A Very Important Leadership Lesson from Salvador Perez and the Kansas City Royals

Sometimes, the best leaders step away from the game.

Salvador Perez is one of the best leaders (and catchers) in major league ball today. Nevertheless, he stepped away at a time when, you can be sure, he desperately wanted to stay in the game.

It was the 12th inning, Game 5, of the World Series. The Royals were hanging on in extra innings. Perez singled. And then he left the game so pinch runner Jarrod Dyson could take his place. Relinquishing his spot on first base to a faster runner meant that Perez would no longer be in the game to catch or, perhaps more importantly, to encourage and collaborate with any pitchers who would need to hold the Mets at 2 points IF the Royals managed to tie the game in this critical inning.

Perez, the team’s 3-time Gold Glove winner and fun-loving backbone, left the game. Team manager Ned Yost called this his biggest regret in the post-season when he told Bleacher Report “I think if I had one regret during the whole playoffs, (it) was I had to pinch run for Sal there in that inning. But it opened up the door for us to score five. I really wish that Sal could have been out there to jump in (Wade Davis’s) arms when we got that final out.”

Imagine yourself in Perez’s shoes. You’re an important contributor behind the plate and at the plate (.364 in the World Series). You’re a fan favorite. You’re a strong contender to be named MVP if your team wins the Series. You’re deeply invested in the other players and in this game. You’re essential. How would you feel about leaving the game?

Now contrast Perez, who left the game, to Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey. Harvey dominated through 8 innings of that game. So far, it was lights out. He had a chance to pitch a scoreless game in the World Series, a feat achieved by few pitchers.

When, in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Mets manager signaled that he’d be taking Harvey out, the cameras captured a passionate Harvey saying “No way” over and over again, demanding to stay in the game. And the audio between innings captured the crowd of 44,000 fans chanting “Harvey, Harvey,” demanding that the manager keep their beloved “Dark Knight” pitcher in the game.

With a 2-point lead, fans making their preference clear, and Harvey feeling strong, the team manager relented. He put Harvey back in for the 9th inning. Later, he regretted the decision. He said his heart overruled his head. He knew, logically, that the inning was beyond reach for a pitcher who’d been through Tommy John surgery and had already thrown nearly 100 pitches this game.

What if Harvey hadn’t asked to stay in the game? What if he, like Perez, had acknowledged his own limitations and accepted his manager’s decision in that moment? Chances are that the Royals would not have scored 7 runs, winning the game 7-2 and clinching the World Series.

Leaders, like everyone, have limitations. Self-awareness about your own limitations is essential. Having the humility to concede your limitations is not optional. There is no shame in stepping aside and making room for a stronger player. Going for individual glory at the risk of compromising the team’s success is not what leaders do.

Perez stepped aside. Because he did, Dyson stole second base and soon scored. The momentum picked up from there, and the Royals won. They won because they played as a team.

When it was all said and done, Perez still received an individual honor. He was named MVP of the World Series. He earned that honor by playing well. He made the honor possible by not playing at all in that single moment when he stepped aside to let Dyson into the game.

As a leader, where do you need to step aside and let someone else get into the game?

If you’d like to read more in this CONNECT2Lead series about how the Kansas City Royals 2015 team exemplifies strong leadership, check back every Monday morning or subscribe to our RSS feed.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Our founder, Deb Calvert, is a certified Executive Coach and has supported over 300 companies with leadership development and sales training programs.

Five Leadership Lessons from Alcides Escobar and the Kansas City Royals

El Mago. The Magician.

Alcides Escobar, starting shortstop for the Kansas City Royals, earned his nickname for his prowess as a defensive player.

But in the Royals batting lineup, there seems to be something magical about putting Escobar in as the leadoff batter. No one can explain why it works, but when he’s positioned there the Royals win significantly more games.

There was also something magical about Escobar’s post-season performance. During the regular season, he was reliable. He was named to the American League’s All Star team. He made most sportswriters’ lists of “Top 10 Shortstops” in the game today. But in post-season, he exceeded the expectations set by those impressive accomplishments… resulting in an MVP award in the league championship series.

