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What Do You Say to a Liar?

Category: Ethics

Like so many young managers, Martha fell into the “lying trap”. Her boss asked her if she had followed-up on a sensitive customer issue and she said “yes.” But she hadn’t. Now she was in a fix. What would she do next? In a minute, I’ll tell you what happened.

Have you ever suspected that someone you lead at work has lied to you? What did you do? I think confronting employees who have lied is very challenging, especially for less experienced leaders, and how you prepare for those conversations can make all the difference. On April 30th at 9:00 am EST, we are hosting a free Webinar called “Uncovering the Truth – How to Prepare For and Have This Difficult Conversation.” If this topic interests you, I invite you to attend.

The Case of the Lying Martha. As I noted earlier, Martha said “yes” when she should have said “no”. But what made Martha’s case worse is that when she said, “Yes, I communicated with the customer,” she also told her supervisor she did so by e-mail. So, naturally, the supervisor asked her to forward the e-mail so he could review it.

It took Martha about a day to forward the e-mail, which was the first warning sign. As we studied the e-mail trail we discovered timing and date errors. It was now likely that not only did Martha lie about the initial customer communication; she then worked hard to cover it up. If this was true, Martha was not someone we wanted leading one of our teams. But how could we get all the facts?

  1. We started with a clear objective – get to the facts. We then developed a course of action based on what facts we discovered. If “A” happened, we would take “B” action. If “C” happened, we would take “D” action.
  2. We knew we needed a face-to-face meeting with Martha, so the supervisor called and set-up a time to meet. The supervisor was careful not to project concern over the phone, but did say he wanted to talk about the customer and other operational topics.
  3. We then planned a step-by-step process of how the supervisor would proceed through the e-mail trail so Martha and the supervisor could discover what actually happened. As the discrepancy in dates and times became apparent, the supervisor would ask Martha how this could happen. We were hopeful during this step Martha would admit she changed the dates and wrote the e-mail responses herself.
  4. If Martha was not able to explain the discrepancies and did not admit to lying, then the supervisor would ask, “Based on what you and I have now discovered, Martha, what do you think, I think happened?” Goal is to get Martha to say out loud what a third party would likely think. This often leads to an admission.
  5. If Martha continues to deny any wrong-doing, then the supervisor should tell her he is going to call the customer to verify the e-mail sequence and insure customer satisfaction. This step may lead Martha to tell the truth because now she could see that another person would learn she was dishonest and she might not want that.
  6. If Martha doesn’t admit to falsification, then the supervisor should call the customer and try to verify satisfaction and also the dates of communication.
  7. After the customer call, the management team would convene and determine what to do next.

When someone lies, especially a younger person, and quickly admits it, I tend to forgive them and offer them a second chance. I usually tell them they did the right thing by admitting they lied and then work on what lessons they learned. But when someone, especially a manager, lies AND tries to cover it up – they have a character flaw and we don’t want that person leading a team. Unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with a few of these folks over the years.

Epilog – Are you wondering what happened to Martha? On his way to the face-to-face meeting the supervisor got a call from Martha. She said something had come up and she couldn’t make the meeting. Shortly thereafter she resigned – Martha knew she had been caught lying and covering-up and didn’t want to go through the angst a face-to-face meeting would cause her.

I know you may be thinking, “They didn’t really need to plan that conversation, did they?” However, what you don’t know is that rarely do these situations go this smoothly and having a plan can make all the difference.

April 15, 2014 21:07

What Would Harry Truman Do?

Category: Inspire

I am trying to imagine this week what it would have been like to be Harry Truman on April 12, 1945. He was the same age as me today.

On that day he had just finished presiding over the Senate as Vice Presidents do. Then, while meeting in House Speaker Rayburn’s office, he received an urgent call to go over to the White House. He thought he was going to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt (“FDR”). Instead, Eleanor Roosevelt told him FDR was dead. Truman asked her if there was anything he could do for her and Mrs. Roosevelt famously said, “Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now!"

On that day our country was in a war on two fronts – Europe and Asia. Millions of soldiers were in harm’s way and our industrial capacity and economy were quite strained. Since his inauguration in that January, Truman had only a few meetings with FDR and was not invited to war briefing sessions. He was unknown internationally and had virtually no diplomatic experience. At home, he was unknown to most Americans. Yet he was just the right man for the job and many historians think Roosevelt knew this.

