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5 Ways Managers Can Get More from Their Teams

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

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

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

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

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

Learning about Discretionary Effort

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

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

fitness and effort

The Leaders and Managers Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

manager answering questions

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

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

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

More Ways to Get More for Managers and Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspect what you expect.

Anonymous

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

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

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

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

There you have it

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

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

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

7 Strategies for Being a Better Manager

team leadership and better managers

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

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

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

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

Talk less, listen more

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

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

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

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

Zig Ziglar

Play to your (and your team’s) strengths

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

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

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

swot analysis

Manage teams, not individuals

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

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

building team trust

Accentuate the positive

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

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

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

Be inspirational

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

Give feedback frequently

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

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

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

Make performance reviews about people

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

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

Get going

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

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

Be SMART About Your Goal Setting

SMART goal setting for new year
SMART Goals Explained Graphic Square
Coach peers round laptop saying SMART Goals

Go straight to the SMART Goals Special Report .PDF here >>

Who is this SMART Goal Setting Guide for?

Whether you’re interested in goal setting tips for you, your business, or to gain a deeper understanding of goal setting to help your clients, this SMART goal setting & Action Planning GUIDE can help.

Starting with an overview of the SMART Acronym and a helpful SMART graphic, this guide goes deeply into each element of SMART goal setting. It includes examples and more to help both you and your clients set well-rounded and SMART Goals and Actions!

So, What is a SMART Goal?

A SMART Goal is simply a goal where the SMART criteria have been met. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound. A SMART goal is also easier to achieve, and track progress for, because it’s well-rounded and clearly defined.

SMART Goals Stand For:

  • Specific             (being clear and specific makes goals and actions easier to achieve – and start!)
  • Measurable     (helps you know when a goal or action is complete and measure progress)
  • Actionable       (ensures you have direct control over the actions needed to achieve the goal)
  • Realistic           (avoid overwhelm and unnecessary stress and frustration by making the goal realistic)
  • Timebound      (helps us stay focused and motivated, inspiring us with a date to work towards)

SMART Acronym Graphic

SMART Goals Explained Acronym Graphic - Horizontal

A Little SMART History

The SMART Goals acronym began as a set of criteria for management to set better goals within organizations. But the SMART acronym is so powerful (and catchy) that it began to be used in personal goal setting too.

When were SMART Goals created?

The first reference to SMART Goals (according to Wikipedia) is in 1981 in a magazine called Management Review.

Who created SMART Goals?

George T. Doran is the creator or SMART Goals. He wrote a paper: There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. In this paper he discussed the challenges of documenting goals and objectives for management within organizations. Of interest to coaches is that George believed it was the goal combined with the action plan that was most important. In this paper George T. Doran’s SMART Acronym was:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable – identify who will do it
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

Interestingly, the A (Assignable in George’s acronym above) is the only letter that has substantially changed in the switchover to personal goal setting. In personal goal setting “Assignable” doesn’t make sense as the goal is already assigned. And because taking action is so important, I have chosen A – Actionable as the replacement A in the SMART criteria.

Variations on the SMART Criteria
There are many minor variations on the SMART criteria. The “Specific” and “Measurable” criteria are almost always consistently used, while the “A” and “R” may vary. The “T” is usually some version of timebound.

Some other SMART Criteria examples include:
Other A’s – Assignable (original definition for use in setting management objectives), Achievable, Attainable, Agreed, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned with corporate goals.
Other R’s – Relevant, Resourced, Reasonable, Results-based.
Other T’s – Time-related, Time-limited, Time-based, Time-oriented, Timely, Time-sensitive.

SMART Goal Setting

SMART goal setting is an art! We start with a vision or an idea and gradually refine it, making it more specific and measurable so that it becomes a goal we can take action on. A coach sits on the outside asking questions to help the client refine and hone their ideas so that their goals become actionable, achievable – and SMART!

How to Set SMART Goals Example
All too often people set goals that are not SMART. Here is an example of how you might take a non-SMART Goal and make it SMART.

Starting Non-SMART Goal: Get more sales!

Consider: With the goal Get more sales, how would you know when you’ve achieved that goal? How would you measure progress/know you’re on track? Where would you start?

Let’s look at how the SMART criteria can help:
Make it Specific – Double the sales of my healthy eating eBook.

