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Just Don’t Screw It Up

new manager of big facility

This is possibly the strangest instruction I have ever heard a new manager receive from a superior. It happens when a new, up-and-coming manager gets a shot at running a segment of business that has already been operating successfully.

Typically it is related to a big factory or facility setting like a large warehouse, terminal, refinery, or machine shop. But it can also relate to a well-established team.

The idea is centered on the belief that if you just keep things going as-is, the unit will continue to be successful, make the money it’s been making, and keep the stakeholders happy. There really are companies that own large scale assets that operate like a fly-wheel. Once they get going, they are hard to stop.

There is no need to tinker with the mechanism. Just do basic maintenance, follow procedures, and the ‘machine’ makes money. Therefore “don’t screw it up” can make sense.

The New Manager

If you get appointed to be the newest manager of such a facility, your duties will be to keep the status quo. How exciting is that?

Worker and manager in industrial factory discussing acceptance of machine

Well, if it involves keeping turnover low, avoiding accidents, and not creating down-time, then you have a big challenge. Therefore, yes, this kind of assignment can be a challenge.

Your management and leadership skills will be tested. But if you think you have new, creative ideas, then you better watch out.

So What Can a New Manager Do with This?

First, settle in to the job by getting to know the ‘old hands’. Find out who really knows everything about the team or the plant. There will always be some old sage on site.

Respect them and show them that respect. Yes, you might be the new boss, but they have the experience of knowing what works and what doesn’t. Leverage that wisdom for yourself.

When I first landed at my duty station as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. I was immediately positioned as the executive officer (XO) of a 400-person troop unit. That meant I was the #2 guy in charge of the unit. The only other superior was our Commanding Officer.

Part of my duties involved running a mess hall where we served 1500 meals 3x a day. The mess hall ran pretty well. But not long after I took over, a new mess sergeant was assigned. He was the old hand.

When he reported for duty I could tell he didn’t respect me very much. We made small talk a while, then I said “Sergeant, I sense you don’t like me.” He replied, “I don’t like officers in my mess hall.”

I thought a minute, then said “well, here’s the deal. You need my signature on all your requisitions or else there won’t be any food to serve. I am going to come to the mess hall when you have the paperwork ready. Then I’ll leave.”

The next day he called me. “Sir, the paperwork is ready.” I went over, reviewed the paperwork, signed it, then got up and left.

Two days later he called again. “Sir more paperwork is ready.” This time when I arrived, there was fresh coffee and pastries set out next to the paperwork. So I shifted my thought a minute.

I handled the paperwork, then started to leave. He said, “Ummm, Sir, these pastries are for you. Can you stay a minute?” So I said “Sure.” We sat down and started talking, more man to man, rather than officer to sergeant. It began a wonderful working relationship.

It was a great way to leverage his expertise. Oh and by the way, he was one of the most highly decorated mess hall sergeants in the Army. He won numerous blue ribbon awards, the Army’s equivalent of 5 Star ratings for restaurants. He won another one while he worked for me. Not my glory, but his.

Even a few years later when he transferred to another unit’s mess hall, every time I entered his facility he would shout “Hey everybody, here comes my favorite lieutenant.”

I could trust him to do the right thing and I didn’t ‘screw it up.’

Other Ideas to Use

The other thing you can do is focus on your people skills. Work on communication, feedback, accountability, and team effort.

For feedback and accountability, consider tools like the Big 5 Performance Management process. Big 5 is something I’ve used and helped many others learn to use. With Big 5, you establish simple but powerful check-ins with your team.

Each month, your team writes out five accomplishments from the prior month. To that, you add 5 priorities for the new month. If you then conduct one-on-one check-ins early in the new month, you get a coaching moment with each member of your team (your direct reports).

For team activities, consider building on team trust. Trust has been rated the #1 contributor to high performing teams. See more here.

Team Trust model to build trust for your team
Team Trust

For accountability, you need to inspect what you expect. Telling people what you want then ignoring the results is no better than never saying anything at all in the first place.

If you want better attendance at training, then look at the rosters for your training events. If someone misses, follow-up, and find out why.

