Dr. Jimmie Flores

Month: November 2014 Page 1 of 5

Writing Skills Matter in Online Learning

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To excel in online learning, you must work diligently on your writing skills. Unlike a class in a brick-and-mortar institution, when you’re online no one knows you are part of the class until you express yourself in words.

Professionalism Matters

I make it clear to my online students that I expect a professional approach when posting messages in the discussion board, when writing assignments, and even when communicating with me via email. In some cases, students will write in all lowercase. I have yet to figure out why this is smart.

One person told me that writing in all lowercase saves time, especially if using a mobile device. While it might save time, rest assured that the message is diluted because the format lacks the seriousness required in professional writing.

Brevity is Critical

Online students should be aware that professors are busy managing classes that can be as big as 30 or 40 students. You can imagine how long it takes to review emails, grade papers, and respond to discussion questions. Therefore, my recommendation is to keep homework and other communication clear and to-the-point. Even when a word count is required for an assignment, ensure that the content adds value, and is not merely an approach to add fluff. The instructor can quickly determine the intent.
A big pet peeve of mine is wordiness. In many cases, students use unnecessary verbiage, and part of the reason is that they are attempting to write as they would when carrying a conversation with a friend.

We should avoid the following:

  • “In order” – notice that we can remove those words and the message of the sentence remains clear.
  • “Consciously” – students will sometimes write, “The manager consciously made a decision to fire the employee.” We know that the manager was “conscious” when making this difficult decision. After all, he was likely not in a unconscious state! Imagine the HR implications!
  • “First and foremost” – It is best to use “First” and go from there. In some cases, this expression is not even needed.

To improve your writing, it is important to practice. A good idea is to focus on speaking in full sentences. I understand this will be hard at first, but you can get the hang of it. By focusing on putting proper sentences together when speaking, you will identify the clearest and most persuasive approach to making a point, which is exactly what is needed when writing at the collegiate level.

Walt Disney Leadership 101: Plus It! The Water Bill Story

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Image Courtesy: slideshare.net

Walt Disney was a perfectionist. He was not going to settle for mediocre work from his imagineers. Because he knew the work so well, Disney was aware of the upper limits. Getting near perfect results was challenging for his staff, but that was the expectation that everyone had to meet.

I’m reminded of a story regarding Apple’s Steve Jobs. While working on a project dear to the technology icon, Jobs asked a team member the following question: “Is this the absolute best work you can do?” The engineer replied, “I guess I can probably do better.” Without reviewing the work, Jobs replied, “Before bringing anything else to me, make sure that it’s your absolute best work.”

Performing at an optimum level requires attention to detail. You must avoid settling for just good enough. Your customers know when you are going through the motions and interested mostly in getting them out of your hair.

Paying the Water Bill

I recently called the local water company to set up an auto payment process. After spending more than a half-hour on its website, I was unable to locate the online form. A few minutes later I located the customer support telephone number, and eventually had a live person on the other end of the phone after surviving the 20-minute hold period.

Customer service agent, Linda, was courteous and professional.

Me: Hi, Linda! I would like to pay my water bill.

Linda: Sure. I can help you with that.

Me: Great! You know … I really prefer paying this utility online and not having to send checks, or paying by credit card. It doesn’t take long to do that, but having an auto-pay process is much better for me.

Linda: You’re right. This is much easier. More and more customers are taking advantage of this feature.

Me: I would like to add myself to this list. I’m here in front on my computer. Where do I find the online form?

Linda: Good question! You’re not going to find it online. We need to mail it to you.

Me: You mean … like snail mail? Like the US Post Office? Are they still in business? Ha!

Linda: Yeah. Unfortunately, we don’t have the capability to enroll online. I’m not sure why, but this feature is not available.

Me: Yikes! It’s so much easier to do it online. I think we can even pay traffic tickets on the web. Not sure, though. I always adhere to posted speed limits! [Joking!]

Linda: I guess we’re not there yet. Many customers complain about it. I can send you the paperwork right away.

Me: Ok, Linda. I haven’t checked my mail in a few days. I guess I now have a reason to do it.

