Customers or Friends – Who Would You Choose?

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By Guest Blogger EJ Widun

I am curious what you would do in a situation like this. The concepts of “right and wrong” are often blurred by circumstances and our personal biases.

Here is the situation…

You are the bartender at a local bar that draws not only a nice crowd but out of town visitors who come for the fare. On this one night while you are working, the bar is about 50% filled; there are several groups of seats available. All of the customers at the bar are busy enjoying their food and the ambiance. Your friends come into the bar and want to sit down at one particular spot but there is not enough room. You prefer them to sit in this spot because it is in a corner of the bar where you can talk to them when it is not busy.

What would you do in this situation? Would you ask the customers already seated and eating to move seats or would you ask your friends to sit in one of the open sections with enough seats for them?

When this happened to us recently, the bartender asked two groups of customers in the middle of their meals to move over so her friends could have the corner. As the customers, Kristin and I felt like we were not as important as the bartender’s friends. It impacted our mood and opinion of the establishment. It also impacted the other customers who were asked to move. The first couple immediately left the establishment and their food.

Should you cannibalize existing customers for your friends? Do you move people in the middle of a meal because “regulars” show up? As “regulars”, you look forward to the familiar faces and camaraderie an establishment can give you. You also feel a certain degree of comfort in having “your seats”. I can see both sides of the argument but as a customer; I can only see my immediate impact. If I were the business owner, I see a bad customer experience, lost revenue and the potential of reputational damage.

Every decision you make may have unintended consequences because of our personal biases. It is important to see things from as many angles as possible when taking action.

Do You Have a Back-Story?

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A strange thought occurred to me the other day when I was preforming my annual after-Easter tradition of turning all of the Easter eggs into egg salad. As I was peeling and mashing up a dozen hard-boiled eggs, I noticed there were a few eggs where the coloring had gone through onto the egg white. This is nothing new, typically when small children color Easter eggs, the words “gently place the egg in the color” does not apply and a few eggs will be cracked, allowing the egg dye to seep through.

Where am I going with this, right? If I went to the store and bought egg salad then discovered small pieces of green and blue in it, I would definitely return it. However, I don’t have a problem with small pieces of green and blue egg in my own egg salad because I know why it is there.

How many times have we taken a look at a person or situation in a negative light because we do not have all of the information? We are quick to judge something because it looks unusual or appears unsettling to us.  What happens when we have all of the information about something or someone? Does the same situation that previously bothered us impact us in a different way once we understand the back-story?

I guess you could say it is like the old saying that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Maybe things wouldn’t bother us as much if we understand why. If the pizza you ordered takes longer than 30 minutes and it is snowing heavily, you understand why your order might be taking longer than expected and are less likely to get angry.

Am I saying that you should keep food from the grocery that has foreign objects in it? Definitely not! What I am saying is that sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to understand that there is generally a reason why something might not appear to be as you expect it to, just like green and blue egg salad!

All Guts, No Glory

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Why do you want to lead? This is a simple question that generates various answers. People have different reasons they desire a leadership role. Some may like to be in charge and leadership allows them this freedom. Others may see leadership as a calling, something they were meant to do. Or, you have the person that thinks their life will get exponentially easier by becoming a leader – they will not have to do all of the work they do now if they are in charge. I always got a kick out of those types, how little they understand about the true meaning of leadership.

Leadership is a labor of love if you want to be an actual leader and not just a manager of people. It takes guts to be a leader, not when everything is humming along well and no problems are on the horizon, but when you are faced with challenging situations. Leadership is when you have to publicly take the blame for something your team did in order to protect their identity. Leadership is when you have to deal with team members who don’t like one another and refuse to work together. Leadership is when you are responsible for making an unpopular decision which impacts many of your team members…. I could go on.  The point being that true leadership is far less glamorous and more of an endurance event.

If you truly want to lead, take away the idea that leadership is all glory and it takes guts. The glory should go to the team for a job well done, not to the leader for helping them get there.

Respect or Fear

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Have we ever stopped to think about how our team members respond to our leadership? Do we lead by respect or fear? I remember certain leaders whom I would go to extremes to provide them with what they requested immediately as I did not want to be on the receiving end of a tirade. Or, I would get a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw their number pop up on my cell phone, wondering what was wrong now. When I reflect back on those experiences, I find it a very sad state of leadership. I felt as if I was unable to have a productive relationship with these leaders due to their style of leadership by intimidation. You did what you had to in order to stay off their radar screen. Unfortunately, most of us have encountered leaders such as these, leaders whom we feared instead of respected.

