Posts Tagged ‘leadership’


Presentation Tips … When The News Is Not Good

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Just a quick note to let you know about a new article of mine that just came out with some great presentation tips in it.

The cover story of the current issue of the TASBO Reporter (Texas Association of School Business Officials‘ quarterly publication) is a piece I wrote called, “Make your next school board presentation a winner.” But the tips apply equally well to anyone, especially if they need to present information their audience doesn’t want to hear. (I hope that’s not you. :-) But if it is, this should help!)

If you know someone in education – or anyone with bad news to share – please pass it on. (Click on the article title below to donwload the PDF)  And as always, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you, too!


Article PDF: TASBO Article

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Do you make this common communication mistake? (Most people do)

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Ever get abrupt, bottom-line emails like this?

Hey. There was a problem with those numbers from Tuesday’s meeting. We need to get this straightened out right away. Can you send me the original files so I can take a look? Thanks. DL

This sort of cold, dry communication is very common, especially at work. And it might not seem that bad at first glance, but from my perspective, it’s a communication mistake. Here’s why:

1) It’s a disconnect. Whenever we interact with someone, if we don’t make some sort of human connection, the message it sends is, “I don’t care about you,” which is about the worst message of all for being heard.

2) It diminishes our effectiveness over the long term. Once someone suspects we don’t care about them, they deal with us in a completely different way. They’re guarded, suspicious, much less cooperative. In other words, our influence and impact go out the window. And someone without influence and impact with others is simply not going to be successful.

3) It’s the opposite of what works. In order to be heard, people first need to be open to what we have to say. “Connect, then communicate” is the key to being heard, not the other way around.

The solution? Lead with the Relationship. Meaning, talk to the other person as a person before you get into all the the details and information.


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Avoiding the “Bonehead Move.”

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

People can make such bonehead moves, can’t they? I’m sorry, but it’s true! Take this story, for example …

A sales team of twenty people were competing with each other in a friendly, month-long contest. At their end-of-month meeting, the manager got up and announced the two winners. Everything was fun and upbeat … until he said this: “If the rest of you slackers were as intelligent and hard-working as these two, maybe you’d have been up here!”

See what I mean? “Motivation through Shame and Insults!” What was he thinking? (It didn’t work, by the way. The team was furious.) Sadly, this sort of thing happens every day, and it boggles the mind. How can you explain it? I mean, seriously, don’t they know?

Here’s the thing: they don’t know. And that’s the key to the whole problem. (more…)

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Case Study: Difficult Conversation Between Peer-Level Teams.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I had a conversation this past week with a physician/administrator who needed to address an on-going problem with another team. Here’s the email she was planning to send:

“Hi guys,

There was a patient last night [ who was transferred to our unit without you briefing us on the case ]. If you would like help in managing these cases, you need to page us. It’s not acceptable or safe to expect the nurse who wasn’t present for the case to try to relay the message of what happened and what needs to be done. In general, if you want us to see any of your patients we would appreciate a page, but especially when there are unstable patients or urgent situations. If you call the central operator (x-xxxxxx-x) they can promptly connect you to us.


Based on the facts, she seemed to have a reasonable position. Also, this was not the first communication on the subject, so there was a certain amount of frustration on her part, which I think you can hear in her note.

But, to me, her email had real problems. It was antagonistic, judgmental and condescending, even calling into question the other team’s commitment to patient’s safety. Bottom line, if I had received the note, I would have felt attacked and likely dug in my heels, and been even less open to anything she had to say in the future. In other words, her note would have had the opposite effect of what she wanted.

As we talked about the situation, it seemed to me the biggest problem was the tension in their work relationship. I didn’t feel she was going to be heard on her main points until she first addressed that reality. In addition, I thought the points themselves would be more effective if presented in a more inclusive, respectful, and non-confrontational way. Here’s what we came up with as an alternate: (more…)

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Fired for being unhappy?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Do you know anybody who is clearly not happy in their job? Someone who’s always whining and complaining about this or that, always spreading their negativity around to the rest of the team? Me too. I’m sure every organization has them. For me, whenever I meet someone like that I always think, since they’re so obviously unhappy, why do they stay? I mean, I know it’s not that simple, but still, I can’t help but wonder.

And then I found the answer. A friend sent me this article the other day, and it really clarified for me what I think is the ultimate reason unhappy people stick around: it’s because the organization lets them. For whatever reason, the organization hasn’t included “happiness in the position” as an essential requirement for the job, so the individual is allowed to stick around even though they’re bringing down the whole team.

As if to reinforce the point, a couple of days later I heard about a study on the impact of “bad apples” on a team’s performance. The researchers assigned different teams identical tasks, and the team with the bad apple came in last every time.