Linda: Thank you for calling.

I wonder how Disney or Jobs would handle this issue. How was it long before they automated the process? I’m sure Disney would “Plus It” in some way. Not only could the customer pay the water bill, but she would also have the option to purchase related items, such as a sprinkler system. This might sound funny, but creative people come up with innovative products and services.

Leaders must avoid settling for bare minimum results. The potential for long-term success increases in proportion to the level that you satisfy both the immediate and future needs of the customer.

Why a Broken Ironing Board is a Leadership Problem

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It’s Monday morning, and I’m getting ready for several important meetings in the Los Angeles area. I selected a hotel right near the Orange County John Wayne airport because of its convenience. My morning was planned perfectly, including breakfast, a quick workout, and getting the wrinkles out of my clothes that come from packing in one’s luggage.

I waited to do the ironing after showering, just before heading out the door. I know some of you are wondering why I didn’t iron the night before, and that is good advice. Unfortunately, I failed to plan, and was left no choice but to accept the circumstances.

Time to Iron

I allotted myself only 10 minutes to iron my clothes and to walk out the door. I did confirm the night before that the room was equipped with an iron and ironing board, so I was not completely irresponsible.

I went to the closet to retrieve the ironing equipment, and selected the shirt to iron. When trying to set up the ironing board, I noticed the locking mechanism was not working, which meant the board would go flat and essentially rest on the floor. I tried several times, thinking that perhaps I was overlooking a piece. I shortly realized that the ironing board itself was malfunctioning and did the best I could with the board sitting on the floor.

Because I was in a hurry, I failed to report it to the hotel management team. However, I did leave the ironing board on the floor, hoping housekeeping would catch on and replace it that day.

Nope! When I returned later that evening, the same broken ironing board was placed in the closet. I called the front desk, and a fully-functioning device was delivered shortly thereafter.

A Leadership Issue

The role of leadership is to create a culture of top-notch customer service. By setting high standards, everyone on the team, including the front desk and housekeeping personnel, will be vigilant in their day-to-day work.

As a consultant, I know that where there is smoke, there is fire. In most cases, these small breakdowns are part of a systemic problem. In other words, the broken ironing board is a sign of enterprise-wide issues, such as poor working conditions, lack of quality control, and even low employee morale.

Avoid Taking Chances

An excellent leader should take a proactive approach, and consider what else might be broken. Breakdowns do happen, and that is part of running a business. However, it’s important to conduct a quick audit of processes and procedures. By doing so, we can identify a problem before it escalates into a catastrophe.

My meetings went well on this Monday, and my clothing was presentable. The workaround of ironing on the floor worked this time, but I should prepare the night before to avoid unforeseen events.

When these situations arise, I am reminded of what I can do in my business to improve the work I provide my customers. One strategy is to put myself in the role of the customer. Another good approach is to ask questions, and keep asking. I want to identify issues and problems before the wrinkles create an embarrassing situation that stains my reputation.

Why a Naked Man Shaving His Head in the Steam Room is a Leadership Problem

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I was recently in the steam room of the fitness room where I workout, and I noticed that a naked man with a razor began to shave his head. There were several of us in the room, and a few stared at him as he violated the policy. This particular fitness facility has private areas for men and women gym-goers.

On the door of the steam room, the following message is prominently displayed:


The Management Team

The shaving took nearly five minutes, and it seemed that he would never finish. At one point, he stood up, and I thought he was leaving the room. Instead, he performed a few weird stretching exercises (still naked), sat back down, and continued the shaving exercise.

Were We Delinquent for Staying Quiet?

None of us in the steam room reminded the man that shaving in the steam room was not allowed. It was clearly stated on the door. Even if it were not noted, one would think that someone would remind the individual about the potential hygiene issue.

I decided to stay quiet, and so did the other three men in the room. Is it my job to make this person aware that he is violating the policy, and that he must stop?

Let’s consider how this conversation might happen:

Me: Sir, are you aware of the policy stating that we are not to shave in the steam room?

Naked Shaving Man: Yeah. It won’t do any harm.

