Tag Archives: How To

The Era of the Storyteller

Storytelling is more important than ever. Long gone are the days when a story was just a simple anecdote or side bar. Today, stories are prominently positioned at the forefront of business communications. Great stories are seizing power, visibility and taking center stage. The Greek chorus is gone. Now, the main protagonists, us, are telling, analyzing and sharing our stories in new ways and through innovative channels.

Stories matter because they tell the truth. Stories inspire. They are: powerful, free, persuasive, natural, entertaining, memorable, and authentic. It is for all of these reasons that storytelling is not only a key method for sharing oral legacies and lessons but it’s also an instrumental to personal branding technique. And because stories are so important, I want you to begin to write your brand story.

Exercise:  What’s your Practical Genius Story?

Everyone has a story and everyone’s story deserves to be heard and told. As a coach, I listen to stories all the time. The color, texture, movement, and impact of some of the stories can be quite profound. Stories change people’s lives. Stories teach, build and create new stories so begin now to craft your own story.

Your practical genius brand story is the story of you. Begin by writing out your story in full. Consider what makes you unique, the life experiences that have shaped who you are, how you’ve arrived where you are today, and the most compelling aspects of “Practical Genius You.” Then, begin to trim your story down to its essence. Once it is edited and condensed into less than 600 words, then you can practice and perfect telling your story.

Story Telling Techniques

My grandmother, Jovita, is one of the greatest story tellers I have ever met. A part of her magic is in the “herstories,” tales of her experience as a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, she shares in the oral tradition. The rest is the intimate way she draws in listeners. This is a woman who never was allowed to go to school. To this day, she still cannot read or write. She is a natural wordsmith able to take me from shock to laughter with just one phrase. It is also the intensity of her delivery which reaches me and everyone else with whom she decides to share a story.

I, like many of us, appreciate my grandmother’s stories and in honor of her, I would like to share the three aspects I love most about her story telling. I have used these three techniques to inspire others into being effective powerful storytellers. First, try to take your audience to another world; get them to stretch their imaginations as they journey with you. Second, be sure to run the gamut of emotions from joy to fear to laughter. And lastly, there has to be meaning in what you share. If you apply these techniques, your brand story will captivate your audience with the same magical intensity of a Grandma Jovita tale.

by Gina Rudan

Gina is the founder and President of Genuine Insights Inc., a leadership development and personal asset management practice committed to igniting the genius within every individual.

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How to Tell Your Boss Bad News (in 5 easy steps)

Sweaty palms, queasy stomach, difficulty breathing, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of dread. Is it the flu? A bad blind date? Tax season? Worse! These are the tell-tale signs of someone who just realized they have to deliver bad news to their boss.

Historically, fear was an appropriate reaction to being chosen as the bearer of bad news. In far less technologically advanced times, reports between warring factions were hand-delivered. When leaders received news they didn’t like, they had a propensity for killing the poor sap carrying the enemy’s message.

Though the phrase “off with his head” is rarely heard echoing through the halls of the modern day corporation, project managers, software developers, and just about any one responsible for managing schedules, resources, and budgets, knows bearing unwelcome tidings is still a harrowing experience.

Red-flag waving emissaries face the inevitable trauma of being shunned by the recipients of their negative messages. Delivering bad news means potentially suffering the consequences of being the least popular person in the room.

Even more terrible than enduring the misdirected wrath of an outraged audience, is withstanding rightfully placed well-earned ire. Unlike the envoys of old who were blameless lackeys for the powers that be, today, the messenger is often partially or fully responsible for the situation. Facing the music of personal fallibility is like a slow dance with Kate Gosselin; awkward, unpleasant, and at times inflammatory.

Delivering bad news is a distasteful task no matter how you slice it. It’s no wonder people tend to put off the dirty deed until the last possible moment. This delay exasperates the situation turning the mild toothache into a full-blown root canal.

Fortunately, there are ways to make delivering bad news far less painful.