Give ‘em Hell, Harry. Many younger Americans don’t even know Harry Truman was President of the United States. What they should know is he was one of the few presidents who did his homework, had the courage to make tough decisions without worrying about getting re-elected, and always did what he thought was right.

He was born in 1884 in Missouri and died there in 1972. He spent many of his early years working on a farm and had Midwestern values. And for most of his 88 years he was underestimated and unappreciated. However, a quick look at his leadership accomplishments helps us understand why scholars often rank him among our best Presidents.

Here are just a few highlights.

  1. Rejected by the U.S. Army because he wore glasses, Truman joined the Missouri National Guard and personally organized an artillery unit. The unit was later sent to fight in France in WWI. Because of his leadership skills he was selected to lead a very ill-disciplined artillery unit into battle. His soldiers quickly grew to respect him during the first battle and under his command the battery didn’t lose a single man throughout the war.
  2. As a U.S. Senator in 1940 he chaired a committee that studied military affairs. He visited military bases around the country and discovered much waste and profiteering. His tough questions and thorough research led to saving billions of dollars and governmental re-structuring that helped us prepare for WWII. The power brokers in Washington started to notice him.
  3. After becoming President, Truman made the tough decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan that ended WWII. Often considered the most difficult moral decision a leader has had to make, historians largely agree it saved several hundred thousand American soldiers, who would have had to fight the Japanese in Japan.
  4. Truman inspired the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after WWII. He developed the Truman Doctrine, which focused on reducing the Soviet Union’s expansion into war-ravaged Europe and was supportive of the development of NATO.
  5. Against the opposition of many conservative politicians Truman passed an Executive Order that desegregated the armed forces and eliminated racial discrimination in the federal government. And he did this just a few weeks prior to the hotly contested Democratic Convention of 1948. Most people thought his political career was over. They had again underestimated him.
  6. In the regular election Truman was a huge underdog and New York Governor Thomas Dewey had a double-digit lead in the polls. Truman then went on a 22,000 mile rail tour of America and made “whistle stop” speeches from the rear platform of the train. His speeches were mostly anti-Washington and spoke against big money corrupting politics. Somewhere along the way people starting yelling, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” A slogan that stuck with him.

Election of 1948. The “polls” continued to give Truman no chance at getting re-elected. Since the newspapers relied on the polls when they published their stories, the Chicago Tribune actually ran a victory headline made famous in this photo. However, since the polls were done over the telephone and many Americans didn’t have phones, especially those in rural areas, the polls were wrong. Truman won with nearly 50% of the vote and Dewey only about 45%. The power brokers had underestimated Truman again.

When Truman left office he was virtually broke. There were no pensions for Presidents or Senators then. He refused several high-paying jobs in industry because he thought it was unethical. He took-out a loan and sold his family’s limited assets to pay his bills. He did eventually write a book and was later granted a small pension by the government.

I think I know how Harry would deal today with powerful money brokers, the bloated government, the military industrial complex, and the tax system. I wish there was another Harry Truman out there today.

April 11, 2014 04:49

How Leaders Can Lower High Anxiety

Category: Leadership and Management Lessons

All of us experience anxiety. Even today I experienced it as I was driving through Boston on my way to appointments in Rhode Island. The weather was poor, the volume of traffic significant, and I wanted to be on time. Since being on time is important to me, I knew that the fear of being late would cause me anxiety. So how did I manage it? I left an hour early and arrived with plenty of time to spare.

Let’s look at the most common examples of anxiety in the workplace, how we can face it, and how leaders can use positive reinforcement to lead others through their anxieties.

Fear of Failure. The most common anxiety that affects the workplace is the fear of failure. Most of us want to succeed at work and be valued by our supervisors and teammates. When the possibility of failure enters our minds, each of us copes in different ways. While there are many types of behavior that might emerge, avoidance and procrastination are the most common.

Avoidance is a behavior that attempts to avoid certain feelings or stressors. For example if Tom is a very poor writer, he might do everything in his power to get out of writing a report because the fear of failing to write a correct sentence is severe. Procrastination delays the fear of failure and thus, temporarily, the anxiety.

