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“Often the greatest moment in the life of a manager is watching someone move on.” with Tim Toterhi

Often the greatest moment in the life of a manager is watching someone move on. Navigated effectively, it means I’ve successfully prepared them for their next step. Ideally it will be within the organization, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not my path. As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest […]

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Often the greatest moment in the life of a manager is watching someone move on. Navigated effectively, it means I’ve successfully prepared them for their next step. Ideally it will be within the organization, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not my path.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Toterhi.

Tim Toterhi is a TEDx speaker, certified career coach, author of 10 books including and The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job. He’s also a CHRO and the founder of Plotline Leadership.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Growing up we had that all-too-common, Italian financial affliction known as Dafunzalow. The silver lining was that it made hard work a necessity and taught me the value of both money and creative thinking early on.

I went to college and grad school at night which afforded me the opportunity to experiment with a variety of jobs on days and weekends. This time in the trenches helped me learn about my strengths, weaknesses, and how to develop innovative workarounds to complex, real-world problems.

Over time, I leveraged my writing, teaching and sales skills to land a role in learning and development. From there I followed a simple mantra: Learn, Teach, Rinse, Repeat. The habit led me on a journey across Human Resources, Project Management, and Business Development. I ultimately landed a role as CHRO and now consult as a coach and fractional CHRO for growth companies.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I strive for simplicity of practice and contrarian thinking. Whenever I hear an idea or “best practice” habitually repeated by the masses, I think it prime for reexamination.

For example, corporate training people were fond of touting the 70–20–10 rule, the idea being that 70% of learning should come from on-the-job experience, 20% from others, and only 10% from formal training. The concept made for a good slide, but it completely misinterpreted the original study and dataset which was applicable only to executive leadership looking back on their careers, not all training. The oversight sent companies down a futile and damaging path that reduced the effectiveness of their programs.

Respectfully question convention. Whenever someone says, “studies show” make sure they show you the studies. Then do your own analysis and apply any insights to your situation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Stretch goals are fine, but you need to punch your weight. I once landed an interview for a job that I was not qualified to hold. This fact became overwhelmingly apparent a few minutes into our discussion.

Luckily, instead of cutting the meeting short, the hiring manager gave me a tremendous gift. He leveled with me and clearly explained the gaps in my skills and experience. His transparency provided a roadmap for what to chase.

Flash forward a few years and I found myself driving to an interview at the very same company, for that very same role, and, as it turns out…reporting to the same guy. This time I was ready. Throughout my career I’ve adopted the practice of transparent interviews, hoping to return the favor.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once had a stretch assignment to co-plan a leadership meeting for the top 100 executives at large healthcare company. In addition to content my teammate and I were on the hook for logistics — a tall order for two novices in the space.

The company had an incredible year and the meeting was set in Hawaii. The opening session was to be held outdoors and feature a variety of cultural events. The leadership team was surrounded by both natural beauty and four enormous statues. While completing the setup, the weather shifted — not horribly, but enough to send one of the towers crashing down on the empty seats. (Talk about your succession planning nightmares).

Needless to say, we had the crew reinforce or remove all props and kept a watchful eye on the weather, reserving the right to shift to our indoor, plan B. Luckily the weather held, and the event went off without issue.

I can laugh about it now but learning that details really do matter was a great lesson to receive early in my career.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Two effective anecdotes to burnout are white-space and variety. Some people burnout because they legitimately have too much to do. If you suspect this, partner with an organization design professional or process expert to review your employee’s “time signature”. They will help you eliminate, automate, or delegate non-essential tasks and thereby increase productivity and provide some breathing room for employees.

Other times, repetition is responsible for burnout. In these cases, talk with your HR team about starting a job share or rotation program. You’ll fix the issue and cross train your staff at the same time.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Great leaders understand that it’sall on you but not all about you. It’s a simple formula of giving more than you take. When you do that, you’ll always have more than you need.

For example, when you consistently give your time, knowledge, experience you’ll always have an abundance of people who want to work for you. This can happen at a company-wide or individual manager level. If you can help people grow or perform better in December than they did in January, they will follow you. The bonus is, you’ll often learn just as much from them.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I have a love-hate relationship with public speaking. Part of me loves sharing my thoughts and learning from the audience in return, but as an introvert, the process is draining.