Now Beats Later Every Time

Share bad news with those who need to hear it as soon as possible. There are many excuses to be made for delaying the inevitable, but they all boil down to stall tactics in the hope that the situation will improve over time. Chances are it’s not going to get any better than it is right now. Besides, if you deliver bad news that turns out to be unwarranted, you shrug your shoulders and say “Guess it wasn’t as bad as we thought.” If you wait and circumstances get out of control, be prepared to explain to an angry mob why you didn’t come forth with vital information sooner.

The Right Words, The Right Way

The flight or fight reaction to the task of delivering bad news can tongue-tie even the most eloquent speakers. Instinct starts to win out over intellect. Take a deep breath. Slow down long enough to organize the message. Consider the specific needs of each person or group who will be hearing the information. Tailor both the format and wording of the message to match the expectations of the recipients. For example, some people require only a verbal synopsis, others need to read in order to process information, and there are those who prefer images to words. Communicate only what is most important and relevant. Cut out the “fluff” and be sure to logically sequence the information. Provide the basics and give the audience the opportunity to mine for the details as they see fit.

Location, Location, Location

Bad news and bad timing seem to go hand in hand. Not only do people delay delivery, they seem to choose the worst time and place to share the information. Jumping your boss in the hallway on her way to a meeting and saying “Hey, do you have a minute?” seems like an obvious no-no. Yet, these types of spontaneous Kamikaze tactics happen again and again. When delivering bad news, schedule the earliest possible time with the audience. Select an appropriate location. Use an agenda to let people know and prepare for the nature of the discussion.

Present Options

As dispassionately as possible, lay out the facts of the situation and offer well-thought out options.

While developing an Influence without Authority program for a client, the Director of a team of senior project engineers explained that not only did his people tend to put off sharing bad news, they would come to him with only the problem expecting him have all the answers. What he told us was that his project managers would have more credibility and trust with him if they presented issues early and came prepared with possible solutions. He felt that the more time they had to evaluate the options, the more likely they would be to come up with an optimal solution for any given situation.

Avoid the Blame Game

Throwing someone else under the bus or falling on your sword are fruitless guilt-ridden distractions. Remain focused on the important issues and direct people’s energy toward finding solutions.

What are some other good ways to deliver bad news?

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How to Delegate Effectively

Last week’s post, The Pros and the Pros of Delegation, covered the What and the Why of effective delegation. This week’s post is about the How. Here is a step by step guide to assigning a task to someone else and then putting a system in place to provide that person with meaningful support.

1. Deciding to Delegate

The first step in delegation is deciding whether or not a responsibility or task should be delegated.

A good rule of thumb is for business leaders to spend the majority of their time on tasks and responsibilities that directly impact organizational or personal objectives.

These mission-critical tasks that affect long-term success require leadership attention. Everything else is fair game for delegation.

This cut and dry rule of thumb is good when there is a clear delineation between mission critical and non-mission critical activities. For situations with more of a gray area around the nature of responsibilities, use the following questions to determine whether or not a task is worth delegating. The more yes answers, the more likely a task or responsibility should/can be delegated:

  • Does someone else have (or could be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  • Would this be an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a recurring task?
  • Has this task not yet been delegated because of expediency, habit, or because it falls squarely in the leader’s comfort-zone?
  • Can you schedule sufficient time to delegate appropriately and thoroughly?
  • Can enough time be allocated for adequate training, questions and answers, progress checks, and possible rework?

2. Selecting the Right Person

To ensure that the task is completed to the leader’s satisfaction, it is crucial to select the “right” person for the job. Effective delegation is about assigning challenging jobs to the person most qualified to complete the work as well as most interested in taking on the challenge. When deciding with whom to trust a task or responsibility, consider the following questions.

  • Once trained, will this person have the capacity to do the job unsupervised?
  • Does this person have a track record of open communication?
  • Do this person’s strengths match the required skill set and/or knowledge base to successfully complete the assignment?
  • Is it realistic to add another responsibility to this person’s workload?
  • Do you trust this person enough to be patient as he/she progresses through his/her learning curve?

