3 Lessons Of The Expectant Leader

“Expectations” is one of my favorite topics. Today, please enjoy the lessons of expectant leaders, from leader and guest blogger Dave Bratcher.

Ever wonder why performance is not at the level you expected?

We often look through the rear view mirror to analyze our performance. Just as the mirror suggests, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” They are closer because the one who is responsible for setting them is the same person looking into the mirror.

Have you ever been perplexed as to why some team members are not performing at the level you expect? What about your own level of performance? Do you know what your boss or clients expect from you?

3 Lessons of the Expectant Leader

  1. People will rise to your level of expectationThere is something magical about people performing to the level of your expectation. As a former School Board member, this is seen in classrooms around the globe on a daily basis. When test scores are low, it is often the desire of school administration to lower standards in an attempt to close the gap between performance and expectations. This has been proven to be the absolute wrong approach to take. Raising expectations will raise performance. This is also true within a family, as Karin recently reflected about her Dad
  2. Expectations must be communicated early and often – I am reminded of an assignment in college in which I spent hours completing the project, only to find out the grading metrics were not in line with what I produced. The expectations were not disclosed at the beginning; rather they were only used to judge performance. Have you ever thought, “How am I doing?” At some point in our careers we have all wondered this. Guess what? Your team members are normal and they may be asking themselves the same questions. In Dave Ramsey’s book, Entreleadership, he talks about the importance of developing a Key Results Area document for each position on your team. It is a short document, including 4-5 bullet points, describing the expectations for any given position. This document is then used to monitor and assess performance throughout the year. Our team should ALWAYS know where they stand, and it’s our responsibility to tell them.
  3. Inspect what you expect – I don’t like clichés, but this phrase is memorable. Just because it is easy to remember doesn’t mean it is easy to implement. I am talking to myself on this one. This has been the area that I struggle with the most. What I have to do is put a reminder in my calendar, marked “Follow Up” as a way to make sure the inspection follows the expectation.

About Dave Bratcher

dave bratcher Dave Bratcher (@davebratcher on Twitter) is the founder of DaveBratcher.com devoted to leadership development. Subscribe for updates at www.DaveBratcher.com and receive Dave’s FREE ebook, A Picture Book Manifesto on Leadership.  He is a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach. Dave is also a writer and currently serves as the Vice President of Financial Services for his community foundation. He and his wife, of 8 years, have two children, ages 5 and 2.

5 Ways To Unblock Leadership Energy

I felt my energy drain as I drove toward the call center. The center’s results were stagnant– it was time to dig deeper. I was there to help, but also to deliver some tough messages. Necessary, not fun.

“Joe,” one of the managers, ran enthusiastically across the parking lot. Joe’s energy ignited mine. The day was looking up. As we walked toward the center together, Joe high-fived and encouraged each arriving rep. They responded in kind. More positive vibes.

We entered the building and the rest of the managers sat quietly at the conference room table nervously awaiting my (and now Joe’s) arrival. The difference in energy–palpable.

Joe’s results blew away the rest of the struggling center. While the other managers shared action plans, Joe excitedly articulated his leadership vision and robust examples of personal connection, challenges and growth.

When I met with the executive team offline I questioned, “How do we get more Joes?” They squirmed, “We can’t expect everyone to have that level of energy.”

Energetic Leaders are Born, Made, and Destroyed

Energy is union, with yourself, the vision, and the team. Energy isn’t extraversion. Don’t waste your time looking for “Joes.” Unblock the stuck energy on your team. It’s not that hard. Release their inner “Joe.”

Empowering low energy destroys potential.

5 Energy Pressure Points

Your leaders have innate energy yearning for release. Get them unstuck. Their energy will cascade, and pretty soon you’ll have an entire organization high on Qi (9 out of 10 studies show well running Qi beats energy drinks without that awful crash ;-).

  1. Missing Connection – Connection fuels fire. Teach the power of connecting, with you, peers, and their team. Model the way. 360 feedback and coaching helps. So can a good talk. Explore insecurities and fear preventing valuable connections.
  2. Faking it – Pretending exhausts. Leaders pretend to look the part, fit in, mask insecurities, hide secrets. Help your leaders uncover and use their mutant powers by using unique skills that stretch them beyond their current job.
  3. Blurry Vision – Fuzzy vision confuses. When leaders lack energy, it’s often that they don’t understand (or buy-into) the vision. It’s hard to act jazzed, when you don’t get it. Go slow. Help them understand the bigger picture. Encourage closed-door dissent and questions. “Ah ha” moments radiate energy. Then help craft and practice messages.
  4. No Options – Choices ignite. Challenge your team with exciting possibilities. Leaders lose energy when they’re stuck. Stuck in their career, in a role, in a project. Help them discover options and new challenges.
  5. Stress – Stress sabotages . When leaders are stressed from competing priorities or home concerns they lose the necessary energy to lead well. Help them balance their goals and energetic pursuits.

