Follow Up…it makes a difference by Jim Johnson

I attended a meeting this morning where a manager (not one of my direct reports) shared a frustration with a staff member of his.  This employee would often “forget” to get something done – sometimes something fairly important.  This manager asked for suggestions that would help him coach more effectively.  A few suggestions were floated around:  “You need to find out why they forget these things.”  “Maybe they’re not clear on what you want.”  etc.

I had a suggestion but kept quiet in the meeting.  I’m not sure why I did.  I was a guest of this group.  Perhaps I didn’t want to impose my thoughts where they might not have been welcome.  I also could have left it there.

But I didn’t.

I later called the manager.  In fact, we just finished chatting.  I shared some specific ideas he could use today to move this forgetful employee towards improvement.  We already have some great coaching tools and technology he could use today.  We had a very good talk, and he ended our conversation by thanking me for my “insights” into management.

I’ve not interacted with this young man before.  I enjoyed our talk.  I could hear the passion in his voice.  I could sense his wanting this employee to grow beyond this stage of forgetfulness.  I appreciated his desire to help others grow and develop.  I wouldn’t mind having this leader on my team!

I would have missed all of this had I not acted and followed up with him.

This post is simply an encouragement to act on intuition.  As a leader, you have experience to offer others.  Act.  Get involved.  Follow up.  It’s worth it.


Think Outside the Rut by Jim Johnson

ice ruts

Here in Indiana, we are praying for an early Spring.  Winter has been rough this year.  My neighborhood is full of ice ruts making driving difficult and unsafe.  My wife even got stuck in one the other day requiring some good Samaritans to come to her rescue.

Ruts don’t get us where we need to go.

You’ve heard the expression “think outside the box”.  For me, a better way to say this is “think outside the ruts” because it’s in a rut where I get caught up, stuck, needing help.

Do you find yourself in a rut?  New ideas at work are hard to come by?  Your work seems blah.  You need a shot in the arm?  It’s time to break out of that rut.  But how?  Try these ideas:


There are a lot of great resources available to us today that we didn’t have just a few years ago.  The amount of reading free reading material is enormous.  Check out the apps Flipboard and Zite.  You can select topics you want some new exposure to.  The apps are easy to use and are available on your smart phone and tablet.

Venture outside your expertise. Explore new worlds.  Are you in a traditional business?  Read about entrepreneurs.  Find out how they tackle obstacles, getting a product to market, how they deal with staffing issues.  Not tech-savvy?  Read what is happening in the high-tech world.  Learn.  Grow.  Become inquisitive.  READ.

Broaden your network

Do you spend most of your time during your work week with your colleagues?  It’s time to branch out and meet new folks.  Attend a Chamber event. There are many in my community.  I bet there are in yours.  How about going on a business call with your outside sales folks.  You can learn a lot about your department and company by doing this.

Are you on LinkedIn?  You can meet a lot of great people here and you will be exposed to even more great reading and insights.  I recently made a connection with a local business owner who was in the process of doing business with my company.   I had the opportunity to help smooth out some rough communication and misunderstanding in this process.  That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t broadened my own network.

Change your perspective.

When was the last time you looked at your business through the lens of your customers? It’s difficult to do.  But we can go for years thinking we are producing products customers want all the while they are slowing leaving our business and products for someone else who “gets them”.

Mystery shopping initiatives can help change your perspective.  Does your company collect and monitor customer feedback?  Pay attention to it!  Act upon it!  Let your customers know you appreciate their input!

Learn something new

Spend time with a colleague discovering what they do. You probably don’t know how what they do impacts your work (and neither do they).  You can learn so much more about your work and your company by doing this.  Ask a lot of questions.  Ask to see the reports they review.  Find more of the “story behind the numbers” while you’re with them.


Getting out of rut demands motion.  Many times, you sit at your desk for hours (right?).  Get up and move.  Walk up and down the stairs (if you have them).  At my company, we built a walking path around our campus.  My CEO and I had our 1-on-1 walking this path multiple laps (when it was much warmer).  Moving can clear your mind.

