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3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses Face

3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses FaceStarting a small business is tough. A founder has to figure out all the in’s and out’s of running a business while somehow keeping themselves afloat financially. From offering a viable product or service to finding customers to finding the right systems, every aspect of a small business has to be considered and dealt with quickly.

And then you hire employees.

At times more stressful than the customer side of owning a business, is the people side. Hiring, motivating, training, paying and sometimes firing employees is draining on even the most organized and skilled among us. In our work with startups and small businesses who are experiencing growth that creates a need to hire, sometimes a high volume of candidates, we have uncovered three people related challenges that seem to pop up over and over.

Hiring First, Thinking Later
I’m a big fan of this philosophy and follow it in most areas of my business. Jump first, build the parachute on the way down. It serves many of us well as entrepreneurs. Until it comes to hiring people. Founders find themselves needing help and leap before they think. They will hire a family member or someone they think can do the job without thinking about how it should work out. And by work out I mean both the basics around how they will get paid and what laws have to be considered as well as the more advanced around hiring structures and performance management.

Too Many Layers
The amount of instances in which this challenge creeps up is astounding. A 20 person businesses does not need three layers of managers. It doesn’t. I will fight to the death on this one. This typically happens because a family member or friend was hired and wanted an executive title. Then someone decided they needed a team and that team needed a layer in the middle. Before you know it you have a whole lot of “managers” who really aren’t managing anything. This leads to so many complications such as pay disparity, general lack of continuity and ego based decisions.

Here is what I have seen work best. Everyone reports to a founder(s) until the founder(s) can no longer effectively manage everyone, then another leader(s) is hired or promoted. Only adding leaders as necessary and being very clear in the division of duties when new leaders are appointed. Beyond that, layers are only added after intense discussion and when everyone agrees that it makes the most sense. Leaders shouldn’t be added because someone thinks they need a leadership title. They should be added when it makes business sense.

Not Thinking Long Term
I have a new client from another country who is bringing their product to the US for the first time. During our first call they asked me what types of activities we could do around culture and building the type of environment they felt was important. Before we talked about a payroll system or the vacation policy, we talked about culture.

From the moment a business hires it’s first employee, it is creating an environment for employees to work within. The business can either be deliberate about it or let what happens happen. Either way, 3 years from now an environment will have been created. If a founder gets caught up in today and doesn’t at least think about a few months and years down the road, something may be created that they aren’t happy with.

And undoing that can be nearly impossible.

There are many other challenges that businesses face, like growing too fast or not dealing with issues swiftly, but these are the three that seem to hit small businesses on a regular basis. The people side of the business should be taken as seriously as the customer side. It should be as well thought out and planned as the product of service you are offering. Leaving people matters to chance may work for 1 in a million new businesses. Not sure that’s a chance I would be willing to take.

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Employment At Will Doesn’t Equal Fire At Will

Employment At Will Doesn't Equal Fire At WillOn a regular basis, I have a conversation with a CEO around employment at will. They have an employee who is not performing and when I tell them they need to start documentation they always respond with the same question. “But we employ at will right? So I can fire anytime.”

Not exactly.

In technical terms, sure. You can fire at will. In legal terms, employment at will doesn’t defend you from a lawsuit. Even if the lawsuit is bogus, it certainly won’t protect you from the cost to defend the suit. Courts may still side with an employee if they feel they were discriminated against because of any protected class or if they were harassed, even in an employment at will situation.

But Sabrina, what about probationary periods?

Sorry to say that those don’t really mean anything. Probationary periods started as a milestone for new hires to receive certain benefits, like healthcare or 401(k). Make it past your 90 days and we’ll give you this or that type of deal. While they were adapted to say that either party could terminate employment within the first 90 days with or without cause, the previous paragraph still applies. Just because you terminate within a probationary period does not mean you are not susceptible to potential litigation.

So what is an employer to do? Well allow me to beat my drum for a moment while I sing you the song I sing to clients every single day.

Hire Right
Have a hiring process in place and follow it consistently. Think about the characteristics that are necessary to be successful in this job and ask the right questions to find out if the candidate in front of you possesses them.

Often times the interview process is rushed, or there is no real process and poor decisions are made resulting in performance that is less than stellar rather quickly. Regardless of how quickly this shows up, documentation is key to supporting a termination.

