Improve Your Leadership Skills by Focussing on Critical Thinking

June 4, 2021 by  

Highly successful leaders are exceptional critical thinkers.

Here are five ways to improve your approach to strategic problem-solving and decision-making.

As a strategic business coach, one of my core responsibilities is leveling up leadership skills on the senior team. I like to say, if you want to grow and scale a business, you have to grow and scale its leadership. One of the key skills to focus on is critical thinking.
As a business grows in size, so does the complexity and scope of its problems and challenges. Without good critical thinking skills, leaders will make poor decisions and fail to take advantage of strategic opportunities. Very often, what holds the business back from reaching its true potential is a lack of leadership’s foresight and effective problem-solving skills.

Here are five key things that to focus on when working with leaders to improve their ability to identify, analyze, solve, and implement effective problem-solving strategies.
1. Gather more and better data
The first thing to emphasize is that most teams try to make decisions with limited and poor-quality data. Good critical thinkers start by collecting as much high-quality data as possible. They don’t take things at face value. They question summaries and dig to make sure that they really understand what’s happening on the ground and maximize the raw information they have to work with.
This includes both structured and unstructured data as well as quantitative and qualitative information. It is also important to look at history and trends and to compare the data you’re looking at with other benchmarks and norms. Good thinkers don’t rely upon summaries and averages, they go back to the source and get the raw information.

2. Learn how to separate fact from inference
Once you have collected information, it is key to understand the difference between facts and inferences. Too often leaders will make assumptions about what is really true and treat them as facts when what they are really dealing with is an inference. This creates a shaky foundation for any future thinking and decision-making.
A fact is objectively observable by other people. An inference is something that includes an assumption or an opinion that may or may not be true. If you literally drive from New York to L.A and it takes 58 hours, that is a fact. If you use a map to calculate the distance and estimate an average speed to get to 58 hours, that is an inference. Don’t confuse the two.

3. Break things down to first principles
Encourage leaders and teams to think in first principles. These are the fundamental building blocks in thinking and decision-making. They are the core elements that are true regardless of situation and context.
They generally are found by asking clarifying questions, considering alternatives, and testing assumptions. Once you have a good set of first principles, you then have the elements that you need to start creating new options and new solutions that you can be confident in.
For example, the first principle in tennis is that a ball hit with topspin will fall faster than one hit with backspin. A good tennis player knows how to use this in different scenarios to create strategic effects. By combining this with other principles, an expert player can make plays that leverage their strengths and exploit their opponent’s weaknesses.

4. Develop effective models
Another tool that can be very effective for teams and leaders is thinking in terms of models or analogies. While these are an abstraction and reduction of reality, and therefore wrong at some level, they can be useful for simplifying a situation and quickly finding alternatives and strategies.
For example, economies of scale are a model for how price changes with volume. While a specific situation may not follow the model perfectly, it can help a business figure out how to gain efficiencies by increasing the volume while holding costs the same.
The trick with models is to know where and why they work and how they can fall short. Models can help you quickly generate insights and strategies, but you need to be aware of their limits and not get lulled into a false sense of security about reality.

5. Continuously challenge your assumptions
Maybe the most important thing to focus on with leaders and teams is to create ways of testing and validating their assumptions quickly. If left unchecked, an assumption can lead to poor thinking and bad decision-making. This can be avoided by quickly going out into the real world and seeing if what you are assuming holds up in the field.

By developing your critical thinking skills, you will improve your decision-making and ultimately get better outcomes and long-term results. While some of these steps may take some time and energy, they are good investments and will yield strong returns.

Memorizing Your Speech . . . Should You or Shouldn’t You?

May 17, 2021 by  

Memorizing your speech . . . should you or shouldn’t you? Here is the surprising truth about when memorization helps you nail a presentation!

What is the difference between a TED Talk and a phone call from a telemarketer?
Among other markers of quality and performance, it is this: The telemarketer usually sounds like he or she is reading from a script.  The TED speech? Well, that talk is scripted out too only the TED speaker doesn’t make it sound that way.
A key element to any successful speech is the focus.

Look into the question of whether you should memorize your speech and presentation  and virtually all of the advice you will find is the same: you shouldn’t do it. But I am not so sure. To be fair, I have said the same thing over the years to my speech coaching clients. Lately, though, I have been revisiting this matter in my mind and re-examining my own assumptions. Blame it, in part, on the fact that I am an actor.
Any actor whether performing on a stage, in a film, recording an audiobook or in a gig making sales calls prides himself or herself on the fact that it mustn’t sound like someone reading. Add to that thought this question: which type of spoken performances are generally the most dramatic, the most memorable, and the most emotionally powerful? Aside from a remarkable political speech or one addressing a historic moment, what we are talking about here is acting.

Do actors memorize their lines?  You know they do!  But their craft requires that they do it engagingly and in a way that doesn’t sound canned. So, to end this chain of logic: The problem with memorizing a speech isn’t the act of memorization. It is simply a bad performance in conveying the written material that makes it all obvious. There, as Hamlet said, is the rub.  In addition, if you get nervous, you will likely forget what you memorized and that certainly won’t be good.  Better to really know what you want to say.