If you want better compliance with policies, then create measurements to demonstrate that compliance. Acknowledge those who comply and talk with those who don’t.

When you get told “Don’t screw it up” just know that you still have the opportunity to exhibit your own leadership style and impact, so don’t let the guidance throw you off your leadership game.

You can make a difference while you’re ‘not screwing it up.’

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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.

business coach, consulting, executive coaching, headwayexec, executive coach houston
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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?

Leaders Should Track Accomplishments

Career transition is a big part of the leadership journey. Companies change direction, mergers and divestitures happen, Boards vote leaders out, markets shift, and new opportunities avail themselves. Great leaders are ready for those changes in their professional life.

Career transition is something I’ve known about and helped coach since 2008 when the last big recession hit the job market. I’ve coached hundreds of professionals in making solid, effective career moves.

Interestingly, there is one element often missing from an executive’s resume when time comes to tell their story to potential new companies.

That element is a statement or statements about key accomplishments. An accomplishment is different from a job responsibility. The ‘responsibility’ comes from a job description e.g. ‘I was responsible for…’

Well written accomplishments do much more. Kudos to my long time friend and workforce expert, Rick Gillis, for introducing me to this powerful concept many years ago.

As Rick says, “Accomplishments have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” An example is “I led a team of 100 certified professionals, managing a portfolio of assets valued at $150,000,000.” You have headcount, function, and, most importantly, dollar impact.

The impact is not limited to actual dollars, but can include percentages saved, gained, grown, or reduced. Metrics can include manhours, volume, inventory, price, scale, and market share.

By writing powerful accomplishments, your story as a leader gains value; value that can be significant in the eyes of a potential employer.

The Hunt for New Leadership

When my client companies look for new leadership, I always encourage them to hunt for people who have already performed at the new, higher level. If you want a company to grow from $3MM to $10MM, don’t hire a $3MM executive. Go for someone who has already performed at $10MM. Then they can help you get there.

How can you figure that out? Look for stated accomplishments that contain the $10MM indicators, not the $3MM level. If you’re the leader trying to get recognized as a good fit, sell your accomplishments before job duties. Beef up your resume or CV with accomplishment statements demonstrating value add via specific metrics of value.

In addition to functional accomplishments, think also about your leadership accomplishments. Decide on key competencies that can also be quantified as an accomplishment statement. Then be ready to share those too.

According to Sunnie Giles’ study published in HBR of leaders around the globe, leadership competencies can be divided into 5 categories:

  • Strong ethics and safety: having high ethical and moral standards, clearly communicating expectations
  • Self-organizing: setting goals/objectives without micromanaging the process
  • Efficient learning: flexible with changing opinions, openness to new ideas and approaches, creating a safe trial and error environment
  • Growth nurturing: commitment to ongoing training, dedication to creating the next generation of leaders
  • Connection and belonging: communicating openly, sharing wins, and failures.

While these are undeniably the ultimate leadership skills for any individual, the question here is how to put leadership skills on a resume, and prove the recruiter you are a team player who can lead?

The magic answer is to blend the accomplishment statement with the leadership competency. Describe your key leadership traits with corresponding measures of how that created value in your current or former role.

Use it to convey ways you can help the new company by bringing them that value.

The world is in desperate need of good leadership. Whether in government or the private sector, strong leadership is the key to solving cultural and social problems. If you know how to lead, I mean really lead, we need you stepping up wherever you have the opportunity.

Can You Guess the Weight of an Ox?

weight of an ox

Making Better Decisions

If you took a team of smart, capable people out to the wilderness and showed them an ox, could they accurately estimate the weight of that ox?

Working by themselves, ask each person to write down the weight they believe the ox to be, then seal it in an envelope. Collect the envelopes. As you start opening the envelopes, you’d find the guesses would be all over the place. Some too low, some too high.

But if you ask the same group to work as a team, they could share experiences and learning to come to a much better answer for the weight of the ox.

The same principle holds true with solving big problems at work. Any member of your team working alone can come to an answer. But is that answer the best it could be?