Get out of your rut.  Get some exposure to new ideas, thoughts, and perspectives.  Your mind, department, and company will thank you for it!

try something new

Approaches to Conflict by Jim Johnson

How do you approach conflict at work?

  • I make sure I’m always right.
  • I don’t listen to other points of view.
  • I run for the hills.

We all experience conflict and we all tend to respond (react?) to it via our default approach.  And that could be good or bad.  What if you could choose the right approach for the right situation?  That’s what Dr. Gaylen Paulson (Univ. Texas) suggests.  He points out various styles in a manager’s approach to conflict.

To preface, Dr. Paulson states that many times choosing a style is dependent upon our own personal preferences.  We’re just more comfortable with certain styles.  A lot of the time, our approach can be somewhat situational – different approaches are more appropriate in different situations.  He suggests that the best style depends on the situation – but there are upside and downsides to each of the styles.  Here they are:

1.        Compromise

Take caution here.  This approach can often lead to a lose-lose strategy and really is only good for one issue – not a habitual approach to conflict.  Compromise doesn’t lead to complex solutions and it can really come across as fair.  However, compromise can also communicate that you’re not really that concerned about the issue or the outcome.  Be careful not to be “seduced” by this quick solution.

2.        Accommodation

Here, relationships matter more than the material outcomes.  Dr. Paulson points out that there will be more time and energy required to reach this point in resolving conflict.  A manager could come across as too “soft” which can tarnish their reputation going forward.  And as a result of that, resentment – from others on your team – can build.  Accommodation can come across as favoritism.

3.        Avoidance

I had a leader once tell me that he really tried to avoid conflict after we were talking about a direct report of his who had been behaving badly. Their behavior was not kept in check and it negatively impacted the company.  I asked him, “So, how’s that working out for you?”

If you choose avoidance, this can also make you look like you don’t care about the issue or the person(s) involved.  Others will take note of your avoidance, too.  That’s not always positive.

However, Dr. Paulson states that sometimes the timing is always right to deal with this conflict.  Instead of jumping right in and battling it out, a manager needs to prepare for the conflict.  And that’s ok as long as it’s not habitual.

4.        Problem Solving

If all participants in the conflict are willing to cooperate, this can be an affective approach to resolving conflict.  Multiple issues are usually involved and, as such, this will take more time and effort on the manager’s part.  Dr. Paulson states that the manager must be patient and will to endure a struggle as the problems are communicated and worked through.

5.        Competing

Here, a manager is trying to get a quick decision.  He/She has all of the “high power players” assembled in a meeting to tackle the conflict.  Many times, this approach is used when there are unpopular decisions that have been made and there is a need for control.  This approach may not end in a heart-felt buy-in, but more of a agree-to-disagree – but then move forward as one.

When confronting and dealing with conflict, Dr. Paulson encourages managers to:

  • Understand their environment and team
  • Communicate your motives
  • Gather your evidence and be very specific
  • Focus on explicit behaviors that are clearly wrong – do not focus on the person, but the behaviors

As a manager, you are working to move your team and your company forward.  Conflict will happen.  How you deal with it will determine your ultimate success.


Failure + Excuses ≠ Success

Focus Means Sometimes Having to Say “NO” by Jim Johnson


When a leader is focused, things get done. When things get done, others take notice. When others take notice, the leader (many times) gets presented with more things to do.

WARNING: your focus could be in great peril!

You know your goals. You’re on your way to producing great results. You have your team focused on the right things.

Then someone from another department comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m leading a project. You are recognized as someone who gets things done. Your team is doing great. I would love to have your expertise on my project team. Would be willing to join this team to insure its success?”

Ego inflates. Common sense begins to fog over. WAIT!

There is a time and a place for everything. Is this project commitment the right time for you? Think about these things:

* Will this project help move the company forward or not? If not, say no.
* Is your involvement in the project that critical? If not, say no.
* Is the project leader desperate to build a project team? If so, say no.
* If you get involved, can you delegate some of your other tasks to others on your team? If so, say yes.
* Who will “own” this project initiative once the project is done and something new is implemented? If it’s you or your team, you should get someone on that project.

