By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
Does this seem familiar?
Boss: Shawna, do you blah, blah, contract, blah…
Me: Uh-huh (while searching for that darn piece of paper I KNOW I had 2 minutes ago)
Boss: Blah, blah, fuel report, blah…
Me: Hmmmmm…. (opening a desk drawer)
Boss: You’re hearing me, but are you listening?
Me: What?!? Yes! I heard you!
Boss: Then what did I ask for?
This used to happen to me in my first days of working (and I will neither confirm nor deny whether it still might). It would always be remarked upon in my evaluations. It took me awhile to figure out the difference between hearing someone and listening to them.
Hearing refers to the sounds you hear and listening requires focus. Listening is a commitment and a compliment to the speaker. It is a model for respect and understanding. A person will spend more than half of their time engaged in some sort of communication – with listening being the biggest percentage of that communication. People respond to great listeners – both by liking and appreciating them.
Great listening skills can lead to a multitude of positives – both personally and professionally. They can lead to better customer satisfaction and greater productivity with fewer mistakes. You have to pay attention to the “story” being told – how it’s told, the language being used, even non-verbal cues. Effective listening is the foundation of all positive human relationships.
So, how do you become a great and effective listener?
Stop Talking. This is number one for a reason. You can’t listen if your mouth is open. This is good rule and should be a poster on your wall. You will be respected more (and liked) if you don’t interrupt or talk over another person.
Prepare Yourself. Make sure you relax and focus on the speaker. Sometimes that means picking up the phone and holding it to your ear instead of using the speakerphone function.
Remove distractions. Don’t doodle or shuffle papers. Don’t surf the web or daydream about tiny toy soldiers shooting raisins at your boss to see if they land in his mouth. Though fun, it sends a message to the speaker that you are bored or don’t want to listen (sometimes you don’t but do it anyway).
Be patient. A pause by the speaker does not necessarily mean you can jump right in. They may just be taking a breath so they can continue (for the next 5 minutes, right?). Just remember – don’t interrupt.
Avoid personal prejudice. Sometimes this one is the hardest. We don’t always like our boss or colleague that is speaking. Try not to let that get in the way. You can miss important information by thinking more about the fact that you know they are the one who keeps stealing your desk drawer candy (no evidence though, so HR won’t DO anything) instead of what is being imparted.
Don’t attack the speaker. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of what the person is saying, don’t come at them with fangs bared. This is NOT effective listening.
It’s their ideas and not just the words. Some people may not as eloquent (as you think you are) in expressing their ideas. So look at the whole picture and link together pieces of information to reveal their ideas.
Provide feedback. Reflect on what the speaker said and summarize their comments periodically. Feedback can also be imparting your own ideas or building on what they may have said. Just remember – don’t attack (see rule above).
You should always be deliberate with your listening. People who don’t listen rarely figure out where or why things went wrong. It can also be dangerous. You may be “hearing” the safety guy and end up with your arm being cut off – and no one wants that.
By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
“Leadership these days has become a complex art…”
I recently saw this line in a column from Harvard Business School and realized the truth of that one statement. Leadership has many definitions from the most basic to entire books written on the subject. Seminars on “How to Be a Great Leader” can be costly. And do you really know if that seminar will give you the tools to be that Great Leader.
Do an internet search for ‘definition of leadership’ and you can get over 261 million results. 261 MILLION! That’s a lot of opinions - who has the time to go through all of those? One article from a couple of years ago had ten different definitions, but each was written by an individual, albeit successful ones. There’s not one universal definition; even the dictionary companies differ slightly.
So how do you become a Great Leader? Do you emulate a known and established leader? Which one? And asking those questions leads to a whole new set of them and can be a vicious cycle in which you may never escape. So stop asking questions and develop your own leadership style.
Every Great Leader faces new and different challenges than their peers, but they all have a common goal or mission – bettering the organization with the team and resources you have. There are several commonalities between every definition you can find. Use those commonalities as building blocks for your transformation into a Great Leader.
Encourage, Inspire, Motivate
Not every member of your team can be encouraged or motivated in the same way. Find the best way for each person on the team and constantly fan that flame. While money usually motivates people to perform better, you may not have that option in your organization. A handwritten note to an employee about how their work is improving or was a great help in a project can encourage just as well as a bonus.
Create a cohesive team with shared effort
A cohesive team is one that has shared efforts and goals. Meet with your team to find the best way to bring them together. Play to each person’s strengths and what they can offer the team. The best team complements each other and shares the workload.
Influence by example
“Do what I say, not what I do” does not make a Great Leader. Be the example for your team. Shoulder your share of the workload and let the team know what you are working on while they do their part. It truly becomes a team effort and they will be more willing to work with you toward the goal.
Not necessarily based on position in hierarchy
Just because your job title has manager or director in it means you will be the best person to lead a specific project. You become a Great Leader by identifying those in your organization that can also lead and encouraging and teaching them how to become more effective.