Thankfully, I have encountered just as many great leaders that I had immense admiration for due to the way they led with respect for their team. These leaders led with high regard to their team members, not a high regard for themselves. These types of leaders were easy to be around, they expected the best out of us, but did not scare us into producing excellent work. They believed in an open and collaborative environment. Having such respect for these leaders made it easy for everyone to work hard and do what was best for the organization.

I believe that leadership by intimidation occurs when a leader’s ego gets in the way. When an over-inflated self worth overshadows the purpose of leadership, this leader believes they can get the job done any way they want, even if it means belittling team members. The sad part to this line of thinking is this type of leader believes their team has great respect for them. In reality, these teams perform out of fear.

Don’t confuse leadership intimidation with leaders who are tough when they need to be. Leaders may need to exhibit a tough facade when there are issues at hand. However, it is possible to be tough without compromising the respect you have for your team members. True, your team may not enjoy having a difficult conversation with you, but having these conversations in a respectful manner shows that you care and want the best out of them.

Respect is earned, not coerced through intimidation. How do you lead?

 

Living on an Island

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On occasion, leadership can be a very lonely place. Leaders need to embody many personalities, and it can be necessary to make a difficult decision that separates you from the rest of the organization. On the other side, there are times where a leader will reside on an “island” because they feel they are the most important person within the organization. They feel the leadership position they have been given grants them the latitude to make all of the decisions without input from others.

Unilateral decision-making can be a very damaging practice for a leader. I am not speaking of the occurrences when a leader must make a decision without consulting others within the organization. I am talking about the leader who believes their own hype and feels as if they are clearly the smartest person in the whole organization. They have this feeling of infallibility and all of their decisions are always going to be the best decisions – just ask them!

This type of leader does not gain the confidence of their organization.  If a leader sits in his or her office and fires off directives without getting any input from anyone, how can they truly understand what is going on in the organization? I have always been a big advocate of open channels of communication and transparency. If you want to know how a decision may impact your organization, go out and speak with those directly affected. Many of us have made the mistake in believing we know what is best for our organization since we are the leader. However, that type of egotistical attitude can get us into trouble. Your team members will be less likely to open up to you if you choose to ignore them and just do what you want to do. This type of decision-making also evokes a sense of distrust. People are often curious why and how their leader comes to a decision that will impact them. Making unilateral decisions on a regular basis can lead your team to wonder what you might be hiding, even if your actions are not nefarious.

Leadership is all about working and communicating with your team, not setting sail for your own private island.

 

Trust

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Trust – a simple word that emits strong emotions in many different ways. Why does the word “trust” forge such powerful feelings? We place our trust in many people day after day, from the school bus driver who takes our children to school to the doctor treating our illnesses. We talk about those we implicitly trust, and lash out at those we do not. Put together the word “trust” and politician and see what reaction you will get!

At the core of every interpersonal relationship is trust. It is the foundation from which we build our families, our friends, and our organizations. A strong sense of trust is needed to keep everyone moving forward toward a common goal regardless if it is a personal or professional relationship.

What happens when your trust in someone is damaged? If it is a casual acquaintance, it is pretty easy to avoid that person, in essence cutting off the relationship. Losing trust in a family member or close friend can be very difficult, but many people are more apt to try and repair the relationship since it may involve someone that you care deeply about and want as part of your life.

Losing trust in your leader creates a whole different set of challenges. Since you are gainfully employed, it is difficult to avoid contact with your leader on a day-to-day basis. And most people do not consider their leaders someone whom they are in love with or have deep feelings for (and if they do, that is a whole different issue!)

When leadership is not trusted, a team member may start to believe the common goal of the organization might just be a leader’s personal agenda, even if it is not. If a team member feels they cannot trust their leader, they feel as if they are out there on their own with no one to back them up.

Is it possible to regain trust of your leader once that trust has been violated?

 

 

A Disaster or an Opportunity

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I have always been fascinated by the way an organization describes a mistake. Some come right out and say, “Yes, we messed up and we accept responsibility for what happened.” Others play the blame game and try to pass off their mistakes on others. Regardless of where the blame is placed, the one thing that strikes me as interesting is how an organization puts the opportunity spin on it.

The opportunity spin is something that challenges us to think about issues in a different light. Mistakes are made and how we react to them can determine how we appear to the rest of the world. What do you think about an organization that states an issue is a great opportunity to learn and make changes? Sounds much better than telling the public that they screwed up and don’t have a clue what should be done next.

In addition to changing the way the public views your organization, turning a disaster into an opportunity will also put a different spin on a situation for your team. When everyone is running around wringing his or her hands in despair because they messed up, this creates chaos and doesn’t do much to address an issue. Something as simple as a word choice of “opportunity” can take a little of the fear out of a situation and drive everyone toward a positive result.

Do you see a disaster as an opportunity for future success or just a disaster?