6 Easy Steps to Increase Your EQ!

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Managers are in a tough position, sandwiched between employee complaints and pressure from higher ups. Even years of studying and work experience can’t prevent a few blunders that can send a team or department on a serious downward spiral. It’s not as hard as you’d think for a well-meaning and book-smart manager to let a team dissolve into an ineffective group of resentful individuals if he or she isn’t aware of how to effectively communicate with people. Luckily, this can be overcome with some effort. Start by working from this model:

1. Take responsibility for your feelings. Frustrated or upset? No big deal. Just admit it and be honest about it, and don’t blame others for “making” you feel a certain way. Blame games and facades destroy trust and positive working relationships.

2. Tune in to the feelings of your employees. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if someone seems particularly down, ask (privately and empathetically) if he or she is all right. This builds mutual respect and can be a window in to the morale of your team. Don’t be afraid to inquire about the morale of the entire team if everyone seems to be dispirited.

3. Respect their feelings. Ask things like “how would it make you feel if I did this?” Even if you know a certain course of action is unavoidable, it might help you approach the matter differently, and will definitely help your employees to feel valued.

4. Challenge your assumptions. You’ve probably heard the silly adage about what happens when you assume (if you haven’t, Google it for a laugh) but it’s true! Don’t guess why your employees are doing something a certain way—just ask. You’ll save a lot of time and build trust as well.

5. Be empathetic. To use a cliché, put yourself in the shoes of each individual employee. If you can start to see things the way they do, responding to them appropriately will come much more naturally.

6. Avoid the tendency to be hypercritical. Do you want a judgmental lecture from your boss? Neither do your employees. You can offer constructive criticism without disrespecting or pre-judging your employees and their actions.

Don’t you just feel smarter already?

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Get Smarter! The Essence of Emotional Intelligence

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Book smarts alone don’t make a great boss. It takes a high EQ—Emotional Intelligence Quotient—to be a truly brilliant manager. You might already be familiar with the concept of Emotional Intelligence, made popular by Daniel Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence. The principle is this: the way we relate to other people has to do with more than just personality; it has to do with core competencies each person must develop. A boss with a high EQ might be charming, but it takes more than charisma to maintain popularity. Instead, a great manager is there to motivate and encourage his or her team to bring out the best in each of them.

What are those competencies that make up a high EQ?

Self-awareness: Know who you are and how you feel about things, as well as how you are coming across to others.

Self-regulation: Handle your feelings well, deal appropriately with negative emotions, and understand that there are more important things than strictly emotional rewards.

Motivation: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Have the drive to achieve your goals and ignore obstacles in your path.

Empathy: Sense what others are feeling and work to understand their perspective on things.

Social Skills: Interact smoothly with others. This could mean persuading and negotiating from time to time, but also cooperating, being reasonable and making necessary compromises.

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Think about it more simply. Just be nice. (Read The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness for more great, eye-opening information on that topic.) I’m not saying you’re all being mean, crazy dictators in the office. I’m saying that sometimes, business gets tough and numbers don’t add up, and it’s easy to forget the importance of being polite. Signing paychecks alone won’t encourage the productivity of your team. They need to see you out and about, and smiling and showing genuine care and interest in them while you’re at it. If you truly respect the members of your team and the work they do, it will show, and they will respect your leadership in return. That mutual relationship of respect will manifest itself in more quality work and higher rates of productivity because—you guessed it—you will have achieved employee engagement!

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A High EQ: Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Boss

My best boss was one who hired me on the spot and said, “You are going to be my top producer.” A vote of confidence—how novel! I’d come from a tyrant of a boss, and working with Dwain looked to be a 180 right off the bat.

On my first day in the office, he flew from his office in Washington, DC to Philadelphia to introduce me to my new coworkers. On our way out the door to go to the office, the phone rang. My 18-month-old daughter, of whom I was sole support, was sick at day care and needed to be picked up. Having just moved to the area, I had no friends or family that could pick her up, and I knew my job was as good as gone before I even stepped foot into my new office.

