The Leader’s Pocket Guide (book review)

December 5, 2012


The road to leadership begins with self-understanding and so does John Baldoni’s leadership book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide.  “Leadership has often been defined as a journey. The journey begins with a starting point, and that starting point is the self.” He immediately catches the reader’s attention as he describes leadership as a journey of understanding, learning, growth, and humility. The first of three sections (“SELF”) provides the reader with 20 suggestions for improving their self-leadership skills and helps the reader understand how they interact with others as a leader. At the end of the section, there is an assessment that evaluates how well a reader leads and understands who they are as a leader. Baldoni outlines tips for growth and learning as a self-leader.

In the second of three sections (“COLLEAGUES”), Baldoni declares that one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is leading your peers. He captures the essence behind interacting with peers and improving the relationship with them in the 33 different suggestions. He encourages the reader to understand how they are influencing their peers and gives them knowledge on how to do it in a positive manner.  The book also gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they interact with their colleagues and tips for improving those relationships.

In the final section, (“ORGANIZATION”), Baldoni coaches the reader on what it takes to lead an organization. He addresses everything from authentically interacting with your people and instilling a purpose in them to making time for yourself outside of the organization. Like the other sections, he provides the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they lead their team. To lead a team successfully you must execute positive change so that your team is learning and growing together. Baldoni understands what it takes to be a leader and passes on his knowledge so they are developing into positive and productive leaders.

The Leader’s Pocket Guide is an excellent tool and resources for all leaders because it provides well-rounded and diverse suggestions for improving leadership skills that can be applied to any field and any leader. It would be an excellent resource for new supervisors because it would help them evaluate how they lead themselves, interact with their peers, and supervise their workers.  It is a book that can be used over and over again to improve how a leader learns and grows.

How to Minimize Employee Mistakes

November 12, 2012

Employee Mistakes

Recently I dealt with a vendor who made some mistakes on a product that was delivered to our office. Upon discussing the issue with one of the company’s employees, I was told that I would receive a refund for the incorrect work, but was being discouraged to have the work corrected by them and to go elsewhere. This was puzzling because I simply asked for them to fix the product without being demanding, rude, or disrespectful.

I came to find out that the owner told his employees that they would have to discourage me from getting the product fixed or the supplies for the fix would come out of their own pay, which was hundreds of dollars. Granted, that is one potential strategy for handling an employee mistake, but not one that I myself would use nor recommend.

Here are some proactive strategies for minimizing employee mistakes:

  • Build in Room for Employee Mistakes – Always assume that your employees are going to make mistakes. Set the parameters for the goals of a project or task, and allow them to do it. Guide them in how to prevent mistakes from occuring with whatever project they have been given.
  • Anticipate Common Mistakes – You can better prepare employees to minimize mistakes by envisioning those common problems that arise for staffers in your organization. Give them the resources and training in order to overcome those typical problems.
  • Do Not Set Up an Employee for Failure – Delegate tasks with the proper levels of authority for the employee given the assignment. As the supervisor, you are the one who should have sound judgement as to who can handle what. Challenging employees is fine, but do not play games by setting up someone to fail to prove a point for whatever reason you may have.
  • Provide Thorough Training – The more employees know how to do their jobs, the better. Employees should always know the mission and goals of your organization. This is important because they become guiding principles for your staffers, which help them when faced with various decisions. This can be accomplished through regular staff training. Skills building through training is paramount.
  • Reward Accuracy – Staffers who achieve success by accomplishing tasks as assigned should be rewarded. This can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or acknowledging their accuracy during supervisory meetings or even publicly during staff meetings.

* Photo courtesy of Mark Puplava

11 RA Staff Development Activities (free resources)

September 28, 2012

The aspect of leadership I most enjoy is being able to create development opportunities for my staff. Staff in-service opprtunities can include anything from skills building activities, trips, discussions, and games. Here are 10 different staff development / in-service activities you can prepare for your staff:

1. Show-and-Tell – We all like talking about our personal stories and things that hold special meaning in our lives. Have each of your RA staffers bring something to your staff development meeting to share with the group. I’ve had RA’s bring special awards, mementos from family members, and other items that hold special sentimental value. The activity allows staffers to learn things about one another that they may not have known before. This is a no-cost activity that usually sparks great discussion.