The magic, in my opinion, is equal parts athletic talent and leadership abilities. Plenty of others have already covered his athleticism, so this blog post aims to give due credit for the leadership example he set on the field in post-season play.

First, the back story that spotlights the athleticism and sets the stage for the leadership lessons.

In game one of the World Series, Escobar did something no one else has done since 1929. On the opening pitch of the first inning, he hit an in-the-park home run. One pitch, one hit, one run.

In the 14th inning of the same game, he got on base again. Thanks to his team’s strong offense throughout the inning, he made it home to score the winning run. He bookended the game with the first and fifth runs.

That wasn’t the only noteworthy accomplishment for Escobar in the post-season. He set a new record by getting a leadoff hit in each of the first four ALCS games (part of the reason why he batted .478 in that series). He swung at every first pitch, usually successfully, throughout the post-season. His double in the 12th inning of the fifth World Series game drove in a run that resulted (along with 4 other runs) in the Royals taking home the crown.

So what does Escobar’s performance have to do with leadership? These five lessons can be applied in any workplace or situation that calls for leadership.

1. Make a strong start. We are all called, at times, to be the leadoff hitter. Someone has to get things started. In any game, the beginning is difficult. The leadoff hitter sets the tone and can stir hope in the rest of the team while signaling confidence to the opposition. Escobar succeeded in doing both by stepping up to the plate with confidence. He wasn’t tentative. He didn’t wait for the second pitch so he could measure up the pitcher. Like Escobar, effective leaders step up and start strong.

2. Give just as much at the end as you did at the beginning. Escobar showed up in the field and at the plate in every inning of every game. He has one of the longest streaks for most consecutive games played. He made the plays early in each game, and he made the plays late in each game. He doesn’t take his foot off the gas. Likewise, winning leaders dedicate themselves to see things through from start to finish.

3. Rise to the occasion. Escobar’s performance surged in post season. Playing against the very best, this player improved at a time when his challenges were the greatest. The pressure was on, the competition was strong, and he rose to the occasion. By their example, leaders who perform under pressure inspire and encourage members of their team to do the same.

4. Rise above those who try to bring you down. In game 3 of the World Series, the Mets pitcher decided to thwart Escobar’s chances for connecting with the lead off pitch. He apparently couldn’t count on his own ability to throw an unhittable pitch so, instead, he threw the ball way up and inside, barely missing Escobar’s head with a 98 mph fastball. The pitcher later admitted that his strategy was to rattle Escobar and the Royals. Escobar’s response? He didn’t charge the plate. He didn’t trash talk the pitcher or issue retaliatory threats in post-game press conferences. He didn’t stop swinging at leadoff pitches. Instead, he and his team rose above the noise and went on to exact the best revenge possible. They kept their cool, and they won the World Series. Like this player and his team, leaders focus on the end goal and don’t get distracted by others’ attempts to take them off course.

5. Keep reaching for new goals. He became an All Star in regular season. He was named MVP in the ALCS. What more could Alcides Escobar want? How about a Gold Glove award? He set out in 2015 to earn this award, and earned it along with two of his teammates.  (Congratulations Esky, Salvy & Hos! 2015 Gold Glove Winners announced 11/10/15.) Leaders don’t rest on their laurels. They challenge themselves to the outer limits and beyond, always striving for new standards of excellence.

As a leader, how fare can you reach? What can you do to become a Magician like Alcides Escobar?

If you’d like to read more in this CONNECT2Lead series about how the Kansas City Royals 2015 team exemplifies strong leadership, check back every Monday morning or subscribe to our RSS feed.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Our founder, Deb Calvert, is a certified Executive Coach and has supported over 300 companies with leadership development and sales training programs.

Five Leadership Lessons from Eric Hosmer and the Kansas City Royals

This is yet another post about Eric Hosmer, first baseman for the Kansas City Royals. He’s been playing in the major leagues for less than five years and recently turned 26. But this is not a baseball blog post. It’s a post about leadership.

By most traditional definitions, Hosmer would not be classified as a “leader.” He’s not all that experienced. He’s young. He doesn’t have titular authority.

Even so, he exhibits characteristics many leaders lack. As a result, he gets things done.

