Thursday, December 30, 2010

The King's Coach

The new film The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush, is a lovely and touching true story of how Britain's King George VI, struggling with a life-long debilitating stammer, ascended to the throne on the eve of England's entrance into the second world war.

Not only is this a worthy movie for any who enjoy a high quality film, but this is one with particular relevance to those in the field of coaching. In fact, you could easily rename this film The King's Coach as it centers on the efforts of one Lionel Logue, a speech therapist from Australia, who is enlisted to work with "Bertie" (as the King was known by his family).

Late in the film, when Bertie is informed by his handlers that Logue is not a doctor and has no credentials, the King is enraged and accuses Logue of being a fraud. Then, in one of the film's most moving sections, Logue explains himself. He never called himself "Dr." Logue. He never claimed to have certifications or credentials. He came to this work, he said, via his experiences helping shell-shocked soldiers to regain their confidence and their ability to speak during World War I.

An HR blogger made the point that even Kings need to do a thorough background check before they hire a so-called expert. Good point. But there is another HR-type lesson here, I believe, about the nature of expertise.

What is expertise? What is an expert? Does a PhD guarantee it? Does a certification ensure it?

The dictionary tells us that an expert is someone who has achieved a level of skill or knowledge in a particular field making them an authority or specialist who is sought out by others for advice and consultation.

Lionel Logue's expertise in speech therapy originated in his love of spoken language. He further developed his expertise through study as well as the creative applications he undertook to assist soldiers. His expertise, rooted in a love of speech, came from doing the work itself, and demonstrating its benefit to others.


Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday December 30, 2010. For more ideas on coaching, contact Terry and invite him to your organization.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three Wishes for Workplaces in 2011

As we swiftly glide toward the end of 2010, many of us in the blogosphere turn our thoughts to the changes we wish would come true in the New Year ahead. In this post, in keeping with an age-old tradition, I will make only three wishes. At the same time, I will keep in mind the saying "Be careful what you wish for..." because you might get something you did not intend at all.

Wish 1 - That more workplaces will become truly great places to work, i.e., ones where management understands their stewardship role that putting Purpose, People, and Planet ahead of short-term Profit is the true path to sustainability.

Wish 2 - That more workplaces will become Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) where people are expected to produce, are supported to excel, and trusted to do what needs to be done to serve the customer.

Wish 3 - That more workplaces will become high engagement systems that bring out the best in people, leading to extraordinary results for customers and for employees.

As you can see, these wishes are all about the workplace. That's because most of us spend a heckuva lot of time there. So our workplaces should be as positive (i.e., happy, friendly, welcoming, and pleasant) as humanly possible, in my view.

These three wishes depend upon two critical factors: leaders and employees.

Leaders determine, to a great degree, the culture and climate of an organization, especially its values, its trust level, and how engaging a place it is. Their job, as Jack Welch once famously said, is NOT to control and stay on top of people, but rather to guide, energize and excite! And as Warren Bennis once said, "Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things." Such leaders see their people as vibrant and creative assets, not costs. Yes, people can be difficult to handle, like herding cats sometimes, but imagine trying to stay in business without them.

At the same time, employees have a major impact too. Both parties make the choice, each and every day, whether to bring their Best Self to work or not. The Best Self asks, What can I do today for my customer? How can I strengthen my team? What can I do to help the business improve, prosper, and grow?

It's up to you.

See you in 2011! Let's choose to make it great!

Posted by Terrence Seamon on December 22, 2010. For more ideas on building positive and productive workplaces, contact Terry and invite him to your organization.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Employee Engagement Equation

Even though many organizations demonstrated clearly by their recent decisions (i.e., downsizing) that they see people as costs, I still buy into the saying that "people are an organization's most important asset." Why? Look at the research emerging in the past twenty years or so around the Employee Engagement Equation:

~ the more engaged your workforce = the more productive and profitable your company

What many had believed for so long is now evidence based. Trouble is, do business heads know it? Do they get it?

The challenge before HR and OD practitioners is to do a good job of convincing our clients in the C-suites that investments in people will grow the business.

Recently fellow blogger Lance Haun posted his thoughts on the reasons why CEOs don't care about employee engagement. I added this thought:

"Good post, Lance. If I may add my two cents, one of the blockages that some CEOs have is that "they are funny that way." Meaning, they are wired to focus on things like data, profits, costs, and stuff like that. The human stuff does not compute for these CEOs. It's not that they are bad. It's how they are made. The way to "get through to" these CEOs is to go via their interests."


So how do you "speak their language" and get through to them? Remembering the Employee Engagement Equation above, here are four thoughts:

C = Customer: Can you connect the dots between employee engagement and customer engagement?

O = Opportunity: Can you identify the opportunity that employee engagement presents to the organization?

S = Strategy: Can you link employee engagement to the strategy of the business?

