Bernadette Mihalic

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 13:10

Getting buy-in

Businesses need a competitive edge more now than ever. The rough economy has everyone, from CEOs on down, out selling.

Because a CEO's purpose is to work on the business, not in the business, he or she has to focus on markets, direction and competition. Leaders consult with management teams to help with market feedback and choose the right path, but then what?

Change, change, change is the new business mantra. Workers are used to frequent changes, but at a high price -- waning confidence, mistrust of frequent changes, confusion about company direction. People care about their employer because they want to feel like a part of its success.

When changes must be made, get buy-in with all levels of employees. In fact, before leaders think they need to invigorate the business, they should ask the work force a few simple questions. Ask for their thoughts on why business has slowed, what they would do if they were in charge and how that would help increase revenue or market position.

Take their suggestions to heart. Don't allow the suggestion box to be a proxy for the wastebasket.

Some businesses have become more inclusive, but the majority don't realize the value that asking has in workers' minds. Getting buy-in at the top is easier; that's where decisions are made. Getting buy-in lower in the hierarchy is usually overlooked.

Most employees will do what's right but feel less worthy when left out of changes to their job and its process. They recognize change for the sake of change, empty promises and lip service, none of which produce the desired outcome. Workers often perceive their job as "their" job, not just the work they do, and feel pride in their work -- until they're left out.

Productivity, then morale, erodes, crossing departments and into customer interactions. Your company wastes time and money, and relationships deteriorate. Not getting buy-in can become insidious, even when it's not readily visible.

Rebuilding eroded trust is next to impossible. If you don't believe it, just ask former employees. Bernadette Mihalic, M.Ed, is an executive coach specializing in emotional intelligence, communications and effective leading. She can be reached at (412) 828-9501.

Monday, 18 February 2002 05:41

The new stress

CEO problem: I didn't see this coming, but the board gave me an ultimatum -- shape up my attitude or ship out. The managers working under my supervision have been complaining about me, and the board is afraid they'll leave. It seems we have a huge ego clash. I have to do something; I can't afford to lose my job.

Our CEO has learned a painful, contemporary lesson -- he's out of style. What's worse is that he should have seen it coming. An up-and-coming manager when he started, his confidence turned to arrogance. His verbal style and visible demeanor were once thought of as leading.

The problem is, a leader doesn't start out as a leader. A leader must first be a servant, then a coach. Only when he or she can enable others to become their best should the person become a leader. This guy has been wearing blinders for years. Now comes the wake-up call, and he's experiencing the new stress -- command and control is out of style, and he has no clue. He brought this on himself.

I helped him work on his attitude about himself and toward others, including managers. Shadowing him, I noted his interactions, as well how he was when he was alone. The real him wasn't a pretty picture. Did he notice? Not only did he not notice, he didn't even realize this was his biggest obstacle.

So, how did I help him acknowledge and internalize an obstacle of his own making? And how could I get him to take action? He had to make a major change of behavior.

During his coaching intake, I assessed his motivations, strengths and emotional intelligence, including social awareness. He needed to make many changes, but I focused on two key areas to yield quick results -- self-awareness and friction-free communication.

By changing in that manner, he learned to remain secure in himself while staying on top of his work. By learning how to think before he spoke and put himself in his managers' positions, he reduced tension. His next step will be tougher. He'll have to replace the rough-rider act with new behaviors.

He's not convinced, but he has college-aged kids as motivation. He's got a lot to learn, and it can be achieved if he chooses.

Behaviors are learned and easier to change than beliefs (beliefs affect action). If he decides to work on changing, it will take time. If he doesn't make big shifts, he'll fade. I'm betting he'll try.

And the stress? He didn't turn all warm and fuzzy, but he admits (with surprise) that he feels better about himself. The tough question: Will others support him in time to save his butt?

It's a positive start, and the only possible solution for his future -- anywhere. Bernadette Mihalic, M.Ed., psychology, is an executive and organization coach specializing in emotional intelligence, communication and effective leading with class. Reach her at (412) 828-9501 or at Her Web address is

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 12:35

What employees want

The CEO's problem: "I hate to complain at this tragic time, but some of my key employees want to leave. We need them, but there's been a massive loss in this industry -- and now this. They say they've had a wake-up call and don't want to work under these conditions anymore. I'm panicked. What should I do?"

These are bad times for everyone, and there will be even tougher lessons for leaders who don't "get" what employees want. What happened at many companies is tragic, and although it's not ideal to learn on the fly, that's what you need to do ... immediately.

