All posts by Alan Mason

Alan is an active contributor to the industry, featured speaker at conventions, published in trade magazines and publishes Mason’s Morning Minute.

Good and Bad Leadership

“Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.”
~Laurence J. Peter

Leadership is the most difficult role anyone can take.  Leaders step up, make decisions, and do the hard things – which not everyone understands.  Not so tough for managers who keep the status quo under control.

I hear a lot of comments about “good leaders” and “bad leaders,” and while there are some that fit those definitions, we have to be sure we’re not labeling people through the lens of how we see ourselves. Continue reading

When Less Really Is More

When my friend, Kevin Metheny, was programming a small-signal station in San Diego he chose the strategy of creating his own universe to compete in.  The world outside the signal didn’t exist.  He put all his effort, from music research to community involvement (called remotes in those days) into this smaller definition.  He wound up taking the station to the top of the ratings by focusing on where he was, instead of where he wasn’t.
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Is This The End Of The World?

 “Think about it: send SLASH receive.  Email is the frenzied killer of proper communication.”
~Fennel Hudson, “A Writer’s Year: Fennel’s Journal No. 3″

Our email went down.  For a couple of days.  On and off.

I’d been thinking about a “no email Friday” or something like that, just to see what would happen.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It’s as if all communication had stalled!

I was smiling.

Yes, I use email too, but I really enjoy getting out of the chair and walking around to talk to people.  And evidently, it’s more effective.  In an online article in Inc, Jessica Stillman noted that a discussion face-to-face is more likely to produce a result than email.  It’s easier to send an email, but less effective if you’re looking for a real solution for something.

We feel like we’re getting more done because we can dash off ten emails in a short period, and then think we’re effective.  Then comes the follow-up questions, the explanations of what you meant, etc.  What you could have done in one face-to-face turns into several emails.

Emails can be great to set an agenda or recap a discussion, but I’m not so sure the idea of managing your workday and trying to get solutions, from the inbox does what we think.  The human factor is more effective and means we spend less time with the “reply-all” demon.

But Other Than That You Were Great!

To excel at the highest level – or any level, really – you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.
~Stephen Curry

Have you ever had one of those meetings with “the boss,” that when you walked away, all you remember is, “…but other than that, you were great?”

It’s how we feel like we have to balance our comments.  The fact is most of us feel awkward about just telling someone that they are either on the way and just need a little more effort, or maybe even that they suck.  So we wrap the comments in a “don’t worry about it” approach.  And we kill the self-confidence Stephen Curry is talking about.

I don’t know about you, but it’s never worked for me, whichever side of the comments I’ve been on.  Still having that on-air performer inside of me, I focus on what’s negative. You’d think I’ve learned by now.

When you have something good to say, just say it.  When you have coaching to do, just do it.  Equivocating might make you feel better, but not the person you’re coaching. It does nothing to help turn them into a 3 point MVP.

When The Other Person Is Always Wrong

“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”
~Michael Jordan

The official meaning of the term “wrongspotting” is zeroing in on the part of the feedback we get during performance conversations that we consider factually wrong, then fixating on it.  That happens a lot.   People aren’t prepared to hear something that doesn’t fit in their self-perception and using that something to negate all of the feedback.  It happens all the time.

There’s even a word for it:  Confirmation Bias – Tending to see your perspective, and defending your ideas, as a reason not to believe anything else.  Even though it’s apparent to others.

Managing Like A Dog

“The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.”
~Samuel Butler

Our 15-year-old Westie follows us around everywhere we go.  He seems to always be at our heels.  That’s why following someone around is called “dogging” them.

But our Westie has another interesting habit: he tries to anticipate where we’re heading.  He moves around us, and then, of course, is in the way and stops us.  Poor guy, it’s almost like he’s read some books about poor management and is trying to express it.

It comes up in management because micro-managing is a workplace version of dogging.  If you’re always on the heels of your people, watching everything they do, questioning everything that happens, and trying to tell them what to do, you’re dogging them.  Worse yet, if you try to play the leader using the “dogging” management technique, you’re bound to trip them up too.  It’s hardly leadership, let alone a good form of management.

Then there’s the second cousin of dogging, hounding.  That involves asking so many questions or “following up” so much it drives people crazy.  Of course, there are lots of other comparisons, like having to pee on the fire hydrant to mark it.

But then, people are smarter, right?

I’m In Charge Here and You Aren’t

“Men who speak endlessly on authority only prove they have none.”
~Gene Edwards, A Tale Of Three Kings.