Again, the more “yes” answers, the more likely the individual is a good candidate for delegation.

3. Setting the stage for success

When the time is right to assign a task or responsibility to the carefully chosen person, use the following steps as a check list. Covering each of these items gives the person receiving the assignment the best possible chance for success.

  1. Gain the Person’s Buy-In. At first, the person receiving the assignment may not see all of the benefits of having something added to his/her workload. Before speaking with the person about the assignment, consider what he/she values. What outcomes would this person deem worthwhile? Then, when presenting the assignment, take the time to discuss the upside to successful completion of the task from the other person’s perspective. Cover the impact on financial rewards, future opportunities, recognition, and other desirable outcomes that would motivate the individual to willingly take on the challenge.
  2. Set Clear Expectations. Include specific parameters around performance standards, a detailed explanation of the desired results, the scope of the individual’s authority, available resources, communication strategies, and schedules. As much as possible, capture this information in writing.
  3. Explain/Coach/Train. Make sure the person knows what works. Alert the individual to potential pitfalls as well as methods that have had less success in the past.
  4. Keep an Open Mind. Unless the particular steps to completing a task or carrying out a given responsibility are truly “written in stone” or must comply with a particular mandate, maintain the flexibility to consider different methods. Be willing to entertain the possibility that the other person may devise a better way to get the task done. Whenever possible, focus on the end-result and leave the means (the how to get there) up to the individual. The more input a person has in the task/responsibility, the higher their level of personal ownership; which will in turn enhance their attention to detail and the quality of their output.
  5. Maintain Communication. Talk about what needs to be done and the specific output you expect. Proper communication prevents misunderstandings and helps the other person to fulfill his/her potential.
  6. Establish and Adhere to a Periodic Review Schedule. Make yourself available for progress reports and questions.CB100472
  7. Try Not to Catch “The Boomerang”. If there is a problem, don’t allow the person to throw responsibility for the task back to you. When presented with an issue, avoid the urge to provide an immediate answer. Ask the person to provide recommended solutions instead. Then, ask the person to prioritize the options and explain the rationale he/she used. Work with the individual to select and refine the best option until a mutually agreed upon solution is developed.
  8. Provide Recognition. Be generous and genuine with praise. Give recognition in a manner that is most valued by the individual. For example, publicly thank an outgoing ambitious person in front of an audience of organizational leaders.

Well executed delegation is a morale booster, a tremendous force for productivity gains, and a significant development tool.

The key phrase is “well executed.” Haphazardly throwing responsibility over the wall in hopes that the other person actually catches it will only frustrate the person hit with the added burden and cost the leader precious time fixing mistakes and rectifying issues. When delegation is properly leveraged, leaders are free to concentrate on organizational imperatives and the individuals entrusted with tasks and responsibilities grow their skills and enhance their importance within the organization.

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How to Successfully Transition into a New Role

When people ask you “So, what do you think?” they’re not really asking “So, what do you think?” That question is a euphemism for “So, we worked really hard on this and need validation. Please find a way to praise this.”

I was recently interviewed for an instructional designer role on a project. One of the interviewers pointed out that I would be joining a team of four that had been working together for three years. She asked me how, given the project’s 30-day deadline, I would handle becoming part of an existing team. My initial response was to make the point about the true meaning of “So, what do you think?”

I explained that this was a lesson I learned the hard way at the tender age of 23. On the first day at my first “corporate job,” I attended my first staff meeting. Because I had written and produced a newsletter for my previous employer, my boss asked me to take a few minutes and share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. Now, what I thought she meant was that she wanted me to share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. What I later learned was that she meant she was giving me an opportunity to make nice endearing comments that would help break the ice and encourage people to trust me.