What I didn’t expect, however, was to see my new boss smiling sympathetically after overhearing the conversation. He told me to pick up my daughter, and asked why I kept apologizing. “You can’t control your baby getting sick!” he said. “You know, I can tell right now this office situation isn’t going to work for you.” The fatal blow. Tail between my legs, I expected to be fired just as on-the-spot as I was hired. Instead, he said, “I think I need to stay an extra day and set up a home office for you.” In a time when telecommuting was practically unheard of (1989), I was shocked. “I really think this kind of arrangement will make it easier for you to work and take care of your daughter,” he continued. “Remember, you are going to be my top producer in the country. It’s the least I can do!”

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What did I do? I set up a small table in my bedroom, practically touching my bed since I didn’t have enough space in my townhouse for my own office, and set up a phone and fax machine with Dwain’s help. More importantly, I proved him right. I really did become the top producer in the country (by far), selling fifty-two million dollars’ worth of franchises in just one year. I owe this jump start in my career not to the table in my bedroom, but to the trust of a great manager. Because Dwain believed in me, I believed in myself too, and continue to.

The moral of this story is not to tell you how I once doubled my salary to support myself and my young daughter. Instead, it’s to put a truly human face on the workplace. Don’t forget, every member of your team is a real-life human being. Obviously it doesn’t take a great manager to figure that out, but it does take one to treat them that way. No two people work the same way. An emotionally intelligent boss knows that and understands how to accommodate them in order to foster higher levels of performance. Maybe that means telecommuting, slightly different hours, a more public way of recognizing a job well done, or a few pizzas on the nights when the team has to stay late. But you can’t know what will motivate and accommodate your team without first having meaningful conversations. Have you gotten to know your employees lately? You’re already on your way to developing a higher EQ!

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Don’t Be a Dictator! And Other Lessons in Effective Management

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It’s natural for a person in a position of authority to feel compelled to boss people around. The problem is that most people simply don’t respond well to it, which is at the heart of the “Quit Telling Me What to Do” philosophy. Expressing our expectations is crucial for employees to do their jobs, but in order to do their jobs well, they must be engaged in the company mission, rather than ordered around.

How is that done? By communicating the bigger picture of what your organization is all about. I’m not talking about pointing to the vision statement on the wall, I’m talking about actively articulating a shared vision in a way that empowers your employees to succeed. Decide what that means for your organization—a framed mission statement, verbal contracts among teams, or a written code of ethics.

Once you’ve decided on the best forum(s) for communicating the bigger picture for the organization, use it as a jumping off point for starting conversations with your team. Talk to them about the goals and values of the team or organization, and how their own individual goals and values fit into the broader group’s. Take a look at the six major areas of team alignment:

1. Purpose:  Why does your organization exist, beyond making a profit?
2. Values:  What do you stand for?
3. Vision:  What is the future of your company?
4. Goals:  What do you want to achieve?
5. Procedures:  How will you achieve your goals?
6. Roles:  How does each employee fit into your organization?

If your senior team, and subsequently their respective teams, can agree on these six areas of alignment, you no longer have to worry about a thick binder full of rules nobody’s going to read anyway. Instead, you’ve created a culture that everybody agrees with. It is crucial, however, that everybody takes part in the process. If you don’t communicate each of these areas clearly with your employees, you can’t expect them to be mind readers. If they don’t know what the company’s values are, they’re liable to make up their own values, and they probably won’t be aligned with yours—not because they’re wrong, but because nobody has ever communicated otherwise.

If your organization doesn’t already have a strong mission statement and team alignment profile in place, it would be ideal to hire someone who can assist in the process and offer expertise. The extra expense will be well worth it when time and money are saved through a higher degree of productivity and lower rates of duplicated work and office gossip.

Not the CEO of your organization? Don’t fret—you can still make changes! Check back here Friday and early next week for more tips on leading well in spite of such handicaps. Can’t wait that long to align your team? Buy my book, Quit Telling Me What to Do, today!

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A Game of Chess: Managerial Strategy for Success

No major changes happen without first taking the first step. When it comes to organizational health, I’ve learned that the first step in creating a healthier environment is simple: talk to people, not at them. That means having meaningful conversations instead of just bossing people around. So what can you possibly talk about? Try talking about why everyone comes to work every day. Believe it or not, everyone has (or really should have) at least one good reason for coming to work, besides getting a paycheck at the end of the week. On the flipside of that, try asking your employees to give an elevator pitch about what it is your company does, besides making the profit that pays their salaries. If your employees don’t know the vision or goals of your organization, you know exactly where to start in creating a healthier (and probably more transparent) organization.

