Situational Confident Humility: A Self Assessment #confidenthumility

A participant in one of my sessions took me aside and said:

I totally agree with your concept. It’s the execution that’s hard. When I’m truly confident that my team can win, I’m able to calmly step back and humbly listen to their ideas. I know that sweet spot you’re talking about where the real magic happens. But it’s when I need that magic most, when my boss is breathing down my back, or I actually don’t know what to do, that I start acting like a jerk and barking orders. Intellectually, it makes no sense. I know that behavior sets me back, but I keep getting stuck in the same patterns.

Confident humility is not a fixed state. Most of us are either more confident or more humble in certain situations. In order to help you think through this, I’ve created a confident humility self assessment based on a frequency scale. Take a look and see how often you do these behaviors–and which circumstances inspire or hinder your ability to be the leader you strive to be.

leading with confident humility assessment (click here to download PDF).

Situational Confident Humility

Confidence

In what scenes do you…

  • Bring significant subject matter expertise to the team?
  • Take a stand when needed?
  • Ask tough questions that make people think?

Humility

In what scenes do you…

  • Recognize your vulnerabilities and knowledge gaps?
  • Admit mistakes?
  • Feel more concerned about business results than who gets the credit?

Vision

In what scenes do you …

  • Help your team imagine possibilities they may have not considered?
  • Uncover potential?
  • Make a lasting impact?

Connection

In what scenes do you…

  • Invest deeply to get to know the business?
  • Take time to get to know leaders as people?
  • Listen carefully?

Ah, and as a bonus… my favorite tweet of the week.

I like that… beats the hell out of

Shooting Freethrows: 7 Basic Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

You need your team to get to the next level. Tomorrow. Actually, you’d prefer if some of them could get there this afternoon. After all, the stack ranks don’t lie, and you need traction. Fast. No time for theory, you need execution.

You’ve talked to your A players and have a good understanding of their Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. I hope your team is there, and the roll-out of a few fancy moves will save your game.

But first, be sure they’ve mastered the free throw.

7 Basic Leadership Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

The biggest request I get for leadership development is not:  “How do I get my A players to the next level?” Instead it’s “How do I get all my leaders grounded in the fundamentals so they are ALL inspiring exceptional results?” I find before we can get to more complex issues like  building trust, leading with confident humility, or communicating strategy, we need to get them out of the frenetic feeling of being completely overwhelmed.

If you’ve got frontline leaders struggling, don’t assume they’ve been exposed to some of the tools that have become second nature to us. Check to ensure they’ve got this list nailed before moving on to deeper development.

1. Planning their Day

Do they begin each day with a plan and a strategy to work on what matters most? Do they run from one urgent priority to another, but miss big deadlines? Have they been exposed to Covey’s urgent/importance matrix  and know how to use it?

2. Connecting with their Team

I’m not talking about the alphabet soup of personality indicators and other rich ways to improve team performance. Start with basic human courtesy. Are they casually checking in with each team member to say “Good morning?” Do they say “please” and “thank you”? Do they know a bit about who their team members are as human beings (e.g. what they do for fun, their children’s names)?

3. Giving Effective Feedback

This one will require more than asking “How comfortable are you coaching and giving feedback?” When I ask this, I find most folks feel they’ve got the basics down. A role play or two later, I often uncover there’s significant opportunity to improve.

4. Working with their Peers

If you’ve got several team teams working toward similar objectives, there’s real opportunity for saving time by sharing best practices and supporting one another. Stack ranked environments and busy days often mean that team leaders focus on their own team, and are reluctant to spend time to support their peers and the greater good. This may take some careful questioning to find out what’s really going on. Everyone wants to be considered a team player, so you’re likely to hear “It’s all good.” Probing deeper, I often find that a little work here can have a dramatic and immediate improvement in results.

