Monthly Archives: July 2010

What Are You Bringing to Dinner?

For Managers:  Be A Welcome Guest at Their Dinner, Even if You Don’t Attend

I just wrote about the importance of what we bring home to dinner.  We can be conscious of bringing substance, positivity, joy as an essential ingredient to the dinner.  It’s about leading an Ascendant, rather than Descending, Conversation.

As a boss, a manager, a team member, you are a present guest at the dinner table of your employees. The positive influence you provide at work each day is an essential ingredient in your team’s dinner.   Will you focus on the positive, be encouraging?   Will you devolve responsibility and let them make decisions?    Could you simply put in a call, to simply thank them (and with no follow-up requests)?  

As leaders we sometimes face challenging issues.  We can also be in a position of power.  We can make a decision and enforce something that perhaps is “squishy.”  We’re right in one way, the employee may be right in another way.

If we enforce our power in these muddy decisions, your power won’t last long.  It just seems like you get to make the decision.  You get to make the final call of that issue, but you can’t “call up” positive attitudes or positive regard for your team.  That’s built over the longterm, day by day, through trusted actions and trusted conversations.

I’ll give you an example I faced in my career. We had a certain amount of vacation days our full-time team members received.  Those who were part-time team members, received prorated benefits. It was clearly stated in our official, legal Employee Manual.  However, one of our Senior Leadership at the time, made an offer to a new team member: They were 80% time and yet it stated full vacation benefits. 

What do you do? 

Your manual already states the principles by which you operate. You can stick by it and enforce it. But a person on your leadership team has, in essence, promised something else.

Ask yourself: “What Will My Team Member’s Dinner Conversation Be?”   You can have them come home disgruntled about having a few vacation days taken away.  Or you can honor your Senior Leadership’s email and provide the extra vacation days.  You can certainly adhere to your Employee Manual. We could have stated our Senior Leadership made a mistake, and we could apologize for the mistaken information.   Doing this, however, can also make this issue a continuing topic of negative dinner conversation.

So here is what we hoped we brought to dinner that night, even though we weren’t invited. We sat down with the employee and clearly stated our policy.  We also acknowledged that Senior Leadership had sent a conflicting message.   And we stuck by what our Senior Leadership had stated. While the employee came in a bit ruffled, she was immediately relieved.   We acknowledged the conflicting information and gave the vacation days to the employee’s advantage.

We built trust. We honored our word, even if our word on paper was different.  We imagined an uplifted, ascendant Dinner Conversation, rather than a descendant one that focused on having something taken away.

Being positive, encouraging; providing the benefit of the doubt, erring on the side of giving when an issue is confusing, is an imperative part of good management every day.  However, there is another time when maybe you won’t always be a welcome guest at the dinner table. In this case, it’s actually ok.

Sometimes management is hard. It’s about an individual’s growth, and their allegiance to the principles and standards by which your organization operates.   At times, constructive criticism is imperative, and it is not always comfortable to deliver or to be received.  But if it is based on principle, then it is a necessary commitment to the organization. The hope, too, is that they understand how they need to grow, develop and ascend in their execution as well.  

Dinner Conversations are complex.  So think about what you bring “as their guest every evening.”   What you say and do could be at times the main ingredient of their dinner.  Would they be happy, peaceful, inspired?  Disgruntled, disappointed?   Bring an Ascendant Conversation to their day, and you’ll be a welcome guest at their dinner.

What Do You Bring Home To Dinner?

The Ascending Conversation

What Do You Bring Home to Dinner?

I ask you this because every day, whether we pick up Chinese takeout, go out to eat at a Malaysian restaurant, or cook simple macaroni ‘n’ cheese, we are always bringing home something to dinner.  Even if you eat cheese and crackers. Or a bowl of cereal.

It’s the substance of your conversation.   That’s the most important ingredient you bring home to dinner.

In the best evenings, we bring home our hopes. Our concerns.  Our inspirations… Our goals…

The Descending Conversation

Yet many… many times… our conversation descends.  We resort to the most negative event of the day.  The moment someone cut us off on the road.  The rude person behind the Long’s Drugs counter.  The time when we felt defeated.  A moment where we are flabbergasted by a coworker’s or boss’ behavior.  The disconcerting time when one of our most sincere friends makes us feel profoundly misunderstood.

And yet there is so much substance happening every moment. Joyful substance, and joyfilled substance, which leads to an uplifting conversation.  A conversation which ascends.

The ascending conversation emphasizes the positive impacts of each day.  The extra smile we get from the person behind the counter at the drycleaners. A beautiful sunny day, or a cozy clouded one.  Our freedom of speech.  Our right to happiness.   A day where we got many things ‘crossed off our to-do list.’   

It’s the pure joy of connecting with a friend we haven’t spoken to in a while.  It’s being really amazed by the vibrancy of the flowers we pass, in the glorious, multiple shades of red, whether it be a tulip, a geranium, a wild flower.  The ability to vote.  Giving your mom a call.  Being kind to yourself.  Walking slowly…smiling at others… And of course, with more than 2 billion in the world struggling, our ability to decide…even what we want to eat this evening.  It’s a true luxury.

Let’s focus on The Ascending Conversation.   Remember that the substance we bring to dinner nourishes our partner. We can bring something negative, or we can bring something uplifting.  We can provide buoyancy to the conversation.  We can celebrate some part of life together.  And as we finish our meal, both nutritionally and emotionally, we can walk away uplifted.

What Do You Bring Home To Dinner?

How This CEO Needs to Grow Flow Chart

Many of the posts in “How this CEO Needs to Grow” discuss how I try each day to honor people in my life. (For example, “I Run in Half Way Through” and “I Choose to Run“). Living a life that values people can be done simply by being on time or acknowledging a homeless person on my way to work. It requires carving out space and time in your life; it relates to both business and personal relationships.

I have put together a flow chart that incorporates this theme and discusses how important it is to value and respect people, understand their goals and respect their time.

How This CEO Needs to Grow Flow Chart

What If Innovation Is a Pleasant Shock?

A recent interview with Guy Kawasaki on Fast Company discussed influence, engagement, and innovation.  Guy spoke about the Influence Project, Fast Company’s current contest to find the most Influential Person Online.  When asked if what he was doing was gaining traction, and his response to negative reactions, Guy said, “If you’re not pissing people off, you’re not doing anything interesting…You enchant people more by being blunt and honest than trying to ameliorate everybody.”

This raised some thoughts for me about innovation that I shared with Guy, and would love to share with you.

***   ***   ***   ***

Dear Guy,

As always, I love your innovation.  I agree with your commitment to push the mark.  But maybe we don’t have to upset the balance for people; sometimes, it can simply be an “ah-hah” moment, a moment of surprise, a twist in new thinking for someone, a way we have improved their lives.

For example, we try to push the mark with employees by doing something innovative.  We’re age agnostic.  Sometimes 18 year olds end up leading our team meetings.  And they are quite good at it.

We want to honor our team wholistically. So people are free to continuously share their outside goals and we will do what we can to help them. One woman was into motorbikes. Another guy wants to work in space and at NASA.  Another woman likes honoring her cat who drinks out of a faucet — and won’t drink water any other way.  So we express interest from the largest to the smallest details. What’s important to them? And we strive to respond. We tailor information, help, provide education, give introductions, shoot them referrals, pull out articles, and think longterm about how we can help them with their goals.

What if innovation is a pleasant shock?

Warm Regards, Pamela