As In All Public Speaking, the Key Is Performance
Again, think of actors: The whole point of a dramatic performance is to know the part line-by-line but to make it sound spontaneous and real. It is called “the illusion of the first time.” You, too, as a speaker should be giving your audience the same impression. Listeners the people who share your interest or dedication to the topic need to hear your thinking as you develop your argument, as your personality connects to what you are saying. As British director John Barton wrote, referring to acting performances, you should invent the phrase as you say it.

Obviously reading a script either literally doing so with a manuscript, or performing that action in your head isn’t going to lend your delivery that element of spontaneity and honesty. So should you just give yourself bullet points and trust that you will be able to phrase everything eloquently at the right moment?

Isn’t at least one solution to this challenge that you can memorize exactly what you want to say, and then work on making it sound natural and fresh? Believe me, you don’t have to be an actor to do this. If you learn how to develop exceptional presentation skills, you can make it happen.

So . . . Should You or Shouldn’t You?
One reason my thinking has been evolving on this issue is the fact that I have recently become a keynote speaker. When the speakers’ bureau I now work with asked me to kick off their new speakers series, I faced the issue I am discussing here. Motivational speakers don’t speak from notes. To deliver an impactful address, in precisely the amount of time a meeting or conference calls for, they need to shape their talk, know it cold, and be able to reproduce it time and time again. To do that, they memorize, as I now do my keynote speeches.

How about you? As in all things concerned with public speaking, the answer to the “memorize or not” question is contingent and situational. That is, the key considerations are the type of presentation you are giving, and whether you and your audience would be best served by a fully memorized and dynamically delivered speech. If necessity is the mother of your personal inventiveness and leads you to add this dimension to your speaking repertoire, don’t necessarily be cowed by the conventional advice.

In the end, the reason I usually do not recommend memorizing is because when one is nervous, as one often is when doing a presentation, you will likely forget what you memorized. That is why it is actually better to know your material backwards and forwards, inside out and in your sleep. PowerPoint or a similar tool is just that, a tool and serves two basic purposes, it reinforces your key points and reminds you, the speaker of the key points you want to elaborate upon. However, everything you are going to share with your audience about those keywords or short phrases should NOT be on your slides. Your audience can read your slide faster than you can speak it so better to have very few words on your slides. Besides, most people are not verbal learners, they are visual or hands-on learners. So the more interactive you can make your session and the more use of pictures or graphics, the more likely your audience will remember more of what you have told them.

Do remember to have fun, because you set the tone for the room and if you are nervous and anxious you will make your audience feel that way. However, if you are relaxed, calm and passionate about your material you have better chance of successfully engaging your audience and making sure they have fun as well.

The Voice of Authority: How to Sound Like a Leader

May 11, 2021 by  

Do you have the voice of authority and leadership when you speak? Here’s how to sound like a leader who projects power and presence!

Speaking with a figurative “leader’s voice” is one thing. Imbuing your actual voice with the sound of leadership is another matter entirely.
We often hear about the voice of a leader in terms of vision. But much depends upon your ability to actually speak in a way that compels attentiveness, trust, and respect. I’m talking about the sound of your voice and the power and presence you project.
It is possible to be weak-voiced and lead a company or organization. But in ways large and small, people will perceive you differently and be more willing to follow you when you invest the sound of your voice with the attributes of leadership.

The Dangers of Underperforming Vocally
Recently I worked with a client for whom vocal performance had become an overriding concern. She held a senior position in her company and held frequent meetings with her global team. It had become apparent to her and her boss, however, that her speaking style was undermining confidence in her leadership.
As a business coach specializing in Voice and Speech Improvement, I know this isn’t gender-specific. Both women and men may have problems achieving vocal dynamism. My current client had a “small” voice: it was underpowered and too light for someone in authority. Indeed, when I first taped her leading a simulated business meeting, she exclaimed, “I sound like a little girl!”
When I first started working as a speech coach almost thirty years ago, a consultant called me who was having problems with potential clients. They would question his level of experience in initial phone calls. “How long have you been doing this?” they would ask, and “How old are you?” When he walked into my office, I found myself facing a man in his 50s with white hair.
So there is no doubt that your voice impacts perceptions of you. Below are three ways you can attain the voice of authority if it isn’t carrying its own weight in your professional success.

1. Support Your Breath for Speaking Power
If your voice isn’t giving the impression of power, it is not entirely your fault. We live in an age where we simply don’t need to project our voices the way we once did. Few of us work outside anymore, where our voices needed to carry across distances.
It is all too easy now. Standing next to co-workers, holding a cell phone two inches from our mouths, or sitting two feet away from our webcams, we have turned into pale versions of the robust talkers we used to be. Yet our voices still need to convey our vitality as speakers.
The place to start is with supported breath that can effortlessly project the fullness of your sound. Learn how to breathe diaphragmatically. It is breath that creates the vocal energy you need to reach every part of your performance space and to sound like you mean business. You literally need energy to energize listeners, and to make essential words heard. Remember: the most important words in English usually come at the end of the phrase. Invest yourself with enough breath so you have the power to “punch” the idea or image embodied in those words.