In the first two meetings with this company's top officers (some of whom planned to leave), we agreed to pull out all the stops. Thus, tempers flared because egos prevailed. The first meeting unleashed anger, denial and finally resolve to look at solutions. But anger and resentment reigned on all fronts, with accusatory words such as ungrateful, betrayal, deserter, coward, selfish, greedy, disloyal -- and many expletives -- being thrown around.

It was ugly. Years of sucking it up and building resentment were bubbling to the surface.

By the third meeting, one thing was clear: The battle and bad feelings clearly reflected the culture -- and the culture was why people wanted to leave. No one could be left standing if the CEO had to win.

He didn't understand their feelings went beyond what he had built and provided and offered. The vision in their minds was their families, and they saw this differently than the CEO.

"But what do they expect?" he asked. He treated them great, he thought. They were paid well, worked in a nice office and had important clients. What more did they want? Well, they'd told him in many ways, but he wasn't tuning in. He never asked how they liked their jobs or about the way they were treated.

They realize it could have been them on one of those ill-fated planes or in those towers; some of them had lost friends.

Before, they had dreamed about what they'd do differently if they won the lottery. Now, the money didn't matter as much. The company didn't matter as much. The work didn't matter as much. What mattered? They wanted jobs at which they'd be respected.

Why were these managers so angry? They'd been asked to compromise their values for years, and each time they did, they felt they lost a bit of their integrity and a lot of their initiative. Little by little, they felt they were disappearing.

They even looked less energetic and were increasingly lethargic. Their systems -- their very beings -- were depressed. For them, the tragedy of Sept. 11 was a literal wake up call.

I called this change in employee focus employee-centered management, and the company's leaders began to understand their situation might be salvageable. The hope is that ongoing discussions will take a different direction, but it will take work on both sides.

Too bad the CEO didn't listen before this, but business had been going so well. Too bad it took a wake-up call of his own to realize people need to feel valued. The next step will be for employees to assess the possibilities; the solution will take commitment and hard work.

But they'll be better for it. After all, as they ultimately realized, people are worth it. Bernadette Mihalic, M.Ed., psychology, is an executive and organization coach specializing in emotional intelligence, communications and effective leading with class. Reach her at (412) 828-9501.

Thursday, 29 November 2001 18:02

Losing your followers

CEO: I'm tired of being the bad guy, but I don't want to be seen as a wimp. I put most of my time and energy into my business, and I can't focus on business, employees and family life with the same intensity. I don't know if I can or want to change my whole personality. What am I supposed to do?

In the ongoing saga of a CEO in crisis, our man has hit the wall. Finally. That's a good thing, because he is a hard-line hitter.

He's been thumped on the head and realizes he holds the keys to success. And that's what his officers have been telling him. First, none wants to lead this company with him around -- there's just too much ego involved. Maybe someday he'll hand over the reins, but not now.

Besides, he's getting close to wanting to figure this out. Now is the time for him to realize this challenge is his opportunity.

Turnaround time is beginning, but this isn't a blame game, and resolution doesn't require the CEO to change his personality. In all fairness, it's not entirely the CEO's doing that he's like this. He was taught that being tough is equated with leading, and it suited him.

But beliefs are learned and can be changed. His beliefs no longer serve him, because he's losing followers. To borrow from my corporate sales days, "when customers complain, they're giving you a chance to do business with them again."

His people told him they were unhappy, but he didn't learn to listen profitably. We'll work on changing his beliefs and listening skills.

Our most recent session focused on one thing only: everyone was to look at the situation as is. We did several exercises to learn how to depersonalize the roles and focus on solutions. During the planning sessions, time limits helped focus on an outcome.

Every manager accepted three premises: To move away from negatives in daily interactions (both physically and literally), to think and talk bottom line resolution only and to accept that all suggestions were valid. Their patterns had to be broken, and their concurrence was critical for the turnaround to begin.

They got it. In fact, they were relieved to not be haranguing each other. The key is acknowledging the validity of everyone's suggestions and agreeing not to judge. These people want to feel valued, be treated respectfully and make contributions.

This first, crucial step takes a special effort, but they realize they're worth it. By setting boundaries around how they want to be treated, they have to honor others; by learning others' differences, they are becoming more aware and have something tangible with which to work.

In this way, depersonalization begins and disagreements are reduced.

Bernadette Mihalic, M.Ed., psychology, is an executive and organization coach specializing in emotional intelligence, communications and effective leading. Reach her at (412) 828-9501.

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