Make it Measurable – Increase the gross annual revenue from my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $100,000. We have added a $ amount and made it clear we are measuring gross revenue. This allows us to break down the goal and track progress.

Ensure it is Actionable and within your control. One way to do this is to think about specific actions you could take that will directly impact the goal. Here are 4 example actions within your control:
1. Create a new, more exciting front cover.
2. Create a marketing action plan.
3. Ask 25 people to read and review it on Amazon.
4. Increase the price from $9.95 to $12.95.

Make it Realistic – Increase the revenue from my health eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 (reduce the amount to make it more realistic and achievable).

Make it Timebound – I would like to complete this goal by October 31 of next year.

The Final SMART Goals Example now reads:
Increase the gross annual revenue of my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 by October 31 next year.
TIP: Whilst SMART may seem like an acronym to follow one step at a time, as above, when you apply it you’ll find yourself jumping around. Be prepared to change your goal as you hone, refine, and understand it more deeply!

SMART goal setting is a process – and an art.
Coach Pointing for make goals S - SPECIFIC

SMART Goals are Specific

Have you ever struggled to get started on a task because you don’t really understand what it is, or the task seems too big and fuzzy?

Well, you’re not alone! Many people struggle with getting started on their goals – simply because they haven’t made their goals specific enough.

But it’s well worth the effort: The more specific goals are, the easier they are to achieve! When we’re clear on what we want, it makes it easy to make decisions and take action because we know exactly what we’re trying to do.

 I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific. Jane Wagner

How making goals SPECIFIC makes them EASIER to achieve:

 TIP: SMART is not just for Goals! In order for you to be most effective both your goals and actions should be SMART. After all, actions are really just small goals!
Client squinting trying to size up with hands for M - MEASURABLE

SMART Goals are Measurable

How will you KNOW you’ve achieved your goal unless you can measure it?

If you can’t prove you’ve completed the goal then it’s not measurable – which means it’s not a SMART goal. Measurability is a very important part of making your goals specific.

SMART Goals Examples

If your goal is to “Get more people signed up for your newsletter”, how will you know you’ve succeeded unless you know where you are now, and what you’re aiming for? Instead, your goal could be to “Double your newsletter subscriber list from 250 to 500 people”. This also allows you to track progress and adjust your action plan if it looks like what you’re doing isn’t getting the results you need.

More SMART Goals Examples:
Change “Follow-up with prospects” → “Phone 5 warm leads from last weekend’s workshop”.
Change “Decrease my website bounce rate” → “Decrease my website bounce rate to 40%”.
Change “Run more workshops this year” → “Run 3 free workshops and 3 paid workshops in the next 12 months”.

3 TIPS to Make Goals SMART – and Measurable

  1. One way to find your measure is to ask “Why am I doing this? Why bother?”. This will help you identify why you’re doing it – and to identify the measures you need to be sure your goals are successfully completed.
  2. Your measure could be a financial amount, a percentage increase or some kind of count. Note that for some goals and actions, the only measure is a “yes” or “no” to completion of the task. Ie. your new website is live, or you have registered your business name.
  3. If you don’t know how to prove to someone that the goal is complete, then your goal measure is not specific enough. The “acid test” for measurability is to ask “How do I prove I’ve completed this goal?” So rather than “Create a new product” your measurable goal could be “The new product is available to buy on your website”. And rather than “Finish my book”, your measurable goal is “The final manuscript has been sent to the editor.” Clear – and provable!

Measurability is important for Actions too (actions are really just small goals!)

SMART Action Examples
Change “Write an article” → “Write a 750 word article for LinkedIn on how to set boundaries with your boss”.
Change “Follow-up with your prospects” → “Phone each of the prospects (from the free seminar I ran) by the end of Friday this week”.
Change “Practice coaching” → “Ask 50 friends and family if you can give them a free coaching session (and book a time with those who say yes)”.
Coach with Folder and Pen setting SMART Goals for A - ACTIONABLE

SMART Goals are Actionable

We can’t control fate – or other people. For a goal to be SMART it must be actionable by us, and within our control. Otherwise it’s not a goal, it’s a wish!

Actionable Goals

Actionable goals are those you can DO something about ie. where there are a number of actions – within your control – that lead to achievement of that goal.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to “Get potential clients to see what you offer as excellent value” (you have no control over what people think of you), but to “Write a document that lists my unique selling points and the benefits of my service to potential clients”. This goal is now actionable.In addition, two follow-on actions could be, to “Add these selling points and benefits to the ‘Why coach with me?’ page on my website”. Another could be “Pick the 3 most powerful points and send them to my graphic designer to add to the back of my business card”.