5. Modeling the Needed Behaviors

When team leaders are really struggling, it’s often a confidence issue. They’re not really sure they know how to teach and develop their team, because they’re lacking some needed expertise and they’re trying to fake it. When “faking it” doesn’t work, they start to withdraw (or the words I often hear are “hide.”) Be sure your team leaders have the competence they need to model the way. If they’re leading a customer-facing team, be absolutely certain they’re not afraid to talk to customers.

6. Welcoming New Team Members

Do they have an organized way of bringing new members onto the team? Do they set them up for success by having the tools needed on day 1, a place to sit, and a peer buddy? Do they know what to do and how they’re measured? An overwhelmed team leader may feel they don’t have time to do this well, and push it off– losing trust and confidence during the time the new employee is building first impressions of “what it feels like to work here.”

7. Your Turn

What have you found are the most frequently underdeveloped leadership basics?

For My LGL Call Center Peeps

call_center_week_250x250I know many of you work in a call center world. I’ve been doing a good bit of work and writing recently for call centers that I thought would be useful to share.

5 Ways to Build Service Rep Competence

5 Myths Hurting Your Call Center Strategy

What Every Great Call Center Needs

Also, if you’re interested in attending Call Center Week in Las Vegas this June, please let me know. I’ll be there doing a book signing and making a social media ruckus. I have a discount code you can use to get 15% off your registration. 16CCW_LETSGROWLEADERS

 

Professor Lupin on Facing Your Fears #confidenthumility

Our biggest leadership screw-ups are fear in disguise. Fears have a powerful and dangerous habit of shape shifting into a monster that stands in our way, blocking the behaviors we most need for success.

Mike’s arrogant approach and intimidating demeanor is covering up his biggest fear–that the team will discover he’s not really an expert. The team talks about him constantly–about his horrible leadership–and avoids interaction. His fear wins.

John doesn’t start the blog he’s always wanted to write for fear of being irrelevant. His fear wins.

Rachel doesn’t share her best practices with her peers, because she wants to be the best and get promoted. She doesn’t get promoted because she’s not a team player. Her fear wins.

When we pretend we’re not afraid, fear wins.

By denying what scares us, our worst characteristics emerge bigger than the demons we fear.

But if we can NAME our fear, and see it for what it truly is–a ridiculous exaggeration of the worse case scenario–we stop the cycle.

We show up stronger, and have the strength to lead from a place of bigger confidence.

No one teaches this better than J.K. Rowling’s Professor Lupin.

Name your fear. Visualize it. Face it. And discover what makes it ridiculous.

I agree with Seth, “the worst trolls are in your head.” Give them a name. Laugh at them. And lead well.

Leadership Pros Contribute Thoughts about Humility: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our February Festival is all about humility. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Festival is all about inspiring breakthrough results. New contributors welcome.

Humility: We’re all shaped by it

“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” – Confucius

Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding reminds us that great struggles humble us, and make us stronger, softer and wiser leaders.  Read cautiously, this post may inspire you to wish for a big struggle!   Follow Chery.

Matt McWilliams of MattMcWilliams.com helps us with How to Avoid the Three Most Common Downfalls of Leaders (hint: one is ego)  Follow Matt.

Jeff Miller of the Faithful Pacesetters asks, “How Does Humility Equal Confidence?” Follow Jeff. 

Yes it is true that Solomon was gifted with great wisdom. But his greatest leadership asset was his humility, according to Bernie Nagle of Altrupreneur. Follow Bernie.

Michelle Pallas of Michelle Pallas, Inc. offers, “When people in my network reached out to support me during an important meeting it was acts of caring. If not for a snow storm that forced a travel delay and time for reflection, I would have missed being grateful. It’s an emotion that keeps me humble and yet without deliberate thought it is easily squeezed out.” Follow Michelle.

Skip Pritchard of Leadership Insights gives us humble leadership  lessons with Pope Francis as a model. Follow Skip.

LaRae Quy of Mental Toughness Center shares about a time when she realized she would be moving from knowing everything about her job, to a new situation where she knew absolutely nothing. It was tempting to feel humiliated, yet she instead felt humbled. Follow LaRae.

Jesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center shares how Alfred was deeply humbled by a wake up call and radically turned his life around. (Spoiler alert – this is a true story). Follow Jesse Lyn.

 

Humility: We all benefit from it

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” – Rick Warren

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited reminds us to forget what we give, remember what we receive. Gratefulness leads to humility.Follow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three-Star Leadership tells us that humility is a virtue everyone praises, but getting it right is hard. Many of us face the same challenge as Ben Franklin. Follow Wally.

Tom Eakin of Boom Life  points out that parent-leaders who want to help their children solve their own problems often give advice. But giving the answers, surprisingly, doesn’t help change the behavior that caused the problems. That’s where influencing with humility comes in. Follow Tom.

Bruce Harpham of Project Management Hacks shares three ways your humility improves your effectiveness at work. Follow Bruce. 

Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America shares 20 simple ways to be trustworthy. Guess what one is? “Be Humble.” Follow Barbara.

Lisa Kohn of Thoughtful Leaders  shares how a great leader is someone who can admit when they are wrong, and be gracious and humble when they are right. Follow Lisa.

One thing we want in life is respect. We want to feel valued and listened to. Humility is one of four practices to earn and keep the respect of your peers. Thanks, Jon Mertz of Thin Difference. Follow Jon.

Don’t you just love a big slice of humble pie? Leadership Coach Julie Pierce of Empowered by Pierce shares her passion for pie and humble leadership. Follow Julie.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame  suggests that we learn to use our humility to solicit and be open to insights and ideas from across the organization. Together, not alone, we can create and do great things.  Follow Alli.

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context reminds us that leading now is not as much about leaders as it is about bringing out the best in those they lead and serve. Follow Linda.

Call for Submissions. The March Frontline Festival is about inspiring breakthrough results. Please send your submissions no later than March 13th. New participants welcome. Click here to join in!

If you haven’t seem my confident humility infographic, click here. to view and share.

 

7 Career Frustrations Every Go-Getter Feels

Odds are that some executive in your life is making it all look easy. The quick rise to the top. In perfect shape, with the the perfect family all dressed cleanly in the company colors at the company picnic.  The exec’s declaration that he’s “never missed one of his kids games” leaves you stunned.

You look at your hectic life, the challenges, the tradeoffs, the disappointments, the times you let your family down staying late again.

All for a career that led to this pivotal moment of deep frustration.

We all have them. Those moments of true career angst, when we wonder… is it worth it?

It’s easy to feel you’re doing something wrong.

Don’t buy it.

Those other guys have been there too.

I promise.

I hear their stories.

I know mine.

7 Frustrations Every Go-Getter Feels

1.  I worked my butt off, and that guy (or gal) got the promotion for reasons that have nothing to do with competence.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe she really is more qualified. Either way, the sting is real.
2.  My team killed themselves on this project, and now a strategic change in direction means most of that work is wasted.
You’re so frustrated you want to punch your fist through the wall, but you’ve got to put on your game face and convince the team their work really was important, even if it’s for what we learned along the way. Deep inside having to do that just ticks you off more.
3. No one that matters is really listening to me.
You’ve got a GREAT idea and you know it will change the game. But, it’s a little risky and your boss, mentors, and sponsors are all ducking. You can’t get your voice heard.
4. I don’t know where I stand.
You keep being told you’re on the short list for advancement, but you’re still in this job. When you ask what’s wrong, you get nothing but praise. You know something’s being said behind closed doors, but you can’t figure out just what that is.
5. A peer I trusted stabbed me in the back.
You can’t believe it, and your first thought is revenge. But you’re better than that so you take the high road– which is right, but is missing the catharsis slipping some laxatives into his coffee would provide.
6. I got screwed in the restructure.
The regime changed and the musical chairs landed you in a less than ideal scene. You’re sure politics trumped logic. Your friends tell you to be grateful that you have a job. You’re not so sure.
7. ________________ (your turn).
People are watching for your response.

