How effective leaders deal with “push back”

I saw a cartoon recently that hit home. It was a picture of birds sitting on a telephone pole that had several layers. The birds at the top were nice and clean. The further down the layers, the birds were covered with…well…bird poop. It is a parody on an organizational chart where the poop travels downstream, and those at the bottom feel pretty yucky.

I get that. There’s always someone above you in the organization pushing down initiatives, projects, and other accountability processes, and the further they are pushed, the more overwhelmed are those at the bottom.

What happens when those at the bottom say, “Enough?” They “push back.” Pushback can take many different forms, and each form presents a different challenge to leadership. Basically “push back” means, “Nope, ain’t gonna happen; at least until I get comfortable.” It may take the form of silence, or of arguing or even of passive-aggressive behavior that nods, then goes about doing something things as usual.

The way a leader handles pushback has a dramatic impact on a leader’s credibility, both to those above and to her employees.

Think about it this way: someone “higher up” demands a process change and communicates the change and the myriad accompanying tasks to the leader who then must deliver them to staff.

What happens next depends on the magnitude and impact of the change on the daily lives of employees. Generally, the more significant the change, the more pushback occurs. And let’s face it, there is usually more than one bird sitting on top of the org chart passing down requests and demands. Staff groups like HR, finance, marketing, legal and others speak for “the top” in their area of expertise, and all those “speakers” can get very loud. (more…)

The “D” Word

Sometimes saying that you are disappointed is a very powerful statement.

Several years ago, I watched a hospital President speak with employees who messed up. It could have been a med error, tardiness for a shift, or poor treatment of a family member.

If an error occurred, she would invite the employee to her office and ask her what happened. After the employee explained the situation, she asked if there was something she had needed or help she didn’t get. They had a two-way conversation. Then she asked what she would do differently in the future and made sure the employee “got it.”

Then she would say she was disappointed…the “D” word. She didn’t say she was disappointed in the employee but in the situation and was assured the employee that she was certain it would not happen again. It generally didn’t. (more…)

Tootin’ your own horn

Do you toot your own horn? Maybe you should.

We’re taught early in life to not brag or boast about ourselves. And in general, that is excellent advice. Tootin’ our own horn – telling folks about our accomplishments – is bragging, no doubt about it. It turns others off and makes us look self-serving.

Sometimes though, it is entirely appropriate.  In the work environment, it is not only appropriate, but necessary.  As the old saying goes, “If you don’t tell them, who will?”

Why toot your own horn in the work environment?

Let’s start by defining today’s workplace. It’s different from the industrial environment where work was clearly measured by output and time. In today’s knowledge and service environment, much work goes unobserved. We work independently, and chances are the only time our boss hears anything about us is when we mess up.

And we will mess up – that’s how we learn. But it becomes only one half of the equation. Who is going to balance the equation with all of the great stuff accomplished? (more…)