Also Make Your Goals Action-oriented…

Making a goal action-oriented also encourages you to write ACTIVE and not passive goals.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to “Have a giveaway with newsletter sign-up on your website” (this is vague and passive and while loosely actionable, it is not action-oriented and does not inspire action). But your goal could be to “Write a one page special report on 7 ways to take better care of our feelings and add it as the newsletter sign-up gift for your website”.
Coach hugging laptop to make R - REALISTIC Goals

 Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.  James Allen

SMART Goals are Realistic

It’s important to feel GOOD about your goals. When we set ourselves a goal that’s out of our reach we often end up feeling overwhelmed, we self-judge, and sometimes we give up altogether. Truly SMART goals feel great!

This means it’s important to factor in existing commitments and lifestyle when setting goals. SMART goals and actions need to be challenging enough to inspire you. AND they need to be realistic enough that you believe you can achieve it. It’s all about setting yourself up for success.

4 TIPS to Make Goals SMART – and Realistic

  1. POSSIBILITY: Is it physically possible to complete the Goal or Action in question? While stretch goals can be inspiring even if they’re unlikely – this is rarely true if they’re impossible!
  2. CHUNKING DOWN: Struggling with a big action or goal? Break it down.
    • For Goals ask: “What would be a great stepping stone?”, “What goal could I set that would prepare me or give me knowledge or experience that will help me achieve this bigger goal?” and “What could I achieve in a month, 3 months or year that would get me closer to my dream?”
    • For Actions ask: “What could I start or spend a chunk of time on?” and “What would be an easy first step, preparation action, request for help or action to remove an obstacle?”. You can break out the first step into an action or set yourself a target of working on something for a chunk of time like 1 day or 3 hours
  3. COMMITMENT: Make your action doable, ie. the right size so that you can commit to it 100%.
    NOTE: Commitment is important – although it doesn’t necessarily mean the goal or action will get done. Sometimes life gets in the way and opportunities or problems arise which prevent us from achieving what we set out to do. However, people CAN commit to achieving it.
  4. SCORING: One way to check-in as to how Realistic your goal is, is to score how likely you feel you will achieve your goals (out of 10). If your score is LESS THAN 8:
    • Your goal or action may be TOO challenging or large.
    • You may not feel connected enough to WHY you’re doing it.
    • You may lack self-belief (which is an obstacle in itself)
    • There may be some other obstacles you haven’t fully acknowledged or addressed yet.
TOP TIP: When estimating, think carefully how long the action will realistically take.

This is because we tend to underestimate how long tasks will take, especially if we haven’t done it before.

A good rule of thumb (from my Project Management days) is to double your first thought of how long the action or goal will take. And if you haven’t done it before, try tripling or even quadrupling your estimate. It sounds extreme, but this is a great way to reduce stress – and surprisingly accurate.

Create a RANGE of Goal Achievement Levels

One way to make a goal realistic, is to create a RANGE of goal achievement levels. Having a goal completion RANGE is a great way to take the pressure off, while still inspiring yourself with a stretch goal.

  • Minimum – This should be relatively EASY to achieve. Set a level that is EASILY achievable this year. After all, life sometimes does throw unexpected things our way – positive opportunities, charming distractions and painful experiences!
  • Target – This is your IDEAL level. What would be a good level to aim for? What would be enough of a stretch to be interesting, but not so much of a stretch that you find yourself switching off or avoiding it?
  • Extraordinary – This is your STRETCH level! What would be amazing, brilliant, wonderful? Put in a measure here where you would say, “Wow, that is fabulous!” NOTE: Be sure that your measure here is POSSIBLE, even if it is not PROBABLE.
Goal RANGE Achievement EXAMPLES: The range you use could be DATES, for example:
– Minimum level could be completed by – December 31
– Target level could be completed by – September 30
– Extraordinary level could be completed by – June 30
Your range could also be NUMERIC – a $ amount, percent or a count. For example:
– Minimum = 250 Facebook likes, 1 new client a month, $1000 in sales/month
– Target = 500 Facebook likes, 3 new clients a month, $2000 in sales /month
– Extraordinary = 750 or more Facebook likes, 5 new clients a month, $5000 in sales/month
Coach with pen and diary adding deadlines to their Goals for T - TIMEBOUND

 If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau

SMART Goals are Timebound

WHY? SMART goals and actions are always Timebound ie. they have a date by when you plan to complete them. Without a date there’s less incentive to work toward our goals – what are we aiming at? We’re all so busy! How are we going to fit more activity into our lives? How do we know how to prioritise our activities unless we have a deadline to know this goal/action is important to us?