Responding elegantly in these scenes may be the most important career move you can make.

What those who make it look easy may not be telling you is that they’ve been there too. We all have. It’s all part of the leadership journey. They’ve grown through the pain, and you can too.

If you’re feeling at a particularly blessed moment in your career. Amen. Look around. Who needs some extra care and support?

The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened five minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving out recognition awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 days kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client”–read that “scary exec”–who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as developers, not auditors.

As I made my way to the back of the room from the makeshift stage, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a small, gray-haired women with eyes gleeming with pride. It was Lisa, the service rep who had swept the recognition awards. Lisa was one of the heroines in this call center’s turnaround story, I was delighted to talk to her to understand the secret to her success.

“Lisa, congratulations! You’ve got to tell me, what’s the secret?”

What she said next was so utterly simple and yet totally profound.

“Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “Wow, you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it.

And now, here I am.”

That’s what we SHOULD have been celebrating… her story… that’s what the others needed to hear. Why hadn’t I heard the back story BEFORE I’d taken the stage? Why had I wasted that recognition moment?

I vowed to no longer be the executive hand-shaker without getting the details. (See also:  why your recognition is backfiring).

Full of confident-humility, she was poised to teach me what mattered most.

You Can Too

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Take time to understand the turnarounds. Hear the whole story. Ensure others know it too. Know matter how many layers fall between, as a leader, it’s always your job to know the good stuff.

I promise. It’s worth it.

Leading Sprinkles People

A guest post from Chip Bell, author of Sprinkles.

I must admit it. I’m a sucker for valentines. I smile when I get one from a friend or loved one. But, I swoon when one comes unexpectedly from a total unlikely source. It always reminds me of getting a valentine in the fifth grade from the cute redhead on the back row. I did not know she knew I even existed. When I opened it and turned to look at her, she winked and smiled. I melted on the spot!! But, I am getting way ahead of myself.

Creating a Customer-Focused Culture

I had a mid-afternoon keynote in Alexandria, VA and strolled down the street from my hotel to find lunch at a local restaurant. The place where I settled was quiet, comfortable and with an interesting menu. But, mostly I noticed the upbeat attitude of everyone in the place.

I had finished my lunch and the waitress brought me my check…and, a valentine signed, “Susan.” When I opened it and turned to look at her, she winked and smiled.

The consultant inside me demanded I learn a bit more about the restaurant manager whose leadership no doubt contributed to her ingenuity and warmth. Now, I fully realize folks can be creative and friendly without the permission of some boss. I also know leaders can contribute to the capacity and commitment of frontline employees to deliver innovative service, not just good service. Good service is like a tasty cupcake; innovative service is like a great cupcake with sprinkles! Susan added sprinkles.

I cornered the manager-owner, Jim and asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee for ten minutes of his time. “Sure,” he said, “the place is in good hands with all my people.” I told him about the valentine and smile (the wink I considered just between Susan and me).

“That Susan is always coming up with whimsical ways to surprise our guests,” he told me. I was not chalking it up to just her personality. “What do you do to support your employees in helping them deliver surprising service?”

“First,” he said as he began his leadership lessons, “I don’t think of them as employees but as fellow-owners, partners you might say. That means the respect and consideration you would give a friend, especially a friend you depend on like I depend on them. People come here because we have great food. But, we want them to tell their friends. And, it is things like your Sandy valentine that makes them tell other people. They need the freedom to try silly things. One of our employees brought in leftover gourmet desserts from a family reunion so our guests would have a free dessert for a day.”

“Do you worry about them giving away the shop?” I probed. “For instance, it they got free desserts there would be no need to buy the dessert on your menu.” He smiled. “They make smart decisions when they are intimately familiar with our P&L. Everyone here knows what comes in, what goes out, and what everything costs. Remember, they are like owners. And, if we have a nice profit, they get free ballgame tickets or a case of wine or a night with their family in a nearby hotel. But, mainly, they get a kick out of watching people like you smile when something like a valentine comes with your check. That is the kind of people we try to hire.”

