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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.

Smart Ways to Nurture Trust at Work

nurturing trust at work

Leaders understand the need for having better trust in their organization. It impacts companies of all sizes. However, just knowing you need trust and wanting to build trust does not make it happen. Nurturing trust at work is the leader’s job.

Trust is a very basic need to form healthy relationships whether at work, at home, or in the community around us. We all know the saying “you do business with someone you know, like, and trust.”

Nurturing trust is not something that can happen by accident. It takes direct, intentional effort to get there.

Recent studies, principally the “Project Aristotle” published by Google in 2016 highlight the key role that trust or ‘psychological safety’ can play in producing high-performing work teams.

Since then I have had the opportunity to share something I call the “Team Trust Model” which is a simple-to-follow framework for ways leaders can do more to build trust at work. The model has been used at large global brands like Coca-Cola and UPS as well as my smaller privately owned client companies. It works.

Recent Updates

Not long ago, I had an opportunity to present and record a workshop with the Growth10 community of coaches. Growth10 serves entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to grow. The growth might be measured in terms of company performance, but it also includes individual growth as leaders.

Those who join Growth10 enter a national community of like-minded business leaders. In addition to receiving one-on-one mentorship and participating in a mastermind group, members are part of the G10 Community. You have an opportunity to network with hundreds of high-performers, engage in expert workshops each week, access on-demand micro-lessons on key topics, receive a member briefing every Thursday morning, listen to weekly podcasts and participate in a peer learning community. You’ll get the answers you need from your peers and our expert content providers.

In my workshop for G10, I presented my Team Trust Model(c). Here is the replay of the workshop.

A recorded session with Tom Healy and Joe Buzello at Growth10.

More to Follow

If you are interested in learning more about Team Trust, visit https://dougthorpe.com/teamtrust or buy the Book.

nurturing trust can be accomplished by using this simple guide

And, if you would like to know more about the groups I facilitate, visit my peer-to-peer group page.

Rating and Ranking Employees – Yikes!

employee reviews

The month of January not only starts the new year, but it serves to end the old one. For many businesses, January sends HR folks and Managers into a frenzy trying to finalize employee reviews, ratings and rankings for the entire staff.

There are score sheets, narratives, interviews, and ‘coaching sessions’ done to inform employees how they did with the last twelve months of performance. Thousands of hours are dedicated to performing this daunting task. And to what end?

Anyone who has ever worked for a company with more than 50 employees has likely been subject to or responsible for the processing of this archaic ritual.

It’s a Littered Road

Let’s look at some history. The idea of doing such a process no doubt started with good intentions. Let’s face it, we all like some appreciation for the work we do. Furthermore, if we’ve been doing the work for a while, we feel the need to get a raise or bonus. It’s a risk/reward mindset. “I took the risk by dedicating my time and effort, so what is my reward.”

From the company’s viewpoint, if we’re going to permit merit raises for good performance, we need to be ‘fair’ in how we do that. If we have a larger population to administer, not all frontline raters will think the same, so we need layers to screen the outcomes. Hopefully (and I stress that word), the layered process can more evenly distribute the budget we allocated to the raises and bonuses.

Having said just this much, the system is already broken, right? I mean what about the individual contribution? Does it get melded and mashed into a corporate box ranked one thru ten? Or worse yet, rated one thru five? What’s the real difference between a seven and an eight, or a four and a five?

Compound this method by declaring the rankings need to be distributed on some bell curve, now you have a real mess that totally unmotivates even the best of performers. I’ve even seen “force-placed” ranking systems using scores one through 100. Managers are told you only get one person at 100 and somebody has to be the one.

From where I sit, with 40+ years of leadership experience, the rigid ranking and rating systems produce no positive outcome. It relegates your best people to ask simply, “What am I going to get paid?” Your lower performers likely already know they are slacking and the process only agitates an already bad attitude.

Throughout the year, bosses who may have thanked an employee for a good project outcome or praised them openly at a team meeting get ambushed at year-end when that employee is rated a three out of five and told “you met my expectations.” The boss rates them that way because, compared to the rest of the group, the middle of the pack is where they stand. Or, still bad news, the boss forgot about the good outcome from May when trying to rank the whole team at year-end. Yes, it happens.

