Leadership Below 100 Feet: Leadership Scuba Style

Leadership lessons come in many contexts. Last year,  I shared what I learned about inspiring “courage” from my Scuba instructor on my first panicky intro to Scuba. A few more dives logged, I continue to see more connection between leadership and Scuba. Part metaphor. Part reality. I look forward to hearing your real-life metaphors and application.

6 Leadership Lessons From Scuba Diving

1. Breathe

This one seems obvious, but as we were travelling around the island, one of the most frequently uttered phrases we overheard from surfacing divers was, “I just keep forgetting to breathe.” Each time, my son and I would grin at each other and ask “how is that possible? “

It happens in leadership too. When the going gets toughest, it’s easy to “forget” to breathe.

Leaders need oxygen, and pause. Next time you’re feeling underwater, notice your breath. Gaining control of your breathing helps the rest of the scene feel more manageable.

2. You can say a lot without words

4by4handsScuba divers are taught hand signals for the basics: “shark,” “I’m out of air,” “look now,” “Are you okay?” It’s fun to jump in with a new group of divers and fit right in with our common language. Teams need a system of common, simple communication.

But it’s also so important to know your team and watch their non-verbals.. “Something’s wrong with his equipment”. “She’s swimming like crazy away from the crowd, she’s off to take a picture of a lion fish.”

Leaders can learn a lot by just paying attention to their team’s movements, expressions and focus.

 3. There’s a lot you can’t see at the surface

It all looks so calm at the surface: the sunshine and the crystal blue water. But go a little deeper and there’s many beautiful mysteries waiting to be discovered, along with rocky edges that will rip you up if you’re not paying attention.

Great leaders go deeper and don’t rely on the apparent answers

4. Slow down or you might miss something2lions4by4

I’ll admit it, my natural instinct is to race around and “see” as much as possible. But going a little slower is way more efficient (your air lasts longer) and the best discoveries are tucked deep inside the coral.

Leaders who slow down enough to really take in the situation, will spot more.

5. Stay close to your team

When scuba diving, it’s tempting to work you own agenda, but the consequences may be severe. We learned that clearly established roles and agreed upon strategy at the beginning was vital. When in doubt, stay together.

Strong leaders know that a highly-coordinated team is the best defense against tricky situations.

6. Panicking makes the problem worse

It’s easy to panic fast when you’re 100 feet underwater, and can’t see your partner. A frantic response leads to crazy solutions that will immediately aggrevate the situation.

The same thing happens in leadership. The immediate reaction is seldom the best response. Leaders stay calm amidst the urgency to make more informed decisions.

7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down

Great ideas come in halves,  these are the words I hear often from my LGL en Español partner, Kay Valenzuela. I believe it.  Work is enhanced by true collaboration. One of the best parts of my entrepreneurial journey has been the amazing collaborations, in writing, in business, in shared passions.

I’ve got four deep collaborations in process now, including writing a children’s picture book with Alli Polin  and the launch of a Parent’s Guide to Leadership (a free ebook downloadable from the sidebar.)

I’ve also had a few false starts.

Here are my lessons learned. I look forward to hearing yours.

  1. Misaligned Passions –Collaboration works best when you’re both deeply in it to win it. Your shared passion fuels inspiration. If one or the other of you is less of a zealot, sooner or later the spark will fade.
  2. Propinquity- Joining up with the usual suspects or the guy next door, simply because of convenience limits possibility. Go slower and cast a wider net when looking for potential partners. When you stumble on chemistry search deeper. Sure working with partners around the globe is logistically more tricky, but becoming easier each day due to amazing technology.
  3. Score Keeping – Real collaborators don’t keep score. They’re too engaged in the cause to count who’s doing what. The focus is on the end state.
  4. Surface Respect – For true collaboration to blossom mutual respect must run deep and thick.  It becomes slippery when one or the other feel superior.
  5. Fuzzy Communication- Collaboration requires a constant flow of real-time communication. Don’t rely on email or chats, look in each other’s eyes, even if it’s over Skype.
  6. Short Term View- True collaborators value the relationship over the small stuff. They’re willing to let go what really doesn’t matter and spend time seeking to understand differences that do.
  7. Rigid Boundaries – True collaboration involves doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Toe stepping goes unnoticed or is met with a real time discussion.
  8. Mismatched Talent – The best collaborations involve diversity of talent– pairing up with folks who amaze you (and are amazed by you.). If  anyone is not bringing enough to the party, resentment and conflict are imminent.