Document, Document, Document
I know operational leaders get sick of hearing this from their HR team, but the reality is documentation is key to mitigating any legal risk. After my post last week about email, a conversation on Twitter started about how email can be used in legal cases. That isn’t to suggest that we use email as a way to document performance, but it is to say that lawyers and courts love documentation.

Any performance issue should be well documented especially if they lead to termination. Unfortunately, there is just no getting around it.

Check Your Leadership
I don’t want to say bad employees are caused by bad leaders, but sometimes, bad employees are caused by bad leaders. It could be that the manager has high and unreasonable expectations or that they are just a bear to work for. There have been a number of times in my career where seemingly high quality employees turn into performance issues and sometimes it has stemmed from a poor leader.

We are often quick to defend our leaders, but it is at least an important point to check.

So while most are “at will” employers, firing at will doesn’t come without it’s risks. No termination process is 100% risk free from litigation but following the steps above (especially point number 2) can help mitigate that risk and make sure your termination process is as succinct and maybe more importantly, humane as possible.

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Employee Email Pitfalls Small Businesses Should Avoid

As much as we all lament it’s existence, email is still a primary tool for communicating in the workplace. At least once a day I get asked for my email address by someone wanting to send me information. It is the one tab that is open the most on my web browser. Even though I have other outlets to communicate with my clients, it is still the most used (although text is a close second).

It is the double edged sword we can not live without….yet anyway.

If there were ever a place where you think email could be used less, it would be in small businesses. A small group of people could surely get by communicating face to face, in text or via a social channel like Slack right?

While I do find these other channels being used more and more by my smaller clients versus my larger ones (and large in my world means 200+ employees), email is still King when it comes to employee communication. Because of that, and because I am often copied on said emails, I have a few employee email pitfalls I see leaders falling into every day. See if any of these ring true in your workplace.

Not Knowing How to Use Email
One of the most common pitfalls I see is leaders not knowing which conversations are appropriate for email and which would be better suited for face to face (or at least phone) conversation. This often stems from leaders feeling uncomfortable having difficult conversations verbally. Some of the time however, it was just that email was convenient at the time or the leader wanted to get communication out right away and wasn’t able to do it face to face at that moment.

Important communication, direct feedback and changes to how someone does their work should always be communicated in person. If documentation is necessary, communicate in person first and then follow up in email.

Too Many Emails
We all have that one person in our career who relies on email a little too much. We wake up in the morning to have numerous notes from them only to proceed through our day receiving many more. Most of these emails were unnecessary – when I email thanks, you do not have to respond with you’re welcome, you just don’t. Some should have been conversations (see point one above) and others are infuriatingly micromanaging, which is exactly the type of leader I see falling into this pitfall the most.

Too many emails that spell out what you want an employee to do, how to do it and then following up on whether they did it is not only frustrating from an inbox standpoint but from a work environment one as well. Check the number of emails you are sending employees in a day and see if you might be guilty of too many messages. You either trust your people to do the work, or you don’t. And if you don’t, more email will not solve the problem.

Not Checking Your Tone
I have this habit of receiving a text or email from my husband and immediately responding with “are you being shitty?” I’m happy to report that 90% of the time he responds with no. We’ve been married for nearly 15 years, sometimes it is a definite yes, but I digress. The point is that even after 15 years of marriage I still can’t discern his tone 100% of the time if he is communicating electronically.

If I can’t always tell my husband’s tone, your employees can’t tell yours. Re-reading emails is crucial to seeing if there are words that could be misconstrued or a tone that you may have not meant when writing it. Of course, if there is a chance that no matter how you change it up it could still be misunderstood, then again I point you to the first pitfall above.

We are all guilty of replying and hitting send before we ever actually think about what we want to say and how we want to say it and that creates a lot of unnecessary miscommunication.

Letting Email Conversations Go On Too Long
This one is my pet peeve. I have said for years and years that is an email conversation takes more than 3-5 emails to resolve, it’s time to get everyone in a room and have a face to face. Going back and forth in email is ripe for miscommunication and someone dropping the ball. People are going to check out of the conversation, agreements or next steps may never be fully addressed and eventually, people just get so fed up with the process they react angrily to whatever is being said.

