Friday, December 22, 2006

Writing Basics

Because of all the advancements in technology, we no longer need to rely as heavily on face-to-face or telephone communication. So much of our communication is in the form of short, written pieces or quick e-mails. This is great in that written pieces can be archived. Also, it is a tremendous time saver to be able to zip off a memo or e-mail to 10 people rather than to have to schedule a meeting or make 10 phone calls.

With these advantages come some costs, however. That is why it is important that we are communicating effectively within these shorter written pieces. When relying on the written word only, so many elements of communication are lost. Gestures, expressions, tone of voice, etc. are no longer present to accentuate the words used. And, with e-mail in particular, we tend to treat our messages informally, or even cavalierly. This can be extremely costly in a professional environment.

That is why it is more important than ever to focus on clear thesis statements, logical sentence construction, proper grammar and punctuation. You, the writer, are 100% responsible for ensuring that your intended message gets through. Take a look at the brief presentation below for some tips.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Ask and Ye Shall Receive--Maybe."

Have you ever been asked your thoughts or opinion about something, only to have the asker refute everything you say? What feelings were you left with? If you are like me, your first thought was, "Well, why did you ask me?" Your second thought was probably along the lines of, "Good luck getting my opinion again!" Why? Because you got the sense that they never really wanted to hear your thoughts in the first place. Rather, they were seeking validation for their point of view.

Leaders must get input from those around them. We cannot be experts in every discipline. We do not have the benefit of knowing every facet of an issue. Most, importantly, we must know that we we do not have all the answers. Getting input from trusted cohorts gives us the benefit of broader expertise and experience, different problem-solving perspectives, and, often, a more objective view. Invariably, the course of action taken will be stronger and more successful for this kind of interplay.

Soliciting, and valuing (that is the key) others' input creates a sense of team ownership. It lets the group know that the leader is concerned how decisions affect everyone. There likely will be a stronger 'buy-in' which often results in greater success.

Thus, it is crucial that when you are seeking input, you are doing it from a genuine desire to hear others' ideas. If you have done a good job of building a strong, success oriented team, you have every reason to include them in the decision making process. Frankly, you have banked your success on them! You have hired, smart, intuitive, creative people--people who will see right through disingenuous attempts to be 'inclusive.'

So, ask for their thoughts, opinions and ideas. Let them know you appreciate it. Explain how their contribution is of value. And, if you disagree, be honest about why. Ask more questions. You may end up being very glad you did because the answer may reveal itself.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Being Right Can Go Terribly Wrong

If there is debate among the team, does it matter who is right?

Maybe that is the wrong question. Choosing what is right does matter. But it doesn't (and shouldn't) matter who is right. Often, strong team members, with great ideas and conviction, will argue for their particular points of view. This kind of debate is healthy, and generally ends up delivering a better product. I want the team to debate, play Devil's advocate, flesh out the details and come to some conclusions about choosing a course of action. This helps to balance perspective, and ultimately creates broader appeal for the product.

Enter the problem. A team member vociferously defends his position, openly criticizes (even attacks) dissenting views, and alienates other members of the team. Who loses? We all do. The morale of the team is damaged (maybe irreparably) and momentum gets lost. Sure, we may be able to develop consensus following this kind of unhealthy exchange, but the damage is done. And what about the dissenting team member? In six months, no one will remember what the argument was about, but they will remember the behaviors. These impressions are set and will never go away.

We have all felt passionately about our positions and wanted to see our vision realized. I encourage everyone to exercise this passion. Realize, however, that you are always being evaluated as a team member. How you disagree is as important as what you disagree with.

To get more perspective on this issue, see a previous post, Strong Opinions and Conscience-Directed Change, and Bob Sutton's Strong Opinions, Held Weakly.

Friday, December 1, 2006

One of the Best

Dr. Jim Johnson , long-time Senior Manager of the History and Genealogy department, and one of the most respected authorities on genealogical research in the midsouth, is retiring today. It is with fondness that I post this. Jim has been an inspiration to all of us. His calm demeanor, great sense of humor, and passion for his work have made him one of the most effective leaders I have ever worked with.

The loyalty he has engendered in his staff, and the collective sense of mission they all possess is due, in large part to his modeling. Any time I visited the fourth floor, I would see Jim working side by side with his staff, serving the customers. And, what was evident was that he was not doing it out of a sense of duty. Rather, he was enjoying it! He lead and participated. He humbly gave credit for the great work of his department to his staff. He coached and guided them to success. He shared his knowledge and expertise with them. And, he handled change and challenges with equal amounts of patience and humor.

I know that I'll miss him.