Take, for example, what happened last week in Game 5 of the World Series. Top of the 9th inning, Hosmer on third, Royals down 2-1 with one out. A groundball to third, easy lob to the Mets first baseman to get the second out…. But wait. Hosmer takes off as soon as the ball leaves the third baseman’s hand, a risky move at best.

Hosmer himself doubted the move. He’s been quoted as saying that he regretted taking off, considered it to be a mistake.

Despite those thoughts, he kept running. He didn’t look back, he didn’t slow down. He gave it his all, diving for home plate.

He was safe. The game was tied. The Royals went on to win the game — and the World Series — with a score of 7-2 in the 12th inning.

What if he had played it safe and, as expected, stayed put on third base?

What if those doubts had slowed him down?

What if the fear of making a mistake had seized Hosmer in that crucial moment? After all, Hosmer lost a ball into the infield in the sixth inning and was charged with an error. The freshness and sting of that error could have held him back.

In the moment, though, Hosmer trusted his instincts and ran. Once he started, he kept going with commitment and determination. He wasn’t tentative despite the risk.

But this wasn’t an impulsive move. It wasn’t a lucky stroke. Hosmer’s decision to run and his confidence to continue running were founded in facts. This was a calculated risk.

Scouting reports had revealed that the Mets first baseman had an Achilles Heel. Knowing that he might not deliver in a situation exactly like this one made Hosmer’s move less a gamble than an opportunity seized.

So what does his leadership example offer the rest of us? As leaders, we can take five lessons from this one Hosmer moment:

1) Trust your team. You have scouting reports, too. Are you paying attention to the information gathered, the history revealed, the competitive intelligence right at your fingertips? Are you asking others for their opinions and input?

2) Trust your instincts. Stop second guessing yourself. Instead, push yourself to seize opportunities. When you need to have an impact, do the unexpected. If you are always analyzing instead of acting, you may find yourself stranded on base at the end of every game.

3) Commit. Once you make a move, give it your all. If you’re only partially committed, you’ll only be partially successful. If you experience doubt, keep running to the plate. If you are tagged out, so what? Making a full on effort is always better than bailing out too soon.

4) Stay in the moment. Be alert and opportunistic. Don’t ever go on autopilot and expect someone else to signal you when the moment is now or never. Hosmer made this decision on his own without a coach’s input or permission. He was only able to do this because he recognized the unique possibility in that split second when the ball was thrown to first.

5) Play fearlessly. Royals manager Ned Yost was quoted as saying “We just want our players to play fearlessly. You cannot be the best if you are afraid.” Hosmer was at his very best. He led the team because he showed no fear. By tying the game, he put the game into extra innings. His confidence was contagious, infusing the Royals dugout with hope and determination. Fearful leaders inspire no one.

Hosmer led his team to victory. He believed in himself, and he made things happen. As a leader, how can you seize an opportunity, stay committed and dive for home plate?

If you’d like to read more in this CONNECT2Lead series about how the Kansas City Royals 2015 team exemplifies strong leadership, check back every Monday morning or subscribe to our RSS feed.

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A Lesson in Leadership from The Kansas City Royals, World Champions


Leading isn’t the same as managing.

When a team is well-managed, they perform well. They use metrics and performance standards to produce what’s expected.

When a team has great leadership, they do something more. They win.

The Kansas City Royals, a team you barely heard about between 1986-2013, has been winning. Why? Not because they are managed well. Not because they are the best players in the game today. And not because they are lucky.

The Royals win because they have exceptional leaders.

In this case, leadership starts at the top. David Glass, owner. Dayton Moore, GM. Ned Yost, Manager. All three lead in ways that are unusual, at least in major league baseball. They have been overlooked, scorned, and even reviled for making the “poor management” choices they’ve made. They haven’t been given their due credit for their leadership.

David Glass leads for the long-term. He hired a new GM in 2006 and patiently waited for his plan to take shape under Dayton Moore. Glass stood behind Moore when the public turned against him, calling for his ouster after unpopular trades (trades which, in hindsight, were absolutely brilliant).

Dayton Moore leads  with conviction. He persevered with the Royals, patient and methodical in building a winning team. He didn’t have the big city budget. He made mistakes with hot prospects and with managers. But he built this team, player by player, signing free agents and scouting internationally.