5 Ways To Stop Excuses And Inspire Results

Big goals. Frustrating roadblocks. Concerns grow into excuses. Venting fuels negativity.
Weak leaders excuse excuses.
Strong leaders reframe thinking.
Growing leaders inspire possibility.

A Few of My Favorites

  • “We would sell more, if the product line were different”
  • “Our attrition would be better, if our competitor wasn’t paying more”
  • “My quality results would be higher, if I wasn’t assigned to the late shift”
  • “The employees would be more engaged, if this wasn’t a union environment”
  • “Our stock would be doing better, if the economy were better”
  • ___________?

Take a minute to fill in your favorite excuses to your most significant business problems. The issues are real. Inspire beyond the excuses.

Inspire Beyond Excuses

  1. Acknowledge reality – Don’t defend or sugar coat. Share work underway by others. Brainstorm creative solutions, but then move on. Clearly articulate what is beyond the team’s scope. If it’s gravity acknowledge that too.
  2. “Sell the bananas on the truck.” – When my sales team complained that they needed a different product mix, I had one response, “sell the bananas on the truck.” If you have bananas, find the people who need bananas, and meet their needs. Drive to where the banana eaters live. Stop wishing you had mangos. Align on what’s within their control. Brainstorm a list. You can impact most of what matters. Encourage past frustration.
  3. Reinforce – vision and purpose. Empower contribution to the bigger picture. “When you win despite X7@#$%#$%, what will that mean to your team?.. our customers? the company? your career?”
  4. Recognize – those succeeding despite the obstacles. Someone always has their head down winning. Celebrate success. It’s hard to make excuses when others around you are knocking it out of the park under the same conditions. In my “bananas on the truck” role I created a “century club, for anyone that got to 100. That seemed crazy at the time, when 7 was a big win. We celebrated every Century Club member with passion (not a lot of $, just excitement and personal attention). Soon 100 felt easy.
  5. Show them the Data – Complaining magnifies concerns. Data grounds issues in reality. “The competition is causing our attrition” can be countered with, “2 of 40 have left to work for a competitor how could we have saved the other 38?”

*“Sell the bananas on the truck” I took this pic in Costa Rica… this guy was literally selling the banana on his truck. Inspiring.

Work Environment Matters

It was a ridiculously hot July day. As a Retail Store Director, I was out on “store visits” with one of our top executives. Such excursions always feel like you’re on the hot seat, even on a cool day. My bosses boss was looking for evidence of strong execution, a positive work environment, and delighted customers. We went in the back door. He asked, “Karin, do you think it’s going to snow today?”

“Huh?” Had the heat gone to his head? And then I looked down at the big tub of rock salt prominently placed next to the door. People had clearly been walking by it for months. I knew the rest of the visit was going to go downhill. Sloppy backrooms signal inattention in other areas. It was a terrible visit. 

The Broken windows theory works in business too. When leaders tolerate sloppy backrooms, disorganized inventory, or gum on the sidewalks, it’s easier to grow to lazy in other areas. I now have a job that lets me in the “backrooms” of other companies. The theory plays out. Call centers with outdated signage or dirty rugs have worse results than those with creative recognition boards and clean break areas. Effort begets effort. A cared for work environment encourages deeper commitment. Human beings care when they are cared about.

Creating a Better Physical Work Environment

  1. Involve the team in the design
    Provide the parameters and then ask for input. I’ve been amazed at the productivity gains by just involving the teams in a few simple work environment changes. Many choices don’t involve additional costs, and the payoff in satisfaction is well worth the time. Input can happen at a company, department or team level. Involvement provides a positive sense of control.
  2. Explain the linkage
    Explain why work environment matters. Share the vision of a clean and attractive place to work. In one company I work with, the center director came in and painted all the training rooms himself. An important symbolic gesture, well-received.
  3. Establish and reinforce clear standards
    Define standards. For example, no food left in the fridge more than a day. All posters and signs up-to-date. No pizza boxes left on tables etc. This sounds silly, but even highly paid professionals get sloppy and annoy their peers.
  4. Leave room for fun.
    Zappos is famous for their creative work environment (see pics), but many other companies are doing as well. Themes work well. Lighten it up and change it up. Creativity creates energy and fun.