As a leader if you see an email conversation going on too long, it is on you to get everyone together face to face or on a call to resolve the issue.

Email isn’t going away. It will be a high traffic mode of communication for many years to come. It doesn’t have to be a painful process or a thorn in everyone’s side if we all become a little more mindful of how to use it properly.

What is your biggest email pet peeve?

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Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For Them

Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For ThemAs most of you know SHRM17 is happening this week in New Orleans. I am missing it for the first time in years and have a serious case of FOMO. To ease my jealousy a bit I have been religiously following the Twitter stream. If you aren’t following along and you are in HR, you are missing out. Period.

One of the speakers I was most disappointed to miss was Kat Cole. I have followed her for a while and anytime I get a chance to read something she has written, watch an interview or just generally learn more about her I do. So naturally, I was starting at the computer yesterday focused on gleaning the best tweets filled with her wisdom.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

After her session I asked attendees what stuck with them the most from her talk and this tweet was one that came back.

It’s rather powerful no? Here’s why.

A call I get at least once a week from leaders in small businesses centers around the fact that they have to challenge an employee, ironically enough it’s usually a leader on their team, and they want to know how to approach the conversation. This challenge isn’t always negative feedback about that employee’s performance. More often than not, it’s challenging the way they are thinking about their work, a decision they made for their team or their individual leadership style.

Let me give you an example.

Last year a CEO who had given her leaders a very loose leash when it came to making business decisions for their individual team had a leader go a little rogue with compensation. She felt, and so did I for that matter, that he had been making compensation increase decisions based on his affinity towards a person rather than true performance. He had also been a bit all over the map when offering salaries to new employees, presumably based on his personal affinity towards them.

Not only was this affecting the crazy range of compensation on his team, but it was affecting how he worked with employees and how he allowed other leaders to interact with them. If another leader had constructive criticism for one of his “favorites” a rather angry discussion would ensue where he would defend their actions or words. His behavior was creating a divide among his peers and alienating the “not so favored” members of his team.

His work performance was on par. The discussion that needed to take place had nothing to do with how he worked, but more a slippery slope that his CEO and boss saw that he clearly didn’t. I wish we had Kat Cole’s statement back then because it is perfect for this situation.

The reality is tough conversations are never easy. Challenging someone on something is not fun. Sometimes though, that challenge has to happen to make them better. Especially when we are talking about leaders. Especially, especially when we see someone going down a bad path that they may not recognize themselves.

We have to be confident in our ability to do this as leaders. We can use Kat’s approach and explain that we are challenging because not doing so means we are failing you. However we approach it, we have to approach it.

As I read through the tweet stream, one thing that is clear is that there is a ton of pressure on leaders to do lots of different things, communicating often and appropriately being chief of them. That communication can’t always be positive. Much of the onus on leaders when it comes to communication is sharing the good and the not so good.

It may be exactly what your employee needs to hear.

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Dealing with Big Personalities in Small Environments

Dealing with BIG Personalities In Small EnvironmentsBefore I get to today’s post, I wanted to share a link to an interview Christine recently did with Vocate.

Now on to it…

Small businesses come with all types of unique challenges. Ensuring the product or service is viable. Securing the level of funding needed to develop the product/service. Actually getting it to market while making payroll each week and of course, turning the business into a profitable endeavor.

And all of that is the easy part. Because in order to do all of that effectively, you have to navigate the people side of the business. Hiring, training, developing and dealing with all the different personalities.

And when some of those personalities are big and the work space is small, new challenges are presented.

I received a call last year from a founder who was renting space in a local WeWork office. He and his team of 22 were interchangeably working from this office space and remotely. Meaning, on some days certain ones were in the office while others worked from home and then on other days, they switched. He explained that he had a few “big” personalities on his team that were making the tight quarters feel a bit claustrophobic. He asked if I could come in and observe and then give him some advice on how to proceed.

From the moment I entered, before the founder even needed to tell me, I could identify who the big personalities were. There were two of them, male and female. They introduced everyone, rather than let everyone introduce themselves. They took the initiative to tell me everything that was happening at the business, what they were working on and what they thought needed to happen next. They thought I was there to give feedback on how to conduct more effective meetings so they proceeded, unprompted, to tell me what they thought could be done better.

