AuthorityThis is a tough topic to address. We live in an age where the rights of the individual top the interests of a group. However, in a business context it is critical that we understand authority; it’s role, it’s use, and it’s consequences. Without authority a business cannot succeed. The issues is not one of “if there must be authority” but rather “how there should be authority”.

It’s a contract

Once an individual agrees to receive compensation in the form of a pay cheque there is a contract formed. You agree to fulfil the obligations of your job description in return for that compensation. By virtue of this contract you are working under some authority. That is the nature of a contract. Granted, the contract holder, the employer also has obligations as governed by law and business precedence.

The point is that, like it or not, you are under contractual authority. But let’s move on.

How to use authority

Rarely is the short answer! The use of authority should be an act of last resort. But when you have to use authority it should be used with quiet confidence and respect. Implied use of authority is a great way to exercise authority. An example of this would be “I need you to do XYZ because it is key to ABC objective. Can you please start work on that now? Thanks.” The tone of voice is critical. It must not be demanding. Rather, it should be conversational. A hard use of authority would be something like this. “Stop what you are doing and do XYZ.”

When to use your authority

As a leader you are obligated to manage your human, financial, and hard assets to achieve the objectives within your scope of responsibilities. You must discharge this responsibility seriously. Often this means that you have to manage problem staff or problem peers.

A staff example: There are a clear set of HR processes for managing and documenting the misbehaviour of staff. Understand the processes and adhere to them. Use your authority as required. You cannot allow ongoing poor contributions from a staff member. An old adage is “good news long and slow, bad news fast and furious”. Once you have exhausted fair efforts to change staff behaviour you need to shift into action mode with decisive decisions.

For problem peers I typically work on a three step process.

  1. I work to explain the challenge to ensure that we are on the same page regarding the challenge.
  2. If nothing changes I restate and highlight the business impacts and advise that the business cannot continue to realize the impact(s).
  3. I escalate to upper management. I can now demonstrate that a reasonable effort to work together was made and that I have exhausted my efforts to correct the problem.

Alternatives to using authority

Good leaders don’t use their authority unless they have to. The best leadership tools are things like;

  • Demonstrating value and appreciation for staff contribution
  • Making the work space respectful and fun
  • Enabling work diversity when and where possible to develop skills
  • Allow a sense of individuality in work styles
  • Enabling a “token” reward system for departments
  • Championing for fair compensation
  • Create and champion an inclusive and fair work environment

This doesn’t sound like using authority does it?  These tools create an environment where staff feel respected and appreciated. This will translate into a willingness to work with a sense of engagement. This may seem counter intuitive but this is the best context for building a self-motivated team. Self-motivation is the best alternative to the use of authority.

Typical “fails” in using authority

There are a number of typical mistakes that new leaders make when exercising authority. This includes confusing earned respect from demanded respect. Not understanding positional authority versus personal reputation based authority. You can get the same or better results when you ask, versus tell, when assigning tasks to someone. Dropping common courtesy should never be an option; please and thank-you should be mandatory for leaders. Another common error is assuming that having a title makes you better then staff – it doesn’t.

Rare special use of authority

There are rare occasions when you need to use your authority like a hot knife through butter. Good managers need to learn to not shy away from these “champion” events.

  • Stopping the corporate bully. Don’t let this happen, ever.
  • Allowing the quiet or shy to have a voice.
  • Defending your staff from senior management when the staff are in the right in a “punishable” event.
  • Demanding respect from clients in how they treat your staff.
  • Defending your staff from senior managements excessive use of authority

The authority conundrum

You often have it but can’t or shouldn’t use it. Or, when you need it you don’t have it! The bottom line is that good management skills are you best set of tools enabling you to reserve the use of authority as a line of last action.

How do you use authority? What are some good and bad examples of authority use that you can think of?

David Reimer


Afraid to make “that” phone call? Part2

images7336J7M7In part one of this blog we discussed;

Why this topic? The value of good business language skills. Business versus personal communication. And when should you use the phone.