T = Timing: Can you convey the urgency?

One employee engagement expert who works with CEOs is Dr. Judith Bardwick. In her incomparable style, Judy makes the point very clearly:

"The facts are very powerful: when employees are very enthusiastic and involved, the organization succeeds in terms of financial outcomes. When people are committed, they are proud of their organization and when they are engaged, they see their work as contributing to the organization’s mission, which they strongly believe is important."

So, HR and OD leaders, now that we are emerging from the Great Recession, will you step up and make the case for employee engagement?

"If not now, when?"

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday December 20, 2010. For more ideas on employee engagement, contact Terry and invite him into your organization.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Being Humble

During a recent supervisory skills class that I was teaching, the group agreed that an effective boss is humble. Now there's a perspective you don't run into a lot. So let's take a closer look at the meaning of being humble.

My wife Joan is an avid gardener. Someday I hope to see her earn the Master Gardener certification because she is certainly a good candidate. For one thing, she is not afraid of getting dirty. In fact, if she is having a good day outside, you'll find her covered from head to toe in dirt. And loving it!

As a child, I too was really into dirt --digging in the backyard, exploring gullies that fed into the Raritan River, or tunneling in sand at the beach-- much of it in search of rocks, old coins, fossils, and shells for my collection.

Last year, I saw a science news story that said how important dirt is for our health. Dermatologist Professor Richard Gallo, of University of California at San Diego, said: “These germs (present in dirt) are actually good for us” in reducing inflammation after injury, when they are present on the skin's surface.

Even in the most humble and lowly there is great value, apparently.

The word "humble" derives from the ancient root humus meaning ground, earth, or dirt.

In organizations, we don't hear very much about being humble. Quite the contrary. The predominant paradigm we encounter is being proud, e.g. "pride of workmanship," "pride of ownership." We hear about being assertive, even aggressive. We hear about being competitive, playing hardball, and beating the other guys. It seems that arrogance (from arrogare = to claim for oneself) is more prized than humility.

But there are other schools of thought. For instance, servant leadership. I like this approach, personally. And have always practiced it, even before there was a name for it. Probably due to my catholic school education with the good sisters of charity who taught "the first shall be last" and "do not let your left hand know what your right is doing."

Two scripture passages come to mind. This mysterious and tantalizing one, from the Gospel according to John, shows Jesus using dirt as part of a healing act:

~ "Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing."

And this one, from Micah:

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

To heal with mud and to walk humbly. What mysterious beauty.

Posted on December 18, 2010 by Terrence Seamon. For more ideas on being an effective boss, contact Terry and invite him into your organization.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough

Why do employees hate their bosses?

Is that question stated too strongly? Is "hatred" too strong a term? Recently on LinkedIn, someone asked a similar question. And most of the first twenty or so replies reacted to the word "hatred."

Having worked with many diverse organizations for thirty years on management and leadership development, I've got a take on this.

Sometimes the boss becomes the focal point for employees' "hatred" because they see him or her as the source of their unhappiness at work. In some cases, the boss may indeed be a contributor; being "boss" is not a job for just anyone. In other cases, the boss is simply the conduit or messenger of pressure from higher levels.

There is an old expression "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." While there is truth in it, we need to create some new sayings to accompany the first one.

- When the going gets so tough that the pressure starts to make employees crack under it, productivity is going to suffer. (See the Yerkes-Dodson curve)

- When the going gets tough at work, the really good bosses will stand out. You'll know them when you see them.

So, what is it that really good bosses do? Good bosses do a number of things, but here are a few critical things to start your self-assessment:

- Good bosses love people: Being a boss is not for everyone. The ones who thrive have a fundamental trait: they love other people. If you are a misanthrope or just can't stand other human beings, do something else with your career. Don't manage people.

- Good bosses honor and respect their people: Being a boss doesn't mean controlling, dominating, and keeping people under your thumb. Quite the opposite! Good bosses respect the dignity of the other person. They recognize that people are an organization's greatest asset. One that, when fully engaged in the mission of the business, will work hard each day to help it grow. As Jack Welch said famously, the boss' job is "to guide, energize, and excite."

- Good bosses are humble and hard working: Good bosses put the interests of the team, and the interest of the organization, ahead of their own self-interest. And good bosses work hard, doing whatever it takes to get the work done. When workers see that, they take note. Workers have a keen sense of smell about bosses and they know a good one from a lousy one.

- Good bosses develop others: Good bosses know in their guts that their job is take really good care of their people. Take care of your people, and they will take care of the customer, the saying goes. Good bosses get it. And they invest in developing their people, believing that if they grow their people, it will help grow the business.

If you are a boss, and you do the above, will your employees love you? Or will they still hate you?

