Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Maturity Takes Time And Guidance

“These new kids!” Do you sometimes shake your head in frustration at the poor judgment and lack of maturity shown by newer employees, especially younger employees? Take heart, in a few years those employees will be shaking their heads too, and complaining about the “kids we hire nowadays.”

Not long ago I was teaching a group of new supervisors who had been working in their profession for only about six years, on average. One of them said, “These kids we’re hiring aren’t like the ones even a year ago. We’re getting them more immature all the time.” I suggested that perhaps he was getting more mature all the time. He vehemently said, “No, I’m not!”  (His coworkers said he was telling the truth!)

What were you like as a fledgling employee? Supervisors and managers are correct to hold even the newest employees to high standards. However, sometimes it is wise to recall how we were as fledgling employees. Can you recall something you said or did that embarrasses you even now, to think about it? Have you turned out pretty well, anyway? So will most new and young employees, if we train them, support them and guide them–and correct them when it is needed.

The best kind of supervisory guidance.  It is important to train employees in the competencies of the job, and to help them develop professionally by giving them opportunities for learning experiences. However, one of the best kinds of guidance we can provide is to help employees see how they can achieve much more personally and professionally–and how much more they can contribute to the organization and the team–if they work to attain emotional, mental and professional maturity.

In that context, some of the indicators are: Willing to take responsibility for one’s own success and for a role in the work environment, a desire to improve, adaptablity and flexibility, patience, perserverance and dependability, and expanding their thinking and perspectives.

Talk about that concept with each employee. Give them opportunities to gain and demonstrate maturity, and use the words that describe maturity when you praise them.

It took you a long time to mature–and you still are working at it. You still use poor judgment on occasion; you still behave inappropriately now and then; you still lose sight of the big picture and focus on your own personal needs at work. You also are always in the process of growing and maturing. That is true of every employee you supervise as well. Some mature more quickly than others and some never develop to full effectiveness. But, whatever their development, your age, tenure, experiences and job roles will probably always make you feel more mature than they are. In turn, they will view those with less tenure than them as the immature ones!

Your biggest reward. It can be very rewarding to watch employees get better at every aspect of their jobs and become more mature. What you will find even more rewarding is knowing you have helped in the process of development. That does not happen merely because you are a supervisor, it happens because you communicate about important things–and because you care.

Look around and identify those who need to mature so they can begin to achieve their potentials. See them as they can be, not neccessarily as they are. Then, help them become what you know is possible for them. Not all will live up to their potentials, but those who do will never forget you. Perhaps they will use your example to encourage them to guide others.

July 7th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | one comment

What Roads Brought You To Now?

Not all of life's paths are this lovely! The title of the Beatles song, The Long and Winding Road, speaks to most of us who have paused to think of the paths, roads, highways–and even alleys–of life, which have brought us to where we are right at this moment.

How might life have been different had we taken different paths on hundreds of different occasions–perhaps just a slightly different decision or different timing? The movie Sliding Doors played to that concept in an entertaining and thought provoking way.

Draw a Life Graph: Consider drawing a simple or complex visual portrayal of your life and the people and events that have brought you to where you are now. I notice that Oprah’s site talks about Life Mapping from the perspective of using magazine photos and illustrations to present our past and present as well as our desired future. You can check out that concept here.

That might be fun to do! However, that is not the concept I use in a few classes in which we discuss personal and professional development. (Time and materials are factors, as are the personalities and styles of the participants.)

I prefer the easier method of simply drawing a line–either free-flowing or using short lines connected with dots or symbols–that represent a route through life. If you have never drawn a Life Graph or Life Map, try it sometime. If you have done it before, try it again–perhaps with a few new options, suggested below, for how you want to picture your life and the choices you have made. Let me also say here that there is no required method for doing this–no “right way.” You may want to practice a bit and re-do it until you think it reflects your life most accurately.  It is just an self-reflecting activity, not a grim assignment!

The most basic Life Graph: On long side of a piece of paper put a starting year of your choice–birth, graduation, this job, marriage, out on your own, or any other beginning point–even retirement can be a beginning point for such a graph. Very faintly draw a straight line–a baseline–between then and now. That will represent your life if you lived it in a coma! It would be life without people, places, events and situations, that have made your life what it has been.

Some people use the baseline as an indicator of times when things were stable or uneventful. You may want to mark the baseline in increments of one, five or ten years, to make it easier to read your graph.

Moving your life from Point A to Point B:

  • Some people like to draw a continuous line that curves, arches, twists, or goes straight, as it moves through the graphic depiction of their lives–like one long and winding road. If you do that, you can put dates, words or symbols near your line to indicate significant events. 
  • Others prefer to draw short straight lines from significant point to significant point–much like connecting the dots, or a traditional graph look. If you do that your line may zig-zag above the baseline, then dip below it, according to your emotions about a situation. Your line may go off on a tangent, never to return exactly to it’s former level, or it may level off now and then, running parallel to the baseline.