I recently read an article on our insurance website by Erika Tyner Allen in which she reminded us how these coping mechanisms actually compound the fear of failure anxiety.

  • Because procrastination actually narrows the window of time you will have to complete the task, the quality goes down and the likelihood of failure goes up. Because the likelihood of failure goes up, so does the person’s anxiety.
  • When a person is allowed to avoid, they miss opportunities to grow and reduce their anxiety.
  • Procrastinators often deceive themselves by saying, “I work best under pressure.” Unless you are David Ortiz, you don’t do your best work under pressure. You might do your best “average” work, but you are actually more likely to fail.

Three Ways to Shift Our Minds. Allen suggests we use three methods to get out of the avoidance-procrastination trap. First, discover one pleasure in the task at hand. How could this task help me or someone else? What is one thing I could learn? Allen reminds us that “positive” reasons for doing the task are more effective long-term than negative reasons, e.g. this will get my boss off my back.

Second, we need to believe that we can actually get better at something – we don’t have to be bad at writing reports for the rest of our life. Allen writes that recent studies published in Atlantic Monthly show that when you believe doing a task will improve your weakness, it is a very strong motivator.

Finally, learning to work through tasks that create negative feelings only makes us more comfortable doing it again next time. This trains our minds and reduces our anxiety each time.

Positive Reinforcement by Leaders. When a leader becomes aware of someone’s anxieties or observes avoidance and procrastination, they have an obligation to address it for the benefit of the organization. Allen describes three ways leaders can provide positive reinforcement.

  1. Encourage. This is how you provide the discouraged employee hope. It is the hardest part of leadership because you have to know what the anxiety is and what will trigger the person to change their behavior. What do they have the ability to do and what will get them started. “Because my supervisor told me about when she had trouble writing and the course she took and how it made her successful, I have signed-up to take a similar course.”
  2. Motivate. Here is where the person is taking-over their own internal motivation. You show them why they should be proud of their own progress. The leader transitions from “I am proud of you” to “Aren’t you proud of yourself?”
  3. Recognize. This is when you reward the behavior after it is done successfully. It may include money or praise, especially in front of others.

A final note to leaders. Do you know what causes your anxiety? Do you understand how you cope and what impact your behavior has on the others you lead? I think one of the mistakes leaders make is not recognizing their own anxiety and the impact their coping mechanisms have on those they lead.

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

April 02, 2014 21:50

Can You Take on Coke and Pepsi as a Strategy?

Category: Strategic Planning

When is it a good idea to take on Pepsi and Coke? Apparently you can when it involves the Super Bowl. I’ve just been reading about how a small company, SodaStream, tried to do just that and won in the eye of public opinion. And it teaches us how important public relations and the Internet are in building a marketing strategy today.

SodaStream. SodaStream is an at-home soda-making system, which offers a more environmentally-conscious and healthful alternative to mass-marketed soda brands. They provide dozens of flavors, which you can use to make your own carbonated drinks in a reusable glass canister in the comfort of your own kitchen.

SodaStream is a global company headquartered in Israel. Over the last seven years they have grown from being in 13 countries and 25,000 stores to 45 countries and 60,000 stores. Their products are offered in 16,000 stores here in the United States.

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review their CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, wrote about how he believes the carbonated beverage industry is ripe for disruption. Consumers (especially the younger demographic) want healthier and environmentally responsible choices. They just don’t want to lug bottles home from stores, consume sugar, and then dump the remains in landfills.

Their Marketing Strategy. Since they can’t afford a large advertising budget to compete with Coke and Pepsi, Birnbaum discussed their marketing strategy. He wrote, “We challenged ourselves to make every dollar we spent have the impact of $20, to try to break through the noise and the clutter. Since we began this work, we’ve thought a lot about how to generate word of mouth, make ads that go viral, create ambassadors, and be provocative.”

Banned Super Bowl Ad. Because SodaStream had grown to over $400 million in sales, they decided to invest $4 million for one Super Bowl Ad in 2013. In this clever original ad SodaStream went right at Coke and Pepsi and it reminded me of how Coke and Pepsi used to go at each other in ads about a decade ago. However, in this case CBS rejected the ad. While they never said why, it was clear they didn’t want to upset two of their top five advertisers. SodaStream was required by contract to run another ad and they chose an older one.

