Bilocation

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Great managers and athletes must be in two places at one time.

As athletes and leaders we must simultaneously do what we do while gauging how we’re doing and what’s happening around us.

As a manager you must always be in and above a conversation, aware of its direction and purpose.

I’ve seen managers miss the entire point of an encounter with an employee because they merely dealt with a conversation’s face value. Is a question about who’s on the schedule really a request for time off? What does dissatisfaction sound like? How about outright rage masked as contentment? As leaders we’re challenged with deciphering sophisticated human communication codes all the time.

One key to success is to slow down when speaking with people. Let conversations be tiny oases in your day. Give them time and focus. If you’re not present during a conversation, especially a quick one, you risk sending the wrong message.

I once spoke with a person who had asked her manager how difficult it might be for anyone to get time off during a particularly busy period. Instead of asking if there was something specific behind her question, the manager went on and on about how it’s got to be all hands on deck with everyone pitching in during this critical time. The manager had no idea the woman was dealing with an issue that would have given her protected time off through FMLA to care for her sick husband. The woman left the conversation fearing she’d have to choose between her husband and her job.

As athletes we too must see the big and small picture. We need to see the road under us while gauging our body’s fuel reserves, maintain great form while rationing precious energy. I’ve completed seven Ironman Lake Placid events and each time I’ve gone out too hard on the first 56-mile bike loop. The check I write for that ride depletes my account for what ends up being a much-harder-than-necessary run.

I’m totally in the moment, but failing to plan for the big picture.

Some tips for training these abilities include:

  • Map a definitive race plan for your next training or racing day. If you traditionally go out of the box fast, ease up a little and consciously save some for a stronger finish. Change your tendencies regularly, don’t be predictable.
  • Role play with a colleague. Have them approach you with a hidden agenda, and ask three questions before you guess their goal. Keep going in sets of three until you get it right. Each time you do this, try and dissect the agenda in fewer questions. Measure your success.
  • For a week recognize when you’re in the moment and when you’re above it. Make note of this consciously and these places will become more comfortable for you.
  • Always think about digging deeper, especially during that quick conversation with someone or a seemingly mundane Wednesday evening run. These opportunities rarely advertise themselves’ it’s up to us to recognize and capitalize on them.

Being present in and above the moment are different skills, both essential to your success.

The Swim

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The ultimate goal in a triathlon swim is efficiency.

Speed and power take a back seat to a well-positioned body slicing through the water. In fact, inefficient form turns power into a disadvantage. Poor body position creates too much drag and you end up swimming uphill, sapping your precious strength. Eventually you’ll finish, but you’ll face the rest of your race exhausted.

The best swimmers create little disruption in the water, aerodynamically working with the flow, not against.

When a challenging situation arises at work and you’re placed in a position to have a difficult conversation with someone, are you fighting the water or slicing through it?

Too often we fight the water by creating win/lose situations with employees. Face it, win/lose is lose/lose for a manager, because if we win, of course we did, we’re ‘The Boss.’

The key is efficiency.

There are many tools that help us swim more efficiently. Wetsuits make us buoyant, training makes us stronger, coaching points out our challenges and gives us a plan for improvement. Our most effective tools for efficiency in dealing with a challenging employee is the question, and of course, training and coaching.

You hear from someone that Dan called Fred a dumbass, so you ask Dan why he called Fred a dumbass. Putting Dan on the defensive creates the win/lose. It’s now you and Fred vs. Dan.

Instead, “Dan, why am I hearing you called Fred a dumbass?” kicks off a very different conversation.

By asking questions, you give your employee the benefit of the doubt while controlling the conversation. Control is key; once you lose it, you lose.

When you meet with your management training team, set up scenarios like the one above and do your best to have a complete question-based conversation with your challenging employee. Role play with your team to see how far you can go with your questioning on an issue.

Questions like:

  • Why am I hearing this?
  • How could this have happened?
  • Why would she say that?
  • How does this help our department?
  • How does this get us closer to our goal?
  • What do you propose we do about this?

Channel your inner Columbo to become a proficient questioner and you will become a stronger manager.