Marking the line with the significant people and events of your life: Since you will be the only one to see it, you can write any descriptors you want, from an abbreviation to a word or sentence, or using symbols to indicate key points, events or people.

Getting to now: Eventually, the line will bring you to today’s date. You know your graph or map is done when you can look at it and feel that it fairly accurately reflects the paths of your life. (I once saw a Life Graph template that unfolded to nine feet and was meant to be kept on a wall permanently!)

 You may want to consider making your Life Graph from more than one perspective–because your life has more than aspect to it. For these it might work best to use the dot to dot method, with the line going above and below baseline to indicate positive or negative–but again, it is your life and you can draw it as you wish!

  • Indicate career changes–Only career events, changes, advancements, crises or satisfaction.
  • Indicate personal relationships–Only relationships and their impact on you at the time.
  • Indicate health and fitness–Only your weight, fitness level, commitment to your exercise program and other activities that relate to fitness.
  • Indicate financial stability–Only a graphic indicator of the ups and downs and stable phases of your financial life. 
  • A combination of issues. Both your health and fitness and your career, for example.

Compare those diverse perspectives to see if there are correlations or not. Use them as tools to determine when an aspect of the area being graphed became better or worse. Look for patterns. See where you are now and where the momentum is taking you.

Another way to use your Life Map: Your Life Map or Life Graph is a graphic portrayal of time. But at some point, somewhere in the future, it will be, quite literally, the end of the line. I do not want you to estimate that date! Instead, at the far right-hand side of the paper, put a star to indicate, “Still living!”

All of us want to be in the middle of living when we stop. You do not know how many days or years you have between now and that point, but you can be absolutely certain of this: You will be moving forward on the path of your life from now until then, just as you were moving forward from the beginning until now.

How do you want the path to look, if you were to draw your Life Map again in five years? Ten years? Twenty or more years? Today is the day to start it in the direction of your dreams, wishes, aspirations and goals!

July 3rd, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 8 comments

Prickly People and the Problems They Perpetuate

Some questions about prickly people at work: Do you supervise someone you tip-toe around to avoid setting them off in some way?

Do you sometimes feel that you and the rest of your workplace are held hostage by one person who is incredibly difficult for others to work with?

Does it sometimes unnerve you? Aren’t you tired of it?

The employee who must be treated like a time bomb: I’ve written before about discourtesy in the workplace. In fact, that is a recurring theme of mine, since I hear so many complaints about it. However, this article is focused on the person who is challenging because he or she is hyper-sensitive to critique or suggestion–let alone criticism. Perhaps the employee cries or sulks or becomes angry and withdrawn.

The result is that coworkers and supervisors avoid the slightest hint of suggestion that something that person did or said should be done differently next time or could be improved. The difficult person becomes the only one who never hears a complaint or suggestion. No wonder he thinks he’s perfect! No wonder she is shocked at the slightest criticism! And, what often happens is that when a supervisor finally decides to say something he unloads on the employee in a way that makes things worse.

The difference between sensitive and punitive. I chose the photo for this article for a reason: The prickly tree does not need to be treated gently because it is delicate. It must be treated gently because it will punish you otherwise! That is also why we need to have heightened awareness of employees who seem to be over-the-top about their emotions, irritations and reactions.

You are not psychologist or psychiatrist, so you do not know whether the behavior is much more severe than it seems–not that psychologists or psychiatrists always know either! However, you are responsible for the safety and security of others, including the employee who seems to have trouble handling any critique. You are also responsible for enforcing rules and policies, and there are nearly always rules and policies about courtesy, respect and appropriate behavior.

There are reasons to be concerned. Last week in Kentucky, an employee who had been chided about his repeated cell phone use and for repeatedly not wearing safety goggles, returned to the workplace and shot and killed five people, including the supervisor, before committing suicide. Many similar events have occurred in businesses, industry and government offices around the country. Supervisors and managers are justified in being concerned about prickly people!

You probably will not have such a dire situation with your challenging employee, but I doubt that supervisor thought so either.  You may think you know your challenging employee very well–you may even be friends. But, emotions and mental upset can result in actions you never expected. You certainly might have to deal with a lot of anger and bitterness.

Do your job and handle the situation. Do not let yourself get into the habit of allowing poor work or ineffective behavior because you want to avoid the upset that will result if you say something. Do not require other employees to tolerate bad behavior from a coworker because you do not want to deal with it.