2. Balance Your Sound to Achieve Authority
One reason my recent client, and many others I have coached, had a voice that sounded too young is that she spoke with too much “head voice.” A key distinction you should know about is the dichotomy between head voice and chest voice. If used exclusively, the former can come across as thin and lightweight; and the latter like an old stuffed chair left in the basement.
Yet each of these voices has advantages and disadvantages. A strong head voice can sound young, bright, intelligent and lively though its sound doesn’t carry well and possesses no authority. The chest-voice speaker, on the other hand, has ample supplies of that last characteristic, though he or she seems to lack spontaneity and has a “fuddy-duddy” sound.
As you might imagine, you shouldn’t speak entirely with either of these voices. You need a balance between head and chest voice. That is what I worked on with my recent client. The aim was to show her intelligence and flexibility, linked to experience and authority. She needed a more forceful voice that commanded attention.
Tape yourself, and listen to whether you are at one end of the spectrum or the other. Then work toward a happy medium.

3. Color Your Voice for Maximum Expressiveness
Finally, when you have enough breath support to power and sustain your voice, and you are speaking with a mature and balanced sound, you can go for the gold. It is time to develop a vocal style that uses the full-colour palette of emotions.
That is a metaphor I often use: colours. Too “pink” a voice, for instance, with work may begin to reveal more “burgundy” tones, reflecting maturity and fullness. Speaking in “greys” is possible, though that means there is an entire array of colouration not being used. A sad-sounding voice contains too many shades of “brown,” and so on.
Audiences need to hear the emotions behind your convictions! When you speak you are leading, and you need to tap into the subtleties and nuances that reflect your intelligence. Then, of course, there is the sheer power of the voice that supports a call to action.

To get there, practice passages from fiction and poetry, which offer the greatest range of emotions to be expressed vocally. Listen to audiobooks read by voice actors, the performers par excellence in this field. The above techniques will help lend you the voice of authority. Learn to use them and feel comfortable with them, as you inspire and influence those who look to you as a leader.


What Is Stress and How Can One Cope?

April 13, 2021 by  

Stress is mental or physical tension that results from physical, emotional or chemical causes.
In fact, physiologically everyone reacts to stress in the same way initially. You get a boost of adrenalin which speeds up your respiration, perspiration and increases your focus and energy. But only for brief periods of time. Prolonged stress causes a build-up of cortisol, a chemical that speeds up the function of your organ systems and over time can cause irreversible damage to those systems. High cortisol levels are dangerous.
As a result, one needs to have stress deflecting strategies that can be exercised when facing a lot of stress, especially if it is for along time.

Stress is also different things to different people. For example, something that stresses you might not stress me and vice versa.
Some jobs have more stress than others built into them. For example, air traffic controllers have to make sure that no planes are coming in and going out at the same time and must be aware of everything that is going on all the runways. This can be rather stressful. Now, they have great training that offers them strategies to deal with issues and must consider that training will allow them to handle any problem that might arise will on duty.

Then there is Dentistry. Dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Why?? They work under very tight time constraints on nervous, anxious, stressed-out patients who believe that they go to the Dentist, he or she hurts them and then they pay. Many have had unfortunate experiences when they were young and never got over the trauma of that situation. When I was practising, I used to have parents bring in their small children before their first appointment so that I could “play with them”. I would give them a ride up and down in my chair. I would let them play with my air/water syringe in the garbage pail, I would polish a fingernail for two, I would put the suction end on their hand so they could see what it did and hear the noise. I would blow air on their teeth and put some water in their mouth & then suction it out. Then I would give them a prize. That way, they got to know me, (no parents in the room), had some fun, heard the noises, saw the equipment I would be using to clean their teeth and maybe just think going to the dentist would be fun. Sadly, I knew 3 dentists who committed suicide when I was in practice as a Dental Hygienist.

Next, there is the construction industry where there is a myriad of things that can go wrong, often do. Materials can arrive late for damaged, same with appliances and plumbing fixtures. If a problem crops up it can upset the timeline and as everything is sequential, if one job is delayed it can affect the rest and a site supervisor can lose some subcontractors because they have other commitments and scheduled you when you thought you would need them. Renovations are also difficult as one never knows exactly what one might find when a wall is removed or a floor pulled up or a ceiling opened up. Surprises can often turn into a major problem that will take much more time to adjust around.

Today, in our very technological world, change has become the new norm and humans generally do not like change as we prefer to deal with what we know and are comfortable with. Those who are not willing and able to embrace change today will get left behind and may even lose their jobs. Change is the event, the transition is the process and must be handled very well with open, honest communication addressing concerns and fears, an appropriate time frame to allow the employees to adjust and learn the new processes or equipment. In addition, upper management must model the commitment to this change and offer compelling reasons why it will be advantageous to embrace this change. Questions need to be answered honestly and quickly and management needs to be available to support and encourage everyone as they move forward.

I am sure that engineers also run into many situations that might not have been anticipated and must readjust plans in order to complete a job.

Medical personnel deal with traumatic situations day in a day out and often have to convey devastating news to family members when something terrible has occurred. Police and EMT staff face the same sort of issues seeing very traumatic things every day and that is extremely stressful for them.

Again, many jobs are stressful but here is the thing……no one’s life is a long straight smooth road. Everyone faces bumps, potholes, curves, hills, washouts, and landslides. It is really how we deal with those obstacles and challenges that we face in our lives. If one can espouse a positive, problem-solving and critical thinking attitude about whatever one faces, life will be better, less stressful, and ultimately happier. Happy people are sick less often, deal with difficulties better and that is because they are positive about life and do not let those unfortunate situations ruin their lives and keep them unhappy.

