Make people believe in themselves, and they will not disappoint you

“Build your reputation by helping other people build theirs.” (Anthony J. D’Angelo)

While thinking about this next principle, I looked up quotes about reputation. Many of them dealt with the idea that it takes a long time, and a lot of work to build one up. Henry Ford said “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” (I added the italics). And, he is right, of course. My reputation is the summary of perception of all my past actions. I cannot think my way into one, or talk my way into one, I can only act my way into one.

I remember when I was first starting out with my wife, and we needed credit. It was hard because banks and department stores didn’t want to give us credit because we didn’t have credit. It was like we were in a classic chicken and egg situation. Eventually we opened a Sears credit card by purchasing our refrigerator and stove. That company, because they were selling us some appliances, were willing to take a risk on us. Good credit is a representation of a person’s track record on paying things back, and Sears was willing to actually give us a reputation even though we hadn’t yet earned it.

The same is true when we are leading and developing people. A person who is new to a job that they have not previously held elsewhere, will necessarily come in without a reputation, without a track record for that job. They will be tentative at first because they are finding their way, and if not treated with care, they can be squashed by the expectations of those around them. When we are developing new employees, we have to give them a line of credit to earning their reputation. That’s how we can help them to progress.

In this section of principles, we are working to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment. We have talked about the need to address concerns with our existing people, and how we are working to change what they do. We are very near the end of the process, and we need to make sure that they are set up for success. In this principle, we are granting them a line of credit to that success. We are letting them know that we believe that they can do it, even if they have never done it at all before, and even if they have done it poorly. They are looking to us for support, and if we will give it to them, if we will put our faith in them, they will work hard.

It’s a funny thing about giving someone a reputation before they have earned it. When you do that, most people will not want to disappoint you. They will work up to the reputation you set.

I have often said that there is really only one thing that an effective leader needs – followers. Without followers, I am not a leader, I am just a dude out walking around. But, if I cultivate an environment where people are set up for success, where they know that I believe they can achieve, then they will follow.

If you want people to believe in themselves, and achieve, then by all means…

Principle 28 – Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

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Give praise – SINCERELY

“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two layers of praise.” (May Kay Ash)

Many of you who read these articles might, like me, be parents. And probably all of you have been around toddlers at some point in your life. Think about how we teach very young children how to do something as basic as walking.

At first we hold them under their arms and get them in the position. We giggle with them as their chubby feet dance around. Soon they are tentatively putting their weight on their own legs, and they might even bounce up and down a bit as the giggles and smiles continue from both us and them.

As they progress we progress. Where once we held our hands under their arms, we now hold them by their two hands as they learn to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually that becomes a one-handed assist from us. Then that magic day comes when they take that first, tentative step. Most of the time that first step ends with a plop onto their padded behinds. But, do we scold them? Do we tell them that they should have done better? Of course not!

At every step of the way we praise them lavishly. We cheer for them, we applaud for them. Our faces light up with even the slightest improvement.

As these children progress through their development, our praise starts to wane a bit. When they reach their school years, and they progress through their studies, we come to expect that they will always improve, that they are always working to learn.

By the time they get to their first job, they have forgotten the thrill of being praised for small improvements. How sad.

Am I suggesting that we should stand and cheer every time one of our team members improves slightly? Probably not, that would seem very fake and tiresome. But, what would happen if you doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the amount of times that you praised someone at work for making an improvement. If you presently never give that kind of praise, then you’d still be at zero, so you have to start somewhere. But the truth is that if we increased the amount of praise we gave for improvements we would get….are you ready for it?…. MORE IMPROVEMENTS!

There is an old saying in economics that you always get more of what you subsidize. The more people realize there is something to be gained from a certain behavior, the more of that behavior you will get. If you praise improvements, you get more improvements. But the converse is true also. If the only time your people get your attention is when they make mistakes, then you will get more mistakes.

In this series I have talked often about the need to be sincere in all our actions. In this principle, where we are praising improvements, it is as important as ever. Dale Carnegie realized this as well, and saved this chapter to remind us:

“Remember, we all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.

Let me repeat: The principles taught in this book will only work when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.”

These are powerful words, saved for late in the book. Dale Carnegie knew that this principle can be a fulcrum, a turning point in your relationship with those you lead. He knew that if done right, the sky is the limit, but if handled poorly, could cause your demise.

