6 Surprising Ways to Feel More Freedom at Work

You don’t need to win the lottery or quit your day job to experience a sense of freedom at work. I was recently interviewed about how “being an entrepreneur makes me feel independent

I answered joyfully. But the truth is, I’ve been making a lot of my own freedom in a corporate day job for the last 2 decades. Much freedom comes from getting clear on who you are and taking control over your corner of the world.

6 Ways to Feel Freedom at Work

  1. Butt Out – Not always, but sometimes. It’s easy to get sucked into someone else’s drama. I have a colleague who says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” There’s huge freedom in that sentiment. Sure, if you’ve got something substantial to offer by all means engage, but just like more spectators to an accident, more is not always helpful. Free up your energy for something more productive.
  2. Establish Personal Boundaries – Knowing how far you’re willing to go will take a lot of stress out of each situation. Having a clearly established values, ethics and boundaries will help you feel more in control of decisions and makes it easier to let go of minor frustrations. It’s liberating to know who you are and to live by that code. You’ll be surprised how much people will respect you taking an occasional solid stand, if most of the time you’re supportive and helpful.
  3. Create Structure and Processes – The more you can establish routines and systems for every day activities, the more time you’ll have for experimentation and creative exploration of new ideas. Plus structure keeps you organized, and nothing will make your boss leave you alone than a well-organized approach.
  4. Speak Up: – Every time I take over a new team, I begin with the following words: “If something feels stupid, it probably is. Say something.” We then proceed to celebrate when someone outs some “stupidity (of course never actually using the “s” word. )“I’m just wondering if this really makes sense in the context of that.” I’m always amazed how many people feel strangely empowered by this basic invitation to speak the truth. If something feels stupid, speak up, and encourage your team to do the same.
  5. Build White Space Into Your Calendar – It’s tempting to jam your calendar to the brim with “productive” activity. When your brain is full, there’s no time for creative signals to get through. Build some deliberate time in to your day to step back and take the long view. If you’re in an hourly structured job where that’s impossible, find a way to carve out a few minutes of your personal time to really reflect on how you are doing your work and how you could be more impactful. It will pay off in the long run. Read more
  6. Create a Cultural Oasis – If you’re feeling frustrated by the culture of your organization, do what you can to create a cultural niche in your neck of the woods. Lead how you would like to be led. Engage your peers in creative ideas. Be the boss you wish you had. Encourage special projects, volunteer for new assignments. Read more here
the most frustrating choice managers make

The Most Frustrating Mistake Managers Make

When managers see their role as a small cog in a bigger system they do whatever they can to fit in. They trade power for conformity.

Their team yearns for bold vision, challenging questions, and scaffolding support. But they look up and see weakness, which makes them feel weaker and diminishes results.

Nothing saddens me more than potential leaders who give away their power. Feeling powerless to change the game, they buckle down and support, but don’t inspire.

Somehow they think this approach will inspire loyalty and translate to results. They’re in no position to empower, because they have not power to share. Great leaders generate power and then share it.

5 Ways to Regain Leadership Power

Teams are empowered by power. Be sure you have enough to share.
  • Connected – Build great relationships up down and sideways. Your team longs for a leader who’s in the game, and teaches them how to play it.
  • Courageous – Stop complaining about the system, or what can’t be done. If you really think you’re powerless, step down and let someone else be the leader.
  • Creative – Help your team find solutions in the areas they feel most helpless
  • Challenging – Encourage your team to do more than they ever thought possible. Expect a lot.  Keep raising the bar. Forget benchmarks and establish higher standards. Celebrate progress and build desire for what’s possible.
  • Calm – Stay above the fray. Buffer the madness, but also teach them how to sail in a storm.

Yes, this is part of our crowd-sourced e-book series on the Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make, so please share your stories.

Super Leaders Open Doors

Great leaders open doors for other leaders. Great leaders also know when to knock. Be a door opener. Learn how to knock.

Who’s opened doors for you? What have you done to open doors for others?

Bill Treasurer, author of Leaders Who Open Doors, is collecting stories of leaders who have opened doors, or created opportunities for others. Today, I share my story of Dr. Henry Sims, who opened a door that changed the course of my career.

I invite you to recognize a leader who opened a door for you in the comments. This post will be included in Bill’s Leadership Open Door Fest on August 13th.

A SuperLeadership- Open Doors Story

When I was a young communications graduate student at the University of Maryland, I met the best door opener of my career. I was working on a research project around empowering leadership. I noticed that nearly everyone I was reading was citing the same guy, Dr. Henry Sims.  Since this was before the days you could google-up answers in an instant, I went to the library and found one of his books, SuperLeadership, Leading Others to Lead Themselves.