One other thing to bear in mind is this, other than the initial reaction to stress, men and women do handle stress differently. Women experience a second cascade of chemicals, including oxytocin which reduces the effects of adrenalin and slows things down for them. Estrogen also enhances the effects of oxytocin. Because of the testosterone in men, that chemical enhances the effects of the adrenalin and keeps them on “high” for longer.

The best stress deflecting strategies include the following:
1. Get regular aerobic exercise as this changes your brain chemistry and releases endorphins which give us a feeling of well being and enhance our immune system.
2. Breathe, it seems that when we are stressed we breathe in a very shallow way. This reduces the oxygen to our brains and when our brains do not have sufficient oxygen rational thought does not occur.
3. Eat healthfully with a well-balanced diet full of lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein sources. If you do not know how to do that very well, consult a registered dietitian for help with this.
4. Get adequate sleep. That means at least 7 or 8 hours each night. Without enough sleep, our cognitive abilities are reduced so we perform at a lower level potential making more mistakes and forgetting things that we normally do not forget. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves and memories become embedded in our brains so without proper sleep those functions do not occur and we can suffer healthwise and in how we function generally. This can also depress people.
5. Get fresh air…..go for a walk with your dog, hike in the woods, go for a run in a park or along a lake.
6. Socialize with friends and family doing fun things. Humans need social interaction as it is good for our well-being and mental health.
7. Sing in a choir or just sing. This also changes your brain chemistry and makes one feel happy.
8. Take up a hobby that is fun for you…..painting, pottery making, cabinetry, beading, sewing, quilting. Whatever you fancy! Even cooking and baking can be fun and you can have fun preparing dinner, lunch, or brunch for family or friends.
9. Meditate this may not be for everyone however if it works for you, do it. Yoga is good for this as well.

Whatever works for you to reduce your stress, make sure that you do it! There really are no wrong strategies, just pick something that works for you and employ it when necessary!
We all have stress in our lives, it is normal and a little bit of stress is not a bad thing as it gives us a boost of energy, great focus and allows us to get things done well. It is the prolonged stress that does not abate and is not dealt with appropriately that is harmful. It can hurt you physiologically, mentally, and emotionally so do not let that happen to you…..pay attention to what is causing you stress and deal with it and your attitude about it. If you do that you will be happier, healthier, and more successful.

How Effective Leadership Skills Can Influence the Values of an Organization

March 9, 2021 by  

Leaders have an outstanding impact on organizational culture. Employees tend to follow leaders in professional and cultural ways leading to a broad impact on the organization as a whole, Leadership is commonly defined as establishing a clear vision, communication it and resolving the immediate conflicts among the employees or facing the organization as a whole. Leaders are tasked with efficiently guiding organizational goal achievement while considering team member skills essential to produce the desired productivity. Since leadership is an aspect of management, it is necessary to establish that the management is well-equipped with leadership skills. Effective leadership can influence the organizational values such as honesty, respect, ethics and tolerance etc. by demonstrating an ideal attitude in the workplace, establishing a vision among the employees, reinforcing accountability, motivating the employees, making a vision plan for the culture and values and by coaching the co-workers.

1. Ideal behavior and attitude
The management can present professional yet friendly attitude in the workplace. Change can only be expected by employees when management implements it first. According to the trait theory of leadership, one must be well-equipped with a certain set of personal qualities and characteristics such as intelligence, good judgment, decisiveness etc. for the people to follow him. In order to reinforce this behavior, it must be awarded and appreciated when acted upon. The law of effect and reinforcement theory can be utilized, which says that a favorable after-effect strengthens the action that produced it. This means that actions followed by satisfaction will become firmly attached to the situation and therefore are more likely to occur.

2. Establishing purpose, vision, and goals among the employees
People always need a purpose to believe in and need to know what is most expected of them. Communication with employees on the organization’s purpose, the image that needs to be maintained and the amount of productivity that is required of them can bring a huge impact on the perspective of organization values among the employees. This may not only increase productivity but also give a chance to emotionally connect with all the co-workers.

3. Establishing a culture of accountability
Accountability is one of the key ways for leaders to influence the culture of the organization. This begins with having detailed job descriptions and clearly establishing measures and goals. Further communicating the HR manual and policies of the organization to employees and making them compulsory to read will be another major step. The employees need to see that all the internal processes, controls and systems, and cultural elements are in place for a reason. Further taking necessary actions in case of discrepancies and other fall-outs will be necessary to bring order and eliminate conflicts within the organizational culture.

4. Motivation and interest
This involves having a personal connection with your co-workers in order to understand what drives them. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, by assessing the interest of the employees critically and analytically, positive change can be inscribed within the organization. Further according to Herzberg theory, the hygiene (factors causing dissatisfaction) and motivator factors (factors causing satisfaction) for the employees can be studied through survey or communication. After studying these with proper leadership skills applied, values of the organization can be instilled among these co-workers. This can be done by friendly interpersonal communication, seminars, formal dinners and training.

5. Devising the vision plan of organizational values
Vision is the foundation for goal achievement within the organization. Awareness of the organizational vision provides a directional compass for each contributor within the organization to follow in terms of efficiency and work environment. Effective leadership is responsible for articulating the vision. Speaking more about the value of the work and the company and not compromising on quality and ethics can bring the right impact within the organization. Moreover, aligning the employees to work as a team to operational strategies by making them realize their importance. This can be done by involving them in brainstorming sessions, inquiring them for feedback and suggestions. This can help employees feel confident and important within the organization. Therefore, reassuring them that their actions will have an impact on the organization itself. These steps taken by effective leadership, are necessary to achieve company priorities by maintaining organizational values in connection with the vision of the organization.