Moore did something else. He believed in the players he recruited. He saw in them what no one else in baseball recognized — beyond talent and potential, Moore seems to have found players with extraordinary determination and heart. It’s so evident in every member of the team, that this can’t be coincidental.

And then there’s Ned Yost. Has any manager ever been second guessed more often? Even Kansas City turned against him late in the 2014 season and again in 2015 when the team hit a losing streak. What everyone was missing was Yost’s master plan, his leadership. Yost knows that you don’t play for a single game. In regular season, you build player strength. To do that, sometimes you have to leave a player in the game to suffer defeat. Yost allows players to fail forward, to learn and grow right on into the post-season. For more about Yost, check out this story.

The best leaders build more leaders. Glass, Moore and Yost excel at cultivating leadership. Just watch what happens every time catcher Salvador Perez goes out to the mound to encourage a faltering pitcher. Notice how Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas share the limelight every single time. Listen to what pitcher Edinson Volquez says about his teammates and the way they supported him when he lost his father on day one of the World Series.

Story after story, interview after interview, action upon action… The Royals band together as a team and lead each other to unbelievable accomplishments. They don’t make sense on paper. No one predicted they would break the records they’ve broken or come so far this season.

The Royals won all the way to the World Series. Last night, they won the Crown. Their wins are a testament to the impact of strong leadership.

Organizations should take note. This is what it’s all about.

If you’d like to read more in this CONNECT2Lead series about how the Kansas City Royals 2015 team exemplifies strong leadership, check back every Monday morning or subscribe to our RSS feed.

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How Looking Out for #1 May Be Holding You Back

In a society that celebrates individual achievement and signals that you “have to look out for #1,” it isn’t always easy to stay tuned in to the needs of others.

In the workplace, high achievers often struggle when they reach a turning point in their career where they no longer have the capacity or broad enough control to succeed on their own. Across many disciplines and functions, I see it happen just like this:

  1. An individual contributor becomes a rising star, outperforming peer co-workers and getting noticed for his or her potential
  2. This superstar is tested with a stretch assignment or two and, through sheer determination, proves that he or she is indeed capable of taking on higher level responsibilities. In this “test,” there is seldom development support or often clear goals are missing, too. This can be construed to suggest that working independently to “figure it out” is the actual skill being tested.
  3. In time, this rapidly ascending, high-potential talent is given the title of “manager.” The natural assumption he or she makes is that the reward of a promotion is due to the demonstrated ability to get things done. As manager, then, with a team of direct reports, surely the expectations must be to get more things done – to work harder and to teach others to do what’s been done in the previous role(s) that led to this promotion… Without training and clear expectations about how managing is an entirely different role, it’s no surprise that this assumption is made.
  4. Again, through sheer determination, this new manager continues to post achievements and perform at a high level. But it is not sustainable. It is, in fact, impossible for this high-potential contributor to do everything that is expected of the team. Eventually, as the work week hours mount and the direct reports grow frustrated because they have been disempowered and neglected, the cracks begin to show.
  5. Unless he or she acquires skills for delegating, developing others, process improvement, and setting performance expectations, this manager is doomed to fail. Many do, without really understanding why.

Some companies do offer manager training in those critical skills. Even then, some new (and not-so-new) managers fail because they are not other-oriented. The skills related to managing will never be correctly or effectively implemented unless the manager can step outside himself or herself to consider the needs of others.

This same principle applies outside the workplace. Parenting requires a shift from “me first” to “you first” and a balancing act that considers the needs of others throughout their lives.

It’s true, too, for friendships. The old maxim “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” comes to mind. Sometimes, friends set aside their need to offer solutions because they recognize that the other person’s need is just to be heard and understood.

Societally, we don’t talk much about orienting ourselves to others. But people who never do that may become downright narcissistic, constantly pursuing individual glory and clamoring to take credit. They do not have an interest in others just for the sake of others.

Because they push for achievement, many narcissists are high achievers. They get recognized, rewarded, complimented and promoted. These affirmations of their achievements are also affirmations of their behavior, and, inadvertently, of their self-centeredness, too.