The Back Story for Business

I was told this story the first time by an investment advisor. He shared that his colleagues routinely gathered to analyze and explore optimum solutions for asset management of key accounts they held.

It was reassuring to know that the collective wisdom of his team was being used to make better choices and create the best possible advice for stakeholders.

Leaders need to open themselves up for similar group activities. While you might be the owner or CEO of your respective company, you can still leverage the wisdom of others to help you make better, more informed decisions.

networking with those around you

Ways to Help You Make Better Decisions

Here are some simple ways to get it done.

First, if you are truly alone at the top, you need an outside resource to help. A trusted advisor whether personal or professional can be that ear to hear what you are thinking. You can use them as a sounding board.

A trusted advisor can be there for you to explore options, vet decisions, and suggest other things to consider before making a final decision.

Or you might pursue a peer advisory group. In “Think and Grow Rich”, Napolean Hill introduced the idea of Mastermind Groups. This is a gathering of like-minded individuals to come together and share experiences, ideas, and wisdom so as to help others grow.

Another idea is to turn things over to your own leadership team. Depending on the size of your organization, you may have access to a team of direct reports who could be that group to review the details and evaluate ideas.

A Caution on ‘Group Think’

Allowing a group to do anything can have its risks. But with proper guidance and collaboration, leveraging the combined expertise of a workgroup can pay dividends.

When teams have not been built around solid core principles for trust and collaboration, then ‘group think’ can go wrong. If team members are uncertain of their standing in the group or people feel alienated, then they might ‘go along’ with the dominant voice at the table rather than speak their mind.

If that happens, you as a leader have a much bigger problem. It is for this reason I have been using the Team Trust Model.

The Team Trust Model explains six key steps for every team to use to build TRUST. Teams who operate with high levels of trust can achieve much greater results than those operating without trust. More on that here.

If you’ve never considered having an outside advisor to help you through your decision-making process, now may be the time to ask.

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Happy November

The following article is contributed by a dear friend and fellow Silver Fox Advisor, Dick Hendee. He captures some important thoughts about the holiday season that starts with November.

November is a month with many things going on. The month starts off with All Saints Day on the first day of the month, Election Day on the first Tuesday of the month, Veterans Day on November 11th, and of course, Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of the month followed by the very special day for all retailers, “Black Friday”.

This year probably more than most recent years, each one of those days has a very special meaning. Almost everyone knows someone who was lost to Covid 19, so All Saints Day is a time to remember those loved ones.

Election Day is always filled with excitement and anxiety, and this year that anxiety looks as if it may extend into 2021.

On Veterans Day we honor all the brave Americans who fought for our freedom and way of life. Thanksgiving will be different this year, and although we all have much to be thankful for, we may still be likely to question why we have had to endure this pandemic.

Finally, if you are a retailer, you undoubtedly will be hoping “Black Friday” does in fact put your business in the black for the year.

My Thanks

This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks for all the business owners who stepped up to the challenges they faced in 2020. They made the extremely tough decisions to cut their expenses, change how they delivered their products and services to their customers, and in many cases, to completely re-engineer their businesses.

We are all aware of what small businesses mean to America, and once again America’s small business owners rose to the challenge and demonstrated they can do anything and overcome any obstacles.

I am so proud of all the small business owners I have worked with this year, and I am so pleased and humbled that they allowed me the opportunity to be part of what they did and had to do to keep their doors open and the cash register ringing.

Some of these business owners took advantage of the assistance programs that were made available, but many of them chose to make it without any assistance. I applaud both options and must certainly give credit and support to the decision each owner made. 

In closing, please let me offer a quote from Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. who said,

A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our very being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We look forward to continuing to provide the small business owners of the greater Houston area advice, consulting, and mentoring throughout the remainder of 2020 and in the new year ahead. I encourage you to visit our website at www.silverfox.org or www.silverfoxadvisors.com to learn more about the Silver Fox Advisors.

Managers: 5 Key Questions About Grace

grace

 

2020 has been a dumpster fire. Pandemic, economic trials, election battles, remote working, killer hornets, hurricanes, and mandated lockouts. What else can go wrong, right?