It would worth your time to review that blog first so you have context for the following comments.

The role of e-mail

E-mail is critical to the life blood of business communication. However, it should not replace a phone call when it is required. All too often emails are poorly written with grammatical and spelling errors. The short forms of text messaging have also found a place in e-mails. The result is that inexperience and immaturity can be clearly visible in e-mails.

The role of text and instant messaging

If your goal is career advancement by developing business acumen, then texting should be considered your most relationally familiar and casual form of communication. It’s not always appropriate, whether you think so or not. Text messaging via IM, Jabber, or Lync can have a limited role upward within a business. It may be helpful organizing dinner details on a business trip. Why? Because it is largely the domain of personal lives. It may not harm your career to be a strong user of text messaging, but it also does not have the “presence” of leadership.

The phone: Relationships and networking

Voice to voice or face to face are the right tools to build, and expand, new business relationships. Text and e-mail are great relationship maintenance tools. Success in business includes building an ever widening circle of relationships. By honing phone and face to face communication skills you will be more successful.

Old school  tips for using the phone

  • Smile when on the phone, it makes a difference in the tone of your voice.
  • Stand up when you want to be more formal – it helps with your “presence” on the call.
  • Don’t walk around. Today’s audio quality will reflect that movement and it then sounds like you are not paying attention.
  • Write call guidance or objective notes before you dial so you stay on message.
  • Take notes, even ask for a moment to do so as it makes the other person feel valued and listened too.
  • The biggest one is to “be in the moment”. Don’t multitask. It’s transparent to listeners.

The role of voice mail

Voicemail, in a business context, is really important. What you say, how you say it, and what you don’t say, are all important. All too often we get caught off guard by the voicemail prompt. Plan for the prompt and have planned voicemail script. Mine is;

  • State my name and the time of my call
  • State my reason for the call (the first part of the message)
  • State my call to action (what I need them to do)
  • State my phone number, and then repeat my phone number
  • I do all of the above in a moderate to slow speaking pace to ensure the listener can hear and comprehend me

The learned script ensures that I sound professional, accommodates listener audio quality challenges, and assists them in capturing my number.

I have been told to never leave a voice message as that is old school. Rather I should hang up and text the person.   I disagree with that. A few thoughts on this. One: I use voice to text to have my voice mail messages come to me in text format. This solves the inconvenience issue. Two: When I leave a voice message I want the receipting person to hear my voice, the tone, inflection, and other indicators.

The voice capabilities of your phone are a wonderful tool. Use it well and often as it will pay dividends in your business relationships.

What are your favourite phone use tips?  What do you think about text versus e-mail versus the phone?

David Reimer

Afraid to make “that” phone call? Part 1

Afriad phone call

Everyone has a smartphone. We e-mail, text, and use a ton of applications on them. We even use them for personal phone calls. But how often do you make a business phone call? Here is a statement of fact: You will limit your upward advancement if you do not master the art of a live phone call. Here are a few observations for you;


  • The majority of business people under 40 tend to make a limited number of business phone calls
  • The majority of business people under 30 are often outright fearful of making a business phone call
  • The basic skills of a business phone call are being lost
  • If you learn to make effective business phone calls you will have a competitive advantage
  • E-mail is NOT an effective substitute for a business phone call when the call is required

Why this topic?

A well-rounded tool kit of basic business skills, necessary to develop business acumen, must include the appropriate and comfortable use of the phone. Effective communication requires the right tool at the right time. The value of hearing the tone of a voice, the cadence of the words, and the placement of silence are all cues to what the speaker is thinking and feeling. You cannot capture this in an e-mail or text. Good phone skills are also foundational to developing good presentation skills, table stakes for the boardroom.

The value of good business language skills

  • It will separate you from the pack
  • Executives will see value in your meeting presence
  • It will enable you to communicate what you mean
  • It will give you messaging opportunities;
    • Presentations
    • Meeting or project leadership
    • Crafting communication
  • It will improve your clarity of thinking

This would be of immense value to your career aspirations. Executives place high value on clear and concise communication. They look for these attributes in team members.