Quick quiz: What makes a great manager? Is it someone who a) issues mighty, dictatorial orders from on high, or b) someone who knows how to bring out the best in his or her employees? If you answered a, you need to start reading this blog from the beginning. The answer is b—a great manager is the person who knows exactly what to do in order to get the highest level of productivity and overall quality from his or her employees.

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Marcus Buckingham once wrote in the Harvard Business Review that good management was like playing chess, and required thinking several moves ahead. Beyond that, it also requires understanding the capabilities and limitations of each player in your organization. What Buckingham brilliantly points out is that most managers aren’t playing chess—they’re utilizing the same board to play checkers, thinking that all employees are interchangeable and ultimately move in the same way, using them only as a means to an end.

So how does a manager act like a master chess player? By asking questions and listening to the answers. Why does Mark always come in at 9 when the rest of the staff is in by 8:30? A good manager would know that Mark comes in later than his coworkers because he needs to drop his son off at school, but he wakes up a half hour early to get a head start on his day from home, and stays late when he needs to make up for physical time in the office. The manager that didn’t ask questions and work to accommodate some of the hardest workers and highest producers, instead yelling and docking pay without finding out the cause, disengage their employees, causing their productivity to dwindle and their other job prospects to like mighty appealing.

Moral of the story? Don’t issue orders like the Soup Nazi. Understand that your employees are human beings, too, just like everyone else, and each probably requires a different managerial approach in order to truly excel. And to go back to the chess metaphor for just a moment, think about this: you can’t win a chess match by inventing new rules or having more (or less!) pieces than you need. Accept that each of the players in your team has certain strengths and weaknesses that are complimentary to those of the rest of the team—if you learn to utilize them correctly.

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Off the Walls and Into the Halls: The Importance of a Solid Vision Statement

What does your company need in order to achieve success? Many experts will tell you a well-crafted mission or vision statement is key, and while I don’t disagree, there’s more to creating an environment of success than putting words on the wall. You can tell everyone and their mothers how your vision is to value each and every customer and employee in order to become the industry leader, but the only way that result will actually occur is if you take the mission off the walls and into the halls. Don’t just talk a big game: mean it, and spend time implementing it.

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Do you need a strong vision statement? Absolutely. But don’t create it for the sake of having one, or because that big blank space on the conference room wall could really use a framed document. Instead, that vision statement needs to come out of a strong desire to maintain and strengthen the overall health of your organization, and to ultimately achieve success in that way.

I bet very few of you, if any, have ever heard an executive announce, “We like where we are, and we’re happy with the way we’ve always done things. New ideas are a threat to the way we’ve always done things, and therefore we intend to ignore all inevitable changes in the market in order to keep things exactly the way they are, forever, until every employee gets fed up and leaves.” Sounds ridiculous, right? But even the company with the most inspirational and motivational vision statement is essentially announcing just that to its employees if it refuses to continuously adapt to the changing marketplace and understand what needs to happen to always keep the bigger picture in sight.

So what points are crucial to be aware of in order to ensure organizational health? For starters, a healthy organization will have very minimal office politics, inter-office friction, and employee turnover. A healthy organization will be self-evident due to its lack of energy and funding spent on recruiting, because turnover rates will be low, and prospective employees will be seeking them out, knowing what a great organization they are to work for. These organizations are what I like to call “Employers of Choice,” and they get phone calls on a regular basis asking if there are openings, because people want to work for them.

What does it take to become an employer of choice? I’ll dive deeper into the topic on Friday, and in blog posts next week. Can’t wait that long to become an Employer of Choice? Buy my book, Quit Telling Me What to Do, today!

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Free Agency: A Trend That Reaches Beyond the Athletic Arena

If I say Michael Jordan, you say…? Bulls. Larry Bird? Celtics. Magic Johnson? Lakers. Don’t worry—this blog hasn’t suddenly shifted focus. These are athletes who were drafted by the same NBA teams that ultimately retired their jerseys. Try to think of more than a couple of players in any professional sport who have remained loyal to the same team for their entire career. It’s tough, right? That’s because very few people—athletes or otherwise—are interested in sticking around somewhere if there’s another organization extending a better offer.