Dr. Henry SimsI flipped to the back page to read about the authors. I had to laugh. Dr. Sims taught across campus at the business school. I read the book in one sitting, picked up the book and my recent writing, ran across campus and knocked on his door. He stopped what he was doing and we talked for several hours, he practiced everything he had written about.

He led me to lead myself.

He asked provocative questions and made me think. He challenged me to consider my direction. Not just in my research, but in my career.

I left my paper with him for comment.

When I came back the next week, he said, “I think I can help you publish this (which we did)” and the next several hours of in-depth discussion led me to understand that what I really wanted to do was to be working in organizations, not studying them and that what I needed most was not an academic advisor, but a contact.

Then he began opening doors. The next week he took me to lunch with a director doing leadership work in the company I have worked for ever since.

Hank has remained my mentor and my friend. When I get stuck, I knock. He always has questions, ideas, and contacts (mostly other folks for whom he’s opened doors). I knocked just last month.

I asked Hank why he opens doors for students and others (ironically, I never did take a class from him).
In retrospect, the best part of my academic career has been the influence and support I have been able to provide to others. I have tried to act and behave as a “SuperLeader.”

The benefits of knocking is that some SuperLeader may open a door. Knock. Answer. Lead.

Another Favorite Book by Hank Sims: Business Without Bosses: How Self Managed Teams are Building High Performance Companies

*Photo Dr. Henry Sims, Super Leader, Door Opener

What Needy Needs: 8 Ways To Empower Past Dependency

Needy drains energy. Needy distracts. Needy wastes time. Needy surfaces guilt “gosh, maybe they really do need more.” You want to help. Helping too much hurts them, you, and the rest of the team.

Dig deeper to get to the root cause of dependency. Maybe it’s them. Be sure it’s not you.

Causes of Needy

Needy comes from:

  • Upbringing
  • Self-doubt
  • Fear
  • Incompetence
  • Misunderstanding
  • Lack of vision
  • Unclear goals
  • Micro-management
  • Disfunctional teams
  • Bad leadership

From Needy to Needed

Turn your high-maintenance employee into a highly valued contributor. Give enough to help, without encouraging dependent behavior.

  1. Create safety. Build trust. Many needs stem from insecurity. Invest in the relationship and show you really care. Create professional intimacy as appropriate. As questions. Spend time getting to know them personally. Show up real. Share how you work on your leadership. Expose a personal mistake or two. Make failure a friendly topic.
  2. Listen – Get underneath root cause. This may bet messy, and may call for reinforcements, e.g. Employee Assistance Programs, a coach. If there’s work to be done, help them get help.
  3. Reinforce Vision and Goals – Check for understanding. Have them articulate their role in the big picture. Brainstorm together how they can best contribute, and what support they think they need. Also reinforce where you don’t need to be involved. Create clear parameters for decision making.
  4. Assess competence and skills – Make it okay to tell you they don’t know how. This is often the easist one to fix.
  5. Stay consistent – Stay calm through mistakes. Leaders who freak can bring back childhood memories, and childlike behaviors.
  6. Promote teamwork – Create space to talk about diverse team strengths. Encourage the team to rely on one another.
  7. Reasonable Reassurance. Recognize incremental wins. Celebrate success.
  8. Back off – Explain what your doing. Have a conversation. And then stop helping. Extreme, but potentially necessary. I talked to one leader who shared that his team had become so dependent, he just stopped answering their calls and emails. After the shock, I asked “soooo… how did that work?” The team started relying on one another and figured things out. Results skyrocketed.

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.

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.

Why Smart People Do Stupid Work

Despite my best efforts to encourage employees to think, question, and recommend change, on any given day, I know there are people on my team doing tasks they know are stupid.

Stupid work includes…

  • reinforcing policies without thinking
  • making decisions that lose customers
  • generating reports no one uses
  • focusing on trivial matters when the sky is falling around them
  • _______ I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blank.
  •  If you find that cathartic here’s a few more blanks___________, ___________.

Bottom line, If it feels stupid it probably is.

Forest Gump said “stupid is as stupid does.” But I know the truth. Stupid is as stupid leads.

Why Do People Do Stupid Work?

  • fear
  • politics
  • uncertainty
  • overload
  • indecision
  • it’s not their job
  • they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes
  • it’s always been done that way
  • they think I want it done that way
  • their boss thinks I want it done that way
  • their boss’s boss’s boss, thinks my boss wants it done that way.

And so the stupidity continues.

Lead for S.M.A.R.T.

Encourage your team to think beyond their silos, understand the big picture, and question the status quo. Help them to make S.M.A.R.T. choices.

Speak up

If something feels stupid, it probably is. Say something.

get More information

Ask questions. Understand the context. Reach across silos.

accept Accountability

Own the problem. Work to find a solution.

Reprioritize

Determine what’s important. Do that first.

and Try another approach.

Consider alternatives, ask for ideas, try something new.