6. Coaching the culture club
Leader coaching and development provides the framework for the employees to contribute to the company strategy and achievement of goals while maintaining the company values. Organizational values can be instructed by effective leadership. These values may be accountability, focusing on details, making a difference, delivering quality, healthy workplace environment, honesty, reliability and positivity, helping others, meeting deadlines, respecting company policy and rules and showing tolerance and respect among each other.

Leadership can therefore immensely influence the values of an organization provided the leaders are well-equipped with professional and leadership qualities.

An Important Key to a Successful Long-Lasting Business

January 26, 2021 by  

Just because a person has a great idea for a new business does not guarantee that it will be successful or long-lasting. That is because many people do not know how to run a business or how to be a good “boss”. Some people are just naturally good at it but others need to learn what to do so that they can attract and keep good employees. This is one of the reasons that so many new businesses are not successful and have to close up.

In order for a business to be successful and long-lasting, the senior leadership need to create, maintain and commit to a respectful, supportive, encouraging, and acknowledging internal culture and they need to model the behaviours they want their employees to use. Senior leadership must use effective communication skills, especially active listening so that they can communicate honestly, clearly, and with impact and influence.
So, let us look at what that all means. The respectful piece means that no matter the colour, creed, religion or culture of an employee they will be respected and treated just like anyone else. In addition, one needs to be more aware of how what they say and do is being perceived by those around them so that if they are making someone uncomfortable or feeling disrespected they can ask what they said or did so that they do not repeat it and of course, apologize for the mistake.

According to Canadian and provincial labor laws and our human rights act, everyone is entitled to a safe and respectful workplace so that certainly needs to be provided. Having a diverse employee pool can teach us about other cultures and what they look for in products and services which can also benefit one’s business.
When an organization offers its employees training to improve or update current skills and also provide the opportunity to learn new ones, the employees feel valued as their organization is making an investment in them so that they can do well. New skills may offer them the chance for new responsibilities that may be more interesting and challenging than their current ones and so will keep them engaged and interested. Plus, perhaps the new skills will later give them the opportunity for promotion.

Human beings are very imperfect creatures so mistakes will be made. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and if handled in private in a supportive and encouraging manner, the person will be far less likely to repeat the mistake. Here is a way to handle it. Call them into your private office and suggest that there seems to be a problem. Can they tell you how that might have happened and what do they think they can do to rectify that problem. Let them offer suggestions and if you have others you can ask if you can suggest some options as well. Then tell them that if they need help sorting this out to be sure and come back and you will assist them in any way you can. Then before they go off to “fix the problem” ask them what they will do the next time this situation or a similar one arises so that this sort of outcome does not happen again. Once more, do listen to their suggestions and again, if you feel that there is something that they may benefit from, you can suggest it. Again, reassure them that you are here to help if they run into any snags sorting this out. When you handle it using this sort of approach, the employees know you have their back and that when there is a problem they will not be yelled at or blamed but rather will be given support so they can fix it. That will could mean that in the future they will be accountable and responsible for what they do and not cover up a mistake which could cause worse problems. In addition, when anyone in senior management makes an error, they too need to own it and fix it and not blame someone else. If that behaviour is modelled it is more likely that the employees will react in a similar fashion, especially if they have had your support in the past.

When a person goes above and beyond to help on a project or to meet a deadline, you must acknowledge that so that they will know that you noticed and will be more likely to continue that sort of behaviour. It might not be a bad idea to offer a reward, like a gift card to a store that you know they like to frequent or a dinner certificate. When employees feel valued and acknowledged for their contributions, they will be happy. Happy employees are more productive, efficient and creative. Also, happiness changes one’s brain chemistry and releases more endorphins which give one a feeling of well-being and enhance one’s immune system……so happy employees are likely to be sick less often as well. When employees are happy they are less likely to leave and we all know that turnover is very expensive. Creative ideas from employees can enhance your business so you must be a good listener and if something beneficial is suggested, it might be a good idea to thank them for the suggestion and implement it. Again, they will feel like they are contributing to the organization and feel more like they fit in well. In addition, be sure to give them credit for this suggestion.

When a change is necessary it would be a good idea to bring it up at a meeting so that the group can contribute to the discussion and you can offer compelling reasons why the change will be beneficial to everyone. If the discussion is a collaborative effort and employees feel that they have contributed to that discussion they will be far more likely to accept the change rather than if it is just imposed upon them. Buy in is always more likely when everyone feels they had a stake in it.
If you build and maintain this sort of culture your business will gain a reputation for being a good place to work and as your business grows and you need to hire more people you will likely attract good candidates who have heard about the working conditions and want to be a part of your organization.

Finally, when employees are happy and proud of where they work, they will be more likely to deliver excellent and consistent customer service to your customers. This is something that can set you apart from your competition and help to grow your business. Happy customers who have been well taken care of and treated respectfully are going to keep returning and will possibly tell their friends, family, and colleagues about your business so it could bring you more customers.
So, in closing, one of the most important keys to a successful long-lasting business is the development, maintenance and commitment to an internal culture that is respectful, supportive, encouraging, and acknowledging and if you create that for your business you will have happy employees who will stay with you a very long time and happy customers who will also continue to use your services and products. This will ensure that your business will be successful and last a very long time.

