Author Archives: Grant Tate

Sit Back and Let the Show Go On: leadership in action

“I don’t have to worry, they know their parts, “ Beth said as she sat down with us in the third row. “I’ll just enjoy the show.”
Persimmon jpegBeth Sherk is the director of the Persimmon Tree Players production of “Suite Surrender,” running in a local playhouse again next weekend. The play was hilarious, but Beth also gave us a lesson in leadership.

Instead of running around checking all the details, the lights, the costumes, the actors, she relaxed, trusting her well-selected cast to do their jobs. She had no doubt each person would perform well and that the team’s performance would wow the audience. No doubt, no nervousness.  She had confidence and trust in her team.

How did this happen?

  1. She and her team selected a play to fit the target audience and the talent and resources of their organization.
  2. They carefully selected the person to play each part, insuring a precise fit of capabilities and appearance to the part’s requirements.
  3. They set high performance standards for the production, planned the set, sound, lighting and other details.
  4. Those high standards also applied to the actors’ performances. Local, yes, but also professional.
  5. They practiced, practiced, practiced, as any good team should.
  6. Beth coached the individuals and the team with positive, constructive suggestions, thus building trust among the players.
  7. She demonstrated confidence in the players, appropriately praising their efforts.
  8. She enjoyed the play. And she made leadership look easy.

Great local performers. Leadership made it possible.

If ever there’s a time, it’s now…

“If everIMG_3618 there were a place, it’s here. If ever there was a time, it’s now. Peace on Earth.” Thus reads the cover of our holiday greetings card.

These cards are left over from previous years, the years we actually sent out cards. For the past few years, we’ve opted to give ourselves time out, a gift of rest for the season. After a year of hard work, a brief hideaway to ourselves is the greatest gift of all.

With all the horror and conflict we see every day on the news, beheadings, air-strikes, millions of people forced out of their homes, with no place to go, it’s easy for us to feel despair, easy for us to retreat into our comfortable nest, easy for us to be quiet while others kill; or shout, scream and demean our fellow human beings. The news bombards our ears and brings tears to our eyes. “Turn it off. Turn it off,” my inner voice says.

But turning it off—hiding away is not an appropriate response in a democracy. Our democracy will endure only if we the people do our part, only if we support the bill of rights, only if we speak out to calm the waters, only if we respect each other’s voices, only if we get out to vote when the time comes. Keeping quiet is not an option. When our country’s basic values are threatened, it’s time to speak up.

So what can we do? Here is my list:

  • Keep informed. Be open to a wide spectrum of news and opinion. Don’t just stick to those with whom you agree.
  • Join organizations that are working to maintain good government., a non-partisan organization, is an example in Virginia.
  • Get active in your community and let your voice be heard to your local, state and national representatives.
  • Tune in to thoughtful discussions of current issues, especially those that present different points of view. The Miller Center ( and the Diane Rehm Show ( are among my favorites.
  • Get out to vote. Study the issues, get to know the candidates. Make a difference.

Yes, we’ll get some rest over the holidays—and we’ll celebrate the friends and clients we’ve privileged to know. But now it the time, here is the place to work together for peace on earth.

Working for a Company that Snoops

You’ve arrived at work a little early, poured a cup of coffee and logged into the company network. It’s a good time to ask Betty about her blind date last night. But wait! Do you know who will read that E-mail?

“A recent survey by the American Management Association shows that about 78% of companies in the U.S. monitor their employees in some way. Employee Internet use is monitored by 63% of employers; 47% store and review employee e-mail messages; 15% view employees by video; 12% review and record phone messages; and 8% review voice-mail messages.”[1]

This quotation is from a 2007 report. Since then, employee surveillance software has become even more sophisticated. If my iPhone can sense the steps I take, it’s a small Long-shadowmove to monitoring the motions I use while working. Cruise the Internet and you can find vendors hawking snooping software, hidden cameras, miniature microphones and consulting services from ex-CIA types.