The Scary Secret to Great Meetings

The first time it happened, I was devastated.

After all the hard work on building relationships.

All that investment in the team.

All that transparency.

All that work to create a level-less organization.

Why had my direct report team started holding “secret” meetings without me?

Why was that necessary?

What was I doing wrong?

Was this an indication that I had become the proverbial “boss” an image I had tried so hard to avoid?

It’s About Us

I shared my concerns with a member of the team.

Karin, this is not about you. This is about us. We need this. Relax.

I still don’t know exactly what happened in those “secret” meetings. Perhaps they talked about the work. Perhaps they settled some of their own conflict. Perhaps they complained about me. I am not sure it matters.

What I do know is those meetings transformed our organization.

Each leader began stepping up in new ways. They helped one another solve problems. They worked on each other’s projects. They mentored one another’s employees. They brought well-vetted options and solutions to our staff meetings.

My questions became more strategic. So did their answers.

Results kept climbing.

When you strive to be a servant leader, it can be tough to feel your team doesn’t need “serving.” You want to roll up your sleeves and support them. Sometimes the best support you can offer is to step away and give them the space to create, argue, and perform.

Now I welcome and encourage secret meetings.

Could your team use a “secret meeting?”

Empowerment Run Amok: How One Bad Decision Leads To Another

You believe in servant leadership.

Empowerment is your middle name.

Results are strong.

The team is happy.

And then.

Someone makes a really bad decision.

The consequences are big.

Your boss is not happy.

How could YOU let that happen?

Why weren’t YOU more involved?
And you begin to wonder about the person who made the poor choice.

  • Why did he make such a bad decision?
  • Didn’t he understand the potential consequences?
  • Why didn’t he ask for help?
  • Why was I not informed sooner

It might be hard but stop, and think well before reacting.

If you are not careful, the next bad decision may be your own.

How you react now, matters. Everyone is watching your next move. Do you really believe in empowerment?

The decision you make next will have long-term implications on trust and the relationship with your entire team. People are talking, texting and instant messaging count on it.

3 Steps to Responding Well to a Bad Decision

1. Temper and Reflect

  • Have I carefully considered my approach to empowerment– Who to empower with what decisions and why?
  • Have I clearly communicated the big picture and long-term goals?
  • Have I taught effective decision-making?
  • Have I explained the importance of my involvement in certain kinds of decisions?
  • Am I approachable and available to support?
  • Have I been teaching enough about the political landscape and how to include and inform stakeholders?
  • … what would you add?

2. Take Accountability

  • Own the mistake, never blame
  • Roll up your sleeves and be involved in the fix
  • Involve the employee in the solution
  • Coach in private
  • Carefully consider the answers to the questions above, what do you need to adjust?
  • Communicate any changes without linking back to a specific employee’s mistake
  • … what would you add?

3. Teach

  • Ask questions for self-discovery
  • Share a story of when you screwed up and what you learned
  • Reassure the employee that this can be fixed most things can, even when they look grim
  • … what would you add?

 

Trusted and Empowered? 6 Ways to Get Your Boss To Trust You

Last week’s post, A Matter of Trust, generated some great conversation on the Center For Creative Leadership LinkedIn group. One interesting addition was a paradoxical question from Carol Ann Hamilton, “which comes first, trust or trust?” Indeed, trust is a complex two-way street.

In a follow-up conversation she shared:

Let’s make three lists:

1.) Someday
2.) The Bigger Story
3.) Now

Onto “Someday,” place everything you haven’t touched and that really doesn’t relate to anything in the short-term (because if it did, you’d have completed it already).
I ask this paradoxical question to get my facilitation and coaching clients to think about which type of person they generally are: 1) Do you accord trust naturally and only re-evaluate your interactions with someone if it is violated? or 2) Does trust have to be earned with you, so that you dole out your trust and respect when the other proves themselves worthy in your books?

The truth is most leaders (including me), don’t treat everyone on their team with the same level of trust. Whether we “accord trust naturally” or if “it has to be earned,” trust is impacted by behaviors. We learn who we can trust with the most important work. Those we trust, we empower with less oversight. When someone has given us cause to question their competence or follow-through, we are more likely to double-check and provide more hands-on support.

Carol’s question got me thinking: what are the behaviors that lead me to fully trust someone on my team? What behaviors cause me to back off and let them do their thing? Here are my top 6. I hope you will add more to the list in your comments.

Your Boss Will Trust You When You

1. Do what you say you will

Every time. Integrity and consistency are vital to trust. When stuff happens that changes your commitment, communicate quickly and explain why.

2. Follow through

This one is slightly different from #1. Follow-through involves looking at the outcomes of your actions and ensuring they achieved the desired result. “Doing what you say” is not enough if it did not produce the right outcome. There is more work to do. Do it, or ask for help.