Five Customer Service Skills Essential for Employee

January 12, 2021 by  

Great customer service is essential in virtually every industry. From the dentist office to the furniture store, customers have more choice than ever before. This freedom allows them to quickly dismiss companies that don’t treat them as they’d like. When competition is this fierce, customer service is often the only thing separating you from your business rivals.
Since even the smallest of mistakes can cost you a customer, there is not much margin for error, especially in the time of COVID-19. It is imperative to have skilled, well-rounded, and highly-trained employees as the face of your company.

If you are hoping to up your customer service game, make sure everyone on your team has these five valuable skills:

Patience
They say patience is a virtue, and that is never more true in a customer service setting. It is a challenging skill to master, but once your employees have learned to be patient, the results can be remarkable. When customers stop by or call in with a question, concern, or frustration, it is up to your team to meet them where they are. Waiting while they explain the issue even if they include irrelevant details is truly an art, not a science.
Customer service is about quality, not speed. While your team can certainly take a fast approach to problem-solving, treating your customers like a chore to be checked off your to-do list is never a good idea. Instead, coach your employees to roll up their sleeves and dig into each customer’s concerns. Rush through and you could miss important details that are vital to solving the issue at hand, while also indicating to customers that they are not worth your time.
In times of uncertainty, like during the spread of COVID-19, patience becomes even more important. We are all contending with the reality of each new headline and what it means for our families and careers. Callers may feel out of sorts and craving control in any form possible. This often manifests as a particularly contagious form of anxiety. It is up to patient employees to relieve tension whenever confronted with this kind of anxiety in customers.

Communication
To get to the heart of any request or problem, you have got to understand it thoroughly. Clear communication between customer and employee is essential to success. Miscommunication can seriously derail even the most well-intentioned of folks, so train your team to clearly and carefully explain options to their customers.
Mastering communication skills can take a lifetime, but you and your colleagues can easily improve your abilities with just a few key strategies. Here is one to try: the next time you are deep in conversation with a customer, try taking notes. Even jotting down main bullet points can improve communication efforts and make it easy to ensure the customer feels heard.
The Coronavirus has changed the way many businesses operate. Policies and procedures may be different than what customers are used to. It’s important to be upfront about any differences in how you are handling things as a company. Communicate those nuances and you will likely be met with understanding and a willingness to go with the flow. People know that a pandemic throws a wrench in things and that we are all just trying to do the best we can.

Active Listening
Speaking of feeling heard, active listening is an incredibly important aspect of customer service. Unfortunately, it is not as widely taught to employees as it probably should be. Most people like to think of themselves as good listeners. In reality, many of us are simply waiting for our turn to talk. To ensure you are actively listening, take time to review what the person has said to you.
While it may seem redundant, repeating back the customer’s concerns in a succinct manner shows that they have indeed captured your full attention. Mirroring what they have said also gives the customer a chance to clarify details or add information they had left out when explaining. Ultimately, active listening can help solve problems more quickly while simultaneously ensuring customers that you’re completely engaged in the conversation.

Product/Service Knowledge
It is hard to sell a product or service without knowing much about them. The same goes for providing customer service for what your company offers. With that in mind, take time to train each of your employees on your offerings. The idea is hardly any good orientation program should include an overview of the products and services you sell. Still, you would be surprised at how many employees shrug off this initial introduction to the company. Make product education an ongoing part of employee development, and it will pay off in spades.

Encourage your team to study the policies, procedures, services and products any time they are not helping customers. Pop quizzes with small prizes are a good way to boost morale while prioritizing this important customer service skill. When it comes time to answer questions and address customer concerns, employees will be ready for anything.

Empathy
Perhaps the most challenging of all customer service skills, empathy doesn’t always come naturally to employees. When your team is feeling overworked or underappreciated, their frustrations will show up in their conversations with customers. The good news? Empathy is contagious. If you manage from a place of empathy, that same sentiment can trickle down.
An easy way to encourage employees to practise empathy is to have them imagine the customer as a friend or loved one. Helping a frustrated elderly customer with an order is easier when you imagine your grandma or grandpa in their shoes. Assisting a scatterbrained mom who cannot find her wallet is made much more tolerable when picturing your best friend in a similar situation after all, each of your customers is someone’s grandparent, mother, or friend!

Empathy is especially important during times of crisis. Each person brings a new set of experiences and perspectives to the conversation. Amidst the spread of COVID-19, employees must wear their empathy like a badge of honour. A little kindness during customer service interactions can go a long way to relieving anxieties and winning repeat business at the same time.

First-hand experience can go a long way in honing your customer service skills. While reading, training and careful preparation can be helpful, there is nothing like the real thing. Practice when you can, but do not be afraid to try out your customer service skills as soon as possible.


Top Five Leadership Challenges: How to Overcome Them

December 23, 2020 by  

There are many challenges that all managers face. Whilst these challenges can arise at any point in a manager’s career, they can be particularly prevalent for newer or first-time managers. Here is a handy list of these challenges with tips on how to combat them, become the best manager possible, and support your team on their way to success.