2020 dumpster fire

And it’s hard to believe we’re poised to launch into 2021 just a few short weeks away. Can you say “Yippee”!

With year-end upon us and a new year right ahead, people start thinking about new year planning. This article is not another push for goal setting. It will not be about the next great program or self-help eBook. The topic I’d like to share seldom gets mentioned in any Top 10 list of attributes for managers. Yet, I feel obligated to bring it up. What am I talking about?

The topic is GRACE; not a person or a thing. Rather, in my humble opinion, grace is a state of mind. We can’t earn it. Many feel they don’t deserve it. So, I believe that is why I have yet to find the topic of grace being spoken about in any of the management and leadership books I follow.

Maybe you first heard about grace from a Pastor, Priest, or Rabbi. No, this will NOT be a Bible study article. I simply want to tell you about adding grace to several parts of your life as you close 2020 and enter the New Year.

What is Grace?

Please allow me to explain my thoughts about grace, then we will apply them to your situation.

First, I said grace is a mindset. It lives halfway between your head and your heart. You can over-think it, thus killing the spirit of it. Or, you can over-give it, thus defying the logic of what you might need to be doing with it. It is a delicate balance of thought, logic, emotion, and self-worth.

Next, it does include a dose of forgiveness. Forgiveness not just for a moment, then later to be revoked, but permanent. Wiped clean, wiped off, wiped out.

Then, in modern terms, grace gives us the break you need as in ‘give me a break’. It cuts you some slack. It soothes the hurt. It takes away the sting. It is the essence of ‘let it go’. My eldest son calls this ‘breathe’.

There is so much more to grace, but I will leave it at this for now. So with these ideas in mind, how should you and I apply grace? I have several recommendations.

Courtesy 123rf.com / racorn

Where Does Grace Need to Be Applied?

First and foremost, apply it to your own life. No one ever grades us harder than we grade ourselves. Grace allows you to add a curve to the grading. It gives you bonus points.

Giving yourself grace for the things that have not worked out helps to eliminate negative forces that can cripple our effort to move forward. When you look back at 2020 or beyond, are you haunted by things not done? Do you lament the decisions you made? Do you beat yourself up over relationships that went wrong or business deals that did not work out?

If you said YES to any of those, you, my friend, need some grace in your life. Decide when, where, and how you will give yourself some grace so that the New Year can get going without hurdles.

Next, if you manage people, what grace do you give them? We all know there are boundaries and standards that must be applied at work. But your co-workers are human. You need to extend some grace. It is a certainty that someone somewhere in your circle will fall short of a goal.

Once the required administration of the situation is complete, do you offer grace? You can demonstrate grace by establishing a work environment where the employee feels the slate is truly wiped clean once any offense is addressed.

Sidebar –  Yes, I know managers must deal with disciplinary matters that set up probationary periods. So there will be a cloud over the employee while that period is in force. While this is happening, will you treat all other aspects of the person’s work effort with grace?

The other area in your life where grace is vitally needed is family; starting with your spouse (if married), then your children. Have these people committed some offense for which you have yet to forgive? Have you thought about giving them grace?

Being a leader requires the ability to give grace.

 

Here are 5 key questions about grace.

  1. When was the last time you visited the topic of grace?
  2. Has grace been given to you lately?
  3. Do you owe yourself some grace?
  4. Who do you know that needs you to give them grace?
  5. Will you add grace to your leadership toolkit in 2021?

Thank you for your faithful following this past year. Here’s to a bright and prosperous 2021!

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PS – Here’s a little fun video for you to enjoy about 2020 by Penn Holderness; an amazing artist.

Leaders: Can You Get Too Focused?

The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.

She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”

I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.

She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.

I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”

I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”

As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.

Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.

I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.

It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.

Leader Focus

As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.

When was the last time you got focused like that?

I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.

Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).

Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.

It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.

However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.

It’s a Tricky Balancing Act

I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.

Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.

First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.

Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.

Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).

The Leader’s Challenge

The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.