Talk to HR, your psychological resources if available, and your managers, to let them know what you have planned. Follow organizational guidelines.  For example, you may not be able to tell an employee it is his last warning if there was no first warning. You also need to find out what you can do if the employee reacts in a way that is a rules violation or becomes out of control. Can you place a formal disciplinary action about it? Can you require him to go to psychologist? Can you call security? Can you make him go home? Can you keep him out if he tries to return? Know in advance, even if you do not expect any strong reaction.

When you talk to the employee, do your best to make it a comfortable conversation. That might sound impossible, but make the effort. Do not put desk space between you. Sit at a table or in a conversational arrangement.

*Start by saying what you have observed, why it is a problem and what the employee must do differently in the future. Stick to observable behaviors, not what you think the employee thinks or feels.

*Remind the employee of rules or policies and say they will be enforced in the future.

*Keep it brief and do not preach or do excessive counseling, simply state the behavior that must stop.

*Consider following that with the approach of reinforcing what you want to see stay the same, then getting the employee to say back what he or she will do differently in the future about a sample situation.

*If you have organizational resources to recommend, provide those in a supportive way. Just do not let his problems become yours to solve.

There are many resources that can provide more lengthy information about handling difficult corrective interviews than I have space for in this article. However, you will do just fine if you stick with that formula of stating the behavior that is a problem, giving an example, and getting feedback about how it will be handled differently in the future. I’m not saying the employee will like it or thank you. But, at least you can get through it.

Get back to work. After the interview, quickly, quickly, quickly reestablish normal conversations and relationships. Assign work, thank him for a good job, be low-key but appropriate. Give him a chance to save face and move forward.

I have experienced several supervisory situations in my career where I halfway expected a very angry outburst or a sulky temper tantrum. I was correct in three cases. VERY correct in one case! In another case, the employee looked at me for a moment and said, “OK.” He never acted the same tyrannical, angry way again! If I had known it was going to be that easy, I would have talked to him much sooner!

Your situation will be unique and you must decide how it should be handled. However, do not feel foolish for thinking you have reasons to be concerned about someone’s hyper-reactions to criticism. There is ample evidence than such reactions can lead to more serious problems if they are allowed to continue.

June 30th, 2008 Posted by | Safety and Security Planning, Supervision and Management | 7 comments

Responsibility And Accountability

Responsibility builds strength!Most of us value those who have the mental and emotional strength to take responsibility and to be held accountable. We become frustrated and angry when there is a lack of accountability at the higher levels of our organization, or when those at lower levels seem to refuse to take responsibility.

Since those two issues are important for respect and confidence, let’s look at their definitions to get some clarity:

Responsible: Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable. Liable to be required to give account, as of one’s actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust. Involving personal accountability or the ability to act without guidance or superior authority.

Accountable: Liable to being called to account; answerable, responsible for actions and results.

Hmmmm. It appears that responsibility and accountability are just about the same! If we are responsible, we can be held accountable. If we are held accountable, we were responsible.

There are two things to note about responsibility and accountability:

  • Have you noticed that we tend to think of responsibility as a good thing, but being held accountable as punitive? 
  • It is nearly always easier to apply those concepts to the other guy than to ourselves.

We often brag (sometimes by pretending to complain) about all of our responsibilities and how the weight of everything is on us. But, if it looks like there will be negative comments, we are suddenly more than willing to share the responsibility: “Someone else was in charge! I barely was involved at all.”

We say we want our supervisors and managers to be held accountable. (“They never get in trouble but we always do!”) But, we condemn them for micromanaging or not trusting us, if they try to make sure nothing goes wrong. Think of that logic: “I want them to get out of the way and let me do my work. Then, I want them to be held accountable if there is a problem with the way I do my work.”

Communicating about responsiblity and accountability: As with most workplace issues, we would all benefit by more open communications about responsiblity and accountability. One way to do it is to use the words:

  • “I want you to be responsible.”
  • Make me responsible for it.”
  • “I’m giving you the responsibility for this.”
  • “You lived up to your responsibilities. Great job!”
  • “This has to be done correctly because you and I will be held accountable for it.”
  • “All of us will be held accountable for this, so I will be checking with you to make sure we are on schedule and that it’s going well.”

Notice how uncomfortable you feel even thinking about telling an employee he or she will be held accountable? No wonder many employees are shocked at the idea!

Noble weights: Responsibility and accountability can be burdens, no doubt about it, but they are noble burdens. (Noble: That’s a word we don’t use much anymore!)

We develop personally and professionally when we look for ways to be held responsible and when we are willing to be held accountable. That might require us to carry a heavier mental and emotional load than someone who has no sense of responsibility, or who avoids accounting for his or her actions. However, the weight of it will not drag you down. Ultimately it is the very thing that will help you stand tall in your work. You will gain strength, and that strength will show in your confidence and in the respect others have for you.

