Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

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PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

Just Ask for It

choices

Why do we agonize over things we want? I’m talking about those situations where there seems to be an opportunity, but we freeze before acting. We’ve all been in those situations; ones that require a simple ask. That new opportunity, that raise, that account, that job order.

It’s right there, but we stop short of taking action. Usually, we start over-thinking the ‘what-ifs’. What if they say no? What if they don’t like the idea? Fear takes over.

The simple answer is to “just ask.”

A Valuable Lesson

I learned a valuable lesson in high school. My senior year, the Homecoming Weekend was getting ready to happen. I needed a date for the big dance.

On a total whim, I decided to ask the prettiest, most popular girl on campus to be my date. We were in a couple of classes together so we knew each other only a little. I stress that because it was not like I was on her radar at all.

I picked my moment between classes and threw out the question. Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?

She said “Yes.” SHE SAID YES!!!!

I was more surprised than I should have been. But I had the prize! A Homecoming date with the prettiest girl in school. Well, word spread rapidly. The other guys couldn’t believe it.

The big day came and we had a nice time. It never turned into anything else, but I had achieved what I wanted to do.

Plus, I learned a very valuable lesson. You have to ask.

Current Story

I have a client who owns a multi-million dollar company. They’ve been in business for many years, but recent market shifts have required a total revamp of the business. Old product lines are obsolete and new technologies have taken front and center.

The team has done well making ‘pivots’ to support new products and services. The owner calls the business a “25-year-old start-up.”

At the core of the recent success and seismic shift in business has been the owner’s willingness to ‘just ask.’ If there’s a meeting with a new national distributor and some opportunity arises, just ask.

Or a meeting with new clients, just ask for the business. If they run into a problem with an order, just ask about the details.

‘Just ask’ has become their battle cry for newfound success.

And guess what. It’s working!

Roadblocks

Yet why is it so darn hard to just ask? I meet many clients who have opportunities, but they fail to make that one next step… asking.

procrastination

From my view, there are several key reasons why asking the big questions runs into roadblocks.

First, you can over-think the situation. Smart, well-educated people do this a lot. Their brain goes into high gear when a situation comes up. What about this? What about that? The list gets longer than the original idea.

Pretty soon you talk yourself out of the opportunity before you ever pursue it.

Next is perfectionism. I see this a lot. The person with a perfectionistic personality will over-analyze the idea. “If it can’t be perfect, I won’t do it.”

So many opportunities are missed because of perfectionism. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

There are some great moments that get lost because you think your involvement won’t be perfect. So you miss out entirely.

Then there is procrastination. Procrastinators bridge between perfectionism and just plain avoidance. I’ve seen procrastination play out in many forms.

Generally, the person who procrastinates usually has some deeper drivers at work. Since I’m not a psychologist, I can’t go into those details, but I know how debilitating they can be. I’ve watched it with far too many clients.

On the other hand, if you avoid delaying the ask, you might just strike the perfect timing. In high school, my timing for asking for the Homecoming date had to be spot on.

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Summary

These are the big three reasons people have trouble making the ask. If you suffer any or all of these, just try being bold for a short period of time. Stop over-thinking, quit being a perfectionist and don’t wait.

Just ASK! You might be pleasantly surprised at what it can do to your business, your relationship status, and your sense of well-being.

One last thought to share about asking for something.

I grew up being mentored by many people. I was an only child of a single Mom. She had wisdom beyond her years to go out and find willing individuals who would take me in and become my mentor.

They didn’t literally have me come live with them, but they made time to teach me things. Through the grace and strength of a long list of great men, I learned all the things a young boy should learn; how to hit a curveball, how to fish, how to do woodworking, repair things, play tennis, throw a spiral, build things, plus a few life lessons. (Like asking the prettiest girl to the dance.)

As I grew older, I still valued mentorship. So I asked for it. If I met someone who I learned to respect and admire, I’d ask for time to hear their views and learn how they got to where they were.

The point of this is, don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. A lot of very skilled and talented people will be honored that you did ask. And they’ll be happy to come alongside to help.

When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

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The Problem Is Not the Problem, Part 2

Doug Thorpe blog post header

Many moons ago I wrote about a borrowed thought from another coaching friend. It was his quote:

The problem is not the problem.

Last week we had the ice storm from Hell; yes hell did freeze over here in Texas. For several days, vast areas were without power and water. Communities suffered from bone-chilling temperatures with little to no opportunity to thaw.

Temperatures dipped into single digits in many zip codes.

I realize some of you who read this will laugh. You routinely experience cold weather, ice, and snow every year. You have 4 distinct seasons where you live. But you have to understand, we here in Texas usually have just two seasons – mild and HOT.

Where I live, we lock down when the needle drops below 40 degrees. At 30, we board up the windows. At 20 we begin calling the priests for last rights. Ok just kidding, but it gets serious real fast the further the temperatures drop. Suffice it to say, we don’t know exactly what to do.

The News

The mainstream media is having a field day. One side is blasting the other for everything from bad designs and plans to poor leadership. In rebuttal, people are blaming the infrastructure for the fails.

Regardless it’s a big problem. But just what problem is it? That’s my point.

Right now, we don’t know nor will we know exactly what the problem is. On the surface, people lost power and water. THAT’S a problem, sure.

But is that really THE problem? I don’t think so. It’s just the manifestation of something else that happened. Yes, when a family loses power and water in their house for more than 50 hours, they have a problem. I’m not minimizing that.

As the after-action reporting and various investigations unfold, no doubt we will hear about this state agency or that one doing this and that wrong. People will get their names thrown around with severe connotations. As an old friend once said, “sternly worded memos will follow.”

But will we discover the real core of the problem? I hope so. But honestly, I doubt we will.

The Extreme Case

My story so far is an extreme case. But in business, problems arise every day. Things don’t go as planned. We try to dig into causes to determine why the problem is there, but often we miss the mark.

If we get too consumed on the solution, we might miss the root cause.

Once we err on finding the real problem, we are likely to repeat the situation.

The same can be said of the very thing that your business may be about. When you started your business, you had a vision. There was some product or service you wanted to deliver. Likely you firmly believed your ‘thing’ was going to solve everyone’s problems. Right?

As your business grew, did you focus more on your solution rather than the problem you were trying to fix?

If you lose sight of the original problem, you have a bigger problem. Your company may be headed for becoming irrelevant. If the market doesn’t have your kind of problem to fix, then your solution is meaningless.

You cannot survive by being the solution looking for a problem. You have to be solidly aligned with the problem you think you can fix. And the real problem must be very real.

The whole dot com bust was about solutions people created for problems that didn’t exist. I once saw an episode of Shark Tank where a young entrepreneur had created a phone app that showed you where things were in airport food courts.

If you’ve been to a food court lately at your local airport, things are pretty much right there. Having an extra app to map the booths and kiosks wouldn’t add much to the expereince.

This young man was crushed to find none of the sharks were interested. In fact, they got a little rude as he stressed the value (in his mind) of this app.

His app was a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

If your business is not producing the results you thought it should, maybe you are solving the wrong problems. Your creation may be wonderful, but if it doesn’t deliver the right value to solving a real problem, you are just fluff.

Fluff only sells for bedding and jackets, which we could have used more of here in Texas last week.

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To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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Are You a FAST Leader?

The 5 C’s of a Trusted Leader

Leadership Effectiveness Can Work with Simple Triggers

Why Trust Matters to Leaders; Leaders Build Trust

team trust

For decades, business leaders have been equipping themselves with every book, philosophy, reward, and program the so-called experts have convinced them to buy into, yet companies everywhere continue to struggle with toxic cultures, low performance from teams, and the unhappiness that go with them. Yet how can leaders build trust?

From our earliest days on the playground to modern-day business board rooms, there is one giant factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

That factor is trust.

Companies work long and hard, spending millions of dollars to build brand awareness that shows trust. Consumers have to trust something before they buy. Managers and CEOs spend time and money trying to build better work teams.

Recent studies in several sectors have discovered the biggest contributor to team success is TRUST.

Building Team Performance

Google broke the ice on this topic with their “Aristotle Project.” Following the success of Google’s Project Oxygen research where the People Analytics team studied what makes a great manager, Google researchers applied a similar method to discover the secrets of effective teams at Google.

Code-named Project Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (as the Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone) – the goal was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

The runaway winning attribute in highly successful teams was “psychological safety” or simply trust.

The Google study found that this element of trust was the most significant factor in helping teams do more, even among their peers of highly educated, well trained employees.

When trust is broken, relationships of all kinds stop working well.

The Brain Science Behind Trust

Adding to this interesting discussion comes the book “The Trust Factor” by neuroscientist Paul Zak.

In Trust Factor, we are shown that innate brain functions hold the answers we’ve been looking for. Put simply, the key to providing an engaging, encouraging, positive culture that keeps your employees energized is trust.

When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle between management and staff, and–voilá!–the end of stubborn workplace patterns.

The book incorporates science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations with successful examples from The Container Store, Zappos, and Herman Miller. The Trust Factor explains:

• How brain chemicals affect behavior

• Why trust gets squashed

• How to stimulate trust within your employees

• And more

What’s a leader to do?

For you who are sitting in the corner office or who are building a small business, you hear these things and wonder. I understand it, but I have no idea where to start. I’ve had so many ‘bad hires’ I can’t imagine getting this thing going. And trust an employee????

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Let’s turn back to the Aristotle results and get the answers. Leaders build trust. Here are five key action areas that leaders can control.

The five key dynamics of effective teams that the Google researchers identified are rooted in the wider world of team performance research. Whether you’re coding at Google, riffing in a writers roompreparing for a trip to Mars, or skating in a hockey rink – teams are essential to the work experience and output.

At Google, now that the Project Aristotle team has identified what makes for an effective team at Google, they’re conducting research to figure out how to take the next steps to create, foster, and empower effective teams.

Whatever it is that makes for effective teams in your organization, and it may be different from what the Google researchers found, consider these steps to share your efforts:

  1. Establish a common vocabulary – Define the team behaviors and norms you want to foster in your organization.
  2. Create a forum to discuss team dynamics – Allow for teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways. An HR Business Partner or trained facilitator may help.
  3. Commit leaders to reinforcing and improving – Get leadership onboard to model and seek continuous improvement can help put into practice your vocabulary.

Here are some tips for managers and leaders to support the behaviors the Google researchers found important for effective teams. These are based on external research and Google’s own experience:

Psychological safety:

Dependability:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of team members.
  • Develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.
  • Talk about some of the conscientiousness research.

Structure & Clarity:

  • Regularly communicate team goals and ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them.
  • Ensure your team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.
  • Consider adopting Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) to organize the team’s work.

Meaning:

  • Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing and offer to help them with something they struggle with.
  • Publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you out.
  • Read the KPMG case study on purpose.

Impact:

  • Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to the team’s and broader organization’s goals.
  • Reflect on the work you’re doing and how it impacts users or clients and the organization.
  • Adopt a user-centered evaluation method and focus on the user.

If after considering these things, you still struggle to get your head around this complex challenge, I can help.

I’ve developed a Team Trust Model that provides a clear, concise framework that teams can embrace. In places where I have introduced this framework, it becomes that vocabulary the team uses to communicate with each other. It allows a structure and process to something that otherwise may feel too vague. With it, leaders build trust.

This model has been used by leaders at corporate giants like ExxonMobil and UPS. But it has also been used by small business owners too.

Anywhere you have three or more people assembled for performing tasks, you need Team Trust.

PS – I realize that the new era of COVID remote workers really impacts your ability to connect with your teams. However, as you study the key elements here, it is easy to see why following these ideas is more critical now than ever before.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Have You Turned Away from Networking Groups?

networking

We are T-minus 2 weeks into 2021. Are you having fun yet? Have the New Year’s resolutions taken root or been abandoned?

People are still trying to make sense of the new normal we call COVID. I’m no different.

But today I want to drill down on a topic that has been recurring more and more often in my circle of business owners and corporate execs I talk to. That topic is business ‘networking’.

What Is Networking?

There are a lot of different meanings when you say networking. Most often in the business sense, it has to do with sales and lead generation; go to some event, meet people, and get new prospecting contacts.

However, the one I want to talk about is the mastermind, the roundtable, or peer-to-peer advisory type. Call it what you will. It’s the situation where a few people sharing the same general profile gather. There is a common thread reaching across the group. The meeting is usually facilitated by someone. The events can be paid for or free.

On one hand, the concept here is a good one. “Iron sharpens iron” is a Biblical principle taught for 2000 years. Napolean Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” preaches the idea of the power in a Mastermind Group. That was 1920. It’s been around ever since.

So gathering with peers to share experiences and offer solutions makes sense, right?

Over my career I’ve participated in dozens of these group formats, logging hundreds of hours of participation. And yes, I’ve gotten great value. Hopefully, I’ve shared some value too.

Even today, I belong to or facilitate several.

The Rub

The concern I’m hearing from clients and prospects though is that in today’s business VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the measurable value in these meetings is in doubt.

mastermind

I can honestly say, I have more clients exiting their groups than I do joining groups. Why is that?

Here are five BIG reasons I see today.

First, with the pivot to everything being virtual, you get a mixed reaction. While you’re saving time commuting to the breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, you’re just tired of Zoom/Teams calls.

Having one more virtual gathering is painful. Plus the connection with the group may suffer by doing it virtually. Yes, we’re all getting better at communicating this way, but the deeper, more meaningful connection (like these should be) gets compromised.

Next, the group dynamic may be skewed. In almost every group, there will be one or two ‘know-it-alls’; people who have something to say about everything. You know in your gut they don’t really know it all, but these geniuses will convince you it’s true.

Having to spend a portion of your time with the group either debating or ignoring the know-it-all personality is unproductive.

Thirdly, the focus is unclear. If the organizer/facilitator is not skilled at bringing value to the group, then there may not be any sense of purpose. Who needs to spend an hour or more each month without focus? It just becomes a social event.

Likely you have other circles of friends and colleagues you’d rather spend your social time with, not a peer business group. And certainly not one you may be paying to attend.

Next, a sense of trust is missing. In any small group, especially one committed to sharing thoughts and ideas, there has to be a ‘cone of silence’ or TRUST. The group needs to be expressly committed to protecting trust with each other.

If you do not feel the trust in the group, the depth of the issues you open up will suffer. You’ll be more likely to skim along, never reaching deep into concerns and questions.

Lastly, do you struggle to fit in? Not all groups are created equally. Depending on the sponsor organization building the groups there may be little to no filter on the way groups are set. You can waste several months exploring the fit, only to find it’s not going to be good.

Issues like conflicts of interest, competing business markets, and company size can be alignment factors that impact the effectiveness of the mastermind.

These five reasons are the main objections I hear now. I am sure there are others.

But id this to say STOP all your group attendance? No, of course not. If you are finding value, then by all means stay with it. Just be certain you are receiving a meaningful return on invested time or money.

The Alternative

If you are still hungry for advice and counsel, what can you do?

The other choice apart from those networking groups is to engage a single advisor. This is someone who can be your personal, trusted guide. Just like a personal trainer at the gym or a yoga or golf instructor, having a business advisor makes sense.

With a single advisor or a small group of advisors, you get the exact attention your business needs. There are no distractions from others creeping in and consuming the time. It is YOUR time.

Selection of your advisor takes a little work though.

The market has been flooded with new, young professionals offering to be business coaches and consultants. Beware. The canned programs that many of these agents subscribe to are ‘business in a box’ solutions. One size does NOT fit all.

You need someone who has been there before, accomplished the greater things you want to achieve, and someone who knows the realities of running bigger businesses.

call a coach

Why not align with someone who has proven success at the higher level you want to go to? What could anyone possibly tell you about growing from $1,000,000 annual revenue to $5,000,000 or from $10MM to $25MM, if they haven’t already done it themselves?

If these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps we should talk. Click the button below to arrange a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

5 Ways Managers Can Get More from Their Teams

You and I both control one big thing in our daily lives. That ‘thing’ is the effort we choose to spend. As managers and leaders, we want to get more effort from our team.

We all choose what level of effort is used, whether it is effort at work, at home, in the gym, on the golf course, fishing, playing sports, or building relationships,

The various levels of effort we spend depend usually on what we think is required. How many of us get behind the wheel of our cars and miraculously arrive at our destinations with little if any thought or conscious effort to do so? As scary as that thought may be, it is true.

There are certain things we do every day that receive the minimum effort required. Other things we feel more effort is needed so we ‘work a little harder.’

The same is true with everything we do at work. Whatever the job requires, you make intentional or unintentional choices about applying the best level of effort.

Learning about Discretionary Effort

Going the extra mile is called discretionary effort. You voluntarily choose how much extra you give.

For those of you who are gym rats, you know about discretionary effort. As an example, it’s the extra rep at the end of a long set. It’s the extra plate on the weight stack. You choose to try more, applying all your remaining strength to get it achieved.

fitness and effort

The Leaders and Managers Opportunity

As managers and leaders of business, how can you inspire your people to give that little bit extra? Just like a good sports coach gets a little more out of his athletes, you too can become the coach your people need so they are willing to give that discretionary effort too.

Here are five ways you can up your game as a leader.

First, answer their questions. Every employee arrives at work with basic questions. They need these questions resolved in order to fully apply themselves to the work. Giving the ‘extra’ effort requires all the questions are answered completely.

I’m not talking about obvious questions, but sometimes intangible ones. For instance, here’s the list of core questions employees ask:

  • Do I even want to be here? The people question.
  • Do I believe in the purpose for this team? The why question.
  • Do I believe in the plan we have to execute our roles?
  • What is the practice or process? Do the tools, systems, and procedures work?
  • Will my performance be recognized?
  • What is the payoff? Not just monetary, but the sense of accomplishment.

If you can work with your team to have critical questions like these answered affirmatively, then you will see the increase in discretionary effort employees use.

manager answering questions

Next, you need to be trustworthy. Leaders must work to create an environment of trust. It starts at the manager’s desk. You cannot dictate nor demand trust from your team if you are not trustworthy yourself.

The way you build trust for yourself involves these key things:

  • Be real, don’t fake it
  • Stand by your word
  • Be relatable, work to connect with your team, not as friends, but as co-workers

More Ways to Get More for Managers and Leaders

The next opportunity involves creating a vision. Because your people wonder about the purpose of the team (see above), you have to be the one creating the vision. Too many managers rely on the bigger picture statement from above about purpose and vision.

NO! If you got put in a manager’s seat, YOU need to create your own vision for what the team can and should be doing. YOU need to define what it means to win. It is YOUR job to paint that picture for your team.

After you can share the proper vision for your team, your employees will find ways to help make it happen. Everyone wants a purpose. Great Leaders inspire that.

Next, provide an accountability framework. As small children, we all want to know where the boundaries are. An absence of boundaries actually creates insecurity.

It happens at work too. That is to say, if your hiring process is reasonably effective (not perfect but good enough), the people you hired will want to do the right thing. However, if you fail to show them that, they get unsettled, confused. Just like small children they may act out. If you have that happening, it’s your fault.

Build the right structure for monitoring, evaluating, recognizing good performance, and helping those who are falling behind.

Inspect what you expect.

Anonymous

I use and teach a process known as the Big 5. It’s a beautifully simple way to have employees get on the same page. It provides you with coaching moments to help guide your people. For more on the Big 5 method click here.

Lastly, have some fun. Yes, that may sound weird. But people respond better if the effort they choose to spend gets recognized. There is no better way to recognize good performance than celebrating your wins.

Above all, use the milestones in a project to have small celebrations of victory for achieving that. In addition, if you pulled a series of all-nighters getting a project out the door, celebrate!

Don’t lose an opportunity to have fun with the good work people are delivering.

There you have it

Five ways to inspire your team to choose to spend discretionary effort at work. By following these ideas, you too can get more from your team while improving team trust and developing an environment of rewarding experience for your people.

How great would it be to have employees that honestly say “I love working here?” This is how you can do it.

If you’re still not clear on exactly how you too can get more from your team, give me a call. We’ll explore your exact situation in more detail.

Solving Productivity Challenges in Small Teams

servant leader

You’re a small team, and you often feel like you need to do a lot with a little. But, despite the fact that you don’t have endless resources and limitless hands to share the load, you want to help your team figure out how to be productive.

Even when you have everybody fired up and ready to crank through their tasks, you still get stuck. Deadlines are missed, team members are burnt out, and you end each day with a to-list that’s barely been touched.

What gives? Productivity challenges are common on teams of all sizes, and even more so now that a good chunk of your team is figuring out how to be productive at home. 

Let’s dig into the details of why achieving peak output can be such a struggle, as well as how you can help your small but mighty team get over those hurdles. 

Why is productivity so tough? 

If operating at maximum productivity was easy, a lot more teams would be doing it. But, let’s face it: getting a lot done is hard. 

In their quest for to-do list domination, your team is dealing with some (or even all) of the following barriers: 

  • Lack of clarity and communication: Communication is always challenging, and that’s especially true when your team is working remotely. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that collaboration and communication are the biggest struggles when working remotely. When wires get crossed, team members don’t know what to do next — and that makes it tough for them to keep the wheels in motion.
  • Overwhelm and burnout: Perhaps your team isn’t making progress because they have too much to do. When they’re stuck on a hamster wheel of endless tasks, they can burn out entirely. A Gallup survey concluded that 23% of workers say they feel burned out more often than not, while 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. 
  • Tool fatigue: A separate survey found that 43% of workers believe they need to switch between too many apps to get their basic work done. Not only does that waste time, but it also contributes to confusion. When they’re working between too many platforms, team members might miss important updates and notifications. 

7 strategies to boost productivity on your team

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

Yikes. There’s no shortage of issues that can throw your team’s productivity off track. But here’s the good news: You can do something about them. We’re breaking down seven strategies to help your team figure out how to be productive during quarantine — and well beyond. 

1. Streamline your intake process

Does this sound familiar? Work lands on your team’s plate, and then you need to spend hours (or even days) tracking down all of the information you need to get started.

That’s not only a hassle, but it also slows you down. Standardize and streamline your intake process with Wrike’s request forms. They require that project requesters submit all of the information your team needs, and then automatically trigger a project or task in Wrike from that predesigned blueprint. No more hunting for those must-have project details.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 2

2. Integrate and automate what you can

Only 39% of the workday is spent on actual work. Where does the rest go? Emails, unproductive meetings, and administrative tasks are some of the biggest culprits monopolizing your team’s time.

Give them some of their hours and energy back by integrating and automating work. Wrike integrates with a ton of the platforms you’re already using, so that you can automatically create tasks from emails or Slack messages, seamlessly share image files across platforms, and collaborate in real-time. You can also automate entire workflows and take some manual effort off of your team’s shoulders. 

3. Use dashboards for increased clarity

Half of employees don’t understand what’s expected of them at work. When your team members don’t understand what to start on next, it’s impossible for them to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Wrike can help boost clarity and empower your team to get more done. Wrike’s Dashboards enable team leads to get a bird’s eye view of team performance, spot any risks or bottlenecks, and nudge overdue tasks along. Team members can drill down to personal or project-based dashboards, so that they always understand what to do and when. 

4. Understand task dependencies

Nothing will stall your team’s productivity levels like a bottleneck. They can’t make any progress when they’re waiting on approval from a client or a resource from another team.

That’s why it’s important that you account for task dependencies, and Wrike’s Gantt Chart can help you do just that. You’ll be able to visualize how different items are connected, plan for dependencies, and keep projects moving forward.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 3

5. Track your team’s time

If you want your team to be more effective with their time, you need to understand where it’s going. That’s where time tracking comes in. It not only helps make things like billing more straightforward, but it also enables your team to get a grasp on where they’re investing your hours — so you can work toward better effort allocation. 

Wrike’s Time Tracking feature allows your team to log their hours with the click of the button. Worried that your team members don’t want to be watched that closely? Don’t panic. 79% of respondents in one survey said they’re fine with their employers monitoring their workplace-related activities. 

6. Reevaluate your processes

The working world has changed a lot in recent months, and now your team is trying to navigate how to be productive working from home. 

This means some of your old processes might no longer be helpful. Fortunately, your procedures and workflows aren’t set in stone. Reevaluate them regularly to determine whether they need to be revamped, reconsidered, or even removed entirely. 

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

7. Be realistic about workloads

38% of employees feel overwhelmed by how much they have to get done at work. One of the best things you can do to support your team in increasing their productivity is to ensure you’re being realistic about their workloads.

Wrike’s Workload charts help you visualize your entire team’s workload and bandwidth. You can easily allocate tasks and ensure you aren’t spreading any one team member too thin. 

Wondering how to be productive? This is your guide

Productivity isn’t a piece of cake, especially on small teams. Your team is responsible for a lot, and sometimes it feels like you’re all struggling to keep your heads above water.

You can support your team in getting even more accomplished, without needing to deal with extra stress and elbow grease. Use the strategies we’ve outlined here, and your team will work smarter — not harder. 

Learn how to boost your team’s productivity (and how Wrike features can help) by watching this webinar and signing up for a free two-week trial.

Editor’s Note – This article was written by Kat Boogaard at Wrike. It first appeared on September 23, 2020.

7 Strategies for Being a Better Manager

team leadership and better managers

Most managers get their start because they were good workers. There is nothing wrong with that, except…

Being a good manager requires a level of leadership. Without the right training and development, you might find that being a manager is a struggle.

“Management is about process. Leadership is about people.”

To reach your leadership potential, you need to be a fearless, bold, and effective coach. But where do you start? Check out these 7 strategies that will help you become the manager your employees (and company) need you to be:

Talk less, listen more

We have two ears but only one mouth; great managers should keep that ratio in mind as they help employees grow. Instead of talking at employees, use that time to listen. They all have career ambitions they’d like to achieve, but that won’t happen if managers are more focused on their own points of view.

As a manager, you should guide the discussion, but ultimately, it’s the employee’s voice that needs to be heard.

There’s something called empathetic listening. That’s when you, as the manager, are fully engaged; really hearing what the employee is saying. You not only hear their words, but begin to feel their passion about the topic. With this level of connection, you can build better trust with that employee.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Zig Ziglar

Play to your (and your team’s) strengths

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses can really change how you coach and give feedback. While you, the manager, might be a great verbal communicator, you’ll need to acknowledge when your direct reports may not have the same skills.

Tailor your relationship to what enables them to be the most open about their goals; if possible, leverage your learning & development solution to strategically address weaknesses and encourage their personal growth.

I’ve written before about ways to perform your own personal SWOT analysis. Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses while you engage and learn your team members’ too.

swot analysis

Manage teams, not individuals

Performance reviews typically look at individuals, but managers are ultimately responsible for their team’s performance. By identifying individual strengths and skills gaps, you can encourage team members with complementary skills to team up; this promotes teamwork, learning opportunities, and increases the likelihood of project successes.

For more on team performance and building team trust visit my program here. I have a whole 6-step model that defines the process for creating a team environment with high trust, collaboration, and support.

building team trust

Accentuate the positive

We all know our professional strengths, but our weaknesses represent our best chance for growth. Celebrate employees’ talents, but also acknowledge areas that need to be developed. By addressing them through training, you may turn a negative into a major strength.

Also, don’t be afraid to celebrate the “wins”. There’s a strange attitude among high performers. When you win, you feel like it’s no big deal. “I was supposed to do that.” is the logic. The reality is that you cannot sustain long term high performance without taking a moment to celebrate the win.

As a manager, you need to decide on ways to celebrate with your team. Use your next team meeting to have a celebration. Cater lunch or have an ice cream afternoon. Do something to let the team know you know they deserve a celebration.

Be inspirational

The most successful companies have one thing in common: they inspire more success by publicly acknowledging employee achievements and talents. Whether an employee earned a new certification or learned a new skill, celebrate this among the team. When team members see their colleagues being rewarded for growing, they’ll take it upon themselves to seek out development opportunities.

Give feedback frequently

Acknowledging achievement is Management 101: give feedback frequently – it means more in real-time than 6 months later – and do it publicly when appropriate.

Yet when you need to correct the occasional misstep, be direct and private about it. Just ensure you make it clear you’re talking about the employee’s action, not them as a person. Above all, honesty will make sure your feedback carries the most weight.

Learn more about powerful ways to deliver feedback by using the Big 5 performance tool.

Make performance reviews about people

Performance reviews are ultimately about blending employee goals with company strategy. Demonstrate how their efforts drive the bottom line so they feel less siloed and that their work is a big part of the company’s growth. This boosts engagement and productivity.

However, a performance review should not be limited to the annual prescribed company tools. Great managers have performance check-ins routinely. One very powerful yet simple way to do that is with a tool called Big 5. You can learn more about Big 5 here.

Get going

By following these 7 principles, you will rise above the crowd as an effective and respected leader. To receive more tips and ideas for up-leveling your game as a manager, subscribe to this bog. I’ll send weekly updates to get you going toward better performance as a leader.

Note: Portions of this article were inspired by my friends at Cornerstone on Demand, a talent development company specializing in building effective teams and leaders.