How important is the physical work environment in your world?

How Stress is Hurting Your Career

You know stress is bad for your health. But what about your career? When results are rough the “obvious” answer is to work longer and harder. It’s sad to watch a passionate, hard-working leader shoot themselves in the foot with a stressful reaction. Don’t let stress destroy hard work or sabotage your progress.

Stress Sabotage Stories

(all names changed)

  • Sally worked late every night for weeks getting the numbers just right. She was exhausted. She knew the scenarios inside and out as she presented to the senior team. When an executive questioned the methodology, she began to cry. She knew the answer, but was too worked up to explain it. After all that work, they remember the tears more than the results.
  • Joe is a seasoned sales manager who’s passionate about his vision and driven to win. The competitor was gaining ground, and he was not happy. He frantically called for more meetings and action plans. He demanded improvement loudly. Stress rolled downhill. The team spent more time explaining the problem than selling.Results got worse.
  • Carol’s child was sick and the diagnosis was unclear. She was afraid to tell her boss or to take time off during this critical time in the business. She became distracted and dropped a few balls. Not knowing the whole story, her boss concluded she didn’t care.
  • Frank was “too committed to take vacation.” He worked long days and stayed connected every weekend. He stopped exercising and started drinking too much coffee. His cranky demeanor led his team to avoid telling him bad news He didn’t learn that the project was in jeopardy until it was too late to fix it.
  • Brenda is the ultimate multi-tasker. She gets a lot done, but she always seems frantic. Despite her strong track record of results, she’s not getting promoted due to concerns of “executive presence.”

The Cleveland Clinic provides a good summary of the signs and symptoms of stress. Hardly the conditions for elegant leadership.

Physical Cognitive Emotional Behavioral
Headaches Difficulty concentrating Anger Increased alcohol use
Backaches Forgetfullness Anxiety Cigarette smoking
Chest tightness Worrying Depression Increased caffeine use
Fatigue Thoughts of death Poor self-esteem Drug use
Stomach cramps Poor attention to detail Moodiness Violence
Difficulty breathing Perfectionist tendencies Suspiciousness Overeating
Diarrhea Indecisiveness Guilt Weight gain or loss
Loss of sexual interest Feeling helpless Weeping Relationship conflict
Insomnia Catastrophizing (blowing things out of prorportion) Loss of motivation Decreased activity

It’s easy to think the way out of a stressful situation is to push harder, deeper, and work longer. Taking the foot off your gas may get you further.

What would you add?

Information Underload: What Are You Missing?

The higher you grow in the organization, the more you work in sound bites. Process fast to look smart. Draw conclusions where others see only questions. Conclude with conviction. Make decisions and move the process along. Ask your team to “net it out.” You don’t need all that detailed information. Or do you?

The devil still basks in details.

“It’s entirely possible that you can process and file more information than anyone who has come before you. And quite likely that this filing is preventing you from growing and changing and confronting the fear that’s holding you back.”
~Seth Godin, “I Get It

Beware of Information Underload

Resist the urge to look smart. Stop filling in the blanks with lack of understanding. Don’t micromanage. Do get smarter.

Don’t assume

  • you know the type (she’s not “high-potential”)
  • the market won’t react well (it didn’t last time)
  • customers will hate it (they don’t like change)
  • this project won’t work (because a similar endeavor failed)
  • the union will resist (because they always do)
  • senior management won’t go for it (because it seems too risky)

It’s Not What You Know, But How You Know

Asking well encourages truth. Asking well empowers.

Empowerment doesn’t mean working in the dark.

Your team has

  • details
  • opinions
  • concerns
  • weird data they can’t explain
  • conclusions
  • possibilities
  • wacky next steps

They’ve likely been coached to “not go there.” “There” is exactly where you need to go. Make it safe to hear what you must. Build an environment where you hear what would otherwise be left on the editing room floor.

Some Ways

  • Show up everywhere (kindly)
  • Ask questions that don’t feel like tests
  • Smile and laugh as needed
  • Express your genuine thirst
  • Do something with what you hear (without getting anyone in trouble)
  • Recognize the great work you see
  • Invite yourself in advance to working meetings and then listen

Empowerment happens in the daylight Shine bright lights, and be deliberate in your reactions. Question, encourage, invite, excite, grow, develop.