Parents as Leadership Coaches

It’s interesting to see leaders who take their servant leadership philosophy seriously at work, but have a more hovering approach when it comes to their children. In an effort to protect and scaffold, they actually overlook natural opportunities for their children to emerge as leaders. The best way to learn the piano is to practice. The best way to learn to do a flip-turn is to get in the pool and get some water up your nose. The best way to learn leadership is by leading. Our children surprise us when we stop looking for perfection and see the leaders that they are becoming.

Having my kids spread so far apart, I’ve had the joy of my son, Ben, now a college freshman, really mature into an inspiring leader across many contexts at school, the community, at church, and even working with the United Nations. As I was writing the Parent’s Guide to Leadership, I asked him what he remembers most about our work on leadership growing up.

Ben shared:

“It’s not just one technique, but an entire parenting philosophy. I was always involved and given a great deal of responsibility in decisions. We worked out a lot of plans together.”

This Summer I’ve had the joy of working with him as a true partner as he interns for Let’s Grow Leaders. As I prepared a trust workshop for a group from Nigeria, we shared ideas of what exercises would work best culturally, I wrote content, he made slides and tools pop visually.

We discovered how differently our brains worked and the wonderful synergy that came from really listening to each other’s ideas. There were times I was taking direction from him. It was fun to work together as partners, with the parent- child boundaries beginning to blur.

This week we’re Scuba diving and the roles are completely reversed. An aspiring Scuba instructor, it’s clear he’s got more confidence, competence and commitment than me for this sport. I’m mostly there to play with the fishes (and take great pics). I do whatever he says and follow his underwater hand signals no questions asked. I feel safe under his leadership. It’s fun and fulfilling to tread some water and follow your child as they lead the adventure.

Introducing A Parent’s Guide To Leadership

Today, I’m pleased to share with you the Parent’s Guide to Leadership: How To Inspire Leadership in Young Children which I’ve co-written with Alli Polin with a guest chapter from Matt McWilliams, This is a free e-book available for download. Click here to get your Parent’s Guide to Leadership and you’ll receive an email with a link to download. This won’t subscribe you to my blog (you’ll need to do that separately if you want to join the fun). This list is just for folks interested in leadership and parenting. We’ve got a children’s picture book in the works as well, and we’ll keep you posted when that’s published.

The Fastest Way To Better Results

It happens on teams, it happens in training classes, it happens on dates. A rush to achieve without connection will backfire. It’s tempting to rush in, get started and get stuff done. Sure the out-of-the gate progress feels great at beginning, but if you don’t take time to create genuine connections and build relationships, somewhere down the line you’re going to derail.

Shelly’s Story

Shelly (not her real name) was completely frustrated with her team’s call center results. She’d brought in extra training, introduced a clever incentive program, stack ranked and managed the outliers, implemented every best practice she could find, and even invited her boss in for a quick motivational talk.

Nothing worked.The team’s results still sucked.

“What can you tell me about the folks on your team?” I asked. Her response was filled with “attitude problems,” “absence issues,” and a smattering of stats.

I tried again, “what can you tell me about the human beings on your team? Are they married? Do they have kids? What do they do for fun? What do they enjoy most on the weekends? What did they do last weekend?”

I got a bit of a blank stare, and then “With results like these, I don’t have time to ask about all that. Plus, this is business, it’s not personal.”

“Which team leader is knocking it out of the park?” I asked. “Joe” (also not his real name). “Please go talk to Joe again. But this time, don’t ask him about best practices, ask him how he connects with his team.”

