Building Castles

Photo of the Great Hall at Stirling Castle
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

I just returned from a trip to the UK. While there, we toured a number of castles. One of those was Stirling Castle in Scotland. The photo above is the Great Hall.

The main stories we heard during our visit to Stirling Castle were about King James VI of Scotland, who later became King James I of England.

What struck me in the stories was how much effort King James put into validating his right to rule. Much of the architecture and decorative elements of the castle were intended specifically to demonstrate that he was the rightful ruler.

How much time and energy do you devote to validating your right to lead?

I have certainly worked for people who spent an inordinate amount of time justifying their right to be in the position they were in. These are often the people who get tied up in titles, seating charts at meetings, and other trivialities that distract from doing the real work at hand.

I get it. If you are a King who came to power by  conquering, you probably do need to expend some amount of energy telling people you belong there. You really do need to worry about people who would like to cut off your head.

How many of you can honestly say that your life is in danger if people do not accept you as their leader? How much time are you wasting to make yourself feel safe?

Here’s a thought. Instead of working to ensure your own safety and well-being, try working to ensure the safety and well-being of those you lead. Do that and you will be the beloved king who others willingly rally around to defend.


Money for Nothing

Image from Money for Nothing Music Video
Photo from original Money For Nothing video by Dire Straits.

One of my all-time favorite songs is Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” from their Brothers In Arms album. In case you need a reminder, here’s the full song in the officially uploaded version on YouTube.

According to published interviews, Mark Knopfler wrote the song after overhearing a guy working in an appliance store make comments about videos playing on the display TVs that were tuned to MTV. From that guy’s perspective, being a rock star was easy money. You just stand there, play guitar, prance around the stage, etc.

This song came to mind lately with a series of quotes coming out of the White House. Stick with me. I am not going political on you.

Here are a few of them:

1. “This is more work than in my previous life.”
2. “I thought it would be easier.”
3. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker.”
4. “It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Have we not all at some point looked at what someone else was doing and thought to ourselves how easy that job would be? And have we not had the experience of getting that job or that project and finding out that it was much more difficult than we expected?

I recently told a group of people that what I am doing now is the hardest thing I have ever done. They were shocked. How could being a speaker and entertainer be more difficult than managing major data center networks on a global scale? I’m not complaining. It’s worth it. Every single day. But, it’s incredibly hard work. Sure, being on stage looks easy. And, frankly, once the lights come up, that is the easy part – thanks to countless hours of practice and preparation. Getting there is the hard part.

In the corporate world, I know many people who think that the job gets easier the higher up the company ladder you climb. All they see are the perks. They see people in those jobs who make it look easy. Having been on that ladder myself, I can tell you that while each rung brings a better view, it also comes with a price.

Only you can determine whether the perks are worth the effort. Banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee can be fun and those just might be Hawaiian noises. But, you won’t get money for nothing. It is definitely work. You might as well make it fun.


Going Up?

Photo of elevator buttons
Photo copyright ©2017 Tim Gard. Used with permission.

I recently entered an elevator after making a mad dash to catch it before the doors closed. When I got in, one of the people already inside said, “Good thing you caught it. This elevator is really slow.”

As we stood waiting for it to start moving, I was beginning to agree with her. Then we all realized nobody had pressed a button. No wonder it was slow.

Is your career suffering from this same thing? You’re there, in the elevator, briefcase in hand, dressed for work, but it’s not moving.

Did you remember to press the button?

Too obscure? Allow me to be blatantly obvious in the analogy.

Are you wondering why you haven’t received the promotion you are hoping for? Are you wondering why you never seem to get assigned to the fun projects?

Have you tried pushing the button?

If you are hoping for a promotion, does anyone know? Have you had clear conversations with your boss about your desire for upward career mobility? Have you applied for openings in other departments? Have you asked what steps you can take to prepare yourself for the next opportunity?

If you are wondering why you never seem to get assigned to the projects you’d most like, have you given your boss an indication of your real interests? Have you had a conversation with your boss, in a non-whining manner, where you express, “You know, I would have enjoyed working on that project. When another one like that comes along, is there something I should do to be considered for it?”

Read those last two sentences again carefully. Together, they provide your boss with a clear indication of what you desire while assigning responsibility for making it happen squarely on you.

It’s up to you to make your intentions known. It’s up to you to make sure you are qualified for what you seek. It’s up to you to press the button.


Difficult People

Picture of Gus - the Office Curmudgeon
Gus – The Office Curmudgeon

Who is your office curmudgeon?

The most frequent questions I get when presenting leadership programs to corporate audiences are about dealing with difficult people. This is one of my favorite topics. Why? Because often your difficult people are the best people to have on the team.

Every team is going to have at least one challenging person. (Note: If you can’t identify the difficult person, it just might be you.)

Here’s my 2 question guide for dealing with difficult people.

Question #1 – Are they worth it?

If you strip away all of the personality quirks and interpersonal challenges, is this person good at their job? Are they otherwise making a solid contribution to the team?

If the answer is “No,” then we’re done here. You know what needs to be done and you don’t need me to tell you what that is. Go do it now.

If the answer is “Yes,” congratulations. Keep reading.

Question #2 – Is the difficulty internal or external to the team?

External – I call this one the rock star. In true rock star fashion, this person is excellent at their instrument. They may or may not be the lead singer. They might be the drummer who is never seen, but the underlying beat and rhythm they lay down is unmistakable. The true rock star is highly respected by the team for their knowledge and skills. Others turn to them for advice and guidance. These are fantastic people to have on your team. In the corporate world they are often called “guru” or “SME” (Subject Matter Expert).

I love rock stars. Gus, one of the characters in my act (pictured above), is patterned heavily after rock stars I’ve had on my teams. My top two methods of handling these rock stars:

a) Work with them to develop better interpersonal skills outside the team. Good luck with this. I hope you have more success with this approach than I ever did. Be patient, persistent and extremely clear in your conversations.

b) Never send them out into the world alone. If you know that interaction with others outside your group is going to be necessary, send someone else along with your SME to act as the buffer and outward interface. I’ve had repeated success with method and it is therefore my favorite. Be clear to both the SME and the person playing buffer what you are doing, why, and their specific roles. Your rock star with rough edges knows the deal. They’ll thank you for providing them a way to do their job.

Internal – I call this one the diva. The diva is also highly skilled in their job. But, they are different from the rock star in that they see the team as a supporting structure for them, personally. They insist on being in the spotlight. They often grab for the more interesting projects, thinking that since they are “the best” on the team, they should have first dibs on new projects coming into the group. They think hoarding their knowledge is a good way to ensure job security.

Outside of the team, most people do not see this behind the scenes drama playing out. All they know is this person is good at their job, asking “Can’t they be the one I work with all the time?”

I struggle with divas. Here’s the best I can suggest:

a) Work with them to adjust their behavior. Be extremely clear about how their behavior is negatively impacting the team and by extension the organization. Encourage them to become a leader within the team. Help them understand what that means – it’s not a title, it’s a behavior. Good luck.

b) Redefine job duties. If you can find a way to redefine roles and responsibilities so that this person’s natural inclination toward the spotlight can be used to benefit the team and/or the organization as a whole, do it. Sometimes this means transferring this highly skilled person to another department. It can be difficult. But, if done right, it can be a fantastic move for all.

Good luck with your difficult people. They are worth it.