Maybe that is why those who shirk responsibility or who prefer to put it all on others, seem so small and puny!

June 26th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 4 comments

Training Room Set-Up and Technology: Important But Not Everything

 Jack Handey is the author of many Deep Thoughts that were popular on Saturday Night Live and in his books. They are absurd, introspective sounding statements that I find hilarious. One, from the book Deeper Thoughts, by Jack Handey: All New, All Crispy, (Hyperion, NYC, 1993) struck me as being apt for training situations I have encountered recently:

Instead of raising your hand to ask a question in class, how about individual push buttons on each desk? That way, when you want to ask a question, you just push the button and it lights up a corresponding number on a tote board at the front of the class. Then, all the professor has to do is check the lighted number against a master sheet of names and numbers to see who is asking the question.

Think about it a moment.

The desire to look innovative: I have noticed in the last decade or so, that training is often made more complicated than it needs to be, for the sake of appearing innovative.

  • Good technology is overdone or not done effectively.
  • Tables and chairs are dragged all over, even if participants cannot see or hear well, to make the set-up look less like a lecture room.  
  • Masking tape and flip chart pages are used for lists that mean little,
  • Discussions between the students (or student presentations) fill more time that they are worth.

Both the learner and the trainer are distracted because of the efforts. On the other hand, I am also aware that some people who conduct training only know one style: Lecture all day without anything to aid learning, and that is not effective either.

A trainer’s workshop: I attended a workshop for trainers not long ago, in which the participants were straining to find interesting training methods and classroom technology. Most admitted they spent a lot of their own money to enliven their training programs. Many said they often relied on video clips to keep participants interested, and were seeking lists of good videos to use–often without concern for the topic, except in a general sense. The ideas for games, activities, visuals, seating arrangements, tricks and tips that were produced seemed endless!

I was reminded of the training I attended a few years ago where participants were told to write their questions on potatoes and leave them at the front of the room during break. Then, the instructor would toss the potatoes to other students for them to answer.

Yes, that really happened. Since it was a class of raucous people, you can imagine the results! No one wrote serious questions, and, shall we say, the potatoes were not always used appropriately.

Back to the workshop…The trainers said that in spite of the many creative methods they used, it was almost impossible to get and keep the attention of the participants for a half day or full day class.  One trainer said, “They’re fine as long as we’re doing something fun or if they are moving around, talking and working on something at the same time. But, the minute I go back to explaining a vital process, I can tell they are restless and don’t want to sit still. Some of them spend most of their time text messaging while I’m teaching. ” (And these are adult learners who are being paid, I should note.)

Put the focus on learning: Many of my classes are multiple days or a full week, so I can certainly understand the challenges. However, I am convinced that trainers and training coordinators need to focus on learning, not solely on unique classroom experiences–unless those experiences absolutely increase learning. At the same time, managers and supervisors who arrange for training have to also focus on learning, rather than being overly impressed with the bells and whistles of a trainer who leaves many participants smiling, but without any new skills or knowledge or at least new thoughts.

Coming soon: In an upcoming article I am going to discuss some methods trainers (full-time, part-time and now and then) use to keep things moving along and keep students interested–and that genuinely aid learning.  Look for that in the next couple of weeks. If you have ideas or tips, please let me know about them. You know how to contact me!

What must the learners do or be? In the meantime, if you are setting up training or going to conduct training yourself, focus on what the participants in your classes absolutely must leave the classroom prepared to do or be. That is the value of those pesky learning objectives you have heard about. Make those your priority. Training participants may prefer to be entertained or kept busy, rather than thinking or applying learning. However, they are usually there to learn something that is needed for effectiveness at work. Trainers should stop apologizing for training!

If your classroom seating arrangement, PowerPoint, overhead transparency, flip chart, video, visual aid, activity, game or discussion is only designed to make you look like a new-age trainer, but does not better prepare the learner to achieve the objectives, think twice about using them. You will save yourself a lot of preparation time and force yourself to consider your balance between the essentials and the extraneous.

June 24th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | one comment

Police Assessment Center and Promotional Testing Training — Need Some?

Note: Thanks to all of you who responded to this post. I have several classes scheduled, including an experimental class that will allow participants to practice assessing. That ought to be interesting!

Keep in touch if your organization would like to host this or any other training.


This is an unusual post for me, and those who are not involved in law enforcement will have to forgive me for it! You have noticed, I hope, that I do not advertise in this online journal. I want it to be a learning resource, not just a business opportunity for me. However, this information is about a learning resource, so I will beg your indulgence!

Police and Fire Department Assessment Center Training: I am considering presenting my Assessment Center preparation class (Professional Development Through Assessment Center Preparation) sometime in the next few months (July-September, 2008) but am not certain whether I should offer it in the Denver Metro area, or go outside the area to some other part of the state. Or, in some other state.