She came back with a laundry list: meeting each employee at the door as they came in; spending the first 2 hours of his day doing nothing but sitting side by side with his call center reps; starting each one-on-one talking about something personal; birthday cards; following up on “no big deal” stuff like how their kid did in the soccer game last week. She tried it. Yup, you guessed the outcome.

Business is always personal.

If you could use a starting point for connecting your team, you’re welcome to use this free worksheet (connectionsworksheet) I wouldn’t suggest pulling it out in front of your team members, but it can serve as a great trigger to remind you what to ask about and to jog your memory to inspire more meaningful connections.  If you give it a try, please drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

Important Ideas on Change and Transitions: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the  Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. June’s Festival is all about change and transitions. We have a record line-up of impressive thought leaders. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx for their awesome pic (see right). Follow @joy_guthrie. A special thanks also goes to LGL intern Ben Evans.

Leading Change

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” –John F. Kennedy

Kate Nasser of Smart SenseAbilities brings us Leaders, Leading Change Within Yourself Changes Everything. Kate reminds leaders, that if you want to effect change in your organization, first change your behaviors and actions. Then watch the waterfall of change begin. Start with these 5 steps. Follow Kate @KateNasser

Tanveer Naseer of Tanveer Naseer Leadership brings us How Leaders Can Successfully Champion ChangeLearn about 3 lessons from the political realm that inform us on how leaders can successfully champion change initiatives in their organization. Follow Tanveer @TanveerNaseer

Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire-CS offers Being the Change.  Your next promotion won’t happen until you “be the change” that those who have your career in their hands expect to see.  Follow Mary Jo @mjasmus

Julie Giulioni of juliewinklegiulioni.com shares Growth: It’s No Longer Optional In today’s hyper-competitive environment, change and growth are no longer optional; they’re non-negotiable. Follow Julie @julie_wg

Bob Whipple of TheTrustAmbassador.com brings us Leading Change Initiatives. He outlines essential steps for successful change among leaders. Follow Bob @rwhipple

Bill Benoist of Leadership Heart Coaching shares Accepting Change. Leaders are supposed to embrace change, right? Even the best of us have trouble accepting change on occasion. Follow Bill @leadershipheart

Artika Tyner of Planting People. Growing Justice shares 6 Leadership Quotes for Leading Social Change. This blog offers practical advice on leading change by discovering your authentic voice, finding your purpose, and empowering others to lead. Follow Artika @DrArtikaTyner

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference offers VUCA Times Call for DURT LeadersChange is defined in many ways, and one way is VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Leaders need to step up their character and capabilities to navigate change effectively. Follow Jon @ThinDifference

Jeff Miller of The Faithful Pacesetters brings us An Agent of Change. We all think things are always getting worse…don’t we? John the Baptist knew that Jesus would bring a better future for all people of the earth. Leaders can also provide an improved future for others by promoting the proper changes needed. Follow Jeff @JeffJayMiller

Michelle Pallas of MichellePallas.com shares The Door to Change Opens From Within.  If we ask others to change without changing something about ourselves, success is unlikely. Follow Michelle @MichellePallas

Brian Sooy of Lead Change Group offers Positive Communication Leads to a Culture of Innovation. This post challenges leaders as to whether or not they are truly comfortable with change.  Follow Brian @BrianSooy

Overcoming Resistance to Change

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” –George Bernard Shaw

Alli Polin of Break the Frame shares Want Someone to Change? You Go First. No matter how much you want someone to change, it’s not up to you. Follow Alli @AlliPolin

Jesse Lynn Stoner, Seapoint Center shares great insights in her post Create an Unbalancing Force if You Want To Move an Elephant. Vision alone is not enough to create change. Neither is focusing solely on pressing issues. Newton’s First Law explains how to overcome resistance to change. Follow Jesse @JesseLynStoner

Bernie Nagle of ZunZhong brings us ‘Power Undies’ Makes You Fly? Resonant, conscious leaders are able overcome the natural human tendency to resist change, and are able to embrace the “new”. Follow Bernie @altrupreneur

Martin Webster from Leadership Thoughts offers Why Some Business Problems Almost Always Can’t Be SolvedMartin discusses the complexity of leading organizational change and the soft skills needed to lead successful change projects. Follow Martin @tristanwember

