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To be more productive, embrace the secret of every time management system.
You want to be a productive leader, but your to-do list has more tasks, projects, and goals than you can possibly achieve.
The never-ending list can feel overwhelming. Leadership means a continual stream of information, problems, decisions, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, apps—and that doesn’t include the strategic investments in people and projects that will help you build a better future.
It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.
Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader
There are two mental shifts that will help you end the overwhelm and achieve the results you want.
There’s So Much
It’s not your imagination. There really is more on that list than you can possibly get done.
What do you do with that reality? Does it stress you and paralyze you?
If so, the problem isn’t with your list. It’s with your perspective.
Here’s the reality productive leaders embrace: there is always more to do than you can do. It’s a fact of life.
Right now you could check in with your boss, answer your emails, build a spreadsheet, talk to an underperforming team member, make a to-do list, help your child with her homework, work on your most strategic project, listen carefully to a peer, call a customer, hold a developmental conversation with a mentee, take a luxurious bath, go to yoga, read this article, call a dear friend, check your social media, adopt a cat, clean out the stale food from your refrigerator, and a thousand other tasks.
The list is endless. It always is and it always will be.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, the difference is that you’re more aware of your choices. When you’re relaxed on a beach, there are still a thousand other things you could do with that moment – you’re just not thinking about them.
To turn the problem into power, embrace the fact that you can’t possibly do everything.
You never could and you never will. The list is always infinite.
When you surrender the unrealistic hope that the list will somehow go away and acknowledge that it is always there, always has been, and always will be, it frees you to focus.
You’ve Got Serious Limits
Our son loves to multitask. He’ll watch a YouTube documentary while trying to clean his room. Inevitably, one of these tasks wins (and it’s usually not the room.)
The problem is that multitasking is a myth. He’s shifting his attention back and forth between each activity (or not shifting it at all).
It’s another tough reality for most of us to accept: in addition to the fact that there will always be an infinite list, there’s a very limited amount of you to go around.
The second mindset shift that will help you be a more productive leader is that you can only do one thing at a time.
From that long list, you get to choose one task.
That’s it. One.
Finish that one. Or move it forward as much as you can, then move to the next.
So how do you choose what to do?
Mind the M.I.T.
There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.
We prefer to keep it straightforward: What’s your M.I.T. (Most Important Thing)?
- What is the most important strategic outcome your team will achieve this year?
- Today, what is the most important thing you will do?
- What are the two or three critical behaviors that will produce the best outcomes for you and your team?
As a productive leader, your M.I.T. often shifts from day to day. Today, it may be to clarify your strategy for the year. Tomorrow, it may be to address an underperforming team member. The next day, your M.I.T. may be a coaching conversation or working with a colleague and your boss to get alignment on their M.I.T. It may be to ensure you finish what you’ve started.
Mind the M.I.T. means that you know what’s most important and do it first, if at all possible. Do it before the inevitable rush of interruptions, problems, and fire drills.
Easy? Not always.
It takes courage to say no. It also takes courage to uncover your M.I.T. when it’s not clear.
It takes humility to accept your limitations and choose excellence somewhere over presence everywhere.
It takes self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge that today’s M.I.T. might be a walk in the woods or time with loved ones.
It takes determination to ignore what’s easy and do what matters most.
When you focus on your daily M.I.T., help your team understand the strategic M.I.T., and know their daily M.I.T. behaviors, you will unleash your team’s energy and transform your results.
To help him be a more productive leader, one Winning Well reader told us that he posted these words from the book on his office wall so he can see them every day:
Focus On the MIT.
To be a more productive leader, embrace the infinite need, remember that you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on the behaviors that will make the most difference for you, your team, and the results you want to achieve.
Leave us a comment and share: What is your best secret to maintaining your focus and productivity?
Lead a Meeting that Gets Results by Clarifying Who Owns the Decision
“This is so stupid—you asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m just going to shut my mouth and do my work.” If you’ve heard this or said it yourself, you’ve experienced a critical mistake many managers make when they lead a meeting: lack of clarity around decision ownership.
If your meetings aren’t working, look at your clarity of decision-making. Fuzzy decision-making leads to frustrating meetings.