Without a healthy other-orientation, you can’t (or won’t want to) develop active listening skills, openness to critique that helps you grow, empathy for others, an ability to coach and support the people who depend on you, or an ability to gracefully accept even minor defeats.

Instead, a lack of other-orientation will cause you, over time, to seem arrogant and condescending. It will be a barrier to forming deep, meaningful relationships. And it will hold you back from achieving to the level of your full potential while also holding back the people around you.

To work on developing an orientation to others, consider first the benefits you will experience if you become more aware of and attentive to the needs of others. But don’t stop there! Next, consider what it means to you when others give you the support and understanding that helps you in various situations – if you did the same for others, it would mean something similar to them.

Finally, reflect on what prevents you from adopting an other-orientation more frequently. Is it a fear – that if you don’t put yourself first, no one else will? A concern that you just don’t have the time? Or maybe a belief that it would be inappropriate somehow to demonstrate an interest in the needs of others?

Whatever the barriers may be, weigh them against the benefits – to you and to others – that could occur if you were more cognizant and considerate of others’ needs. Your success, long-term, depends on others so orienting yourself to them is, after all, a smart strategy, too.

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Leadership Is Not a Solo Act

Being a leader is something you can never do alone.

By its very nature, leadership requires others who would do the following. Leaders have followers. Better yet, leaders have people around them who they are working to instill leadership skills in, too. The best leaders are surrounded by other leaders.

That’s one reason why it is perplexing to me when leaders compete with others around them. Leaders who try to do all or be all on their own doom themselves, and their organizations to fail.

A characteristic of true leadership is humility. Humility is a quality that enables an individual to admit they do not have all the answers. A person with humility welcomes and appreciates and learns from what others can contribute.

Recently, I’ve come across several gifted people who could be incredible leaders. What holds them back is their own desire to do more on their own so they can take credit for more of the results.

This is unfortunate. No person has individual capacity that exceeds the capacity of many people. So why try to do the work of more than one person? Aside from the limited capacity, no one has all the right ideas, either. No one has diverse enough skill sets and talents to truly do it all. The hubris required to even attempt doing everything or controlling everything by oneself is ridiculous.

This unfortunate attempt is often seen when an individual is new to an organization and may feel the need to prove himself or herself. I was once told by a new training director that my services were no longer needed. I had helped design her position, had created an entire curriculum for the organization, and was prepared to work as an extension of her to help her reach her goals. What she said to me was very telling. As she explained the reason for moving on in a solo fashion, she said “I feel like the mommy when the children love the nanny more.”

In other words, her feelings of insecurity got the best of her. She has been reasonably successful in her endeavors. But it begs the question: What self-limiting choices has she made in an effort to control the work that is done? What more could have been accomplished if she were willing to accept others’ help? (Not just mine… but many, many others she also did not enlist.)

When a training program is established within any company, internal trainers who come in often feel the need to put their own stamp on the curriculum. This is not leadership. It’s an attempt to move into one’s own comfort zone, regardless of what’s right for the organization. By contrast, leaders are nimble and oriented to the needs of others. They do not feel the need to do what they have always done, and they can be flexible to keep the ship moving in the same direction.

Of course, this is not to say that change should never be made by someone new coming into a position like training. Instead, it is to say that trainers, new managers or senior managers should evaluate the situation and determine what is right for the people in the organization before making big moves. Additionally, we should all be sure to keep our egos in check.

I’ve done the same thing myself. In an effort to prove myself, elevate my skills, make my own way and create my own legacy, I’ve tried to do more than is reasonable for a single person to do. I’ve neglected the need to reach out for the help of others. I’ve convinced myself I can do it all in my own.

Looking back, my biggest mistakes and missed opportunities were created by me and my lack of inclusion.

I’ve learned over time how to do this better. I had an opportunity for eight years to work with a client who was motivated solely by the needs of the organization she served. She brought in specialists, vendors, consultants and trainers who were best able to deliver what the company’s people needed. She dis this without letting her own ego interfere. As a result, she built something very special that could never have been built in this same time period if she had been interested in a turf war.

Leadership means doing the right thing. The right thing for others is what guides leaders to make the decisions they do. More often than not, leaders do what’s right by bringing in the people who are right to help them.