David Dye of Engage! brings us How to Stop Burning Emotional Energy. Your body turns over 98% of its atoms every year! Change is a constant, but how we react to it is a choice. In this article, David shares a practical tool you can use to reduce and eliminate wasted change-related emotional energy. Follow David @DavidMDye

Managing Through Career and Life Changes

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” –Steve Jobs

Chantal Bechervaise of Take it Personel-ly shares Have You Chosen Your Future?Dreams and vague hopes are not choices. You have to make a choice to create change. Follow Chantal @CBechervaise

Steve Broe of My Career Intact brings us How to be a Fast Mover in Your Career Change. Steve reminds us to be impatient, and be disciplined too. A career change can be difficult, and highly worthwhile. Follow Steve @DrSteveBroe

Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation brings us 9 Things Team Members Want to Know About the New Boss, but Won’t Ask. Jennifer reminds us that during leadership transitions, new team members are highly curious about the incoming boss. But they won’t always ask what’s on their mind. Here’s what new leaders should be prepared to answer. Follow Jennifer @JenniferVMiller

Blair Glaser of BlairGlaser.com shares Soul Fetch: The Art of Transitioning between Work and Life. Sometimes major life transitions can be handled more gracefully if we master the small ones. How do you transition from work mode to play mode everyday? Follow Blair @BlairGlaser

Monique Valcour of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network shares If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management MaterialFacilitating employee learning and development is an essential competency for every manager. Here’s why—and how to do better at it. Follow Monique @MoniqueValcour

Subha Balagopal of The Principal’s Pen brings us “Are You Wearing Your Seat Belt?” ~ Tips for New Principals. Reflecting on her journey as a school principal and with a spirit of ‘paying it forward’ Subha shares some tips for individuals preparing to step into new school leadership roles. Follow Subha @PrincipalsPen2

Communicating Well During Times of Change

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” –Robert Anthony

 Julie Pierce of Empowered by Pierce offers 5 Ways to Fill in the Blanks in Your Change Communication Plans. Ever felt like you needed to say something about the big change but aren’t at liberty to say anything? Leadership Coach Julie Pierce shares 5 ways to avoid Mad Libs leadership by filling in the blanks for your team. Follow Julie @Julie_Pierce

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog offers Communicating Change. John believes the best way to communicate significant change is to explain how the change ties to the long term vision of the organization. This, of course, requires that such a vision actually exists and the change supports that vision. Follow John @curiouscat_com

Julie Pierce of Empowered by Pierce offers The Magical Mantra for Staying on Track With Change. Ever start in the direction of the new only to find yourself stumbling back towards the old? Leadership Coach Julie Pierce offers a key phrase for any successful change. Follow Julie @julie_pierce

Tom Eakin of The BoomBlog offers Don’t Doom Your Change Initiatives With This Word! There is one word most of us use when we talk about changing things for the better. When we use it, we reduce the probability that change will actually happen. Follow Tom @goboomlife

Making Elegant Transitions

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass

 Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context shares Ethics Isn’t Finite: It’s Evolving. As we strive to build ethical organizations, we must remember that our target is moving. As the world changes, ethical expectations change. Follow Linda @leadingincontxt

Frank Sonnenberg of Frank Sonnenberg Online brings us 13 Ways to Destroy Creativity and Innovation. Do you encourage innovation? Here are 13 ways that people destroy creativity and innovation every day. Follow Frank @FSonnenberg

Matt McWilliams of MattMcWilliams.com shares What Great Leaders do in a CrisisGreat leaders thrive in a crisis. It’s when times are toughest and everyone around is shirking responsibility and running away, that great leaders shine. Follow Matt @MattMcWilliams2

Lisa Kohn from the Thoughtful Leaders Blog brings us Change is a Chance to Grow. If we don’t change we stagnate – we don’t really grow. By limiting ourselves to what we already know how to do and what we’ve already experienced, we limit how much we really live. Follow Lisa @ThoughtfulLdrsFrontLine2014picmonkey

Coming Soon

Interested in submitting a post for an upcoming Frontline Festival? Here’s the editorial calendar (click to enlarge). Now accepting July submission. Click here to submit.

