Female Firefighter ~ The Pioneering Spirit

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By

W. Michael Phibbs

Over the years I have spoken at a number of leadership conferences aimed at emergency services organizations and personnel on branding themselves. It has led to a number of interesting conversations about women in the different branches. The subject of female fire fighters is at the top of my mind at the moment as we reflect on the loss, the suicide, of a female firefighter in VA, as allegations of cyber bullying are surfacing. I have heard countless stories of how both volunteer and career fire fighters, who happen to be female, have been treated, including being faced with the antiquated notion that the women were only there to cook and clean the fire house. However, in my experience, the majority of firefighters, male and female, are exemplary and act professionally around their coworkers.

While women have faced and risen to the challenge of entering the law enforcement field, joining the ranks of fire fighters has been a slower process. Women who have joined the fraternity of police officers worked long and hard to reach the same job responsibilities as their male counterparts. They have paved the way for more women to follow in their footsteps. A number of very capable women now do the same as fire fighters and I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of these pioneers.

In today’s society, we are hyper vigilant, or perhaps hyper sensitive, creating an environment where a single misspoken word or action can destroy a brand that an organization or a person is trying to build or maintain. We have been going through a period of demographic change, starting with Civil Rights in the 60’s through today with efforts to give everyone an equal chance. This means that the volunteers and career officers can be held liable for their liable under Title 7 Discrimination lawsuits or department code of conduct violations. If terminated after a substantiated charge of discrimination they will unlikely find further employment or volunteer opportunities in the field. Public safety organizations are not striving be more inclusive and better represent the demographics of society. This will have significant impact on any agency which is almost entirely comprised of males. A challenge will be how to effectively prevent discrimination need to be discovered and implemented. You can’t find always find simple answers to complex problems; and this one is complex.

Law enforcement faced the challenge of integrating females into the profession many years ago, and in cases continues to struggle with the issue. Female law enforcement officers have the same job responsibilities as their male counterparts, but in many cases, they have had to work harder to blaze a trail for others to follow. Similarly, I have met many Female Fire Officers with outstanding reputations as leaders in their organizations. These women are the new pioneers of today, making the way better for those who will follow.

Firefighting isn’t easy and as such, the training isn’t easy either. Going into a burning building wearing heavy gear or administering medical treatment on a severely injured person is not for the faint of heart. After rigorous and extensive training and testing, when all of the tests are passed, the trainee becomes a “Firefighter”; they are not segregated by race or gender, they are all firefighters. After graduation, the new firefighters get assigned to a station, whereby livings in a station, for 24 hours at stretch, “rookies” integrate into the team. It is the duty of Fire Officer to help new firefighters assimilate.

Unlike law enforcement where officers can avoid officers they don’t like, firefighters are a team and must work together.   Fire Officers must ensure their subordinates effectively communicate and cannot allow a simple misunderstanding fester into resentment. Supervisors are held to a higher level of responsibility from organizations and courts. But that comes with the position. Supervisors have a duty to their community, male and female officers, to take swift action to stop what may be construed as discriminatory, harassment, or a hostile work environment. While in quarters Firefighters from time to time they will joke around. But then the question is raised: At what point does a joke or comment cross the line from being funny to harassment? The question is complex, but training and reinforcement on ways to handle workplace issues harassment and discrimination and provide guidance.

It can be tough to stand up to subordinates, who may spend more time together than with their own families. Their job is to lead not just by example, but also by the actions they condone. Leaders who allow problems to fester are in charge of a gaggle, not a team. Lives can be lost when a group intentionally leaves someone out instead of being a team. When effective communication, individual skill development, and team building training are conducted, differences diminish and the entire organization is lifted.

As society and the demographics of the workforce change, more women will enter the fire profession. The days of the male only profession are slowly dwindling. All public safety agencies must recruit and hire a more diverse workforce and we all feel the growing pains. The women who work in the profession today are true pioneers with the grit of the women who walked across the Great Plains in the 19th century. There are creating the path for the future and have earned the right to be called “Professional Firefighter”

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Want to know what is going on in our organization? Eat a meal in the employee lunch room!