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with big personalities. These two employees were highly valuable employees with which the business could not move forward without. Their expertise was crucial to getting this company’s products to market. In any business however, and especially at a leadership level, people have to learn how to adjust their style to accommodate those around them. Alienating everyone makes team work rather difficult.

In the meeting that I observed, these big personalities talked over others, answered every question asked before others could, and backed each other up when anyone disagreed to the point that the opposing party would just give up. A better word for these big personalities would be dominant. They were confident, which was only fueled by their respect of each other, and direct to the point of making others, including the founder uncomfortable.

It’s important to note here that this is not an extrovert vs introvert thing. One of these individuals was a definite introvert. We can have dominant personalities too – just ask my husband.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t always about ego. I don’t think either of these individuals had insanely large egos or were narcissist. It was more that they were passionate about their work and wanted the launch to be perfect in their eyes. The problem is that their passion was coming off as abrasive and angry at others.

So here were my suggestions. First and foremost I told the founder that he had a responsibility to set the tone. In the meetings I observed, he tended to open the meeting, but then let these two take over. Stuff got done and the meetings were productive, but the tone was often off-putting to others. I told him that if he wanted everyone to have a chance to speak he was going to have to make sure it happened. He may even have to go as far as telling the two big personalities that he appreciated their input but wanted to hear from others.

Next, I told him that he was going to have to make it safe again for other employees, who may have an opposing view, to speak up. This meant he was going to have to expressly solicit opposing views and then praise them publicly for sharing another side. This was going to be uncomfortable at first, but there were a few people in the room who I felt like would push back if they felt like he had their back. This doesn’t mean he had to agree, but support them in raising different viewpoints.

Finally, I suggested some coaching for the employees with big personalities as well as getting to know you exercises for the whole team. We did two very distinct things there. First, he shared with the two employees, as well as two others, that he was starting to look at how leadership roles would play out as the business grew. He wanted the four of them to be involved in a leadership development program with him. In this program he would be laying out the culture he wanted to build and the type of employer he wanted to be. They would help him design a process for getting there. Second, since everyone in the company knew their MBTI profile, we did some getting to know you discussions around the different personality types and how to work together.

While all of this is a continual work in progress, because leadership always is, I’m happy to report that the things we put in place made a difference. Talking out loud about what shuts people down versus what encourages better teamwork is always a great starting point. Being consistent about reminding each other of those personality traits helps it stick in the long run. It’s constant work, but work that must be done to overcome those personality traits in some employees that are completely alienating others.

Have you dealt with this in your small business? What did you do to overcome? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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Three Ways to Engage the Introverts on Your Team

engaging introverts

Last week at the WorkHuman conference, Susan Cain took the stage to share some real truths about introverts. I normally cringe when I hear people talking about introverts for one very real reason – the person speaking is usually an extrovert. I love that Susan, a self-proclaimed introvert, shares her thoughts not only from a scientific, research based perspective, but from life experiences as well.

For all the discord back and forth that happens over the validity of most personality tests, one difference that people everywhere recognize is that people identify as introverted, extroverted or ambiverted. As Susan points out, for decades extroverts were the celebrated group. More and more however, leaders are recognizing the need to be mindful of their introverted team members and meet them where they are instead of trying to “fix them”.

Because as I said in my recent DisruptHR Orange County talk (linked below), introversion is not a disease.

As a raging introvert myself, I often find myself talking extroverted managers through how to engage with an introverted team member. I thought today I might share with you my most common advice.

One on One vs Group Settings
You will always get more interaction out of an introvert one on one versus in a group setting. Always. Full stop. We hate large groups, or small groups, or any group really. Of course our hatred lessens the more comfortable we get with the people in the group, but regardless, we will always prefer one on one and be more open to sharing our complete thoughts in that setting.

For the introverts on your team, group meetings are fine if they are necessary, but it might be beneficial to also follow up one on one or even individually ahead of the meeting to get more from them.

Appreciate Our Need to Think it Through
If Who Wants to be a Millionaire offered up philosophical questions instead of fact based ones, introverts would never win. Why? Because we like to think completely through our thoughts on something before giving an answer.