Leadership is about instilling pride, inspiring greatness, and supporting innovation. As I was getting up to leave, he offered one last lesson: “Take great care of your partners, they will take care of your guests, and your guests will take care of your growth and profits! And, the coffee is on me!”

The Powerful Side Effect of High Standards

My friend, Regina, says that she considers a kid’s book report a win if only one person ends up crying. I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth I put my parents through in the early years. And last night was one of those nights at the Hurt household. My husband, a firefighter, was on an overnight shift, so it was just me, Sebastian, a bucket of Swedish Fish and the promise of a very long night.

I imagine most parents are familiar with the “I didn’t start early enough, and now we need to go to the Walgreens for supplies, stay up half the night and get up early in the a.m., finish just in time to get to school with wet hair and no breakfast kind of loving feeling.”

What makes these nights so hard is that the parent holds the standards.

“Nope, that’s not what the rubric says. We have to follow the guidelines or you’ll lose points.”

“I know it’s late, but your handwriting is getting really sloppy. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to re-write that part.”

Cue the tears.

“Okay, you’ve done all the basics, now how are we going to make this really stand out?”

“But Mom…”

It be much easier to just get through the basics. After all, it’s JUST a book report.

The Powerful Side Effect

And then there’s the side effect. On the ride to school this morning, Sebastian was glowing. “I think this is the best report I’ve ever done.” “I’m sure this is going to be the very best one.” “I can’t imagine I won’t get an A.” “I can’t wait to show my teacher.” And my personal favorite, “Mom, you know you did a really good job too.” 😉

Pride. Confidence. Energy.

Too often I see managers back off their standards, letting their team just get by. After all it’s only a ______.

That’s not leadership.

Tough standards, gentle inspiration.

When you’re tempted to buy into “This is impossible,” consider the side effect.

See also The Power of Great Expectations

7 Ways to Outsmart the Competition: The Series

This is the final post in the series of 7 ways to outsmart the competition. Links below. I’m considering turning this into a keynote. What do you think?

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

5. Be easy to follow

6.Ignore them 

7. And today’s: Hold a higher standard

 

5 Ways Social Media Can Accelerate Your Old School Sales Strategy

I was talking to a very successful sales executive friend of mine. “Oh, I don’t need any of that social media crap. I’m old school. You know, like building relationships, having a real conversation, solving problems…”

I laughed, “Sounds like the perfect way to use social media to me!”

Whenever someone spouts off about how “The rules of selling have changed,” I raise a skeptical eyebrow. The tools have changed, but not the rules that matter most.

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Your Sales

1. Understand your competition

This used to be so much harder: mystery shopping stores, lurking at conferences, stealing talent from the competition. Now you can go onto Twitter and find out not only what companies are saying about themselves, but also what their customers are saying about the brand, AND how the company is responding in return. Not only that, you can reach out to your competitor’s dissatisfied customer and offer support to save the day. What old school ninja wouldn’t like to have a list of their competitor’s most disgruntled (and vocal) customers?

2. Identify key stakeholders

Whenever what appears to be a done deal turns into a dead lead with no real explanation, it’s typically the result of an unknown stakeholder weighing in. The best old school sales folks know that you’ve got to build relationships wide and deep with your customers and prospects. Whereas we once had to rely on prospects telling us who’s who, LinkedIn maps it for you, along with backgrounds, interests, and where they’re hanging out.

3. Show up where they’re hanging out

Of course not everyone in  your prospective company will be hanging out in forums, Tweet chats, or in LinkedIn groups, but someone likely is. And the old school chaps know all about the strength of loose ties. Begin making connections by inviting yourself to where they like to “party.”

4. Solve a problem

The old school handbook says, “People don’t buy products, they buy solutions.” Social media provides endless opportunities to be helpful, share expertise and save the day from the privacy of your office. 20 minutes a day offering value will open doors.