To prepare I…well, over prepare. This alleviates any content concerns and allows me to focus on speaking techniques. For me that involves slowing down, being mindful the word/body connection, and most importantly, realizing that it’s really not about me at all. The shift in focus reduces my stress.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I’ve directly managed and trained employees in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Over the years, across companies, industries and geographies I’ve noticed that people have the same concerns about giving feedback. Part of it is not knowing how. Part of it is not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. But the biggest issue is confusing giving feedback with providing coaching.

Feedback is a moment-in-time, first person observation, a quick factual message. Coaching is the discussion that may or may not follow. For most people the hardest part about giving feedback is shutting up after doing so.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Receivers benefit by gaining insight on strengths to leverage and development needs to attend to. If they listen to multiple sources over time, they will also see trends and understand the difference between a one-off comment that can be discounted and a pattern of behavior that needs to be taken to heart.

For leaders, proper use of feedback can make your team and in turn, your department stronger. Whether you are pointing out a “spinach in the teeth” issue that can become a career derailer for someone or a subtle skill adjustment that will amp their performance, all parties will benefit from the action.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Feedback is much easier than people make it out to be. It’s not like solving the Birch and Swinnerton-dyer conjecture. (Don’t worry. I had to look that up too.) Here are the two sentences you need to master feedback:

  1. What I value about you is….
  2. You could be even more effective if….

That’s it. Have something positive to share? Pick up the phone and fill in the blank for number one. Observed an issue you want to see corrected? Use number two.

For example, once after giving a presentation, I received this feedback:

Hey Tim, I really enjoyed the presentation, especially your use of humor and examples. One thing: This is an international audience and I noticed that some attendees struggled to follow when you ramped up the pace during that flight story. You could be more effective if you slowed down that section.

As you can see, you can and should use your own words, but number 1 and 2 provide a great starting point.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Stop writing that email. Seriously, drop the mouse and back away from the keyboard…slowly.

If you want to give feedback, grab the phone. Sure, maybe you will craft the perfect email, but even so the medium itself reduces the effect of the message. If you care enough about the person to notice what he/she is doing and provide commentary, do so live.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Again, people overcomplicate this. Technically the best time to give feedback is right after the behavior is observed. For example, a flight instructor will debrief the pilot-in-training shortly after landing. Similarly, it’s best to give someone feedback on a presentation as soon as they step off stage.

The question you have to ask is: are they ready to hear the feedback? Don’t guess. Ask the question: Can I give you some feedback?

Most will say yes, but sometimes there is a legitimate reason for a no. Going back to my speech example, I’m often drained after a big presentation and likely won’t have the energy to take the comments on board. An hour or two later is a different story.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is measured by what I call the “velocity metric”. How quickly can you get your employees mission ready and how much do they grow during their time with you.

Often the greatest moment in the life of a manager is watching someone move on. Navigated effectively, it means I’ve successfully prepared them for their next step. Ideally it will be within the organization, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not my path.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to see a return to personal accountability…replacing the royal “we” (which typically means someone else) with the factual “I”.

I want this action-oriented attitude to show up in job interviews, where candidates talk about their personal results as opposed to the mystical efforts of others. I want this to show up in homes where fathers man up and put families first. And I want this to show up in society whereby each person takes stock how much they contribute via donations, volunteering, or military service before approaching others with palm outstretched.

The moonshot is an American story, but a global construct and it can be repeated if only we revisit the questions we ask. Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy’s long-time speech writer famously challenged citizens with the line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We need to revisit that question if we are to truly create a shining city on a hill.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Comedian, Jonathan Winters said, “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” So often in life, especially in youth, we try to hurry things. We become obsessed with external scorecards be they money in the bank or likes on a post.

What I’ve realized is that you can’t wrestle serendipity into submission. Just do your best work every day and at some point, things will break your way…or not. If you’re confused about that, reread The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss. Kid’s books are filled with life lessons adults forgot and need to remember.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out www.timtoterhi.com for my latest book or www.PlotlineLeadership.com for career resources. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn at — https://www.linkedin.com/in/toterhi/

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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