Business versus personal communication

There is blurring of business and personal lives.  This is new since the early 2000’s and is mostly good.  However, there is a time and place for business communication to be business. All too often I hear people start a conversation with an informal “how are you” and head into a personal story about their weekend or lives. While this is not all bad, a lengthy call introduction with a personal story is not a good behaviour. The majority of people use personal stories as a buffer against their nervousness. Given this high risk to adjust for nervousness by telling a story you are better off to simply avoid it all together. Peer to peer conversations can differ in formality from peer to manager or executive.

Business communication should look something like this;

  • A layer of respect and formality appropriate to the business structure
  • Mainly focused on business conversations versus personal life conversations
  • Generally, have an objective or goal in mind
  • Appropriate use of the English language
  • Provide clarity of purpose / issue / goal in succinct terms
  • Should have limited to no ambiguity

You should use the phone when;

  • You need to build a relationship, particularly a new one
  • You are managing a crisis
  • You are delivering hard news
  • You need to apologize
  • You need an extra effort from a staff member
  • You feel like you want to hide behind email
  • You need to hold someone accountable

While there are a number of key uses for the phone, this short list will give a sense of when and why to use the phone.

In Part 2 of this topic I will talk about;

The role of e-mail and text. The phone’s role in relationships and networking. Lastly, old school phone skills and the role of voice mail.

How do you feel about your phone skills? What are your observations about your peer groups phone skills?

David Reimer

Succession Planning – Are you ready?

Succession PlanningMost people think this only applies to executives and owners.  Not true.  Good managers should have a succession plan for themselves.  They should also work to be part of their leader’s succession plan. The mechanics of succession planning is based on the fact that you need time, often more than a year, to groom a successor.  Let’s break the mechanics down.

The “season” challenge

The successor does not have to be like you; they only have to be capable of doing the job. Sometimes they should not be like you. Business or departmental growth often benefits from seasons of leadership style or capability change. What is difficult about this is for you to find, train, and support someone who is different then you.  If you pull back and think about the big picture and consider the notion of seasons of leadership change it will help. Seasons of change;

  • Drive improvements in new areas
  • Broaden the mix of thinking
  • See barriers to success in a new light
  • Bring balance to departmental or corporate culture

Document the skills required

First you need to identify the role specific skills required.  Then you need to identify the life skills required.  (check out: for a blog on this) This will help clarify your succession plans.  Further this document will help you bench mark potential candidates and define training needs.

Identify the candidate

Now it’s time to review your team and identify a candidate or two.  It is always amazing to me how my perspective changes about team members when I begin to look at them as potential candidates.  Once again, as I think about seasons of leadership, sometimes difficult or different staff become interesting prospects. At this stage you now need to work on developing the successor.  This means loosening your firm grip on the reins of authority.  Delegation will allow you to see how they manage authority and leadership.  Overtime, you should have a trusted lieutenant by your side.  If not, the process of succession planning is broken.

Are you the problem?

The lack of succession planning always lies with the person in charge.  Most problems are;

  • You won’t delegate, or don’t know how to delegate
  • You don’t trust your team
  • You think sharing success diminishes your value to your leaders
  • You have not hired good staff who can grow into your role

If this is you, then you need to sort out these issues.  Start now so you can change your behaviour and enable yourself to build a successor.

What about your promotion?

You should strive to make yourself easily replaceable in your current role.  Why? So you can be readily promoted.  If you do not have a successor you are;

  • Likely hard to replace and therefore not easily promotable
  • May be viewed as “not a team player”
  • May be viewed as “not a good at delegating”
  • May be viewed as a “glory” hog

You should think deeply about what executive skills look like.  Then figure out how to model them.  Good executives are awesome delegators and strong team players. Good executives share success.  Good executives require their managers to have succession plans.  This ensures that the bench of managers have backups.

What do you think about succession planning?  Should you start this work now?  Do you have good replacements for you in your team?

David Reimer