Only then, will you have enough information.

Unintended Consequences: Fix This, Break That?

Results lag in a key area. You energize the team to fix it. Results improve. Fantastic. Now other results are plummeting. Beware of unintended consequences.

  • Improve customer service, reduce efficiency
  • Improve efficiency, damage morale
  • Improve morale, increase costs

Results don’t improve in vacuums. Unintended consequences lurk around every corner.

4 Ways to Avoid Unintended Consequences

1. Brainstorm Downstream Impacts

Before implementing, stop and think. What could this fix, break?

  • How will customers react?
  • How will this distract the team?
  • What short-cuts will this inspire?
  • What will this do to our brand?
  • ?

2. Start Small
Consider a pilot. Implement with a small team and measure the impacts.

3. Isolate the Variables
When a problem’s big enough it’s tempting to try everything, all at the same time. Your action plans look robust.
At least you can’t be accused of “not trying.” More is not always more. More enhances the distraction. Over-exertion distracts. Multiple project plans confuse. Pick your best one or two efforts.

4. Coach to the Big Picture
Coach to outcomes, not activity. Teach and develop behaviors that will impact all results not just one.

7 Unusual Ways to Motivate Your Sales Team

The first time I suggested we lower quotas to drive performance, my boss thought I was crazy. Until we did. Results sky rocketed. Why?

7 Ways To Motivate

  1. Lower Quotas – Out of reach quotas demoralize. Let them taste success. Most good comp plans include multipliers. When solid reps get a multiplied paycheck they understand possibility.
  2. Sell it For Them – “If my out-of-touch boss can do this, it can’t be that hard.” In my case, “if this HR chick now running our sales organization can do this, it must REALLY be easy.” Not my typical “wind beneath the wings” advice. Ensure you understand the obstacles first hand, and lead from there.
  3. Go Bird Watching – This week I stopped by the office of one of the most successful, results-driven sales leaders I know. His assistant told me he’d taken his entire team on a “bird watching” lunch. Perspective clears the creative thought process. Motivate with a surprise break and time to strategize.
  4. Stop Talking Money – “To motivate a sales person bring money.” True. But that’s not the only thing. Determine what else matters. Career growth? Prestige? Relationships? Have deeper conversations.
  5. Shave your head – I’ll admit, this is not my personal go-to, but I’ve seen it do wonders to motivate both sales and customer service teams across several companies. For some reason, teams can’t wait to see their boss’ bald head. You get bonus motivation if the team does the shaving.
  6. Make It A Team Sport – “Sales people are out to be #1.” Some sales folks also love being part of a winning team. It may mean more than the paycheck. Don’t underestimate the value of old-fashioned team rivalry. Cultivated well, they will help one another grow.
  7. What would you add?

Perfect Vision is Over-Rated

You had a perfect vision. Great plans. Strong execution strategy. You worked very hard. You recruited the best talent. Game on.

Oh crap. You didn’t anticipate the change in weather. The new competitor. The newcomers with new ideas. You dig into your plan harder, someone calls you pushy. Your feelings are hurt. You keep pushing. They don’t understand how hard you’ve worked. It’s too late to change now.

Don’t lose vision in pursuit of the plan.

Blurry, But Perfect Vision

When everything appears to be “going wrong” step back. It may be going more “right” than you think.

1. Consider

  • Are the obstacles preventing my perfect vision, or changing the way we get there?
  • Is this change really bad, or just different?
  • Will changing the plan create more supporters?
  • Who’s still with me?
  • Why am I married to this specific plan?
  • Am I leading with confident humility, or just confidence?

2. Engage

  • Talk with the team, do they still believe in the vision?
  • Discuss the changes in circumstances
  • Generate ideas
  • Involve them in choices
  • Collaborate on solutions

3. Respond

  • Build the new plan
  • Garnish excitement from the obstacles
  • Overcome
  • Celebrate wins

Unleashing Breakthrough Results

Many of the approaches we take to solving problems, do just that. Solve problems. That works, until the next problem comes along. To build long-term results, requires more. Unleashing your team’s potential leads to breakthrough results.

I’ve been intrigued by the unleashing approach described in the new white paper, Unleashing the Future of Work.

This highly collaborative methodology empowers teams to dig deeper for answers– working together to find synergistic solutions.