I used to think “wet behind the ears” had something to do with residual birth fluids on a new born mammal. That night, I came to realize it refers to the tears that pool behind your own 23 year old ears as you cry yourself to sleep clutching your pillow like a security blanket. You see, after I gave my opinion of the newsletter which included pointing out the vast number of typos and poor layout, my boss called me into her office and informed that I had just alienated all of my co-workers. It was at that very moment that I learned the concept of “earning the right.”

Respecting the rule of “earning the right” means recognizing that every time we enter into humblepiea new situation, whether it is a job, a promotion, or a position on a team, we are instantly demoted to freshman status. The glorious achievements that earned us entry into the situation do not provide instant rapport, credibility, and trust with the group. We have to earn those through our actions within the current situation. We have to “earn the right” to provide constructive criticism, challenge existing decisions, and have our ideas considered and adopted. This transition process requires swallowing a big slice of humble pie. Despite my desire to quit, take a vow of silence, and join up with a cloister of monks, I returned to work the next day, apologized to my boss, and asked for her advice on how to mend the fences. It really wasn’t that difficult to humble myself. Although I had early wins in my first job out of school, my co-workers had far more corporate experience so it was easy to drop the arrogance and begin to learn from them.

The interesting thing about humble pie is that, like cotton candy, the older you get, the harder it is to choke downcottoncandy large quantities. Leaders with a track record of success typically find it harder to accept that humbling walk back to square one. Shedding the arrogance borne out of success and learning what you need to know about your new situation before trying to change it is a crucial first step.

Just three years later, I was managing a team at the same company. Our leadership group decided that it was more economical to outsource our department and sell our services back to the main company. In other words, we were going from cost center to profit center. A seasoned industry professional from a prestigious management consulting firm was brought in to spearhead the new organization.

We all sat around a conference room table; eyes anxiously darting back and forth awaiting his arrival. When he strode into the room (not wanting to dive into a trite metaphor, I’ll just put this image in your head, “foghorn leghorn”), he clearly had not considered the possibility that we might not trust or even like him. In an attempt to cast a vision of how much better things would be under the new arrangement, he began disparaging much of the work we had been doing. For example, he held up a black box containing a series of self-study booklets. He insulted the look of the packaging and the flimsiness of the contents. Little did he know, for the last 2 years we had poured our hearts into writing each booklet. He never bothered to find out that we spent months agonizing over packaging options, color schemes, and types of binding. In that instant, he demoralized the team, insulted us, and alienated everyone at that table.

I wondered how someone with so much experience and such a pedigree could make such a rookie mistake. How did he not know the “earn the right” rule? The man never recouped our trust. He walked into the room assuming that his past success and vast experience was enough to win us over. He made the mistake of thinking his resume bought him instant trust and credibility.

The team interviewing me wanted an outside resource for an objective point of view and fresh ideas. My response to the interviewer’s question about how I would handle coming into an existing team was simple. When asked, “So, what do you think?” my answer is tell me how we got to this point. What’s the history behind the decision and the cultural context? Chances are by answering my question; they’ll either validate their choice or recognize areas for improvement. Giving my opinion out of context is meaningless. Providing a sounding board for them to self-assess adds value and speeds me over my learning curve. Over time the deliverables I produce, my loyalty to the team and the value I add will earn me the right to proffer an opinion. As Michael Watkins states in his book The First 90 Days, “It is essential to figure out what you need to know about your new organization and then learn it as rapidly as you can.”

Remember, when you find yourself transitioning into a new role, bypass the hubris, no matter how tasty it looks, and go for a big whopping slice of humble pie.

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How to Measure Influence

Influence is about motivating people to willingly work together toward the achievement of clearly defined results.

In most common business situations such as:

  • Leading cross functional teams
  • Managing projects
  • Starting in a new leadership role
  • Spear-heading change initiatives

Our likelihood of success is directly proportional to two key factors:

1. Our personal level of influence

2. The influence levels of our closest supporters.measuringcup

Given their importance to our success as leaders, it seems only natural that we would want to assess influence levels. Following is an easy process for incorporating routine assessments of influence into the major phases of strategic and/or project plans. This process is followed by a set of criteria to use in order to assess a person’s level of influence (including your own) relative to a situation.