We have been working, in this section of principles, to improve the performance of one of our people, without arousing resentment. As we see them making the effort to improve, we must remember with great sincerity to…

Principle 27 – Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”

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Maintaining a person’s dignity encourages loyalty

“When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.” (Angela Merkel)

As we are working through these principles on how to improve the performance of our people, you might be tempted to wonder whether it might not be better to replace them. To be certain, there are times when the best course of action is to part ways with a person in our organizations. Some people are just not a good fit for a job, and sometimes a person’s behaviors and mistakes can be so great as to be a detriment to the overall organization. We aren’t talking here about those kinds of performers. In this set of principles, we’re looking at people who are doing a basically good job, but either have some holes in their performance, or have made mistakes. They might even be your stars, or rising stars, that need some additional coaching and counseling.

Before going down the path of replacing someone, consider the cost. When you have to replace an employee (for any reason), there will be lost productivity, the cost of doing a job search, training costs, and so on. I have seen estimates that range from 15% to over 200% of the original employee’s pay. (That’s not a typo. In the case of an employee who is earning$250,000 per year, the cost of replacement can run as high as $532,000 according to Corter Consulting). In most organizations, and for most of the people we are looking to replace, the cost is around 20%. That 20% represents over 10 weeks of a year, or between 2 and 3 months. That is a steep price to pay to replace someone. If the person is doing a basically good job, isn’t it in our best interest to help them to succeed?

Consider also the cost to the remaining organization if you fire someone. If the person you fire was of the kind I mentioned above who is almost toxic to the organization, then that firing might actually boost the morale of the remaining group. But, even that is not certain. If the person is doing a job, their departure is sure to cause issues in productivity for their co-workers. That’s likely bad enough if they leave on their own for greener pastures. If they left because you fired them, or demoralized them in the way you handle their issues, then it can be compounded in the organization.

In this section of principles, as we are working to become better leaders, we are learning How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment. We know that we are looking to resolve some kind of an issue with someone, most often performance related. We’ve started by giving some praise and appreciation, we’ve been gentle in our approach, we’ve let them know that we also make mistakes, and we have used open-ended questions to help the person see the errors of their ways. This principles is, in my opinion, about helping the person we’re correcting maintain their dignity.

In my 3 decades of working in various companies and organizations, I have had my share of experience being the person on the side of the table receiving some negative feedback. I have seen my share of good and bad practices when it comes to these instances, so I know how both will feel to the person you’re coaching.

One team I lead many years ago had quite a strong comradery that included going to lunch together, and recognizing each other’s birthdays. We were an operational group, which meant that someone always had to be nearby tending the phones (before the days of ubiquitous cell phones, or even pagers). Usually we would rotate who stayed behind when we went out to lunch, which meant someone was always excluded – but not always the same person. To compensate for this, we would occasionally order in our lunch, so we could be near the phones, but still have some time together.

On one of these occasions, we were also recognizing birthdays, and the newest member of our team, who happened to be a bit quiet and shy, was in charge of bringing the cake we were all going to share. When she revealed the cake, she triggered what can only be described as an “inside joke” among several of us who’d been working together for a long time. I was a new leader at the time, and I wasn’t sufficiently aware of things. I missed the fact that this person was crushed by our laughter, thinking that we were ridiculing her in some way.

The next day, a Thursday, I was called to a conference room by my boss. He handed me a typed statement where he tore me apart for the incident. He was harsh in his criticism, and demeaned me as a leader and as a person. Let me be clear, I was wrong in how I had handled the original incident. But in his severity of dressing me down there was no way I could see that, let alone admit it and work to improve. He completely demoralized me.

Another time I was working on a team that had to manage finances for a large project. I and another member of the team made a mistake in our math as we were calculating what had already been spent, and it was the kind of mistake that made it look like we had more money left than we really did. We caught our own mistake, and corrected it as quickly as possible, but even that took a week or two. The manager who received the news called me into his office and lambasted me for a good 30 minutes. I hadn’t misspent any company funds, I had just made an error in calculation. We had been managing the funds for this project for over 4 years without a significant error. This time I earned a severe tongue lashing that lasted for days, even weeks.

A third time, much earlier in my career, I was working on a help desk. One of the people I was helping was the secretary for a high level manager. While I was trying to help her fix a problem, I made a mistake that ended up costing her several hours of work. It was purely my mistake. This customer and her boss had a reputation of being loud complainers when things didn’t go well, and they lived up to their reputation with a call to my boss. When he called me into his office, I knew the reason, and walked in with a bit of dread.

He and I discussed the problem, and he let me know that I had erred greatly. But he did so in a way that allowed me to keep my dignity. He didn’t attack me as a person, and he didn’t make it seem as though I had caused the company to come to a grinding halt. After our meeting I went about correcting the error, and repairing the relationship with the customer.

In one of those 3 examples, I remained loyal to my manager until he retired. In two of them I came to revile my manager’s very existence and looked immediately to change positions and leave their group. Can you guess which one received my loyalty, and which two bore the cost of replacing me? If you guessed that I remained loyal to the person who helped me keep my dignity, you are correct. I have often said that manager was one of the smartest people I ever had the privilege to work for, and that incident is one example of why.