Lunchroom

By

W. Michael Phibbs

Have you ever watched Undercover Boss? Do you recognize similar problems in your work environment and wish that one day you would have a chance to tell your boss what you see as the problems hampering your organization and potential solutions? Fire Chiefs for decades have told up and coming Front Line Officers that if they want to know what is going on in their organizations they should eat a meal at a station. You build trust while breaking bread together. While sitting down together for a meal, fire fighters will tell you exactly what the feel, both good and bad. This sound advice resonates through all segments of public safety to the public sector. Steve Jobs once said of turnaround expert, “But how can he be an expert when he eats his lunch alone in his office.”1 Another widely endorsed action that will increase your understanding of what is really happening in your organization is MBWA (Manage By Walking About). MBWA is less effective than breaking down barriers over a meal, but the basic principal is the same, get out of your office and talk to the troops who do the work.

As years go by and we move up in ranks it is easy to become lost in our own office siloes. A new term, “Cubiment”, short for “cubical environment” has been created to describe how people spend their entire working day in the solitary environment of their cubicles (Cubical Farm is now too long for our even faster paced world). Most do not hear from their boss unless something is not going right. Even the most well-meaning manager can become fixated in clearing out their daily In-box. Little by little, day after day, we slowly become disassociated from the most important people in an organization. We cannot create organizational energy through email and power points expounding how proud we are of our employees. Human interaction and connection is the way real leaders become change agents.

Lunch can be a sacred time to spend with others you know and trust. Through the process of breaking bread together, leaders not only learn what is going on, but also have an opportunity to discuss ideas for the future. They can discuss where their organizations are going and obtain unfiltered feedback from their team members. Free flowing ideas will not happen at a banquet, or corporate outing, but will arise at a table in your own lunchroom. If you only eat at the Executive Lunchroom or at your desk, you may find it difficult to find people who trust you enough to eat with, at least at first. Over time, when people get accustomed to seeing you, some brave person will approach you and want to talk, and you should do just that, talk, about anything. You will be amazed at what you learn. I have seen many managers become re-inspired and become highly effective leaders through these little lunch room chats. You get a chance to really find out what is going on inside of your organizations. You can mentor people and learn who the up in coming leaders really are. In short, by breaking bread allows you have positive employee engagement.

What are you waiting for? Today, or tomorrow, set an appointment time in your Outlook calendar to eat with someone new. Either invite someone to sit with you or go over to a table ask to sit with a group. Engage them in small talk. It may take a while to break down the silos and build trust. By talking to people today, you head off problems of tomorrow. Pack a lunch and realize there is no limit to what you can be accomplish by breaking bread with someone new.

 

1.Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schelander and Rick Tetzeli,

Leaders in 2013 Must Learn and Embrace Diverse Cultures to be Effective

Leaders in 2013 face new challenges as work force demographics change and employees with different cultural histories begin to come into the workforce. I talk to managers and supervisors notice I did not say leaders, who say “foreigners” need to learn English, or why should I learn about their culture, they should learn to be American. This is a very short sighted view. First, America was founded by people from somewhere else. Even the original Indian inhabitants came from someplace else. As a country we became diverse because people did not completely give up on their old traditions and cultures just to become an American. You do not, and cannot, wipe your memories away when you become an American.

The effective leaders understand and embrace having a diverse group of people working for them. They inherently understand diversity reduces the chance of “group think”. They also understand that their success is based on the actions of the individual employee. The employee’s actions are based on how they interpret the directions of the leader. Their interpretations are based through the context of past cultural experiences. Therefore, to be effective, the leader needs to understand the cultural history and context which develop the individual expectations of their employees. Then the leader can tailor their message to the individual employee. The overall message remains the same, but the individual meaning is shaped through the cultural lens.

It may sound like a lot of needless work, but it isn’t. By learning a basic level of the cultures of your employees the leader actually builds a greater credibility with the employee. The leader learns something’s that they may not have known, but more importantly, they have a new tool to put in their tool box. Leaders who not only develop their employees but also develop a cultural awareness of their employees become a “hot commodity” for their organization. Opportunities to grow, both inside and outside of their company, will most assuredly follow. So, from even an individualistic point of view, learning the cultural histories of your employees and how to lead them creates greater opportunities for you

All Hazard Incident Management Teams are there for communities when disasters strikes.

