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Past COREageous Entrepreneur Blog Posts

Be Alert to Six Sparks of Conflict

As a founder you need to depend on your team to get their jobs done, done well and on time. But in any young startup, pressures mount, and personalities clash.  You may be uncomfortable with any kind of conflict – the healthy and the destructive kind. Healthy conflict...

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Fear of Feedback

Q: We have a very sensitive engineer who is key to our startup. My partner and I have to be very careful how we phrase anything regarding his work. I’m not even talking about constructive criticism; it may just be something said in passing. We try very hard not to say...

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A Visionary’s Soliloquy

Theresa B. from Pittsburgh, PA writes: “My mind is a jumble of ideas, and when I have a great one I want my exec team to get to  work on it ASAP. ( I probably have ADHD or something like that.) They roll their eyes, sit back and make me feel like a child. There have...

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“Not Feeling Heard” What Exactly Do You Mean?

When teamwork is lacking at home or at the workplace, a common complaint is: “I don’t feel heard.” Children and adults speak it differently, using a wide range of emotions ranging from anger, sadness, frustration, indignation and resentment. I probed deeper into what...

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Teamwork Starts with Trust

Building teamwork is a relatively untapped activity because it’s hard to measure. There are other worries to attend to in the early stages of a startup that may seem more important – funding, customer satisfaction, marketing, technology etc. But without establishing a...

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Coaching Up or Out?

In my last CE post I talked about coaching valuable, but problematic employees. I will refer to these employees as Ms. or Mr. X.

In hindsight, you may have noticed these problems (a haughty attitude, lack of cooperation,frequent complaining, etc) coming early on, but chalked it up to Ms. or Mr. X being “new to the team.”

You get busy, and in the back of your mind, you hope that Ms. or Mr. X  will respond to peer pressure, conform and the problem will vanish. It’s highly unlikely.

So, the next question is − coach up or coach out Ms. or Mr. X? Prior to that sit-down conversation, prepare your talking points. What characteristics will make this employee coachable? Is Ms. or Mr. X:

  • open to learning? (Ask for examples.)
  • confident enough to accept their limitations? (What are they and do you agree on the problem behaviors?)
  • ready to listen and appreciate the gift of criticism (Ask for examples.)
  • willing to persevere to change (How will change become visible immediately?)

If “coaching up” is the decision, then create a plan to monitor these changes (daily, weekly or biweekly check-ins and by whom). Expect the employee to summarize in writing this meeting and the commitment to change. That is your documentation. Review the plan for accuracy.

You may think this process is a “bit tough” on the employee in question. Yes, they may pass on the challenge and quit. But, in fact, you are helping Ms. or Mr. X succeed in the workplace and in life. You are also demonstrating leadership and supporting your team by addressing the aberrant behavior head on.

Founders: Interested in learning more about building core leadership skills? Send along your queries and workplace conundrums to me at [email protected]              

Political Views and a Friendship at Odds

Ben has been friends with his boss Joe for many years with very few and short-lived disagreements over the years. Ben is a very responsible and loyal employee and highly valued in the organization. He has always enjoyed working for Joe. But a wedge has come between them, or it’s more accurate to say, a wedge Joe has created – intolerance for Ben’s political view.

Ben writes:  Joe always used to greet me and send me referrals; we’d even hug on occasion. Since he found out who I voted for however, he averts his gaze, gives me a gruff “hello” and ignores me the rest of the day. It’s astounding! Occasionally, he pops into my office, sits down, lambasts my position and shares his disbelief at “my ignorance.” He has no patience for hearing my perspective. If I calmly offer to share my side and the facts behind it, he gets red-faced, loud and angry. The staff scatters to an office within earshot to witness the drama. If I ask Joe questions about his position, I get a flurry of expletives and more insults. I want to keep our friendship and my job! Help!

Ben, keep your cool, and show that you care about the friendship and doing your job. Greet him every day as you normally would. At the water cooler talk about what you have in common – projects, family issues etc. If he brings up politics, or makes a remark about your candidate, laugh it off and get back to work. Keep your door open to him and welcome healthy discussion. I suggest you listen to Joe with curiosity and only share support for your position if asked. You can be the sounding board he needs to air his frustrations, but not the whipping post. If the discussions get heated, calmly state that it’s okay that you see things differently and you have work to do.

In time, Joe will see that the tantrums and grudge-holding waste energy and look bad to staff. Conversely, you will be seen as rational, mature and open to healthy conflict – all admirable qualities in life and at the workplace.

The heated political arena is a good test of friendship. Do you need help keeping an open mind and a friendship intact? Contact me at [email protected]      


Managing the Diva, the Aberrant Genius or the High Performing Disrupter: Part One

Lynn G. writes: In my quest for a creative project manager, one that could jump start my team and create a little “healthy competition,” I may have made a mistake by hiring Tina (name changed). She is highly productive, but abrasive. In the wake of her accomplishments, Tina is slowly eroding the morale of the team. How do I keep Tina’s behavior in check without losing good staff ?   