Focus on the individuals
Don’t become so task-oriented that you lose the individuals working on those tasks. A Great Leader will guide individuals through challenges, rather than focus on specific task completion. Monitor your team and the effectiveness of procedures. Work with team members to improve the process/procedure or find a solution to a problem.
Leverage an attitude
Your attitude will set the tone for the entire team. Being positive, even during adversity, is not naïve; but a sign of a Great Leader. If you panic over the small bump in the road, then your team will reflect the same attitude and could spiral out of control. Set a positive tone and your team will as well.
Inspire trust and confidence
Ultimately, being a Great Leader comes down to trust. If the team trusts you, then the team can and will make great things happen. Praise your team in public and address any problems in private. The more confidence and trust that your team has in you, the more they will be willing to work toward a shared goal.
By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
As a leader, you need to remember this – leadership and conflict walk side-by-side. You can try to avoid conflict, but you cannot escape it. If you are unable or unwilling to address conflict in a healthy and productive manner, then you should not be in a leadership role.
It is essential that for the health and performance of your organization that conflict be accepted and addressed through comprehensive and effective conflict resolution processes. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity, and builds barriers to cooperation. Conflict management can be the biggest driver of change. Organizations that encourage people to raise issues often find that doing so leads to innovation. By learning these skills, you can reduce conflicts in the workplace.
A conflict is more than just a disagreement. It is a situation in which one or both parties perceive a threat; whether the threat is real or not. The reality is that the root of most conflicts is either the result of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. Differing needs are often at the heart of bitter disputes.
Clear, written communication has proven remarkably successful at keeping conflicts to a minimum. When disputes arise from miscommunication and misunderstanding, it is (usually) management’s fault for not having the policies, procedures, and processes in place that prevent such conflict. Write and publish your procedures in such a way that everyone has access to them. Clearly and publicly make it known what behavior(s) will and will not be tolerated.
Establish a dialogue. Keep the conversation relevant and on task – don’t let it devolve into a griping match. Stay focused on a positive outcome and remain aware of the common goal. Talking, dialogue, and negotiation create genuine and productive two-way communication. Each position deserves respect and consideration, so do not play favorites or get involved in the drama.
Understand each position and negotiate. It is critical to understand the motivations prior to weighing in and help those around you achieve their objectives. Broker a compromise – once one side makes a concession, it is likely that the other party will respond in kind. By approaching conflict with the perspective of taking action to further their goals, you may find fewer obstacles and less resistance.
View conflict as an opportunity. There is tremendous teaching and learning opportunities hidden in conflict. With disagreement, there is potential for growth; individually and with colleagues. Smart leaders look for the upside in differing opinions.
Conflict can also affect change. Review policies that may be outdated or overly cumbersome. Consider assigning the parties to a team that reviews the policies that caused the conflict and report any suggestions that can improve the policy.
Bottom line…conflict is everywhere, but the good news is that conflict can be extremely productive for organizations. Resolution can normally be found in conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. However, when all else fails, resolve the issue not by playing favorites, but by doing the right thing.
By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
You know who I am talking about. That irritating employee who alienates their colleagues while consistently managing to find clever solutions to the pressing issues or problems that arise in the organization. The one who is high-performing (and likes to take all the credit) and STILL has the time to grate on every nerve you have.
Sound familiar? Every company, organization, or group has at least one of them that most managers handle badly. Many managers don’t want to “rock the boat” when projects are running smoothly, or vehicle downtime is below the goal threshold. This means that their response, when or if it finally comes, is often ineffective. They don’t understand or they underestimate the cost to the organization in terms of staff morale or retention.
So, how do you manage that talented blockhead?
The trick is being able to tap into that brilliance while minimizing the damage. You may not always have the option of getting rid of them, so let’s look at ways to retain and use that talent better.
Listen closely to what is going on
This doesn’t mean spy on your people, but listen to them when they talk about difficulties they may have with certain individual. If you hear from more than one employee about the same person, it’s time to pay attention and plan out your strategy.
Begin the intervention early
If you are listening, you may be able to start working with the “problem child” early. This could mean pairing them with a counselor or peer that can help them relate to their colleagues and begin to share the values of the organization.
You can provide an opportunity for attitude improvement. Try reviewing this employee’s interpersonal skills more often and tell them that their needs to be consistent improvement. Let them know they are a valuable member of the team and do great work, but this particular area needs to be focused on.
You can also begin a peer assessment to coincide with employee reviews. I was once at a company where the president of the company had each employee review the interpersonal skills of their team or department colleagues. All responses were anonymous. The results were then compiled and given to us. Although sometimes hard to read, it did create awareness and you could see positive changes.
Reassign them or change their workload
Maybe the best way to keep the talent and make peace in the office is to reassign the employee to a position that doesn’t interact as frequently with colleagues or other departments. Try funneling their time and resources into big projects that don’t require extensive teamwork. Maybe they would be great at looking for trends in reams of data or creating training materials for best practices.
Change the reward system
Many organizations and companies have “Employee of the Month” rewards. While this is a great program for many, this could encourage the clever dolt to continue his ways in hopes of gaining that prize. Try a monthly reward for the team instead of rewarding one individual.