Let me know what you think: If you are seeking training and were not able to attend the last few seminars, or know someone who needs the class, contact me through Comments, the Contact Me section, or directly by email to let me know your interest and when your process is scheduled.

Who should attend and when: Anyone who thinks they will have a promotional process in the next three years should be preparing now. I’m serious! I find it so disheartening to have people want training when their process is only a few weeks or even a few days away. An Assessment Center measures your knowledge, skills and attitudes related to the job you seek. You cannot cram the experiences, opportunities, training, assignments and activities you need, into a few weeks or months.

You can ask almost anyone who takes a promotional process and they will say they wish they had started preparing sooner! You are not just preparing for the process, you are improving your skills for your daily work, then you will apply that to the process. If you know someone who should start now, or you know you should, do it and tell them about it. .

Could your department host a class? I am always happy to work with officers who have a training room and refreshments available, plus someone to assist me during the busy day. Perhaps that would be a way for you to get free training?

If you do not have time for the day of training, at least purchase my book from the publisher, Charles C. Thomas, or from Amazon, and send me an email to let me know how you are doing. If I can help, I will!

If you are new to the Assessment Center concept, you can read a bit more in a post from a few weeks ago by clicking here.

Best wishes to you, whatever you decide to do. But, if you would like some focused training on Assessement Centers, contact me about dates that might work. Maybe I will do a class in your area soon!

June 22nd, 2008 Posted by | Assessment Centers and Interviews | 14 comments

Is Your Spirit Simmering?

Are you cold, lukewarm, simmering or boiling?Each of us conveys our personal enthusiasm, energy, and strength, through the things we say and do and our overall approach to life and work. People around us react and respond to us based on our actions–not our intentions.

There is nothing attractive, admirable, inspiring or compelling, about someone who is only existing without showing any spirit. On the other hand, we are sometimes overwhelmed and put-off by someone who is over-the-top in their enthusiasm. As always, we need to aim for the maximum that is effective–not less and not more:

Keep your spirit on simmer most of the time and boiling when it needs to be. You will present yourself to others in a way that is most likely to inspire confidence and admiration. You will also be able to sustain your energy and enthusiasm in a positive way.

Consider some of those you associate with as though each is a pot of water. (OK now, be nice!) Think about what you are seeing most of the time, regarding their interest in the people and events around them and their courage in the face of personal and professional challenges. Think about how you would describe the spirit of each one, then consider:

  • Are they cold? Do they just sit there and exist, with little energy for others? Do they seem more focused inwardly than outwardly? Do they appear to not be involved mentally or emotionally in most things? Are their conversations mostly about themselves? Do they add very little warmth to any situation and have to rely on others to get things cooking ?
  • Are they lukewarm? Do they make slight efforts to be and do more, but not enough to really have an impact? Do they only show the level of energy necessary to get by and satisfy supervisors or others, but not enough to really contribute on their own? Do they seem to only care about others when it is convenient for them? Do they require a supervisor to turn up the heat  when work requires unusual energy?
  • Are they simmering? Do they stay energized and enthused so they are always ready to boil when high levels of energy are necessary? Do they show they are involved, interested, and actively part of the people and events around them? Do they seem ready to go if their efforts are needed? Is their energy controlled effectively, so it is useful not stressful?
  • Are they boiling? When matters are important, are they energized and enthused with a spirit of willingness to work? Do they use their high levels of energy in a way that provides positive leadership for others? Instead of being boiling mad, are they boiling glad?  (Does that sound like Jesse Jackson, or what?)
  • Are they boiling over? Is their energy and enthusiasm often out of control, so they create more problems than they solve? Are they so excessive that others do not hear their messages, even if they are worthwhile? Do they need to put a lid on it, and calm down a bit so they are more useful to everyone?

What about you? Think about the behaviors that led you to evaluate others as you did, and consider how you might be described. If you want to show that you have turned up the temperature on your spirit, consider these indicators of simmering-and-prepared-to-boil:

  • Have an energized posture, stance, and stride. Look as though you have life in your life!
  • Sound power-full and happy. Do not groan every time you get out of a chair, moan about work or home, or creak in protest over many things every day. All of those are dispiriting to those around you and to yourself. You do not have to be grinning all the time, just try to avoid excessive complaining. (If you are ill or in genuine pain and you cannot make it better, you are excused from this requirement! But only then!)
  • Work with power and energy. Give everything your best, all the time.
  • When you talk to others or do work, purposely demonstrate interest and enthusiasm. Do not flop into chairs, lean on every surface, slump through the day and/or have a droopy face that looks exhausted, miserable, bitter, sulky or unwelcoming.
  • Avoid frustrating and irritating those around you by going to the other extreme with your bombastic style or your unfocused passion for life or work. Often the person who is bouncing off the walls with his or her specific passion appears to be motivated by ego. If you find you are being resented and resisted, ask someone you trust to tell you if your high energy manner is hurting you, rather than reflecting your spirit positively.