When a hurricane strikes regions of the United States, a tornado tears through a town, a wildfire threatens to engulf thousands of acres and homes a Type 1, Type 2 or Type 3 All Hazards Incident Management Team can be dispatched to help your community when it is needed most. Most people have probably not even heard of Incident Management Teams (IMT’s), or valuable jobs they perform. When disaster strikes, these highly trained units are put in place by federal, state, and local governments to plan the response and aid communities in recovering from disasters. The experienced leadership of Incident Commanders allows these extremely versatile units to be effective in whatever type of situation they are called upon to manage.

Most people probably think that when disasters strike FEMA runs the show. In reality, it is FEMA’s responsibility to ensure that localities receive the equipment and supplies they desperately need. But it is your local officials who run the show, unless the situation is such that a national emergency is declared. It is the local government that begins the process of responding to emergencies and disasters. First responders usually work for them. They all have disaster plans, but situations can be more complex than the local agencies can handle. It is then that Incident Management Teams may be called to help save lives, mitigate problems, and guide local governments in recovery.

At present, the United States has 16 Type 1, and 16 Type 2 Incident Management Teams are stationed around the country. These team members have, if you will, day jobs in public safety, but a team is on standby, bags packed, and ready to deploy anywhere within a couple hours. Teams are highly trained to respond to any type of incident. They have learned to use their tools to work the process and not get overwhelmed by the incident. Team members come from various backgrounds within the public safety arena to form these teams and undergo years of specialized training, testing, and mentoring before they are assigned a position. It may take up to 20 years of training to become fully certified on one of these teams. The management gurus are not paid like CEO’s of large multinational corporations even though they are called in to save their facilities from destruction.

The Incident Commander is responsible for bringing and leading the teams that respond to various types of disasters. When an IMT comes to town there is not a 9 –to – 5 schedule. The IMT teams operate 24 hours a day until the objectives are accomplished. The Incident Commanders of these elite teams ensure the “Planning P” is followed and all roles are filled and operating at top level. The commanders, and teams they lead, work in public safety, serving not only their communities, but are willing to go anywhere when needed. Next time you see a disaster unfolding, look to see who the community brings in to help organize and lead the recovery. Chances are, behind the scenes you will see an All Hazards Incident Management Team.

Two rules that must be followed before being promoted.

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The hardest day a leader, manager, or supervisor will ever have is the first day in their new position. On the first day, the supervisor comes in with grandiose ideas how they will be the “leader” and transformer of individuals in the group into a “team” that beats all existing records. They will develop a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that everyone in the organization will want to join. Other leaders with lesser ability will clamor to your office to know the secrets of ultimate team building and success. For most this is a dream. Unbeknownst to most new supervisors, the stage has already been set for failure because they did not do two critical steps to lay the foundation for their success.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to fix the problems. The foundation for success begins when the supervisor does some introspection and determines what is truly important to them as a person. This is extremely difficult for most people, because they are afraid of what they will find when they examine their inner self. For example, you may realize you are truly not a “people person”. You can decide to work on that skill, or develop other approaches to make effective connections to the individuals who now work for you. But you learned a critical lesson about yourself and can now work around the problem to make connections. Effective leaders make connections to their teams on the one to one level. They are authentic about themselves and what they want to accomplish. Supervisors create goals that they believe should be reached, but never make the deep down connections at the individual level.

If you inherent an effective team, or group in need of development, you are starting from scratch. The existing effective team may instantly dissolve when you arrive. Again, you must make the connection at the individual level that you are someone to willingly follow. People will do what you tell them to do because you are their boss. The supervisor who uses this hard power is “pulling” the people to his or her goals. You have the power to reward or discipline them. People will go the extra mile for people they believe will help them, and are looking out for them. These people are “following” their leader to a goal that benefits everyone. Teams are effective, when the team is focused on a goal, and striving to reach it. If you are a bad supervisor your individuals may form up as a “team” to get rid of you. When you are a “leader” and people follow you, and your goals are aligned with the organizations goals, then as a team, you are benefitting the organization.