1. Adjusting to the role
First-time managers often find it difficult to adapt to taking ownership of their role. It can be particularly difficult managing those who you are used to working closely with and perhaps have personal relationships with. It is important to keep these personal relationships separate from workplace practices. You can do this by positioning yourself as an approachable and supportive manager and ensuring that the tough conversations still take place. Remember that giving constructive feedback shouldn’t be seen negatively, but instead be seen as a way that you can help your team perform at their full potential.

2. Over managing
Whilst it is undeniably important to be there for your team, and coach them to make sure you are getting the best out of them: there is a fine line between managing a team well and not letting people take on their work in their own way. Your role is to support, so make sure your team has the space to complete their assignments and have some autonomy, whilst helping them make progress as individuals and take ownership of their development. Whether the people you are mentoring are older, younger, or no matter how long they have been in the field, if you are able to guide them through hardships, lead them in the right direction and help them progress in their role or career, then you are succeeding as a mentor and as a manager.

3. Not giving enough guidance
Whilst over managing people and not providing the space to work can be an issue, the other end of the spectrum is not giving people enough input or guidance. Much as your team likely know what they are working on, as the manager it is up to you to ensure everyone is fully aware of what is expected of them and how their work aligns and contributes to the wider company goals. If managers are unable to communicate clear guidelines and expectations for their team members, they will, of course, be unable to take ownership of their work and ultimately will be less productive. They will also have less motivation and drive to work towards their goals if they are unaware of the impact their work has on the company.

4. Keep the conversation open
No matter how things are going, it is key to keep communication frequent and open. Providing constructive feedback is not always the easiest task, but it is an essential way to ensure your team can develop and really progress within their role. It is equally important, however, that you also celebrate people’s successes, however big or small. Giving positive feedback to your team when things have gone well or particular team members have shined is key to letting people know they are valued. It will increase engagement; people will know that their work is recognized and that they are appreciated. Introducing or optimizing the use of 360-feedback is also a great practice to really keep communication open and useful for everyone.

5. Embrace upward feedback
Giving feedback aside, it can be difficult, particularly as a newer manager, to receive constructive feedback: it is not always the easiest to handle, particularly when still adjusting to your managerial responsibilities. But it is important to see such feedback as positive; something which will help you develop in your career and become the best, most supportive and efficient manager possible. It is not only key to receive this upward feedback with an open mind, but also to ensure you act upon it appropriately. Following up feedback either by discussing with your team what the next steps are and how they feel things could improve or by taking the next steps based on people’s feedback really shows your team that you value their input. This will build trust and respect for you and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

What to share?
Transparency is something greatly appreciated by modern workforces. An employee engagement survey from Harvard Business Review actually found that 70% of those asked said they were most engaged when managers shared continuous updates and insights into company strategy. With many organizations adopting a flatter, less hierarchical approach, and employees taking more ownership of their roles, it is not so much a case of management being the only ones in the know. Many employees now value transparency and candidness over more traditional practices. With an increasing amount of companies taking transparency even further, with salaries made public knowledge, and other less traditional information being disclosed to employees, it is clear that people like to be aware of what is happening in the company. To be a manager that people trust and feel comfortable with, don’t close yourself off instead keep your employees in the loop.

Ways to Improve Leadership Development

December 10, 2020 by  

Your company needs effective leaders to not only survive during this crisis, but to thrive in the midst of new challenges. Leadership development was already struggling before this crisis with ineffective classroom experiences, theoretical discussions, and no real way to apply or track the desired leadership behaviors endorsed by the organization. And moving your content online is not proving any more effective than a traditional classroom.
You need a better solution than simply turning leadership training into a video course and using learning data to try and make the case for a return on the investment. You need to actually improve leadership behaviors that happen in the flow of work with real leadership analytics that identify gaps between your leaders, the execution of critical business strategy, and critical metrics of healthy motivation and engagement.

For years, leadership development programs failed because they relied on outdated practices, were poorly executed, and did not align with the need for business results. Training has been disconnected from the way work is done, deployed without business context, and has been mashed together with ad hoc curricula. In the end, they may provide leadership tips and approaches, but they fail to impact organizational goals. Worse yet, they typically do not provide a road map for execution — leaving it up to managers to figure out if and how they will apply the leadership theory.
If leadership development doesn’t improve an organization’s bottom line, it is categorically a failed business investment. Today’s investors in leadership development need an integrated approach that provides leadership training in the flow of work. Because leadership happens at every level of an organization, the most active place leadership happens is in the execution of strategy across the organization.

Consider these five principles to create an integrated, goal-aligned leadership development program.
1. One Common Language to Guide Leadership
A common leadership language across the organization is critical to the long-term success of leadership development. While context around execution and specific skill sets is important, the core leadership concepts at the executive level should be similar to the fundamentals of a manager or that of an individual leader. Why? Because leaders in the modern organization speak the same language and have the same mindset in any context of leadership. A common set of practices can leverage terms that are easily understood regardless of context or who is stepping in to lead even if it requires a different set of micro-skills based on the context you are leading in. A common leadership language will help guide the curriculum and create a consistent foundation. Having a common language that everyone understands helps all leadership across an organization get rowing in the same direction.

