Permission to Fail

Permission to Fail

If you’ve had a long enough career, you’ve picked up a few management lessons along the way. Good bosses teach by example but the shortest trip up the learning curve often comes courtesy of bad managers. I learned something pretty powerful from a former boss. He said, and I quote: “It is always better to commit a sin of commission than a sin of omission.” In his mind, the worst thing his employees could do was to do nothing. Better we should “stick our necks out,” try something risky, even if it means failing miserably. He was the president of an ad agency, and in an industry that thrives on creativity those were wise words. Steve Davies, former president of Sandata and small business consultant, learned a valuable lesson from a former honcho. He details the experience in his blog post “Never Allow Your People to Delegate Upward,” and it’s written specifically for owners of small businesses.

While Davies’ lesson was phrased differently, I believe he received the same takeaway as I did. The best managers know that their organizations need people who aren’t afraid to fail. The development of better client service, more innovative products and less costly ways of doing business require an atmosphere that encourages problem solving, and therefore risk taking, at lower levels of the company.

After all, delegating upward is simply an effort to avoid the risk of making a poor decision.

I received a healthy dose of that lesson at Long Island Business News. We scheduled a meeting to brainstorm some off-the-wall ideas for stories. A few were so offbeat they’ll never appear in print. But very many became real stories.

You never know what can happen when you let your folks stick their necks out.

Listen Up

Listen up

I just finished viewing Julian Treasure’s TED Talks lecture entitled “5 Ways to Listen Better.”
Treasure says “we are losing our listening,” thanks to competing demands on our attention, including cellphones, email and ambient noise, to name three of many culprits.

It got me thinking.

If Treasure’s assertion is true, what is its implication for our businesses?

If our staffers “only retain 25 percent” of what they hear, how can we make sure they hear the information that will help our company excel? Imagine what would happen to our market share if we heard 100 percent of what our clients and customers were telling us. And many a workplace misunderstanding has resulted from one party thinking she heard something that actually was never said.

If we’re not listening, then what are we doing when someone else is talking? My guess is we’re residing fully inside our own head, thinking where we’d like to go to lunch, wondering if we’ve set the DVR properly to record our favorite show and the most egregious of all, planning what we’ll say next. I’m guilty of this. When one of my sons says something to me, I frequently respond, “What?” even though I heard the statement. I just wasn’t paying attention.

On its most basic level, this listening disconnect prevents us from engaging in the world and creating meaningful interactions with those we care about.
Here’s a site with listening exercises specific to the business world:

Try some of them out and let me know what happens when you do. I’m all ears.

Managing the Leadership Shortage

Managing the Leadership Shortage

A report from Manhattan-based Beeson Consulting Inc. caught my eye. Ponderously titled “The Executive Leadership Imperative: A New Perspective on How Companies and Executives Can Accelerate the Development of Women Leaders,” it takes as its launching point a study from The Conference Board that suggests we are facing an “emerging leadership challenge.” The group following the baby boom generation is approximately 18 percent smaller than its predecessor. Fewer folks in the work force equal fewer future leaders.

The Beeson paper postulates that this represents an opportunity for women if stumbling blocks to women’s advancement are carted away, obstacles such as poorly articulated rules for advancement; a lack of candid, constructive feedback; and a narrower range of leadership behaviors the organization will allow women to display.

While roughly 50 percent of you reading this will recognize the problems in the study, the most useful part are the suggested solutions. I especially applaud this one: “Identify and reward powerful male ‘champions’ who are skilled at developing women leaders.” Like it or not, the C-suite is probably more receptive to recommendations for promotions that come from men.

What is your organization doing to prepare for the leadership shortage? What programs target specifically the promotion of women?

Don’t Put It in Writing

Don’t Put it in Writing

I get a lot of emails in general, many specifically on the topic of providing good customer service. But this CBS Moneywatch article I stumbled upon, “5 Things You Should Never Put in an Email,” pointed out how, in a time when all of our written communication can be readily blasted to the blogosphere, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot.

I have been on the receiving end of many of the email gaffes outlined in the article. (I have received boilerplate “answers” that did not even approximate a response to my question, for example.)

While large companies respond to thousands of customers a day, we smaller firms can outsmart the big boys by providing customer-facing staffers with some techniques, email and otherwise, to keep customers from making a complaint a public spectacle.

Lessons from My Closeup

Lessons from My Closeup

Speaking on camera looks easy. It isn’t. I can say that based on personal experience.

I was filmed for a Verizon FiOS1 News Long Island segment on its series, “Money & Main $treet.” (You can watch it here:

Although the segment on air lasted about 2 1/2 minutes, it took roughly 30 minutes to shoot.

The producer said six words that jinxed us: “Let’s do this in one take.” While the first take wasn’t awful, I felt my legs shaking throughout. Happily, through no fault of my own, I got a second chance.

I genuinely enjoy performing, but I suspect that’s not the case for everyone.

If you’re called to do an on-air interview, whether it be radio or TV, consider engaging the services of a media trainer (we’ve got you covered there). No one is born knowing how to field interview questions and appear and sound natural doing it.

In addition, here are some things I learned that could prove helpful:

  1. Ask for a list of questions in advance. That way, you can prepare and have some statistics on the ready.
  2. Don’t count on the interviewer to calm you down. She has to focus on her own performance.
  3. Try to ignore the glaring light. Otherwise, your now-beady eyes will blink uncontrollably.
  4. If you con yourself into thinking you’re just having a conversation with your interviewer, you can (kind of) forget that the camera is rolling.
  5. Even professionals make mistakes and must stop for another take.
  6. Perform a balancing act. While you’ll want your adrenaline to flow to give you a heightened sense of alertness, you can control your nerves by remembering that the clip will air once or a few times at most. Too many jitters, you’ll stumble over your words. Too few, and you’ll appear wooden.

Finally, keep in mind that viewers don’t expect you to be a polished presenter. You have a day job.