2. Teamwork Field Trips –  Take your staff on a local field trip to meet with leaders who manage a team in a business or non-profit organization. I previously wrote a post on how I took my staff on a trip of the USAirways command center and aircraft maintenance facilities. I connected with a friend who manages mechanic safety, and he was able to get us a tour where he and his team spoke about the crucial importance of communication and teamwork. You could plan a similar trip by contacting leaders of organizations in your local area. Businesses typically like to show off their work and accomplishments so you should have luck setting something like this up. The worst they can say is “no.”

3. Article & Book Discussions – I am a big advocate of reading and recommending those resources to my staff and colleagues. If your budget allows, purchase a particular book for your staff. They can read the book prior to your having an in-service meeting to discuss the book and how you can apply its content to your own organization. You can even prepare “discussion prompt” worksheets so they can jot down ideas prior to the meeting. To simplify things, assign a particular chapter or even a small journal or magazine article for the discussion.

4. Games & Simulations – I enjoy creating and leading games and simulation activities for my staff. Games and simulations should be centered around learning specific aspects of their RA position, including teamwork, basic counseling skills, and communication.  Click HERE to find a handful of simulation activities related to diversity, delegation, and communication. I also highly recommend Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes by Thiagi.

5. Case Studies – You can create various case studies that your staff can work on to determine various solutions. Pair up newer RA’s with your veterans so they can work together. Case studies for RA’s can range from conduct and mental health issues to diversity and teamwork challenges.

6. Community Service Projects – Arrange for your staff to participate in a local community service project. Projects can range from helping at food banks, YMCA and other youth group organizations, churches, and local municipalities.

7. Photo Scavenger Hunt – While I understand that scavenger hunts can be discouraged at some schools due to hazing policies, photo scavenger hunts can be an easy way to build team collaboration and spirit. Larger staffs can be broken up into smaller teams and sent out to get photos of various objects and situations. The team that gets the most photos of the objects listed in the time alloted wins a prize (or simply kudos). Here is a photo scavenger hunt sheet you can print and use.

8. MOOC Courses – A “MOOC” is a massive online open course. MOOC’s are free (hence the “open”) and offered by various universities and organizations, such as Stanford, MIT, and Khan Academy. Some of the course materials would be appropriate to use for staff development activities, including business, management, and psychology lessons. RA’s could work on various lessons you assign on their own time or read the content prior to attending a staff meeting where it will be discussed.

9. Webinars – Similar to #8, webinars are online presentations that can be viewed as a group or individually. There are many webinars available online for a fee and for free. Topics range from business, marketing, and social media use, leadership, and student life-related areas. Pre-tests and post-tests tied to student life outcome efforts could be created and administered.

10. Arts & Crafts – Sometimes staff development activities can be simply for fun. The completed projects can be kept by the staff or donated to local care homes and hospitals. Craft supplies can be purchased at Walmart, Target, local craft stores, or even online at Oriental Trading.

11. Leadership Chats – Facilitating leadership-related discussions between RA’s and executive administrators at the university can prove to be very insightful and expose them to individuals they may not normally interact with. University staffers, such as the Vice President of Student Affairs, Vice President of Finance & Administration, and the Director of Housing & Residence Life can be invited to in-service meetings to discuss topics regarding career development and being a leader.

Ways to Handle Staff Power Struggles

September 17, 2012

Most of us have the joy of supervising people who are mild-mannered, team-players, and get along with their co-workers. But occasionally we have those vocal staff members who feel the need to be in charge. Unfortunately, they are typically untactful in their approach and this creates discord among the staff. This can eventually lead to conflicts and, ultimately, a lack of production. The situation can be worse if you have multiple staffers who enagage in the same behavior.

As the leader of the group, you need to be able to quickly and efficiently handle power struggles that will occur on your team before they get out of control.