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Are You a Safe Harbor in the Storm?

As a leader, we owe it to the people around us to maintain a calm in the storm. That is not always easy to do.

But think about it. Imagine yourself being tossed about at sea. The storm clouds are roiling and the wind is lashing the ship. When you look to the captain, what do you want to see? Would you feel more confident and secure if your captain maintained a calm in that storm? How does it cause you to feel if the ship’s captain is panicked, distraught, showing obvious signs of stress and an inability to manage the situation?

People look to you in the same way. It helps them to remain calm and confident if you are exhibiting a measure of self-control, too.

There are circumstances we cannot control. What we can control is ourselves. No matter what we face, showing an ability to either handle the situation or to handle the way we navigate the situation is imperative if we are to lead.

This is the essence of leading. Others follow your lead. They will respond to a situation much the same way that you do. The more out-of-control you are, the more frightened and confused and out-of-control others will feel, too. Conversely, the more you can maintain a calm in the storm, the more others will try to remain calm, cool and collected, too.

When others see your ability to maintain self-control, they will be more confident in the situation and in you. Over time, as you navigate through numerous crisis situations, others will view you as a safe harbor. They will turn to you in a moment of crisis. They will draw from your strength in even the toughest situations.

To be a safe harbor, you must first be a good example. In order to be effective, sometimes you must set aside your emotions. The easiest way to do that is to ask yourself the question “Do I need to be emotional, or do I need to be effective in this moment?”

In truth, as a leader, sometimes your emotional response will simply have to wait. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience the emotion. It means you are not displaying the emotion in such a way that it impedes progress toward an effective outcome.

To be a safe harbor, others need to know they can rely on your strength and predictability during the storm.

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Talk Is Cheap – Don’t Use Throwaway Thanks

When you say “thank you” or other words typically used to express appreciation, be sure your behaviors back up what you’ve verbalized.

Insincere or automatic responses are no better than manipulative ones. As leaders, we know we’re supposed to thank people who help us out. But when we don’t have genuine appreciation behind the words, it shows.

It shows in ways that make you seem entitled, self-important or arrogant.

A throwaway “thanks” is just a wasted word. Think of how it makes you feel when you go above and beyond, hoping to please someone else, only to have your efforts be barely noticed. There is a huge difference between “thanks” and “this must have taken you hours! I really appreciate the time you spent.” When you truly feel appreciative, you can express something more substantial than the generic “thank you.”

It’s how you say it, too. Recently, I spent several hours helping a friend of a friend prepare for a leadership course she would be presenting. I loaned her some materials, too. After the event I called to see how it went and to reclaim my materials. She invited me to join her for coffee, a nice gesture of appreciation (or so I thought).

The coffee conversation was disappointing. I went in feeling appreciated and walked out feeling used. She was late and took three phone calls in 20 minutes while I sat there idly. In between calls, the words spoken to me were all about what she needed next. The “thank you” at the end of the abbreviated meeting (I developed a sudden need to be somewhere else) was meaningless.

Self-importance isn’t what we intend to convey when we are too busy to show gratitude. But that’s how it comes across. People who frequently cancel and reschedule meetings may not realize that this action basically says “there’s something else I want to do, and it’s more important than you.” It inadvertently signals that time with you is not appreciated or valued.

This can happen in any part of our lives. How often do our children hear “not now,” “I’m busy,” or “stop bothering me?” We don’t mean to say “I don’t appreciate time with you” or “I’m not grateful for you” or “you’re not as important to me as…” But that message may be what’s being received.

No number of “thank yous” can take away those feelings. The actions – time spent, specifics articulated, attention given – must match the words spoken.

Of course, the reason for making sure your sincere appreciation is fully conveyed must also be pure. If your intentions are solely focused on getting more out of others, then you are manipulating rather than appreciating.

The next time someone does something for you, pause and consider what it took for them to help you out. Think about what it means to you. With this reflection, you can genuinely appreciate the actions taken. Now, rather than a cursory “thank you,” you can communicate your heartfelt appreciation. You can make your time allocation, message and tone match what you feel.