Also, an action plan to achieve a goal will be very different in terms of effort, solutions and help required if the deadline is a month from now, as compared to a deadline of one year from now. Setting a date allows people to work backwards and figure out an appropriate action plan.

A date also gives us the opportunity to visualise completion. It allows you to imagine that time in the future when you have completed it- and that helps you commit to the goal!

With annual goals we often have an automatic “deadline” of December 31. And sometimes a date is fixed or imposed on us, for example if we’re booked to deliver a workshop on a specific date. And sometimes we must choose a date, so we have something to aim at.

3 TIPS to Make Goals Timebound

  1. Pick a date that inspires you, but that’s not so challenging that you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Different dates may also represent the relative priority or urgency of different actions. Fore example, a goal or action with a completion date of March 31 is likely to be higher priority than a goal with a completion date of September 30.
  3. For each goal, you can give yourself a RANGE of completion dates (Minimum, Target and Extraordinary) as detailed under the “Make it Realistic” above.

5 Final Tips to Be Smart about HOW We Set Our Goals

It’s not just about setting goals using the SMART criteria. We need to BE smart about our goals. Here are 5 final tips to help you and your clients both set – and achieve – your goals.

  1. Work hard, but know when to rest. Forgive yourself – for what you don’t yet know, for your mistakes and what might get in the way.
  2. Be kind to yourself! Know that we tend to over-estimate what’s achievable in a shorter time-frame, and under-estimate what we can achieve over a longer period.
  3. Anytime the goal isn’t working for you, change the goal! The best goals flex when they need to.
  4. Remember that SMART is for Actions too!
  5. More important than hard work – determination and perseverance are essential qualities for achieving bigger goals! Keeping going when the going gets tough is what sets you apart from the crowd. These qualities also build self-confidence, resilience and make you proud of yourself!

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Wrap-up

Goals can be fun and inspiring. What the SMART criteria do is help us clearly define our goals so they’re easier to get started. SMART also makes it easier to take action, stay motivated – and ultimately succeed!

I have always loved goal-setting – and SMART goal-setting in particular! So I hope this SMART Goal-Setting and Action Planning Guide helps you and your clients set smarter and more inspiring goals – and have more fun working towards them!

Finally, remember this:

GOALS are there to INSPIRE YOU, not to beat yourself up with! Now that’s SMART!

If you liked this article about SMART Goals, you may also like:

© 2020 Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.

About the author: Emma-Louise Elsey is the CEO of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd. (The Coaching Tools Company.com and Fierce Kindness.com are divisions of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.) She is a certified Life Coach, NLP practitioner, and recovering perfectionist who loves meditation, questions, quotes, creating coaching tools, and writing.

Since qualifying as a coach in 2004 she has worked with many successful professionals and business owners. For inspiration and to help you with your businesses, there are many more Free Coaching Tools & Templates including coaching questions, coaching exercises, business admin templates for new coaches and forms to help with your workshops.

Article (or Graphic) by Emma-Louise Elsey, professional life coach and founder of The Coaching Tools Company.com. Reprinted with permission from “The Launchpad” newsletter and blog – for people who love coaching. Get more helpful articles for coaches, coaching tips, free resources, and more. Visit The Coaching Tools Company [link to the original article] to learn more.

Categories: Clarity & FocusCoaching Ideas & InspirationCoaching TipsCoaching Tools & ResourcesGoal-SettingSMART GoalsThe Coaching Tools Company

Image of Coach peering around laptop by stockfour via Shutterstock

Image of Coach pointing to S – SPECIFIC by Asier Romero via Shutterstock

Image of Client making SMART goal measurable using hands for M – MEASURABLE by Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Image of Coach making notes in folder for A – ACTIONABLE by EHStockphoto via Shutterstock

Image of Coach Hugging Notes for R – REALISTIC by ESB Professional via Shutterstock

Leaders – Stop Solving Everything!

problem-solving team

If you have responsibility for a business, a company, or a team, STOP solving everything. Please stop solving everybody’s problems.