People hate feeling ignored. Unfortunately, when you ask for input and appear to ignore it, employees feel frustrated, devalued, and powerless. In contrast, when you are clear about who owns the decision and how it will be made, people will readily contribute, the team can collaborate, and are far more likely to own the outcome. Clear decision-making improves results and relationships.
Four Ways to Make a Decision When You Lead a Meeting
This isn’t difficult, because there are only four ways to make a decision when you lead a meeting:
1. A single person makes the decision.
Typically, this would be the manager or someone she appoints.
In this style of decision-making, you might ask your team for input and let them know that after hearing everyone’s perspective, you will make the decision.
2. A group makes the decision through a vote.
This might be a 50-percent-plus-one majority or a two-thirds majority, but in any case, it’s a decision by vote. With this option, you ask everyone to contribute input, and they know that the decision will be made by a vote at a specific time.
3. A team makes the decision through consensus.
Consensus decision-making is often misunderstood. Consensus decision-making means that the group continues the discussion until everyone can live with a decision. It does not mean everyone got his or her first choice, but that everyone can live with the final decision. Consensus decision-making can take more time and often increases everyone’s ownership of the final decision.
4. Fate decides.
You can flip a coin, roll the dice, draw from a hat, etc. There are times where flipping a coin is the most efficient way to make a decision. When time is of the essence, the stakes are low, and pro-con lists are evenly matched, it’s often good to just pick an option and go. For example, if you have 45 minutes for a team lunch, it doesn’t make any sense to spend 30 minutes discussing options. Narrow it down to a few places, flip a coin, and go.
Each way of deciding has advantages, but what’s most important is to be very clear about who owns the decision.
Start With How
When that frustrated person said, “You asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother!” he was under the impression that the team would decide by vote or consensus when in reality it was the leader’s decision. This type of confusion wastes tons of precious time and energy and sucks the soul from your team.
The next time you lead a meeting, take time before the discussion begins to state how the decision will be made. You get yourself in trouble (not to mention that it’s unfair, disempowering, and quite soulless) if you suggest a vote and then change back to “I’ll decide” when you think the vote won’t go your way.
Before discussion begins, be clear about who owns the decisions. How will this decision be made?
Be specific. For example, you might begin a decision-making session by saying, “Okay, I’d like to spend the next 40 minutes getting everyone’s input, and then I’ll make the decision.”
Or, you might describe the decision to be made and say, “We’re not going to move forward until everyone can live with the decision.”
You might even combine methods and say, “We will discuss this decision for 30 minutes. If we can come to a consensus by then, that would be great. If not, we’ll give it another 15 minutes. After that, if we don’t have consensus, I’ll take a final round of feedback and I’ll choose, or we’ll vote.”
You save yourself grief, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings when everyone knows up front how the decision will be made. You also empower your people to be more influential because when they know who owns the decision, they also know how to share their information. Do they need to persuade the single decision maker, a majority, or the entire team? They can choose their most relevant information and arguments.
Think about the next time you will lead a meeting to make a decision with your team. Who owns the decisions? Is it you, the team through a vote, or the team through consensus? We’d love to hear from you. What questions or comments do you have about clarifying who owns the decision?
Be the Leader You Want Your Boss to Be
You’ve got this. You care, you want results, and as a leader you’re committed to Winning Well. But life gets busy and complicated. Sometimes you just need a quick reminder to get you back on track. Here they are: 52 tips to be the leader you want your boss to be.
1 Remember why you choose to lead: prioritize people and purpose above power, prestige, or pennies.
2 When stuck or overwhelmed: Ask “How can I…?”
3 Solve problems before they occur with clear expectations. Mind the MIT (Most Important Thing)
5 Land in the “And” – It’s not an either/or choice. In every circumstance choose to show up with confidence and humility. Choose to focus on results and relationships.
6 Remember that everyone you lead is a volunteer – even when they’re paid they have a choice about how they show up. You get to influence the choice they make.
7 What matters to them should matter to you.
8 End every meeting by asking: “Who will do what, by when, and how will we know it is done?”
9 Apologize when you screw up, break your word, or hurt someone.
10 When leading peers, be clear whether you’re speaking as their leader or as their colleague.
11 When delegating, create a mutual face-to-face appointment on both calendars where you will receive the project. This ensures delegated tasks don’t fall through the cracks.