3. Develop great peer relationships

You boss cares what other people are saying about you. She wants to know you work well with others, offering and asking for help when needed.

4. Follow the “no blind side” rule

This is the one I see breakdown the most. Always be the first to share your own bad news and what you are doing about it. Don’t let your boss get wind of a breakdown through the grapevine (or worse, from their boss).

5. Know the details

You boss will trust you when you know what you are doing. She will be less likely to want to know every detail if she is sure that you do.

6. Ask what else you can do to help

No boss wants to wonder if their people have enough to do. If you have extra bandwidth offer to do more. Your boss will then trust that you have plenty to do when you are not asking.

 

Small Gestures of Trust Build Great Results

I was attending a breakout session on social media strategy at the International Customer Service Association conference, when the presenter asked, “who allows their reps to have Facebook on their work computers?” This is not the norm in the call center space, but one guy raised his hand. I knew immediately whose table I wanted to sit at for lunch. Where there’s one gesture of trust, there’s generally others and I wanted to learn everything he had to share.

Lunch was great, the conversation even better and just as I suspected Klaus Buellesbach, Director of Ace Hardware Care Centers, has an amazing track record of results.

His quality results and other metrics are quite strong, and despite substantial organizational change, his center has had no turnover for two years (with the exception of one retirement). Trust leads to engagement which leads to low-turnover, which builds competence and confidence, which creates great customer experiences, which inspires customer loyalty. Amen.

Here’s his secret for building trust

Build from Within

“When I get into a new situation, I build a high-performance team with the people that are there. I never bring people from the last job along. I look for the gifts the current team has and build on it in a unique way. What this creates is big trust and some very different teams. You could never put all the teams I have led side by side and say, of course, ”this is the team that Klaus built.”

It’s not his fingerprints on the team or is it? It’s his unleashing of the talent he discovers to create a unique masterpiece. My guess, if you put these teams “side by side” they would really enjoy that conversation.

Get Everyone Involved in the Big Picture

He asks big questions to create larger context for the work. He has trust in the team to inspire the vision.

“Besides running a contact center, what is it that we really need to accomplish this year?

“What does a care center really stand for?”

When the employee surveys come back, he empowers a team to discuss them over a 7 week period, so there is time to go deep. ”We can’t implement all of their suggestions, but we usually can do most of them.” That matters.

Be Humble

Klaus is a great example of confident humility. It’s all about the people and how he can involve and support them.

“I want to know before I speak; and understand before I act. I ensure I understand the whole situation first.”

Know Your People

Start every day on the floor really talking to people about things that matter to them. People need to know you care about them and their interests. This is where the Facebook thing came in.

“We have a number of parents in our center. We found that the school systems are starting to communicate through websites as well as via phone. Parents want to be able to check in. Most phones have data plans so pulling up Facebook is part of the routine. We support corporate social media inquiries in our center. It is a small step from there to allowing our team to keep up with their personal lives. As long as their quality and productivity metrics are good, we treat them as adults and let them take care of their lives.”

Look Beyond the Numbers

To build a world-class customer service organization you have to focus on the intangibles. There are lots of ways to measure customer loyalty none of which are perfect. He focuses on ensuring every customer is completely satisfied every time, and doesn’t get overly excited about small changes to the numbers. In the long run great service wins and the numbers work out.

Saturday Salutation: Postcard from the United Nations Youth Assembly

This quote set the tone for the 11th Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations sponsored by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, which I attended this week. The focus was on youth empowerment, and how social networking can be used to create change.

“This is a guest post from my son Ben Evans, 17. Ben is a youth envoy to the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Organization, and recently served as a delegate to the National Youth Assembly at the United Nations. He holds a variety of leadership roles at school and church, and enjoys music and drama.”
“Youth are problem solvers, not problems to be solved.”
~Jasmine Nahhas di Flori

All of the panel speakers are fantastic leaders with truly amazing stories. Some were ambassadors from countries like Romania and Kenya. I also met Jacuqes Cousteau’s grandson and teens my age who have made big changes by starting something small. For example, Talia Leman began a trick or treating campaign when she was 10 years old, and has now raised over 10 million dollars for relief efforts around the world.

Each attendee was given a rubber bracelet with a personal QR code on it. When the code was scanned, all of my social networking information was immediately transmitted to my new friends and connections. Empowering simple networking with peers around the world.

I strongly encourage you to check out the following organizations which impressed me throughout the conference.

Education for Employment Foundation: (provides cellphones to connect Middle East youth with jobs)

Pavegen (harnesses the power of footsteps to create green energy)

Two Degrees (college campus-based programs selling energy bars to provide a 1:1 donation of food kits in third world countries)

Liter of Light (creates light in poor countries using only soda bottles, tin, and water)

“Being a leader of tomorrow does not exclude you from starting today.”
~Unknown