Lessons learned from positive, negative encounters

Photo: Mississippi_898304_1920 Sborsch at Pixabay

This article is currently posted at the Minnesota Society of CPAs web site.  Given the source being the Minnesota CPAs I am presenting a photo of where the Mississippi River starts flowing out of Lake Itasca at Itasca State Park in Minnesota.  You can walk across the Mississippi River there on the rocks shown in the photo during th summer.  The water is absolutely clear.  Of course this time of year the lake is frozen so you could walk across the lake on the ice.

I wanted to share this article based on some research and an original article shared with 7,000 Minnesota CPAs that you to may find of interest. It focuses on management in Minnesota, but its lessons are universal. 

Lessons learned from positive, negative encounters

By Michael A. Gregory, founder, Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC

Sometimes, there's just not enough room to share your research findings. This was the case for my August 2017 Footnote article that looked at how Minnesota Nice works in balance with conflict and leadership. 

On the topic of leadership, I reached out to 42 public Minnesota-based companies and 15 of the largest privately-owned Minnesota-based companies. My outreach yielded 29 conversations with CEOs and senior executives, many of which turned into 90-minute conversations.

The following reflects some of the respondents' comments related to the best advice and experiences they had, and what the learned from some of the worst advice or experiences they had related to leadership and enhancing effectiveness.  

These are positive lessons learned from positive encounters

  • At times, bosses provided assignments materially above current knowledge and experience.  That demonstrated a real confidence in the ability to get the job done. If the assignment failed, there was no real downside. This type of activity showed that the boss really believed in the individual. 
  • Look at Steven Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and promote that we want to know about fours and fives out of 10 rather than telling our employees we want you to ask for nines and 10s from our customers. We want to explore why we are receiving fours and fives. This kind of feedback led to changes and improvements in quality processes.
  • We conduct independent, ongoing customer surveys to better understand what our customers want, need and care about most. This allows us to create more lasting value for our customers.  The firm publishes their own and competitors' customer satisfaction surveys so that our employees, customers and stakeholders know where we stand and can work toward improvement.
  • Take a real interest in people and care. People need a compelling reason to come to work each day. Make the team be part of the compelling reason to come to work. It is about much more than money.
  • Listen. Stop talking, and listen. Really listen with open-ended questions. Take appropriate actions to demonstrate that you are listening.  
  • The keys are listening, asking questions, listening to what is being said, as well as what is not being said. It is important to get to know everyone on the team. It is necessary to discuss areas of conflict before they become major areas of conflict.  
  • We want to promote honesty, integrity and professionalism. To do that, we want to be honest with each other and always be transparent unless there are legal reasons why we cannot. We need to address each other appropriately and come to a reasonable solution.
  • If we make mistakes, we want to own them and apologize. 
  • Collaboration is needed after a spirited debate. We want different points of view. We talk about and promote what we mean by leadership at meetings. We practice what we preach at meetings and how we interact with one another. We demonstrate that we really value different perspectives, and we must also value a collaborative environment to ensure that different perspectives are valued.

These are positive lessons learned from negative encounters

  • Some bosses compete with their employees to demonstrate how much they know. Managers need to know that they are not evaluated by what they know technically, but by how well the group performs considering business metrics, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. The reputation of the group is at stake and that is what's important.
  • Punishment is not appropriate. 
  • The culture with one boss demonstrated that people are not important. That boss clearly felt that business metrics were more important. As a result, short-term results can be good, but in the long term, all of your best people leave and productivity suffers.
  • Being direct with highly-tenured individuals can be taken very negatively. The culture may not want to receive direct negative feedback. Explore the norms in your culture with how and when to provide negative feedback up the chain of command.
  • The retail business is cut-throat. Competition is intense. Weekly and, sometimes hourly, we have to change directions based on data. It is important to have a plan and to adjust the plan to real-world changes in the market. By building trust upfront, when crises hit the team, the team will rally around the current crises to avert disaster. If trust is not built upfront, prepare for a disaster.
  • Going into a fight, my boss knew I would really fight to win, but I was so focused on winning that I left my team behind. I had to have this pointed out to me. That was an ah-ha moment for me.

What this means

Reading the comments provided by the various individuals, I believe we all can relate. Knowing this, what can you learn about yourself and apply going forward in your role as a leader? Are you prepared to make any changes -- I mean consciously take an action or avert an action to enhance your leadership skills?   

There are some very good insights presented by some very experienced managers in the commentary.  Take a look at your leadership skillset and see if any of these comments pertain to how you interact with others and if they offer you an opportunity to improve your leadership skills.

Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA and a qualified mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court, is the founder of Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC, a firm that helps resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. He is also the author of "The Servant Manager," "Peaceful Resolutions" and "Business Appraisals and the IRS." You may reach him at 651-633-5311 or mg@mikegreg.com.