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Being Effective When You Can’t be Face-to-Face

Worldwide, there are now more than one billion people who primarily work remotely. They work on the road, in home offices, and in satellite offices. In your own workplace, even in a 9-to-5 setting, think about how challenging it is to get everyone on the team together – you have to work around vacations, sick days, appointments, deadlines, projects, other meetings, and more. Add in multiple locations, business travel, different time zones, and varying work schedules… pretty soon it becomes downright difficult to find meeting times that are convenient for everyone.

Nevertheless, this is the reality facing many work teams. As companies expand their presence, perhaps even globally, the skills required for connecting multiply exponentially (even for simple tasks like setting a meeting time!). Developing work-around solutions is essential.

One of the most obvious choices is to get good at long-distance communication. Obvious, yes. Easy, no. There really isn’t any option that satisfactorily replaces face-to-face connections. The best video conference feeds still look like bad dubbing of Godzilla movies. Skype doesn’t stay in synch either and skips a few beats too often for my liking. Phone only and e-mail communication misses all the nuances of facial expressions, gestures and body language.

So how can we make the most of (not just make do with ) telephone conversations and teleconferences? Without seeing others, we have to find others ways to “read” them. We have to develop our own abilities for conveying emotional tone and for focusing our full attention without visual accountability. Here are some tips:

You cannot multi-task as well as you think you can. Working (or playing games) on your computer translates into misplaced pauses in your verbal responses. Plus chances are good that people can hear your clickety-clacking keyboard, too. Looking at paperwork or attempting to complete deskwork causes you to miss key points in the conversation, rendering you less effective than you need to be. Keeping someone waiting at your desk while you’re on the phone prohibits you from fully engaging in either interaction. No matter how you slice it, doing anything more than fully participating in the phone call is disrespectful. Just don’t do it.

Instead of multi-tasking, force yourself to focus by taking notes during the phone meeting. Prepare action items that you can summarize neatly at the end of the call. Use your notes to capture questions you can ask at the appropriate point in the call. When needed, use your notes to send an e-mail recap so everyone is “on the same page.”

Understand that others may be susceptible to the same distractions you are. After all, multi-tasking is normally acceptable and even lauded in business. To avoid catching them unawares, state your intention before asking for feedback. Rather than giving a report and then asking for questions, start by saying “I’m going to review the key points and then I’d like to hear feedback from everyone.” This will help others tune in and stay with you during the most important parts of a teleconference.

Imagine yourself talking face-to-face with the person on the other end of the phone. When you use the appropriate facial expressions and gestures, it will come through in your voice inflections and tone, too. Your liveliness will improve others’ engagement.

Listen carefully for variations in the speaker’s tone, pace, and volume. Differences can signal an emotional context. By listening for content and feelings, you will pick up on subtle cues and demonstrate your interest in the speaker. If you hear something but aren’t certain there is anything to it, just ask. It would sound like “I thought I heard some hesitance there… What am I missing that I might see face-to-face?”

Paraphrase and ask questions to check your understanding. With people multi-tasking and distracted and feeling the connection is sub-par because it’s via telephone, there is a higher risk for misunderstanding. Restate key points and ask “Did I get that right?” just to be sure you (and others) fully understand.

The quality of the technology matters. If you’re using VoIP, be sure you have a good microphone. A headset with a good microphone would be even better. If you’re using a cell phone, check for a strong connection, make sure your battery is adequately charged, and avoid background noise (or use mute when you’re not talking). If you are using a telecon or webinar service, send instructions in the planner and a reminder just before the meeting. Then log in early enough to troubleshoot and to greet callers as they enter the meeting. For video conferences, do a sound check to confirm that everyone is positioned in the room where they can be heard as well as seen.

Above all else, don’t accept that there will be less connection between the two of you. Strive to make the connection as strong as possible, as strong as it would be face-to-face. This is possible and, increasingly often in business, this is essential. The more you use the phone and other tech tools in place of face-to-face communication, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. At that point, you may become a bit lax in following these guidelines (i.e. when you are tempted to multi-task). Stick to these basics to improve your effectiveness in making every call count.