5. Know before you go

An old school teacher would tell you to scan a customer’s office to look for points of connection: children’s pics, sport paraphernalia, diplomas. Now a Google search can give you more than you’ll ever want. Want to know their birthday? If you’re even connected through one of the most benign platforms, Google+, you can get your connections birthdays all automatically imported to your calendar. Want to talk sports? There are lots of places to look for chatter. Know they’re running a marathon? Google their race time and call them to congratulate them. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t think of social media and relationship selling as competing strategies, but as a beautiful opportunity to leverage all you know, with tools to build your business faster.

I can help you think about your business differently. Call me on 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

How Good Can You Stand It?

A Guest Post from Lisa Hamaker, Kaliday Consulting, and author of Creating Joyful Work.

The first time I heard this question I had just accepted a new position with a nice bump in salary, and responsibilities. I was expressing to a friend that I was nervous about meeting the expectations of my new manager.

The minute my friend asked, “Lisa, how good can you stand it?” I realized that the expectations I was most worried about were mine. I didn’t relax much at that moment, but knowing that I am the one who has the power to achieve as much as I want has helped me to have a rich and varied life.

Getting Past Zero-Sum

We tend to think that the business world is always a zero-sum environment, “If Steve gets that promotion, and then I will not be able to achieve my goals.” However there is always more—a different department or project, new products, new companies. Good things don’t always look exactly like we want them to, but they still add to our lives.

“Standing it good” is about having the courage to know what we want, and to go after it. Sometimes that means that we have to strive for years, and sometimes it’s as simple as asking for it in the moment; like asking for more responsibility, or declining an assignment that does not resonate with us.

This concept of “standing it good” is not the same as “win at any cost.” It means we stop selling ourselves short and we allow ourselves to strive for more. When we do this, others are inspired as well.

It Serves the Whole Company

When the individual team members believe that “more is always possible”, they have an expansive mindset, and so are inspired to be, and to do, more. This benefits the organization as well. Three of the benefits are:

Team members are more willing to work with others in new and different ways, so they accomplish more, with higher morale

  • Rather than manage, leaders are encouraged to lead because their teams are more proactive and pull them ahead.
  • Knowing that it’s okay, even encouraged, to diverge from the norm means that team members won’t stop before they have done everything they can to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.

Leading Your Team to “Stand it Good

As leaders we can be especially influential in spreading this mindset. First we have to believe it for ourselves. It’s human nature to contract and to see the negative side of situations and events. I learned this concept decades ago and I still have to consciously open my mind at times. Actually doing the new and different is even more challenging!

Here are a few practices that can help you, and your teams, lean toward standing it good:

Make it okay to think, and act, outside the box. Once in awhile, get on top of the box. When brainstorming, encourage the team to get really radical and have fun. Implementation is when the practicalities will need to be considered carefully.

  • Watch out for negative or constricting language. There’s a difference between useful risk management and being a naysayer. Are you or team members says things like, “Yes, but…”, or “That’s interesting, but…”, or just plain, “That will never work…”?
  • Encourage yourself and others to do one thing each day that scares them. It may be as simple as speaking up in a meeting, or as complex as taking on a new role.

Leading the Change

Every teeny, tiny change is a victory upon which future growth is based. Yet even with small changes it can be hard to tell the difference between our discomfort that comes from trying something new and the uneasiness that tells us something is not right. Practice and celebrating the small changes are the best way to get to that state of knowing. A supportive leader and team makes practicing fun and easy, and the whole team benefits in a myriad of ways.

Why Competitors Will Make You Question Everything

In business school we teach SWOT analysis. Know what your competitors are doing so you can outsmart them.

There’s power in benchmarking, and many a company has met their demise by a sudden competitive surprise.

But any time your energy is focused on what OTHER people are doing instead of honing your craft, you’re at risk. Watching your competition puts you in the passenger seat of their story, instead of blazing your own trail.