12 Hold everyone accountable. It tells your high-performers that you value them. When you let performance or behavior slide, you’re telling everyone you don’t care.
13 Terminating someone for cause is compassion for them and an investment in your team. Be the leader that cares enough to let them go.
14 Connect every “what” to a meaningful “why”.
15 Value people’s time – treat it with respect and expect results from everyone.
16 You can’t lead if you’re always exhausted. Take care of yourself.
17 You’re the drummer of the band. Be the leader who keeps the beat for your team with consistent expectations.
18 You won’t have all the answers and shouldn’t solve problems on your own. Share them with your team. Ask “How can we…?” and let the team take it.
19 Cultivate confidence by asking “What would a confident leader do here?” Then do it.
20 Ask for, and expect the truth. Don’t shoot the messenger.
21 Promote wisely. The most important decision you make is whom you will trust with power and authority.
22 When you don’t agree with a decision, own it anyway. Empower your team by asking “How can we?”
23 Be clear about who owns the decision before you ask for ideas.
24 You can’t ‘do your best’ at everything. Know your MIT (Most Important Thing.)
25 Check for understanding. Don’t ask “Any questions?” and assume they get it.
26 Choose to be effective rather than ‘right.’
27 Things will go wrong – sometimes badly. Don’t blame. Ask, “How can we fix this?”
28 Ask your team “How can I help?” and listen to what they need that only you can provide.
29 When asked for answers, don’t rush to help. First, ask questions that promote critical thinking and problem-solving.
30 Every meeting should achieve results and build relationships.
31 Meetings: invite the least number of people to make the best decision.
32 Meetings: choose only one discussion at a time: Where will we go? or How will we get there?
33 Meetings: begin by clarifying how the decision will be made. Will you make it? Will the team vote? Or by consensus?
34 Learn and leverage your team member’s strengths. Don’t waste time or energy on weaknesses unless it’s limiting the use of their strength.
35 Find superstars by hiring for the strengths displayed by your top performers.
36 When interviewing, avoid hypothetical questions. Ask: “Tell me about a time when…” they demonstrated a key competency.
37 People are different. Value, embrace, and incorporate the strengths in those differences.
38 Ask “How can I help?” when you know things are going well.
39 Release energy with specific, meaningful, and relevant encouragement.
40 Know where your team needs to go. Focus on the steps to get there, not on the obstacles.
41 Put people before projects. The project will end, but the people will still be there. Invest and collaborate.
42 To influence your supervisor, know what keeps their leader up at night.
43 People need to hear you say “You can do this.”
44 Want innovation? Make it safe for people to have ideas that don’t work.
45 Address performance issues by observing the behavior, ask about it, confirm the desired behavior. (See the INSPIRE model for more.)
46 Foster collaboration and end needless bickering by establishing clear expectations, priorities, and how everyone interacts to achieve these results.
47 Play the game, don’t game the score. What are the key behaviors that drive results. Your customer doesn’t care what you get on your internal scorecard.
48 A blunt axe can’t cut down a tree. Invest in your skills and health.
49 It’s not about you – people’s behavior is about them. Help things make sense to them.
50 Remote and virtual teams are still people. Treat them as such.
51 Use performance reviews to develop strengths and limit liabilities. Everything else is a waste of time.
52 Grow your leadership and impact by connecting to your team, to a community outside your job, and to mentors.
We’d love to hear from you. What would one vital leadership tip you add to help others be the leader they want their boss to be?
It’s easy to talk about collaboration. It’s much harder to do it.
After visiting one of our clients in Guatemala City, Karin, Sebastian, and I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala where my daughter owns a clothing design business. She took us to Hobbitengango, a Tolkein-inspired Hobbit-like village set in the mountains overlooking a beautiful Guatemalan valley whose motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”
There, we met Dan, one of the visionaries and architects behind the solar and wind-powered village (where you can stay overnight in a Hobbit house and enjoy fantastic food.) Dan is passionate about Guatemala’s natural resources. He works to fight deforestation, regrow Guatemala’s forests, and clean up trash in the countryside.
He shared some of the challenges he encountered creating what has become a popular tourist destination.