A Story

Remember, I said the HR folks get hammered during these rating cycles? Here’s one for you. I got a call from an HR professional I’ve known for 20+ years. Her company had gone through major layoffs due to the COVID pandemic. The division she supports had suffered what amounted to a 33% cut in the team last year. Everything was wild and wooly for a while but seem to have settled down now.

employee review

They did their year-end performance appraisals and all the surviving people met their goals, according to the commercial software system they use for administering employee performance appraisals. The goals, by the way, were set by corporate, not by the local managers, and are lock-tight tracked and reported by the system. They apparently use a three-point system for assigning an overall score… ‘met goals’, ‘needs improvement’, or ‘move them out’. (How’s that for motivational messaging?)

Corporate called her to say that THE COMPLETED PROCESS was unacceptable. The results should have produced more of a bell curve with 2-3% of the highest-ranking at the top, and equal distributions below. By the way, it’s not clear what happened to the STANDARD bell curve with 20% at the top and bottom, 60% in the middle? She also reported she was totally confused why she wasn’t given these instructions at the beginning of the process.

So they are asking her and her managers to change the ratings after the entire process has been completed! She is about to lose her mind. All of this non-sense from a Fortune 500 that should know better. No wonder people hate HR.

In addition, you must ask yourself, what about the employees who have already been told about their standing?

That ‘Less Than’ Feeling

The whole artificial mess leaves employees with a ‘less-than’ feeling. ‘I am less than what the company wants.’ I feel ‘less than’ excited to work here.

I am convinced it is programs like this that are contributing to the Great Resignation. It’s exactly why good people are leaving what otherwise might be considered good jobs to start their own businesses or search for more employee-friendly environments. People are simply fed up with old systems, narrow mindsets, and poor evaluation systems.

Leaders at all levels must realize the need for better employee communication. Communication of expectations, clear goals, and priorities, plus fair accountability standards. It’s a huge challenge. But it can be done.

Join me in my 2022 Challenge to Be a Better Boss. Visit the challenge here.

As a bonus, here are several other articles I’ve written on this important subject.

The King of Leadership Fails – not recognizing good talent

Kill the Bell Curve – why the normalized bell curve doesn’t work in today’s market

Is Your HR Department Lying to You? – why we need to reform performance reviews

Defining Customer Service in 2022

Starting fresh in the new year might be a good time to rethink your views of customer service. For businesses of all sizes, the first question is simply “Who is my customer?”

The word customer usually applies to the end-user; the person paying for the goods or services. However, in larger corporate settings, your team’s customer may not be external at all. You may be serving an internal ‘customer.’

Either way, the notion that there is someone out there to consume or receive what you do should be important to review on a regular basis.

Small Business Coaching @ DougThorpe.com

The Myths

First, let’s do a little myth-busting about customers. Leading the list is the age-old favorite “The customer is always right.”

This myth was busted for me many years ago by Herb Kelleher, the infamous founding CEO of Southwest Airlines. Herb told a story one day.

There was this disgruntled and somewhat drunk customer waiting to board a flight at the Southwest hub in Dallas (their home). The weather had caused delays throughout the system. As one delay after another was announced, this one customer got more and more belligerent. He yelled at and belittled the gate agents. Then he event took to spewing abusive rants at fellow customers.

Finally, the flight was ready to board. He pushed his way to the front of the line, only to be greeted by two Dallas cops. They cuffed him and escorted him behind the line. The crowd in the terminal cheered.

Herb said while they (his crew at Southwest) made one customer really mad, they made 300 others very happy.

This stuck with me.

Myth #2 – ‘So long as customer needs are met, we’ve done our job well’

Supplying the customer with what they asked for is one thing, but in reality, it’s only half of the service. To build a real customer experience, it is all about how you make the customer feel — from the moment they become acquainted with your company, to the last interaction you have with them.

This includes everything from their surroundings and environment, your employees’ tone of voice, extra facilities, availability, the speed of service, and so on. Everything about the customer’s experience must be as close to perfect as possible (and yes, if something goes wrong, you can indeed still achieve this).

It is not enough to simply satisfy a customer’s primary request. The customer experience is made up of tons of micro-interactions that all influence how that person will see your brand. In short … it really is the little things that matter.

Myth #3 – ‘Our customer service should be built and governed by policies and procedures.’