“The cornerstone of Unleashing™ is emphasizing the journey as an essential change and learning process rather than simply devising and implementing a solution. For it is through this journey that individuals learn and develop their ability to think strategically, collaborate and take action. This approach aims to engage and stimulate people as they go along, creating self-efficacy, empowerment and commitment in the individuals and teams. Its focus is both on the organisation as a whole and on the individuals.”

Unleashing Framework

The research-based unleashing approach, is closely aligned with the philosophical approach we’ve been discussing in our LGL community. For example:

  • “Purpose as basis for strategy” vs. “Shareholder value as basis for strategy” (and driving shareholder value in the process)
  • “Shared strategic direction” vs. “Strategic planning”
  • “Adaptive strategy execution” vs. “Strategy implementation”
  • “Learning through action” vs. “Classroom training”
  • “Process innovation” vs. “Process optimization”
  • “Mentoring, self-directed career development” vs. “Metrics-based performance management”

I asked white paper co-author, Therese Kinal, about the inspiration for their research:

“My co-founders Robert Thong, Corrina Kane and I realized that traditional approaches to Management weren’t working anymore and our industry was doing as much harm as it was good. In many organisations innovation was dead and employees had little or no understanding of their company’s strategy and they certainly didn’t feel personal ownership and excitement about making it happen. Companies had tried to solve this through structural changes, sending their people on leadership development training or hiring innovation firms to do it for them. Consultants were forcing through simplistic solutions to complex problems.”

If you’re looking for creative ways to unleash the powerful potential of your team, it’s worth a read. Share your comments and insights with the LGL community.

Hustle Factor: He Who Hustles Gets the Ball

Do you hustle enough, or are you counting on traditional rules to win? Each memorial weekend we camp with 100 of our closest friends from church. The multi-generation soccer game following the pot luck dinner has become a bit of a tradition. At times there are as many as 50 people on the field ranging from ages 4 to “I’d rather not say,” playing with mostly unspoken rules the most important of which is, “nobody squash the little kids.”

“The greatest shortage in our society is an instinct to produce. To create solutions and hustle them out the door. To touch the humanity inside and connect to the humans in the marketplace.”

This year, my friend K.P. shouted out a new rule early in the game. “When the ball goes out-of-bounds, whichever team hustles fastest to retrieve it gets to throw it in.” Fantastic. A hustle rule: Hustle gains advantage

This drove the seasoned soccer players bonkers particularly the analytical, athletic teens (and a few of their Dads). “That’s not fair ” “But that would mean..” Enough grown-ups (most of whom had taught these kids in Sunday School) responded with enthusiasm, so the rule prevailed. Not particularly democratic, but I was on the side of “let’s use our position power to create this experiment.” Game on.

What Happens With Hustle

With hustle, underdogs willing to work, gain the advantage. In this case the under 6 crowd now had a definitive skill set to contribute. Boundless energy and an ability to slip under the old fence quickly.

  • The game changes. Effort counts a lot. When effort counts, people make more effort. Go figure.
  • The game’s more fun when hustle matters, adrenaline goes up.
  • No referee. No playback needed. Not, “who kicked it out.” Whoever’s got the ball has the advantage. Let’s keep playing.

In a super-connected world, hustle matters more than ever. Tradition will try to reinforce protocol, but in the end hustle rules. The best idea can be out run by the great idea with serious effort.

Leaders must hustle. The rules are changing. Get up early. Build a bigger network. Share that new idea. Stay up late. Engage others. Work harder. Watch less TV. Work even harder. Invest in your contribution. Gain the advantage. Hustle more

Orchestra Without a Conductor

This was a farewell. The last concert of the year for the high-school orchestra. The seniors wore roses and beamed with personality.

The conductor held up his baton, and the music began. Powerful. Brilliant. Exciting. A send-off to the next phase of their lives.

Then he looked at the orchestra and grinned. He stepped off the podium stage right, folded his arms, and watched from the sidelines. 5 measures later, he looked at the audience. Smiled with confidence, and walked off the stage. He never came back.
The orchestra continued. Powerful. Brilliant. More exciting. I sat mesmerized by the leadership moment. They didn’t miss a beat. They were performing– without their leader. Or were they?

He left confident that…

  • the vision was understood
  • they had a game plan
  • they were accomplished players
  • who had practiced
  • and would listen to one another

His confidence said…

  • I believe in you
  • You’re ready for the next phase
  • It was never about me
  • Go be brilliant

No conductor. Powerful leader.