Why do companies snoop? Some are trying to prevent transmission of illegal or unacceptable material, such as pornography. Others want to make sure that company secrets are not divulged to competitors. Some just want to make sure that employees aren’t wasting time or company resources. Companies that run service desks usually monitor phone calls of service reps to make sure that customers are getting the best service. The latest twist aims to measure employees’ productivity.

If your company spies on its employees, there’s a good chance that you’ll know about it. Eighty-four percent of the companies report that they let employees know that they are being monitored. Whether you know about it or not, you’ll need to adapt your work habits to the new environment. Here are some strategies:

  • Assume you are being monitored

There’s no need to get paranoid, but your best strategy is to behave as if your work is open to everyone in the company. Write your E-mail messages as if they will be public property. Avoid foul language, slanderous remarks, or other statements that might be injurious to you, your team, or your company. Remember that most E-mail systems keep a copy of every message in the server.

  • Keep your personal files separate from those that belong to the company

Whether the files are kept in a file cabinet, your hard disk, or folder on the company’s Intranet, remember that the space is the property of the company. If you need to have your private files at work, store them in a private place. Carry personal electronic files on a thumb drive, or your personal secure space on the Internet. Store your personal paper files at home. They are far safer there.

  • Be a prudent user of the Internet

We all need information to do our work, and the Internet has opened up vast new opportunities to find what we need. But, we all know how the web can suck us in. It’s easy to check on the news, latest sports scores, or order from L. L. Bean. So watch your time and Internet use. If you don’t, someone else might do it for you.

  • Become sensitive to video cameras

drone-cropppedVideo Cams are usually just part of the company’s general security program. Nevertheless, they’re watching you. Learn to detect these cameras and
you may be surprised how ubiquitous they are. I’ll have to admit that my reaction is to make a funny face or to give a finger to such a camera; but it’s probably best to avoid such reactions and simply look normal. You can’t tell who is at the receiving end.

  • Be careful with telephone calls

Unless you’re at a service desk, your phone conversations are probably not being monitored. Yet, act as though they are. Work is not the place for long, gossipy phone calls. Even if someone is not listening to the call, your colleagues and team leader will notice. Besides, such calls detract from your own accomplishments.

Mobile phones are relatively easy to tap, and electronic devices sometimes do strange things like projecting your call into someone’s flower vase. I think of my mobile phone as a broadcasting microphone. Maybe you should, too.

Almost all companies look at their long distance charges, and, of course, receive reports by telephone number. If you must make personal long distance calls from work, get a personal phone credit card to use on such occasions.

  • Protect your company’s intellectual property

Keep your personal files separate from company information. The reverse is also important. Don’t put company confidential information in your personal file space. Also, treat company information like crown jewels. Observe the company security guidelines, and, in addition, use your good judgement to make sure that company secrets remain secret.

  • Talk to your manager about surveillance

If the company’s surveillance policy bothers you, don’t just fume about it, talk to your manager. If the system is too intrusive or is interfering with your work, tell him/her about it. Perhaps enough feedback may change the system.

If you do your job well, and stay away from time-wasting activities or materials, you don’t have much to worry about, regardless of your company’s policies.

So go ahead, send the E-mail. But take the time to be careful. On the other hand, you might just want to push the ‘cancel’ button.


Develop a Winning Team

Baseball season is wrapping up and football season is just beginning. Turn on the TV and you can get an eyeful of top-notch teams in action. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you have to admire the spectacle of highly trained professionals reaching for a common goal.

Would it be as entertaining to watch business teams on TV. Could we tell what was going on? Or would we have to ask ourselves, “What the heck are they doing?” We’d probably have to watch a long time to figure out the team’s objectives, the rules of the game, the strategy, and the plays. Is the team winning or losing? I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the team members wouldn’t know either.

These days, we spend a lot of time talking about teams. Team-building has become a major component of company training programs. Yet, a lot of these courses concentrate on abstract ideas such as “balancing complementary skills, problem solving, overcoming diversity, and discipline structures.” (Can you see the Atlanta Braves sitting in such a class?) Such programs do not help business teams meet their SPECIFIC goals. To reach top performance, teams must train to do their particular task. That means that effective training takes place on-the-job, not in a classroom. So, how can you develop a high performance team?