In an age of submission to the highest bidder, it seems loyalty has become a thing of the past. Employees of the younger generation—roughly 35 and younger—have a much different mentality than those of their parents’ generation, as I mentioned in blog posts last week. One of the key points in their mindset? Any new position or promotion is, generally speaking, seen as little more than a rung on the ladder, getting them closer to something bigger and better.

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That doesn’t mean, however, that they are interested in nothing more than climbing the proverbial latter of success. In fact, many workers in the younger generation are more concerned with achieving a healthy work-life balance than being the first to the top. As Ken Thomas writes in his book Intrinsic Motivation at Work, they want “a sense of purpose, the ability to choose how the tasks are performed, a sense of competence from performing work activities well, and a sense of progress.”

That means being able to throw the rule book out from time to time and resisting established structures and hierarchy, but not that these employees are arrogant and disrespectful; they just understand the workplace and tasks at hand in a very different way. Instead of seeing this as a recipe for frustration, however, look at it as an opportunity to grow. Organizations need these employees in order to survive. In fact, by the end of this decade, more than 20 million of today’s most experienced professionals will have settled comfortably into retirement, according to the General Accounting Office, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Commission for Employment Policy.

What does that boil down to? Big changes need to be made in organizations that want to survive the new market. That means doing what it takes to keep the best talent you have, even if it’s that twenty-something who insists on working 10-6 and refuses to call anybody “Mr.” It means understanding the impending shift in the workplace and adapting before you get left behind. It doesn’t have to be hard—you just have to refine the strategies you already have in place. And don’t forget, you’ve got 10 more years left in your baby boomers, so don’t scare them away before their time, either. How do you walk that line? Go back to the basics. Create a functional corporate culture that is accepting of impending turnover. A lack of loyalty among workers shouldn’t translate to a lack of loyalty from the organization to the employees. They still deserve the same respect no matter what, and your organization should be no less committed to the same successful outcomes it always has been. Make sure you are working toward the same company vision every day.

And how do we help to ensure that our top talent wants to stick around longer? Start by not telling them what to do. Engage your employees to stick to the company vision as well, and to feel invested in it. If you want to know how to start the process, check back here on Wednesday and Friday for tips! If you can’t wait that long to learn how to revitalize your team, order Quit Telling Me What to Do today.

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Why the Task of Engaging Employees Lies with Managers

I bet you didn’t know that nearly all employees are completely engaged in their jobs on the first day of work. However, according to The Gallup Organization, only 38 percent are still fully engaged after just six months. That number continues to whittle its way down to 27 percent after three years and 20 percent after ten. As I ask in my book, “If you see a garden that started out beautiful and is now full of wilted brown flowers overrun by weeds, to whom do you look to improve the situation: the seeds or the gardener?” We’re not dealing with bad seeds here—after all, it’s more than half of the workforce that’s disengaged even before most of them receive benefits like sick days and paid vacations! Rather, this is a matter of poor management tendencies.

My friend and colleague Keith Ayers of Integro sums the matter up nicely in his book Engagement is Not Enough: “Leaders at all levels have not sustained the natural enthusiasm and commitment their employees had when they started with the organization. Despite the billions of dollars spent on leadership development every year and the thousands of books and resources on the subject, the primary objective of effective leadership, getting all employees to perform at their best, is not being achieved.” Why? Probably because significantly more training resources are focused on helping organizations get smarter, completely ignoring the matter of organizational health, which, if emphasized, would drastically improve employee engagement.

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How can it be achieved? By strengthening relationships. Particularly, as Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton write in their book Now Discover Your Strengths, the relationships between an employee and his or her immediate manager who “sets clear expectations, knows you, trusts you, and invests in you.” Without a strong relationship with that person, employees are much less apt to perform well in the organization, if they stay at all.

Bottom line? Managers have a direct affect on the engagement levels of their employees. The ones who have the highest rates of success long-term are not the micromanagers or the tyrants—instead, they are the ones who instill value in their employees and their contributions, and make sure everyone feels included in the decision-making process. It’s not just about making employees feel good at work: in the long run, managers with engaged teams work less and achieve more. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

Check back next Monday, Wednesday and Friday for more information about employee engagement and creating an environment where people want to come to work. If you can’t wait that long to learn how to revitalize your team, order Quit Telling Me What to Do today.

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How Important Is Employee Engagement, Really?

Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham's best seller, which is packed with great information, including insights about employee engagement.

Feeling like what we do matters is an important motivator. It’s tough to be engaged when we feel like our only purpose at work is to punch in and punch out. In a situation like that, though our physical being is present, our mind and energy are elsewhere—perhaps preoccupied with how much we really don’t like our job. It’s just like New York Times best selling author Curt Coffman says in his book, First, Break All the Rules: “Some people quit and still come to work.”

How many people are “some”? According to a 2006 Gallup poll, about 71 percent. Those 71 percent fall into the categories of “not engaged” or worse—“actively disengaged”—leaving only 29 percent of the workforce engaged in their jobs! Gallup defines engagement as an employee who will go the extra mile without being asked, not just those who do the minimum their conscience (and/or supervisor!) will allow. Those people are sleepwalking, and I hate to tell you, they’re just not engaged. And the actively disengaged ones? Watch out. “They aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness,” according to Gallup. Think of the business equivalent of cutting the brake lines—that’s what these guys are plotting as they sit in their cubicles. They’re CAVE dwellers: Constantly Against Virtually Everything. (Cute, right? But it won’t be pretty when they’re let go; make sure you call for backup!)

So what’s the big deal? Does happiness in the workplace, or, more specifically, engagement, really make a difference in anything but the topic of conversation around the water cooler? Absolutely. According to that same Gallup study, “engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.” Not only that, engaged employees are more likely to come up with cutting-edge ideas and new strategies to improve products services all around. Isn’t that what every boss should be looking for in their employees?

Bottom line: engaged employees earn the company more and cost the company less. It’s a no-brainer!

Check back on Friday for more information about employee engagement. If you can’t wait that long to learn how to revitalize your team, order Quit Telling Me What to Do today.

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What the Generational Shift in the Workplace Means for Your Organization

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It’s a new year, which means reflecting on the past and planning what’s in store for the future. I’m not talking about resolutions that you may have already pushed to the wayside–rather, on a broader scale, about the generational differences in the workforce today. Yesterday’s generation, Baby Boomers (or at least I’d like to think it’s just yesterday, as a boomer myself!), had an entirely different mentality in the workplace. We would rather have suffered in the workplace than be forced to move back in to our childhood bedrooms. That meant dealing with dictator bosses and irrational tasks for the sake of the paycheck. The younger professionals of today’s generation, however, aren’t going to settle for boring jobs or annoying bosses if their mother’s basements are still vacant and awaiting their return. Bottom line? They must be handled more delicately than their more seasoned counterparts, who might have stood for being bossed around. So how, then, does the modern manager achieve success when the the rules of management have been completely changed? That’s precisely the question I answer in my book, Quit Telling Me What to Do, and here on this blog.

Here’s where the disconnect started: we learned from old sitcoms–the ones that now play on TV Land–that work was a happy place, and professional careers, which practically came attached to college degrees, remained stable, secure and relatively predictable. That’s not the case anymore. In fact, the majority of professionals in today’s workplace will change jobs ten times or more, and that’s not counting the ones who abandon their careers entirely for a completely different opportunity. And though flexibility offers freedom, it also changes the rules of the game.

What hasn’t changed from generation to generation is the necessity of work. Barring heirs and heiresses, everybody has to work in order to survive, and regardless of whether that position is one of an executive or a front-line employee, we all spend quite a lot of time at work, often dreaming of what we wish we could be doing somewhere else. Happiness in the workplace, sadly, has become the exception, not the rule.

What does happiness at work have to do with the generational divide in workplace attitude? Stick with me here. If you don’t like work, what’s the big deal? It’s 40 hours, give or take, of a 168 hour week. Subtract the time you need for sleeping, and there’s still plenty left to do things you enjoy. But consider the alternative: how much more of your life would you enjoy if you actually liked going to work? Employee engagement, which I’ll talk about more in depth on Wednesday, is the key, no matter the age of your workforce. Without it, the younger ones will quit and the older ones will stay and suffer, but ultimately no one will be actively perpetuating the goals of the organization. Sure, the rules of management have changed, but the foundation for success has always remained same.

Check back on Wednesday and Friday for more posts about employee engagement. If you can’t wait that long to learn how to revitalize your team, order Quit Telling Me What to Do today.

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