Keep your mind and spirit simmering all the time–and ready for a controlled boil when the heat is on!

June 20th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 7 comments

Meetings — Ten Ways To Demonstrate Effectiveness

Almost all of us attend meetings at work–although we may not call all of them that because meetings do not necessarily involve sitting at a conference table. Think of a meeting as any time you gather with coworkers in a work setting.

  • A quick huddle with coworkers or peers, related to a specific work situation.
  • A short, planned conversation with people in or out of your group, or with your manager or those you supervise. These are the impromptu meetings that can wreck a day if they are not used wisely.
  • A regularly scheduled meeting. These are usually the ones that are viewed most negatively, although they will probably always be necessary. There seems to be a human resistance to the idea of structured meetings–but you can respond at least a bit differently than that, if you choose to do it!
  • A social gathering at work. (Birthday or other recognition party.) These are as important for your influence and reputation as any other meeting, as well as giving you a chance to focus on others.

Here are ten ways to demonstrate effectiveness when you attend a meeting:

1. Plan for it. When you get the notification, even if it is short notice, consider what you might be able to contribute or what you are expected to discuss. If reading material is attached, read the material so you can effectively discuss it from the very beginning–and so you are not skimming through it as others are talking. 

Consider contacting the person planning the meeting to ask if you can help get things together or do other pre-meeting work. 

This is the time to invite a coworker or direct report (subordinate) if the meeting is open to guests. Many of your meetings may only be for those who were specifically invited, but others are open to those who have a logical reason to attend. This subject was mentioned in a post just last week.

2. Maintain a positive attitude. Keep in mind that few people call a meeting unless they think it is justified–whether you think it is or not. Try to see the purpose of the meeting from that person’s perspective. If you have any control at all over it, perhaps you can suggest another format. If you do not have any control over it, simply accept that it is part of your work and do it.

Never, ever, ever, groan to someone, “I have to go to a meeting tomorrow morning (grimace, frown, whine).” It makes you sound like a victim or a beat-down subservient employee, not a strong individual. No matter how you feel, resolve to talk and act as though you have a leadership role in all of your work. If the meeting is a social meeting–birthday, retirement, baby-shower or other celebration–show good cheer about it just as you would want others to do if the event was in your honor.

3. Arrive a few minutes early. Help those who are setting up the room or distributing material, or use the time to review the material to be discussed. The person who called the meeting will likely be there and will appreciate your punctuality. If it is a social function there are always things to do at the last minute and your help may be invaluable for getting started on time.

4. Sit close to the person who called the meeting. Unless seats are assigned or if you will be sitting with an employee or coworker you have brought, be purposeful about your seating. By sitting near the person who will be central to the meeting, you are more likely to be involved. You also will be less likely to become lethargic as time goes on! You demonstrate your interest and leadership by not being one of those who slink to the back of the room or get as far away from the center of the discussion as possible.

5. Be an active participant throughout the meeting. From the moment the meeting starts until it ends, purposely work to stay active by talking and listening appropriately. Pretend each person there has a rating sheet on which they will evaluate your demeanor and effectiveness.  You never know when their mental evaluation will be important to your career or to future support you receive from them.

Be aware of your waning energy as the meeting continues. Purposely reenergize your attention for each person who contributes, even if you have run out of patience and interest. They are probably nervous and will appreciate your support–and may have something to say you need to hear.

If it is a social function, mingle and chat. Do not stand off to the side or with a small clique of people, refusing to participate. Make sure you talk to the honoree(s). Those actions are noticed and appreciated by many others, especially if you are a supervisor or manager.

During the event consider contacting the person who is responsible for the function and ask again if you can help. You can often identify the person responsible, even if you do not know for sure, because she (or occasionally, he) is busy from start to finish!

6. Talk, if you have something worthwhile to say. It is crucial that meeting participants talk effectively about topics under discussion. Meetings that are considered failures are often actually failures of inviduals to contribute. In addition, having everyone sit silently is discourteous to the person who is asking for input.

Among the things that are worthwhile for you to talk about:
Information that is needed by the others.
A new perspective that might make a difference. 
Support for someone else if it appears they need it. 
Disagreement, when it is important  to present another view.

If you have something on the topic that you want to talk to someone about after the meeting, maybe you should say it in the meeting. There is nothing more frustrating to a meeting leader than hearing everyone who did not discuss the topic when their ideas could have helped, animatedly talking about it to others as they leave the room!

