach the understanding, application, and love of science. Science must be learned hands on with experiments and investigation. We must teach everyone to think critically.
  2. Governors and other officials, it's time to admit you reacted and did not base your moves on science nor think critically about the situation. George Washington said it best,"To err is nature, to rectify error is glory."
  3. Reinstate literature, the arts, science, and social science as the centerpieces of K-12 education. A recent study confirmed music study increases other intellectual capacities. In an era when schools routinely cut all the arts education in favor of drilling for standardized tests, real education is sacrificed.
Everyone needs STEM and STEAM. We all need a well-rounded education to function as citizens and leaders in our complex world. We must be critical thinkers, learning that discipline from the sciences and the arts. The alternative is a nation that can be whipped into hysteria by the ignorant and the evil.

Food for thought...yes, thought.   

Learn the basic skills of critical thinking. Join me for a technique-packed webinar and white paper access.

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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Bosses: Working with Multiple Bosses - Successfully

At first it seemed very exciting. My fellow manager, Sara, and I would be reporting to two vice presidents in the newly reorganized division. WooHoo! VP Marco was new to the company and came with a stellar reputation for innovation. VP James had been with the company many years and was a solid performer. Our first meetings went fine and Sara and I were asked to look over our existing plans and be ready to present our results.

That’s when the fun began.
Marco came to our joint team meeting, engaged in some get-to-know-you conversation, said he understood where we were going, and participated in some fun activities with us.

James met Sara and me in his office – (based on his schedule blocked out in 15-minute chunks.) He grilled us for about 10 minutes and asked us for documentation, detailed project plans, and a weekly update.
OK. Two different bosses, two different styles.

Marco might show up any time, kibitz for a while, ask what we needed from him, and look for ways to smooth the way. He wanted a one-page report; a few bullet points, and lots of white space. When we met with him, he wanted us to come to the point quickly. He often organized social events for our two teams.
James was only available at the appointed weekly meeting, although if you could find a blank 15 minutes you could have a quick “emergency” session. Reports needed to be very detailed, with references, graphs, charts, and hard data. He often said something like, “In the footnote on page 34 you said X. How does that jive with what you show on the graph on page A-7?

After every meeting, Sara and I would compare notes and share our frustrations. We realized we had to adapt to Marco and James quickly in different ways. We evolved 4 strategies to first cope with and then succeed with their different expectations.
Identify all bosses’ work and communication styles and flex your own. Each week we prepared two reports; one high level, one detailed. In the review meetings with Marco we hit the high points and got out. We patiently explained every point in detail and double checked any work for inaccuracies and inconsistencies for James.

Proactively develop plans, schedules, and expectations in advance and get their approval. Once we had concrete plans, James was comfortable going through the detailed results and confirming next steps. Marco saw the plans and schedules as a way for us to be fast and focused as we reported highlights.
Invite discussion not challenges with aligned assertive communication. Sara and I learned to think through ways of presenting information that did not set off confrontation inadvertently. We used inclusive language, aligned with their situations, and phrased questions that stimulated dialogue. The tension dissipated from the discussions.

Use problem solving to resolve conflict when it arises. When Marco or James had strong different opinions on our results or recommendations, we invited them (tactfully) to engage in some problem solving with us. At the very least, we got them to restate the problem clearly and concisely so we could work on solutions off line.
None of this was easy and it won’t be for you either. No matter where you sit in the hierarchy, when you have more than one boss, you must be both flexible and firm. Flex to match your bosses’ individual communication and work styles. Be firm in working out a plan to accommodate all their needs and get agreement. Be firm in showing places where overlapping demands make success unlikely and helping them recognize consequences. Be flexible in working out solutions.

Always scan the environment to assess what you are learning from working with multiple bosses. Both James and Marco taught me many positive lessons I’ve applied successfully in other assignments. Once I let the frustration recede and recognized each person’s strengths and focused on them, I was open to learning and results got better too.
Whether you’re an admin or manager, individual contributor or team leader, managing multiple bosses is a learnable skill your need in today’s workplace. Join me for a webinar August 12 Working with Multiple Bosses – Successfully and I’ll share my battle-tested techniques for managing not just your bosses, but your own time as well.

P.S. Special bonuses for participants including a white paper, Allied Assertive Communication – the Super Success Secret.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.