The second myth and mistake new supervisor make when they are first promotes is not coming in with a set of rules everyone must follow. That sounds counter intuitive to come in with a set of rules when you want to develop a team. Think about the statement in a different way. When you come in with a set of rules for people to follow you are setting the table of expectations. You are setting the stage for success by letting people know not only the sport you are playing, but the field you are playing on, and rules that must be followed. By developing a set of rules and setting down what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior you are creating the foundation for success. When you come in trying to build camaraderie and say, “we will make it up as we go” you have just made a fatal mistake for you becoming a leader. As situations arise you have not set foundation for your decision making. Your individual’s, notice I did not say team, will be always be wondering what is and is not acceptable. They will push the limits because they do not know what the boundaries are. You will become angry because the individuals are breaking your nonexistent rules. By trying to be friendly and not setting down rules you are in fact going to make it hard to create a team. In fact you will create a dysfunctional atmosphere because your individuals do not know what to expect from you, the supervisor. By first setting your rules down, and consistently following them, you can then develop a sense of acceptable behavior with consequences for rule breaking. Then, you can start developing team norms that are developed and agreed upon by your team.

The first day as a supervisor is always the hardest. The dream of the position now meets reality. By understanding two simple rules you can significantly improve your chances of success. First, determine what is important to you. Second, setting rules and standards for people to follow, you are now setting the foundation for success and building a highly effective team.

Riding The Roller Coaster Of Business Change

 

 

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While recently attending a conference at the Washington D.C. Head Quarts of SHRM, I saw an interesting curve that is used to implement change. The instructor was 100% accurate that implementing change means ending something. Then people enter an area called the “neutral zone” and finally with success a new beginning.

 Well, another way to look at it is from the perspective of a rider on a roller coaster. Some roller coasters are tall and long and others are short and quick; however, all of them have the same physical mechanisms in common from start to end. Now, let’s entwine business change into the picture. Initially, the management team determines there is a business case for change. It may be caused by unexpected changes in the environment, where you change or face major financial problems. The needs assessment is where you begin your case for change and your organization, and employees, enter the queue for the roller coaster ride.  While going through the queue your organizations leadership should begin to meet with key stake holders and employees to set out the business case for change. Why is this necessary? Why deviate from the normal base line?
 A leadership team creates a story line that sets out the realities of the situation, what it will take to change, and how the organization will look like when it is all over. They create an image that sticks showing what success will look like. They inspire and make people believe the change is necessary and they will get through it as a team; they help create the small and fast roller coaster ride. Management teams set out as a matter of fact the need for change. They show the facts and people will see the need to change. Management teams explain the process of change in systematic ways so people know what to expect. The management teams roller coasters are higher, longer, and create more fear because the inclusive story is not there. The hero’s story, the saving of a company, or taking it to the next level, for people to cheer and believe in is not present.

During the queue, the better the business case is laid the better chance for acceptance and success. Once the case had been made, and change is about to begin, everyone sits in their seats, buckles up, and gets ready for the ride. Everyone will have some level of trepidation and beginning the journey. The end is at hand and a new beginning is starting. As the train leaves the station, there are fewer and fewer chances to stop. As the train goes higher on the lift, the processes of change begin to pick up. The senior staff has to continue to sell the ideas, reassure the weak hearted, and increase the on-board of employees to the changes occurring around them.

 At the top of the lift there is no turning back. This is the part of most danger. How far the train goes down, or if it will come back up, is in direct relation to your thinking out the need for change, the process, and keeping people on-board. While riding down the lift many things will happen. Everyone will feel a high level of emotions. Some will feel terrified and stuck motionless in their seats. Others will feel exhilaration and throw their hands in the air. Others will simply look down and hold on for the ride. Going down, organizational structures are moved around, some may be sold off. People may be transferred, have new bosses, or jobs changed in mid stream. As things continue to change, people will wonder if things will ever get better; when will it start going back up? Your preparation was the key for people to see when they reach the bottom of the hill.  Once at the bottom of the hill, no roller coaster immediately goes back up. It will stay there short period burning off kinetic energy. This burning of energy slowly allows the organization to finish putting everything back into place. Emotional states of employees begin to subside. New business units begin to solidify. How long you spend at this level is also in direct correlation to your business change preparation before entering the queue.
 As solidification occurs in subset business units, the upward pull of potential energy starts to kick in. Even though the overall speeds are slowing, as must happen through the laws of physics, the change of potential energy back to change energy (kinetic) throws everyone back into their seats. The business is taking back off and headed skyward. As more systems start to work the higher the organization will go; however, it will never go as high as the initial power of ending the previous systems and preparing for change needed to impact the organization. As everything begins to fully function it will slowly even out and people will become accustomed to the new organizational model. Through the changes a new normal base line had been established over the old base line.