“I’m in charge so I can do anything I want.”  Or, “I’m the (insert title here), and you should do what I say.”

It’s a type of mantra from some managers – not leaders – who see their job as continually criticizing the person and not the performance.  There are a lot of reasons for this, trying to tear others down so they can build themselves up, finding criticism easier than being positive, and, of course, plain old narcissism.

They’re easy to spot when walking through an organization.  They’ll tell you of their latest success, which is usually a success of one of their people, and their office often screams, “I’m important!”

They’re also the single biggest reason for turnover.  And remember, the best people leave first.

I feel sorry for these people.  They’re often very unhappy people, and may never know the happiness that comes with being positive, encouraging and building people up instead of tearing them down.

If You’re The Smartest Person…

“If you’re the smartest person in your group, you need to get a new group.”
~Pastor Josey at K-LOVE

It’s nice to work around smart people!  It’s even better when they share their “smarts” with everyone else.

I don’t think Josey was saying you should necessarily leave where you’re working, but rather that you need to find yourself a group where you’re not the smartest person.  Didn’t your mom or dad tell you to watch out who you hang around with?

The propensity to want to be seen as the smartest person in the room is pretty common.  It springs from a lack of self-confidence, causing you to position yourself, and everyone else, in a way that makes you look good.  We probably all do it in some circumstances, but some have to do it all the time.  It then becomes obvious to those around them and begins to work against them, which is too bad.

I have an alternate strategy.  As I said to the CMAA conference in Australia recently, I look for really smart people and stand next to them.  If you do that often enough, you’re going to become a lot smarter.  In fact, the conference was full of so many smart people that I wondered if I belonged there.

So there is a choice of strategies.  One makes you look smart, and the other makes you smart.  Your choice.

P.S.  Josey also advised us to “reject smallness and make room for more bigger people.”

The Other Side Of Leadership 

The bad leaders are the ones that push hard so they can gain, who brow beat us so that they can receive the benefit of our hard work, not so we can enjoy the success.
~Simon Sinek

I don’t usually express the negative, but one of the ways we learn how to be good leaders is knowing what not to do.  That’s why the following article from Fast Company got my attention.  I know I’m imperfect, so I’m always looking to improve.

Read & Enjoy:

The old adage is often true:  We don’t quit jobs, we quit bosses.  Besides hurting your mental well-being and productivity, working for a bad boss can severely impact your health.  Researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University found that the stress bad bosses cause can be as damaging as secondhand smoke.  And those bad bosses may also be making you sad, lazy, and fat.

Of course, many of us don’t have the financial or logistical freedom to just quit a job without a new one lined up if we get stuck with a bad boss.  So what is one to do?  You can, of course, learn to deal with the bad boss as best you can.  However, as with most maladies, the best medicine is prevention.  If you can learn to identify the warning signs of a bad boss during the interview stage, you can avoid that job and its potentially toxic work environment altogether.  Here are the biggest red flags to look out for, according to a recruiter and management professional we spoke to.

RED FLAG NO. 1:  DO THEY LACK BASIC RESPECT AND MANNERS?

“Even with my experience of interviewing, I’ve sometimes slipped up on what looked like a well-planned schedule at the start of a day blocked out for interviews and ended up running over and being late for the next interviewee,” says Sarah Dowzell, the COO at Natural HR. “Unexpected events can happen to the most organized of people, but how they react will tell you a lot about the person.”

This is often the most easily discernible red flag, says Dowzell. “Acknowledging and apologizing for being late to the interviewee is basic manners, and if the hiring manager doesn’t do this, what does it tell you about how they treat people?”

That’s something with which Richard Hanwell, associate director at The Sterling Choice, a recruitment agency for global professionals, agrees:

Manners cost nothing.  If an interviewing manager is checking their phone for emails or is taking phone calls, then they are unlikely to give the appropriate time in your prospective role if they can’t even do it when they are meeting you for the first time and should be looking to make a good impression.  No matter how senior a manager is, they should respect the importance of recruitment and turn all technology off in order to make an engaging impression.

RED FLAG NO. 2:  AN INFLATED EGO

“These are the hiring managers who are more interested in talking about themselves than interviewing you,” says Dowzell.  She points out that it’s easy to spot a boss with an inflated ego:  If you ask them any questions about the team you’ll potentially be joining, their answers will often focus on them and their personal achievements rather than the wider team.

