Little Lessons

The Power of Teams

Posted by Mark Fallon

Nov 30, 2018 5:01:00 AM

Super Team

Warning: The following article on teams contains no sports references, analogies or metaphors.

For me, team victories have always been more enjoyable than individual victories. It may be the feeling of camaraderie, or the process of coming together to triumph over a challenge. Or, it may be the understanding that we accomplish very little on our own, and that we all rely on others for our success.

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Topics: team, leadership, critique, success, goals

Leadership Books That I’ve Enjoyed Reading

Posted by Mark Fallon

Sep 8, 2017 5:00:00 AM

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“If a man or woman is fond of books he or she will naturally seek the books that the mind and soul demand.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Recently, a friend posted a question on Facebook – “Mark, What's the best book about leadership have you read and recommend?” That’s a good question, and difficult to answer.

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Topics: Reading and Books, inspiration, leadership, learning

Everyone Needs Sales Training

Posted by Mark Fallon

Aug 4, 2017 5:00:00 AM

Full-House.jpg

"Sales are the engine that pulls the train. Everything else follows." - Harvey Mackay

Last year, I read several books on sales training and even attended a seminar. I'll do the same thing this year. You should too. Regardless of your job.

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Topics: Reading and Books, leadership, selling

Thoughts on Being a Veteran

Posted by Mark Fallon

Nov 11, 2016 5:01:00 AM

“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” ― Abraham Lincoln

This year, November 11th falls on a Friday. If you don’t work for the U.S. government or a bank, it will probably be a work day. If you’re a student, you may or may not have to go to school. If you work in retail, it will mean the kick-off to an extended weekend sale. It’s also Veterans Day.

As I grow older, this holiday means more to me. Being a veteran means more to me. I realize how much being a soldier contributed to my development as a leader. And I realize how much being a veteran continues to contribute to my development as a person.

I served when our wars were “cold”. I enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1983, and served with the 182nd Infantry Battalion until I received my commission in 1986. I finished my master’s degree, and reported for active duty in 1987. After completing my Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, I served with the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Trio of Veterans.jpgAs my training and experience progressed, the military impacted me in ways I hadn’t expected. My relationship with my father, a World War II veteran, changed when I returned from Basic Training. I think we both started to see each other differently. I realized that we were much more alike than we were different. I think the same thing happened with him and my grandfather, a World War I veteran.

In my National Guard unit, I served with veterans of the Vietnam War. When the sergeants learned that I planned to become an officer, they treated me differently than the other enlisted men. The armorer – the sergeant in charge of the weapons – made sure I learned the functions and care of every rifle and pistol. The supply sergeant taught me the basics of accountability. Most importantly, they taught me that the noncommissioned officers – the NCOs – the sergeants – were the backbone of the U.S. Army.

At the Suffolk University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, I was trained by more combat veterans – Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Benway, Master Sergeant Bernard and Master Sergeant Taylor. These men were determined to ensure that we had the leadership skills we’d need as officers. And by his example, Major Benway showed us how a good officer interacts with his sergeants.

An injury at Ranger School derailed my career, and I was assigned to division headquarters instead of a line unit at Fort Carson. I was working with majors, colonels and generals on a daily basis.

My two years working with these senior leaders was the equivalent of a second master’s degree. I learned how to step back and see the big picture while keeping an eye on the important details. I watched the balance of meeting the immediate needs of an individual soldier with the goals of a much larger unit. I saw that the best leaders weren’t just intelligent, but that they never stopped reading, training and learning. I was proud that I belonged to an organization led by these amazing people.

When I left active duty in early 1990, being a veteran didn’t mean much to many civilians. I think their image of the military was formed by John Wayne, Rambo and Full Metal Jacket. I was told on interviews that I wasn’t prepared to work with an integrated workforce. A hiring manager said that unlike the military, I couldn’t just order people around.

I tried to explain that the Army was more integrated than their company, and that good leaders never just issued orders. However, my message didn’t get through, and I started to collect rejection letters. I found work as a waiter and a barback.

During the first Gulf War, the public was given unprecedented access to military leaders. Every day, we watched live interviews with General Powell and General Schwarzkopf. Reporters were “embedded” with combat units. Retired military officers became analysts for the news channels.

Public perception about the military began to change. Instead of being seen as brutal, non-thinking killers, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were portrayed as dedicated and intelligent warriors. Their leaders were well-read, educated thinkers. Even people against the war made it clear that they were “for the troops”.