In today's high-pressure workplaces, it could go either way. Console yourself with the fact that, as a good boss, you're doing the right thing.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday December 15, 2010. For more ideas on managing and leading people, contact Terry and invite him to train your supervisors and managers.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Little Monsters

A client of mine remarked that coaches have to be careful because, if they push too hard, the result can be monsters rather than good team players.

I was teaching a class on managerial coaching and we were talking about our own life experiences of coaches and coaching. The client's comment about creating monsters sparked the entire group into a lively conversation about the impact that coaches can have on children, and perhaps on adults as well.

He told us the story of his son who is a champion swimmer in high school. When this swimmer was much younger, there was a certain swim team that he competed against, a team that was so driven to win by its coaches that they were the meanest and most feared club in the league. When they won, they triumphed. When they lost, you did not want to be there. At one such match, the silver medal went to one of this team's swimmers. The child angrily threw his medal to the ground and stormed off to the parking lot, cussing as he went, his hapless parents running after him.

What happens to these little monsters later in life? What career paths do they pursue? What do some of them become?

Most of the coaches I had when I was a kid were great: kind, caring, positive. But I do remember a few scary ones that coached me in Pop Warner football. Coaches that taught us that our aim was not just to beat the other team, but to "kill" them.

Years later, when my kids were little, I recall encountering a few psycho coaches, ones who thought they were in the major leagues, who thought it was all about winning, and who screamed at, and threatened, the kids. One out-of-control screamer was especially disturbing because his own little son was on the team. As soon as we got wind of what these coaches were about, my wife and I steered our boys away.

Business guru and blogger Bob "Work Matters" Sutton has been studying "asshole" managers and other jerks in the workplace, for years now. He says: "...being a workplace asshole is often a malady that you catch from other people." In other words, jerks learn to be jerks. And they learn it from other jerks. Including asshole coaches when we were kids.

One of the other managers in the coaching class said, "This is good stuff you're teaching us. But when we go back to the plant, it's dog-eat-dog." He went on to describe some of the managers that he works for, managers that seem only concerned about results, about hitting the numbers, and unconcerned about any human issues that might arise.

What happened to those little monsters? They are now running many of our organizations.

Posted on Saturday December 11, 2010 by Terrence Seamon. For more ideas on positive and effective coaching, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your managers.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

On the Meaning of Work

My old friend, who is passing through New Jersey on his way to Virginia to visit his grown children, told me at dinner the other night that he plans to build his daughter and son-in-law a work bench in their garage and a cabinet for their TV.

My friend is retired. And has been in retirement for years since leaving AT&T after a long career.

I'm often amazed at the industriousness of some retirees!

For my friend, these projects he will undertake are not "work." To be sure, these projects will require planning, measurement, and skillful execution. But they are not a drudgery for him. In fact, he looks forward to them with great anticipation and can't wait to see the delight on his kids' faces when they behold the final result. For him, this work is a pleasure.

Have you ever felt that way about your work?

What is it, sometimes, about work that doesn't feel like work? Recently at my church, St. Matthias in central New Jersey, we explored this question.

Our Employment Ministry sponsored a work-life retreat, focused on the meaning of work in our lives. Throughout the day of reflection, several speakers talked about the joys and struggles of their working lives. Here are a few of the themes that emerged on the mystery when work doesn't feel like work.

When it's selfless - When we do some work that is done for the benefit of others, we realize a deep spiritual truth about Life, namely that work can be a source of joy. The theologian Richard Rohr puts it this way: "Your life is not about you. You are about life!" My woodworking friend loves to build things for others, especially for his family. When work comes from the heart, work becomes an act of love.

When it expresses your gifts - Each of us is blessed with gifts, talents and capabilities. The things we are very good at, in other words. When we use those gifts in the work we are doing, we are expressing Who We Truly Are and What We Are Meant to Bring to the World. No matter what the work may be, even the most humble and thankless task.

I'm convinced that each of us is here in this world to do some work that we are called to do. What that is is something each person must find out for him- or herself. But, through my work as a career coach, I know that many never do. They never find that deep inner answer, that sense of true personal satisfaction, that comes from doing the work they were meant to do. It's sad.

But, like many career coaches who are busy helping others these days, I'm committed to helping job seekers and career changers who are on this quest for deeper meaning. That's one of the aims of the St. Matthias Employment Ministry. As well as the Heart of Meaningful Work, a social network I started that resides within LinkedIn.

When you look up the origins of the word "work," you'll find that it is an ancient word indeed, one whose roots stretch very far back in time. People have been working for longer than anyone can reckon. One might ask, Where is it getting us?

One of the speakers at our retreat offered an answer worth pondering. She said that, after God created all things, he then said to Man and Woman that it was now their responsibility to continue the work that He had started. Think about that for a few moments. Our work, to continue the process of creation, is a sacred trust with the Creator, a covenant to continue the work of God who created all things.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday December 5, 2010. For more ideas on the meaning of work, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your group.