When he started out, Dan encountered a man who was illegally harvesting lumber. He called the authorities. They caught the man and asked if Dan wanted to press charges.
Instead, Dan offered the man a job: planting trees.
“He needed to make a living and support his family. He can’t do that from jail,” Dan said. “Now he’s able to provide and he’s repairing some of the damage he did to the forest.”
Dan shared another incident where a car drove off the road and into a neighboring farmer’s field where it did a lot of damage. As soon as he heard about the damage, Dan went to see what had happened.
When he arrived at the field, a woman “rushed out of her house, waving a machete, and yelling, saying I destroyed her fields and don’t care about anyone.”
Dan explained that another motorist had caused the damage. He had also already called his soil construction expert to repair her field. In addition, he would build a fence for her property at his expense to prevent future problems.
“She seemed surprised that I didn’t fight back, that I didn’t want to argue.”
Dan smiled, then said, “Why make enemies when you can make friends?”
Why make enemies when you can make friends?
Land in the And
We meet many leaders who talk about the value of collaboration, who want their people working together, and who get frustrated when their colleagues won’t cooperate (which often means “why won’t you see things my way?”)
It caught our attention is that, as a leader, Dan wasn’t just “being nice” in building the relationships with his neighbor and the illegal logger. He was focused on achieving his business results: reversing damage to the forest and building a viable visitor attraction. He does it by building collaborative, results-focused relationships.
This is the heart of Winning Well: your ability to “land in the and” – to focus on both results and relationships, to show up with confidence and humility.
Collaboration – Can We Trust You?
Real collaboration isn’t easy because it requires you to put people before projects and truly invest in the other person’s success. How can you help your colleague achieve their results while they help you with yours?
If you’re in a cutthroat work environment and true collaboration is rare, this might feel incredibly vulnerable and perhaps even naïve.
In these situations, don’t sacrifice your project for the sake of building collaboration. Find small ways to invest in other people, to build trust, and create mutual wins. If someone is toxic and destructive, focus your energy with others.
It will take time.
Dan gained a great team member when he offered the illegal logger a job. His relationship with the farmer, however, didn’t turn into a collaborative success. He greets her and she nods. “But,” says Dan, “She’s not an enemy.”
Collaboration requires trust and investment in other’s success. Leave us a comment and share: How do you build collaborative results-focused relationships at work?
“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”
Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.
He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.
He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”
Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.
Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.
When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”
Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.
Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate
When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.
You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.
In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.
For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.
Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.
In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.
Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.
Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.
When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”
The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.
What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate
Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.
Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.
Clarity of results is often easier to define:
- What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
- What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
- What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?
Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:
- How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
- How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
- What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?
In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:
- Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
- Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
- How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
- How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?
If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.
Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?
“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.”
It’s nearly a leadership cliché:
You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a harried manager barking these words at you. You may even have said them yourself.
I’ve delivered many keynote programs and workshops where frontline leaders in the audience approach me afterward and proudly announce how they are in the habit of telling their people not to bring a problem without a solution.
Some of them even mean well. They believe that they’re helping their people. Others just want people and their problems to go away. They’re usually surprised at my response:
Here’s the thing, if you’re in a leadership role, yes, your executives can fairly expect you to think things through and bring solutions (particularly when you’ve got bad news – see the D.A.R.N. Method). You’ve got the experience and responsibility to be able to own your problems and look for answers.
However, your employees are a different audience. Telling employees not to bring a problem without a solution is careless and lazy.
They may not know how to problem solve. They may lack critical thinking skills. They may not have the training or information they need to arrive at reasonable solutions.
The problem with telling people “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is that when they don’t know how to come up with solutions, you’ve essentially just told them, “Don’t bring me a problem.”
Now you’ve got people mucking about with problems they can’t solve and that they won’t bring to you. The problems fester, productivity and service decline, and everyone is frustrated.
There’s a better way.
Help Employees Learn to Think Critically and Solve Problems
The answer is definitely not to play the hero and jump in with answers, nor is it the old-school “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution!” The immediate problems might get solved and work continues, but next time an issue comes up, your team still can’t figure it out for themselves and, worse, you’ve now taught them that if things get difficult, you’ll just figure it out for them.
Yes, you’re the hero, but say goodbye to your own productivity!