Changing an organization is like riding a roller coaster. The more compelling the need for change, preparation for change, and knowing what the end results will look like. Go a long way to making the roller coaster ride short and enjoyable rather than long and terrifying.

Collaboration over compromise for effective team building.

In today’s use of slang and interchangeability of common words we often lose the meaning and point in everyday conversations. How often to do hear a version of, “You need to compromise”, when trying to get your point across, or trying to get someone to give in and change their point of view? Similarly, how often do you hear someone saying they are collaborating with their team mates, only to find out later that one person is driving a project to fit the their image of an end product? In general, we have lost the understanding of the words compromise and collaboration and the impacts they have on positive team development.

When two or more people meet and have valid,  and often opposing,  ideas on a particular subject they will say the other person needs to “compromise”, meaning  I am right and you need to give into my point of view. In the world of compromise, someone wins and someone loses: win-lose dynamics.  One person must give up something they value and invariably walks away hurt. From the individual perspective, the person will rarely forget that they caved on an idea they believed in. From the group perspective, compromise builds a pecking order. Who lost the most? Who won the most? The person who wins overall must still incorporate a few ideas from the other group members into the final creation of an end product; even their overall vision is compromised. From an end product perspective, it usually turns out badly. In most cases, no one is happy with the overall product and resentment is created. Eventually, the person who lost today will have their revenge leaving a tit-for-tat wake where victories and losses are more important than team success. The team dynamic is fractured and trust destroyed. Effective teams know there is a better way: collaboration.

There is an art to collaboration. From the outset, it is accepted that everyone in the group has value. Their ideas and views are valid from the individual perspective. So what do you do? You use the energy as a catalyst for something better than you could as compromisers. First, create a shared vision of what the team is trying to accomplish, what the end product looks like. The team now has a focal point for with to engage. From the overall vision, you can start to build the framework through shared ideas. As the group moves forward, an overall mental consensus develops through the collaboration. With a shared vision one person cannot dominate the group.  You derail power grabber’s right from the start. People continue to develop ideas which get vetted through the collaborative process and ideas that once would demand “compromise” are dropped because they do not match the shared mental model. In the end, using collaboration in groups leads to win-win group dynamics.

It is worth the time and effort to access how your team functions. Demanding someone compromise and bend to another person’s point of view is a recipe for failure. Someone wins, and someone loses. Hard feelings are harbored and revenge will eventually come. The art of collaboration is the bond that builds successful teams, through shared mental images of success.  For a team to be effective, efficient and successful in this fast paced business environment it is imperative that an atmosphere of “collaboration”, over “compromise” permeates your organizations culture.

Using “Continuity in Efforts” to increase an organizations effectiveness.

With the economy still trying to recover and public safety organizations continuing to struggle with budgets, the implementation of “Continuity in Efforts” programs can help organizations more effectively deploy its personnel.

To understand the significance of a “CE” program, one must first examine how personnel are deployed in public safety. We will use police shifts as an example, but fire departments and private sector organizations can also benefit from the “CE” principal.  In most police departments the field operations are based on the utilization of three shifts, day, evening, and night. These individual shifts should be considered individual units. They all operate with different supervision, personnel, and differencing community needs based on their shifts. Each shift / unit has their own priorities which may not overlap with the preceding shift. Therefore, at the end of the shift, a new set of priorities begin. Deployment of personnel is dictated by the shift/units work hours and not solving community problems. There are no overlapping priorities and the community suffers.

The “CE” model challenges the status quo by combining all three units into a unified team through the development of set of priorities for which all three units have a share in fixing problems.    Community problems don’t end at the end of an officer’s shift. The CE program overlaps shifts priorities to fit the needs of the community.  Imagine a blender. If you have only one blade going you are not very effective. When two blades are working they are extremely effective because the blades overlap. An example, drug dealers come out to a specific location early in the afternoon and stay till the early evening hours. They know that the Day shift leaves at 4 P.M. and the Evening shift doesn’t have time to concentrate on them. So, they simply wait out the Day shift. The CE program ends this by combining overlapping the priorities of the Day and Evening Shift.  As the Day shift prepares to end its tour the Evening shift now takes its place working on the problem.  The Evening shift arrives and will then spend two hours continuing the Day shifts efforts to apprehend the narcotics sellers, and deter buyers.   After a designated period of time, the Evening shift begins to work on a new set of priorities to resolve problems occurring later in their tours of tour of duty. If the Evening shifts priority problem continues past the time their tour ends then the Midnight shift will relieve the Evening shift and they continues to resolve the issues. Later the Midnight shift will changes to another set of their priorities occurring late on the Midnight shift, such as intoxicated people attempting to drive after leaving bars at closing time.