News of the ban went viral and, of course, SodaStream put the ad on the Internet. (According to Birnbaum it has had over 5 million hits globally in all locations.) But that’s not all. The ban also created dozens of news articles and other hype. Marketing experts have estimated the name SodaStream has achieved 6 billion PR impressions – quite impressive.

While Birnbaum said the ad idea and subsequent ban was not planned, it seems to me it was well calculated given their overall strategy. They knew it would be a hit if the ad actually ran and they knew it would be a hit if it didn’t – very clever, I think.

So, how effective is SodaSteam’s marketing strategy? I have long been a consumer of Diet Pepsi and know it isn’t good for me – the chemicals are probably taking a toll on me. In addition, the plastic bottles they use waste petroleum and those that don’t make it into my home’s recycling bin are really bad for the environment. I think I’m going to give SodaStream a try – so, I guess their strategy is working.

March 25, 2014 10:59

How Early Yearnings Can Give Insight into Your Talents

Category: Employee Skills

Recently I heard Jim Cramer of Mad Money fame give a short interview on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Among the things I learned is that his talents as a stock market investor appeared during his early life – to steal a Marcus Buckingham phrase these were “yearnings.” I’ll get back to Jim Cramer’s story in a minute.

Yearnings. I first read about Buckingham’s reference to “yearnings” in an article titled “The Traces of Talent” in Business Leadership. Yearnings are unique talents each of us have that often show themselves early in our lifetimes. These yearnings can provide us insight into our natural talents, which we can use to excel in our work.

Buckingham shared with us these examples, “At ten years of age, the actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, already close friends, would find a quiet spot in the school cafeteria and hold meetings to discuss their latest acting ‘projects.’ At 13, Picasso was already enrolled in adult art school. At age five, architect Frank Gehry made intricate models on the living room floor with wood scraps from his father’s hardware store. And Mozart had written his first symphony by the time he turned 12.”

In my own family I see many examples of early “yearnings.”

When I was six I picked-up discarded cigar boxes at the base exchange (a military store) and sold them door-to-door. Later, I organized and ran profitable kid’s movie festivals in high school, and in college I created a very successful refrigerator rental program. I have had a life-long interest in and innate understanding of business.

My wife, Patti, is a registered dietitian. When she was seven or eight she did organic gardening with her grandmother, a passion of hers to this day. Our son, Scott, is an industrial engineer. At four or five he was assembling Lego kits far above his age group. When he was only 11 or 12 I came home from work and he was playing on the computer – not with video games. He was using a computerized factory game that was assembling televisions and he was figuring-out inventory.

And, our daughter, Alyson, is an archaeologist in Virginia. When she was in seventh or eighth grade she came home and told us she was going to a special Girl Scout camp program in northern New Hampshire to learn how to dig-up historical artifacts. She was gone for a week and when we went to pick her up, she stood with great pride next to a three foot cubic hole that she had dug all week – not something her proud father could have done.

These are yearnings.

Jim Cramer’s Yearnings. Jim Cramer started his career as a crime journalist in Florida and California and admitted in his Wait, Wait interview that he lived in a van for a while. However, while he was in law school his professors noticed he was always reading the Wall Street Journal. He told them he had always had a flair for picking stocks. He started giving faculty stock tips and they were very successful. Then, and this is really cool, he started leaving daily stock tips on his home answering machine. Everyone who called him could take advantage of his advice. One person who did was Martin Peretz, the founder of New Republic. After making money on Cramer’s phone tips he gave him $500,000 to invest. Cramer earned him $150,000 in two years. After that Cramer launched a very successful hedge fund and the rest is history.

This was Jim Cramer’s yearnings.

Have you identified your yearnings? If you have children, pay close attention to their yearnings. And, finally, talk to your teams of people and learn their yearnings. It can be fun and you might just learn how to best apply their talents for the benefit of your mission.

March 13, 2014 14:36
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Steve Wood is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Leddy Group and Work Opportunities Unlimited Inc. (WOU). In addition, Steve provides strategic planning and organizational development consulting services to clients.


Prior to joining the company, Steve spent 17 years in the banking industry where he was promoted to Senior Vice President and Senior Commercial Loan Officer.



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