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Focus on changing just one thing, and begin with reflection

Managers at Work
Rochester Business Journal
January 3, 2014

So you're an overworked, stressed-out manager who would like to do a better job but can't figure out how in a rapidly changing business. Maybe you've been trying to implement some changes but can't see past the mountain of email that lands in your inbox every day.
To begin 2014, we asked James Ramerman, CEO of a new local executive coaching firm, Ramerman Leadership Group, to offer a few thoughts on leadership and managing change.
First, forget that long list of New Year's resolutions, he says. "Whether you are looking for improvement or a real breakthrough, just change one thing. That's right-one thing. It is perhaps the thing you most fear or that you are having the most trouble with. Or the thing that keeps you up at night.
"Have the courage to own it, confront it, change it. Just change this one thing. Everything else may very well fall into place."
How can you get started? Ramerman suggests that you take time each week to reflect about yourself, your goals, values and challenges.
"Remember that you have to 'go deep' to reach high," he says. "In 2014, resolve to make it a point to learn more about you. Regardless of your age or position or how accomplished you already are, there's room for improvement."
By going deep, clearly identifying goals, values and the company's purpose, leaders develop a solid foundation for their work. And from that they can create positive change. "Clarity drives courage, and courage drives results," he says.
Such reflection can take time, but it doesn't have to be burdensome. "It doesn't take as long as people think. I encourage leaders to book one uninterrupted hour a week to be with themselves. You'd be surprised how many people do not do that," Ramerman says. "It's not about the time you take; it's about depth and consistency. That's the power of taking time to be clear."
Without such reflection and clarity, he says, leaders run the risk of making reactive decisions, not proactive ones.
However, a key part of being reflective is asking for feedback. "Ask those you love and trust-friends, family, co-workers-for honest, no-holds-barred feedback. Ask them what you're good at. Then ask them what needs improvement. Invite them. Give them a comfortable situation, make it safe for them," he says.
Then listen carefully, without being defensive, and ask clarifying questions, he adds. See what you can learn.
"Take some time. Marinate. Mark off an afternoon or a day or two. Spend some time considering what they have said. Write stuff down. See what rings true, and own what rings true. Then go to work on it."
Certainly, it takes confidence and courage to ask for feedback, but getting it is absolutely crucial to improving your leadership and getting the results you're looking for. "We don't know how we come across unless we get feedback," he says.
Ideally, you would find someone who cares about you, who will be honest and insightful and will deliver the feedback in a way that makes you feel safe. "Some people don't need others to deliver feedback gently, because they're built that way and they can handle it because they know they have a good relationship there."
Sometimes it's easier to give and receive feedback than you might think. Ramerman recalled working with a company president awhile ago, spending two and a half hours over two sessions with him and asking him a variety of questions. At the end he noticed it was a one-way conversation, and that in and of itself was an important message.
"I said, 'I've been asking you a lot of questions. Can you think of any that you asked me?' and he couldn't think of any."
When leaders receive regular constructive feedback, they find they look forward to it, he says, and their decision-making improves as a result.
Here are a few additional tips for creating change:
"Be a boss or a spouse or a parent who listens carefully for what is said and what is not said-as well as what is behind what is said. Then you will know what to do and what you can do," he says.

"Help your employees, your spouse, your kids to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Know that without meaning and purpose, we all flounder." When people have purpose and are involved in something bigger than themselves, they generate positive energy, and that is contagious.

Be extravagant with honest praise. It is the elixir of relationships.
When you change, everything around you changes, Ramerman says. "This is why in our business consulting we say, 'Leaders go first.'"
As you reflect on challenges and decisions at a deep level, you will see the results. "You will find that discernment, deep clarity, is worth more than quick judgment and that wisdom trumps knowledge every time."

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by email at

Additional reading

  • "Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box" by the Arbinger Institute
  • "Working with Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman

1/3/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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