By sharing responsibility for problems occurring on a 24 hour basis, the individual units become more focused on the larger picture instead of what only happens on their unit’s torus. They can also be held accountable for coming up with solutions. More importantly, I have seen units begin to adjust some of their own officer’s hours to come in earlier, or later, to add manpower to resolve the issues. By adding manpower, I have witnesses units use out of the box thinking to allow the officers to use alternative methods, bikes, plain clothes assignments, and sting operations to have a significant impact on crime fighting methods. When the officers are allowed to expand and do different forms of police work, besides riding in patrol cars for their shifts, their engagement goes up. When engagement goes up, their effectiveness rises in proportion. As their effectiveness goes up, then the department is able to shift valuable resources to handle other problems. The key to increasing productivity, reducing crime, and reducing strains on public safety budgets is for all organizations to analyze their organizations to and see how “Continuity of Efforts” can best be utilized to increase overall effectiveness.

Five Critical Skills A Manager Must Master To Effectively Communicate

You can go to any book store and find a plethora of books on the “latest and greatest” perspective on to effectively communicate with individuals, teams, and entire organizations. When you sort through all of them you will find five common benchmarks to have a successful conversation.

Know Your Message: How many times have you had a conversation with a manager and later walked away more confused than you were before the meeting? In many cases, the manager knows the problem, but does not develop a game plan to make sure her or she covers the important items. How often do you jump into a crucial conversation without first making a plan presenting you how and where the conversation will go? It is important when you need to share important information that you first make a game plan. Write down what you need to cover. Make a check off sheet if necessary, but ensure all important items are included. This is especially important if the other person in the discussion is good at distraction and redirection when bad news is coming. A game plan helps you focus and ensure at the end of the conversation everything that must be said has been said.

The Right Time: How often do managers interrupt someone in the middle of an important project, or task, to throw a lot of information at the person on another unrelated subject The target person is now distracted, loses track, and nothing gets completed. Many managers say, “Well, it was important, and I needed to tell them the information right then.” Unless it was a life or death situation then it could wait. Many managers say it was incredibly important just so they can check off their in-box saying the relayed the information. Well, that’s not a conversation, it’s a cop out. If it is an important conversation then it should be given the proper weight. Waite and have the conversation at the right time, right place and one-on-one. Both you and the person deserve to have an undistracted conversation. Go to an office and lock the door if necessary to ensure privacy. DO NOT HAVE CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS IN FRONT OF OTHER COWORKERS.

Know How to Talk: Communication is a two way street. Many managers believe effective communication is telling the other person what they are doing wrong. Then they are shocked when the other person says, “Well, let me tell you about your miserable performance as a manger.” Sometimes the manager believes yelling is a better way to get his or her point across. If you believe this is the correct style of management I have three words for you: Hostile Work Environment. Your lawyer will clue you in after the paperwork is served, by your humble public servant, requesting your appearance in court, along with your checkbook. A crucial conversation should be as calm as possible. Make your point in a professional manner and move on to the next one. Being a bully does not win you points, it only makes you look weak and cowardly.

Ensure Understanding: This is where many managers mess up. They do not know how to ensure the other person actually heard the message. Many people feel acquired saying, “Now, what did I say?” The military has brief backs before missions to ensure everyone understands the message before the mission. They do this because somewhere after the first minute people begin to tune out. The pay more attention if they know they are going to be asked to repeat what was said. It is critical that you ask people to summarize, or tell you specifically, the conversation that you had. This way it ensures that the other person did not misinterpret what you said. For example, they will not believe they are getting a pay raise when you are docking their pay. Don’t laugh; it has happened to people before. Entire comedy shows are developed around the concept of one person misinterpreting what another person said. By asking the person to repeat what you said you ensure proper understanding. It is the most critical, and underutilized, skill a manager must master to have effective conversations.

