Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, What Your Boss Wished You Knew: Professionalism in an Increasingly Unprofessional World. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Do you have any advice for learning how to put that filter aside? Do you have any tips for doing that?
Adam Leath: Well, I would say that I really provided just a very, very, broad overview of the book Trade Up. I really can’t underscore enough how much I appreciated the opportunity to have a six-week program going to an eight-hour day, five days a week but rather, one day each week for six weeks each. It’s not an easy thing to do. You know, we all wake up in the morning and sort of beat up into, you know, our normal way of thinking, our normal way of processing things. I oftentimes find it helpful to ask other people how I’m coming across or to be evaluating the information in a couple of different ways. So, if I’m concerned that we’re going to have a filter, I’m going to try to start jotting down notes or I’m going to go back to my office before making a decision and try to re-evaluate and playback what I remember and then I’m going to go back and talk with individuals to gain a greater appreciation. Certainly, I can’t do that every time, that there’s a conversation, but big decisions that you require a lot of work. I’m definitely going to make sure that I don’t have that filter up and make a bad choice.
Audience Question: How do you begin to get that sense for it if you even have a filter, to begin with, because, of course, filters feasibly are a synonym for biases? How do we become more sensitive to our own biases when they often exist in our own blind spots?
Adam Leath: It’s an interesting question because once you start seeing it and it wasn’t until about week two that it started making sense for me, but once you start seeing it, it’s a little comical because you start recognizing it in other people where they are reminiscing back in their history and trying to relay that on a current situation and then you recognize that the two have nothing to do with one another. It’s not something that you’re ever going to perfect, none of us do. What are we trying to objectively listen to? I have a hard time with that. I can talk far more than I listen, but if I’m ever in a situation certainly in an important meeting, I’m going to speak much less and I’m going to listen more and need not to keep down every bit of information that comes through. I’m going to at least try to appreciate what others might be saying more than I probably would if it were a less important decision.
Audience Question: You talked about remaining professional. Heck, you even taught a class as part of the NACA training course about professionalism and ethics. Has the way we define professionalism, has changed over the years?
Adam Leath: Well, it’s definitely not what our grandparents would describe as professionalism. Everything from the way that we dress to the vocabulary that we use. I certainly think that over time as language develops, I think what we consider to be professional or unprofessional also developed. I think that’s why it’s so important to remain plugged in and engaged to your professional organizations, to like-minded individuals at your level within your organization and in other organizations, because I learned a lot by sort of walking through some of the challenges that some of our other divisions are facing right now. In fact, we have weekly meetings with all of the directors just to describe some of the challenges that we’re experiencing. Many of them, ironically since you’re around people acting unprofessional, but it’s kind of one of those things that’s kind of hard to describe what, you know, you see he is sort of doing. I would say we definitely are assigning that term professional, unprofessional in different ways as our language has developed.
Audience Question: We’ve talked a lot about what employees can do. Well, what about bosses? Do you have any advice for your peers or for other bosses out there to help them get the most or the best out of their employees?
Adam Leath: Wow, if I knew that I could probably retire today, It really is challenging because it’s different for everyone. One of the big things, when I started in this position a couple of years ago, I met one-on-one with each employee, didn’t know anything about them, Didn’t review their personnel file. You add anything to what goes around. You’d be looking at them through. I just ask them, one simple question. Why do you work here? What gets you out of bed? What motivates you? I found a lot of insightful information and used that to make some changes. There were some employees who were not exactly very excited about the level of work or the exact work that they were doing and expressed some desire to work in a different fashion on different projects, and another area of the department. I sort of tried to remember when that came up because we’ve had some challenges with a vacancy and we’re able to plug those individuals into that area. I just have a lead but it is also something that they had expressed that they had an interest in. So, I think what motivates people is going to be all over the board. Every one of us is motivated by different things. So, arguably, the fall back to the communication piece and asking those, those difficult questions. Why are you here? You’ve been here for X number of years. You clearly want to be here or there are parts of this job that really motivate you. What are they?
Audience Question: Motivation changes over time too. What motivates somebody in their twenties isn’t necessarily what motivates them in their thirties or forties, right?
Adam Leath: We talked about this among the directors because we have a multi-generational workforce as well. What motivates millennials, for instance, may motivate a totally different age group in a different way. Millennials, I would say we, because I am one, but I want to find purpose and mission. I want to actually tangibly see and feel the difference that the organization has in the community regularly. If I don’t get that, if I’m not able to see it, direct my attention toward it or I don’t have others giving us feedback, I struggle. It’s really hard for me to continue to be motivated. For others, that could be something totally different. So again, not only changes over time, but you may be dealing with a myriad of different motivators for your varied workforce.