What is usually not worthwhile: Off-topic comments;  redundant comments that do not move the meeting along; comments made primarily to sound impressive or to deflate others; insincere support of others to win their favor, inappropriate humor that stops the momentum.

When you talk, look at everyone now and then not just at the person who called the meeting or at your manager. Make a sincere effort to share inclusively.

7. Listen actively. Look at people when they talk. Do not show your dislike or lack of support or interest by doodling or reading while others are talking. Pay attention to each person as if they were the highest ranking person in your organization. Ask questions if you sincerely have them. Keep your body turned toward the person talking until they are done.

This same advice applies in social meetings. You have probably chatted with someone who acted as though he or she was looking for someone more important to talk to. You know how that feels. Show interest in everyone, then disengage and move to someone else if that is necessary.

8. Limit your note-taking. This may surprise you, but it is a key issue. Most meeting attendees take notes to stay busy–and often to avoid participating–but they never refer to the notes again. Only write key information you know you will not remember, or not have access to otherwise. Put your pen down between notes, so you can show through your body language that you are listening and involved.

9. Help the leader during the meeting. Sometimes the person who calls a meeting is not adept at leading one. Help by working to keep things on topic; ask questions to move things along; mention the time, if it appears there is a lot to cover and little time left. This must be handled appropriately and sensitively, of course, but can be very helpful to everyone, including the leader.

If the leader obviously does not want or need your assistance, no matter how badly things are going, at least you can be the one who does not contribute to the worst of the issues. More than anything, avoid the not-so-subtle eye rolls or glances at friends who share your opinions about a person or issue.

10. Write a follow-up note to the leader (and to others when appropriate.) A short email after a meeting is always appreciated, no matter what the purpose of the meeting. You might write to indicate your plans for further action, or simply to thank the person for setting up the meeting or hosting it in his or her office. Or, you may have an additional question or have found new material on one of the topics discussed.

For a social meeting, it is always appropriate to send a short note to to the honoree and to those who helped put the party together. Such functions involve tremendous work and often no one says thank you–you can be the one!

For either business or social functions, find out who paid for the refreshments, if you know they were not provided by the organization, and give some money to that person–at least a few dollars if you can afford it. The gesture will be appreciated much, much more than you realize!

You may have other ways you demonstrate effectiveness, or things you have observed that have impressed you at meetings. Let me know about those, if you have the time!

June 17th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Friends At Work Are Special!

Friends at work can make work fun!Who have been your best friends at work? If you think back on your work history or consider work now, you probably can smile about conversations, lunches or coffee breaks with friends who made work more fun.

My first work friends were Robert Shaugnessy, Roger Kasperson, Rand Hendrickson and Steve Kern. In another assignment I worked with Art Hutchison and Gary Gosage, and I could hardly wait to get to work just to pal around with them. We did a lot of work, but we sure had a good time! Later I worked with Tom Coogan and Rudy Phannenstiel. Bruce Chesy and Joe Goff were great friends, too. John Thompson and Danny O’Hayre were subordinates of mine, but we had a work friendship. The same was true of Larry Amman and Pat Flynn. Larry Homenick was the chief deputy when I was the U.S. Marshal for Colorado, and he and I established a friendship that is still strong. I also knew I could count on the friendship of Pat Mangravito, Sharon Ladd and Sharon Buck, among others.

I would hate to think of what work would have been like without the fun, assistance, support and encouragement those friends offered over the years. In fact, the worst times of my career have been when I have felt I did not have a friend at work and that I was surrounded by people I could not smile with, ask advice from, or even trust most of the time. Have you ever been in a situation like that?

However, as with most good things, there are some warnings and reminders about work friendships (These apply to people at any level of the organization, including supervisors and managers.)

  • Do not be part of an exclusive clique. Being in a group that does everything together and excludes others, much like a snooty sorority or fraternity, may be fun for you and them, but appears very unprofessional to others, including managers. You will not present yourself as a mature person with a strong team approach if you are seen as needing to be part of a club to be happy and productive.

Talk with everyone in a friendly way. Occasionally invite someone else to lunch with you and your best friend at work. Show through your actions that, while you have close friends, you are supportive of everyone who is professionally effective. You may find you enjoy getting outside the same circle of conversation and interests. Linking with others is also a way to gain knowledge and perspectives we might never have otherwise.

  • Carefully choose close friends while being friendly to everyone. Some coworkers will add to your work life and professional development and others will not. You can be friendly and supportive of everyone, without linking with someone who is creating problems for themselves through their work or actions. Being friends with someone you feel sorry for is not a good idea!
  • If someone you do not want to be close to is obviously trying to establish you as a friend at work, be courteous–but find reasons to limit time together. When you do join that person for lunch or breaks, invite someone else. (Have you noticed that figuring out how to distance yourself from someone at work is like saying no when someone asks you for a date and you don’t want to make them feel badly?)