Me: I think that it causes a hygiene problem. It might be best if you shave in the sink.

Naked Shaving Man: Why don’t you mind your own business? I can shave here if I want.

Me: I don’t think so!

Naked Shaving Man: What are you going to do about it?
Before you know it, I’m in hot water. I’m not too concerned about physical harm, but I now have a problem that I didn’t have before. From my experience, I don’t think the man is going to acquiesce and admit that he is wrong.

Why this is a Leadership Problem

The notice on the door alone is insufficient. I don’t think we need a fitness police, but we do need someone who can resolve this problem. These violators create an uncomfortable situation for a large majority of customers.

The leadership team is aware of the situation, and should take action to resolve the issue. One recommendation is to increase awareness of the problem, and this is done by leveraging the communication plan (i.e., newsletters, signage, email, and so on).

One might argue that I am overreacting, and perhaps I am. However, leadership must be proactive to resolve these situations before they escalate. A razor might be left in the steam room, which can lead to a safety issue. I also think that gym-goers like me should step up and do our part. I have the option to confront the problem with the violator, or I can report the issue.

What is the likely result if I confront the situation? I will offend a naked man who shouldn’t be shaving his head in the steam room. I guess this is probably one in which I am in the right.

3 Things Successful Leaders Do on Wednesday

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It’s the middle of the week, and you can hardly wait for the back-end of the week. You had the usual issues on Monday and put out some fires on Tuesday. Thursday is right around the corner, and you are ready to put it on cruise control.

Successful leaders think a little differently. Each day of the week is important, and gliding into the weekend is not an option. When they are not executing plans, they are making sure that problems are addressed quickly. In essence, they understand the importance of taking corrective action when a misalignment takes place.

Wednesday is an important day for proactive leaders. At this point in the week, they still have time to get the critical work done. You will not hear the following from a go-getter: “Let’s do the best we can. We can always push it to next week.” That is a no-no for successful leaders. If the work is due this week, they will do whatever possible to deliver on what is promised.

You will find top-notch leaders doing the following on any given Wednesday:

#1: Review the plan created on Monday to ensure they are on track.

In project management, we call the initial plan a baseline. In other words, you want to know what you are expected to deliver during the week. If the goal is to conduct 20 interviews with key customers regarding their perceptions of the quality of tech support provided, these leaders will make sure the work is on track.

The proactive leader will meet with the core team to identify the progress. By becoming engaged in the process, the leader collects valuable information to provide ample time to take corrective action when necessary. Waiting even just one day to gather this time-sensitive feedback may result in problems that escalate beyond the leader’s department, causing harm to the entire organization.

#2: Interact with team members to provide support where necessary.

In MBA school, students learn an important leadership concept called Management by Wandering Around. A successful leader is on the floor as much as possible. It’s important to know that this person is not rolling up her sleeves and doing the actual work. Instead, the leader is interested in learning about the obstacles that are preventing milestones from being met.

I know of many so-called leaders that sit in their comfy offices looking at report-after-report. This is akin to reviewing one’s bank account throughout the day hoping unexpected deposits are made. It’s not going to happen. It’s much better to take action instead of staring blindly at the computer screen.

#3: Keep a moving forward approach.

The recommendation here is to move forward and to avoid coasting, even worse, sliding downhill. The excellent leader is constantly looking for potential risks, and is prepared to exploit opportunities. For example, he might learn that an important resource has available time to work on a key task. Understanding the importance of this development, the leader will contact this person’s line manager to request assistance.

By staying focused on the key deliverables, you get more done. Avoid pursuing the Big Bang approach in which you are mostly concerned about impressing others. Successful leaders treat Wednesday as another important day in which the plan is executed, and just as much attention is assigned to quality control. In short, the benefits are realized incrementally.

This is not a flashy approach, but it is effective.

3 Reasons Leaders Fail


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A leader is successful to the point that others will follow the vision. When employees are apathetic, he can expect the organization to fall short of its goals and expectations. Unfortunately, there are some leaders who lack the desire and commitment to make things better.