Policies and procedures are indeed necessary for a business to run safely and smoothly, but following them rigidly to the letter can often be the reason a customer leaves dissatisfied. This might involve the hours that you’re open, your policy on returns, or a simple customer mistake based on human oversight. Rather than play rigidly by the rules, your employees should be empowered to make independent, on-the-spot decisions in favor of the customer, without consulting a more authoritative member of staff first.

Employee empowerment is not about breaking or ignoring the rules, but about bending the rules to keep customers happy. If employees are afraid of negative consequences such as losing salary, losing their job or simply being belittled, then your customer service will quickly become stagnant and unresponsive to customer needs. Instead, it must be creative, free-flowing, reactive, and dynamic as new solutions are sought every day.

Going out of the box to make customers happy lets them know you value their custom. It is naive to worry about what side-stepping rules and policies might cost you. These same customers are likely to return more frequently and spread the word of their experience to others, making this practice a worthy investment.

customer service

Myth #4 – ‘Low customer complaint numbers mean we are doing well.’

There are several flaws in this one. First, your complaint count might be low because your customers are too frustrated to care about reporting it.

Or, your customer service process may be so bad that the real complaints are not getting through. Either way, don’t get complacent about low complaint counts. Be sure you’re getting the right picture.

Ask questions. routinely, get in touch with your customers. Ask why they like working with you. Find out what they expect. Be sure you fully understand what they want, why they picked you, and what it will take for them to stay.

Myth #5 – ‘I can’t fire any customers. They’re too hard to find.’

This is a lie straight from Hell. A bad customer should be fired quickly. What is bad? Well, any customer who makes unrealistic demands on your time and the time of your team members. Any customer who expects to be first in line regardless of the other business you have in progress.

If you are delivering on your word and providing good service, a customer who constantly gripes and complains about the service should be fired. Plain and simple.

The time you take trying to coddle these clowns can best be used to land and support good customers.

New Year: Same Results?

Are you expecting better results but planning to do the same things? Now is the time to renew your thinking about your business. Review what worked well and what didn’t work.

Set a fresh course for where you want your business going in 2022. If you’d like to schedule a no-obligation discovery call to learn what business coaching can do for you, then click the button below.

Leaders: Setting a New Standard

best boss

Be a Better Boss

Welcome to 2022. Yes, we have entered a new year. Like many of you, I have reviewed my accomplishments and plotted a course for this new trip around the sun.

As for me, I have chosen a noble task.

I want to help 10,000 business leaders and company owners become Better Bosses. Let’s start with WHY.

For a long time, there has been a saying among HR professionals. “People join companies but quit bosses.”

Have you ever felt that way? I know I have.

The individuals who get promoted into management jobs and/or start businesses rely on chance and circumstance for ways to figure out how to lead a team. Experience tells me that most fail in some way or another.

I think it’s time we seriously focus on making our bosses be accountable for better behavior.

It’s Tradition

First, let’s be real. In western commerce and so-called ‘big business’, we have this strange tradition of promoting the brightest bulb on the string to be a supervisor when a spot comes open. The logic goes something like this.

“Sally is our best producer. She would be the best one to lead this team.”

WRONG! Instead, we usually end up ruining the best producer and frustrating the team because Sally doesn’t do well leading people. (No knock on Sally. It could be a Bill or a George here too.)

In the case of the entrepreneur, this person has an idea for a product or service. So they start a company. The idea takes off. Pretty soon the owner knows they need a bigger team to keep things going. Hiring begins and the fun starts.

Like the promoted high-performer, most small business founders seldom know how to manage people.

In both cases, you can hope for a collection of positive experiences with prior bosses to model good habits, but guess what? Those folks had their own journey arriving where they were. So did you really get a good lesson?

Nature or Nurture?

Then there is another thought. In the halls of most business schools, you can find a raging debate among academicians about whether leadership is born or bred, nature vs nurture.

I’m not going to rehash the whole debate here. Instead, I will say this. I have met and worked with clients who clearly have more natural talent to be a leader. They have a sixth sense of reading people and making decisions. They are comfortable at the podium speaking to a team or a whole organization.

These individuals do shine in positions of leadership, running companies. And, like professional athletes, they get better with coaching to help them refine the natural-born skills they seem to have.

I wanted to play sports in school. But growing quickly to six feet tall before any notion of hand-eye coordination kicked in limited my future in athletics. Obviously, I was NOT a natural-born athlete. The few things I’ve tried since then, like golf or tennis, have required hard work.