Saying “no” is not the end of the world or your career. If you say “no”, be sure to give a professional, clear explanation as to why you are not going to be involved.

Sometimes, being focused means you have to say “no”.

Insist on Success

As a decision maker and problem solver, be prepared to risk change. Be willing to pay the price of disturbing your own psychological comfort by choosing to change. It may become necessary to defend yourself against traditional ways of thinking and acting, and you may have to do without social approval for a time.

You may also encounter resistance, especially if you are young and new at the job. Not only do people instinctively resist change, they may actively insist that they are unable to learn a new procedure or change an old habit. When you believe in your decision, simply insist, even if you must do so repeatedly. People will be more likely to accept change when they see you embracing it with enthusiasm. When they see you not only survive, but thrive, they will be more willing to take the risks associated with a given change.

Let your team members know that change is inevitable, and your organization can either capitalize on change or be swept away by it.

from the LMI Journal, Vol. VII, Number 1,

17 In-Competencies of a Leader

I usually don’t make focusing on a negative a pattern, but I couldn’t resist on this one.  Today’s post does have a “dark-side” mirror image that we all see far too often.  Let’s not fall into these traps of in-competencies:

17 Competencies of a Leader (by Lee Glass) 17 In-Competencies of a Leader (by Jim Johnson)
Handle emotions in yourself and others. Live with your emotions on your sleeves and let ‘em fly when you feel like it. 
Make decisions that solve problems. Fail to make decisions that will delay problems.
Show compassion. Show indifference.
Support individual effort. Support individual effort – as long as it promotes you.
Support team effort. Manipulate team effort – see #4.
Respond to identified customer needs React to customer complaints.
Share information Hord information.
Manage cross-functional processes. Keep your employees tethered to the same job duties for years.
Take initiative beyond job requirements. Do what you have to do to get by.
Manage projects. Avoid projects.
Manage time and resources. Let others determine how you spend your time and calendar.
Take responsibility for your own actions and those of your work group. Blame others.
Display technical competence. Blame IT.
Make credible presentations. Create data-dumping presentations.
Create and describe a vision. Follow someone else’s vision – if it doesn’t work, blame them.
Manage changes required to realize a vision. Maintain status quo.
Display professional ethics. Do whatever you have to do to get ahead.

Which side will move you and your department/company forward?  You and I both know the answer…

Please, No Drama!

If you’re like me, you hate drama.  Not the “Law & Order” kind of drama (I’ve always loved that show), but the kind of drama that rears its ugly head at work.

  • Destructive gossip that tears apart a group and leaves an individual’s self-esteem shredded
  • Making emotional mountains out of policy mole hills
  • Saying one thing in person, but then getting stabbed in the back when you’re not around
  • Getting “thrown under the bus”
  • Lying about another person which only ramps up negative energy

Who likes any of this?  You don’t.  I don’t.  Our teams don’t.  We all hate it.  But drama does happen.  And how can we effectively deal with this obstacle?

  • Don’t give them a stage.  If you know a person loves to drum up drama, don’t give them an audience.  Refuse to listen to them.  If they begin ranting about someone, just walk away.  Or maybe (if you’re courageous enough), confront the dramatist.

Talking point:  “Since you aren’t this person’s direct supervisor, this isn’t appropriate talk.  If you care enough about this individual you’re talking about, go to their supervisor and share your concerns with them.”  The dramatist will most likely ignore this suggestion, but they will be quiet around you.

  • Be a control freak. I mean this in a good way.  You are the manager.  Manage your environment.  It is perfectly right to inform your staff that you won’t tolerate back-stabbing gossip among your team.  This means when you hear it, stop it.  It can be draining, but you need to stop this negative behavior every time you hear it.  Eventually, your team will come to realize that you are serious.

Talking point:   “You know this person you are talking about?  They report to me – just like all of you do.  It is my responsibility to address issues with them.  This isn’t your job.  If you would like to talk with me about your own performance, I’m all ears.  Otherwise, this conversation is over.” If the dramatist insists on this conversation, then be a broken record and keep repeating this talking point.  Folks will eventually scatter at this.