When we are working to improve the performance of a person on our team, it is always important to remember to…

Principle 26 – Let the other person save face.

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The right questions will often lead to the best solutions

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” (Robert Half)

One thing I have learned is that I do not have all the answers, and the moment I start to think that I do, I am headed for trouble. When I am approaching a problem, whether it is one that I need to solve myself, or a situation where I am correcting someone, I find that asking questions will most often lead to the best results.

In this section of principles, we are developing our leadership skills and looking to help people change without arousing resentment. This principle is about using the power of the well placed question to help other people find their own solutions, and see for themselves why what they had been doing wasn’t the best course of action.

I was watching a movie the other night (Men in Black 3), and one of the characters said that you should never ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to. That is sound advice. I have given similar advice to leader / managers when I was teaching a course to them. With this principle it is important to remember that when asking questions, you have to be ready for the answers.

Now, you can ask leading questions, as though you were some latter day Clarence Darrow at work in a courtroom. You can lead people by the nose with closed ended questions that get them to just what you had in mind. That can work, and it is certainly gentler than ramming your idea into their heads. But, is it really the best way to go about it? I don’t think so.

When I am addressing an issue with someone I lead, I ask a lot of questions, but I try to make them as open ended as possible. They will sometimes sound like these starters:

  • I see you did X here. Tell me why you chose that.
  • When you said Y, what exactly did you mean?
  • When you made the decision go down the Z path, what factors did you consider?
  • If you had that decision to make again, what might you do differently?

With all of these questions, I have to be willing to accept the answers that are given. And, if I am being really smart, I need to remind myself to be open to the possibility that I may hear something that is unexpected. I might just hear a rationale that I hadn’t considered, or a factor that I didn’t take into account.

Even though I may be approaching the situation with the idea of taking corrective actions, I may learn that the person made the best choice they could with the data and circumstances available. If that is the case, then it will take some work for the two of us to come to a meeting of the minds.

As I said above, I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I might know a good way to go about doing something, and it might be better than the way someone else is doing it, but that doesn’t mean I think that my way is the best way.

I once had an Emergency Room Doctor take one of my classes. She very correctly pointed out that in a crisis, there isn’t time to ask questions. For her, sometimes being direct was the most prudent way to proceed. As with some of the other principles here, the advice does not work in every circumstance. She did agree, though, that after a crisis was over, using questions was a great way to debrief and learn how to do better next time.

When you are working to change someone, and you are looking to do so without arousing resentment, why not try…

Principle 25 – Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

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When correcting mistakes, start by disclosing your own

“Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors.” (Ludwig van Beethoven)

If Beethoven’s quote is true, then it must be even harder for us to admit our errors to others. I can tell you from my own experience, that both thoughts are most definitely true for me. I do not like admitting my errors to myself, and I like it even less when I have to admit them to those around me. The reality is that I make errors all the time. Thankfully, most of the mistakes I make are small and easily corrected, but I have made my share of whoppers too.

When faced with this principle I, like many others, want to dodge it a little. When I was first studying the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, I wondered why I would be increasing my leadership by going around talking about the mistakes I have made.

What I came to understand is that it doesn’t make me less of a person to make mistakes and admit them. Rather, it is an empowering act. When I courageously admit my errors to myself and others, it empowers me by lessening the inherent burden of trying to hide them. It also reminds those that I lead of my humanity, and that I have probably made all the mistakes they are making at some point in my career.

Just a week or two ago, two guys came to me with questions about how to get something done in one of our Project Management tools. It was a report they were trying to run, and they weren’t getting the results they expected. They sat with me for a few minutes, and explained what they’d tried. After they explained, I told them that I knew exactly what they were talking about because I had encountered the exact same problem once. I told them that I had made a mistake in the way I set up my report, and explained the mistake. Their eyes lit up with the look of recognition, and they went on their way to fix the problem. Later that week one of them dropped me a note of thanks. They still didn’t have exactly what they needed, but they had made significant progress.

The fact is that we all make mistakes, and we tend to make the same mistakes that someone else has already made. When we are looking to correct something with someone else, it is good for us to remember this and to remember…

Principle 24 – Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

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When the need arises to criticize, be gentle

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” (Frank A. Clark)

I love a good analogy to get my mind turning on a subject. The quote above gives some great advice when it comes to delivering criticism, and the analogy really does help make it real.