Great leaders are not necessarily the “rah-rah” type. A solid leader is one who has a clear understanding of the company’s destination. Despite the unknowns, this person must be able to make decisions that have a positive impact on the entire enterprise. Excellent leaders know the importance of cause-and-effect. In other words, an action will yield a result, whether good or bad.

From my experience working with leaders in different industries, here are three reasons I have observed why they fail. In some cases, these individuals are aware they are falling short but are unwilling to take corrective action. Instead, they keep engaging in the same activities that are causing the problems.

#1: Leaders who develop a barrier between themselves and their employees.

To know what can make the organization better, you must get on the floor. You need to talk with your employees. You need to know what is going well and where you need to improve. The people with the best knowledge of what is important to the customer are usually those at the operational level, such as sales staff and service desk specialists.

You must avoid relying on aggregate reports. For example, total sales for the month is an ambiguous number. You need to ask more questions from those making the sales. Why is the customer buying? Why are customers unwilling to purchase warranties? Why is it that we haven’t reached out to a certain group of buyers? In other words, you need to know the intangibles, and reports fail to provide this information.

#2: Leaders who are selective listeners.

There are some leaders who have developed excellent responses when asked tough questions. One executive asked her managerial staff to consider a salary freeze on employees. When one bold manager questioned her logic, and asked her to stop receiving salary increases, she responded … “We can discuss that issue at the appropriate time.” It was obvious she was prepared for this question.

It’s far better to take feedback from employees than to think that you are right all the time. The fact is that leaders are visionaries, and not doers. Therefore, you need to pay attention to ideas that arise from your employees. The next step is to take action and strategically implement the ideas that will improve your competitive position.

#3: Leaders who make excuses.

Part of climbing the organizational ladder requires that you stop making excuses and start taking action to resolve problems and exploit opportunities. A leader who makes excuses is one whose days are numbered.

In some cases, ineffective leaders blame their employees for the poor performance of the organization. Generally, the problem lies with poor vision and mission management. Even if part of the problem is employees failing to meet expectations, the burden is on the leadership team to take care of it.

There is a tremendous need for strong leadership today. Work is more ambiguous and complex than ever before. Competition is fierce, and it will only increase in intensity. For organizations to remain viable, leaders must stay connected with employees, listen intently, and avoid blaming others for work that goes undone.

A Conversation with the Conceited Executive

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At times, you are excited about what you do, and you want to tell others about your success. It’s human nature to want to be appreciated, recognized, and valued. However, there are folks who take it too far. They talk so much about themselves and their accomplishments that one wonders if they have grown deaf.

Not long ago, I attended a social at a friend’s home, and at some point I made my way to get a glass of wine. As I stood in line waiting for my turn to order, the gentlemen before me introduced himself. The line was a bit long, and the bartender was a bit slow, which gave us a few minutes to have a chat.

Anthony: I might have to get two drinks! This line is super slow!

Me: Yeah. That’s a good idea.

Anthony: What kind of work do you do?

Me: I teach people to be better at what they do both at the university and in companies. What do you do?

Anthony: I’m sort of new to town. Came here from Boston to accept a position at United Insurance. I’m sure you know about our company, right?

Me: I do. In fact, I have my life insurance through United. The customer service is excellent.

Anthony: Yes. We’ve received quite a few awards. In just the 4 months I’ve been here, my department has become the best in the company.

Me: Wow! How are they measuring the success?

Anthony: My position is Director of Sales for the Group Insurance side of the house. We’ve increased sales by 20% in the past few months, and I’m sure it will get much better.

Me: Your work must be making a difference.

Anthony: I have 450 people working under me. I make tough decisions. If they don’t like how I run things, I will show them the door.

Me: What happened to the other Director of Sales for the department?

Anthony: He was incompetent. He was dumber than a bucket of rocks. I’m told I pretty much saved the department. Without me, the Group Insurance program would be dead in the water.

Me: Dead in the water?

Anthony: Yes. Big time! I have a history of changing things around, never following the status quo. I’m a winner!

Me: I’m sure United is happy you were able to make the move down here to San Antonio.