On the other hand, I have worked with clients who did not start with “natural” leadership ability. Instead, they embraced the need to be a leader. They worked hard to learn concepts, principles, and values they could use to become better leaders and, hence, better bosses.

Therefore, my observation is simply this. Some people may be born to be leaders and get better with training. Others can learn to be better leaders with the right coaching, hard work, and commitment.

Back to Human Resources

I knew a global HR professional who boldly led a charge to redesign his company’s entire HR role. His premiss said, “If we trained better managers, our people problems would go away.”

While the company didn’t accept the theory outright, they did permit him to test it with a large global project he was assigned to support. The results were never empirically proven, but the overall success was positive based on exit reviews and employee feedback.

The idea is solid. Better bosses can make a difference in the way work teams view the company. More importantly, it impacts the quality and quantity of work contributed by employees.

Today’s Situation

Add to the above factors the rapidly changing world of work today in the face of COVID lockdowns, remote working, and workforce change.

Studies are beginning to emerge wherein labor pools are voicing one common theme. People are tired of toxic cultures created by bad bosses. Here are a few of these studies:

Management teams who have historically ignored employee feedback are being systemically voted out of office. No, I don’t mean literally, because there is no such vote. But symbolically, they are receiving a “no confidence” vote from people walking off the job. The “Great Resignation” it is being called.

In essence, the modern workforce is saying “Enough!”

Should You Be Surprised?

If you are in a management position, now is the time to take action. There is always time to review what you do with your team. You can make a change.

Want to be a better boss? Here are a few tips to help get the journey started.

First, disconnect from the tradition and legacy of your company’s “less than” culture. Take a serious inventory of the standards enforced by tradition. Does the culture rely on command and control leadership styles?

More specifically, does the culture rely on any aspect of interaction that serves to diminish an employee’s status? Is it customary to always talk down to the people below you by job grade?

When an employee brings bad news, are they subjected to ridicule and admonishment?

Break that chain. Treat people with respect. No one deserves to be subjected to harsh emotional lashings for trying to do their job.

Next, decide on an intentional change in the way you look at your responsibilities.

Shift your thinking. Can you do more to represent your team? Are there better ways to show your support for them?

Then, upgrade your communication ability. Are you the best communicator you can be?

Step outside your own box for a moment and get a read on the way your messaging lands. Ask for some 360 feedback about your communication style and effectiveness.

Just because you say it, doesn’t mean people get it.

Make your communication a true two-way exchange. State your issues, then ask for feedback on the spot. You can start with a simple ask from your people, “Please tell me what I said, in your own words.”

Communication is King

Also, don’t rehearse tragedies.

This is a line I picked up from the hit TV show “Blue Bloods.” It means don’t dwell on the bad stuff going on. If something fails, make a one-time review of why, learn from it, then move on. Don’t keep dredging up the negativity.

With this also, never use a team or individual fail to justify a ‘public execution.’ Good people fundamentally know if they made an error. You as the boss, don’t have to keep reminding them of it.

Finally, learn how to read the room.

Pay attention to what is going on around you. If people seem on edge about a problem that is in front of them, you have to handle the problem first. Then you can announce a new piece of guidance or instruction. You can’t teach a sailor to tie a knot when the ship is sinking.

The New Year

Turning the page on the calendar is a great way to reset your own focus. Please take a moment to think about how you manage and lead your team.

Can you be a Better Boss? We all can do something to up our leadership game. Why not join me in making 2022 the year of the Better Boss?

Best Boss at Christmas

As we run screaming into the end of the year 2021 (where has this one gone?), it’s always a good time to reflect, regroup, and renew our thinking for the year that is just around the corner. The best bosses I have known use this time to make reflections.

There are those among us that do very little reflective work. What I mean is, they seldom stop to look at their own impact and effectiveness. Instead, they meander through life doing what they want to do, choosing what they choose, and paying very little attention to the consequences.

In my mind, I am fortunate to never work with that kind of client. Why? First, because they never call for coaching. Remember, they are NOT reflective. More importantly, they wouldn’t be a good coaching client. I’d likely get blamed for producing no results. So to that end, I am happy they never call.

The Good Guys

However, it is my good fortune to work with clients who want to make a difference. They want to become better bosses. These heroes are willing to stop and ask the tough questions like:

How did I do as a leader?