“The best example of the inflated ego I’ve come across was a candidate being told by the hiring manager that he’d looked at his LinkedIn profile, and then he asked why this wasn’t reciprocated,” says Dowzell.  “This person does not only have an inflated ego, but they’re also needy.  Who wants to work for a needy boss?”

RED FLAG NO. 3:  PRONOUNS MATTER

The best bosses are team players who realize the contribution and value of every single person in the group.  But as many of us know, there are plenty of bad bosses who believe that successes are theirs alone, and failures are due to their subordinates.  But how can you tell which camp your prospective boss falls into when meeting them for the first time?  Hanwell says to pay attention to how they use pronouns in the context of the conversation.

“If your interviewer uses the term ‘you’ in communicating negative information – such as, ‘You will deal with a lot of ambiguity’ – don’t expect the boss to be a mentor,” he says.  “If the boss chooses the word ‘I’ to describe the department’s success, that’s a red flag.  If the interviewer says ‘we’ in regards to a particular challenge the team or company faced, it may indicate that he or she deflects responsibility and places blame.”

RED FLAG NO. 4:  THE BOSS ASKS INAPPROPRIATE QUESTIONS

One of the worst red flags to keep an eye out for is whether the prospective boss asks you any questions that may potentially violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “All of the legislations listed are designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace and mean that hiring managers should not be asking questions such as ‘Do you have children, or plan to have children?'” says Dowzell.

She points out that despite legislation, 75% of senior women in tech have been asked about family life, marital status, and children during interviews.  “Arguably, a hiring manager asking such questions hasn’t been sufficiently trained, but if they’re displaying unethical behavior at this stage, what does it tell you about how this manager operates?” she says.

RED FLAG NO. 5:  SIGNS THE BOSS (AND COMPANY) SEE YOU AS A LACKEY

Dowzell says that there are still plenty of bosses and companies that see their employees as little more than servants.  To demonstrate this point, she tells me about the experience of one of the first people she hired for her company.  Before interviewing at Natural HR, James had interviewed at a nearby larger business that had bigger budgets.

“James told me that after a great interview with a nearby company, he was introduced to a director who just happened to be passing as he was leaving the building, and all he said to James was, ‘First thing you need to know about working here, James: milk and two sugars!'” says Dowzell.  “That was enough to tell James all he needed to know about what his life would be like working for this company.”

RED FLAG NO. 6:  THE BOSS LACKS ENTHUSIASM

Hanwell says the final red flag to keep an eye out for is whether or not you sense enthusiasm and passion from the prospective boss while they are interviewing you.  “Measure this by paying attention to your feelings,” he says. “You should feel a sense of excitement when you consider working for them.  But if you feel like the boss hates his or her job and doesn’t care, leave immediately.  Chances are, the office is full of disengaged employees who are plagued by low morale.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, freelance journalist, and former screenwriter represented worldwide by The Hanbury Literary Agency.  His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books.

Easter Creativity

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world.  But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
~Walt Disney.

First of all, Happy Easter, He is risen.

Ever get into a discussion of creativity with one of those, “I’m the creative one around here,” or “all creativity comes from one department?”

Well, it’s wrong.  Creativity and creative people are all around you.  I’m fortunate enough to work in a place heavily populated with creativity, as this video about Easter shows.

The author, writer, and producer, Mark Ornelas isn’t in radio programming or marketing, but his creativity and communication skills are unmistakable.

When it comes to creativity, my mind always wanders over to Walt Disney.  The man was not only creative, but he was so “systematically.”  He established a framework of producing creativity through the lens of three roles.

The Dreamer has the visionary, big picture role.  This is where ideas start.

The Realist is the one who thinks constructively and devises an action plan for the vision.

The Critic (the most familiar role) tests the idea, looks for problems and unintended consequences.

The best ideas come when all three roles are present, but that’s not what typically happens.  If the roles are completely separate instead of a continuum, they fight each other.  Some say that all three roles can be handled by one person, but I know more people who think they are that person than are.  The best creativity necessitates all three roles being involved.

So one of three things happens.  We tilt to one role or the other roles, and miss the totality, bringing about a “good idea” that goes nowhere.  Or we outsource our creativity and innovation to people who have convinced us they are that three-in-one person.  Lastly, we just stop being creative – we give up on even trying to be more creative.

Creativity isn’t a department or a person, and it’s not a collection of good ideas that, in the end, don’t “put points on the scoreboard” at all.  They’re just cool ideas.

Mark and his video showed me that creativity isn’t that elusive, it’s right under our noses if we look for it.