Anthony: You’re right. I don’t think they deserve me. At $215K per year, I’m underpaid. I expect that number to triple in 12 months. If not, I’m outta here!

Me: I think the bartender is ready for your order.

Anthony: Oh! For waiting so long, I might order three drinks. By the way, it was good talking with you. What was your name?

The conversation took about five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Anthony talked incessantly, and I kept the conversation going with a few questions here and there. With this type of individual, it’s best not to offer any of your own accomplishments. He is looking to compete, and will have a comeback that looks to downplay the good things about you.

As I made my way back to my friends, I wondered how much of the story Anthony told me was true. If even 50% of it is valid, I can only imagine the employee morale issues that might exist. I only had to put up with Anthony for five minutes on this Saturday evening and not the eight hours per day or 40 hours per week that his employees must endure.

Oh, well. I did order two drinks, which largely reduced the chances that Anthony and I would be in the same line again.

Three Qualities of Highly-Effective Leaders

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I often use a quote from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “To become a meaningful participant, you must get a seat at the table.” It makes sense that you must take some level of risk, and do something to contribute to the success of your organization. In other words, standing on the sidelines will accomplish nothing. You must participate.

I recently heard Matthews discuss the leadership qualities that he finds important. While his discussion focused on the current political candidates, the attributes are equally applicable to the business community.

#1: Motive

Matthews was adamant that a great leader “must stand for something.” What are you trying to accomplish? Where do you see a gap that you wish to bridge? How do you plan to make a difference? Until you can express to others why they should believe in you, nothing happens.

A leader is not a manager. The people who run the organization are far-sighted, continually focused on maximizing shareholder’s wealth, opening new markets, and providing unparalleled customer support. A manager, on the other hand, takes a tactical approach. These individuals create processes, teach those steps to others, and perform quality checks. The leaders ensure that the processes are aligned with organizational strategy, which means they will yield long-term results.

#2: Passion

Matthews describes passion in a leader as “what brings out the emotions, and what drives their spirit.” You must know what excites you, and what will keep you going even when obstacles arise. If you are easily discouraged when a challenge arises, you lack the passion for that activity, work, and even for your career success.

You must continually search for meaningful work. If you often awake before your alarm clock sounds because of your excitement to reach your office, you have passion for what you do. Passionate people have a difficult time accepting failure. Instead, they look for different angles, a unique perspective, and new ways to exploit opportunities.

#3: Spontaneity

Matthews asks, “Can they react to a challenge or moment?” In other words, can you think on your feet? Are you prepared to make smart decisions without falling into the paralysis of analysis trap?

While process is important, you must embrace some level of risk. It’s foolish to believe that you must have all the facts before making a decision. You can expect to make mistakes, but the trick is to identify the error quickly. After the problem is resolved, you can conduct a lessons learned exercise, which focuses on what was done right, and what should be avoided.

Great leaders are committed to getting things done. Of course, these individuals build a talented staff and are not threatened by them. The effort is on high-performance, and not who is going to receive the accolades.

Excelling in a leadership role requires that you have a reason to do well. Once you know what is important, you must align your energy to realize the intended benefits. Given that problems will arise, the top-notch leader is agile, constantly taking corrective action to meet the organizational objectives. Finally, successful leaders are willing to share the wealth, understanding that it takes a competent team to realize the goals that are most important for the enterprise.

How to Lead When Nothing is Going Right

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Leading is much easier when things are going well. If sales are skyrocketing, a good strategy is to stay out of the way. Don’t mess with success. The shareholders are happy, and the employees are enthusiastic about the performance bonuses. Times are good.

Of course, it’s naïve to expect that prosperity will continue forever. Before long, competition will take a portion of your market share, and the numbers will be less than rosy. In some cases, bad publicity will affect your company’s reputation. It’s even likely that you’ll experience bouts of high turnover within your workforce, making it difficult to sustain your productivity levels.

A strong leader is able to step up to the plate when times are difficult. The need for leadership is vitally important when your organization is struggling. It’s imperative to get back on track as quickly as possible.