7 Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader

Your strategy is only as strong as the ability to execute at the frontline. You can have all the great plans, six sigma workouts, and brilliant competitive positioning in the universe, but if the human beings doing the real work lack the competence, confidence, and creativity to pull it off, you’re back to muddling through.

The team leader role is a tough gig. Team leaders are uniquely squashed between supporting the folks doing the heavy lifting (e.g. producing the product or serving customers) and the leaders above rolling out their strategy and vision. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helplessMany team leaders feel they have limited power to change the system or culture (an issue we address in BYOO: Build Your Own Oasis). To make matters worse, many team leaders are promoted into the role based on their exceptional technical skills and general good spirits, without much scaffolding or support.

In all the frontline teams I’ve worked with over the years, I see 7 vital roles to exceptional execution.

7 Vital Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader

Team leaders wear many hats, not always all at the same time. Concentrating on these 7 roles in your leadership development efforts will go a long way to exceptional frontline execution.

#1 The Translator:  Don’t Motivate Until You Translate

  • Key Question:  What’s most IMPORTANT?
  • Key Behaviors: Stays on top of industry and competitive trends; Helps his or her team understand how their work fits into the bigger picture; Works to ensure other departments know what we do and why it’s important.

#2 The Builder: To See More, Be More

  • Key Question: How do we IMPROVE?
  • Key Behaviors: Challenges each team member to continuously improve their skills; Addresses performance issues head on; Provides consistent, candid feedback.

#3 The Connector: Trust Them to Trust You

  • Key Question:  How can we best work TOGETHER?
  • Key Behaviors:  Communicates frequently through multiple channels; Provides opportunities for cross training; Helps the team surface and discuss their conflicts productively.

#4 The Galvanizer: Help Them Taste the Win

  • Key Question:  How do WE make a difference?
  • Key Behaviors: Rallies his or her team toward a compelling vision of the future; Asks great questions that inspire employees to do more; People on his/her team are excited about what they are up to.

#5 Accelerator: Burn the Script

  • Key Question: How can I HELP?
  • Key Behaviors: Finds ways to eliminate wasteful and redundant work; Runs efficient and effective meetings; Includes the right people in decisions so projects move along efficiently.

#6 Backer: Detect, Then Protect

  • Key Question:  How do we accomplish MORE?
  • Key Behaviors: Proactively removes roadblocks for his or her team; Helps team members recover from setbacks or disappointments; Will “take a bullet” for the team.

#7 The Ambassador: Polish the Boundaries

  • Key Question:  How do we SHARE our success?
  • Key Behaviors:  Provides the team with opportunities to communicate their results to key stakeholders; Advocates for team members and their careers; Helps employees build a strong network of position relations with other departments.

Roles Of An Exceptional Team LeaderThanks so much to Larry Coppenrath for this great pic illustrating these roles.

An Unusual Conversation on Trust: For LGL Regulars

I’m going to start with a pre-apology. This won’t be my best post, but  I always believe in showing up when expected- and transparency. Muck is all part of leadership, pretending it’s easy doesn’t help grow leaders.

The Plan

I had planned for a productive weekend:  A glorious cocktail of preparation for some very important work I am doing on trust with a group of Nigerian higher education leaders this week; a number of proposals and design work (game on); and getting the blog ready for this week in English and Spanish (check out our new Spanish site).  Oh yes, and another surprise coming soon for you. And then of course the family fun like watching little league baseball, a birthday party, and some Father’s day celebration. I was hoping to have a brilliant Father’s Day post. If you’re newer here, read this one from my first year of blogging (about my Dad who this year spent his Father’s Day supporting me at the hospital… yup, foreshadowing)

The Story

My son, Sebastian, broke his arm and was medi-vaced from one hospital to another to address complications. It’s been a long 24 hours and we’re all exhausted. He will have a full recovery. I am full of thanks to the doctors and nurses who truly care. Sebastian now sleeping, I’ve got a moment to reflect on how important trust is during our most frightening times: From the receptionist at Hopkins ER who took one look at my stressed face and said “the paper work can come later,” to all the doctors with straight talk about “risks and choices”  who then shared their honest opinions based on their personal perspective (all with children the same age); To my husband and the rest of my pit crew who executed elegantly. The hospital wing was filled with moms, dads and children all trusting strangers and one another do their very best in situations much more serious than ours. My family got to go home today feeling lucky.