Follow Up: Now that you have had the conversation and ensured proper understanding, it is time to schedule a follow up. Set the date 30, 60, and 90 days out. After 30 days you should see the biggest changes in regards to your conversation. After 60 days, most of the problems should have gone away and changes sticking. After 90 days changes in behavior should now be engrained. Along the way, continue to have shorter conversations tweaking what you discussed in your original crucial conversation.

If you are to be an effective manager you must master the five skills outlined in this blog. The choice is yours and rewards for becoming a master communicator are also yours.

Positive Life Lessons from “Fat Boy – Express”

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail better.”
Samuel Becket

I came across a guy riding a bike the other day, and he had a yellow riding jersey with “Fat Boy – Express” written on the back. So, of course, when I saw the guy stopping to take a break I had to stop and talk. He explained the meaning of the jersey he created. “Fat Boy” is for the abstract anatomical weight of a middle aged man who has a larger waist than he wants. “Express” was the attitude that he possess. In short, “Fat Boy” is for weight, “Express” is an attitude. In reality as he continues to ride he loses weight and his speed continues to increase. But, “Fat Boy Express” is more of analogy for someone who will not give up; that failure does not mean quick, it simply means to get up and do it better next time.

It all started when his doctor told him he had to get in shape, or he would die years earlier than he should. He had problems with weight all of his life. As a child he was ridiculed by the other kids for being different. Now it is life or death, not simply teasing. He realized he couldn’t run the weight off; his knee and ankle joints couldn’t take the relentless pounding. He joined a gym, but found cardio machines boring. One day a friend recommended he try biking. To his amazement, he really enjoyed going out and riding. He saw things around him, at a slower speed, that most people never notice riding 55 mph in their cars. He said it felt great to get back to nature even if he was just passing through at 10 mph. He used to be terrified of large hills, knowing they would wear him out and leave him gasping for air. He had seen the Tour de France and saw how hills wear out even the best trained athletes.

He began to look for new ways to develop self-motivation and learn how to overcome those “hills in his life”. Then one day he changed his outlook on hills, and on life. When you change your perspective on something, what you are looking at also changes. He had already begun to transform his life when he changed his attitude about exercising and found an activity he was beginning to love. Now, he set out to change his attitude towards hills. They were no longer challenges to be feared, they are opportunities to be experienced and overcome. He used each hill as a test of his ability to first create and then test a strategy to defeat the hill. He would determine how much speed he would need as he approached the bottom of the incline. He would predetermine the best time to switch gears. What combination of gear changing would he use, the front or rear gears first. He would stay on the seat as long as possible; because once you get off to pump your legs you actually lose momentum. As his strategies developed he began to look for larger hills to “attack”. It was now a war between him and the terrain. With each hill defeated another victory racked up. Riding helped him develop the attitude that he could overcome all challenges. He began to lose weight and his co-workers noticed it. They began to encourage him to ride and ask him where he had ridden over the weekend or after work. On a day he felt down and did not want to ride, his coworkers first encouraged and then “ordered” him out for ride. His co-workers were beginning to feel the same pride of “Fat Boy – Express” after a long grueling ride. “Fat Boy – Express” made the connection between who he is and who he could become. He recreated a positive outlook on life. His mantra became, “If he can do it, anyone who is willing can do the same thing in their lives.”

Very few people are gifted at everything, and most people have something they struggled with during their life. It could be a weight problem like “Fat Boy – Express”, shyness around people, difficulty with math or science in school, or a host of other physical or mental problems. Success or failure is not if you have a problem, but your willingness to try and overcome the problem. Like “Fat Boy – Express”, once you change how you look at something then the things you look at change. Challenges become opportunities to rack up victories. Small victories add up to life altering events. “Fat Boy – Express” will soon loose enough weight that his jersey will be considered false advertising, but he will never change it. It is a reminder of his past challenges and the changes in his attitude that helped him transform into a new person today. In the end, we are all “Fat Boy – Express”. We all have the opportunity to transform our lives; the question is when we are ready to take the first step. “Fat Boy – Express” became a leader to many, not because he began to ride a bike and transform his life, but though the changing of his mindset. Remarkably, he moved from being a victim of life’s circumstances to the man who realized anyone can conqueror the problems in their own lives. If you have what you think is an insurmountable problem you can overcome it. Try to come up with a solution. If it fails, try again. If it fails again try a different tactic. Try harder. By taking the first step you begin to realize success. You will come up with the correct solution and that will transform your life.