  •  Let your friendships support you in your good work, not detract you from work. Most complaints by managers about work friendships involve excessive conversation, extended breaks, ganging up on others, or covering for each other inappropriately. Among the worst situations are when everyone else has to hear you and your friend discuss your favorite topic, hobby, sport or family concerns every day, while others are working. Your friend is your friend, but your friend doesn’t pay your salary or prepare your evaluation.
  • Think twice about extending friendships away from work. That is especially true if your work friend is of a higher or lower level than you in your organization. In addition, the aspects of your personalities that make you friends at work often do not translate well into activities that include spouses and children. Another problem is that conflicts in your social friendships will almost always affect work. Some people find it easy to be friends in both worlds–just be aware of the pitfalls. 

For most of us, memories of friends are our primary good memories of work. It is people who most enrich our lives and make it fun. Tell your work friends how much you appreciate them. Send a note to work friends from the past and remind them of some of the fun things you enjoyed about working with them. If you are a supervisor or manager, develop friends in other sections so you do not end up feeling isolated. Encourage productive friendships between employees in your workgroup. Everyone works better when they have friend nearby!  

If you want to really smile about your best friend at work, let Mr. Rogers remind you of why that person is special. Click here to listen!

June 15th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 5 comments

Take Employees To Meetings

Almost anyone at a supervisory, managerial or executive level can remember a time when going to a meeting with the boss–or in place of the boss–seemed interesting and exciting. Come on, you know you do! I recall being asked by my captain to attend a community meeting when he was busy. I was thrilled about it, hardly slept the night before, and spiffied up for the occasion! Better yet was the time I attended a meeting held in the office of a division chief. I was a lowly sergeant and could barely believe I was sitting in the same room as someone with that much rank! I remember looking around the room and feeling as though I had arrived!

Do not underestimate the value of including employees–even those who do not seem likely to be excited about the idea–when you attend meetings that are appropriate for bringing a guest. Sometimes there are chairs around the room for those accompanying the people sitting at a conference table. (Not an ideal situation, but many attendees actually prefer those peripheral chairs.) The preferable situation is open seating when the two of you are sitting together.

If you take an employee along, make it a learning experience rather than just idle observation. You might suggest things he or she could be looking and listening for. A word of caution: Do not complain about meetings in general or the specific meeting, mock the people attending or spend all your time going and coming to the meeting being negative. This is your chance to show that you make an effort to be effective in every situation.

(Edit note after publishing this post: I have been asked by several people here and by email, if it’s OK to be truthful about not enjoying going to meetings or not to a specific meeting.  I think it is best to be truthful, but that does not mean you have to be brutally honest. Just say you sometimes get frustrated or that you find some specific aspect of it to be irritating. The important thing to is to let the employee know you will do your best to participate effectively, even though your experiences have encouraged you to feel negative. Consider talking to the employee about how any meeting could be made better. One day he or she will chair a meeting and that could be helpful information. 

A meeting with your manager: Taking an employee to a meeting doesn’t have to involve formal meetings with several attendees. Consider purposely setting up a meeting with your manager about once a month, in which you report events in your work group. Let the manager know you will always bring an employee, which is why you will not report anything confidential during those meetings.

The value of including employees in meetings.You may have attended so many meetings that the aura of mystery about them is long gone. To most employees who do not normally attend them, meetings are interesting, a break from work, and a way to meet people outside the immediate work group. If higher level managers are going to present, it becomes even more intriguing. Build on that to use meetings as a way to achieve several worthwhile things:

  1. When you take someone as a guest to a meeting, they feel a stronger connection to you. If they value the meeting, they will value you more for letting them participate.
  2. Employees are more likely to see the bigger picture of the organization when they hear the efforts of others to accomplish projects and improve processes.
  3. Meetings outside the organization helps employees gain even broader perspectives and also helps them see the connections involved in work.
  4. Attending meetings may be the thing that helps employees see themselves in a higher position, and that enthuses them about preparing for a future with the organization.
  5. If you ensure you rotate the participation it will increase your reputation for being encouraging, supportive and fair for all employees.

Look at your calender and pick a meeting or two you can start with soon. Make sure it is OK to bring a guest, then invite a supervisor or employee. Talk to the employee about the group ahead of time, including what you would like the employee to do during the meeting. Follow-up afterward by getting the employee’s viewpoint of the group and the reason for the meeting. The insights you gain may be very valuable!

If you do not have anything scheduled that seems appropriate, purposely set up a meeting. Let the person with whom you are meeting know what you are doing and what you hope to accomplish. Make it a worthwhile time for the everyone. It may even renew your interest in some of the things you are meeting about!


June 10th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 8 comments

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