For the first time since World War II, there were welcome home parades for the soldiers. This reception helped heal the emotional wounds of many Vietnam veterans. People were talking about drafting Powell or Schwarzkopf for the presidential election. Closer to home, I was able to get a new job as a supervisor within 3 months.

Decades later, we are at war again. Because of the duration of this war, and the involvement of National Guard and Reserve units, the number of combat veterans has grown exponentially. Most of us have a family member or close friend who’s served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Too many know the loss of a loved one who paid the ultimate price.

During this same time period, veterans of all ages have become more organized. Through online groups on sites like LinkedIn, veterans are able to network and support each other. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion are growing again. We proudly march in our towns’ parades and solemnly gather to pay respect to the fallen at wakes, funerals and burials.

Connecting with fellow-veterans is both humbling and uplifting. I recognize that I never had to face enemy fire or roadside bombs. Yet combat veterans are often the first to remind me that we share a unique bond. A bond that doesn’t make us better than anyone else. But different.

And that difference has changed us. And continues to change us. Our roles as leaders didn’t stop when we turned in our uniforms. We know that just as our sergeants and officers pushed us to grow many years ago, we must push ourselves to grow today. The journey isn’t over.

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Topics: leadership, veteran

The Joke’s On Me

Posted by Mark Fallon

Feb 12, 2016 5:00:00 AM

"It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” – Max Eastman

Many times, when I’m out with a group of friends, I’ll become the subject of a joke. Often the joke is based on the exaggeration of a true story or my physical appearance. And once the joke is told, people refer back to it throughout the evening, generating another round of laughs at my expense.

Well, not really at my expense, because if the joke is well told, I’m laughing too. With social media, I don’t even have to wait for a get-together – I can enjoy these same interactions online. Everyday. Comments about working in the postal industry, my hectic travel schedule, running long distances, and of course – the significant amount of hair that covers my body. Really good friends even find witty phrases to describe my blog. It’s all fair game.

While drafting this post, I was also participating in a online running group discussion about what people wear when during races – short shorts, tight shorts, no shirts, etc. I replied that I no longer run shirtless because someone called animal control. My friend Larry immediately posted this photo:

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Topics: leadership, optimism, humor

You Have to Be Strong to Be Nice

Posted by Mark Fallon

Dec 18, 2015 5:00:00 AM

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca

Marguerite Ulrich and MeMy sister-in-law Marguerite is a kind person. She thinks of others before she thinks of herself. For her 50th birthday, she chose to run a race with me to raise money for veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders. She’s someone who opens her home and heart to the world. Marguerite’s also one of the strongest people I know.

My cousin Peter served over 20 years in the Army as an Airborne Ranger Infantry Officer. He volunteered for two tours of duty in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star multiple times. His command presence hasn’t diminished over the years, and I still call him “Sir” or “Colonel”, and stand up straight when he talks to me. Peter’s also one of the nicest people I know.

Many people mistakenly confuse kindness with weakness or strength with cruelty. The opposite is true. It’s the truly strong who display compassion to others. It’s the toughest people that can shoulder the burdens of another, even while facing their own challenges. The resolute are unwavering in supporting the vulnerable.

It’s equally important to separate the notions of “strength” and “power”. Dictators have power, but are really just weak leaders who must use fear and coercion to force others to follow them. Bullies are able to dominate the timid and the defenseless, but when confronted, their cowardly character is revealed. The egotistical puts themselves first, yet will often find no one behind them.

Those with real strength don’t need to intimidate, threaten or pressure others. Instead, they lead by example, often with quiet, understated potency. They’re able to understand the difference between monetary value and real worth. They will often leave themselves in a vulnerable position – even to the point of suffering injury – to make others safe.

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Topics: leadership, love, values

Dealing with Difficult Behavior

Posted by Mark Fallon

Sep 18, 2015 5:30:00 AM

Dealing with Difficult BehaviorWhen I supervised a small mail center, I was often challenged by one of my employees. He didn’t like to conform to many of the new procedures I was attempting to establish. He would often attempt to intimidate me, once in front of his peers. It’s important to point out that he was about 6 foot 6. And well, I’m not.

A challenging aspect of any manager’s job is dealing with an employee who isn’t performing to standard. You need to take steps that will change the employee’s behavior, and ultimately lead to a change in their attitude.