This is one of the biggest challenges for a young startup. Careful vetting, a preventative measure, is often cut short when you need better numbers fast. Identifying gaps or dysfunction in your existing team is another option to employ before hiring a diva to save the day. Have you clarified your team’s performance expectations and offered clear paths to achieving those expectations? Have you made clear in the hiring process, what behaviors will not be tolerated?  In a founder’s haste to please investors and increase sales, it is often common to overlook the weak links in one’s management skills. Since Lynn did not specify behaviors unacceptable to the company from the start, I advised her to spell them out for future hires.

At this point, however, Lynn needs to determine if Tina’s downsides exceed her considerable contributions. Aberrant behavior can tolerated if the behaviors are seen as those in service of the company; it is often a high performer who saves staff jobs.

For now, what is Tina doing that is disruptive enough to justify a warning or an opportunity to change? Does Tina break team communications? Interrupt others? Does she lie, attack, harass or mistreat staff? Does she make people afraid to talk? Do you spend too much time correcting her and making excuses to staff?

Lynn answered “yes” to most of these questions. Lynn’s next steps? A warning? Dismissal? Or is Tina coachable? In the next CE post, I’ll share the qualities that make an employee coachable and some ways for doing so.

Need help in coaching up your diva or aberrant genius? I can help. Contact me at [email protected]  


The Power of “Willing”

If you are trying to get someone to buy into an idea, purchase something from you, or just cooperate, consider the power of the word “willing.” Questions like “Would you like to sign up for a week’s membership?” “Are you interested in making a donation?” “Did you ask your teacher about extra credit?” are all yes/no questions that hope to elicit a commitment. The trouble with these questions is that they don’t tap into the integrity of the person or make them reflect on what kind of person they are. It’s too easy to snap a “yes” or “no” reply.

I learned the power of “willing” while I sat in on a conference call with a group of very savvy salesmen and potential customers. They were not the “high pressure” kind you might expect; instead they used the power of “willing” to turn a “no” into a “yes” or a “maybe” more of the time. They asked, “Would you be willing to sign up for a week’s membership?”  “Are you willing to make a donation? These questions (spoken, by the way, without any vocal emphasis on the word “willing”) evoked surprisingly different replies:  “In that case, yes!” “Yes, I can do that.”  “Perhaps so, that sounds reasonable.”

The credit for this discovery goes to Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University and the author of an interesting book called Talk: The Science of Conversation.  She claims that “willing” works best in situations where “they care about the type of person they are, and where they’ve resisted doing the things you’re trying to get them to do.” What is fascinating about this approach is how one simple word shift changes the emphasis from what the person would like to do to the kind of person they are or how they would like to be perceived: cooperative, open-minded, reasonable.

So, how about that extra credit question and a few other chores you’d like your teenager to follow up with?  Give the power of “willing” a try! It may lead to better grades and a cleaner room!


Annual Check Up: How Healthy is Your Startup?

If you are starting fresh with your venture, or even if you’re knee deep in a startup, it’s good to ask yourself: How healthy is my business at this point? According to Patrick Lencioni, an organizational health guru and author of several books on the topic, organizational health is the single greatest factor in determining the success of your startup.

An unhealthy organization is a stressful place to work, mired in confusion and conflict, and under-producing. An organization cannot survive for long under these conditions. Lencioni claims that the health and the ultimate success of an organization rely on two main components: a cohesive leadership team and communication clarity. Does your leadership team:

1) engage in productive, unfiltered discussion and debate?

Or do they stay quiet, nod but secretly disagree, or fear reprisal for pointing out             problems? 

2) leave meetings with clear, specific and agreed upon next steps?

Or, do people leave meetings with unresolved issues, confusion or partial buy-in?  

3) hold each other accountable to commitments and behaviors that reflect the company’s core values? (Have you established core values to behave by?)

Or assuming that you have established core values, do your team decisions and             behaviors deviate from those core values?   

4) put the company’s priorities ahead of their individual department’s needs?

Or do department heads compete with each other, establish goals that are personally expeditious versus company-focused? 

A founder who builds a healthy organization looks first to his or her leadership team − whether it be two of you or twelve of you. It’s easy enough to hire smart leaders (experts in strategy, finance, technology, and marketing) than it is to change unhelpful attitudes and behaviors after they’ve seeped into the guts of the organization. When gossip, sham participation and confusion abound, exceptional (and expensive) talents cannot be fully utilized. Much time and money is lost in rehabilitation. In my experience coaching communication in companies, a healthy organization saves time and money allowing leaders to perform to their potential.

In the next blog post, I’ll address the second distinctive feature of healthy organizations − communication clarity.

Need more simple and time-saving ways to improve your company’s health. Send your comments and questions to me at [email protected]

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