Select the right cast of players

Choose your players for their individual strengths, their ability to learn, and their capacity to play on the squad–and cast them in the right roles. While it’s not exactly true that no team is stronger than its weakest link, a weak performer will sap energy from other players.

Set clear, unambiguous, measurable goals

Look at any high-performance group and you’ll find that every member knows exactly what the team is supposed to do. Goal accomplishment is the sole reason for a team’s existence. A team with an ambiguous goal is no team at all.

Train players for top individual skills

People who announce football games often talk of “getting back to the basics of blocking and tackling.” They’re talking about individual skills. Your players must be top performers in their particular roles. So give them the opportunity to hone their skills. Also, you should consider cross-training so that every position has a back-up.

Set high performance standards and keep score

Most companies have elaborate performance plans for individual employees, but few firms apply similar efforts to teams. Your team will need to know what is expected and how performance will be measured. So, craft a clear performance plan for the group.

Develop winning strategies

Build on your team’s core strengths to design winning strategies. Ask: What are our alternatives? What are the specific paths to success? What approaches will help us win against our competition, for instance by providing better service or quicker turn-a-round?

Practice the plays

Your group must learn to work as one unit. Surgical teams rehearse their procedures to perfection. Fire and rescue units practice life-saving techniques. Business teams need practice, too. List the tasks that your unit must accomplish, work out the procedures, then practice, practice, practice.

Run scrimmage

In sports, a scrimmage is a simulation of a real game. We can also run scrimmages in our organizations. Starting a restaurant? Run a series of pilot tests with invited guests so that you can check out procedures and standards. Use real situations and customers so that you can get good feedback.

Analyze the game

Whether you are running scrimmage or playing a real game, hold a group meeting to analyze the results and how the game was played. Do this whether you won or lost. What worked? What did not work? How can we improve our performance? What did we learn from the game? How did the competition perform?

Continually improve

A good team is continually striving for perfection. A perfect season is not good enough because a team that does not improve will be eventually over run by the competition. The old saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is the swan song of a dying organization.

Be positive

Continual improvement requires positive attitudes. Help your team learn to look squarely at team and individual performance so that members help each other do a better job. Gossip and negative criticism have no place in high-performance teams. As leader you will set the tone for positive attitudes.

Play fairly

A top notch team plays hard, but also plays fairly. Members of such a team develop mutual respect and gain the respect of their competition and supporters.

Reward team performance

With a good performance and measurement plan, you’ll be able to judge superior performance.

Following these guidelines may not get your team on television or win you a pennant; but you’ll have a good chance of getting more satisfaction from your hard work.

If You Sign Up, Show Up

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two conferences. After each one, I saw a sea of unclaimed name tags. Name tags for the people who did not show up.

I know, things happen. People get sick, crises need to be managed, cars break down, but I’ll bet for most absentees, the dog ate their homework. In other words, some other priority got in their way.

In one of the meetings, the organizers had a limit of 50 attendees. A day before the event, about 10 people were on the waiting list. What to do? Play the probability game, admit the 10 on the waiting list, anticipating that some that registered would not show up—or turn the 10 away? Lunch and amenities had been planned for 50 people plus or minus zero.

The organizers decided to admit the people on the waiting list. On the day of the event, guess what? Fewer than 50 people showed up! What’s going on here?

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me, it is a matter of integrity—give your word, keep your word. If something serious comes up, let your hosts know, don’t just fail to show up. Suppose those organizations published their “no show” list. How would we feel about the people on the list?

Coming back to the USA in the late 90’s, after five years in Europe, I was appalled to see how many of my fellow Americans had low attendance integrity. People would sign-up for meetings, even accept a phone or personal invitation—and then not show up. Someone once told me, apparently in defense of Virginians, “They are probably too polite to say no.” (Incidentally, the Europeans I knew were much more reliable.)

In sales, we have a saying that the second best answer from a sales prospect is “No.” At least then, you have a clear answer.

So,here’s my plea to fellow professionals “If you sign-up, show up.” It’s a matter of integrity.