That sounds like a crazy person talking, right?

Here’s what I mean. It is likely you climbed the business ladder by solving problems. As a sole-contributor on a team, you helped make things happen. Whether it was customer service, design engineering or framing a house, you did it well. You made things happen; you solved problems.

Small transactional events or separate work moments were completed because you knew how to do that. Then one day, you got promoted.

Yes face picture
Person getting promoted

Either your old boss left or there was an opening somewhere else in the company for a supervisor, so you got the job. Why? Because your performance was appreciated and recognized. But it was still based on solving problems.

Then, as a new manager, you realized you could solve other people’s problems. Perhaps it started within your own team, but people came to you with their problems and you “fixed” them. It came naturally. So you did it more and more.

Now you’ve gotten several more promotions and you’re still solving everyone’s problems.

It’s time to start leading and stop solving problems.

Lead People, Don’t Solve Their Problems

Still sound crazy? Let me break it down a little further.

Real leaders do many things. One big thing they do is develop their people. They help people grow. Growth can be professional, technical, or personal, but there is growth.

Solving everyone’s problems cuts short the opportunity to help people grow by learning how to solve their own problems. It’s like the old saying:

“Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

Solve someone’s problems, you helped them for a day. Teach them to solve problems and you set them up for life.

If you, as a leader, are not helping people learn to think critically or work their way through their own problems, you are just enabling a weak version of what your people could otherwise be. Please stop doing that.

It Applies to Entrepreneurs Too

Even in a smaller business, if the owner does all the problem solving, your business will stay small and stuck solving problems. But if you teach your people why and how you solve problems, you can grow your company.

I talk to too many business owners who feel stuck in the day to day. Usually, it comes down to having to make every decision and solve every problem.

On one hand, there is a period of time in the life of a new company when that situation makes sense. Yet if the business has any growth at all, the owner must give up some of that constant hands-on approach. There is a need to have others on the team capable of solving transactional problems.

Save the big picture thinking and key strategies for the owner, yes. While doing that, teach and mentor your staff to make their own decisions.

Doesn’t that take more time?

You may be saying “I don’t have time to do that sort of detailed effort. We need stuff done.” I get that. And yes, I’ll agree, certain moments in the heat of battle just have to get done.

“FIRE!” When someone in the office yells that, you have to move quickly to get out. There’s no time for teaching. Hopefully, your teaching was done during a fire drill for your building.

As the leader, you have to use problem-solving in the moment as the focus for teaching and learning during one-on-ones, or small group meetings. Don’t just do a post-mortem on a situation, but walk people through how and why you would do what you would do to solve the problem.

As you do that though, don’t just talk it down to them. Make it interactive. Tease it out of them with questions. Questions like:

What else could be a factor here?

Have you thought about anything else?

What do we know about x, y, and z?

If X happens, what will Y do?

The list is endless.

The questions are the natural way your brain thinks about solving the problem. By using questions to reframe the matter at hand, you help your people see how you process the problem. You’re modeling the problem-solving behavior so they can absorb and adapt to it.

Back to the time issue. Hiding behind time constraints is a convenient excuse for not helping your people grow. You are no different from the great leaders you may have known.

You both have 86,400 seconds in the day. It’s how that time gets used that makes the difference between good and great leaders.

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Coaching and Mentoring – Diving Deeper

mentoring

It’s been said that leaders who radically impact their teams are themselves good coaches. Taking on the mentoring and coaching role often does not come naturally to someone in a leadership position.

One technique at the center of executive coaching is the art of asking good questions and/or reframing the response the coachee gives.

If you want to up your game coaching your team, here are three very important phrases to use.

professional business mentor looking at papers and working with young colleagues in office
professional business mentor looking at papers and working with young colleagues in office

3 Big Questions and Observations

They come by way of a referral found on LinkedIn. The source is John Bethel. Here are 3 of John’s coaching questions/phrases I have borrowed to regularly use while coaching leadership teams, friends, and family;

1. It occurs to me that…am I close?

When feeding back your perspective on the information they’ve shared with you. “It occurs to me that you see the value in following up with the prospective client but you are concerned that you’ll come across as too aggressive. Am I close?”