Trust the System

A crisis provides an opportunity to test your strategic plan. For example, a basketball coach cannot abandon the game plan when the team shoots less than 20% from the field in the first half. The problem is likely to be execution, not ability.

An excellent leader makes it clear that you must trust the system. The marketing plan is fine, but perhaps you need to increase the social media effort in certain states, such as decreasing your commitment to print media. Prospects are interested in what you offer, but you must promote it in the most effective way.

Avoid Pointing Fingers

“Dang! Why is it that IT hasn’t created the portal for us to promote our products? That Chris’ group is the cause of our problem. They are incompetent!”

A top-notch leader does not blame others. This is a counter-productive strategy. You must find the solution to problems. In essence, you find the root cause and eliminate the underlying issues. You might learn that IT is short on resources, and it has little to do with their competency level. When the root cause is identified, you work with IT’s leadership team to find a workable solution.

Stay Engaged

A leader that leads from afar is ineffective. You must stay involved and practice managing by wandering around. You can expect performance to improve by playing an integral role in the improvement process.

An effective leader is good at asking questions, such as:

• “What did the customer think about the new feature on the scanner?”
• “When did you first notice that the employees are apathetic toward this project?”
• “Is your team prepared to work this weekend to resolve the problem?”
• “What can we do to provide you with the resources to get the work done?”

As Jim Collins states in his book Good to Great, be prepared to ask the brutal questions. Similarly, you should also welcome these tough questions.

The best organizations have the best leaders. Bottom line! You must have a plan to identify and develop talent within your organization. It’s imperative to train the leaders how to manage difficult situations. It’s relatively easy to guide the organization during prosperity, but leading during tough times requires someone possessing a higher level of competence.

3 Strategies Used by Effective Leaders to Resolve Problems

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We face problems every day, some small, and some big. In fact, we’re all hired to be professional problem solvers. Our hourly rates are based on the level of problems we solve. If you are tasked to fix routine problems, your pay is generally near the minimum wage level. However, the more ambiguous the issue, and the more impact it has on your organization, the more generously you are compensated.

Effective leaders understand the importance of accountability. In other words, the first step to resolving a problem or issue is to take ownership. Those who fail to accept accountability lack the skills necessary to become part of the leadership team. Taking ownership of a problem does create risk, but leaders understand that failing to address the issue results in even more risk for the organization.

Here are strategies used by effective leaders to resolve problems:

#1: Assume ownership.

The effective leader is unconcerned with how the problem was created. The point here is that the problem can escalate and potentially have a negative impact on an organizational goal or objective. This leader is aware that blaming others is counterproductive to finding a solution.

For example, you determine that some of the computer equipment provided to you is outdated and will not allow you to meet the requirements for the project. Instead of blaming the procurement office, the leader takes ownership of the problem. She decides to contact the project sponsor to explain the situation and request the equipment needed to do the work right and on time.

#2: Clearly identify the problem.

Before taking any action, the leader must understand the problem. While workarounds might provide a temporary solution, at some point the root cause must be identified and eliminated. Tackling the symptoms fails to resolve the issue, and it will continue to surface in the future.

For instance, you observe that new help desk personnel are lacking the skills necessary to resolve Level 2 tech support calls. To remedy the immediate issue, you assign Level 3 techs to help, but this is a short-term solution. The long-term solution requires that you meet with the HR team and discuss the specific requirements needed for Level 2 agents.

#3: Implement a monitoring and control policy.

Ronald Reagan had a philosophy when dealing with Soviet Statesman, Mikhail Gorbachev: Trust, but verify. Identifying the problem and implementing a solution are important, but effective leaders must continually follow-up to ensure the actions are working. It’s naïve to give up control, and allow others to take ownership. The leader is responsible from beginning to end.

Managing critical problems is part of being a leader. This individual must be proactive and identify issues before they have a negative impact on the organization. There are some unforeseen problems that surface, and a contingency plan should be in place to tackle those. However, leaders should do whatever possible to mitigate or avoid the effect of identified problems.

Taking ownership of problems makes the work of leaders more challenging. However, effective leaders view problem management as part of the job description, and as not work that is out of the ordinary.

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