Have you ever planted a garden, or maybe re-seeded some grass? If you have, then you know that to get the seeds to germinate and grow, you have to water them every day. If the air is dry, you might even had to water them several times each day. Last year I had a patch of grass that needed to be re-seeded, and I was out there with my hose 2 or 3 times a day.

When I went out to water, how do you think I had my hose nozzle set? Did I turn on the jets, with the full stream of water and deluge the patch? Of course not! When the seeds were first laid, I would have washed them away, and when the grass was sprouting and fragile, the stream would have snapped off the blades before they even got a start.

Instead, I set my nozzle to a gentle setting, and I arced the water into the area. I did my best to make the watering I was doing represent a gentle, healthy, thorough rain shower.

So it should be when the need does arise to criticize others. If you’ve been following along with these principles, and have been diligently applying them, then the concept of giving criticism at all will seem foreign to you, as well it should. But, a study of this chapter in How to Win Friends and Influence People, will help guide you on your way.

The idea of this principle is to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. This principle takes a lot of finesse to execute well, and I suggest that you give it a lot of thought. If done in a ham fisted way, or without careful planning, it may become easy to step over the line from indirect criticism into the world of passive-aggressive statements, and that is a place you won’t want to be.

Calling attention to mistakes indirectly is often a matter of leadership by example. One way that I have done this is by gently correcting something in a way that will not cause the person any embarrassment, but lets them know that the mistake was caught.

A while back I was in charge of a meeting that was international in nature. We had people dialed in from 4 continents to participate. Part of this meeting involved going over a list of action items, and one of the key elements was to make sure that the target date for completion was always in the future. It was easy to have them slip, if the person maintaining their entry on the list wasn’t diligent. Occasionally, the person who had a date slip was me. When this would happen, I would allow the stale date to be shown, and would make a point out of correcting myself in the meeting, along with a reminder of the importance of keeping those dates in the future. By doing this, and one else who had a stale date would automatically note it, and fix them quickly.

When we are less direct with our criticism, we are like the gentle spray of my hose, keeping the grass seedlings growing without snapping them off at the root. When the need arises to criticize, let us remember…

Principle 23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

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Start with praise when the need arises to correct an issue

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” (John Wooden)

With this post we begin to look at the final section of Dale Carnegie’s 30 Human Relations Principles, as written in How to Win Friends and Influence People. These last 9 principles fall under the sub heading of Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

The truth is that if we are engaged in the business of leading others, at some point we are going to have to correct mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes will be small, and easy to address. Other times they will be quite large and harder to correct. These last 9 principles will help guide us through as we will help people change in such a way that they will not resent us or be offended.

John Wooden was the basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Under his guidance, some of the greatest records in his sport we amassed. More importantly, the boys who entered UCLA to play for Coach Wooden grew into men who became contributors to all walks of life, not just basketball players. Long after the end of his days coaching on the hard wood, his wisdom was sought to help shape the minds of men and women looking to become leaders in their own right.

With the quote above, Wooden lets us know that we are all going to make mistakes, as long as we are trying to do something. It is only when we are idle that we will be mistake free – if you are willing to ignore the mistake of wasting away your time being idle.

When it comes to correcting mistakes or addressing concerns with someone, this set of principles starts with what might be the most difficult. Recall that when we were learning to Be a Friendlier Person, we were reminded not to criticize, condemn or complain; when we were trying to Win People to Our Way of Thinking, we were first reminded not to argue. Both of those were principles that took us away from where our instincts might lie. For this set, we are again taken away from where momentum might carry us.

In this set of principles we are first reminded to Begin with praise and honest appreciation. “But wait,” you may say, “I am looking to correct something. Why would I start with praise?” There are several reasons why you want to start here.

First, starting with praise and appreciation opens the person up to you, it allows them to relax a bit because they know that you appreciate their work.

Second, once relaxed, it keeps their spirit engaged, and they will be more likely to want to address the concern.

Third, the fact is that most of the people you work with and lead, have much more that is praiseworthy than what needs to be addressed. Acknowledging this up front helps you remember to value this member of the team.

A few words of caution. As always, you must make sure that the praise and appreciation you are giving is sincere and heartfelt. If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it. Your words will ring hollow to the recipient. Also, if the only time you praise a person is when you are about to correct them, then you will be conditioning them to hate praise. Make sure that praise and appreciation is a constant part of your dealings with them.

One other thing I have found to be of value, the praise you are giving should be related to their job. Also, it should be related, at least in some way, to the part of the job you are addressing. Mr. Carnegie cites an example where President Coolidge praised a secretary for the dress she was wearing, then asked her to be more careful with her punctuation. While this fits the formula, it again rings hollow for me.

We know that as we lead productive teams there are going to be times when we need to address problems, and mistakes. When those times come, let’s remember to…

Principle 22 – Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

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