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How to Have a Candid Conversation to Defuse that Ticking Time Bomb

Have you been dodging an important conversation? The kind of conversation that may be uncomfortable, in a situation that you wish would just take care of itself? Are you dancing around a subject, being less direct, less candid than you really should be because you fear conflict or don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?

You know what’s going to happen, right? As a result of not being candid, we can let situations like this stew and brew until they erupt and end up causing more damage than was necessary. It’s only a matter of time before one of you gets so frustrated by what’s unspoken that you will say things that shouldn’t be said instead of having a candid conversation about what needs to be talked about.

But you’d rather risk handling a ticking time bomb than put in the time and effort and emotional risk of having THAT conversation. I know. I’ve felt the same way at times. You’ll have to weigh the stakes of speaking up vs. letting this one fester. Just don’t wimp out if the stakes of doing so are greater than those few moments of discomfort required to initiate the conversation.

If you decide to go for it, to have a candid conversation, here are some tips that may make it more productive. (I didn’t say these would make it any easier, but that is a possibility… for now, let’s focus on at least getting somewhere with the conversation).

First, know what it means to be candid. It’s doesn’t mean you have the green light to be unkind or to go on the attack. In fact, to be effective at being candid, you have to put some real thought and objectivity into your preparation. Candor means “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward.” The synonyms for candor are matter-of-fact, frank, flat-out, plainspoken, straightforward, direct. It’s all about being truthful in a way that someone else can find constructive support in what you say to them.

To prepare yourself for candid conversations, take these seven steps before you tackle the conversation. These will boost your confidence and help you reign in your emotions. Going into the conversation with the right intent minimizes the other party’s defensiveness and means the conversation is likely to devolve into an emotionally-charged exchange.

  1. Have clarity of purpose.
  2. Identify emotional triggers.
  3. Check your assumptions.
  4. Focus on the positive outcomes.
  5. Consider the other perspective.
  6. Organize your thoughts and back up your key points with specifics and examples.
  7. Plan for “We” and “I” (not “You”) statements.

These are simple preparations. We often shortchange their importance because we are acting on our own emotion or we feel we’re too time-taxed to take these steps. But it’s charging into these candid conversations without being thoughtfully prepared that becomes a time drain. Not only does the conversation itself take longer, but we put obstacles and hurt feelings in our relationships that may take a long time to heal. It is worth the time to think and prepare before you speak candidly.

So now you’re ready for the conversation… Be sure to open it up with a neutral statement, one that doesn’t accuse or blame. Here are some ideas for good openings:

  • “I’d like to discuss ______. And I’d like to start by understanding your point of view.”
  • “I think we have different perceptions about _______. Tell me your thoughts.”
  • “I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more efficiently.”
  • “Let’s talk about what just happened.”

You’ll notice that these conversations start by being inclusive and open. You’ll be operating with an assumption that there really are two sides to every story. Rather than entering into the conversation to force your own agenda, you are seeking first to understand. To do that throughout the conversation, you’ll want to inquire with an open mind. Then you should acknowledge the other party’s position and that you’ve heard and understood what they had to say. Don’t race through these first two steps – they are extremely important because we all just want to be heard and understood.

Once you’ve truly heard and understood, you can advocate your position without attacking the other party’s position. This isn’t about a point-for-point competition. In fact, there may be aspects of the situation where you are both right. So consider collaborating to build a mutually agreeable solution. If the conversation does become adversarial, go back to one of the opening statements and follow this process through again and again.

Maintain your own objectivity throughout. If emotions get out of control, call a time out and refocus on your preparation steps. Remind yourself that you want a productive outcome and a preserved relationship more than you want to have your emotional release. Tirades, dressings down, woe-is-me whining, and tears won’t get you want you really want from this conversation. Keep yourself in check.

Here’s a list of cautions. You’ll know you’re going too far outside the boundaries and that the conversation is becoming unproductive if:

  • You don’t maintain objectivity.
  • You resort to blaming or shaming.
  • You use superlatives (always, never).
  • You do not offer specifics & examples.
  • You beat around the bush.
  • You minimize and apologize.
  • You “protect” someone from the truth.
  • Your message is not clear.

You can do this. You have the time and you have the spine. All you need to do is prepare yourself and proceed.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more about boosting your person effectiveness, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.