Audience Question: You talked about if there’s one thing you can change and asking that of our employees. So, what if the one thing you’d want to change are your co-workers, is the only option to leave?
Adam Leath: Well, the short answer is no. That’s not your only option. Rarely do you ever just have 1 or 2 options. You have lots of options and I can tell you having managed and led large organizations, and small organizations alike, they all have the same challenges. Oftentimes we are influencing our own unhappiness that we find in others. I try not to giggle at times when I have someone who’s complaining about a co-worker to me about how this person performs or what they do which is incredibly frustrating. I can certainly keep my composure. I see the exact same attributes in the person who’s complaining, They themselves, are guilty of the exact same things. We’re all people. I would say that, while it’s not impossible that we’re in a workplace that, you know, everyone in that workplace is completely toxic and that you’re unable or unwilling to stay longer because you have no control and no influence. I would say that those are probably the minority of cases, the majority of the time, you have the power to influence that situation but told yourself that you don’t or that you have been defeated, and you told yourself that there’s absolutely nothing that you can do. Then you act upon that and that feeling becomes your own fact, you have no influence and no control. In actuality, you actually do have a great deal of influence. You can’t control what a great deal of influence. Recognizing that you have some influence, and even if you don’t believe it, you got to tell yourself that you do and then operate and find where those influence points are. If you’ve tried and you found yourself that no matter how hard you try, but you’re just still unhappy. You need to seek out opportunities that not only give you fulfillment but you feel like you can make a bigger difference. It’s always an option that there are other opportunities but rarely it is the only option.
Audience Question: Adam, you said volunteer to help navigate. Can you expand on this or maybe give some examples and how do you do that without really stepping on the boss’s toes?
Adam Leath: Very carefully is the answer to that question. As a male, I inherently don’t like to ask for directions. I always like to think that I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to take a bunch of wrong turns and you figure out where I’m at before I reach my destination. Bosses are kind of that way. They don’t oftentimes want to say, I have no idea what I’m doing here. I’m just told I got to do it for my boss. If I ask what I’m doing, I don’t want to look like a fool. I don’t want to look like, I have no idea what I’m doing. I certainly don’t want to tell people that. So, bosses also, and leaders are sometimes a little insecure. They were not immediately going to come up to you and say, hey, I know that you’re really good at this particular thing. Could you help me with that? So, what I would say is, if you have a boss like that and helping navigate, I look at what is it that what sort of current projects – and you can certainly find out by asking your boss, or the leader of your organization. What are our current goals, our mission, what is it that we’re working toward? It’s even better. We’ve talked about this in other presentations if that they’re measuring it. So, what gets measured gets accomplished. So, start to discover what they’re measuring and what they’re trying to accomplish. Then, from that point, you can break it down into smaller pieces. Do you have some expertise in one of these areas? Maybe you have an idea that could improve, or maybe you’ve heard them complain about this one thing. I just never continue to figure out how to make that project to get off the ground. If you’ve heard them express their challenge or their frustration with something, maybe you hone in on those first. It gives you a direction on where you might be able to head. Then take your own accountability. You know your skills better than anyone else. Try to provide some solutions that maybe, you know, haven’t been tried before. We said before that it was important to know where your organization has been. What’s that history because we don’t want to repeat something that we know didn’t work in the past because that’s going to be a waste of resources. Offer up some additional, some additional avenues and solutions that maybe haven’t been tried before or that you have particular expertise in. Most bosses don’t have your personnel file memorized. They may not remember exactly where you work before you worked in your current position or that maybe you have some specialized certification in a different field or maybe you’ve dealt with this exact same problem in another industry or in another position. Bring that up. Bring up some data, lots of live data. So, bringing up some of these points and try to be able to present that information in a non-judgmental way and, not, when you’re in a rush. I would prefer, someone come in when I don’t have something on my calendar. I’m not trying to run to a meeting. It could be in casual conversation. You can always plant that seed. I had actually an idea I was going to run by, I know you’re busy today, but, you know, let me know, we can talk with you about something. I would much rather appreciate, when someone trying to provide me with all of this information while I’m on my way to a meeting, or when I’m in the middle of another project, I may not be able to devote the attention that you need and deserve and you bring that idea to help me navigate.
Audience Question: You mentioned Trade Up, which we’ve posted in the chat area as well as we’ve posted a link to that on the course page or the recording page for today’s webinar. Are there any other books that we should be putting on our holiday wish lists to read over the holiday break coming up here that may help us with our careers that you’d recommend?
Adam Leath: I like The One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese. I certainly like both of those. I also really like Good To Great. Spend a lot of time here in public protection talking about the status quo and being able to move from good to great, those are just some of my favorites.
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