A few weeks ago a CEO became frustrated when his introverted CFO came back to him after a meeting and disagreed with a direction they had decided to take during the meeting. He wondered why the leader hadn’t brought his objection up during the meeting. My response: he didn’t know he objected until he thought all the way through it.

As a business adviser once explained it to me, introverts layer information in their head. They flip it over, examine it, toss out what doesn’t make sense, add another layer and keep doing that until they have their final answer. Then they give that answer all tied up in a nice little bow. That process takes time. If you ask a big question and expect an introvert to give you a complete answer in a short time frame, you will never get it.

Do Not Discredit our Ability to Do “Extroverted” Things
At an event earlier this year where I was brought in to be a social influencer, an attendee and I started talking about introversion/extroversion. I shared that I was an introvert and she said, “so I guess you won’t be one of the people sharing much on social through this event?”

Um, actually…..social media is an introvert’s favorite playground. We can be social without having to be social, know what I mean? In fact, some of the top sharers from WorkHuman last week were us good ‘ole introverts.

Then I took the stage and spoke at the event and she was even more confused. She told me after she didn’t think I was really an introvert. No, trust me, I am, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do things that have been long considered extroverted.

Like speak in public
Or be social when I want
Or lead a team, some of who are very strong extroverts.

I don’t believe any activity is strictly an introverted or extroverted activity. The difference in how that activity affects us. For extroverts it may energize where introverts may feel drained.

So don’t think the introvert you work with can’t lead a project or a team. Don’t think they can’t represent your brand online or in front of a crowd. They can. They may need a nap after, but they can.

While there is so much more that goes along with engaging introverts, these are often my top tips. Susan’s book, website and social feed are great resources of true research and detail as well. For a quick five minute take on how to deal with introverts, check out my Disrupt talk.

If you are an introvert or an extrovert who has to deal with introverts, I would love to hear what you’ve learned in the comments below.

The Quickest Ways To Piss Off An Introvert | Sabrina Baker | DisruptHR Talks from DisruptHR on Vimeo.

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Interview with SHRM 2017 Speaker Dr. Tony Alessandra

Interview with SHRM17 SpeakerIf you have followed this blog for any amount of time you know that one topic I am passionate about is communication. I’ve written about it on numerous occasions, my most popular post being this one all about communication. I speak on it and even did my first DisruptHR talk about it. I firmly believe that many issues in the workplace could be avoided with better and more thorough communication.

SHRM 2017 speaker Dr. Tony Alessandra agrees.

Dr. Alessandra is facilitating a workshop on June 18th, titled: Adaptability: How to Talk so that People Will Listen. I spoke with Dr. Alessandra about this session and wanted to share a few takeaways.

Dr. Alessandra says that the most important thing people will take away from this workshop is how to practice communication. This is a “you had me at hello” moment for me. We are very reactive. We speak before we think. More than that, we speak the way we think without forethought or strategy. Dr. Alessandra is going to teach attendees how to adapt (change) their communication style depending upon the person or situation you are facing.

So important and yet rarely done.

Dr. Alessandra will provide a model that describes the 4 basic communication styles and how to identify each. He takes a “when in Rome” approach to communication which I really like. We should not be communicating based on our preferences but based on the preferences of those we are communicating with.

If I say it once I say it 20 times a week to leaders – let’s figure out how to frame this information in a way that the receiver can hear it. So many misunderstandings could be avoided if the person communicating would have taken a bit of time to think about how they wanted to say what they needed to based on how the receiving individual communicated.

This topic hit home for Dr. Alessandra when he moved from New York to San Diego years ago. He quickly realized that the New York style of communicating did not work well in Southern California. My own experience moving from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2014 reiterates that story well. Whether it be with people from different parts of the country, experiences or personality preferences, everyone communicates differently and using a one size fits all approach will not fly in the long run.

Dr. Alessandra says that his workshop is best for anyone who has to deal with people, so I’m certain any SHRM attendee will get something out of this session. He promises actionable content, stories and group activities that make 4 hours fly by.

Although this is the first time presenting this topic for SHRM, Dr. Alessandra is a noted keynote speaker and member of the National Speakers Association where he is in the Hall of Fame.

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Acacia HR is Growing – Please Welcome Christine Kopp!