Back to Trust

And so in lieu of my usual fare, I offer up a quote with which I will start my upcoming trust workshop to tee up our week on LGL.

“I believe in trusting men, not only once, but twice. In giving failure another chance.” – James Cash (JC) Penny

As well as the old chinese proverb:

 “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”

When is it time to trust again? When do you stop trusting? How do you know?

leadership barn animals

Signs You’re Dealing with a Cocky Rooster

My mother loved to read us the story of  The Little Red Hen. In fact, I’m pretty convinced she read it to us in the womb.

If you’re a parent and don’t know this book, stop reading now, run to the store buy it. Pick up your kids early from school and read it. It will transform your life.

If you don’t have time for that, here’s the shortcut.

A little red hen asks and asks her little chicks to help her bake.
They refuse.
She enjoys the bread all to herself.
They are surprised.
She reminds them.
They learn.
Momma hen grows more leaders.
She goes to her yoga class feeling satiated in many ways
(okay I added that part).
The end.

It got to the point that my parents could utter a single cluck and we’d get to work. So I came to leadership fully armed and prepared to deal with work-shirking chickens. No one warned me about the roosters. Leadership roosters are far more noisy and annoyingly powerful.

Signs You’re Dealing with A Rooster

  • They’re no where around when the project is being scoped or the heavy lifting is done
  • They require constant readouts
  • This takes a lot of beautiful powerpoints and careful explaning.
  • His name is on the deck (you’re on standby via text message to answer any questions).
  • The key players names all morph into an occassional “the team” only when something is unclear
  • When real disaster strikes Monday morning quarter-backing comes in
  • And the questions and deep sighs start… “Why didn’t you? You should have.”
  • If the project is a success it’s all about him. If it’s a disaster, it’s all about you.

Never be a leadership rooster. You’ll lose instant credibility and engagement. If you are a leader of leaders, be sure you’re not accidently encouraging such, err, cock-y behavior.

If you’ve got a rooster in your life, take it offline and share the impact. I’ve seen many a rooster turned into helping, supportive chicks after a bit of candid feedback and whats-in-it-for-them persuasion. I’ve even been known to out a rooster or two.

Signs You're Dealing with a Cocky Rooster

My mother loved to read us the story of  The Little Red Hen. In fact, I’m pretty convinced she read it to us in the womb.

If you’re a parent and don’t know this book, stop reading now, run to the store buy it. Pick up your kids early from school and read it. It will transform your life.

If you don’t have time for that, here’s the shortcut.

A little red hen asks and asks her little chicks to help her bake.
They refuse.
She enjoys the bread all to herself.
They are surprised.
She reminds them.
They learn.
Momma hen grows more leaders.
She goes to her yoga class feeling satiated in many ways
(okay I added that part).
The end.

It got to the point that my parents could utter a single cluck and we’d get to work. So I came to leadership fully armed and prepared to deal with work-shirking chickens. No one warned me about the roosters. Leadership roosters are far more noisy and annoyingly powerful.

Signs You’re Dealing with A Rooster

  • They’re no where around when the project is being scoped or the heavy lifting is done
  • They require constant readouts
  • This takes a lot of beautiful powerpoints and careful explaning.
  • His name is on the deck (you’re on standby via text message to answer any questions).
  • The key players names all morph into an occassional “the team” only when something is unclear
  • When real disaster strikes Monday morning quarter-backing comes in
  • And the questions and deep sighs start… “Why didn’t you? You should have.”
  • If the project is a success it’s all about him. If it’s a disaster, it’s all about you.