What could be better?

Which things worked well, what didn’t?

What should I do more of?

And what should I STOP doing?

It is by allowing these reflections that one can achieve growth. Change is inevitable. So why not be intentional with the changes? Build a plan for mastering your skills as a leader. You can’t do it all in one giant leap forward.

Rather, you have to decide on specific behaviors or skills you want to use to become the leader you want to be. Decide on a few key things that can make the most difference right now. Then get help understanding the details about what you can change.

It’s in the Bag

When asked about leadership, I like the analogy of the golfer. In the bag is a set of clubs, 14 by regulation. Each club is designed for a specific purpose like hitting long or hitting short with finesse. Good golfers know how to use each club with varying degrees. The golfer will ‘bend’ or ‘shape’ shots depending on the course in front of them. Choosing the right club and the right swing in the moment is what differentiates good golfers from great golfers. Or in my case, pretty mediocre weekend golfers.

Building a leadership skill set is like the golfer. You can add tools to your leadership bag. But one size does not fit all. You have to practice to learn how to shape the moment with the tool you’ve chosen.

As an example, communication can be one of those leadership tools. Your communication can be very direct if you must make some form of announcement to the group. On the other hand, if you are coaching an employee, your communication may be very warm and empathetic.

Examples

Other examples of leadership tools (or clubs – no not lethal weapons) used by the best bosses are delegating, accountability, decision making, motivation, listening, speaking, planning, giving feedback, nurturing, coaching, character, integrity, etc.

The list can be long. You need to decide the elements and attributes that you want to define your leadership style and substance. The longer the list, the more work you will do to improve your skill at applying these behaviors in the moment.

This is why you simply cannot work to develop all of the skills in one big push. You have to work with them throughout your career. In my experience, you will have whole seasons of work where certain skills will dominate the situation. A select few of your leadership skills will be needed to win the day. You won’t ignore or forget your other leadership skills, you just won’t call on them as often.

Year-End Tune-Up

The calendar year-end is always a convenient time to remember the need to look back, evaluate, and make new plans.

I’m not talking about funky new year resolutions. Instead, I mean valuable reviews of what has happened before and a focus on what can lie ahead.

The best bosses include just such a look at their own ability to lead. Having the self-discipline to sit down and prepare a year-end review is a great start to making next year your best year ever for the best boss ever, YOU!

PS

Let me also wish Happy Holidays to all my friends and colleagues who do not observe Christmas time celebrations. Blessings to you and your families!

How to Get What You Want: Negotiate Your Way to Success

team negotiating

Do you ever encounter situations when you feel very strongly about how you believe a project should be planned, carried out, or completed? Do you sometimes feel annoyed that the others involved don’t see the situation the same as you do? Here’s where good negotiation skills come in handy.

Regardless of the career you’ve chosen, there will be times you’ll find negotiation necessary. Learning this critical skill will also improve your personal relationships.

Review these tips for negotiating a situation to get the results you want:

Know your material. Avoid in-depth discussions about topics and situations that you’re not yet educated about. In advance of conversations or projects you know are coming, ensure that you understand the ins and outs of the situation at hand. Preparation is your friend in negotiation!

Listen. Keep an open mind to what the other person has to say. We’ve all had the experience of rushing in and insisting on what we want, only to discover later that it’s actually quite similar to what the other person wants (we just didn’t know that because we weren’t listening).

Find areas of agreement. With a little luck, you’ll only disagree on one or two minor points. Make a list of where you’re in concurrence and where you’re split. This will concretely illustrate how much negotiating will actually be necessary and how much you really do agree.

Talk about the issue at hand first. Avoid trying to discuss solutions until you both see the problem similarly. You’ve got to be on the same page about the issue before you can possibly be on the same page for the solution.

Keep your emotions out of it. Consider the situation as business. Remain objective at all times. Keep your cool.

Avoid intimidating behaviors and manipulative comments. If you fall back on these unsavory methods just to get your way, you lose credibility with the person with whom you’re negotiating. Then they stop being willing to listen to you.

Be honest and use integrity. If you misunderstand an element of the challenge or their proposed solution and suddenly realize it, say so. Keep your word. Respect the other person.

Ask for the other person’s ideas. Solicit suggestions from them on how to resolve the situation. Listen carefully, and be willing to implement some or all of what you hear.