When I was a competitive swimmer growing up, I had a terrible habit of looking for my competitors in the lanes beside me every time I turned my head to take a breath. Out of complete frustration, my coach threatened to move me to the lane next to the wall if I didn’t stop. From that lane, I wouldn’t be able to see any of my key competition, and it wasn’t exactly considered the rock star lane–I told you, I don’t have this humility thing licked. I stopped looking. You guessed it, that streamlined movement was just what I needed to move from second to first in many of my races.

I was reminded of this phenomena this week. Mike (not his real name), a consulting client, was going for an important promotion. He’d spent weeks honing his strategy and materials. He’d identified all the right stories to share, and had nailed the first interview. He’d gotten great feedback and was preparing for round two when he discovered another smart and popular guy had just put his hat in the ring. Confidence level went down five notches and panic set in. Naturally, he began rethinking his strategy.

When you’ve been preparing for weeks, the day before is not the time to rethink your plan, particularly from an unsettled frame of mind.

A few hours later I got this email:

“…I am going to take sage advice from the Disney movie my daughters watch, Ice Princess. “Put in ear plugs about your competitors. If they do well it will shake your confidence and if they do poorly it will make you cocky.”

Amen.

Play your own game the best you can. Leave it all on the field. Stop worrying about everyone else.

How to Outsmart The Competition

This is part 6 of a 7 part series on outsmarting the competition. In case you’re just catching up.

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

5. Be easy to follow

10 Ways to Be Easy to Follow

Are you easy to follow? Before you say “Of course!” please know that every where I go these days, I ask this question. “Is your boss easy to follow?” The #1 response is just a belly ache laugh. The #2 usually contains some expletive. I’ve also heard some great metaphors, like how understanding what their boss thinks is like putting together Ikea furniture. It looks easy when you leave the store (meeting), but when you get back there a lot more screws than you need and the directions are in another language.

Most leaders make following harder than necessary.

10 Ways to Be a Leader Who’s Easy to Follow

1. Be crystal clear

Be sure your team knows the number one mission so well they can say it in their sleep. Sure you’ve got competing goals, but be crystal clear on how your team can change the game, and what you need them to do to make that happen. I recently ran into a guy who once worked on my sales team at Verizon Wireless. He was now working at a small company where I was consulting. He heard I was there, so he walked into a leadership program I was doing to say “Hi.”  We had just finished talking about being crystal clear, so I took a chance. “Eric, back when we worked together, what was the most import goal?” He didn’t miss a beat. “Winning in the SMB space. Everyone needs to get ‘All Aboard’ (which meant every one needed to sell at least five lines a month)” 6 years and another company later, he remembered.

Be that clear and you will be successful.

2. Be approachable

You want them to understand what needs to be done. If they don’t, they’ll spend a lot of time guessing. Be über approachable.

3. Be a teacher

Get in there and show them what to do. You’ll be seen as credible and helpful. Don’t do it for them. Be a teacher.

4. Be forgiving

People want to follow human beings who understand they’re human too. Be forgiving.

5. Be human

Show a little vulnerability. Be clear you don’t have all the answers. People find it easy to emulate people, not rock stars.

6. Be knowledgable

For goodness sake, know what you’re doing. And if you don’t, do everything you can to get smarter on the subject matter quickly. It’s hard to follow a bozo.

7. Be connected

The easiest to follow leaders are those who remove roadblocks by phoning a friend. Have lots of genuine connections to call when your team is need.

8. Be trustworthy

Do what you say. Every time.

9. Be a role model

10. ?

Number 10 is up to you. What would you add?

If you haven’t done this recently ask your team. “What could I do to be easier to follow?” And then be open when she tells about the “damn spreadsheet” that’s making them crazy, or the meetings that suck the life out of them.

Great leaders are easy to follow. Be that guy or gal.

P.S. I’m here to help. Please call 443-750-1249 for a free consultation on how we can make this your team’s best year ever.

This is number five in the series on 7 Ways to Beat the Competition. If you’re just tuning in…

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter