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May the 4th Be With You

This article is being written right before July 4th, Independence Day in America. As soon as I pen those words I am hit with a dump truck of irony. I usually enjoy writing my holiday articles where I get to reflect a bit, rejoice in the spirit of the day, and encourage you to celebrate too. Yet this time, I am concerned; very concerned.

On one hand, I want to stay true to my pledge to keep my content non-political and I will. Yet recent events of the past 18 months (I am not isolating SCOTUS) have me shaking my head. The irony I mentioned is the question of true independence and freedom now brought into question by the SCOTUS decisions. But before even that, we have been inundated with rhetoric, debates, accusations, and panels “trying to find the truth.”

Above it all, what I hear screaming at me is an absolute lack of true, genuine, old-fashioned Leadership (with a capital “L”) coming from the top of our government institutions; all of them. And before you get turned off thinking left or right, I am saying it’s EVERYWHERE.

Hey folks… we have a problem. It’s a leadership problem. So to redeem this moment and make it valuable for YOU, let’s revisit some important ideas about real leadership.

A Framework

You can read any of the 160,000 books you’ll find on Amazon that has ‘leadership’ as the subject and you will see various attempts to define what it means to be a leader. Authors make lists of attributes to follow. Perhaps my list is no different. Yet as I talk to my coaching clients we inevitably land on a few key choices.

See, I always ask my clients to identify a few examples of leaders they admire not for a whole body of work, but for one particular attribute. I hear answers like:

  • Winston Churchill – resolve and fortitude
  • Barack Obama – communication and oratory
  • Lincoln – decisive, resolute, inclusive
  • Nick Saban – vision and planning
  • And so on…

A Twist

While the ‘popular’ ones are important, I have developed my own list of principles that I have found to be far more vital to building a core from which a leader can add others ‘soft skills’ to become effective and influential.

1. Always Be Honest –  In a world plagued with situational morality and dog-eat-dog competition, it is rare to find a totally honest business person or neighbor. Honesty, or lack thereof, is soon found out. There is nothing so valuable as a leader who has a reputation for honesty.

Leaders who are honest earn far greater respect; they are sought out, and they create loyalty in their spheres of influence.

2. Forgive and Forget –  People make mistakes, make poor choices, and sometimes just goof. As a leader, how do you handle those situations? Do you condemn and ridicule or can you forgive and forget? I’ve written about grace becoming one instrument in a leader’s toolbox. The ability to forgive and forget is the totality achieved with the ability to give grace.

3. Be Kind-Hearted –  When you are dealing with people one-on-one and face-to-face, do you exhibit a personal warmth? Is there a kind heart that sparks that warmth that is palpable? This is a trait you can neither mask nor fake. Do you have the heart to be a leader?

In his book “The Heart of Leadership”, Mark Miller tells a story of a young businessman named Blake. Blake is struggling at work with his duties as a team leader. He seeks some counsel from a close family friend. I won’t tell all of the story, but the core value comes down to this simple acrostic.

H.E.A.R.T.

The initials stand for:

  • Hunger for wisdom –  keep learning new and different things to improve yourself
  • Expect the best –  set a high standard and maintain your expectations for it
  • Accept responsibility – stop the blame game, take your ownership seriously
  • Respond with courage –  be bold with your decisions
  • Think others first –  be willing to be more of a servant rather than a boss

4. Keep Your Promises –  Expectations can make or break relationships. The promises we fulfill serve to grow trust, respect, and reliability. However, broken promises do the most harm. When you promise someone something and then fail to deliver, there is a damaging break in the relationship. The next time a situation arises and you must make a promise, the person with whom you broke the last promise will be very skeptical.

5. Work Hard –  Every “overnight success” I have ever met or read about worked tirelessly to achieve their status. The equation is really that simple; work hard and achieve or don’t work and flounder.

Lessons from ants have been taught since time memorial. From the proverb instructing us:

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
provideth her meat in the summer,
and gathereth her food in the harvest”

Then again in Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, ants have appeared throughout our life stories (and on our dining tables!). (1)

6. Be Thankful – Giving thanks can do so much to lighten anyone’s load. To your work team, give them thanks and praise for the efforts they show. Give recognition when it is in your power to do so. Also, being thankful helps sustain the kind heart in #3. After all, how can you have a kind heart if you never recognize the good things that might be going on around you?

Research has linked gratitude with an increase in self-esteem, resiliency and overall life satisfaction. It can also help you build new friendships and strengthen the relationships you already have. “There are two processes at play here,” Acacia Parks, Ph.D, chief scientist at Happify, a website and mobile app that provides games and activities geared towards improving mental wellbeing, told CBS News. “The person expressing the gratitude is thinking about their gratitude more, so they themselves feel better and their gratitude is stronger. And it’s also good for the person receiving the gratitude because they feel appreciated and it makes them want to express the gratitude back.” (2)

7. Never Give Up – Persistence usually wins the day. Similar to working hard, being willing and able to forge ahead when all things are not going your way signifies a leader. Turning back or giving up when the first sign of resistance occurs will never get you through. You must stay strong; persevere.

As Sir Winston Churchill said in 1941 (before he was “Sir”) –   “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” (3)

8. Love One Another – I find this principle to be the hardest. In our daily routines, it is easy to cross paths with people we find we just don’t like very much.

As a leader, you must seek to find ways to build love with those closest to you; the team, your tribe, your family, or your community.  The power of love can overcome the worst of conditions. Great achievements come from the love and passion for being together, working on a cause, and knowing you are loved. (Thank you Garth Brooks)

Summary

Remember, having principle-based leadership is like setting a deep and strong foundation. The principles you choose to guide you will shape the character and substance of what you decide to do.

And as for the 4th of July. I want too close with some words from BG (Ret) Joe Ramirez, the Dean of Students at Texas A&M.

“In light of all that we are facing as a nation today, I offer just one piece of advice, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on: Keep calm and pray for our country. As the Corps brass worn by cadets in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets says, “Per Unitatem Vis,” which means “Through Unity, Strength.” Together, as “one nation, under God, indivisible,” we need to find common ground and come together as Americans, just as we have for the last 246 years. I pray that we can find the strength and courage to come together so that “united we stand, divided we fall” becomes more than just a bumper sticker for this country. I still firmly believe that we can, and I always will.”

God bless you all, and have a blessed week. Pray for our country and its citizens………

Understanding the New Normal for Leadership

For too many decades, the word leadership meant a title and a box on an org chart somewhere. Yes, there were people who truly understood leadership and exercised it effectively, but big business managers failed, for the most part, to operate with true leadership principles.

Before we move on, remember one thing – leading is about cultivating leadership within others, not just getting them to follow your lead. So, if you’re in it to tell people what to do, you’re missing the whole point.

COVID-19 brought everyone back to the ground and humanized leaders, forcing them to embrace vulnerability. No matter how powerful you are, you’re not invincible so, it’s okay to share with your team what you’re struggling with, ask for help, and be more open in your communication. Do that, and they will follow suit and collaborate to work more effectively and efficiently. We have a new normal for leadership.

Having endured the pandemic’s impacts, people have started re-evaluating their lives; the time they spend in different ways, and who they want to spend that precious time with. We have shifted from seeking work-life balance where things get juggled to accommodate one for the other. Rather we are driving to work-life harmony where everything operates as a whole.

That, in and of itself, is a radical challenge for leaders. The authority that may have come from your position fundamentally doesn’t matter anymore. Your power to hire and fire is no longer a threat to the newly empowered employee who has made a decision to be a different kind of employee. The decisions are about living life as a whole, not a segmented daily grind of commuting from home to work and back again.

Data from the pandemic shows business productivity, in general, went up, not down as a result of remote working. While some managers cringe at the effort it took to manage a remote team, the employees, for the most part, embraced the responsibility and thrived.

For all practical purposes, we have already returned to an equilibrium of the employment bell curve. In that way of thinking, we have some workers, maybe five to ten percent, who consistently excel vs the few who are tough to manage. And there is a large headcount in the middle who can reliably produce their work without too much management attention one way or the other.

In the Meantime

In the meantime, the expectation of leaders has shifted to be more ‘human’ for lack of a better word. Here are five ways that show up:

BE OPEN AND VULNERABLE
The modern workforce wants open-door policies with a fully accessible human sitting inside. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy, creating a crash course on modern leadership styles and forcing leaders to change how they navigate their operations. Self-disclosure, compassion, and consideration were terms almost unheard of in the corporate world. However, now, they’re the guiding principles of this emerging leadership trend.

FOSTER AN ENVIRONMENT OF LEADERSHIP
Being a leader is not necessarily about controlling everything. It’s also about delegating and assigning control, autonomy, or authority to others. To be successful, you’ll need the services and loyalty of others. Therefore, you’ll need to recruit members from your team to ensure you get where your organization needs to go.

Every organization has front-line soldiers ready to fight for them, and as an authentic leader, you need to scout, train, and nourish them in light of your culture. So, they have the attitude to do the same in the future. Elite teams have leaders at every organizational level whose job is not to serve as authoritative figures but to influence and inspire people into improving their productivity.

These leaders in the ranks are those fellow employees who always “have your back.” And everyone knows it. A leader at the top has to identify and nurture the others who can fill these unofficial roles.

BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK
Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you know everything. Therefore, you need to be open to feedback and accept the fact that your team can offer valuable insight and solve complex problems. A great leader will never be afraid to ask their team to evaluate their performance so they can grow further.

I coach my leaders to invite routine feedback about key areas they have individually chosen to strengthen in their own leadership toolkit. An example is to decide to be a more empathetic listener. Invite your team to give feedback when they feel you are not listening.

BE A RENAISSANCE MAN FOR YOUR TEAM
Great leaders are servants whose job is to facilitate their teams with everything they need to carry out their tasks, innovate, and transform. As a renaissance man, your job is to possess surface intelligence in different subject matters and steer the ship while your team focuses on their specific roles.

Knowing the scope of your work as well as the organization around you can help paint a bigger picture for your team to embrace. Sharing that picture in team meetings will give your team something to get excited about.

GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
The best way to lead is to lead from the front and not just give directions from the sidelines. For example, instead of sending your marketing team to local outlets for product promotion, you can accompany them and lead from the ground. Not only does this boost the overall team morale, but it also improves your brand reputation as your target audience sees a grounded individual, not a boss calling the shots from the 30th floor.

One caveat here. If your team is already highly motivated and experienced, you might be able to lead from the back, allowing them to run free within your prescribed boundaries.

SUMMARY

If you are in a management role and have not yet opened the door to leadership theory, now may be the best time to start. If you have already begun a leadership journey, you know that growth along the way involves new study, coaching, mentoring, and self-evaluation on a regular basis.

I like to say leadership is not a destination but a journey. There is always room to grow.

What Are You Waiting For?

waiting

There comes a time in life when you’ve done all the thinking, study, analysis, and planning you can do. You reach a decision point. Then it happens. You freeze. You cannot go forward. You’re stuck.

The question is then, what are you waiting for? What is it that holds you back, makes you balk? How can you make the call?

Leadership is about being able to avoid waiting. Making decisions is the big “so what” about being a leader. As the leader, your team is waiting for you to decide. Which way are we going, if at all? When? How?

While your ability to decide can make the difference, the timing of the decision is just as important.

First a story

I’ve often told the story of my banking experience during the implementation of ATM machines. The machines were new, unproven technology. Analysts agreed this was the next big thing. My bank had not yet entered the fight. The competition was running fast to adopt the technology.

We held a big executive summit with our senior leadership team. Case studies were prepared and presented. Our chairman and CEO, Ben Love, absorbed all of the information as only he could do. Then in the blink of an eye, he said “No, we’re going to wait this out. Let’s let the other guys get the arrows in their back.”

His analogy of course meant that pioneers were the ones who suffered the most when exploring new territory. We waited for a period, something like 18–24 months. Then we entered the market.

Not only did we avoid the high cost of early adoption failures (and there were many), but we dominated the space. We helped form the Pulse network which was the early version of the utility service that allowed all the machines to talk to each other and exchange transaction data. There was a cost to be on the network, a fee we profited from for quite some time.

In this case, Ben’s waiting was prudent, wise, and ultimately very profitable. However, too often the wait is a fail all its own.

The flip side

In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership to Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room.

We all know what happened next. Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 and Netflix is now a $28 billion-dollar company, about ten times what Blockbuster was worth. Today, Hastings is widely hailed as a genius, and Antioco is considered a fool. Yet that is far too unfair an explanation.

Antioco was, in fact, a very competent executive — many considered him a retail genius — with a long history of success. Yet for all his operational acumen, he failed to see that market forces were moving in a new direction.

Let’s make it personal

Waiting

Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of business case studies where CEOs failed to make the right call. But this issue is more personal.

Each of us with any leadership duty at all, whether at work, at home, or in the community, face the challenge to make decisions on behalf of our tribe.

When we freeze in place, we jeopardize everything we may have been working on. Here are three main reasons we wait before making the decision. And a little something to do about each one.

Fear

Fear is the obvious and easy answer to why we wait. When faced with an unknown about the future we have fear. As the reality settles in that our decision may have big consequences, fear rises up.

Fear can be overcome by determination. When I sense fear about making a decision, I look first at those who rely on me. I ask the question, will they be better off moving forward or staying stuck where we are.

If the consequences of my decision will not directly harm my tribe, I can move ahead with more determination.

Confidence

Confidence, or lack thereof, is a distant relative of fear. Building confidence as a leader is one of the most common expressions of concern I hear from my coaching clients. Lack of confidence causes us to wait.

There is not a good executive out there who hasn’t felt a little doubt from time to time, tugging at their confidence. Prior success only goes so far in helping to make new decisions with confidence. Yet building momentum as a leader can do more for confidence than anything else I know.

High achievers seldom celebrate wins in the day. Beating a deadline, making a delivery, and executing a difficult task, are all examples of wins you can and should be celebrating in your own way. I’m not talking about becoming arrogant. Rather I am talking about realizing the momentum that might be building on your team.

Celebrate that. Let it help build your confidence as a leader.

Procrastination

Yes, just old-fashioned procrastination can cause us to wait. Ironically, people with tendencies toward perfectionism are the biggest procrastinators I know.

The logic goes like this. I need this to be perfect, so I’ll wait for the right time, resources, or events to align so that the outcome will be perfect.

Perfect is the enemy of good. ~Voltaire

You don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. Success comes from action. Feel the urge to wait because of trying to be perfect? Decide first what good can look like. Then do it.

Question: What are you waiting for?

Four Stages of Effective Communication for Managers

Managers face a constant struggle to improve communication within their work teams. Besides being able to accurately articulate any technical aspects about the work (every industry has its key phrases, terms, and buzz words), business leaders have to be ever-mindful of some very basic principles of effective communication.

We usually think about communication as a two part/two person transaction. You speak, I speak, we hear and we act. This is the way most adults perceive the process of communication. When we need to talk to our teams, we usually just think about crafting a message as though it is being addressed to one person.

Courtesy 123rf.com / MyMakeOU
Courtesy 123rf.com / MyMakeOU

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Don’t Be a Squirrel When It Comes to Decision Making

Where I live we have a large population of squirrels. These are ferril critters who run, jump, dig in flower beds, and swing in the trees. Sadly, when you drive thru the neighborhoods, it is not uncommon to find dead squirrels on the road. Why?

Well, if you watch one of the spunky guys run in front of your car, you’ll see them start out, stop, turn around, re-evaluate the situation, then maybe do it all over again. Left, right? Up, down? Should I go or should I stay? They may go forward or they might put it in reverse.

They can’t seem to make up their mind about which way to go. The hesitation inevitably leads to their demise.

In most cases, had they run straight across at full speed, they would have made the transition with no problem. Yet by delaying, and second-guessing the choice, they end up making a fatal one.

Leaders can’t be squirrel-minded when making decisions.

WAIT!!!!!!!!!

The Right Framework

Now, this may sound a bit harsh, yet I see it happen in business in so many ways. Peter Drucker wrote in 1967 about six essential elements or steps that should be a part of making good decisions. Here are those six steps.

First, classify the problem. Is it generic? Is it exceptional and unique? Or is it the first manifestation of a new genus for which a rule has yet to be developed?

Next, define the problem. What are we dealing with?

Then specify the answer to the problem. What are the “boundary conditions”?

Further, decide what is “right,” rather than what is acceptable, in order to meet the boundary conditions.. What will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable?

Plus, build into the decision the action to carry it out. What does the action commitment have to be? Who has to know about it?

Finally, test the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events. How is the decision being carried out? Are the assumptions on which it is based appropriate or obsolete?

Using this simple, six-step framework can guide you to making better decisions. While doing these, be mindful of personality derailers that can undermine your own view of things.

Beware of Derailers

Avoid procrastination – action is required. You can analyze and think all you want to, but action is necessary.

Temper a tendency toward Perfectionism – perfection is the enemy of good. Too many new opportunities have been lost while gathering “more data” to land on the ‘best’ decision.

Don’t second guess – use your experience and the wisdom of those around you to craft the decision.

Be bold – good leaders are willing to stand up for what they believe is right. Deciding the next right thing is what people are expecting.

Using Drucker’s framework and avoiding the derailers can set you on the path toward solid, reliable decisions that won’t leave you stuck (figuratively) in the path of an oncoming car, like our squirrel friends.

If you need help with your decision-making process, why not talk to a coach? I’ve been helping business leaders improve their leadership effectiveness for the past 12 years. I’d be happy to meet you and talk through things with you.

PS – If you’re looking for some lighthearted viewing pleasure, check out Mark Rober’s Squirrel Maze video on Youtube. There’s a sequel too.

YouTube player

SWOT Yourself

swot analysis

There’s a popular business analysis tool known as S.W.O.T. It provides a method for looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

SWOT reviews are done for business issues of all kinds like competition, market position, product design, sales, and technology. As applied to a business, you can see the merit of doing this review periodically.

SWOT

However, it can be useful on a personal level as well. Managers and leaders should take time during annual reviews and goal setting to add this powerful view as well. Here’s how it can work.

Personal Review Using SWOT

A plan of action using a Personal SWOT Analysis can be developed for every aspect of development and execution because there are always three critical components in every chosen role you may serve. Whether you are husband, wife, father, mother, community leader, volunteer or other, you can SWOT your contribution to that effort.

Why? Because every role we serve has three key components.

Identity, Purpose, and Intention.

These three components form a process of right action. Without understanding who you are or what your business or organizational core competence is and what is the purpose you intend, you are always going to be guessing more than you have to.

In the following analysis, you are taken step by step through a proven process of creating clarity of the right action.

However, to do so we have to begin with a simple way of fleshing out the context within which you intend to work. It doesn’t matter what context or role you choose, each of them requires you to be clear.

In order to reach clarity we take some simple, yet critically important steps. The first steps begin with a SWOT Analysis.

You will focus on the following overriding questions:

  • Do you know your personal purpose?
  • What are your goals or objectives?
  • What are your values?
  • HOW Can YOU match your STRENGTHS to OPPORTUNITIES/Openings?
  • How can you reduce the impact of your WEAKNESSES and THREATS?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

Strengths

Trying to analyze one’s own strengths can be tricky. Throughout all of my coaching, I seldom see anyone who gets this exactly right the first time. Some might be modest and undervalue great strength in areas like collaboration, employee empowerment, decision making, or planning.

Others can be more boastful, seeming to know without a doubt they are great leaders who people should feel honored to serve; “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

Entrepreneurs can be especially blinded by the emotional connection to their idea. While the great new product or service has great potential, the business will fail because the founder doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.

Before isolating your own estimation of your strengths, seek some 360 feedback. Get input from others you value as trusted advisors. Do an informal ask session.

Then compile a list of the strengths that you can use to accomplish your goals and objectives.

Weaknesses

Just like your strengths, identifying “weaknesses” in your personal domain can be hard. Objectivity can be lacking. You may even be suffering blindspots where your weaknesses reside. Using 360 reviews and stakeholder feedback can help inform you of areas where there is an opportunity for improvement.

However, you may know exactly what areas or what issues give you the most trouble. Stating what these may be will help round out the SWOT analysis.

Opportunities

These are the things you can see as a new direction; changes that allow you to reach new goals. Taking a good look at the road in front of you can reveal opportunities for growth and change.

Listing them while doing this personal inventory helps bring motivation and inspiration to the plan.

Threats

Making a good assessment of personal threats is also tricky. I recommend starting with your mindset.

Do you hold any limiting thoughts about who you are and what you can do?

If you ever wondered about a limiting thought, they sound like this:

  • I’m too small
  • I’m too slow
  • I’m too ugly
  • I don’t have the right degree.
  • You failed at this the last time.

Any statement rumbling in your head that starts with or sounds like these needs to be eliminated first. Then you can deal with identifying true threats to your personal goals.

Performing a Periodic Personal Review

Just as every successful business invests time to perform SWOT analysis from time to time, you too should perform this review with your work life, home life, and career balance.

See what the data may tell you about the direction you are heading. Use the informed analysis to redirect your path, redefine goals, and set a new course.

Have a great and prosperous New Year!

If you want to know more about the ways I can help you or your business, click the button below.

Leaders Getting It Right

team manager talking to team

Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a manager guide his team through a very successful series of events and opportunities. The way he has mastered the leadership of his interesting group has just been amazing to me. I’ve watched them overcome great obstacles, some uncertainty, and definite challenges to create what you might call an undefeated season.

There were times when the outcome was very much in doubt but through some very obvious and intentional moves that this manager made, the team was able to rally and achieve great success.

I started looking back on the things that made this particular manager’s effort different. And it occurred to me that he has been a very effective model of some fundamental principles that leaders at all levels, in all kinds of organizations should be following.

Knowing the Fundamentals

It will be helpful to list some of these fundamentals. You can use them as your own gauge or checklist to see if you are also using these things to steer your team toward greater success and higher performance.

The first thing I observed in this manager’s skill set was a distinct ability to carefully evaluate each member of his team. He watched for key talents. He identified gaps. You might call them the weaknesses that each person demonstrated. From this careful analysis, he crafted the structure of his team. He carefully deployed each individual into a key role that set the individual up for success while establishing a firm foundation from which the whole team would operate.

He performed a good effective analysis of situations that were occurring around them. As circumstances changed, he would adjust the assignments that were given to each team member. He was leveraging the best skill at the best time. Sometimes there were team members that really didn’t have a task. They were sitting out so to speak.

Yet the circumstances were ever-changing therefore every teammate got the opportunity to perform. As situations changed, this manager had the foresight to allow team members who needed to develop new skills to get into a situation that would give them the opportunity to experience actual effort and impact while they were working on developing their skills.

The manager seemed willing to freely delegate authority and responsibility. Team members were allowed to make real-time decisions about responses they felt were appropriate in the moment. If that transaction turned out to be wrong, the manager did not get upset about it.

Rather he talked to the individual about what they did, how they did it, and what another choice could have been. If circumstances got too severe, this manager was quick to adjust the deployment so that the lesser performing personnel were not left dangling and exposed to possible failure.

He did create a system of accountability. Team members were held accountable for the actions coming their way and their response at the moment.

When each big moment came and went this manager would have a huddle with the whole team. He would talk through the elements of what had just happened. He would reinforce his vision of what they needed to be doing. Plus he would answer questions about the work effort.

He achieved great success without ever spending one moment of overtime. He never asked the team to commit unreasonable time to the effort. Instead, he saw to it that every moment they were together was spent with valuable instruction, positive reinforcement, and solid coaching.

One additional aspect of this manager’s great success was his seeming ability to stay several steps ahead of the game. He never seemed surprised by the circumstances that unfolded. He was calm in the face of tension. He was positive when disagreements happened. And he himself demonstrated high professionalism, great integrity, and solid vision.

Lastly, and by no means the least, he built an atmosphere of fun not work. He saw to it that every member of the team was having fun doing what they were there to do. He played music when there was a break. He told good, clean stories that people could laugh at.

So What?

All of the elements listed above make up attributes that leaders need to be pursuing for the benefit of growing a high-performing team. If you have not thought about some of these aspects you should be looking at your own view of your responsibility as a leader and determine whether or not you can make these kinds of changes with your team.

By the way, I watched leaders in other organizations go through this same period of time with far less success. As I observed those managers what I saw was a lack of understanding of the talent they had in their team. There was no apparent effort to create a roster of talent that could be used in applicable moments to maximize the outcome of every opportunity. Rather they seem to be simply passing the time trying to get through each challenge the best way they knew how. Some days they won some days they lost.

However, the manager I’m speaking about at this point in time is what you could call undefeated. He has a perfect win-loss record. His team enjoys the work they do. They seem to enjoy working with each other. And they are always ready to take on a new challenge.

If this is something you are interested in learning more about I would be happy to schedule a call with you to explore what is going on with your team in ways that you can be this kind of leader.

Oh by the way I failed to mention something. The manager I’m talking about is the coach of my 9-year-old grandson’s Little League team. Yes, they are undefeated going into the playoffs as the top seed in the tournament.

Author’s Note – Several days after this article first ran, the Rockies swept the league playoffs and won the tournament championship, making them a perfect 17-0 for the season.

The principles I described above work as well in any business as they do at the ballpark with young men and women (they had a girl on the team too! – just sayin…).

For more insights and routine tips on leadership, listen to the podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”

You’re On Mute

It’s a familiar phrase that has rapidly risen to the top of our vocabulary while we attempt to engage and conduct business remotely. Zoom, Teams, Google Spaces, and Slack have risen to the top of the heap for connecting these days.

Yet often as the session opens up, someone has that little red “X” showing the mic off. They start talking. All others see are lips moving but no sound. People start yelling “You’re on mute” like the volume of their message can get thru the silence. It’s comical but ever-present.

I was thinking about this idea and landed on a few deeper thoughts we should consider.

“You’re on mute” can mean several other things in our fast-paced, all too busy world of commerce.

Cancel Culture

The emergence of cancel culture has placed many on mute. Not by their own action but by the action of others declaring a person should no longer be listened to. I don’t know how that happened, what with the freedom of speech and all, but it has.

I agree there has been a shift in the freedom people feel entitled to use to say just about anything., Perhaps it is true that the rise of social media is not really all that social. Users blast opinions and beliefs without regard to who might be listening.

Call me old school, but just because you have the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. With freedom comes responsibility, or at least that’s what I was taught many years ago.

The Boss’s Role

Anyone in management should take a serious look at their mindset about who, when, and how team members should be heard. Placing a “you’re on mute” button on every worker’s desk implies “I don’t trust you” or worse yet, “you’re not valued here.”

The Great Resignation is teaching us that the cultures we thought we had in our companies are not that great. Workers are voting with their feet to walk away from toxic environments. If you are scratching your head wondering why so many people have resigned from your company, you should take a hard look in the mirror first.

Have you either intentionally or accidentally put people on mute? The modern, post-pandemic worker is not going to suffer that any longer. There has to be a change.

Think about the Story

If you feel like others have put you on mute, think about the stories you are telling. Is your story old and tired, down and out, or upbeat and energizing?

On my podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense”, I interviewed Kurian M. Tharakan, the author of “The 7 Essential Stories Charismatic Leaders Tell.” He defines seven basic stories that help build a message. These stories apply to companies and brands in general, but they also apply to leaders who are set on motivating and inspiring those who follow them.

Without the right story, your message may just be noise in the minds of others. Stop the noise, offer clarity and purpose, then you’ll get taken off mute real fast.

Check out my Podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense” available on all major outlets.

Who Lights Your Fire?

This quote from W.B. Yeats is a great reminder for those of us in leadership roles. Let me repeat it :

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. ~W.B. Yeats

When we try to train our team or build a new product or service, education surrounding the details is not the ultimate “win.” No, our focus as leaders should be inspiring those we lead to take a personal vested interest in the success of what we set out to do.

You can teach, preach and educate all day long, but until you impress someone to buy in to the project, it really doesn’t matter how much they know about the subject.

There’s another saying “Harness the power of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection.” That sums it up.

When was the last time that you, as a leader, were properly focused on this kind of impact? Do you light people’s fire in their hearts and minds or do you simply teach them something new?

There is a big difference. In today’s high-tech world, information flows in an instant. Instead of competing with information at the fingertips, why not think about ways to inspire your team?

Here are a few powerful ideas you might try.

Show Them Why the Outcome Matters.

I once took responsibility for a new team. I decided to visit each person’s area, asking them a bit about what they did. At one desk, a lady who had been with the company for years sat quietly pushing paper from one stack to the next.

I watched this a few moments then asked, “Where does it go when you’re done?” She said “I’m not sure. So and so picks it up then I never see it again.”

I asked, “Where did the first pile come from?” She again said I don’t know.

So I made some notes then started doing my own research.

Know Your People

When you spend time with your employees, make it matter. Don’t just expect your time and title to inspire them. Employees want a leader that pays attention and genuinely cares about them.

Great leaders take the time to know the ingredients before they can create the best recipe for success. Employees are most inspired when a leader takes the time to know them and show that they have their best interests at heart.

Learning is Still Important

Employees do appreciate the opportunity to learn. Teaching new skills or sharing new information helps them feel appreciated and valued. However, the delivery of that information is important.

Don’t just lecture, but share. Create a space for open dialogue about new material you want to spread. Adults learn best when they have a chance to engage in a feedback cycle where they state in their own words what they just heard. This is your opportunity to fine-tune and/or affirm the message has been received.

There’s a Fine Line Between Success and Significance

We all want to feel significant about what we do and who we are. Jobs can actually provide that IF the boss allows it to happen. If the boss is too concerned about his own reputation and doesn’t care about the people on the team, no one gets any significance from the job. Heck, they even get very little sense of success.

However, if you as the enabled leader decide to share the significance with each team member, you can win much greater employee trust.

Ownership, Not Just Accountability

Enforcing accountability is a key component to sustaining performance momentum. However, when you can give your employees “ownership” in the process of defining how accountability is enforced – you inspire trust and a desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Giving your employees ownership means that you have shared and entrusted them with your authority. You are now allowing your employees to “call the shots” based on what they believe is in the best interest of the team and the organization.

For example, create a special project and allow an employee to take ownership of it. Outline your expectations for the end result, but allow him or her to take charge of the project. Agree to meet once a week and observe the change in attitude and desire to perform.

Respect, Not Just Recognition

Beyond appreciation and praise, show your respect and admiration for the work of your employees. While people want to know they are respected, you must establish the ground rules for how respect is earned.

There are too many recognition addicts in the workplace. In a world of fierce competition, we have come to believe we are our own best allies. We believe we must rely only on ourselves. We believe we can sell ourselves better than anyone else. But this attitude puts our long-term careers in danger.

Unfortunately, too many people want recognition because they forgot the significantly greater value of earning respect. Re-train your employees about the importance of respect and lead them in how to earn it. When they see the greater impact respect delivers, they will be inspired by your example.

Bold Leader Moves in the Current Market

bold leadership

What do you think is a bold move nowadays? How do you look at employee engagement? With the turmoil in the job market, what has your company or organization done to secure the team you have and attract new talent when the need arises?

On occasion, doing something bold is not limited to something NEW. Instead, you just might be surprised about ways to engage with and retain your talent team.

The current job market is simply too frenzied to allow your best people to walk out the door because YOU failed to do something you could have easily done to keep them happy and engaged.

Ezra’s Findings

For the past two years, I’ve had the good fortune to partner with the Ezra Coaching team. Ezra is a coaching platform that is exclusively virtual. Interestingly, it was conceived and under development long before the COVID pandemic hit. Ezra provides coaching on-demand, virtually.

Ezra is a global solution that, since its inception, has coached over 15,000 clients during the past two years. In addition to delivering world-class executive leadership development, Ezra tracks emerging trends in the employment environment.

In a recent survey. Ezra captured these five ideas about keeping top talent. The data was accumulated using a poll of the client companies Ezra supports.

A word in advance. Like I said previously, something bold does not have to be something new.

1. Listen to them

2. Encourage open communication

3. Work in ways that suit THEIR life

4. Invest in L&D (coaching is a great place to start)!

5. Prioritize their wellbeing

Task #1, Listen to Them

This is something leaders and managers have struggled with for decades (so do husbands and wives, but I digress). The art of effectively and engagingly listening is lost on the pace of business these days. I’ve talked to too many managers who say they simply don’t have time.

At the same time, I routinely hear from leaders that they feel frustrated because their bosses are not listening to them.

How do you respond? The popular phrase is “empathetic listening.” It involves truly listening to the employee without formulating your next statement. Give feedback like “So what I am hearing is…” Let the other person either agree or clarify.

Some might argue it’s a common courtesy to properly listen to someone else when spoken to. But again, the pace of business has adversely influenced the way managers and staff connect via listening.

Bold leaders in today’s work world are stepping up and changing the way they listen.

Task #2, Encourage Open Communication

Communication is actually a very complicated exchange requiring much more intentional effort than most organizations provide. For a leader to create truly open communication, there has to be a framework and accountability.

The framework needs to define methods, practices, and formats that contribute to communication. Thinking about this at the team level, Patrick Lencioni in his “Five Habits if Dysfunctional Teams” describes the need to develop a team charter and a team contract.

The charter defines who and why the team exists. It becomes the foundation of thinking and understanding about the team.

The contract applies a bit of structure. I’ve seen powerful team contracts that go so far as to explain how to reel in a team member in an open meeting who has run away with the agenda. I’ve written before about one approach called “ELMO” which is an acronym for ‘enough, let’s move on.’

The accountability part is where the manager or leader takes responsibility for dealing with bullies on the team or personalities who derail the team effort. Team members allowed to get away with belittling others’ opinions do too much damage to good communication.

Task #3, Work in Ways That Suit THEIR Life

This may be the one truly new, bold idea. It applies to finding ways to receive employee input about their lifestyle and expectations for work-life harmony (not balance, but harmony).

The ramifications of the pandemic lockdowns have reshaped everyone’s views of how to work. With only a few exceptions requiring ‘boots on the ground’ work situations (e.g. manufacturing, assembly lines, and heavy construction), many workers have reshaped their ideas about what makes a good job.

The old 9:00 to 5:00 is obsolete. The standard 40 hours in the office will not survive either. Studies tell us workers are asking for a hybrid office at the least or at best, fully remote.

Companies of all sizes are going to need to do some soul searching about the best way to respond to these expectations.

Task #4, Invest in L&D

Learning and development have historically fallen by the wayside when budgets get tightened. It’s often the first HR program to get slashed. Ironically, it’s the exact place companies should be focused.

Taking people off the street and getting them coached and trained to be ideal employees inside your company is a valuable commodity. You can try as you might to find perfect fits for every job, but usually, a good fit only gets you just so far. You still have to develop your people.

Providing ongoing development opportunities keeps people engaged and inspired. If they can see some kind of opportunity forward, they are more likely to stay with you.

Task #5 Prioritize Their Wellbeing

This is an all-encompassing idea. First, you must decide what ‘wellbeing’ involves. It’s no longer limited to compensation and benefits. Companies are having to do much more to answer questions about things like environmental, social, and governmental stands (ESG) or diversion and inclusion.

Recent news has highlighted cases, where 100-year brands have failed with certain ESG initiatives and the workforce, is not happy about it.

No doubt the new pressures on leadership teams continue to rise. In many cases 30 and 40-year veterans are simply choosing to retire rather than redirect their traditional methods of leadership. New, emerging leaders are making names for themselves by boldly taking on these challenges and guiding companies to new horizons.

The Last Question

The real question is, where do you, as a leader, stand? Are you even aware of what it might take to keep high performers satisfied? Do you care?

The management style of “My way or the highway” may be officially DEAD! I certainly hope so.