Christine Kopp and Sabrina Baker

When I started this business I did so not because I really wanted to be a consultant or an entrepreneur, but because I wanted to be a mom. If you have read this blog for a while or heard me speak, you know my story. Cliff notes version: I went on maternity leave with my now 7 year old, was told three weeks before I was to return that I would be laid off. New baby, personality not conducive to being a stay at home mom and living in a city where having only an hour commute was a luxury. So I branched out on my own and 6 years later, here we are.

In those early days I worked very part time. I almost don’t consider the first two years of the business as real because I worked maybe two days a week (not 8 hour days) and dedicated most of that time to my son. I did do a lot of dreaming during those days though and over and over there were two things I would tell my husband about my business.

First, when I hired I wanted to make sure that I gave people the same opportunity I had. The opportunity to build their work around their life and not the other way around. The typical 8-5, M-F, take time off if you need to take your kid to the doctor doesn’t have to, and won’t, apply to this business. Anyone I hire can work when they want, how they want as long as the work gets done. They don’t ever have to worry about taking time off to be with a sick kid or taking a Tuesday off just because they want. On Friday, if their work for the week is done, I genuinely don’t care how they made it happen.

Second, when I hired, I had a list of people I wanted to bring on board. At the top of the list was Christine Kopp. Christine and I worked together at ACCENT Marketing – a call center company. We all have those co-workers who become friends and Christine is one of those people. Before either of us had kids, we vacationed together, traveled for work together and always worked really well together both at work and outside of work.

I’m so happy to announce that with my first hire, I’ve done both of the above. Hired Christine and given her the opportunity to work around her life. She’s busy. She has three girls.

Three girls. Seriously.

I had been thinking of hiring help for a while. The business doubled in revenue last year and quite frankly, this is long overdue. Christine reached out earlier this year asking about something she saw that would allow her to work from home, still be flexible with her girls, but keep her relevant in HR for when she was ready to go back to work. I took it as a sign and pitched the idea of her joining me.

She took the bait.

I was a little worried that she might not. If you’ve ever worked in a small business before, you know that roles are hard to define initially and everyone has to do a little bit of everything. Christine will be an HR Consultant but will be helping me in other areas of the business as well. She is a benefit expert and has worked as a generalist so her experience is very well rounded.

Plus, she is the extrovert that every introvert needs. The one who appreciates the introverts need for alone time, but also encourages them to get out of their minds every once in a while. We balance each other out and that makes for a great team.

Christine joined me last week in sunny CA (she lives in Kansas City) to do a little on-boarding and brainstorming and I’m excited about where this is going. There will be lots more to come from her and about her in the coming weeks.

The business turns 6 on April 19th so look for a formal press release on Christine and more info on the blog, but I didn’t want to wait until then to announce her hire.

You can read her more formal work information on LinkedIn and connect with her on Twitter.

Please send her well wishes and a few prayers – working with me ain’t easy!

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The Reality of Being an Entrepreneur

reality of being an entrepreneur

It is 7:15 am on a Tuesday. I’m sitting in LAX. I’ve been up for 3 hours, but feel like I didn’t sleep at all. My Uber driver made me car sick, something that rarely happens. A woman is eating, what I can only assume, is onions with a side of burger for breakfast only adding to my nausea. I have 30 minutes until boarding. The woman next to me asked what I did for a living. She then told me how lucky I was to own my own business, make my own schedule and be able to balance life and work.

Except I don’t feel lucky at the moment. I feel guilty.

Guilty because my child lost his mind this morning over me leaving. He got so worked up in fact that he made himself sick. Few things activate mom guilt more than hearing your child crying over you leaving and then walking out that door.

Because while I might be lucky for the reasons airport lady pointed out above, I’m also facing the reality of being an entrepreneur. Sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks.

Being an entrepreneur is hard. Really hard. And while 90% of the time I love it, there are still days when I think it might be easier to just go back to a normal job. One where I….

Only have to focus on HR, not sales, marketing and finance too.

Can take a legitimate day off, turn off my phone and not worry about what may happen.

One where someone else is footing the bill for supplies, advertising and travel.

One where I work a standard 8-5(ish) and get to call it a day.

While these days of wondering what it might be like to go back into the regular working world are fewer and farther between than they were in the earlier days of my business, they still happen. I guess it’s a little bit of a pity party that I throw myself every once in a while and then move on. Move on because I realize that a normal job wouldn’t allow me to….