Here are some tactics you can use to alleviate team power struggles:


Hire for Attitude – Take the time to thoroughly assess candidates for postivie attitude, getting along with others, and the ability to work effectively on a team. Purposely ask questions that assess for potential staffers’ need to control and be in charge. Examples include: Tell us about a time you felt that you had to take charge of a situation? Give us an example of when you had a conflict with a co-worker over an assigned task? While we certainly want staffers to take control of situations, we don’t want them power hungry and starting staff civil wars. Mark A. Murphy better illustrates this in his book Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude.

Employ the “No Asshole Rule” – Robert I. Sutton recommends that supervisors utilize the “No Asshole Rule,” which essentially means not tolerating those who act like bullies with whom they work or are supposed to serve, particularly subordinates. Setting this expectation during staff recruitment sessions, training, and supervisory one-on-one’s are important tactics in helping to maintain a drama-free staff. I highly recommend Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t. He includes a short survey to see whether or not you yourself display these types of behaviors in the workplace.

Be the Role Model / Set the Standard – Staff will typically emulate your example in how they conduct themselves and interact with their co-workers. If you exhibit pushy, demeaning, and demanding behaviors, your staffers will see this and potentially use the same approach with their colleagues. Take stock in how you rare representing yourself to your employees. Humility goes a long way in setting a positive example. Dan Rockwell (@leadershipfreak) explains more in Secrets to Leading without Position or Authority.

Illustrate the Chain-of-Command & Discuss Expectations – Fully explain who reports to whom and who is in charge of what. Additionally, illustrate what tasks and responsibilities staffers are NOT in charge of or are NOT supposed to be involved with. This helps to clarify expectations so there is no confusion among staffers. These expectations should be directly tied to specific job descriptions and supporting literature in employee handbooks.


Channel & Direct Their Energy – Give those who need to be in charge something to do. And I don’t mean busy work for work’s sake. Create projects or new responsibilities purposely for them to allow them to stretch their wings while also being challenged. Keep a close eye on them and have them report their progress during your regularly scheduled supervisory discussions. However, be careful not to “feed the beast” by enabling their ability to boss around their staffers with the new project(s). This can be accomplished by having it as a solo project or by having them work exclusively with you.

Supervisory Discussions – Use one-on-one supervisory meetings to quickly address staffers that are extending their reach. Seek to understand why they are getting overly zealous. They may actually perceive that they are being helpful when, in fact, they are creating more problems than solutions. If necessary (and use this very sparingly), tactfully remind them that you are ultimately the supervisor of the team. See my previous post, 10 Tips for Mentoring & Supervising a Know-It-All, for more advice.

Limit Work Scope – Supervisors who have a laissez-faire attitude about what can and should be done among staffers can create an environment that breeds uncertainty. While some staffers may become aloof, others will see this as an opportunity and will go overboard trying to solve or fix things that may not be broken (including their colleagues). As stated previously, clarify roles and position expectations. Staffers with unlimited reach can create complications.

What are some insights and stories that you can share related to staff power struggles? Share your comments below you will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton.

Combating Staff Fatigue

September 3, 2012

Work can be satisfying, gratifying, and challenging, but it can also be demanding and tiring. Have ever felt exhausted, had your creativity stifled, or found yourself irritable with your coworkers?  If so, you are not alone as this is a common theme among overworked employees called “staff fatigue.” If you are unsure whether you or your team is suffering from staff fatigue, there are a few behavioral warning signs and questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed a significant change in attitude?  (Those who were once easy going are now on edge.)
  • Do you or your staff members perceive most things in a negative way?
  • Is there are breakdown in communication? Are staff members having trouble communicating with one another?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in performance or production?
  • Are you staff members complaining more than usual?

If you find that you are answering yes to the majority of these questions, then you or your staff could be suffering from staff fatigue. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of the type of work they are performing. Staff fatigue can be caused by overwork, dissatisfaction, poor balance between work and personal life, and lack of control over the work environment. It typically occurs during the busiest work times because staff members are working extra hours and spending more time together than usual. We can notice it in our student staff member because it can be particularly difficult for them to separate their work from their personal lives due to them living around one another and having constant interaction.