Let’s start by reviewing what doesn’t work. Fear is the least successful motivator, and threats are always demoralizing. While some people will only follow rules because of what will happen if they don’t. Most people do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

Many managers will argue that at times you need to use direct action to change a person’s behavior. The quickest way to get someone to do something is to forcefully tell them with explicit language. Frederick Herzberg calls this verbal kick in the pants “KITA”—or a kick in the... (Harvard Business Review, September, 1987).

It’s true that KITA will normally cause a change in behavior. For the moment. However, KITA does little to help create a positive attitude. The worker will be motivated only to NOT do things that will lead to further punishment. Not exactly a building block for success.

Obviously, for any organization to succeed there must be a set of rules that are followed by everyone. Also, there must be consequences for not following those rules. As a former military officer, I fully support respect for authority, and adherence to standards.

An old boss of mine, General Dennis Reimer, once wrote, "Discipline is not the fear of punishment for doing something wrong, but a faith in the value of doing something right."

So what are the right steps? To successfully change a person’s behavior and help develop a better attitude, the manager must focus on clear communication and positive action.

Hold the discussion in private. It’s important that you meet with the employee at a time and place that you won’t be disturbed. If you don’t have an office with a door, schedule time in a conference room. Follow the adage: “Praise in public, criticize in private.”

Focus on the facts. In many difficult situations, the behavior in question has affected people’s emotions. It’s critical to set aside those emotions, and get the facts straight. De-personalize the situation and focus on the events, not the person. Delineate exactly what happened and the consequences to those actions. Stay focused on the issue, and don’t get sidetracked.

Clear up any communication issues. Make sure that the person understands what’s expected of them. Clarify your department’s policies, and what happens when someone doesn’t comply. Explain the purpose of the rules, and the consequences to the individual, as well as the whole unit. Ask questions to be sure that the worker understands.

Get to the root of the behavior. Find out why the person did what they did. Was it a lapse in judgment? Was it out of fear? Are they looking for a reason to be fired? There may be a situation outside of work that is causing stress. Make sure you know about the employee—their background, family situation, etc.

Get the employee’s input. People work harder when they’re involved in developing the solution. Ask the employee what they think can be done to solve the problem. In his book, Swim with the Sharks, Harvey Mackay details his method of employee involvement. He has people sit in his chair, and asks them, “All right, now what would you say if you were me?” Often the employees are even harder on themselves than he would be.

Draft a written action plan. There’s no substitute for a written agreement. Write down exactly what you expect of the employee. Create attainable, short-term goals with action plans and timelines. Schedule a follow-up meeting to review their progress. Whenever possible, acknowledge their improvements, however small.

Sometimes it’s best to go your separate ways. Not everyone can work together. It may be that clashing values and personalities make it impossible for success, even with great effort. Have an honest discussion with your employee to see if they agree. You’ll be amazed at the number of times that they’ll be relieved and agree to a mutual departure. But if there is confrontation, you must be prepared to terminate employment. This is never easy, but as Harvey Mackay explains, “It isn’t the people you fire who make your life miserable, it’s the people you don’t.”

Based on real world experience (not psychological theory), these steps take time and effort, but they work. For example, let’s go back to my confrontation with the 6 foot 6 employee.

Instead of taking the bait, I had him follow me into a conference room. With no audience, we could have an open, honest, no holds barred conversation. After tempers subsided, we reviewed what was and wasn’t acceptable. We also talked about what he wanted to do with his job and his life. We tied opportunities for training with performance, developed an action plan, and we both achieved our goals.

Dealing with difficult behavior is never easy. Yet, it can be a challenge that leads to the greatest reward possible—helping another person overcome obstacles and meeting their goals. By taking a positive approach, focusing on the facts, and working together, your employee and you can both be successful.

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Topics: leadership

Getting Hit By A Rock

Posted by Mark Fallon

Oct 10, 2014 2:38:08 AM

 

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Topics: leadership

Wow!

Posted by Mark Fallon

Sep 5, 2014 5:00:00 AM

 

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Topics: leadership

Doing the Right Thing Right

Posted by Mark Fallon

Feb 18, 2014 3:30:00 PM

Doing the Right Things RightToo often, successful executives are classified as being either innovative leaders or efficient managers. The innovative leader is defined as a visionary, a passionate idealist, and an inspirational thinker. On the other hand, the efficient leader is process-oriented, a student of Total Quality Management (TQM), or a black belt disciple of Six Sigma. In reality, the successful person blends these seemingly opposite traits into inseparable qualities.
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Topics: leadership