Remind yourself that you’re on same side. After all, you both want to resolve the issue. If you focus on finding common threads, that will help.

State your ideas for a solution. Make your case, too; tell them why you believe it’s the way to go. For example, you could say something like, “Rather than make in-person follow-up visits once per week to new customers, I think it’s a better idea to do them monthly and use the off-weeks to follow up by phone.”

• To make your case in this example, you may follow up by saying, “This way, we’ve got time during the off-weeks to develop new customers. We’ll be widening our customer base while keeping contacts with customers we already have.”

Show flexibility. You’re two separate people with two separate sets of ideas and perspectives about the issue at hand. Avoid expecting to get your way 100%.

Learning to use effective negotiation skills will help you in accomplishing any goals you have that involve others. Skillfully listen, remain non-emotional, discover points of agreement, honestly state your ideas, and show flexibility when interfacing with others. Get what you want by putting these excellent negotiation skills to work for you!

trust at work

Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders

business leader

Great leaders know how to motivate others. Since the amount you can accomplish on your own is limited, it’s necessary to have the assistance of others.

Someone who can motivate others to do their best has an incredibly valuable talent.

When you can inspire others, you can accomplish much more.

Motivate others to do their best:

Be emotionally supportive. To help others shine, removing the fear of failing or looking foolish is critical. Most people are frozen by fear and prefer to remain comfortable. When fear is greater than motivation, nothing happens. Removing fear can be just as effective as instilling additional motivation.

Provide additional support. Ask what resources are required. Does your employee require additional help or funds to get a project off the ground? Perhaps your child needs a tutor or assistance with creating a resume. Determine what resources are required for success and provide them.

Support is not limited to financial or physical resources. Support means standing alongside; proving you have their back.

Follow up regularly. Show that you care by monitoring their progress. It’s enough to ask and then listen. Asking questions will also help to keep them on track.

Don’t micromanage. Hold people accountable for measurable and attainable goals. Think about Goldilocks – ‘not too big, not too small, but just right.’ That’s the way to set expectations.

Be publically supportive. It’s one thing to support an employee in the privacy of your office. It’s quite another to be supportive in front of his/her co-workers. Parents are guilty of this, too. Avoid only supporting your children around the dinner table. Support them in public also.

Acknowledge and reward. Acknowledge progress and effort regularly. Everyone needs a little boost now and then. Ideally, give acknowledgment publically. Conversely, your disgruntlement and any discipline should be handled privately. It’s as simple as handling praise and reprimands most effectively.

Still More to Think About

Ask for ideas. You might hear a few ideas that are better than your own. It’s easier for others to get excited about their own ideas than to get excited about yours. Using ideas from your team will create a sense of purpose and involvement.

There’s a keen focus on empowerment and inclusion in today’s business. Executives are talking about collaboration too. It all goes together very well toward creating a collaborative environment where people’s ideas are welcome.

Be clear. Vagueness breeds confusion. Confusion saps enthusiasm. It is said ‘a confused mind says NO.’ Leaders need to create clarity.

When the objective and the necessary steps are clear, motivation is easier to generate. Ensure that everyone is clear on their roles.

Set a good example. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your employees, spouse, or children. Don’t just tell them it’s important, but show them by your behavior. Make the objective a priority in your own life.

Create a vision. Paint a picture of the end results in the minds of those involved. The work is not always enjoyable, but it’s the end result that matters. Then keep reminding everyone of how great things will be when it’s over. The work is the path to reach that endpoint.

Deal swiftly with dissenters. It only takes one dissenting, charismatic employee to bring the whole thing crashing down. There’s often one complainer that tries to undermine the enthusiasm of everyone else. Don’t underestimate the damage this one person can do. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with them or move them out of the group.

Play the Whole Game

Motivation isn’t just about adding positive energy. It’s also about removing obstacles. Dissenters are obstacles.

Encourage the sharing of opinions. However, once a decision has been made, expect cooperation.

Encourage others to do their best work or to follow their dreams. Motivating others is a skill that anyone can develop. You can only be as successful as your team. Avoid the belief that you can do it all alone. You can’t.

Great leaders inspire others to be overachievers. It’s a challenging task, but if you’re good at motivating others, you’ll always be one of the most important people around.

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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Hire a Coach

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.