So if you feel that there is an issue amoung your staffers, how do you go about devising a solution and returning your team to its fully functioning and creative zenith? As a supervisor or team member you should:

  • Relax and take a deep breath before acting.
  • Extend your hand in appreciation.
  • Toss in some time off to give everyone some breathing room.
  • Understand the issues from each staff members’ perspective.
  • Recognize the work and effort of your staff.
  • Create open dialogue and the need to maintain open communication.

When team members spend more than eight hours a day with one another sometimes personal quirks can work their way under each others’ skin; after multiple days of the same routine it can become too much. As a supervisor, you must remain aware of your staff members’ feelings towards the work they are doing and realize when they are at their breaking point. As a team member, you need to be open with how you feel and communicate your feelings with those who are directly involved. Whether you are a supervisor or a team member, communicating with one another is one of the most basic and essential functions, and also it is what is needed to help return the team to a positive, productive, and creative dynamo.

For additional information, click HERE for a 30 second video (“30 Second MBA”) from Fast Company titled How do you re-inspire exhausted team members? by Dr. Joseph Folkman, Ph.D.

Have you ever encountered a situation where you or your staff has been overwhelmed by fatigue? If so, how did you work through it? What techniques did you use? We welcome your stories, thoughts, and ideas on this topic.

How to Facilitate Great “One-On-One” Supervisory Meetings

January 18, 2012

Meeting with your staffers on an individual basis to discuss their performance is an important part of being a supervisor and a leader. However, these meetings do not only have to be a means to critique your employees from an evaluation standpoint. “One-on-one” meetings can foster a rewarding mentoring relationship as well as a means by which to engage your staffers as a true partner in meeting the mission and vision of your organization.

Here are a few tips that I have found helpful in facilitating great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings:

1. Set the Parameters for Meeting Participation – As a part of the hiring process and during staff training, set the parameters for what is expected during one-on-one supervisory meetings. By setting the tone that these meetings are important and participatory in nature, your staffers will embody this as part of the team’s culture and act accordingly. Tell them that they should come prepared with feedback, questions, and suggestions for making your organization better. As I tell my own staff, I don’t want to hear complaining for complaining’s sake; if there’s a better way to do something, I want a suggestion, solution, or plan of action.

2. Always Keep Your Appointments with Your Staffers – This seems like common sense, but it is very easy to get sidetracked by other important meetings and activities and either forgot or attempt to reschedule your supervisory meetings. By making this time important, you are symbolically demonstrating that these meetings and, more importantly, your staffers are crucial to you and your team’s success.

3. Purposely Seek Out Feedback to Enact Change – Allowing for and seeking out honest feedback from your employees is a great way to keep your employees engaged in continuous improvement conversations. People take a part in what they help create so allow them to help create team goals, policies, and practices during regularly scheduled supervisory meetings. Be a servant leader and ask them how you can better help them in their position and if they need any particular type of resource or support so that they can be more effective.

4. Have an “Activity” Planned if There is Nothing to Talk About – If there is nothing of note to discuss, do not simply cancel the meeting. Utilize the opportunity to connect with and mentor your staffers. One-on-one meetings can be used for personal development and skills building. Have a “bag of tricks” developed that you can utilize quickly and easily if you’re stuck in one of these “I-have-nothing-to-talk-about” situations. Skills building activities can include role playing and case scenarios related to topics pertaining to your staffers’ positions. Using this time for brainstorming can also create productive ideas for the entire team.

One such example of a “one-on-one” activity is the Supervisory Discussion Cards activity developed by Student Life Consultants. These handy cards contain multiple questions that are conversation starters related to personal development and teamwork. Each set of 25 double-sided cards contains 50 questions and comes complete with a four-page PDF activity handout that is downloaded immediately upon purchase.

Use the SLG032013 code to receive $3.99 off of your entire order.

What are some practices that you use with your employees to facilitate great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings? What advice can you offer to your colleagues related to what works and does not work for “one-on-one” supervisory meetings?

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