Now, before you launch into all the reasons why “firing the unhappy” is over-simplistic, unreasonable, inhuman, or whatever, please read the piece. It’s actually very thoughtful and sensitive to the people involved. Also, understand that I always err on the side of the individual and what they can do for themselves first. But at some point, someone has to enforce standards, and that ultimately comes down to managers and leaders taking action. Besides, you’re not really firing someone because they’re unhappy anyway, you’re just helping them find somewhere where they are happy. How is that not a good thing?

However you approach it, the bottom line is that if someone who reports to you is truly unhappy, you can’t just ignore it. You need to do something about it and help them find a position that’s a better fit. The change doesn’t have to happen today, necessarily. Don’t make it a bigger problem than it needs to be. But at least talk about it, get it out into the open, and start putting some energy into finding a better fit. Because having someone stick around in a position that’s a bad fit serves no one. It’s no good for the individual. And it’s deadly for the organization.

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2020 Vision (Not for your eyes. For your life.)

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Four years ago, we started a new family tradition. During the last week of the year, we all sit on the couch, turn the video camera on ourselves, and recap everything that’s happened during the year. At this stage, with two kids under five, the videos are very sweet. I can also already tell how fantastic they’re going to be for all of us as time goes on—watching the kids grow up, and ourselves grow, well, let’s just say wiser. :-)

The idea grew out of a habit of mine to take this week between Christmas and New Year’s to reflect on the year past, and think about the one to come. But really, it’s a little reflection and a lot of thinking about the year to come. What am I going to do next year? What am I excited about? Where are things going to be this time next year? It’s a fun and helpful process, but since this New Year’s Day will also New Decade’s Day, I’m changing things a bit this year. Instead of focusing only on 2010, I’m also thinking about 2020.

How about you? Where do you want to be in ten years? What’s your 2020 Vision? How different will things be then from the way they are today? Most important, what choices will you make, starting today, to put you on a path to getting there?

There’s an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” What better time than the start of a new decade to take that idea to heart? Let’s plant some trees, shall we? (more…)

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You Can’t Take It Back

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Ever said something you wish you could take back? Me too. Here’s one from 25 years ago. (It’s not that I have to go back that far to find an example. Just to find one that doesn’t still hurt.) :-)

Back then, I was on the road full-time playing music, and had a band of my own, called, originally enough, The David Levin Band. We played a lot of places in the middle of nowhere and had a good bit of fun doing it. (A sad sort of fun, in retrospect. But hey, we were young!) I should also say that I wasn’t much of a band leader. In those days, I was generally more interested in hanging out with my buddies than running a business. But during one particular band meeting I apparently felt some sudden misguided impulse to take charge or something because I distinctly remember saying to the band, “Guys, this is not a democracy!”

Twenty-five years later, I’m still paying for it.

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Got a problem with someone? Try saying, “I’m sorry.”

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Here’s something you can take to the bank: If you’re having some sort of trouble with someone—conflict, tension, bad blood, whatever—nothing gets things back on track like a good old-fashioned apology.

“But I didn’t do anything wrong!” you say, “It wasn’t my fault.”

I understand. And I didn’t say it was. But who’s at fault is not the point. The point is that the relationship has gone bad, and that’s no good for either of you.

Besides, I’m not saying you should apologize for whatever it is you’re disagreeing about. In fact, doing so might do more harm than good. The most important thing here is that whatever you say has to be authentic and heartfelt. Apologizing for something that you didn’t actually do is likely to be neither. And it could even be seen as being manipulative, which is even worse.

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Wise Guy

Monday, September 21st, 2009

My good friend John Miller recently sent a note to his QBQ! mailing list announcing the release of my new book, Don’t Just Talk, Be Heard! The piece included an excerpt from the book’s introduction that tells a story about my getting pulled over by the police. The short version is, I was so focused on the literal words the officer spoke that when he said “Do you have your license and registration” all I answered was, “Yes,” and well, things sort of went downhill from there.

In my mind, it’s a funny, self-deprecating story that introduces the idea of “communication gaps”—the difference between our intentions and the perceptions of others—and shows that even the author of a book on effective communication is not immune to them. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way. The day after John’s email went out, he got this response:

“Has this guy ever been pulled over? What kind of wise guy just says “yes”? A real QBQ’er would have followed up with “would you like to see them” or even better have them already out and hanging out the window. Not just “YES”. The world does not speak literally most of the time it is sporadic and figuratively. Good communication involves listening and follow up. Your buddy was being a wise guy, he was endangering the public by going 50% faster than he should have in a residential zone and then wasted an officers time by splitting hairs.

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Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Man, communicating can be tricky. You know what you want to say – and you think you have it right – but the other person hears it completely differently.   It’s almost like you’re speaking in a foreign language but your translator is in a bad mood – and drunk.

In any case, that’s the sort of stuff we’ll be talking about in these pages:   How can we close the gaps between what we mean to say and what people hear?

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