  • Be the solution, not the problem.  If you hate drama, then don’t create it.  Don’t get sucked up into the vortex of negative talk.  Even if it comes to you, refuse to participate.  You are the leader.  Lead by example.

Talking point:  “Hey, this isn’t appropriate for us to discuss.  Let’s get back to work.”

  • Speak the truth.  Nothing kills productivity, morale, and trust like lying.  If you allow this to creep in, you will destroy trust among your team.

Talking point:  “What you are saying is not true.  I know better, and I believe most everyone here knows better.  What you are saying is more harmful than helpful.  Before you get yourself in trouble, you need to stop.”  When your team knows that this is how you deal with hurtful speech, you will gain trust and respect from them.

You can create your work environment.  The goal is not to get the team to become best friends.  The goal is to have a professional atmosphere where obstacles to effective results are reduced or eliminated.  Anyone on your team can be pleasant and professional.  Everyone on your team deserves to have a safe workplace.  It is your responsibility to maintain this kind of workplace.

How to Get Your Boss’s Attention

As a manager, there are many times that you need to capture the attention of your boss:

  • You need some help with an issue.
  • You want to increase your staffing.
  • You want to purchase new equipment.
  • You want a raise

The list could go on…

Have you ever found yourself calling a colleague (or your spouse) to whine about how your boss doesn’t listen or pay attention or is never there when you want them to be?  Getting your boss’s attention starts far earlier than most of us realize.  Here are some pointers to help you get heard:

  1. Get Results. If you are not performing…if you are not meeting expectations…if you are missing your goals, then you have your boss’s attention for all of the wrong reasons.  If you want to be heard on what you believe are the truly important issues, then you had better be performing.
  2. Help Them.  Believe it or not, your boss faces his/her own challenges.  Become a trusted resource for them.  Offer to help them with a project.  Listen to them as they talk about what they have on their plate.  If you can take some of that work off of it, you become more valuable to your boss.
  3. Make Them Look Good.  This is closely related to #1.  When you exceed your numbers, your boss looks good.  When your team discovers an efficiency and communicates it out to the company resulting in operational cost cutting, your boss looks good.  When make a positive impact in your community, your boss looks good.
  4. Listen to Them.  Your boss maybe feeling the same way you are.  Be an active listener and help come up with solutions to issues that your boss is facing.  You’ll learn something in this process.

Your boss is human.  You can go far when you employ some or all of these pointers.

Caution:  if you approach your boss with insincerity or a manipulative spirit, it will be revealed.  Integrity says to be genuine in your interactions with your boss.  It will pay off.

Act Like You Own It by Jim Johnson



So you’re a middle manager who runs a department for your company. You’ve got a staff of 7-10 individuals…maybe more. What mindset do you have in regards to your role? Glorified babysitter? Prison warden? Cruise ship activity director?

Try this one: act like you own the place. Yes, I’m talking about ownership. You may not own the company, but act like you own your piece of it. What does this look like?

If you truly owned your space in the company and this department was a reflection on you (hint – it is!), would you be satisfied by what you see?

  • Is the area clean and tidy? Messy work areas can lead to sloppy work getting done. If customers/outside team members come into your area, what does the mess communicate to them? Nothing positive! Clean it up. You own it!
  • Is your staff representing your department in a way that promotes respect and professionalism to others in the company or customers? If not, set some standards and make it so. You own it!
  • Are you hitting your numbers? If you owned your business, your production and bottom line would be your life’s blood. Why should it be different if you “own” a portion of the business. Your paycheck is not something you should take for granted. Get results! Find efficiencies and save money! Streamline processes! You own it!

Next time you are at work, stop and look around. Ask yourself, “if I really owned this space, would this be a positive or a negative reflection on me and the company?”

Get involved in ownership and you’ll see a real difference. Work to get the staff’s buy-in, too. Work becomes more meaningful. Being productive and seeing improvements in your results is fun and energizing. There really is no down side to acting like you own the place. So own it!