From the Beginning

In the earliest phases of an initiative,  develop a list of people who possess the technical skills and knowledge required to get things done, the sponsors and/or stakeholders, and include the people you feel would be vital to have in your corner. For each person listed, determine the number of  characteristics  below he or she possesses or displays. Create a separate personal action plan with steps you can take to fill-in your knowledge gaps. Be sure to include specific ways to build trust and strengthen your relationships with these individuals. For each highly influential person, seek to gain a clear understanding of his/her business and personal objectives.  If you both agree that your initiative supports his/her goals, then you should ask the individual how  he/she can best support your initiative.

In The Midst of It All

Throughout the course of the initiative, compare  the actions of each person on your original list to the set of influence characteristics. Be on the look-out for people whose influence level is on the rise and, if appropriate, coach those whose influence level is diminishing. Be sure to assess each new person who becomes involved along the way. Set aside time with influential people to listen to their input, determine alignment with their objectives, and seek their support for your initiative. In addition to your personal action plan for getting to know and building relationships with influential people, start to include ideas for introducing people to each other when you feel a connection could be beneficial. You should be re-evaluating your own level of influence on a regular basis and taking appropriate action to repair set-backs or fortify progress. Depending on the initiative, this could even be a weekly “to-do.”

One practical tip is to read the list of influential characteristics before  meetings as a reminder of the actions and behaviors you want to exemplify. Afterwards, acknowledge participants who demonstrated integrity and were clearly focused on the “big picture” (not just their own agenda). Review your words and actions. Were you demonstrating influence-building best practices? If not, why not?

When the Dust Settles

Review your actions and behaviors throughout the course of the initiative against the list of influential characteristics. How well did you do? Were you improving your level of influence along the way? If not, why not? If yes, what can you do to make sure you maintain or continue to grow your personal influence?

Maintain relationships.

At the end of an initiative, be sure to reinforce the valuable relationships you’ve developed by taking the time to acknowledge each person’s contribution with a personalized show of appreciation. For the person who values recognition, this could be a letter to his/her manager thanking them for allowing the individual to work with you and highlighting his/her accomplishments. For the person who shies away from the limelight, consider writing a personal note on the inside flap of a meaningful book. Then, in your planner, schedule time to connect on a regular basis with each person by phone, via email, or in person. Remain in contact so that you can help these individuals when they need your support. Staying in touch lets people know that your interest and involvement with them during your initiative was genuine and that you are a person of integrity.

How to Measure Influence

Think about a person within the context of a specific situation or his/her potential sphere of influence. Take into account only what you know to be true about the person or have witnessed directly. Consider whether or not each of the characteristics or behaviors listed below apply to this person.   The more times you answer “yes,” the greater the individual’s level of influence.  

  • Reacts with integrity, dignity, fairness, and empathy for others in both positive and negative circumstances
  • Is unwilling to accomplish personal objectives at the expense of the company or others
  • Has relationships with people representing a variety of knowledge bases throughout the organization, industry, and/or community
  • Is asked to be involved in situations outside of his/her functional area or above his/her level in the organizational hierarchy
  • Shines the “spotlight” on others making sure they receive credit for accomplishments
  • Consistently produces results
  • Associates during work and personal time with others who are known to be powerful/influential in the company, industry and/or community
  • Willingly shares resources
  • Interacts well with all types of people at all levels in the organization
  • Does not blame others or make excuses when things go wrong
  • Is well suited to his/her role
  • Seems able to reduce the level of uncertainty for others in a given situation

What actions have you taken or behaviors have you displayed that have increased your level of influence with a group of people or in a given situation? 

For more information about the complete Gauging Influence tool and how to measure influence please contact Nicole De Falco at nicole@writeinfluence.com.

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