2. Develop Leaders at Every Level of Your Organization
When leadership development fails, it often does so because it focuses too narrowly on a small set of people such as department managers or upper executives. Often, there are key leaders in an organization without management titles. The reality is that leadership happens at every level of an organization; therefore, you need to train leaders at every level. Leadership development is not a one-size-fits-all event. While some practices are fundamental to great leadership, skills may vary depending on the amount of people you lead and the context of the role you lead them in. Effective leadership development programs have a common set of macro-leadership practices that complement subsets of micro-leadership skills adapted to the context in which your leaders lead. This approach to leadership development ensures that all leaders speak a common language and are held accountable to core leadership attributes, while being most effective while leading in an individual, managerial, team, or organizational context.

3. Develop Leaders in the Flow of Work
Similar to how leadership happens in a variety of contexts, leadership also happens in the moment-to-moment activities of day-to-day business. That means it requires a complex, integrated approach that adapts to context and skills needed in the moment. Every great leadership program is rooted in elevating performance, so why do we take leaders away from the moment-to-moment needs of performance to train them how to lead? Truth is, we can’t afford to now. Make sure your leadership development program develops leaders at every level through the execution of real work and business strategy.

4. Continually Build Complementary Leadership Skills                                                                                                                                                                          We often think about the soft skills that effective leaders should possess to complement core leadership competencies. Given the need for leaders to influence employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, and the retention of high-performing employees, we are asking our leaders to execute on a lot of initiatives while juggling their primary function of leading teams and driving results. A really large toolbox is a mandate for today’s leaders. Many learning experts believe we are living in a reskilling or upskilling revolution that is putting soft skills front and center. Considering the varied skills we need from leadership training such as goal-setting, listening, problem-solving, change management, or emotional intelligence we definitely need a layered approach that brings in soft skills development alongside the core competencies. Each of those micro-skills trainings should build upon core leadership skills.

5. Establish Leadership Analytics
Our collective expectations are higher for data, dashboards, and accompanying analytics that report our progress or problem areas. In our daily lives, we get sports analytics, social media analytics, or analytics on how much we have used our phones. In business, we want to evaluate the effectiveness of our investments and want to know if a solution is affecting the bottom line. Ideally, leadership analytics should align with imperatives such as attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent.
But because many organizations lack the expertise or bandwidth to explore analytics, they often lack an analytics strategy. Even when analytics are introduced, they claim “data-driven” approaches even though they fail to align with organizational goals. That is why leadership development, with a common language regardless of complexities, requires more than the typical engagement survey or qualitative data approach. The best leadership development data pinpoints and charts certain leadership behaviours, primarily through performance and collaboration software your organization is already using or should be using. Performance and leadership practices that begin with clear goals are focused on communicating, pivoting, and evaluating not just employee performance, but leadership practices in relation to those organizational goals.

Leaders Keep Organizations Competitive
Using a consistent, practical, and common framework built for any context of leadership within the organization, you can directly correlate your investment in leadership development to critical business indicators. Organizations that are thriving in 2020 are moving boldly into the future of leadership by investing in an integrated approach to leadership and talent development by supporting their people at every level and across every team.

If you adopt and follow the suggestions above your leadership development program will be consistent and effective to help your organization be successful and long lasting.

Learn the Lost Art of Active Listening

November 24, 2020 by  

With all the modern technology that we have for communicating with each other even across the world, it seems that most people have forgotten how to with someone who is standing right next to them. In particular, listening has become a lost art.
That is too bad, too, because knowing how to listen effectively can bring you a lot of benefits. It can strengthen both personal and professional relationships. It can help your marriage and boost your career.

Consider using these listening techniques the next time someone wants to talk with you:
• Give them your undivided attention. Your other activities during a conversation show the other person how important they are to you. When you pay attention only to them, not only does it uplift them, but you are also more likely to fully understand whatever they are saying and prevent miscommunications.
 Stop whatever else you are doing.
 Put away your phone.
 Turn off other distractions, such as the TV.
 Stay in the present moment, which is listening to what they are saying. Avoid the temptation to let your mind wander to other things (like what you will eat for supper) or move forward to formulate what you will say next.

• Make eye contact. Failure to keep eye contact can make it seem as though you aren’t paying any attention to the conversation. One trick to help you maintain eye contact is to focus on just one of the person’s eyes at a time.
 You can look away momentarily from time to time, so it won’t appear as though you are staring at them. Once you look away, though, bring your focus back to them quickly so that you won’t get distracted by something else. Also, this cues them that you are still listening.

• When they stop talking, first summarize what you just heard them say. This will help you clarify their meaning. Let them agree with your summary or make changes if they need to. It will then be possible for you to add your own perspective, thoughts, or any questions you may have.

• Ask questions. Instead of trying to read someone’s mind, if you don’t understand what is being said, simply ask for clarification. This will ensure that no assumptions are made, and misunderstandings are avoided.
 Asking appropriate questions also lets them know that you were listening intently and trying to understand their perspective.

• Avoid interrupting. However, tempting it is to jump in with comments or solutions, keep quiet until they stop speaking and it is your turn.

 Sometimes people are just looking to vent and get their issues off their chest. Let them finish. They will appreciate you and it may help them relieve their stress about the issue. By saying nothing, you can help them feel better!

Remember, others won’t always be able to recall everything you say in a conversation, but they will likely remember how you made them feel.

You can uplift those around you, avoid misunderstandings, and strengthen your relationships by practicing these easy listening techniques each day.

Your partner, friends, boss, and clients will be impressed. So do reap the benefits of knowing the lost art of listening!

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