What they really need from you in these moments are your questions: the kind of questions that focus on learning and the future. Questions that generate ideas and solutions.
- What is your goal?
- What did you try?
- What happened?
- Do you need a specific skill or tool to be able to solve this?
- What would you do next time?
- What do you think will happen when you try that?
- What will you do?
- Super-bonus question – keep reading to learn this powerful tool!
Assuming that your staff have the basic skills, training, and materials they need to do their jobs, this conversation doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes. For a complex project, it might take the time required to drink a cup of coffee, but it shouldn’t take much longer than that.
Now, you might be wondering what to do if the person replies to one of your questions with, “I don’t know.”
Don’t despair – it’s time to use the super-bonus question. When a team member says, “I don’t know,” most managers will then jump in and supply the answer, but not you. There’s a better way.
“I don’t know” can mean many things. Rarely does it mean the person has zero thoughts about the issue.
More often, “I don’t know” translates to:
- “I’m uncertain.”
- “I don’t want to commit before I know where you stand.”
- “I haven’t thought about it yet.”
- “I don’t want to think about it.”
- “Will you please just tell me what to do?”
- “I’m scared about getting it wrong.”
Your job as a leader is to continue the dialogue – to ease the person through their anxiety and train their brain to engage. This is where the super-bonus question comes in.
With one question you can re-engage them in the conversation and move through “I don’t know” to productivity.
When someone says, “I don’t know,” your super-bonus question is: “What might you do if you did know?”
Before you judge this tool, try it.
Try it with your children, with your co-workers, or with the person next to you in a coffee shop. In any conversation where someone says, “I don’t know,” respond with a gentle, “What might you do if you did know?” and watch what happens.
It’s like magic.
The person who was stymied two seconds ago will start to share ideas (often good ones) brainstorm solutions, and move on as if they were never stuck. It’s amazing and hard to believe until you try it.
The super-bonus question works because it addresses the source of the person’s “I don’t know.” If they were anxious or fearful, it takes the pressure off by creating a hypothetical situation: “If you did know…” Now they don’t have to be certain or look for your approval and they become free to share whatever they might have been thinking.
If they hadn’t thought about the issue or didn’t want to think about it, you’ve lowered the perceived amount of thought-energy they must expend. You’re not asking for a thesis on the subject, just a conversational “What might you do…”
Our brains can do amazing work when we remove the emotional blocks. When you do this for your team, you train their brain to engage, to push through their ordinary blocks, and increase their performance. Ultimately, they will be able to have these conversations with themselves and will only need to bring the very serious issues to you.
You’ll know you’re succeeding in asking healthy questions when a team member tells you: “I had a problem. I was going to come and talk it over with you, but then I thought, you’re just going to ask me all these questions. So I asked myself all the questions instead and I figured it out.”
Celebrate those moments and encourage them to start asking those questions of the people around them. You’ve just increased your team’s capacity for problem-solving, freed up time to focus on your work, and…you’ve built a leader!
Before you bark “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” remember that when a team member has trouble thinking through a problem, good questions are your best solution.
Leave us a comment and share: How do you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in your team?
Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.
How to Be Tough When You Prefer Being Kind by Dan Rockwell
Stress increases when leaders can’t bring kind and tough together.
Kind without tough makes you a pushover.
Tough without kind makes you a jerk.
My Comment: Stress increases, yes – and both results and relationships suffer when you don’t combine kind and tough. Without a disciplined focus on results, people lose focus, infighting increases, and your top performers go somewhere where their performance is appreciated. Without healthy relationships, trust suffers, people burnout, they do the least they can to get by, and inefficiency prevails because people don’t come together to solve mutual problems.
Leaders who combine their focus on achieving breakthrough results with a focus on healthy professional relationships with the people they lead give themselves the best chance to achieve transformational results that last.
Employee Engagement: What Story Does the Data Tell Leadership? By Martie Moore
The first time I used the words “resilience” and “engagement” was with my leadership team at the time. I asked, “What can we do to advance engagement and help people to be more resilient?”
Suddenly, everyone around the table had important emails to read on their phone. In essence, this immediate phone reading signaled an uncomfortable discussion — and their avoidance level.
My Comment: While this article was written for leaders in the long-term care industry, the issues it identifies are typical of the reality faced by leaders across industries: constant connectivity, acute margin pressures, increased pace of change, and uncertain futures are challenges you can probably relate to. This article is the beginning of a series that will look at experience, science, and practical action can take for themselves and the people they serve. It looks promising.
Leading in large organizations is tough. It’s easy for people to lose their identity and humanity as decisions are made by spreadsheet. And yet, almost paradoxically, more humanity, more focus on relationships and results, improves that bottom line. It takes courage along with the specific management and leadership skills we share in Winning Well to meet this challenge and succeed.
A Leader’s Job Is Never Done by Jane Perdue
Given that our state was in the path of totality for the August 2017 solar eclipse, people in our neighborhood gathered to watch. The closer we were to the time of totality, the larger the crowd became.
Within five minutes of the awe-inspiring ninety seconds of darkness and coolness, the crowd had largely dispersed.
The lost interest and crowd thinning-out triggered thoughts in my mind of how we tend to think about many things, including leadership, mostly in terms of their headline-making moments.
My Comment: When I was young, a mentor would often share his perspective that you can’t be a hero in the big moments if you’re not a hero in the small ones. Perdue takes a look at many of the ways that leaders build their credibility, influence, and trust in some of the more mundane, less headline-worthy, common moments that you face throughout your day, week, and career. You’re constantly becoming who you will be tomorrow. With each of these moments, you choose who that will be.
How Can You Make Yourself Invincible at Work? by Wendy Marx
Quick question: How valuable are you at work? Hint: It has little to do with your place on an organizational chart.
The new truth is that grabbing a high rung in an organization’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re indispensable.
What clinches your value at work is what’s known as informal power — the ability to influence people and overcome resistance where you lack authority. It means being able to get someone to do your bidding where you have no formal authority.
Today you can’t lead simply by virtue of your title.
My Comment: While I’m not a fan of the notion of “getting someone to do your bidding” (it smacks of manipulation and a USER approach to leadership) Marx is right on with regard the role of influence. I won’t promote someone to a formal leadership position until they’ve demonstrated that they can get things done without that formal power. Power gives you the ability to deliver an “or else,” but that only gets a person’s minimum effort. Effective leaders cultivate an environment that releases a person’s strengths, talents, and skills toward the mission and the work.
Marx provides a good exercise you can use to assess how much value you are adding to the people around you and how you can address it if it’s out of balance.
Optimized or Maximized? By Seth Godin
I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.
That was maximum speed, but it wasn’t optimum.
Systems have an optimum level of performance. It’s the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout.
One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.
Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…
That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.
My Comment: I loved this article. It gets at the heart of why so many managers can turn into jerks, even if they’re not naturally inclined that way. We call it “trickle down intimidation.” In the interest of short term “maximization,” leaders who lack any other tools turn to fear, power, and control to get things done. And it works, at least minimally. As I said in my comments on the second article this week: it takes courage and leadership skills to choose a different path. To, as Godin says, optimize your leadership, your team, and your company for the long run rather than fleeting and costly short-term gain. It takes courage and practice, but you can do it.
What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite?
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 (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.
Letting slackers slide reduces your credibility, causes your best performers to bolt, and leaves the rest of the team wondering why they bother. No one wants to mire in their own mediocrity. And high-performers hate nothing more than watching their poor-performing teammates drag down results. Tolerating poor performance creates a morale death spiral that takes Herculean force to reverse.
Of course there’s also the over-the-cube talk about the two slackers– the poor performing guy and you. The more you allow the poor performance to go on, the more the rest of the team will shrug their shoulders and join the poor performance bandwagon. Now the death spiral is accelerating with centripetal force, squandering time and draining vital energy from your team.
The sad truth is that every day, team leaders around the world turn their heads and let the poor performance continue.
Don’t fall into these traps.
Why Team Leaders Tolerate Poor Performance
I’m going to start with the benefit of the doubt: that you (or the team leader you’re trying to help) cares, and is not a performance problem. If that’s not the case, same rules apply, one level up.
Beyond that, here’s a gut check for why you’re allowing poor performance to continue.