There are ways of salvaging the brilliant jerks and preserving the energy, ideas, and performance they can bring to an organization. How do you manage them? Let me know in the comments and I’ll update this article.
By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
It’s a new year – and a new year can bring new opportunities. Did you recently receive a promotion? Or take a position in a new company or fleet organization?
Progress in your career is great, but can be a little intimidating, especially if the progress comes with direct reports for the first time. Whether you become a lead mechanic, crew supervisor, or a newly appointed fleet manager, a promotion comes with a new set of responsibilities and obstacles.
The first time I was promoted into a supervisory role, I had four direct reports. I was excited, terrified, hopeful, intimidated, and ready to go forth and make change! My ego got a great boost and my workload doubled and, in some cases, tripled (most of it my own fault).
Within three years, the number of people for whom I was responsible had multiplied to over 35. I read a lot of books and articles on leadership and management. It was a struggle and a journey. There were many growing pains. I learned that management can be a battlefield promotion.
I will never claim that I am (or was) the best or a perfect manager, but here are some insights that might help make your journey a little smoother.
Learn the Business
You may be tempted to overhaul and start fresh, especially if you moved up in your organization. Don’t assume you know the position or the department just because you have worked there for several years. There may be much that you were not privy to before your promotion. Take small steps of change to begin. Observe, listen, and learn in the first months.
Meet with Employees as a Team and Individually
Don’t judge anyone or anything immediately. Start this new journey with a clean slate. Meeting as a team in the early stages of your transition can help shape a team culture that can unlock tremendous talents on that team – from problem solving to ideas on efficiency and saving money. Getting buy in from the respected veterans on the team can smooth a lot of bumps.
Meet with each member individually. Learn their history and aspirations in the organization. Respect their time and don’t make snap judgments. Accept them for who they are and keep an open mind. Set boundaries and expectations but be flexible. Don’t micromanage unless they are not meeting those expectations. Ask questions and accept input (even if it is criticism). A private gesture, a kind word, or asking their advice can go a long way to winning them over.
Keep Emotion Out
There is always a price for leadership. Don’t take things personally and always be the better person. Don’t publicize your personal life or get too cozy. This can be especially hard if you worked side-by-side with these people before the promotion. Always keep your guard up because, eventually, you will be holding gut wrenching meetings on conduct or performance.
Recognize Your Limitations
Be patient. Realize that you don’t have a real track record in this position and you cannot be everything to everyone. There will be mistakes and you can’t do everything. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” but follow that up with “let me find out.” Pick your battles and pursue issues that you know you can win.
Be an Example
Your people will adopt your attitudes and anxieties. Convey confidence – not arrogance – and always stay composed. Learn their responsibilities and be willing to jump into the trenches. Establish credibility by owning up to your mistakes and following your own rules.
People should not guess how you will react – to an issue, failure, poor conduct, or an event. Provide a stable and safe place to share opinions and give honest feedback. Don’t let your conduct hamper you or your people when it’s time to secure funding, resources, or earning promotions.
Find a Mentor / Be a Mentor
Reach out to someone who has been there before – someone who can help pick you up when you need it. Keep in touch with them regularly and listen to their advice. They may be able to help champion one of your causes when needed.
Develop each of your people including yourself. Recognize their strengths and their areas of improvement. Help them set goals and provide opportunities where they can grow, learn, and contribute to the team and the organization.
Build Bridges to Other Departments
Whether you are becoming a shift supervisor or a Fleet Director, reach out to internal and/or external departments. You are not only a manager, but also an ambassador. If they won’t come to you, go to them. Meet with the Parts Manager or the Solid Waste Director to set new goals and expectations, yours and theirs.
Have a Plan and Set Objectives
All ideas are doomed to failure if you don’t have a plan. Hold yourself accountable and set targets and objectives early. Outline the vision with your team, both short and long term. Identify how everyone’s role contributes. Help them understand and achieve the goals. Without a plan and execution, the team will drift and lose sight of their potential value.
You don’t know all the answers and can hurt the team by pretending you do. Cultivate the strengths of your team – step back and let them lead. Check in regularly to monitor progress and provide counsel as needed. Don’t abuse your delegation powers though. This isn’t the time to hand off everything so you can catch that baseball game.
Silence in your department can be a threat. Reach out to your employees. Put “meet with team” on your calendar regularly. This will help keep everyone current on developments and maintain a dialogue with your people. Don’t just talk to them, talk with them.
Increase your Team’s Exposure
Look for opportunities to give them the spotlight – from leading a training session to leading a project or even a mention in a department newsletter. Recognize them publicly and praise generously. Bring in speakers, share articles, or send them to outside training classes, industry association meetings, and conferences to expose them to best practices.
Teach your people how to become the ambassadors, so that as you receive promotions, so can they. Ideally, you want to expand your people’s world, not narrow it.
The FleetPros Blog is written and moderated by the Business Manager with contributions from the membership and Business Services Team.