2. That’s one option…have you thought about others?

When the coachee has offered only one solution to a challenge they are facing, you can say, “Ok, that’s one option…” (then pause and wait). On the receiving end, this meant that I needed to think through other options before committing to only one.

3. Could this be a convenient story you are telling yourself?

This was often used by John to challenge me on why I was avoiding acting on something critical. “That may be true or that may be a convenient story you’re telling yourself. Think about this for a few minutes before responding. How does this story benefit you?”

The Power of Questions

By asking questions, you, as the coach/mentor demonstrate many things. First, if the question extends the discussion, you assist your mentee with exploring more. It promotes critical thinking in your mentee.

Supervisor mentoring a direct report

If you simply hear a situation and quickly give an answer, you are cutting off the mentee’s ability for self-discovery. Self-discovery is far more enduring than quick problem-solving.

I’ve often observed my leadership clients in action with their teams. As team members pose questions to the boss, I watch for my clients jumping straight into problem-solving mode rather than coaching mode.

My question to them at that moment is “Are you leading or problem-solving?” By leading the staff member through the thought process to find their own answer, the team leader/executive is helping to nurture growth in the subject.

On one hand, problem solving is usually what got someone promoted into a role. But if they truly want to build stronger teams, they must agree with taking on a more developmental role, coaching and mentoring their direct reports rather than continuing to merely solve problems.

Being Truly Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.

In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).

In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.

Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.

The Top 10 for 2020

If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.

10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.

9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.

8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.

7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.

6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.

5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.

4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.

3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.

2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.

1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.

Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.

Giving thanks

The Leader’s Obligation

As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?

It better.

You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.

If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.

That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.

If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.

Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.

Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?

The Naked Truth About LinkedIn Jail

Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.

Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.

I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.

I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.

First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.

Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.

Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.

BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”

Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.

The Back Story

In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.

I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.

Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.

I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.

Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.

I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.

Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.

The Fix

If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).

First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.

Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.

Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.

Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.

That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.

By the way, you can see my profile on LinkedIn here.

Cover illustration by Sally Thurer, NYTimes

Disorienting Situations – The Leader’s Response

As someone who works with business leaders in many different sectors, I’ve paused to reflect on exactly how I feel about the current state of affairs around us. Now, I feel it is important to share the outcome of this reflective pause.

A colleague shared the word “disorienting”. Recent events are very disorienting to everyone. Between COVID lock-downs, economic conditions, and now, civil unrest and rage over the death of George Floyd.

On one hand, the past several weeks have shown us that we have an intense undercurrent in the fabric of our country. That is an understatement. Leaders in many sectors have tried to speak up, taking a stand on the matter, only to be told that somehow, someway they were still wrong.

As strongly as some feel about “Black Lives Matter” anyone who whispers ‘all lives matter’ gets ridiculed for “being insensitive and not getting it.”

I hear business leaders saying we need to have more conversations. Haven’t the conversations been going on for decades? My Black colleagues agree, yes that’s the point. The conversations haven’t fixed anything.

The easy answer is to say our leaders have failed us. The U.S. political system has grown more and more galvanized over the past 20 years. We select candidates and elect ‘leaders’ who have the best story to tell us. I stopped being a ‘political party’ member a long time ago. I decided to do my research and place my votes for the person who, to me demonstrated the best, real leadership possibilities. Sadly, I am routinely disappointed. I don’t have a good answer for that.

I am deeply saddened by the senseless death of George Floyd. It was just plain wrong. Our system says even suspected criminals have rights. His rights were ignored and were fatally taken away. That is wrong. Just simply wrong.

However, did a flawed system kill him? I think not. A rouge, overzealous cop did it. One man perpetrating hatred and rage against another.

Sadly this same rage happens night after night in all of our cities. I don’t mean just cop versus citizen, black versus white. I mean one bad person raging against another unsuspecting human. An individual who wants something someone else has. This happens without regard to race and gender.

Leadership Duties

With everything being disoriented around us, what can a leader do?

Clearly the leader must first look inwardly. Do YOU harbor any hatred, bias, or ‘less than’ thinking about the people around you? You may think you have good reason to think as you do, but you must correct that thinking if you ever want to come anywhere close to inclusivity in the workplace.

One way or another, your own biases will be revealed. As a leader that cannot happen.

Unfortunately, the process by which we choose to deal with each other is full of natural bias. It is by no means limited to the color of one’s skin. Every time someone does something that runs either in favor of or opposite of the other person, a checkmark gets put on the list we all have in our brain.