- Guilt- You worry you haven’t done enough to develop to support, develop, encourage, and build confidence, empower, or recognize. If that’s truly the case, you’re right. You’ve got more work to do. Get going. BUT, if you have invested and invested again and it’s still not working it’s time to face that this job may not be the right fit. Stop feeling guilty. You need to do what’s right for the greater good of the company and the team
- Morale – I’ve seen so many team leaders so worried about building great morale, that they actually destroy it. If everything everyone does is just great then the folks who are really giving their all wonder why they do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the rest of the team thank me for addressing poor performance. Of course such things are private, but trust me, your team is more astute than you may think.
- Saving Face – You hired the guy. Perhaps you even convinced you boss that he was the one. If you’ve done everything you can to make it work, and it still isn’t, it’s far better to admit you were wrong, learn from your experience and move on. Don’t magnify one poor decision with another.
- Confidence – You’re scared. You’re not sure how to approach the situation. Get some help. There’s nothing harder for a leader to do than to address poor performance, or remove someone from the team. It never is easy, but it does get easier. Practice your conversation with a peer or mentor. Plan the conversation and anticipate responses. You can do this.
- Lack of Alternatives – I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me for an internal reference for a poor performer they are about to hire, and after I share the issues and concerns, they hire them any way. I actually had one guy say recently, ‘well, Karin you have a very high standards, I’m not sure that’s realistic. The funny part is that I had back-filled this guy with someone who was running circles around his predecessor. Hire slow. The great ones are out there and deserve a chance.
If you’ve got a struggling performer on your team, do all you can to help. And if It’s time to let them move on, help them to do that gracefully.
When you’re running full speed ahead with a great idea, be sure to look back over your shoulder to see who’s with you.
A Great Idea
My staff team had a great idea. They were buzzing with excitement. We needed some fun recognition to inspire call center reps to provide great customer service.
“Let’s give the reps a lanyard like in Disney world. You know the kind where you collect pins. The employees can use the lanyard to carry their ID and access badge, and then they can earn pins each time they do something extraordinary. We can have a contest to design the pins.”
The presenter (a big Disney fan) could hardly contain her excitement about their great idea. After all reps love contests, and this one had bling. What a great way to reinforce our new priorities. We needed to act fast, so lanyards were ordered and pins designed. There were about 9000 folks to buy for. Anything x 9000 is not cheap. But it would be worth it.
The staff team held a conference call to roll out the plan. Boxes of lanyards and pins shipped to call centers across the country. Game on.
Fast forward 3 months later, I’m on a tour of the call centers, not a lanyard in site. “Oh, I think we have them somewhere.” That somewhere was most often in a storage closet underneath the Halloween decorations. What went wrong?
5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working
- Lack Of Field Testing – “I’m from staff, I’m here to help” is a phrase that makes field leaders cringe. I’m allowed to say that since I’ve spent much time on both sides of that imaginary line. Always get the folks who you’re trying to help to kick the tires early in the game. A small pilot goes a long way. Test the concept, but also the logistics. In this case the lanyards didn’t fit with every centers badge. Programs developed in a vacuum suck the potential out of potentially great ideas.
- They’ve Seen This Movie before – Your new idea may feel like old news to veterans in the field. Check for scar tissue and past experiences. Ask what’s worked well (and not so well) with similar programs in the past. Talk about what’s different this time. Whatever you do don’t say: “this is not just another flavor of the month”. If you have to say that, it probably is. Reconsider.
- It’s Lost In The Sauce – Know what other priorities and programs are competing for attention. Support programs work best when they’re supportive of the priorities at hand (shocking, I know). If your idea feels like one more thing do on top of an already stressful job, it’s not going to get attention.
- Lack Of Leadership Support – If your middle managers and front-line leaders are not passionate about your idea, I’d bet my paycheck it won’t work. A great idea without excellent execution is useless. Be sure the folks you need to make your great idea happen are overwhelmed by the value. It may take a minute to get there go slow to go fast.
- Lack Of Clarity – Most plans feel straightforward when you’re sitting around a conference table at headquarters. Remember it’s 100 times noisier where that idea is headed. Be sure everyone knows what you expect them to do and vet all questions. Sure leave room for creativity, but leave nothing to chance. Explain what needs to be done 3 times, 3 different ways, and then check for understanding.