Never be a leadership rooster. You’ll lose instant credibility and engagement. If you are a leader of leaders, be sure you’re not accidently encouraging such, err, cock-y behavior.

If you’ve got a rooster in your life, take it offline and share the impact. I’ve seen many a rooster turned into helping, supportive chicks after a bit of candid feedback and whats-in-it-for-them persuasion. I’ve even been known to out a rooster or two.

Helping Your Team To Prioritize When Everything Is Important

Helping your team to prioritize their focus and work is one of the toughest roles of a manager. It’s hard because you face similar pressures. You’re still required to meet all your targets and objectives, so teaching your team to place an item on the bottom of the list is scary. What if they really don’t get to it? There are no easy trade-offs in this “AND culture” (we need this AND that) most of live in. Prioritizing and balancing competing priorities are essential elements of the leadership dance. Knowing what to move to the top of the list when, and how to keep the other plates spinning at the same time takes practice. Help your team recognize the common traps that are sabotaging their ability to prioritize well. (Thanks to subscriber Joy Guthrie for today’s art).

Common Prioritization Traps

Perhaps you have some of these characters on your team. Here’s how you can help.

Windshield Watchers

Windshield Watchers look deceptively productive. They’re moving fast and getting a lot done. They’re often the first one to respond to any task because they’re taking the Nike approach to whatever hits their windshield. The adrenaline brings a familiar rush to their day. Windshield Watchers actually attract more urgent work because people know they’ll drop everything and get on it. The biggest problem with the Windshield Watcher is that they have no real basis for prioritization. Urgent always trumps important in such team members, so although they’re getting a lot done, but not necessarily making progress toward bigger goals. Windshield Watchers often struggle with feedback, because they know they’re busier than everyone else. They resent having to talk about it right now, with all the emails coming in that require attention. Help Windshield Watchers by developing a strong calendar-based system and working backwards from deadlines. Teach the art of the urgent/importance matrix.

Wheel Greasers

Wheel greasers hate conflict and are particularly sensitive to pressure from above. They prioritize based on whomever’s screaming the loudest (or with the most “important” voice). Which means, the problem may be hard for you to detect (after all, you appreciate how seriously they take your requests). Wheel Greasers often feel overwhelmed from the stress of trying to please all the people all the time. They feel like they can never do enough, because there’s no objective measure of success. Help Wheel Greasers by helping them define objective criteria on which to prioritize their work. Recognize if they have a tendency to drop other work to do what you need because you’re the boss. Explain and role model how you differentiate noisy requests from urgent issues.

Whack-A-Molers

These well-intentioned folks care deeply about the outcomes. They pour their heart and soul into the most important work. It’s hard to argue with their priorities. The challenge is that in their laser focus they often miss the unintended consequences caused in the aftermath. Sure customer service metrics improve, but financials suffer. Or, the financials look great, but employees are miserable. Help Whack-A-Molers by encouraging them to see the big picture and brainstorm downstream impacts. Encourage them to pilot their ideas before spending significant energy on large scale implementation.

Work Harders

Bless their hearts, work harders will do everything they can to get it all done, no matter how many hours it takes, or how little they’ve slept. The problem with these hard workers is that they often are so busy doing the work, they don’t take time to consider the best way to get it done. They overlook possible support from others or more efficient ways because they’re so lost in the doing. Help Work Harders to step back and consider the best approach to getting work done. Help them build some white space into their day.

Customize Your Coaching

Rather than teaching a generic system of time management or prioritization, consider starting with the tendencies that are getting in the way, and helping each person find more effective approaches. Ask which of these characters they most relate to, and how that works and gets them into trouble. Help Prioritizing copyThanks, LGL community member, Larry Coppenrath for creating a mindmap of today’s post.  Click on the image to enlarge.

go the extra mile

Why Some People Go the Extra Mile

Why do some people really give a damn, while others do just what they can to get by? Going the extra mile – doing more than is necessary – creates memorable magic. If it feels so good, why is it hard to come by?

The HR term for this is >strong>discretionary effort, a close cousin of employee engagement. Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to – above and beyond what is required.