The next time there is an encounter, that checklist gets reviewed and we sit waiting for the other person to ‘prove themselves’ as the friend or foe we expect them to be. That is no way to run effective conversations, clouded with bias.

By the way, as you read this you’re already judging me for what I am saying, right or wrong. It just proves my point.

Sensitivity

Strong leadership requires a keen ability to apply sensitivity. What do I mean by that? For me, it means being aware of the plight and condition of those around you.

I’ve spoken before about the ways every person who shows up for work has a personal process going on similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They move up and down that hierarchy on a daily basis. If they feel threatened at home or in the community where they live, they come to work feeling tired of the situation. They may even be afraid of you as the leader because you represent ‘power’ they may not want to see.

Where’s the Goal Post?

I am not yet convinced anyone has defined where the goal post may be. In terms of the COVID-19, many say we need the vaccine and then things will be safe again. But efforts are already underway to get back to business so that the economic conditions can stabilize. While basic business function can return, may of the activities we all counted as normal will likely not return for quite some time.

As an example, before COVID-19 did you go to a regular, recurring networking meeting? While all of those have tried going virtual, it just doesn’t have the same result. Yet we may not return to the full, in-person gathering like that for a long time.

The more important question is where is the goal post for answering the cries of Black Lives Matter? I don’t say that lightly. I am sympathetic. I can honestly say to my Black friends, I don’t yet know what I can do.

Unfunding police and funding a reparation program doesn’t make any sense because that is a one-time bandaid. When that money runs out, and it will, what do we do? We will have new generations of Black children growing up to what?

I am very willing to work on the exact ‘what’ question that can move us to better harmony.

Even when we get closer to equality, there will still be human nature to recognize we are all different. In my world, I love that diversity. That is what keeps things interesting and exciting.

PS – A good friend, West Point Grad, and fellow Veteran sent me this link, commemorating D-Day, which by the way was June 6. Nobody said much about that. If you still believe in America, this is worth the watch.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Here’s a Great Mash-Up of Ideas for Better Leadership

leadership mash-up

In recent posts, I’ve explored two great themes that have received a lot of attention on social media. Leaders and managers can benefit from both ideas. Today, we’re going to do a mash-up of the two.

The first topic is Inspect What You Expect. It’s about an old piece of sage advice that often gets spoken but can be misunderstood. When you set goals or objectives for your team, you have to follow-up and check up on them.

The other topic is increasing accountability; your personal accountability as well as making those around you be accountable.

If we do the mash-up on these two principles of leadership, you’ll get a much better understanding of a powerful way to get the most from your team.

First, let’s review Expectation Inspection.

Inspect what you expect maybe a bit obvious, yet it is frequently ignored or forgotten by busy managers.

Once you explain your vision for your team and begin plotting the course for what success should look like, you will be tasking members of your team with their own duties and responsibilities.

If you then hide in your office and simply wait for results, you’re going to be disappointed.

You have to mingle within your team, making yourself available to answer clarifying questions, lead people through problem-solving, and guide the effort.

Periodically, you have to simply ask about progress. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Let people tell you whether they have roadblocks or not. Give them the chance to show you the progress they are making.

A few decades ago a popular management theory grew up called “management by walking around”. I still run into managers who were taught that as their primary leadership style.

It sounds great, but it’s too easily misapplied. Just walking the office floor or shop area isn’t enough. It’s what you do out there that makes a difference.

You have to engage with the team. Interact with everyone at all levels. Let them ask you questions.

Accountability

Good teams set goals and standards. Great teams are accountable for results. It all starts with the leader.

Becoming a better leader with accountability

Leaders need to clearly communicate the vision, plan, and expectations. There has to be an understanding of what a win should look like.

If your team is not clear on these basic terms, the leader must do more to provide clarity.

However, once the clarity is understood, everyone on the team, including the leader, must be held accountable for driving toward success.

To understand more about the reasons accountability is so important, refer to this article.

Hand In Hand

Applying both principles creates a big win. By setting the vision and creating standards you now have the measure of success.

But to get there, you have to inspect the very thing you expect. If adjustments are needed, that is the accountability piece.

leadership accountability

Holding others accountable, then re-inspecting what you expect assures greater success.

It’s really a cycle that needs to be administered daily if you really want to score high returns.