Work my work around my life, not the other way around.

Travel to multiple conferences throughout the year and meet amazing people. Most corporate jobs would only allow me to travel to one, if even that.

Be there for my son’s school plays, doctor’s appointments and sick days. Even if being there means he loses his mind the few days that I’m not.

I am lucky, but make no mistake. I work hard for this. As does every other entrepreneur out there. Every time someone asks me what it’s like owning my own business I first tell them how hard it is. Sure there are tons of perks, but it is not all glamorous. I’m guilty of looking at other business owners and thinking they have it so great only to remind myself that they worked their butts off to get where they are too.

And that they have days where they are sitting in an airport with the smell of onions permeating the air wondering if it’s all worth it.

It is. I know it is even if mom guilt is making me think twice right now. He’ll be fine. This is good for him…and me. I know this even if it doesn’t make it any easier.

That’s the reality of being an entrepreneur. If you are considering it, know this. While you will do some of the most rewarding work in your life, you will also work harder in less than sexy conditions than you ever have. You will stretch your mind and your resolve in ways that are hard to understand until you do it.

Enough of the pity party. Who can really complain about spending 3 days in Vegas?

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The Perils of Stop and Go Leadership

stop and go leadership

So the word perils may be a bit dramatic. I probably should say “the frustration of stop and go leadership” but perils makes for a better headline. An interaction with a client this week had me chuckling about this idea of stop and go leadership. An idea that, when I first started my business, used to frustrate me to no end. Now I’ve realized it is part of the job and while still frustrating, all I can do is coach to it and move on. Here’s what I’m talking about.

At least once a week I get a call from one or two of my clients who I now know are “stop and go leaders”. This means they call with an urgent project or hiring request or employee matter and they want me to get on it right away. We come up with a plan of action and hang up the phone.

I jump immediately on my part and maybe even move things around or stay up late working on, what seemed to be, an urgent matter. Then….crickets. Nothing for days or even weeks. When I send emails or texts (because introverts do not talk on the phone) they are blown off. What seemed so urgent is now, not. At least until it becomes top of mind for that leader again.

Stop and go leadership.

I used to get really frustrated by this, but now I’ve learned to identify stop and go leaders and work with them for what they are. When they call I no longer jump. I wait to see if they mention it again in a few days time. If they do, I’ll know it is something they are serious about. If they don’t, I wait until they get serious before putting any real effort in on my part. I have too much to do to jump at every “urgent for five minutes” ideas that one of these leaders get. And here’s the thing…

Their employees know it too.

It isn’t hard to realize who these leaders are. While on the surface leading this way may seem harmless, it isn’t. Leaders who I have called on this often tell me that they just get caught up in more important stuff and while this “thing” was important at the time, they didn’t realize the other stuff that was going to come up that took precedence.

An excuse. At times a valid one, but still an excuse.

Stop and go leaders lose credibility. Any sense of urgency employees may have once given their ideas, are lost after the first couple of “stops”. They are seen as reactionary and fickle. In short, they are not taken seriously.

And that can be a major problem.

Especially when it comes to things like disciplinary action.

Or recruiting.

Or new project implementation.

Or innovation.

Or really anything else the leader wants taken seriously.

I find that most leaders do not know they are “stop and go” leaders until it is pointed out to them. They don’t realize how jumping on and off a band wagon is hurting not only their credibility but productivity. Some of them even get upset when things are done months after an initial conversation not realizing that it was their stop and start mentality that drove the delays.

If you believe you may be a stop and go leader, then ask yourself if you find that you go down many paths but rarely finish any of them. Ask your employees if they find that you get fired up about a project or new idea, but that passion quickly fades. Ask them if they find that you are fickle and if they purposefully don’t react when you ask for something because they know you may change your mind tomorrow.

Then ask yourself what you are going to do about it. If it’s hurting productivity or your credibility then something must change. Think about how you might be more strategic in giving direction or how you might identify when things are really necessary to share and move forward or when you may need to sit on things for a while before getting everyone moving.

As mentioned, much of stop and go leadership is harmless, but for the things that matter, like a leaders ability to move a team forward, it can be crippling.

Have you worked for a stop and go leader? How did you respond to them?