Such efforts are often done behind the scenes in ways no performance appraisal system will recognize: it’s the exec who mentors more people than anyone would rationally do, the school cafeteria worker who arranges the kids veggies into smiley face, or the mom who puts just the right note into their child’s lunchbox each day.

Some Extra Miles I’ve Run Across Recently

  • Jared – I was inspired to write this post after I learned of the discretionary effort Jared, my nephew, modeled when asked to get his 8-year-old brother off the school bus on his last day of school. The job was simple. “Be sure he gets from the bus to the house safely.” Simple enough. Jared did that, but also blinged up the house with some “graduation” type hoopla. After all, how many times do you get to celebrate the sweet spot between ending 2nd grade and starting 3rd?
  • John – John is my web developer and is deep in the process of creating my LGL in Español site. Apparently, he’s been coming in behind me on the English version, and fixing spacing and other aesthetics to improve our community experience. He’s not billing me for this extra effort, but believes in the LGL cause. He then made a video walking me through my common formatting mistakes and how to fix them. This Saturday morning, he talked me out of what I asked him to do (and would have paid him for) and he was right.
  • Mike – Mike’s my kickboxing instructor. I pay ten bucks a class. He’s now created an obstacle course through the woods to make things more interesting. On Mother’s day he gave roses to all the mothers, and brought in all kinds of baskets to give away, including to the “oldest mother” in the class. He acted like he didn’t know who it would be. But as luck would have it, the oldest mom was the 60 something woman clearly out to make a major lifestyle change, hanging out with a bunch of athletes and doing her best.
The extra mile always chokes me up.

A Few Reasons People Go the Extra Mile

  1. They’ve Experienced It – I know Jared comes from a long line of extra milers. He cares deeply because he’s surrounded by loving examples. If you’re a parent go the extra mile – your kids are watching. If you’re a manager, do more than seems reasonable to support your employees. They may not seem to notice, but trust me, they do. Keep going the extra mile, and soon enough your team will be running right beside you.
  2. The Cause Matters – The truth is people volunteer for all kinds of stuff outside of work and don’t think twice. They’ll stay up late, they’ll schlepp kids all over the state, they’ll donate substantial time and money to causes that matter. Rally around the reason.
  3. You Care About Them As People – The other day I heard of some turmoil in an organization I led a while back. I was deeply concerned about the people, so I was immediately drawn back to care about the scene. No one would notice if I didn’t engage, and my husband wondered why I still cared so much. Business is always personal. You can’t lead well without investing deeply in the people involved. If you’re leading from the heart, you may need to jump back in the race and run a few folks in.

I’ll stop here so you can add to the list.

Great Mid Year Review Questions

Mid year reviews are a like the half-time huddle of your performance Superbowl. If your company doesn’t require them, do them anyway. If your boss doesn’t have one planned for you, ask for one.

They’re great times to summarize, celebrate, challenge and inspire. If you’re not convinced, or need help getting started read last year’s post: How to Conduct a Meaningful Mid-Year Review

Use this time to ask great questions that inspire deeper thinking and build meaningful connection.

Voltaire on questions: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Mid-Year Questions to Reflect on Performance

  • How are you feeling about the year so far?
  • How would you describe what’s happening with this project?
  • What are you most of proud of this year?
  • What lessons have you learned?
  • What new relationships have you fostered?
  • How are you different now than you were 6 months ago?
  • What new skills have you developed?
  • Where are you stuck?

Mid-Year Questions to Challenge and Turnaround

Bono on questions: “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”

  • Have you ever had an experience like this before? What did you do that helped at that time?
  • What patterns do you see?
  • What do you think we should do?
  • Which habits would you like to change?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do to turn this situation around?
  • What additional resources do you need?
  • How can I best support you?

Mid-Year Questions to Encourage

  • What would it look like if?
  • What would happen if?
  • What’s possible?

Mid-Year Questions to Solicit Feedback

  • If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing differently?
  • What can I do to better support you and the team?
  • What have I done this year that most ticked you off?
  • What am I doing that’s most helpful to you?